Monday, September 5, 2011

Politics and the god, part 2

For part 1, see here.

2. What is the “Theological-political Problem” in Socrates and The Laws?

Despite the urging of Crito, Simmias and Cebes, Socrates chooses to die rather than escape. In the Laws, however, Plato imagines him fleeing to Crete as the Athenian Stranger (the Stranger both is and is not Socrates). On December 12, 1938, Strauss conjures Socrates, slipping through a hole in time:

The Nomoi rest on the fiction, that Socrates has fled from the prison! The hole for the Laws (the hole through which Socrates wished himself to Crete - ) is pointedly shown in Crito! There is no ‘earlier and later’ in Plato’s storytelling.1

In his 1973 The Argument and the Action of Plato's Laws, Strauss recapitulates the theme of flight and reappearance:

[In Crito] Socrates does not discuss what would happen to him if he went to a well-governed city far away like Sparta or the still more remote Crete; he had mentioned both shortly before (Crito 53b4-6 and d2-4, 52e5-6). It thus suggests itself to us that if Socrates had escaped from prison, he would have gone to Crete, where he was wholly unknown and would have come to sight only as an Athenian stranger.2

The philosopher – Socrates – returns from the dead. Consider the analogous Christian metaphor, four centuries later, of the rebirth – or resurrection – of a martyr. This myth in the Laws prefigures the resurrection of Jesus.

Strauss does not see this analogy because a) he did not deeply involve himself with Christianity – he wrote primarily on medieval Islam and Judaism, and was a Zionist activist in Germany which had a strongly anti-semitic, Protestant mainstream,3 and b) more importantly, he had no interest in Gandhi and subsequently opposed Martin Luther King (at Strauss’s urging in 1960, his student Robert Goldwin who ran the Public Affairs Conference Center at the University of Chicago solicited a paper defending “state’s rights” by James Kilpatrick, a leading Virginia segregationist; Strauss opposed both the social science – the “ss” as he called it - embodied in Kenneth Clark’s work against discrimination in the Brown v. Board of Education decision and desegregation itself).4 Thus, Strauss had no inkling of Socrates as the first civil disobedient.5 At a low-point in Athens, crushed by the Syracusans and the Spartans, the citizens try Socrates for asking questions (that he is “impious,’ “corrupts the youth”) and put him to death.6 As Socrates announces to the demos, he will not stop. He will not allow them to put down philosophy.7

In Crito, the laws of democratic Athens who speak to Socrates demand allegiance despite the unjust decision of men. The argument of democratic laws primarily convinces Crito (they assert that they deserve more to be honored than fathers, but as we can see in book 1 of the Republic, Socrates questions paternal authority, and drives out Cephalus to initiate political philosophy). See here. Another, unstated argument convinces Socrates to go to his death.

Socrates hears the laws’ voice, as the Corybants – the participants in the Mysteries, of whom Socrates was one - hear the flutes:

Be assured, dear friend Crito, that this is what I hear as the Corybants hear the flutes and the sound of the words echoes within me and prevents me from hearing any other words. And be assured that as far as I now believe, if you argue against these words, you will speak in vain. Nonetheless, if you think you can accomplish anything speak. (Crito, 54d)

For the only time in the dialogues, Socrates says, you may speak, Crito, but you will not convince me. As I have argued elsewhere, he stands in an intrinsic relationship to the (idea of the) democratic laws.8 See here. He breaks an unjust law – one which forbids questioning – but as John Rawls puts it, “in the overall context of fidelity to law.”9 Foreshadowing Gandhi and King, Socrates, an old man at 70, is willing, in these particular circumstances. to accept an extreme punishment.10

Writing of civil disobedience historically, Gandhi names Socrates and Jesus as the only two non-Hindu satyagrahi. On the back of a newspaper in the Birmingham city jail, Martin Luther King invokes Socrates three times. For instance, King analogizes the nonviolent movement against segregation to Socrates’ gadfly irritating a great horse:

Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must see the need of having nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men [and women] to rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.11

Strauss’s vision of the theological-political problem is reactionary, authoritarian, manipulative.12 In contrast, the vision of slaves and outcastes, embodied in Gandhi’s Hinduism and King’s Christianity, empowered the oppressed to stand up for dignity. With Socrates, Christ and Gandhi share the idea: “it is better to suffer injustice than ever to do it.” Their actions were noble and direct.13 Visible in Socrates’s conversation with the slave in the Meno, the idea that each person has a soul and, under questioning, can “recall” even an advanced theorem of geometry foreshadows a novel egalitarian politics. 14

In preparing satyagrahi to face death, Gandhi and King invoke a theological politics. Nonviolence was for Gandhi and his followers a largely Hindu - though Badshah Khan extended it among Muslims - and in the American South a largely Christian movement. Thus, the term here has a broader, more attractive application than in Strauss alone, a political theoretical meaning.15

The different meanings of political-theological broadly parallel an ambiguity in Strauss’s use of “persecution” in Persecution and the Art of Writing. He emphasizes philosophers seeking to protect themselves from harm from the city. Socrates is his model. But his thought draws its obvious appeal from a second sense: that authorities have long persecuted expressions of freedom, insight and individuality: in Socrates, Gandhi, King, Kepler, Tycho Braho, Paine, Marx and the like. Both cases require, to an extent, hidden writing, though the latter tends to provoke honesty (“we communists disdain to conceal our ends and aims,” as Marx and Engels put it in the Manifesto). Strauss has an unappealing Farabian or quasi-Platonic view of philosophers, including Socrates. He pits them against the many; the hidden meaning of the “best order” is one, for Strauss, that serves the philosophers at the expense of the many (expelling all those over the age of 10 from the “city in speech”).

Ostensibly, that is, on the surface, such a philosopher is benevolent toward his interlocutors. But in deciding for others, the use of religion like the laws is from above, authoritarian, easily capable of harm. As Socrates famously asks Thrasymachus, what if the stronger mistakes his advantage? (Republic, 339b-e) 16 What if he ignores a common good? Gandhi and King believed in their religions; like Socrates, they risked and ultimately sacrificed their own lives. They were not atheists pretending to be religious to lure the masses to give up their lives. They incarnate Socrates’s thought: “it is better to suffer injustice than ever to do it.”

In addition, a central modern insight into justice is an admiration for individuality.17 Each person pursues her life as she sees fit, freely changing her conception, so long as she doesn’t harm others. Given who he was, Socrates went his own way. This feature makes his story just, even if Plato’s dream of the “city in speech” is not. With Klein, one might say, given Socrates, that philosophy is moral.18

But in a February 16, 1939 letter, Strauss speaks of the injustice, or the absence of justice – the adikia – not just of politics, but of philosophy. Following the trial and death of Socrates in which the advocates of injustice triumph in life, Strauss thinks that in the Republic they also, subtly, triumph. The Myth of Er, a story about justice which, at the end, saves dikaiosune is a beautiful lie [kalon pseudos]:

The Republic begins to become clear to me. My intuition for several years that its central theme is the question of the relation of the political life and the philosophical life, and a radical criticism of the political life is bound up with this, has been fully proven. It has now clarified itself that a critique of justice is bound up with it: the Republic is an ironic vindication for being without justice – that comes out wonderfully in the Thrasymachus-discussion - . Justice loses the Trial, it wins it only through the Myth at the end, that is, through a beautiful lie [ein kalon pseudos], that is, through an action that is strictly speaking without justice [adikon].19

Strauss likes paradoxical formulations (“Nomoi: a book about laws with an antidote to the laws.”) That a book about “what is justice?” and “how am I to live a good life?” is, ironically, about widespread injustice and that even philosophy is without justice is paradoxical. But Strauss’s second claim here is doubtful. Concentrating on the “city in speech”’s justice here, Strauss overlooks the justice of Socrates living his life and going to his death for his own reasons. Whether the city is unjust or not, Socrates is just. On January 8, 1935, Strauss, however, questioned Klein’s idea of Socrates’s justice:

In one of your letters, you spoke about this, that Plato begins from [davon ausgehe] the dikaios of Socrates…That needs, I believe, an essential limitation. I doubt that following Plato’s meaning any man can be shown as dikaios. So in the Seventh Letter as in Phaedo (conclusion), he invokes Socrates as the dikaiotatos ton tote [most just of all] – what is something wholly different. There exist as few just ones [dikaios] as wise ones [sophos] – even this is certainly the original meaning of the teaching on Ideas.20

Strauss does not argue for his last remark. But perhaps Socrates, a lover of wisdom who was not wise, is also a lover of justice though not just (in The City and Man, Strauss rightly distinguishes between justice in a higher sense – I would say, being who Socrates is, standing up for philosophy and individuality – and mere obedience to the laws). Perhaps Socrates has a human wisdom and unlike others who deceive themselves, knows “that he doesn’t know” is “the wisest of them all”; analogously, Socrates, “without justice” is also “the most just of all.” In contrast, however, note that Socrates knows a great deal about questioning and what good actions as opposed to wicked ones are (even if he does not know what the idea of justice or the good is). He knows how to fashion arguments, as well as to act justly. At the risk of his life, he resists the command of Athens, as a democracy and as a tyranny, to do injustice. He is not remotely adikia.

In Argument, Strauss suggests, perhaps exoterically, that the philosopher’s life is “just.” In The City and Man, he makes that same claim about the Socrates of the Republic: “It cannot be the duty of a genuinely just man like Socrates to drive weaker men to despair of the possibility of some order and decency in human affairs…”21 We might recall, however, Strauss’s thought, about the Guide for the Perplexed that the rarer instance in a contradiction is what the author intends as esoteric. Though in a letter, I am inclined to say that Strauss believed in the adikia of Socrates.22

But even about the city one might doubt Strauss’s judgment. On February 16, 1939, Strauss finds the “Thrasymachus-diskussion” central to being without justice. In City and Man, he would present Thrasymachus, though an immigrant and rhetorician, as representative of the common view in Athens. Combined with Glaucon’s observation in book 2 of the Republic that Thrasymachus, who started as a “beast,” has become a “charmed snake,” the idea is that Thrasymachus may play a role – parallel to Klinias’s in the Laws – of conveying the philosopher’s ideas to the city.

This coincidence of philosophy and political power is very difficult to achieve, very improbable, but not impossible. To bring about the needed change on the part of the city, of the non-philosophers or the multitude, the right kind of persuasion is necessary and sufficient. The right kind of persuasion is supplied by the art of persuasion, the art of Thrasymchus, directed by the philosopher and in the service of philosophy. No wonder then that in this context Socrates declares that he and Thrasymachus have just become friends, having not been enemies before either. The multitude of the non-philosophers is good-natured and therefore persuadable. Without ‘Thrasymachus’ there will never be a just city.23

In a 1955 letter to Kojeve, Strauss suggested that a Socrates could not do without “rhetors” who would disseminate his ideas.24 Thrasymachus is, for Strauss, another example. But doesn’t Socrates’s taming of Thrasymachus alter his idea that justice “is nothing but the advantage of the stronger?” Doesn’t it presage a common good – the difference between the advantage of the stronger with some attention to the weaker, a kind of balance, (Plato, Socrates) and “nothing but the advantage of the stronger” (Thrasymachus)?

Abstracting from the good of human life, Strauss has no coherent vision of morality. In 1970 at St. John’s, following Nietzsche, Strauss analogizes a philosopher’s asceticism to that of a jockey. He is not being moral; he practices self-denial to seek the truth. 25 To some extent, Strauss pursues a playful disagreement with his old friend, Klein. Yet the esoteric meaning is frightening. In the Republic, as Strauss reiterates, a philosopher-tyrant can act with great injustice or criminality: expelling all the adults over the age of 10.26 Writing to Seth Benardete on November 21, 1963, Strauss underlines the Nietzschean “transvaluation of values” – the uncommon persecution of citizens by philosophers replaces the ordinary persecution of philosophers by citizens:

The ‘Sending out” in Republic 541a1 is to be understood in the light of Gorgias 456e1 and passim (‘Throwing out”): in the good city, the philosophers do the exiling of the citizens, whereas now the citizens exile the philosophers, the rhetoricians, etc.27

More speculatively, on February 16, 1939, Strauss suggested that Plato’s depiction of thumos is ironic:

Also thumos is purely ironic! The distinction between epithumia and thumos is only exoteric, and thereby breaks down “Glaucon’s” kallipolis. 28

Glaucon is an Athenian military leader. In the centrality of the guardians, the Republic’s kallipolis mirrors Glaucon. In general, what is concluded in Plato’s dialogues is a psychological response to the interlocutor, not the “pure truth.” That is a good reason to think that the kallipolis is neither Socrates’ nor Plato’s fantasy of justice. Recall: this vision is hedged by a project of trying to discern the role of justice in the soul, a psychological project, by constructing a supposedly just city. But one might also recall the famous saying of Socrates in the Apology: I am wiser than my interlocutors only in this: that I do not know nor do I think I know. If Socrates does not know, then this shining vision of the city in speech in the Republic, dissolves. That city is inconsistent with Socrates's questioning...

But that is not Strauss’s intuition here. Perhaps Glaucon’s “kallipolis” – not Plato’s which, like Socrates's may not exist beyond some shining idea of justice which questions and thus, goes beyond the injustice of what is in important respects, but may never be fully worked out - breaks down in his hunger for pleasure. Strauss obscurely imagines that the “city in speech” inversely mirrors and disintegrates because of Glaucon’s weakness. Once again, one can see the difference between plausible esoteric inference and sparkling intuitions which appear, upon reflection, mirages.

In City and Man, however, Strauss would emphasize, for Plato, the importance of a philosopher-king as opposed to proposals concerning women. The philosopher-tyrant is, for Strauss, sensible. Morally and politically speaking, however, as Hilary Putnam rightly insists in speaking of the Republic's emancipation of women as the first enlightenment, one might say here that Strauss has the matter backwards.29

Opposing “states rights” to the civil rights movement and the “ss” [“social science” but not without its Germanic association] used in the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court, Strauss did not see the possibilities of civil disobedience. For him as for, the medieval Arabs and Maimonides, Plato’s Laws was the paradigm, his “greatest work of art.” The Laws traces the journey of Klinias, a Cretan lawgiver for a colony, the Magnesians, and Megillus, a Spartan, upward to the cave of Zeus, accompanied by a philosophical Stranger. There, the law-giver Minos, founder of Crete, had supposedly been counseled by his father, Zeus; law-giving and the divine are joined. Further, though the direction is “up” to give laws, the cave of Zeus is still a cave, not the ordinary city like Athens 30 but still a dark place of lawgiving for the inhabitants of a future city. Perhaps even there religion veils laws: the subjects will not conform without divine command...

In addition, the Stranger needs to appeal to a god to enable the elderly and inexperienced interlocutors to ford the fierce river of arguments. But good laws for the Stranger (and more so, for Plato) have a different, political philosophical basis than religion. The Athenian Stranger invokes the darkness of the divine to gull the many, including Klinias and Megillus.

1. GS, 3:562. “Die Nomoi beruhen auf der Fiktion, dass Sokrates aus dem Gefaengnis geflohen its! Die Loch fuer die Nomoi (das Loch, durch sas Sokrates nach Kreta entwischt - ) ist im Kriton deutlich angezeight! Es gibt also kein ‘frueher und saeter” in Platons Schriftstellerei.” See also GS, 3:567, cited below.
2. Argument, p. 2. With the same wording as his conclusion about Al-Farabi and Plato at the end WIPP, ch. 5, Strauss says, “Plato invented with ease Socratic and other stories.”
3. In his “Why We Remain Jews,” p. , Strauss cites Nietzsche:
4. Kilpatrick’s was the only position on the issue. Strauss to Goldwin , folder .
5. Note that Antigone, who buries her brother and is killed for it, precedes Socrates in Greek political life and theater (Sophocles, Antigone). The Greeks lacked the name, but standing up for justice or who one is is a profound component of the public culture.
6. It was only the second trial under this law (graphe asebeias).
7. To Klein on December 12, 1938, Strauss wrote: “The Apology is, naturally, not a vindication of Socrates – Socrates will absolutely die! [this is Xenophon] – but a (as such necessarily comic) vindication of philosophy before the forum of Athenians.” (Die Apologie ist, natuerlich, keine Verteidigung des Sokrates – Sokrates will ja sterben! – sondern eine (als solche notwendig komodienhafte) Verteidigung der Philosophie vor dem Forum der Athener!). GS, 3:562. Strauss also emphasizes this point, once again with a very different interpretation of philosophy, at WIPP, p. 33.
8. Gilbert, “Do Philosophers Counsel Tyrants?” Constellations, March, 2009.
9. Rawls, A Theory of Justice, section 53.
10. Being a satyagrahi as Gandhi notes takes on the risk of death. But sympathizers of civil disobedients – unlike most of the early civil rights movement in the South - may not have so fierce a sense of the stakes.
11. James Washington, ed., The Testament of Hope: the Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King (San Francisco Harper-Collins, 1986), pp. 291, 294-95.
12. In conversation, August 31, 2007, Thomas Pangle brilliantly suggested that Strauss’s argument might also sanction revolutions, which act tyrannically (without laws) to create new laws. His argument at least fits the Puritan and American Revolutions, though the French and Russian Revolution do not justify, with divine authority, their changes. But Strauss himself approached this “dilemma” from the Right.
13. Socrates was famous for his irony. But about his mortality, there was less to be ironic about.
14. Michael Goldfield took Strauss’s semester-long course on the Meno. Surprisingly, Strauss avoided this fundamental issue raised by the dialogue.
15. Challenging Franz Fanon’s advocacy of violent rebellion, Barbara Deming, an insightful defender of American nonviolence, justified this movement without theology in “Revolution and Equilibrium.”
16. In The City and Man, p. Strauss notes this point, but does not see its force. See also Xenophon’s Hiero.
Gilbert, Democratic Individuality.
17. “An Evening at St. Johns,” 1970 in Kenneth Greene, ed., op.cit.
18. Die Politeia beginnt mir klar zu werden. Meine Vermutung von voeigen Jahr, dass die eigentliches Thema die Frage des Verhaeltnisses von Bios. Polit. und bios philos. ist, und dass sie Verwerfung des polit. Lebens gewidmet ist, hat sich voellig bestaeigt. Sie hat sich dahin praezisiert, dass sie einter Kritik der dikaiosune gewidmet ist; die Rep. ist eine ironische Rechfertigung gerade der adikia, den die Philophie ist adikia – das kommt wunderbar in der Thrasmachus-Diskussion heraus - . Die dikaiosune verliert den Prozess; sie gewinnt ihr durch den Mythos am Ende, d.h. durch ein kalon pseudos, d.h. durch eine Handlung, die strictly speaking adikon ist. GS 3: 567-68.
19. GS, 3:536. “In einem Deiner Briefe sprachst Du davon, dass Plato davon ausgehe, dass der dikaios Sokrates…Das bedarf, glaube ich, einer wesentichen Einschraenkung. Ich zweifle daran, ob nach Platos Meinung ueberhaupt irgendein Mensch als dikaios bezeichnet werden kann. Sowohl im 7. Brief wie im Phaidon (Schluss) bezeichnet er Sokrates als den dikaiotatos ton tote – was doch etwas ganz anderes ist. Einen dikaios schlecthin gibt es so wenig wie einen sophos schlechthin – eben dies ist ja doch wohl der urspruengliche Sinn der Ideen-Lehre. –“
20. Strauss, City, p. 137.
21. The latter is also consistent with Strauss’s position against Klein in “An Evening at St. John’s.”
22. Ibid, p. 123. My italics. On p. 124, Strauss reiterates that Socrates’s success with the “many” in “speech” is belied by his murder by Athens in deed. “he lacks the art of taming the many in deed which is only the reverse side of the art of arousing the many to anger, that single art which is the art of Thrasymachus. The many will have to be addressed by Thrasymachus and he who has listened to Socrates will succeed.”
23. Among Strauss’s students, one might think of Goldwin, Berns, Storing, Cropsey, Bloom, Jaffa and Mansfield, inter alia, and subsequently, of their students such as Wolfowitz and William Kristol. In terms of rhetors with political connections, even among those who eventually opposed the second Iraq War such as Fukuyama, the list could be made more extensive.
24. Green, ed., op. cit., p. 465.
25. Writing on Statesman, however, Klein has a long discussion of the injustice of a founding by a philosopher-tyrant without criticism. As Strauss suggested, Klein had fundamentally different interests notably mathematics. Perhaps he just did not take in, even in 1970, the negative force of Strauss’s avowal of adikia.
26. Box 4, Folder 21. Strauss papers, Regenstein. Strauss’s correspondence with Seth Benardete resembles his writing to Klein: entirely and enthusiastically scholarly – a really interesting read, though one has to know Greek - with little trace of reactionary politics. Sadly, it blatantely contrasts with his correspondence to Berns or Goldwin (who has scholarly interests in Locke which rarely enter the letters) or Bloom or Jaffa or other rhetors.
27. Auch der Thumos ist rein ironisch! Die Unterscheidung zwischen epithumia and thumos ist nur exoterisch zulaessig und damit bricht “Glaukons’ kallipolis zusammen. GS: 3:568
28. One might add Socrates’s anti-Slavery in the Meno, and more basically, his questioning itself. H/t Steve Wagner.
29. The first sentence in the Republic, “yesterday I went down to the Pireaus with Glaucon…” indicates the opposed directionality of these two dialogues, of the two “caves.”

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