Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Going down: on a democratic interpretation of Plato, part 2

I begin from a remark of Leo Strauss about the golden age of democracy which is a cracked mirror, if part 1 here is right, of the 7th Letter – one which affirms philosopher-tyranny rather than causing one, as Plato intended, to doubt it. I then probe more deeply a democratic interpretation of Plato, featuring a brilliant insight of Eva Brann (though Brann does not share this interpretation as a whole, arguing instead even that democracy and tyranny are equivalent – The Music of the Republic pp. 144-45),* and give an argument for a philosophical going down for democracy against tyranny even at the price of death.

Plato needed to write his apology to the Athenians for his three long years tutoring the tyrant Dionysius: a slightly hidden meaning of the Seventh Letter which is officially addressed to Dion’s friends. The voyage did not make Plato popular among democrats. He was, it must be emphasized, a philosopher and above democracy, not mainly or simply a democrat (looking down on democracy and recognizing its frequent horrors, for instance, the murder of his teacher). So the idea that the tyranny made the democracy look like a golden age could still be a feint, a surface message to gull the Athenian public.

An example of such a feint by a Platonist occurs in Leo Strauss’s essay “What is Political Philosophy?” Strauss uses this exact simile about Nazism making Weimar seem a “golden age.” Strauss speaks of the, in this respect “irresponsible” quality of Nietzsche’s “unsurpassable and inexhaustible power of passionate and fascinating speech…He…prepared a regime which, as long as it lasted, made discredited democracy look again like a golden age.” (What is Political Philosophy and other essays, p. 55)

This is Strauss’s only recalling of a phrase from the Seventh Letter (though of course he does not directly mention the Seventh Letter, and has the darker understanding of its overall message on philosopher-tyranny that I suggested above – see my Do philosophers counsel tyrants?, Constellations, March, 2009 here). This idea of Weimar as a golden age is the kind of point that Peter Minowitz emphasized to me in a letter about my remarks about Strauss and Heidegger (Mirrors 1 and 2 here and here). Surely, the surface of Strauss’s new interest in Heidegger is a fierce rejection of Nazism.

But as Strauss tells us in Persecution and the Art of Writing, p. 30, “The real opinion of an author is not necessarily identical with that which he expresses in the largest number of passages.” Perhaps we have here, in Strauss himself, the dangers of counting and comparing, of trying to figure out what an author really means – a scholarly/political effort in detecting and promoting hidden writing - but not thinking about whether and how arguments as a whole fit together. Nonetheless, as in Al-Farabi’s marvelous tale of the ascetic who escapes a tyrant’s watchman by pretending to be drunk and in answer to the cry: who goes there?, slurs, banging a cymbal: “That pious ascetic you are looking for,” it is the variation which is significant. The ascetic tells the truth, is misidentified, and walks away. So Strauss couldn’t be – couldn’t be – a Jew exiled from Germany (actually, he left on a Ford Foundation fellowship that Carl Schmitt had gotten him, not because of any compulsion) – Strauss just couldn’t be a long sympathizer with Hitler and a perhaps longer one of true national socialism or true nihilism...**

In a late letter to Gershom Scholem, Strauss speaks, as I have repeatedly emphasized, of discovering that Hobbes was bolder about something as the tyranny and censorship grew stronger, because “he had one foot in the grave.” (Gesammelte Schriften 3:748). “I have had my first two heart attacks,” says Strauss, “ergo.” Strauss wrote the posthumously published “An Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism,” avowing his admiration for the "great thinker of our age," and indicating decisively that he sided with Heidegger – and thus, in fact, a repeat of World War I – against Cassirer (Strauss’s doctoral advisor or Doktorvater, and a Jew). (See 'Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism" in Thomas Pangle, ed, The Restoration of Classical Political Rationalism, p. 28). That there is a “not altogether unrespectable” reason for turning away from Heidegger, Strauss says, namely his Nazism, does not mean that Strauss does. Read the sentence carefully in context:

The more I understand what Heidegger is aiming at, the more I see how much still escapes me. The most stupid thing I could do would be to close my eyes or reject his work.”

“There is a not altogether unrespectable justification for doing so. Heidegger became a Nazi in 1933. This was not due to a mere error of judgment on the part of a man who lived on great heights high about the low land of politics.”

Note how Strauss rightly here rejects Arendt’s apology for Heidegger’s Nazism as an error by the lofty philosopher, head in the “clouds,” as well as the standard American/French response when forced to notice Heidegger’s determined Nazism (see Strong, Kirsch and Faye, here). Recall above the first sentences that Strauss wishes to pursue some of this temper and direction (it would be “the most stupid thing not to”).

Strauss continues:

“What was the practical, that is to say, serious meaning of the contempt for reasonableness and the praise of resoluteness except to encourage that extremist movement? When Heidegger was rector of the University of Freiburg in 1933, he delivered an official speech in which he identified himself with the movement which then swept Germany. Heidegger has not yet dared to mention that speech in the otherwise complete lists of his writings which appear from time to time of the book jackets of his recent publications.”

Despite the apparent mocking of Heidegger, note the care with which Strauss attended to his words. He did not miss, even slightly, what Heidegger was about. He adhered to the main message (the disdain for urban life, the wish for elite authoritarian rule) as well as celebrating hidden or esoteric meanings, characteristic of Heidegger’s way of reading and writing. Consider for example Being and Time as partly veiled, an academic performance to get Edmund Husserl’s post, his teacher who was retiring, at Freiburg. Academics were fired in Germany for announcing Nazi sympathies publically prior to 1933 and so, the work is deliberately ambiguous between authentic individual conduct as many interestingly but mistakenly interpret it and Heidegger’s real meaning: authentically giving one’s life for the fatherland. See here. Consider Heidegger’s account of Plato in the writings of the early 1930s – which Strauss would have known - and in the 1943 Vom Wesen der Wahrheit (The Essence of Truth) here.

Strauss adds:

“In 1953, he published a book, Introduction to Metaphysics, consisting of lectures given in 1935, in which he spoke of the greatness and dignity of the National Socialist movement. In the preface written in 1953, he said that all mistakes had been corrected.” ("Introduction" in Pangle, ed., pp. 30-31) ***

In style, this resembles Strauss’s affirmation of the grandeur and freshness of the writing in the Declaration of Independence at the opening of Natural Right and History which goes no way toward affirming its truth (see Strauss’s comment on this difference concerning Hermann Cohen and Kurt Riezler at What is Political Philosophy?, p. 242) Strauss undercuts the Declaration’s words even in the second sentence - they have merely contributed to America’s “power and prosperity” - and later defends “classical natural right: inequality.”(p. 118) Similarly, here he says only that Heidegger does not make a mistake in affirming “the greatness and dignity of the National Socialist movement.” It is obvious to the reader – obvious – that Strauss disagrees. But he never says so. The literal meaning just describes what Heidegger did (one might attend to Strauss’s counsel about Spinoza in 1962 in the last sentence of his new introduction to Spinoza’s Critique of Religion: that Strauss did not understand him because he did not read him literally enough).

In fact, Strauss does not turn away from, but as Persecution and the Art of Writing adumbrates, fiercely endorses Heidegger (see the extensive commentary on "Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism” in Mirrors 1 here). That endorsement in the introduction includes a complex and long pro-Nazi phase of admiration for Heidegger (one which lasted well into the Hitler period and into his exile in the United States, even after Kristallnacht, see here). During World War II, Strauss did finally adopt Churchill and England, but not at the expense of a true as opposed to vulgar nihilism or national socialism. As Strauss’s student and aficianado Werner Dannhauser once put it to me, “What’s wrong with national socialism, except the anti-semitism?” This was exactly the point of Strauss’s May 19, 1933 letter to Loewith. (see the courage to destroy here and the letter here).

In What is Political Philosophy?, Strauss says for an American audience: “Led politically by Hitler and intellectually by Heidegger, Germany entered the Third Reich.” (“Kurt Riezler,” p. 241). Heidegger in philosophy was what Hitler was in politics. Consider this statement in the light of his posthumous introduction – Heidegger is the "great thinker" of our time whom Strauss has no wish to escape - and his 1933 letter to Loewith. Peter Minowitz’s hope takes the surface of some of Strauss’s writings against the striking and much more vivid variations which Strauss himself warns a reader to heed.

In this very essay in What is Political Philosophy?, Strauss also shifts. He gives an account of the international meeting in Davos – in purpose, a gathering of French and German intellectuals working for peace and cooperation - in which Heidegger dominates, Cassirer represents dead “academic philosophy” (p. 245-46). Strauss says of Riezler, whom he greatly admires:

“Riezler took the side of Heidegger without any hesitation. There was no alternative. Mere sensitivity to greatness would have dictated Riezler’s choice.” (p. 246)

This point about “sensitivity to greatness” for the attentive reader hardly indicates distance from Heidegger. Just above, Strauss says enthusiastically:

“Heidegger surpasses all his contemporaries by far [note the use of the present tense in the 1960s]. This could be seen long before he became known to the general public. As soon as he appeared on the scene, he stood in its center and he began to dominate it. His domination grew almost continuously in extent and in intensity. He gave adequate expression to the prevailing unrest and dissatisfaction because he had clarity and certainty, if not about the whole way, at least about the first and decisive steps…Eventually a state has been reached which the outsider is inclined to describe as paralysis of the critical faculties; philosophizing seems to have been transformed into listening with reverence to the incipient mythoi of Heidegger…” (p. 246)

If we listen carefully, Strauss speaks thirty years later “as an outsider,” but, at the time, he, too, was mesmerized by Heidegger. How mesmeric and long-lasting the stamp is of course revealed by Heidegger’s 1943 The Essence of Truth: on Plato’s cave-metaphor and the Theaetetus in which Heidegger draws his Nazism from the rule of the philosopher-guardians in the Republic (see here). What Strauss became in America was thus propelled by Heidegger’s interpretation of the Greeks, including, as I showed in that post, hidden writing, for instance, the close connection of Heidegger’s interpretation of the Republic with his hints about the Seventh Letter. Once again, Strauss’s Persecution and the Art of Writing names the art of writing - exoteric/esoteric writing – in a way that Heidegger did not.

Strauss took Plato’s 7th Letter as exoteric or surface on democracy, friendly to the project of the philosopher-tyrant who rules “wisely” but without laws. Upon reading his commentary on Xenophon’s advice to tyrants – his 1948 On Tyranny - I immediately understood Strauss’s unmentioned line of thinking about the Republic: the implied circle from a certain kind of a tyrant of a certain kind to a philosopher-king in book 8 – see here. It was in this sense that I saw the Seventh Letter as key to the Republic and to what Plato taught his students.

But I am now inclined not to. One might think on reflection that the criticisms of the three failures of philosopher-tyranny (see part one here) and the remarks about democracy in Plato were genuine. One might surmise that the story of Socrates and the philosophers’ going down to defend (a decent) democracy - one that could coexist with asking questions - was right. In this sense, the 7th Letter reveals the temptation of the Republic and philosopher-tyranny, a temptation that had affected, as his journeyings to Syracuse as well as his writings reveal, even Plato. But going down, not to rule, but to defend (or in Socrates's case, to make a moral correction) of actual democracy at the price of death, is perhaps the key idea. For as the Republic shows, Plato hated tyranny (as Strauss did not, for instance about fascism/Nazism; Strauss detested only Soviet tyranny, but in On Tyranny, praises Simonides’s recommendations to Hiero; Heidegger was of course an enthusiast of Hitler’s “delicate hands”…See here).*****

Since Plato detested tyranny, there are important reasons for taking Plato as arguing that the philosopher must sometimes go down to affirm democracy against it. He is not to be a king or an “invisible” philosopher of the future, a would-be fascist a la Nietzsche (this is Nietzsche’s bad side, mitigated by his brilliant psychology, by his idea of going alone to the mountain top and dancing, by prefiguring but not seeing actual fascism, by his being a European chauvinist but not a German nationalist, and many other matters). Instead, having seen the ideas of justice and beauty and the good, as the Republic says in this very passage about descending again to the cave, the student of Plato has a kingly or well ordered soul and needs to go down (katabasis) to fight for democracy. He sees more clearly in the cave; he is a leader. He will probably be torn apart in this effort. But by this death, he sustains the democracy or the vision of the right relationship of democracy and philosophy: a city that honors rather than murders its wise citizens. He honors Socratic civil disobedience. He or she models bravery, going down the line for the truth. A powerful vision.

But if true, Plato’s thought is not quite on the surface. It conflicts not just with the idea of Odysseus minding his own business – see here - but once again, with Plato’s own temptation to counsel a philosopher-ruler, rejected by him at least after journeying to Syracuse and the Seventh Letter (Hilary, it seems to me very important not to give up the 7th Letter if the decent interpretation I am now tempted by is right).

For Plato spends a great deal of time testing his students in these dialogues against tyranny. Peter Minowitz wrote me a long letter below about Eva Brann’s insightful interpretation of the Timaeus with some thoughts as well, following Cathaerine Zuckert, on Critias. Following Brann, Peter rightly notes that the city in the Timaeus is not the city, as I too swiftly concluded, in the Republic: it leaves out the philosopher-king. I was interested in the Timeaus primarily for Plato’s male chauvinist erasure of the women-led civilization of Crete and the Cycladic islands in the story of Atlantis. See here, here, here, here and here. Whatever one makes of my and Altman’s point about a democratic “going down,” this criticism of Plato remains. Even though his image of women and men wrestling naked is meant to satirize a dangerous Cretan ritual of grabbing and jumping over the bull’s horns, Plato did have women among the guardians (and Ibn-Rushd strongly took up this vision, saying it was treating women like plants that made Cordoba poor).

But Eva Brann’s point about the Timaeus and Critias is right: there are guardians, but no philosopher-king. In response to Peter, Will Altman says, somewhat carefully, that there is someone missing at the outset of the dialogue, a friend who is sick. So the suggestion is also that there is something missing in the forthcoming dialogue. One candidate is of course Plato himself, one possibility the philosopher-king. And the philosopher-king, a leader rather than a tyrant one might say, might oppose the a-philosophical rule of the guardians.

What Peter misses, however, is that Brann’s correction of my misformulation does not by itself help out the argument that Plato is favorable to democracy. He rightly adds the point that the wording of the Timaeus specifies guardians but notably contrasts with the kings who ruled Atlantis. But the guardians are not democratic citizens nor are the artisans. That there is no philosophical king (or that such a figure is at most implied) does not mean there is no king. Authoritarianism is still the mode of politics.

What does begin to help out on Plato, however, is another brilliant point of Brann’s echoed by Will Altman’s emphasis on line 557d which Peter cites but does not explain. Brann’s point is that Socrates’s life in Athens actually models the philosopher-king (or more aptly, citizen-leader). He served, as the Apology and Alcibiades’s drunken, love-struck, spiritually agonized speech at the end of the Symposium tell us, in the army with great bravery. At 50 (and perhaps younger, perhaps even during soldiering), he became a philosopher not so much of the universe – the one that Aristophanes made fun of in the Clouds, but of justice, the good (well, that is the universe externally and internally, I suppose, or more precisely, asking questions and fashioning arguments daily about it) and politics. Socrates spoke with able young men who could go into politics. He treated them as his children (as do the guardians the children of the Republic; his biological sons figure only in a sentence in the Apology and a brief response to Crito). He is poor and in conversation and drinking parties, is self-disciplined (does not get drunk when others do, or drunk at all – see the discussion of the test of drinking parties in Laws, book 1, which he meets to an extraordinary degree), needs little and he and the young men share goods (along with others, Plato offers to pay his fine in the Apology).

Further, given Socrates’ notion of ideas existing from eternity, he challenged Greek hierarchy and slavery in the Meno. He showed that any slave, with questioning, could prove one of the most advanced theorems of Euclid’s geometry. Here is the deeply egalitarian, democratic, morally progressive aspect of Socrates’s/Plato’s thinking. In his lectures on the Meno for a semester, Strauss apparently did not take this in (h/t Mike Goldfield). The Socrates of the Republic, however, reiterates this point in speaking of “going down.”

“But our reasoning goes quite to the contrary. We assert that this power [of turning around and ascending] is already in the soul of everyone. The way each of us learns compares with what happens to the eye: it cannot be turned away from darkness toward the light without turning the whole body. So it is with our capacity to know; together with the entire soul, one must turn away from the world of transient things toward the world of perpetual being, until finally one learns to endure the sight of its most radiant manifestation. That is called goodness, is it not?” (Republic, 518c-d).

“In the soul of everyone”: Strauss was violently allergic to the deep egalitarian, democratic aspect of Socrates’ and perhaps Plato’s ideas. Recall that the justification of the hierarchy in kallipolis is a “noble lie.” Now one must follow out a line of thought congenial to Strauss a little more. The politeia (regime or republic) is characterized by lies and manipulation, a near regime in the Laws, 708-11, by appeals to a “God” because ordinary people will not see a legislator’s reasoning, need treacherous stories or myths to go along, live in the cave and fear the light. Moved by the death of Socrates, Plato is hardly – golden age or not - a simple fan of democracy. The ordinary people must be, to a large extent, duped and hence, Strauss’s inferential leap, his spiteful thought that they are the last men, indecent, needing or deserving to be destroyed (consider the awful or literally fascist last two sentences of Strauss’s essay "On [Plato's] Minos" in Liberalism Ancient and Modern, p. 75: "But just as the Minos leads up to the view that a bad law is not a law, [Plato's] Hipparchus leads to the view that a bad gain is not a gain. With what right do we then say of a low-class human being that he is nevertheless a human being?").

In contrast, Plato, author of the Meno and the Republic, could, following Socrates, have been teaching, somewhat obliquely, about egalitarianism and even democracy in particular circumstances. He could, as Will Altman’s thesis suggests, have been counselling his students to “go down” even at the price of their lives, to stand for something, to protect democracy and philosophy, to halt tyranny. Here is Brann’s wonderful thought from The Music of the Republic (published in 2004) as rendered by Peter:

“ON THE CITY OF THE PHILOSOPHER KINGS: This city, argues Brann, ‘comes into being while Glaucon and Socrates converse.’ Along the way, she makes these observations: Socrates is a brave and proven soldier who's older than 50, he's still spirited in defending philosophy, he lacks possessions, he lives with his friends ‘as if all their goods were held in common,’ he regards all promising young men as his sons, he can ascend in thought above the city (though he's sometimes willing to undertake political tasks), and he strives to ‘select and educate the best among the young for future rule’ (Brann, 139-40). Hence, his last words about the possibility of the P-king city have an unpolitical thrust: in ‘heaven, . . . perhaps, a pattern is laid up for the man who wants to see and found a city within himself on the basis of what he sees. It doesn't make any difference whether it is or will be somewhere. For he would mind the things of this city alone, and of no other’ (592b, Bloom translation).”

This point is well taken except Peter’s gloss that the remarks on the “P-king city have an unpolitical thrust.” He means presumably that they don’t have an authoritarian thrust as Farabi assumes when he comments that Plato sought to have his followers gradually overthrow the democracy. But it then has a pro-democratic purpose – to discourage such attempts. Further, it may have an even stronger version – the one Altman and I suggest - of going down, in certain circumstances, to defend the democracy against tyranny.

Peter continues:

“Brann likewise stresses 557d, where Socrates famously says that a DEMOCRATIC regime is ‘probably necessary’ for someone ‘who wishes to organize [Brann uses ‘construct’] a city, AS WE WERE JUST DOING’ (Brann, 91; cf. 56, 146 [these passages are well worth reading – AG]).”

This thought deepens Will’s thesis against a leading objection. The idea of a kallipolis sketched in the Republic is hierarchical, made for the rule of a philosopher-tyrant. It is no accident that famous Platonists took that route, in the twentieth century, sharply to the Right. For Plato’s engagement with the tyrant Dionysius in Syracuse and the Athenian and Eleatic Stranger’s words (and even the Timaeus and Critias, as on the surface anti-democratic, guardian/warrior-like documents) seemingly mandate this path. But Brann sees the virtues precisely given Socrates’s life and death in a democracy, one which tolerates the construction of many ideal regimes. That is the center, usually a theme around which all else is wound, of Plato’s writings. Yes, philosophy often needs to be defended against democracy (“the city and [or, rather, against] man” in Strauss’s and Steven Smith’s idiom (taped lectures on the Republic). But in Plato, philosophy can also go along with democracy as in, sometimes uneasily, Socrates’s 70 year life. Further, democracy needs to be defended against tyranny. For that, one might “go down.”

Brann thus provides a subtle link directly to those who take Plato in a democratic (or radical democratic) sense – in this vital conflict (that democracy, under crisis, often shades into tyranny as we can see in the Cheney period, and in embryo, now). In distinguishing the philosophical-king and guardian-led cities (the former the pattern or idea, the latter a realization), Brann also offers a novel insight into the possibilities of the pattern realized by Socrates and his students:

“The claim is, however, not merely that the fourth city (the one ruled by a philosopher-king) is a possible city. It is something much more dramatic. That it is actual, that it comes into being while Glaucon and Socates converse, that it is in fact a city ‘in deed’ ergoi. This could happen only if one paradoxical condition were fulfilled: If there were some one adult who actually lives in the just city, and who, as a living citizen of the city, can bring up another within it and so initiate the “cycle” (Republic 424 a5) of the reciprocating interplay between the citizens’ education and their nature. This founder must be a first citizen not only in the sense that he possesses what Socrates calls ‘the constitution within himself” (591e 1, 608 b 1) but also in the sense that he has such external relations – natural, as we shall see, to any truly educated human being (423 e 4) – as correspond with the constitution of the third, the fully differentiated just city, and its actualized version, the fourth or the ‘possible’ city. What would such a life and such a man look like?” Brann, The Music of the Republic, p. 139

In the fourth city as imagined by Socrates/Plato, the relation of philosopher to guardian-student is not one of citizens. The inhabitants are not free except in the sense of not being conquered. There are no assemblies, no deliberations in public (perhaps among more than one philosopher ruler), no juries, no voting. There is among the solitary, however, the one on one of dialogue. But in Athens, as Brann’s phrasing suggests, the philosopher can teach the student through questioning and ascent; they are both citizens and soldiers. The pattern is realized in their influence inside or on the democracy – fighting for the right relationship of philosophy to democracy, for example, or to save it from tyranny - rather than as its enemies.

Brann’s insights reflect a lifetime of reading and teaching Plato. It is not obvious as some liberal philosophers suggest who have read the Republic, not deeply, from Karl Popper, staring at Nazism from the near setting of Vienna, and, very likely cognizant of the many Platonists like Heidegger and his students among pro-Nazi philosophers, to Simon Blackburn. But the paradigm of Socrates going down is both a fearsome and very honorable and attractive one.

*Ironically, Brann emphasizes the role of philosophy in a democracy, even at pp. 145-46, which might have led to a different judgment. Nonetheless, reflecting a lifetime of thought and teaching on Homer and Plato, her Music of the Republic is an exceptional read. Brann dedicates the book to “Sascha Klein” – Jacob Klein – a great scholar of these matters who long taught at St. John’s, and though Strauss’s close friend, did not, longterm, share his reactionary politics or even remain very political (Strauss emphasized this difference between them in “An Evening at St. John’s” 1973). Now Klein had been a reactionary Jewish Nietzschean, displaying a misguided enthusiasm for Hitler for which he apologized to Strauss – to little avail - in 1934. See here). Brann translated Klein’s book on Greek mathematics and the origins of algebra. His subtle readings of the dialogues, also stemming initially from Heidegger’s readings, are a related to but different lineage of interpretation from Strauss’s. Some of Brann’s insights, particularly on music, painting and poetry, however, go far beyond Klein’s – they are in a conversation, not teacher and disciple - and she is far more entertaining to read.

**In correspondance, Roger Masters seems stuck on this point, unsurprisingly. I and the two initial translators of the 1933 letter, Scott Horton and Eugene Shepherd, misidentified the “meskine Unwesen” (the grasping nonentity) with Hitler rather than a modern reality of the last men, descended from Jewish prophecy – what Strauss as a rightwing Nietzschean meant (h/t Michael Zank). It is quite uncanny that this émigré from a distant place, a Jew and a Zionist of sorts, could be not only a fascist – what he plainly and insistently was – but startlingly and counterintuitively, pro-Nazi. This was the fact about Strauss’s letters which Cropsey, his literary executor, feared, if he had allowed Steve Holmes to look at them in the 1980s, would have surfaced. Hence the long delay in their publication, till 2000 in German. See here and here.

***Carnap knew Heidegger – see Michael Friedman, A Parting of the Ways – and probably told Popper about Platonic Nazism in depth. Blackburn who does brilliant possible worlds theory was asked to write on an introduction to Plato by Oxford. This is a good exercise and I share some of his sympathies. But it is not yet Plato scholarship. Brann’s point is one of the subtlest I have ever read about the Republic and he provides nothing to compare. Paul Dry books published the one, Oxford the other, the quality of the books and the thought in inverse proportion to status in the world of philosophy publishing.

****Strauss continues with a feint on Nietzsche. Strauss was committed to Redlichkeit, probity. So he always says literally what he means. It is thus important to see the difference concerning writing between the lines, between what the reader expects him to be saying – what he seems to say, allusively, ambiguously – and what he in fact says:

“The case of Heidegger reminds one to a certain extent of the case of Nietzsche. Nietzsche, naturally, would not have sided with Hitler.”

The “naturally” here is obscure. Perhaps he means with the exception of Nietzsche’s idea that jews initiate the slave revolt in morals, democracy, communism and the “last men” – a big exception that Strauss took to the Right in his 1932 "Die geistige Lage der Gegenwart" here - Nietzsche opposes gutter anti-semitism, Anti-Semiterei.

“If one rejects, as passionately as Nietzsche did, conservative constitutional monarchy as well as democracy, with a view to a new aristocracy, the passion of the denials will be much more effective than the necessarily more subtle intimations of the character of the new nobility, to say nothing of the blond beast.”

In a letter to Loewith, Strauss says he agreed with everything that he understood of Nietzsche between the ages of 22 and 30. When he was 30, in 1929, he heard of Heidegger’s debate with Cassirer at Davos, and as he says early in this essay and in the essay on Riezler in What is Political Philosophy?, sided with Heidegger.

One more clause to be taken on the surface, - “Passionate political action against the movements just referred to is absolutely in order” – Leo almost sounds here like an anti-fascist -

“but it is not sufficient. It is not even politically sufficient. Are there no dangers threatening democracy, not only from without but from within as well? Is there no problem of democracy, on industrial mass democracy? The official high priests of democracy with their aimiable reasonableness [what did Strauss say about Heidegger’s stand on “resoluteness” earlier in this same essay? To a careful reader, he appears but a few pages later to share Heidegger’s stance…] were not reasonable enough to prepare us for our present situation: the decline of Europe, the danger to the West, to the whole Western heritage…Nietzsche once described the cage which had been effected in the second half of the nineteenth century in continental Europe. The reading of the morning prayer had been replaced by the reading of the morning paper: not every day the same thing, the same reminder of man’s absolute duty and exalted destiny, but every day something new with no reminder of duty and exalted destiny; specialization, knowing more and more about less and less; the practical impossibility of concentration upon the very few essential things upon which man’s wholeness entirely depends; the specialization compensated by sham university, by the stimulation of all kinds of interests and curiosities without true passion; the danger of universal philistinism and creeping conformism." (Pangle, ed., pp. 30-31)

*****Strauss also maintains that technology in the United States and Stalin’s collectivization of agriculture are the same both in his first writing in the United States (On Tyranny, p. 27) and in his posthumously published “An Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism.”

Being no fan of bad things America does nor of American chauvinism, I think segregation and lynchings in the South are a fairer comparison with collectivization, but Strauss does not make it. He is no opponent of tyranny, just of liberals and radicals, of equality and (radical) democracy. His comparison is a little like Heidegger’s infamous analogy of the genocide to mechanized agriculture. Denying ethics (Strauss occasionally refers bizarrelly to the decency – the disinterest in money or status – or even “sensitivity to greatness” of mass murderers and nihilists – oh, those pious commandants of concentration camps…), both men affirm evils.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Post a Comment