Monday, June 28, 2010

Mirrors: how Strauss "became" Heidegger in America, part 2

I really believe that the perfect political order, as Plato and Aristotle have sketched it, is the perfect political order…Details can be disputed, although I myself might actually agree with everything that Plato and Aristotle demand (but that I tell only you). - Strauss to Loewith, August 15, 1946*

…I remark that the sole political act of consequence that Strauss brought himself to launch was to found a school, which the offer of a professorship in political philosophy at the University of Chicago in 1949 provided him the opportunity to do…He took the opportunity – following Plato’s and Aristotle’s example – to foster the politically gifted and the gentlemen among his students. – Heinrich Meier, 2005**

See Mirrors, part 1 here, and related posts here and here.

In The Essence of Truth, Heidegger speaks of a notion of power or empowerment (dunamis) in the Sophist as above the ideas. But Plato leaves this in a distant state, one which again is to be approached only mystically (what is beyond even the sunlike idea of the good in the noetic) or brought into view perhaps by an unseen and to be hinted at in other dialogues or by initiation into the school, "stepwise" questioning.

"And just where the later Plato went furthest in his interrogation of being and truth in the Sophist dialogue, the essence of being is found in dunamis, in empowerment, and nothing else (247 d-e). It was left to Plato's contemporary interpreters to 'prove' (in the way they do prove) that Plato was not serious about the dunamis character of being."***

Once again, Heidegger marks off his argument, hinting Platonically, from what academic interpreters say. He gestures at substance and then, abruptly, departs:

"The good is the empowerment, the dunamis, the establishment of being and unhiddenness in their essence. In other words, what is at stake in the interrogation of being and unhiddenness is empowerment to this essence. What this empowerment is and how it occurs has not been answered to the present day; indeed, the question is no longer even asked in the original Platonic sense. In the meantime, it has become almost a triviality that omne ens is a bonum [every entity is a good]. For whoever asks in a philosophical manner, Plato says more than enough."

This is another bit of Platonic or Heideggerian exoterica or hinting. In the Sophist, too, Plato is not referring to the highest power. But he is underlining the secret of legislation, of the guardians as liberators. Consider Strauss's remarkable letter to Jacob Klein, October 20, 1938: "Nomoi [Laws]: a book about laws with the antidote [Gegengift] to Nomoi." It is this sort of meaning to which Strauss directly if somewhat delphically refers, The philosopher-tyrant decides the particular case, is willing to defy tradition or law, rules lawlessly. That is the point for a philosophical reading, or more exactly, a questioning as to meaning - exactly what Strauss would refer to in Persecution and the Art of Writing - of Heidegger's account of the cave.

As I have noted here, the Republic is the greatest argument ever offered against tyranny. Plato's esoteric pointing to a certain kind of tyrant who becomes a philosopher-king is refuted by the surface argument. As argument, the Republic is ironically self-refuting; it provides excellent reasons to believe that its hidden politics is destructive.

In contrast, Heidegger did not argue against tyranny (he is concerned to replace the politics of the everyday, of the newspaper, of the last men). Heidegger became enamoured of Hitler, pointed to "the inner truth and greatness of national socialism" through his reading of Plato, and became a monster, a supporter of genocide (he personally acted against his own Jewish or "overly Americanized" students as Rector-Fuehrer of Freiburg, and in 1941, removed Husserl's name from the dedication of Being and Time).

But as interpreter and shaper, in this respect, of Strauss and to a lesser extent Klein, Heidegger is right about Plato:

"For someone who wants only to establish what is good in common usage, Plato says far too little, indeed nothing at all. If one takes this merely in this latter way, nothing can be done with it. This clarification of the idea of the good says something only for philosophical questioning." (par. 14, p. 80).

Only those who study Plato and think further for themselves - engage in cryptography about the hidden message - will understand legislation. In this case, an understanding of the good will suddenly light up in their souls and never go out. The same thing is implied about philosophers, though never said as such, in the Laws (I have written about this in "Politics and the God" and will post on this when it is close to publication). It is this process - the keys in different Platonic texts about which questions to ask, how answers might be found - which Heidegger also means to indicate. For what the Seventh Letter gestures at is not the idea of the good or empowerment, but the secret of philosopher-tyranny, of ruling by judgment in the situation rather than by laws (an insane idea in a small polis, let alone today in a modern nation of 300 million).

Further, Heidegger rightly connects the idea of the good (to agathon) and the Seventh Letter even though it is not mentioned there. For liberating the cave by philosopher-tyranny is a central goal of philosophers, as Plato indicates in Syracuse and Heidegger realizes fully in his practice of Nazism and lingering dreams of its "inner truth and greatness":

"We misunderstand Plato's idea of the good if we try to obtain a better idea of it by busily searching through his other dialogues for passages where he uses the word agathon or if we believe that later in Plato's career, because he no longer uses the word, he must have given up the idea. He would have had to give up idea of philosophy! On the contrary, wherever being and truth are interrogated, so is the good. Thus although the word does not occur in the Seventh Letter (a work of Plato's old age), nothing else but this is intended. For here he says (342a-b) that the genuinely knowable, i.e. that which is to the highest degree question-able, is to alethos on, that which constitutes being and unhiddenness as such. Here Plato emphasizes (cf. 344b), with remarkable severity and firmness, that this cannot be thought out and conceived at one stroke, but only by proceeding through what is proximately question-able, through definite individual levels of science, does the questioner and only the questioner (not some random dreamer) come to what is primary and ultimate. Everything proximally question-able is to poion (something done ), but the primary and ultimate is to ti (the what). (343b)." (par 14, p. 80)

The passage at 342a is the one about how Plato will never write about legislation. Here again, Plato sharpens the warning about imitative tyrants and the dangers of philosophy in a way that Heidegger and Strauss would have done well to heed. Instead, as devotee of Hitler, Heidegger committed crimes against his students and humanity; Strauss launched farcical neo-con tyranny - "commander in chief power" - and imperialism. In Plato's words:

"Of this much I am certain, that the best statement of these ideas in writing or in speech [note: he does not promise to share some elements of it with his students, even "in speech"] would be my own statements. And further, if they be badly stated in writing, it is I who would be the person most deeply pained. And if I had thought that these subjects should be stated in writing or in speech to the public, what nobler action could I have performed in my life than that of writing what is of great benefit to mankind and bringing forth to all men the nature of reality? But were I to undertake this task, it would not prove, I think, a good thing for men, save for some few who are able to discover the truth for themselves with but little instruction [again, judging by Heidegger and Strauss I would not bet on the "few"; perhaps Plato was thinking of Aristotle or prefiguring Al-Farabi or Maimonides...], for as to the rest, some it would unseasonably fill with a mistaken contempt and others with an overweening and empty expectation as though they had learned some sublime mysteries."

Heidegger alludes to the next passage as well in which Plato speaks of a circle in geometry and five levels of comprehension, the last of ideas, and then analogizes this to the idea of the good (difficult if we listen to Socrates to feel confident we understand this idea). The name, say "circle," is the first level; the "definition" or second level is "that which is everywhere equidistant from the center." The third is the object "which is in course of being portrayed and obliterated, or beng shaped with a lathe and falling into decay. But none of these affectations is suffered by the circle itself whereto all these others are related inasmuch as it is distinct therefrom." (342c). The fourth is "knowledge, intelligence, and true opinion concerning the object. And of these four, intelligence approaches most nearly in kinship and similarity to the fifth." (cf. Republic, 490a). Here again he warns of the weaknesses of language and writing of which the grand statement is Socrates's in the Phaedrus:

"Moreover these four attempts to express the quality of the object no less than its real essence [fail] according to the weakness inherent in language; and for this reason no man of intelligence will ever venture to commit to it the concepts of his reason especially when it is inalterable - as is the case with what is formulated in writing." (343a)

In alluding to the idea of the good, this is the passage to which Heidegger refers. It is thus not entirely a feint (or exoteric in Strauss's idiom). What Plato says is that the first four levels are confusing. Only when one has reached the fourth and fifth level, the Seventh Letter suggests, will one see clearly. But then as in the Republic, one will be thought by those in the darkened cave not to see well.

"Every one of these circles which are drawn in geometric exercises or are turned by the lathe are full of what is opposite to the fifth since it is in contact with the straight everywhere; whereas the circle itself, we affirm, contains within itself no share greater or less of the opposite nature. And none of these objects, we affirm, has any fixed name nor is there anything to prevent forms that are now called 'round' from being called 'straight' or 'straight' 'round'; and men will find the names no more firmly fixed when they have shifted them and apply them in an opposite sense..."

To take in the political force of these thoughts, consider Thucydides' account of the murderous shifting of language at Corcyra: wanton killing is called moderate, the most impulsive person "deliberate" and the thoughtful leader a coward, and the like. Unlike Hobbes who bases himself incoherently on Thucydides (meanings can only be stabilized by a ruler, a leviathan, but, of course, the commands of a leader cannot force an individual to go to her violent death...), Plato intelligently suggests that ideas retain their substance (what is also implied in Thucydides's account).

Plato continues: "And so with each of the four, their inaccuracy is an endless topic;...but the main point is this, that while there are two separate things, the real essence and the quality, and the soul seeks to know not the quality but the essence, each of the Four proffers to the soul either in word or in concrete form that which is not sought; and by thus causing each object which is described or exhibited to be subject of easy refutation by the senses, it fills practically all manner of men with perplexity or uncertainty...But in all cases where we compel a man to give the Fifth as his answer and to explain it, anyone who is willing and able to upset the argument gains the day, and makes the person who is expounding his view by speech or writing or answers appear to most of his hearers to be wholly ignorant of the subjects on which he attempts to write or speak; for they are ignorant sometimes that it is not the soul of the writer or speaker that is being indicted but the nature of each of the Four which is essentially defective." (343c-e)

Here in Plato's Seventh Letter, Heidegger suggests, is the ridicule of the cave that confronts the philosopher and may put him to death. Plato tells us that the envy of sophists and others of philosophers is a danger (that killing or exile often comes by envy as in the case of Dionysius, who writes of but does not practice philosophy, against Dion, Plato's best student):

"It is by means of examining each of these objects, comparing one with another, names and definitions, visions and sense-perceptions - proving them by kindly proofs and employing questions and answers that are void of envy - it is by such means that there bursts out the light of intelligence and reason regarding each object in the mind of him who uses every effort of which mankind is capable."

"And this is the reason why every serious man in dealing with really serious subjects carefully avoids writing lest thereby he may cast them as prey to the envy and stupidity of the public." (344b-c)

Here again, Plato warns that he will not write on "serious subjects" and that could license Heidegger's thought (the good is a serious subject as is empowerment); yet mystery aside, one might doubt that this is much more, straightforwardly speaking, than the need for philosopher-tyranny.

The mirror of the Republic in the five stages of the Seventh Letter is, as Heidegger suggests, exact; it is just the meaning of the fifth level that is delphic or never spelled out. At most, Plato suggests that the idea of a circle has no element of straightness whereas any attempt to draw a circle is likely to be defective. What Plato says, however, is that this is a matter of souls, and able to be expressed only by those that are in fine condition:

"But it is the methodical study of all these stages, passing in turn from one to another, up and down which with difficulty implants knowledge when the man himself is, like his object, in fine condition; but if his nature is bad, and the nature of most men in respect of learning or what is termed 'morals' is either naturally bad or else corrupted, not even Lynceus himself could make such folk see." (343e-344)

An Argonaut known for his keenness of sight, Lynceus is here a magician-philosopher who might enable others to see. Beyond this point, one would have to travel oneself...

There is perhaps one indication in Alcibiades' drunken speech of yearning for Socrates in the Symposium of what the idea of the good and of human "divinity" might look like. It is the good - not that Alcibiades can do it, but he knows of it - to be always questioning, to be fashioning new arguments day after day. It is through continuing this process over many years that the sun of the intellectual universe comes, somehow not blindingly, into view.

"At any rate gentlemen if I were not in danger of seeming completely drunk, I'd state to you on oath how I have been affected by his words, how I'm still affected even now. For when I hear him, my heart leaps up much more than those affected by the music of the Corybants and tears flow at his words - and I see many another affected in the same way." (Symposium, 215d)

A participant in the mystery religions, Socrates hears the argument of the laws in the Crito overpoweringly (there is some other argument than the one that persuades Crito, however - see my "Do Philosophers Counsel Tyrants?" here). The reference to the Corybants is sharp: the power of argument itself is stronger or more beautiful even than the argument which persuades Socrates to go, heroically, to his death, founding civil disobedience. Still, this is less precise than the idea of a philosopher-tyrant at which Plato and Heidegger are hinting.

Heidegger's remarks about the Seventh Letter make his questioning of the ascent in the Republic even more sharply political than his remarks about the philosophers as guardians. They tell the esoteric or philosophic reader where to look further for answers. That is again the precise mirror of what I discovered Plato himself did with his students. Thus, he spread intimations of the philosopher tyrant across the Republic, the Laws, the Seventh Letter, the Statesman inter alia (see my "Do Philosophers Counsel Tyrants?" Constellations, March, 2009 here).

Plato prefigures eloquently in the Phaedrus Strauss's central discovery of surface/hidden writings in Persecution and the Art of Writing. Strauss is more explicit and detailed about discussing this in others, while leaving certain matters hinted at (see my "Do Philosophers Counsel Tyrants?"). Heidegger too enacts and thus prefigures the naming of this discovery even in 1930 and 1931-32. In Strauss's 1973 evening at St. John's with Jacob Klein shortly before Strauss died, they both recall the impact Heidegger made on them. It is interesting to follow the words. It was Klein, Strauss says, who showed Strauss the way back to the Greeks through Heidegger. Although already with a doctorate, Klein says, he lived, a solipsist, in his own head. But then he heard Heidegger's lectures on Aristotle's Metaphysics. For the first time, he felt that he understood someone else. It was this turn to the original, the questioning of each remark, each reference, each argument in its setting which reveals the often surprising meaning.

Strauss visited the Jewish existential philosopher Franz Rosenszweig who wrote the Star of Redemption in letters to his mother sent from the trenches of World War I. Strauss had previously admired Max Weber, also a Nietzschean and German imperialist, but a fierce fighter against anti-semitism (see Max Weber: a hero in fighting German anti-semitism here and Democratic Individuality, chs. 9-12), He told Rosenszweig that Heidegger made Weber look like an "orphan-child" (a Waisenkind).

In his posthumously published "An Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism," Strauss hails Heidegger as the one "great thinker" of our time (perhaps there will be another one, he says, in Burma in 2200). He mocks his own thesis advisor, Ernst Cassirer, also a Jew:

"There was a famous discussion between Heidegger and Cassirer in Davos which revealed the lostness and emptiness of this famous representative of established academic philosophy to everyone who had eyes. Cassirer had been a pupil of Hermann Cohen, the founder of the neo-Kantian school. Cohen had elaborated a system of philosophy whose center was ethics. Cassirer had transformed Cohen's system into a new system of philosophy in which ethics had entirely disappeared. It had been silently dropped; he had not faced the problem. Heidegger did face the problem. He declared that ethics is impossible and his whole being was permeated by the awareness that this fact opens up an abyss." (Strauss in Thomas Pangle, ed., The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism, pp. 27-28, 30).

Now there is no such fact. Any judgment that a non-murderous society is superior to one of mass murder is sufficient to rule it out. The fact that Cassirer (and Anglo-American philosophy) sometimes have trouble with ethics does not indicate a problem with ethics but with Cassirer. As William Altman has pointed out, there is a whole different level to this debate, hinted at but not spelled out in Strauss's discussion. Against the slaughter of a million soldiers on each side in World War I, the internationalist conference at Davos in 1928 meant to further peace between French and German intellectuals and, hopefully, peoples. Cassirer may have dropped ethics, but he stood for decency, Heidegger for a repeat (a Wiederholung) of World War I. Without naming them directly, Heidegger indicated that he stood with the Nazis. It was this stance in Strauss that repelled Hannah Arendt when he, a fellow Zionist and admirer of Heidegger, courted her. At Chicago, she said of him later, tartly but aptly, "He wanted to join a party that wouldn't have him because he was a Jew." See the clashing visions of Leo Strauss and Hannah Arendt here. At Chicago, he growled, "there are no women philosophers," while she, a much more creative political philosopher, taught down the hall...See only a foolish reactionary would say: there are no woman philosophers here.

An important shading of difference between Plato and Heidegger and Heidegger and Strauss is visible in Being and Time and in Heidegger's 1933 Rectoral Address (Rektoratsrede) at Freiburg. Heidegger starts from each of us, Dasein, being there, being in the world. There is a kind of democracy in Heidegger's formulation which pits Heidegger's mass fascist movement, to some extent, against Plato's rule of the philosophers. It is also visible in Heidegger's presentation of the equality of Aryan teacher- and student-workers, soldiers and laborers in his Rectoral Address. This is a post-communist reaction, a politics fearful of "Jew-Bolsheviks," an engagement with all Germans or Aryans which does not exist - even as a whiff - within the elitist Plato. At most, Plato speaks of gulling ordinary people with religion. They are perhaps even to make wars. But Heidegger is for conquering the world, for Kristallnacht. Heidegger is a Nazi, Plato an authoritarian.

By inclination, partly as a "scholar," partly in propagating a sect to be in politics rather than a mass movement as Strauss says in the "Restatement" to On Tyranny, he is a Platonic authoritarian. But this is really a shading. For Heidegger was also a Platonist, and wanted, as a philosopher, others to obey Hitler as their authentic being, whereas he (and any other guardians he could muster) would go teach and shape Hitler, shape the rules. In fact, Heidegger worshipped Hitler, speaking to Loewith of Hitler's "delicate hands." See here. He was genocidal through and through. But in thought, Hitler would not rule Heidegger. Heidegger hoped to make Hitler "authentic." Heidegger supported the Nazis ferociously until they lost. He then hid himself (his false Kehre), like Strauss. Throughout, he held a Platonic vision of "the inner truth and greatness of national socialism."

Correspondingly, Strauss liked the national revolution, and writing from New York about teaching, after Kristallnacht, conceived himself as feinting to students with a false vision of Socrates and then overwhelming their defenses with his vision, just as the Panzers rolled into Poland! See here. So he was not opposed to a mass movement and the odd combination of the cynical Bill Kristol or Wolfowitz or Shulsky and the Evangelicals shooting up Iraq is just a potential application of book 4 of the Laws as understood by Strauss (See my "Do Philosophers Counsel Tyrants?").

Strauss presented himself in the United States as distant from Heidegger. He told Catharine Zuckert not to read Heidegger, a strange attitude for a philosopher toward a student, perhaps a challenge to see whether she would, as in a fairy-tale, go on the adventure (phone conversation, October 2006). This story is particularly amusing given Strauss raving about Heidegger as the sole great thinker of our time in "An Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism." But with a "foot in the grave," as he said of Hobbes in a letter to Gershom Scholem, December 9, 1962, Strauss, too, became braver.****

Despite writing Postmodern Platos and drawing close to Heidegger, Catharine turned away, and pretty reactionary in politics herself, worships Strauss as a supposed constitutional democrat. See here. But the 1930 and 1943 versions of Heidegger's lectures on The Essence of Truth show something only hinted at by Strauss and Klein in 1973. Heidegger did not stop at Aristotle but went much further into the Greeks. If Strauss and Klein were excited by the first, could they fail to be enthusiastic about the subsequent readings? The center of Heidegger's journey was the cave-metaphor in Plato's Republic. His existentialism - his view that he and we, through questioning, could achieve a return to the originary or autochthonous, is exemplified by this reading of the Republic. Of course, the autochthonous is what grows out of the soil, the frightening Nazi slogan Blood and Soil, Blut und Boden ("Blubo" as Guenther Anders, a hidden Jewish student of Heidegger's, agitated to become a Nazi by Heidegger's wife Elfrida, sarcastically called it). This is precisely what Strauss affirmed about the soil, the rural life and the danger of its destruction, the danger "to the West" posed by liberalism and Marxism in this essay on "An Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism." (see Pangle, ed., p. 42 and On Tyranny, p. 27).*****

Heidegger could not have been more foolish and wrong, as an archaeologist, for the Greek soil was full of snakes and the heritage of snake-goddesses like Athena, not Heidegger's pretend "manliness." Nonetheless as a fascist, he sought to transform the polis from democracy into the rule of the depraved single man. See here, here, here, and here.

Strauss imitates Heidegger's style of questioning texts. Strauss's central hidden argument is on Plato urging the rule of the philosopher-tyrant. See my "Do philosophers counsel tyrants?" here. In this, he follows Carl Schmitt. "he is sovereign who makes the decision in the state of the exception" is the opening line of Schmitt's 1922 Political Theology; this kind of authoritarianism is also the central thought in Strauss's "principles of the Right - fascist, authoritarian, imperial" in his letter to Loewith, May 19, 1933. This thought was conveyed in American politics by his student Robert Goldwin, emphasizing Locke on "prerogrative" as special assistant to President Gerald Ford and Vice President Richard Cheney, and by Herbert Storing's idea of "executive power," carried by Gary Schmitt to Michael Malbin, author of the House Minority Report on Iran-Contra, written at the behest of Congressman Richard Cheney. See here. This Schmittian lineage has contributed to forging the anti-Constitution, anti-separation of powers, "commander in chief" power of the Bush administation in a "state of emergency" which Obama has, sadly and corruptly (as a constitutional lawyer and a decent man), largely retained. See here and here.

Now the stick has been bent far to the Right by Cheney. Whether the rule of law is again possible here (in the very limited form that it exhibits at its best) is a question. In other words, disregarding the crimes of the Bush era makes Obama a bipartisan accomplice in torture, in Jack Balkin's phrase. Bush felt so confident that he announced proudly three weeks ago that he "waterboarded" prisoners - a resurrected Torquemada. Not prosecuting Rove and his allies makes the corruption of the Justice Department, its use for partisan purposes - almost a definition of tyranny - the "law" of the land. Throwing away habeas corpus - the right of each prisoner to a day in court - has now become the "bipartisan" maxim of what Balkin rightly names the National Surveillance State. One should take in the extent that a certain Heideggerian-Schmittian vision, imported by Strauss, spread by his political students and long whispered of in neo-con circles, has now become American reality.

In "Do philosophers counsel tyrants?," I traced how Strauss hints in various writings about how a tyrant of a certain kind becomes a philosopher-tyrant and rules without laws in Plato and Al-Farabi. But what I am suggesting now that is novel, on the basis of The Essence of Truth: on the cave-metaphor and the Theaetetus, is that he imports straight-up Heidegger's existentialism (ingredient to these lectures) and national socialism. Strauss would not have seen the 1943 version, "I paid no attention to him for twenty years," Strauss announced, meaning perhaps that he took in Heidegger's 1953 Introduction to Metaphysics which refers to a purified "inner truth and greatness of national socialism" compared to Hitler's (losing) realization. But Strauss was still in Germany between 1930-32. As a Heideggerian, he would at least have heard from fellow Heidegger students, perhaps even Hannah Arendt whom he courted, the lineaments of Heidegger's fascist intpretation of the cave-metaphor. That interpretation was national socialist, and revealed its "inner truth and greatness" as Platonic. Even during World War II, Strauss makes the same distinction between true nihilism and the vulgar nihilist Hitler (See here). He affectingly shows how a true nihilist might admire Churchill rather than the "insane tyrant." Again, listen to the phrase: what if the tyrant had not been "insane"? Strauss does not strike so many vehement emotional chords. As Will Altman stresses, this is an important one.

Werner Dannhauser, Strauss's student, asked me tipsily one evening at Cornell long ago: "What's wrong with national socialism except the anti-semitism?" It was a rhetorical question. Strauss's rapturous embrace of Heidegger coupled with Heidegger's questioning of the cave-metaphor and the notion of the philosopher as a liberator-guardian suggests its plain truth. Heidegger's lectures reveal what is most hidden in Strauss; his Nazism comes, via Heidegger, from Plato, and is the center of his thinking and nefarious influence in American politics.

What Heidegger offers in these lectures is a shining example of a Platonic reading of the Republic. He sees the hidden meanings and connects the Seventh Letter, the Sophist, and the Theaetetus to fascism. But Strauss's central supposed transformation, leaving Germany and his 1933 authoritarianism and coming to America, "becoming Strauss" in Heinrich Meier and Catharine Zuckert's widely echoed idiom, is to go to the Greeks. That supposedly distances him from Heidegger. But amusingly in America, as the 1943 lectures on The Essence of Truth show, Strauss simply followed the hidden Heidegger, the Nazi who merged his existentialism inextricably with Plato. See here. Meier is a European reactionary in the lineage of Carl Schmitt (and Strauss) and knows that this presentation about "becoming Strauss" is surface or exoteric - politically, there was no such change. Read his seminal article on "How Strauss became Strauss" in Svetozar Minkov, ed., Enlightening Revolutions, in which the passage at pp. 366-67 is erudite and very funny in its omission of the unbroken thread of Strauss's authoritarianism/true nihilism (I may reproduce it and comment on it). The Zuckerts strive "manfully" to defend the thesis that there was an epistomological break between Strauss's interest in the classics and his fascism.

As these lectures of Heidegger on the Republic show, however, there was no such break nor even any originality (except for details) in Strauss's interpretation of the Republic. Heidegger is the master thinker, the “great” philosopher, in whose orbit Strauss circled. Heidegger was a Nazi. Following his encounter with Heidegger, Strauss wanted to join the Nazi party but couldn’t. See here and here. Still he remained sympathetic to the “inner truth and greatness of national socialism” (true nihilism in Strauss’s phrase), despite the anti-semitism, until the Second World War and, minus the anti-semitism, for the rest of his life. See here. What Heidegger does in these lectures is the articulated version of what Strauss alludes to. Following Plato’s instruction to his students, Heidegger practices hidden writing. As Strauss rightly said, his own primary contribution is to spell out, comparatively explicitly, “the art of writing.” Otherwise, he is, as Strauss says in “An Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism,” an imitator, an under-laborer…

Strauss is, however, also a brilliant interpreter of many Platonic dialogues and sees them in their complexity and interplay (he is also mistaken about Socrates and offers nothing to compare as an elucidation with The Essence of Truth). In the City and Man, he suggests that the city in speech (what Plato’s Socrates articulates in opposition to the cave) is a comedy about women. Plato’s story of men and women wrestling together naked is an adolescent satire of the older, women-led, egalitarian Cretan ritual of women and men, grabbing a bull by the horns and vaulting over his back – see here - but not simply. Socrates and Plato meant to advocate also the role of women philosophers (Diotima) or guardians. Further, Strauss says rightly in The City and Man, Plato meant the philosopher-king (tyrant) seriously.

In contrast to Heidegger and Strauss, Allan Bloom’s interpretation of the Republic as an addendum to his translation – that the city in speech is a comedy meant to deter student radicals from thinking they could institute justice and hence avoid fascism and communism - is surface silliness and/or anachronism (I imagine the latter; Bloom who was terribly repressed about his homosexuality and who he was, gave up his individuality, shaped himself in the “mask” – or wisdom – of Strauss, and in offering this interpretation bursts forth in contrast to “Mr. Strauss” – see here).

Heidegger has brilliant insights, and does show in contrast, what thinking about an ancient text, digging, by questioning, for meanings is. Neither Heidegger nor Strauss (let alone Bloom) reaches the originary or autochthonous state of the Greek arguments. But in Nietzsche’s prescient idiom that the scholars did up the bones that they themselves have buried, Bloom, despite providing an admirable translation, puts his bones on the surface for other gossips to nibble, Heidegger buries his at the bottom of Moria (one has to know a bit to unearth them…).

Plato wrote the Apology and Crito about Socrates and perhaps, more true to Socrates (as opposed to a Socrates Plato recreated as a wouldbe philosopher-tyrant and hierarch after Socrates’s death), shows him assenting to an extreme punishment – an unjust death – rather than deny questioning or go silent. Socrates, Gandhi said, was the first satyagrahi. Writing on the back of a New York Times in a jail cell in Birmingham, Martin Luther King Jr. invoked Socrates three times (see the cell here and my Do philosophers counsel tyrants?). Heidegger’s reading of the cave metaphor is informed by Heidegger’s philosophical and political bent. But is his account true even of Plato?

Heidegger focuses on the word aletheia. He translates this as Unverborgenheit, roughly unconcealedness or revealedness. He says rightly that each translation is informed by the philosophy of the translator, but adds that each listener should be able to reenact Plato's and Heidegger’s own questioning (Strauss co-enacts it, but of course one might also learn from but be critical of it):

“For the immediate purpose of these lectures it is therefore not necessary for you to have an autonomous command of the Greek text. In fact, you should also be able to co-enact the questioning itself without the text. It will be beneficial if you have a Greek text or translation beside you. A translation is enough preferably Schleiermacher’s (easily obtainable from Reclam) which has not been substantively improved upon and remains the most beautiful.”

He then indicates the secret of any translation (why the original in philosophy or particularly poetry escapes translation, cannot be rendered except as an indication – a kind of broken mirror – in another tongue):

“To be sure the original text is basic for one’s own work on the dialogue, and that means simultaneously one’s own translation. For a translation is only the end result of an interpretation which has actually been carried through: the text is set over into an autonomous questioning understanding. While I do not advocate working with translations, I must also warn against thinking that command of the Greek language by itself guarantees an understanding of Plato or Aristotle. That would be just as foolish as thinking that because we understand German we already understand Kant or Hegel which is certainly not the case.” (par 17, p. 94)

The word aletheia provides an obvious and strange example of Heidegger’s philosophical translation. The root of aletheia is lethe, the river of forgetfulness in Hades (h/t Matt Morgan). When souls are reborn, having chosen a guiding spirit in Plato’s Myth of Er (Republic, book 10), they pass through Lethe and forget (Lethe is lethal only to memory). Similarly, at the conclusion of the Meno, Socrates defends questioning or searching for the truth (aletheia) to Meno by questioning any slave whom Meno might select, which enabled the slave, coming to see an initial error, to prove one of the most advanced theorems of Euclidean geometry. The idea must have been in him, Socrates says, from eternity – both when he was in human and nonhuman form (this thought is perhaps metaphorical or surface).

But the idea here is that those who fashion arguments every day, who ask questions, who do not accept the common starting points which are contradictory, unclear or untrue, can, through striving, get somewhere. Where they get is to abate the river of Lethe, of forgetfulness; what they achieve, either in the questioning or in the rare (though less rare in geometry) arriving at a truth is, he says, a receding of lethe. So aletheia is obviously, for Plato and Socrates, not forgetting (the particle a conjoined to a noun indicates the noun’s opposite in Greek). It is often, less literally, translated reminiscence or recollection. Deconcealing or revealedness is a striking way of rendering our thrownness and lostness among the beings (our falling into “the one,” our concealedness including from who we are or what human potential might be). It is Heidegger’s philosophy. It does capture the cave. It is nonetheless both less exact and somewhat anachronistic or at least misleading.

Perhaps not surprisingly for a fascist, it places emphasis on what reveals itself in contrast to Plato and Socrates who stress the process of questioning by the individual who seeks. Philosophizing in Socrates is linked to individuality (even though this is not his word). With some help, even slaves can do it. This is radical egalitarianism which Plato shared this far – there are no slaves in the hierarchy of the city in speech (there are little bald-headed workers in bronze – like Socrates, the former artisan? one might respond sarcastically – who bathe themselves, marry philosophy and beget sophisms). Heidegger is the mortal enemy politically of equality and of course, the civil disobedience which Gandhi and King rightly saw in Socrates. He gestures at a pseudo-equality for Germans in the Freiburg Rectoral Address – we are all workers at the university he suggests once again, all with a common “national-social” purpose. But of course, this is also philosophical Platonism or elitism – only the few can philosophize and out of their ‘freely inquiring thinking’ set all the rules for the others…The few generate Nazism for the many; it is no accident that Heidegger stooped to Hitler (adored his “delicate hands”), and made himself an accomplice to genocide. Plato, of course, did nothing like this.

Plato, an anti-democrat, was shocked by the death of Socrates. In the Timaeus, he tried to initiate, among his students, the long run subversion of Athens to a regime ruled by philosopher-guardians (or perhaps by a philosopher guardian; Heidegger may imagine more philosophers than are likely among rulers – compare the nocturnal council and books 10-12 of the Laws). Two of his students joined him - half of the main Nazi philosophers - in looking to be philosophical advisors to the tyrant. Plato's long-term subversion of Athens parallels what Strauss did in setting in motion his sect united around anti-constitutional, anti-balance of powers, “executive” or “commander in chief power.” If Plato’s was tragedy and Heidegger’s limitless evil (about genocide, one has, as Michael Walzer says in Just and Unjust Wars, only to point), Strauss’s small band of influential political followers who combine authoritarianism with a crazed American vision of remaking the world through war (one that Strauss might have disagreed with in the case of Iraq – see John Mearsheimer on the German formation of Leo Strauss here and here) are like some Mel Brooks satire of Platonism. Bill Kristol is a tired political hack without philosophical enthusiasm – the mask of Leo Strauss is just held up in front of whatever bit of American or Israeli reaction or zealous purging of others he currently has hopes in. The political Straussians are not bad copies. They are aplaton – devoid of Plato.

Plato wrote 2400 years ago. The democracy that had just emerged was slave-holding, imperial and a prison-house for women (contrasted with the older, comparatively egalitarian, non-militarist civilizations of Crete and the other islands, see here). Plato’s views were reactionary but motivated by the extreme bloody-mindedness of aristocrats and democrats, as shown by Thucydides in Corcyra and at Melos and mirrored by Thrasymachus in book 1 of the Republic, inter alia. The ideal regime, the lean dog, brought into existence by the philosopher-tyrant, would be less murderous internally, Plato thought, and not destroy itself quickly through expansion (every regime dies for the Greeks, but Athenian democracy was a specially short-lived “glory,” as Keats later invoked it). In an even less reactionary vein, Farabi and Ibn-Rushd wrote among the Arabs in the 12th century. There, the form of rule was an Islamic despotism, though a despotism that practiced toleration of “other peoples of the book.” It is startling that the great Arab Platonists, Farabi and Ibn-Rushd – the latter who takes up the partial but very significant anti-sexism of the city in speech and Diotima in the Symposium and says that Cordobans are impoverished because they treat women as “vegetables” rather than allowing them full participation in all aspects of society – do not speak about toleration, Innovating on the basis of Plato was something they did; thinking beyond Plato about new and striking evidence concerning the goodness of a regime was not among their accomplishments. As not only Heidegger and Strauss prove, thinking Plato is a dangerous thing…

Plainly, however, a philosopher-tyrant, a tyrant interested in wisdom and just being decent, would be far better than most caliphs. In that context, it is not clear that Platonism is reactionary. In Europe, followers of Plato, most often, were hunted and murdered by the Medicis and the Catholic church (Neoplatonism is a code in the design of famous European gardens, like Versailles, among other places). The tradition lingered, but as a dissident one. In this regard, Platonism was decent or at least a better alternative, sometimes, to more murderous tyrannies.

In the twentieth century, however, Plato’s ideas were mainlined by fascists and particularly pro-Nazis. The philosophical idiom of national socialism even in Heidegger and Strauss comes much more sharply from Plato than from Nietzsche (though in “An Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism,” Strauss spins on the 
wonder” of the twentieth century as that of world wars leading to the racist domination of a Europe – he unthinkingly adores it – ruled by “the invisible philosophers of the future.” And on Nietzsche’s part, he burbles, this is the grandest vision of philosophers ever. This is, of course, a late side of Nietzsche, though an ordinary enthusiast would be inclined to point to other matters, say his psychological insights rather than this racist drivel. But as the Essence of Truth shows, Plato was at the center of Heidegger’s conception of true national socialism. Heidegger was the great philosopher of national socialism and of “our time,” that destitution or “the night of the world” as Strauss put it, Strauss but a shadowy planet in a far-flung orbit. I had offered Schmitt as the source of Strauss’s political recommendations here, here, and here, and had thought Strauss was an original scholar about the Greeks. The ideas and the method were, however, luminously, Heidegger’s. Strauss was a great and determined scholar. His Persecution and the Art of Writing names things which Heidegger did not, and is a deep contribution to the historiography of Plato and Platonists – including Heidegger (I did not realize that Heidegger did esoteric writing or was a Platonist until I read the Essence of Truth – recall his references to The Seventh Letter above).

But as a scholar also, he is deeply in the shadow of Heidegger, the great tree as it were and he but underbrush. He was also, however, a great teacher and many of his students took his serious but Delphic questioning of texts somewhat on the surface, and went with them in quite different philosophical/political directions (George Anadtaplo, Charles Butterworth and Roger Masters, inter alia). He was not a flamboyant teacher but someone who got people – and this is like Heidegger but perhaps with more purity, less simply mesmerizing – to look at texts (get beneath the skin of them in George Kateb’s phrase) in a different way.

Politically, however, Strauss’s sect may prove much more influential than Heidegger’s Nazism. All of this is largely a result of circumstances; Strauss unwisely did things which even now, with regard to Iraq, betray his intention, produce not even reactionary politics in his view, but destruction. Of course, he also entertained nuclear annihilation as a supposed return to the human “spring,” an antidote to the “last men.” See here. So he is more sublimely ridiculous about this than his followers about the aggression in Iraq. For his and his followers’ effect is to transform America into a National Security State, Israel into a fascism for Jews as well as Plaestinians, and provoke, as much as they can (Wolfowitz and Kristol are like the fellow waving his cowboy hat and going down with the bomb in “Dr. Strangelove”), Armageddon. In the myth of Plato’s Laws, the philosophers or strangers are supposed to rule over the mass of believers. But the Christian Zionists may see "the rapture” more clearly, as a fantasy, than belligerent Straussians see anything beyond the present (Strauss sees a human “spring,” a return to the stone age, but few of his political students or “gentlemen” have quite – angling for status and “democracy” and markets – taken in this goal).

The bipartisan policies of the Democrats in preserving the police/war state go along with this (the policies of the neo-neo cons as a very intelligent diplomat recently described them). It will take the greatest and most inventive efforts from below to halt these developments, to make these mirrors more happily of only philosophical or antiquarian interest.

*Strauss, “Correspondance Concerning Modernity,” trans. Susanne Klein and George Elliot Tucker, Independent Journal of Philosophy, 4 (1983), 107-08. Strauss, Gesammelte Schriften, 3:662-63.
**Meier, “Preface to the American Edition,” Leo Strauss and the Theological-Political Problem, p. xviii.
***The Stranger from Elea: “I suggest that everything which possesses any power of any kind, either to produce a change in anything of any nature or to be affected even in the least degree by the slightest cause, though it be only on one occasion, has real existence. For I set up as a definition which defines being, that it is nothing else than power (dunamis).” Sophist, 247e.
****"When studying Hobbes, I observed that what he said and did not say was a function of the heeresy laws obtaining at the time of publication of his various works. But then I saw that in one of his works published at a time of considerable restriction he was more outspoken than ever before. I was baffled until I noted that this book was published when he was already very old, with one foot in the grave, and I learned that this condition is conducive to courage. As for me I have had my first two heart attacks. Ergo." Strauss, Gesammelte Schriften, 3:748.
*****As Strauss put in in "An Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism," Heidegger "called it the 'night of the world.' It means indeed as Marx had predicted, the victory of an ever more completely urbanized, ever more comlete technological West over the rest of the planet - complete leveling and uniformity regardless of whether it is brought about by iron compulsion or by soapy advertisement of the output of mass production." Again, one need not draw fascist conclusions from the grain of truth in this insight. Today's revulsion against fast food and the growing movement for local and organic agriculture is a more human possibility.

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