Sunday, February 18, 2018

Cato appears three times in NRH. Cato may be the embodiment of non-philosophic virtue, as conceived by Strauss. Here are the passages:

p. 168: By identifying traditional political philosophy with the idealistic tradition, Hobbes expresses, then, his tacit agreement with the idealistic view of the function or scope of political philosophy. Like Cicero before him, he sides with Cato against Carneades. 

That passage is explained by this later passage:

p. 196: The principle which was supposed to make possible a political doctrine of universal applicability, then, is not universally valid and therefore is useless in what, from Hobbes point of view, is the most important case-the extreme case. For how can one exclude the possibility that precisely in the extreme situation the exception will prevail.*

* Leviathan XIII and XV. One may state this difficulty also as follows: In the spirit of the dogmatism based on skepticism, Hobbes identified what the skeptic Carneades apparently regarded as the conclusive refutation of the claims raised on behalf of justice, with the only possible justification of these claims: the extreme situation-the situation of two shipwrecked men on a plank on which only one man can save himself-reveals not the impossibility of justice, but the basis of justice. Yet Carneades did not contend that in such a situation one is compelled to kill one's competitor (cf. Republic iii. 29-30): the extreme situation does not reveal a real necessity. 

Cato appears again in the Rousseau chapter:
p. 255: "Rousseau indicates the meaning of virtue clearly enough for his purpose by referring to the examples of the citizen-philosopher Socrates, Fabricius, and, above all, of Cato: Cato was the "greatest of men."*
* First Discourse, p. 59: Cato has given the human race the spectacle and model of the purest virtue which has ever existed.

At the end of the Rousseau chapter, here is what Strauss says:
p. 294: "As he confessed at the end of his career, no book attracted and profited him as much as the writings of Plutarch. The solitary dreamer still bowed to Plutarch's heroes," i.e. Cato.

And then again in Burke:
p. 318: "It is only a short step from this thought of Burke to the supersession of the distinction between good and bad by the distinction between the progressive and retrograde, or between what is and what is not in harmony with the historical process. We are here certainly at the pole opposite to Cato, who dared to espouse a lost cause."

Strauss himself, who espouses a lost cause, identifies to some extent with Cato (and Cicero), and with Cato (Cicero) against Carneades. Strauss agrees with the idea that "the extreme situation does not reveal a real necessity."
The argument for capitalism (and ultimately historicism) is a syllogism that looks like this:

Major Premise) We have a moral duty to contribute to the common good

Minor Premise) Limitless accumulation contributes to the common good

ERGO) Limitless accumulation is a moral duty

This argument leads to historicism because the fundamental premise is that processes which are unguided (limitless accumulation) lead to ends (the common good) which are unplanned.

NRH, p. 315: "The good order or the rational or the rational is the result of forces which do not tend to the good order or the rational. The principal was first applied to the planetary system and then to the system of wants, i.e. to economics."*

* Cf. Hegel, Rechtsphilosophie, sec. 189 Zusatz.
"Political economy is the science which starts from this view of needs and labour but then has the task of explaining mass-relationships and mass-movements in their complexity and their qualitative and quantitative character. This is one of the sciences which have arisen out of the conditions of the modern world. Its development affords the interesting spectacle (as in Smith, Say, and Ricardo) of thought working upon the endless mass of details which confront it at the outset and extracting therefrom the simple principles of the thing, the Understanding effective in the thing and directing it. . . . The most remarkable thing here is this mutual interlocking of particulars, which is what one would least expect because at first sight everything seems to be given over to the arbitrariness of the individual, and it has a parallel in the solar system which displays to the eye only irregular movements, though its laws may none the less be ascertained."
To find this same sort of argument in Newton, see the General Scholium to Book III, The System of the World, in the Principia.
"Wild mentions the following characteristic traits of "idealism": the subordination of ontology to logic (p.2); the denial of the intentionality of thought (280 n. 301); the view "that all things are constantly thinking, or that there are unconscious or non-thinking thoughts" (214); the confusion of material things with the forms, the objects of thought, and hence the denial of matter, motion, and change (5,234, 238, 290). His last word on the subject is the identification of idealism with "the confusion of man with the creator" (301), that is, with the view that all meaning, order and truth are originated by, or relative to, "consciousness," "reason," "the subject," "man," or Existenz. (Compare Edmund Husserl, Ideen, $$ 47, 49, 55, and M. Heidegger, Sein und Zeit, $ 44, as well as "Vom Wesen des Grundes" in Festschrift fur Edmund Husserl, Halle 1929, pp. 98 ff.)

I refer to Husserl and Heidegger because they most clearly reveal that Wild's identification of idealism with the denial of intentionality or with the subordination of ontology to logic does not go to the root of the matter. Wild's position is at least as much opposed to English empiricism, for example, as it is to German idealism. Yet he has chosen to present German idealism as the villian. A man who claims to be a Platonist is under an obligation to stress the fact that German idealism attempted to restore important elements of Plato's and Aristotle's teaching in opposition to western (English and French) philosophy, if on the basis of of a foundation laid by Western philosophy."

"On a New Interpretation of Plato's Political Philosophy," Leo Strauss, Social Research, September 1946, 335-6
Batnitzky makes an interesting argument that the law is for Strauss the limit that keeps philosophy from trying to encompass everything, including politics. Philosophy was preserved in Muslim countries precisely because philosophy was limited by the law. This part of the review is interesting:
"The Scholastics, culminating in Thomas Aquinas, claimed that by argument they could show the rationality of religion. True enough, some doctrines, such as the Trinity, are knowable only through revelation; but at least the existence and principal attributes of God can be established by argument from premises not in doubt. For all this, Strauss had no use: he viewed Scholasticism as not only false but dangerous. Much more to his liking was Averroism, which taught that philosophy and religion were competing truths.2"In contrast to the Islamic-Jewish world, Strauss claims, the melding of revelation and philosophy in medieval Christendom destroyed the meanings of both revelation and philosophy.3In a very important sense, Strauss seems to locate the invention of the possibility of an atheistic, secular society with Thomas Aquinas. . . " (B, p.122)
Strauss of course didn't write much on Aquinas, but if you want to know where you can find this argument, it can be found in Jaffa's Thomism and Aristotelianism. The problem with Aquinas, according to Jaffa, is that he is a) too precise regarding matters that do not allow of precision and b) he identifies conscience with intuition and c) is also too pessimistic about the possibility of philosophy. I'm assuming Jaffa is transcribing a course on Aquinas that he took at the New School from Strauss, or developing an argument of Strauss's. Jaffa also touches on Aquinas' critique of "Averroism," and seems to argue on behalf of the Averroists against Aquinas.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Strauss on Husserl

"The decisive point in Husserl is the critique of modern science in the light of genuine science, that is to say, Platonic-Aristotelian. His work can only be understood in the light of the enormous difficulties in which Platonic-Aristotelian culminated, namely, the problem of nous. Considering the enormous difficulties of understanding de anima iii.5, Husserl's egological foundation of the ontologies is at least excusable."

Letter to Voegelin, October 11, 1943

"On the question of modern philosophy and progress: modern philosophy (or science) is originally the attempt to replace the allegedly or really inadequate classical (and that means, at the same time, medieval) philosophy (or science) by the correct philosophy. The inadequacy was this: the achieved science of antiquity (Plato and Aristotle) was not capable of giving an account of certain natural phenomena (of the external world) which on its own terms it had to give an account of. The idea arose that the materialistic physics, displaced by classical philosophy, that is, above all by the Aristotelian physics, offered an unheard of expansion of the possibilities of knowledge. But: one had learned from Plato-Aristotle that a materialistic physics cannot understand itself, the possibility of knowledge (noein). Thus the task: first to secure the possibility of knowledge, in order then to be able to proceed with mechanistic physics, and so to be able to understand the universe. That is the meaning of Descartes Meditations, of the fundamental book of modern philosophy."

Letter to Lowith, August 20, 1946

Strauss on Kant

Strauss mentions in the Heidegger lecture that he began as a "doubting and dubious adherent of the Marburg school of neo-Kantianism." In NRH he describes neo-Kantianism (a stand in for Nietzsche) in this way, in the discussion of Weber:

"Reality is an infinite and meaningless sequence, or a chaos, of unique and infinitely divisible events, which in themselves are meaningless: all meaning, all articulation, originates in the activity of the knowing and evaluating subject. Very few people today will be satisfied with this view of reality, which Weber had taken over from neo-Kantianism." (77). 

At the start of his first book, on Spinoza, he begins by attacking Kant: 

"Must the difference between positive science, which offers no possibility of criticism of religion, and metaphysics, which in principle permits criticism of religion, be defined as it has been defined by Kant in his transcendental dialectic, namely by the statement that this difference has its basis in theoretical consciousness?"
"Theory" seems to always have a pejorative sense for Strauss. Consider the criticism, more than thirty five years later, of American social science. 

"The new science uses sociological or psychological theories regarding religion which exclude, without considering it, the possibility that religion rests ultimately on God's revealing Himself to man; hence those theories are mere hypotheses which can never be confirmed. Those theories are in fact the hidden basis of the new science. The new science rests on a dogmatic atheism which presents itself as merely methodological or hypothetical."
Wolin and Schaar, in their reply, say they are "haunted" by this charge of atheism. What do studies of voting behaviour have to do with atheism? What are these "theories" that serve as the "hidden basis of the new science"? I think the clue is to be found in this footnote from the 1946 review of John Wild, which points in the direction of Kant.

". . . A case could be made for the view that it was reflection guided by the Biblical notion of creation which ultimately led to the doctrine that the world as created by God, or the "thing in itself," is inaccessible to human knowledge, or to the idealistic assertion that the world as far as we can understand it, that is, the world as studied by human science, must be the "work" of the human mind." *8 8. See Kant, Kritiik der Reinen Vernunft, ed. by Vorlander, p. 131, and Kritik der Urteilskraft, SS 84 ff. 

Strauss is making the same objection to American social science that he made to neo-Kantianism thirty years earlier. Both are based on the dogmatic assumption that "the world as far as we can understand it, that is, the world as studied by human science, must be the "work" of the human mind," or that "reality is an infinite and meaningless sequence, or a chaos, of unique and infinitely divisible events, which in themselves are meaningless: all meaning, all articulation, originates in the activity of the knowing and evaluating subject."

"Work" of the human mind is, I think, a reference to Locke.

The German Scholar and American Diplomat at the Beginning of NRH

Strauss begins NRH with a passage from the Declaration of Independence, and he then quotes an "American diplomat," like so:

"A generation ago, an American diplomat could still say that 'the natural and the divine foundation of the rights of self-evident to all Americans.'"

This "American diplomat" was probably David Jayne Hill. The quote may have been taken from an introduction Hill wrote to this book:

Hughes, Charles Evans. The Pathway of Peace: Representative Addresses Delivered during His Term As Secretary of State (1921-1925) . New York: Harper & Brothers, 1925.

Hill (not Hughes) was an ambassador in Berlin from 1908 to 1911, when Strauss would have been between the ages of 9 and 12. Strauss's colleague and friend Kurt Riezler was the German foreign secretary beginning in 1909, so he would have known D.J. Hill.

Hill was working with Andrew Carnegie to build a "palace of peace." This is a representative passage:

"Almost all great advances in the life of humanity have come silently and gradually, like the dawn; and it is only rarely that the glory of a new day has suddenly burst upon the world. The future is likely to be very much like the past in this respect, but the improvement of mankind has for its guarantee the principle of evolution, which is the law of the Universe. We have, therefore, a permanent ground for faith in the good that is to come; even in the darkest hour we may be as certain of it as we are of the laws of logic and their final sway over human action."

In the text of NRH, Strauss then cites a German scholar, Ernst Troeltsch, who is counterpoised to the "American diplomat." Here is the passage about Troeltsch:

"At about the same time a German scholar could still describe the difference between German thought and that of Western Europe and the United States by saying that the West still attached decisive importance to natural right, while in Germany, the very terms "natural right" and "humanity" "have now become almost incomprehensible . . . and have lost altogether their original life and color." While abandoning the idea of natural right and through abandoning it, he continued, German thought has "created the historical sense," and thus was led eventually to unqualified relativism." NRH, 1-2.

Here is a related passage from the work by Troeltsch that Strauss quotes:

"In the first place, the contrast of 'conservative' and 'revolutionary' is one which has to be banished from the whole problem. It has only come into existence as the result of recent complications: it is only in German thought that it is regarded as fundamental; and the reason why we take that view is that the modern democratic movement--which flows inevitably from the increase of population and the education of the masses--has only just begun to assert itself among us, and has done so in a series of revolutions. In its own nature, and apart from these temporary conditions, democracy may well assume a conservative form. American democracy, in its political and social aspects, tends to issue in the strictest conservatism; it regards its principles as the eternal and divine commands of morality and law."

The question is, then, why does Strauss place Troeltsch and Hill side by side in this way? Hill is not just any American diplomat, he was the American diplomat in Germany shortly before the outbreak of World War I. And Troeltsch was not just any German scholar, he was, like Strauss, a former neo-Kantian.

Here are some thoughts on who Ernst Troeltsch was:

"Ernst Troeltsch was profoundly influenced by the same Max Weber that Strauss, in this very work, so ably criticizes. Weber and Troeltsch lived together in the same house in Heidelberg for thirteen years. The essay from which Strauss quotes was one of Troeltsch's last, written in 1920. It is a comparison of German thought, which by then was in the grip of radical historicism, and Anglo-American thought, which still at that time believed in what Troeltsch always called "natural law." What Strauss does not tell the reader is that by 1920, having first given up on traditional Christianity and then on Kantianism as a substitute, Troeltsch was a convinced historicist who could brilliantly describe the difference between German historicism and the thought of the Declaration but could give no cogent argument defending the Declaration against historicism. Does this intellectual journey imply something about Strauss's own with respect to Judaism? Troeltsch tried to find an answer to historicism but having, in his own view, failed, he conceded and embraced a version of historicism borrowed from Dilthey. Perhaps the quotation points to a conclusion. It is better to be silent about one's failures and offer instead the rhetoric of virtue. It is better not to let the skeptical cat out of the bag."

Who is the conservative, Hill or Troeltsch? Judging by Troeltsch's criteria, Hill is the "conservative" in the American context, in which democracy takes a conservative form. It is safe to say that Strauss does not identify himself with either Hill or Troeltsch.