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 and "Theoretical Consciousness"

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. His pejorative use of "theory" is consistent with NRH, in the chapter on Weber: Indifference to the choice between "God and the devil" or between "excellence and baseness" is the product of a "purely theoretical attitude toward the world of action. That theoretical attitude implies equal respect for all causes; but such respect is possible only for him who is not devoted to any cause." 

The criticism of Kant and Weber is the same as the criticism 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"? Here we get to the bottom of Strauss's criticism of "theoretical consciousness": theory always rests on a "dogmatic atheism with presents itself as merely methodological or hypothetical." 

In order to understand this "dogmatic atheism" it helps to trace the origin of this putatively "methodological" naturalism from Kant back to Christianity:

". . . 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. 

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

Putting all of this together, Strauss is equating three things: modern idealism ("all meaning originates in the subject"), "methodological" naturalism, and dogmatic atheism. What all have in common is a rejection of the pre-Kantian idea that criticism of religion is, in principle, possible. In other words, Strauss is advocating a return to pre-Kantian philosophy and the critique of religion. All that stands in the way is the dogmatic atheism that rejects metaphysics and accepts the modern distinction between science and metaphysics.

To better understand this connection between Kant and modern, dogmatic atheism, we need to turn to the chapter on Locke in Natural Right and History and try to understand why Strauss paired it with the chapter on Weber, "The Distinction between facts and values." 

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.

Footnote 124 of NRH

In the chapter on Locke, footnote 124 illustrates this quote from Locke: "nature and the earth furnish only the almost most worthless materials as in themselves"*

* 124. "Locke's statements about the relative importance of the gifts of nature and human labor [are illustrated--sic] with a statement from Ambrose's Hexameron, translated by George Boas, in Essays on Primitivism and Related Ideas in the Middle Ages (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1948), p. 42."

The passage cited by Strauss quotes the Church father Ambrose in this way:

"In the Hexameron he gives us a description of the world and of man as they came from the hands of their creator, before their nature had been changed by sin. This description combines themes from Genesis and pictures of the Golden Age from classical poetry. Its general tone is that of soft primitivism.

Spontaneously earth bore all fruits; though it could not be plowed in the absence of a plowman--no farmer yet existed--nevertheless it abounded in the richest harvests, and, I do not doubt, with an even larger yield, since the slothfulness of the husbandman could not rob the soil of its richness . . . Thus, O Man, while you are asleep and unconscious, the earth still produces its fruits; you sleep and then you rise and marvel to see how the grain has grown through the night."

German Footnotes in NRH

Here are German translations for select passages of NRH:

p4 nt2: "The claim is utterly meaningless that there is no order of law in despotism, but rather the whim of the despot rules... even the despotically governed state does represent some order of human behavior... This order is precisely the order of law. To deny it the character of law is but a natural law naiveté or arrogance ... That which is interpreted to be arbitrary whim is only the legal prerogative (Möglichkeit: alternatively and more literally "possibility") of the autocrat to appropriate every decision to himself, to determine the activity of the subordinate institutions unconditionally, and to abrogate or alter established norms at any time which have either general or particular validity. Such a condition is a condition of law, even if it is perceived to be disadvantageous. But it also has its good side. The appeal for the dictator, not at all seldom in the modern Rechstsstaat (generally rendered "constitutional republic"), makes this quite evident." [From Hans Kelsen, Allgemeine Staatslehre Berlin, 1925.]

p94 nt 17: "... if one rejects the existence of a personal Creator and Ruler of the World, natural law can no longer be sustained." [From Victor Cathrein]

p176 nt 10: Here we have two citations, one from Engels' Feuerbach piece, and the second from Bachofen. Engels: "... nothing exists [for dialectical philosophy] but the incessant process of coming to be and passing away, of ascending *without end* from the lower to the higher... We do not need to deal with the question here, whether this point of view [for Anschauungsweise] accords completely with the current state of the natural sciences, which predicts for the earth itself a possible, but for its inhabitability a *rather sure end*, which therefore concedes to human history not only an ascending, but also a descending branch." -- Bachofen: "The orient does homage to the standpoint of nature [Naturstandpunkt, just as justifiably the "natural standpoint"], the occident replaces this with the historical [standpoint]... One might be tempted to recognize in this *subordination of the divine to the human idea* the last stage of decline from an earlier more elevated [erhabeneren, also "more sublime"] standpoint... And yet this step back contains the seed for a very important step forward [literal for Fortschritt, or "progress"]. For as such [i.e., as progress] must we consider that liberation of our spirit from the paralyzing fetters of a cosmic-physical view of life... Where the Etruscan fretfully believed in the finitude of his tribe, the Roman rejoices in the eternity of his state, in the which to entertain any doubts he is utterly incapable." (Strauss says here "the italics are not in the original".)

p279 nt 47: "In a lower abstraction, infinity is indeed given prominence as the absoluteness of the subject in the theory of happiness in general, and in natural law, particularly in those systems which are called anti-socialist and which stipulate the being of the individual as the first and highest, but not in the pure abstraction, which it has obtained in the Kantian or Fichtean idealism."

p313 nt 97: "Constitutions can simply not be made, but, like works of nature, they must shape themselves through a gradual development... This truth is the most precious, perhaps the only [one] which is really new (because it was previously only divined, but not fully recognized), with which the French revolution has enriched the higher science of the state [Staatswissenschaft, alt.: "political science"]."

Letter to Kuhn on NRH

Professor Dr. Helmut Kuhn

Miinchen 22

Schellingstr. 10


Dear Mr. Kuhn:

Forgive me for writing to you in English but my hand-writing is hard to read and the lady who is taking down my dictation does not have an easy command of German.

You have obliged me very much by sending me your review article on my book. I had heard of the existence of that article and had tried to get hold of it through my German publisher and a Heidelberg book store but my efforts have been of no avail. As regards the contents of the review, I have been very much gratified by it. It is the best review of my book which has appeared. It is far more than generous and above all based on profound under­standing of the issue with which I am concerned. I myself regard the book as a preparation to an adequate philo­sophic discussion rather than as a treatise settling the question (cf. the end of the Introduction and of Chapter 1). Such a preparation is necessary because the very notion of natural right has become completely obscured in the course of the last century. Scholars lacking historical knowledge simply believe the histories of natural right and as far as I can see no historian after Fr. J. Stahl has approached the subject philosophically. (Stahl's history of the philosophy of law ought to be reprinted. I tried to persuade my German publisher to do such a reprinting but I failed. Perhaps you have an opportunity to talk to another publisher on this subject). Since natural right is today at best remembered rather than a living doctrine and since the fundamental ambiguity regarding natural right is the one caused by the essential difference between pre-modern and modern natural right, I had to write a precis raisonne of the history of natural right. I agree then with your judgment that the value of my book consists rather in its historical than in its philosophic aspect especially since your judgment implies that the historical ob­servations which I made are not philosophically irrelevant.

At this point, however, a serious disagreement between us begins. You say that historicism ought to have been treated by me in the style of the classic disputation, i.e., as a timeless possibility of error which only accidentally emerged in our age. You admit that to some extent I did this in the first two chapters, but you say that the bulk of the book is devoted to the causal genesis of the error rather than to its frontal criticism. But "it is necessary to state not only the truth but also the cause of the error" (E. N. 1154 a 22-26) and the cause of the error may well lie in accidents ("historical" accidents - cf. Politics 1341 a 28-32). In other words, not all errors have the same status: there are primary and, as it were, natural errors but there are also derivative and "founded" (fundierte) er­rors. I have indicated this in my chapter on Hobbes. One may say that the idea of philosophy implies directly the possibilities of dogmatism on the one hand and of skepticism on the other. The Cartesian -Hobbesian notion of a dogmatism based on skeptism is derivative from the co-existence of dogmatism and skepticism. "Dogmatism based on skepticism" is not a preserve of Descartes and Hobbes (Locke, Hume, and Positivism); we must also not forget Kant's thing-in-itself surrounding, as it were, the dogmatic sciences of the phenomenal world nor Hegel's understanding of philosophy as "sich vollbringenden Skepticismus." To return to historicism, it appears to me to be an attempt to correct "dogmaticism based on skepticism" with its peculiar "abstractions" or remoteness from the primary issues (which are met properly only on the level at which both dogmaticism and skepticism live), and hence to be derivative in the second degree. The genetic account seems therefore to be particularly appropriate.

If I understand you correctly, you suspect that while my method as distinguished from my concern is histor­ical, my method endangers my concern and that in opposing historicism I get entangled in a negative historicism of my own. I do not think that you are right. In regarding Socratics, Plato and Aristotle as the classics of natural right I do not assert, like a historicist, that there is of necessity and essentially an absolute moment in history. I merely say that it is so happened that the clearest exposition of the issue was given by that practically contempor­ary triad - it could have happened elsewhere or at other times, perhaps it did and we merely do not happen to know it. Or if the triad had not achieved what it did achieve the same discovery might have been achieved by men who now are known only as pupils or successors of the triad. "History" is not in my opinion, as you say it is, es­sentially "history of decay" but if classical natural right is superior to modern natural right (as you seem to ad­mit), then a decay did take place in fact. At the end of your article you refer to Aristotle's "negative -periodistic concept of time" which, you say, is incompatible with my own "productive-historical interest." You say that Aristotle's concept of time demands "a kosmos without history." I would say that Aristotle's concept of time de­mands an eternal or sempitemal order as the ground of all change and in a way manifesting itself in all change. Aristotle excludes indeed the essential necessity of the reasonable character of all change of human thoughts and institutions; such change is necessary but there is no necessity of its being reasonable or "meaningful." Investiga­tions of human thoughts and institutions, and of their sequence, i.e., historical studies, have for Aristotle, too, a certain value as he has shown abundantly "by deed", but of course always a strictly subordinate one, since what ultimately alone matters is the transhistorical "Wesen der Dinge."

You say that I accept the Aristotelian concept of time according to which time is rather the cause of decay and that I apply this concept to Aristotle's own philosophy: Aristotle's own philosophy is for me the permanent which has been whittled down by historical change. I am not an Aristotelian since I am not satisfied that the vis­ible universe is eternal, to say nothing of other perhaps more important reasons. I can only say that what Aris­totle and Plato say about man and the affairs of men makes infinitely more sense to me than what the moderns have said or say. In passing I note that your rendering of Aristotle's understanding of time is decisively incom­plete. Strictly speaking time is not the cause of decay rather than of the opposite (Physics 222 b 25-26); time can be said to be with equal justice to be the discoverer or a good helper of knowledge (EN. 1098 a 22-26).

I turn now to our disagreement regarding the history of natural right. You say "as is well known, the termin­ology of the doctrine of natural right was created only by stoicism": Plato does not speak at all of natural right and Aristotle only parenthetically (295). I begin my discussion with the remark that I spoke in the very title of my book of natural right and not of natural law. Natural right (jus or justum naturale, physikon dikaion or to physei dikaion), is I contend, an important and even central theme of both Plato and Aristotle. As for Plato, I re­fer to the Republic 501 b 2 (and context). This passage must be read in conjunction with such passages as Re­public 484 c 8-d 3 and 597 b-d. It thus becomes clear that for Plato "natural right" strictly understood, that which is right by itself and not in particular through man's making it right, is the same as "the idea of justice." Besides, the whole order of the best polity is emphatically "according to nature," whereas the "present" arrange­ments are apparently "against nature." (456 c 1-2). The very justice of the polity of the Republic depends upon its being "according to nature." The legislator in the Laws follows "the natural order" of the various good things (631 d 1-2). The domination of prudence or law is "according to nature." (690 c 1-3). Cf. also Laws 765 e for a clear statement of the relation between "nature" and "end." The whole Platonic doctrine of the order of the soul and of the order of the virtues is the doctrine of natural right if it is true that `justice" does not necessarily mean one of the many virtues but the all comprehensive virtue. Cf. furthermore Laws 757 c 3-d 5, regarding the rela­tion of distributive justice to "nature." To summarize, Plato's best polity is the order of human things dictated by natural right.

But the core of our disagreement is the interpretation of Aristotle's doctrine of natural right. I try to follow your criticism point by point. You say that I render Thomas' interpretation in an imprecise and even misleading way. I would be grateful to you if you substantiated this charge. I say that Thomas disagrees at any rate with the wording of Aristotle since Aristotle says that "with us everything is changeable" and hence in particular right, without making a distinction between the changeable natural right and the unchangeable natural right, whereas Thomas makes a distinction: the reasons of changeable things, and hence in particular of natural right, are un­changeable; "the first principles of natural law" are unchangeable, whereas already "the conclusions near to the first principles" are changeable. (Cf. The Commentary on the Ethics, N. 1029 and S. th. 1-2 2. 94 a.5.c.) The Thomistic example adduced here by you - theft is always unjust - is not sufficient according to Thomas himself; S. th. 2 2q. 66a.5., shows that if a man is in very great need he may take away stealthily from others what is indis­pensable to him in this situation. With a view to this fact and similar ones of the same character, I agree somehow with your statement that my interpretation of the Aristotelian passage differs from the Thomistic interpretation only by a nuance. I do not believe, however, that this renders invalid, as you say it does, my criticism of the Thomistic interpretation; there are sometimes subtle nuances which are of crucial importance. I insisted on the fact that Thomas' doctrine of natural law differs radically from any Aristotelian equivalent because there is no synderesis, no habitus of practical principles, in Aristotle. And, considering the connection between synderesis and conscience this means that Aristotle implicitly denies the conscience. You are mistaken if you think that a single passage in the De Veritate has induced me to make this point. What guided me was a broad reflection on the status of moral principles in Aristotle's teaching as a whole compared with the status of moral principles in Thomas' teaching as a whole.

Yet I return for the time being to your discussion of the crucial Aristotelian passage. You admit that E.N. 1134 b 22 by itself clearly states that both natural and conventional right are "equally or similarly changeable." But you say that this statement is wholly incomprehensible and that a very minor and perfectly plausible emen dation suggested by Joachim disposes of the difficulty: the unintelligible sentence is to be read as a question. I did not know Joachim's emendation but I knew that Moerbeke read the text as you suggest that it should be read, and that Thomas understood the sentence in question as a dubitatio. But I contend that this by itself does not dispose of the difficulty in any way. For what does your solution amount to? Natural right has the same un­changeability and the same changeability as, say, the human hand: "by nature the right hand is stronger yet allmen can become ambidextrous." Does this mean that by nature theft is unjust, but in extreme situations theft may become just? Or, generally stated, that there are rules of natural right which under certain conditions can be justly modified? This would mean that there is not a single rule of natural right which is unchangeable and univer­sally valid. At any rate, Aristotle's example of the natural right-handedness of man does not justify the Thomistic distinction between immutable principles of natural right and mutable conclusions.

In the immediate sequel Aristotle speaks of the specific changeability of conventional right; he shows that this changeability is a function of the changeability or variety of politics; and yet, "there is only one polity which is everywhere in accordance with nature the best." You take for granted that the unchangeability of the best polity proves the unchangeability of natural right.[i] Aristotle certainly does not say that the polity which is everywhere in accordance with nature is everywhere and always just; he says that it is everywhere and always the best. For, as he makes clear in his Politics, the one best polity is not possible everywhere and therefore it cannot be just every­where: while kingship is the best and the most divine polity it would be most unjust to establish it among a popu­lace which does not possess a natural fitness for it. (E.N. 1160 a 35ff.,Politica 1289 b 40 and 1296 b 24 ff.)

You detract from the significance of the passage under consideration by stating that the division of right into natural and conventional right concerns only political right as distinguished from "right simply." You have in mind, I take it, EN. 1134 a 24-26. But I do not see how "right simply" can mean anything else except "political right." (This is incidentally also the opinion of Thomas - Commentary on EN. n. 1003.) "Supremely right" is used in the Politics in contradistinction to the two typical errors regarding right, namely, democratic right and oligarchic right (cf. 1280 a 22 and context). "Political right" is "right simply" because the relation of right bet­ween different men requires a mutual independence of the men who stand in a relation of right; to the extent to which a human being "belongs" to another human being he lacks that independence. Furthermore, political right is right simply because it is directed not merely to subordinate goods like the exchange of goods and services but towards the common pursuit of autarchy, i.e., of virtue: it is the fullest form of right (cf. Politics 1280 b 1-2 and 1337 a 22-27). The relation of right between a citizen and a stranger is of necessity less full or rich. By this I do not mean that it is beyond the distinction between right and wrong but it is inferior, qua relation of right, to that among fellow citizens (cf. Apology of Socrates 30 a 3-4; also Cicero, Offices 157, 50-51 and 53). While Aristotle makes the distinction between the natural and the conventional only in the case of "political right", i.e., of the right obtaining among male full fellow citizens he does not deny that there is natural right in regard to foreigners and in particular to foreign cities. After all, he himself does not speak of conventional right but of legal right, and different cities are not subject to the same laws strictly speaking: a city must be "autonomous." That he admits natural right as regards foreigners, appears most clearly from his teaching on slavery: it is unjust, i.e., unjust by nature, to enslave men who are not by nature meant for slavery. You admit this of course. But from this it fol­lows that if even the highest and fullest natural right is changeable, the less dense form of natural right (that ob­taining between different individual cities, e.g.) is also changeable. Besides, in considering natural right and its changeability I consider not merely the relation to foreign enemies but the relation to domestic enemies as well; and not only the relation to enemies ... I emphasize the relation to foreign enemies only because this is the most obvious and common case in which noble statesmen are not blamed for actions which under normal conditions would be unjust.

You seem to think that for Aristotle natural right resides chiefly in equity, in the fair interpretation of the written law of the particular political community. I am not so sure of this although I know that I have the author­ity of Thomas against me. However this may be, there can be no doubt that Aristotle developed the principles of natural right in his teaching regarding commutative and distributive justice, which so far from being dependent on legislative enactment, are the criteria of good legislation. Notions like the just price, fair wages and the condemna­tion of usury, are the most common examples. One could say that the part of commutative justice which deals with the exchange of goods is in itself sub-political (cf. Politics 1280 b 1-12 with the existence of this kind of right in the city of pigs of the Republic). But at any rate the great theme of natural political justice is the other part of commutative justice, punitive justice (hence the distinction between guilty and innocent transgressions as well as the concern for proper proportion between the various kinds of crime and the various kinds of punish­ment, etc.), and, above all distributive justice, the principles of which are the fundamental rules regarding the as­signment of public honor and authority to those worthy of it.

You contend that natural right proper in the full sense is characterized by the assumption that there is a univer­sal society comprising all men which is held together by a universal, rational law binding man as man, and that this notion was fully developed first by the Stoics. I am familiar with this view and I have given it some thought, just as I have considered the passages of the Rhetoric and the Ethics to which you refer in this context (pages 300-301). As for the passage in Plato to which you refer, it occurs not in the Gorgias but in the Protagoras, and it is ascribed not to Prodicus but to Hippias, the great fool. In addition, Hippias does not say that all men are by nature friends and fellow citizens but those engaged in the conversation and their likes, i.e., the wise. However this may be Plato did not believe in the possibility of a universal society as an actual society as appears from the myth of the Statesman and the noble he in the Republic. (414 d-e: the substitution of "country" for "earth"). Plato tacitly rejected the universal society as a solution of the political problem. But can one say that the Stoics regarded the universal society as a political society? The difference here concerns really the status of divine provi­dence and hence the question whether the universally valid "precepts" can be understood as laws proper. Whether the Stoics differed in this respect from Plato, cannot be decided on the basis of Cicero's Laws I and Republic III because it is necessary to distinguish between the strict and the popular teaching of the Stoa. At any rate, as you admit, Plato and Aristotle granted that there are obligations of every human being to every human being as such. They did not think however that these minimum obligations can be the root of all obligations: the end cannot be deduced from the beginning.

You seem to argue as follows: since Aristotle recognized the justice of slavery, e.g., he is very far indeed from the spirit of natural right thinking. I reply that Aristotle's admission of the justice of slavery - of a certain kind of slavery- proves that he was a natural right teacher, for according to him it is by nature right to enslave and to treat as slaves a certain kind of men. You do not hesitate to regard Cicero and Thomas as natural right teachers and they too did not reject slavery as simply unjust. It is equally a matter of course that no philosopher ever re­garded the social distinctions (kings, nobles, free men, slaves, exiles, strangers) as ultimately important; the social hierarchy is respectable only to the extent to which it is in tolerable harmony with the natural hierarchy. Whether there is or is not such a natural hierarchy, is controversial between egalitarian and non-egalitarian natural right. This issue is not even touched by remarks expressing a contempt for the merely social hierarchy. The natural hier­archy is clearly recognized through the distinction between the wise and the vulgar which plays such a great role in the Stoic teaching. The real question is whether the Stoics differed from Plato and Aristotle by asserting that every human being, including men of outstanding stupidity, can become wise. Hitherto I have not seen a clear proof that they made that assertion.

In conclusion I apologize for having bothered you with this long letter.

Sincerely yours,

Leo Strauss

Strauss on England

This is from letter 23 to Klein in 1934:

"As for Oxford, it is a wonder of the world (Tubingen is merely a distant
imitation). A city of cloisters, in which Prime Ministers, viceroys
from India, and chief bishops of York and Canterbury, among others,
have been educated. The aesthetic impression -- compared with
everything continental -- is grim, plump, of a kind of barbaric
magnificence; matching that, the cloudy heaven was always somewhat
nebulous - in a word, "form-less," therefore very much to my taste. In
the cathedral there was a remarkable saxon-style stained glass window. That
before the meals a Latin prayer would always be spoken, and so on, was
almost self-explanatory. No other people understands so well as do the
English the importance of preserving traditions, and they are always
prepared to make new ones -- they are empiricists in the best sense.
Failing to understand that, one would underestimate the meaning of the
English monarchy. -- There was recently a debate in the Commons
between Churchill and Baldwin, which would not have been entirely
unworthy of the Roman senate. To sum up: a wonderful people and
wonderful country."

Use of "Idea" in NRH

According to Kennington, "idea" is used in a precise sense throughout NRH. See for instance, Benardete discussing Kennington here.
Seth: . . . I had told him about the indeterminate dyad. Then he wrote the review of Natural Right and History in which he discovered that it has that structure.[17] That was extraordinary.
Ronna: How did Kennington show that?
Seth: In various ways, like noting how Strauss used "idea" in a very curious manner. There are these refined distinctions between the Plato section [chapter III] and the Aristotle section [chapter IV] about natural right. He discussed the way terms are used in the wrong chapter: it's always in the subsequent chapter [paired chapter] that the idea of something comes up, as opposed to the chapter where it seems relevant.
Here are the appearances of different "ideas" throughout NRH, plus the length in paragraphs of each chapter:
Intro (9 paragraphs)
pg. 1 idea of natural right
Chap I: Natural Right and the Historical Approach (34 paragraphs)
10 idea of natural right
11 idea of philosophy
12 idea of philosophy
30 idea of philosophy
31 idea of natural right
Chap II: Natural Right and the Distinction between Facts and Values (42 paragraphs)
38 idea of science/idea of empirical science
74 idea of science
75 idea of science
80 idea of natural right
Chap III: Origin of the Idea of Natural Right (48 paragraphs)
82 idea of nature
93 idea of natural right
96 "idea of the state"
Chap IV: Classical Natural Right (40 paragraphs)
124 idea of justice
145 idea of man/idea of justice
Chap V: Modern Natural Right
(1 intro paragraph)
V. A: Hobbes (40 paragraphs)
168 idea of political philosophy
180 idea of natural law/idea of man's perfection
191 idea of best regime/idea of the just social order
V. B: Locke (42 paragraphs)
222 "idea of god"
Chap VI: Crisis of Modern Natural Right
VI. A: Rousseau (44 paragraphs)
253 two classical ideas: city/virtue and nature
261 classical idea of philosophy
292 "idea of the future"
VI. B: Burke (34 paragraphs)
316 idea of History
322 "the very idea of the fabrication of a new government"

Which then are the chapter pairs? The hint is contained in the number of paragraphs:
Chapter I (idea of philosophy) and VI. B Burke (idea of history) (34 paragraphs each)
Chapter II (idea of science) V. B Locke ("idea of god") (42 paragraphs each)
Chapter IV (idea of justice) and V. A Hobbes (idea of best regime) (40 paragraphs each)
Chapter III ("idea of nature") (48 paragraphs) and chapter VI. A Rousseau ("idea of the future") (44 paragraphs)
The final 4 paragraphs of chapter III treat ancient conceptions of "egalitarian natural right," a modern phenomenon.

Heidegger Passages

Heidegger is discussed in the following passages from the correspondence with Lowith:
From Strauss to Lowith
“Was die Holzwege angeht, so stimme ich mit Ihrem allgemeinen Urteil uberein: Heidegger ist der starkste heute lebende Geist. Einen Philosophen will ich ihn nicht nennen – er selbst will ja kein Philosoph mehr sein – ich weiss nicht, ob ein wahrer Philosoph ein Mensch guten Willens sein muss – aber das weiss ich, dass ein schlechter Wille das Philosophieren zerstort und Heidegger ein schlechter Kerl ist: der Kontrast zwischen der noblesse Nietzsches und der genialen Muffigkeit Heideggers ist erschlagend. Zuletzt ist das ganz uninteressant: zuletzt kommt es in der Tat auf die Qualitat seiner Argumente an. Und da muss man in der Tat sagen, dass Heidegger alles, was in unserem Jahrhundert da war und da ist, unwiderruflich erledigt hat. Das Problem ist zuletzt nur, ob er in seiner Kritik an Plato recht hat. Seine dogmatische-historistische Ablehnung jedes Zuruck ist belanglos: es kommt allein darauf an, ob die Unterordnung der Frage nach dem Sein under der Frage nach dem vorzuglich Seienden legitim oder, wie H. behauptet, illegitim ist. Hochst charakteristisch ist H’ Aufsatz uber Anaximander, in dem die Unverganglichkeit oder Unsterblichkeit des apeiron mit keinem Wort erwahnen wird: da bleibt das absolute Dunkel, das Sein und Zeit uber das Seiende (zum Unterscheid von Sein) geworfen hat, indem gesagt wurde: Sein, nicht Seiende, gibt es nur, wofern es Dasein gibt. Also gibt es Seiendes ohne Sein? Dieser dunkelste Punkt wird in den spateren Veroffentlichungen noch weiter verdunkelt.
Regarding Holzwege, I agree with your general opinion. Heidegger is the strongest Geist alive today. I don't want to call him a philosopher -- he doesn't either -- and I don't know if a philosopher must be a man of good willl, but I do know this, a bad will destroys philosophy, and Heidegger is a lousy character: the contrast between the nobility of Nietzsche and the brilliant mugginess of Heidegger is striking. But ultimately that's irrelevant, ultimately what matters is the quality of his arguments, and in that regard one is forced to acknowledge that Heidegger has irrefutably surpassed all that in our time is and has been. The only problem is ultimately if he is right in his criticism of Plato. His dogmatic-historical denial of every return is irrelevant: the only issue is whether the subordination of the question of being to the question of the higher beings is legitimate or, as H. argued, is illegitimate. Highly characteristic is H.'s article on Anaximander, in which the eternity or deathlessness of the unlimited is cited without a word: there remains the absolute darkness, which S&Z had thrown over the beings, in which it was said: being, not beings, there are only, as long as there is Dasein. Does that mean there are beings without being? This darkest point is only further darkened in the later publications.
21.12.51 Lowith
Die Kritik an Heidegger hat demgemass die Aufgabe, die Modernitat gerade des spaten Heidegger klarzumachen. Es genugt aber nicht zu zeigen, dass der “spate” Heidegger mit S. und Z. gebrochen hat, obwohl er dies einfach leugnet – Sie zeigen genugend, dass er hier die Unwahrheit sagt --, sondern dass er in einem tiefern Sinn mit seiner Selbst-Auslegung recht hat – ie dass die primate Motivation von S. und Z. in dein Holzwgen erhalten ist. Man sieht dies sofort, wenn man den “Idealismus” oder “Subjektivismus” von S. und Z. mit demjenigen des deutschen Idealismus vergleicht: die Ersetzung des souveranen Ich durch die Existenz. Und der Fortschritt von Existenz zu Sein ist so notwendig, dh so vernunftig, wie der von der deutschen Jugendbewegung (der Aura von S. und Z.) zu der merkwurdigen Reife von heute (vermittelt durch die Entdeckung der Reife und besonnen Weisheit in 1933; Ende von “Selbstbehauptung der deutschen Universitat” – der Punkt des Uberschlages der deutschen Jugendbewegung in die Besonnenheit – wenn hier etwas komisch ist, so liegt es nicht an mir). Mir scheint, dass die Dunkelheiten, ja absurditat von S. und Z. (es gibt Seiendes – nicht Sein – wenn es kein Dasein gibt – dh es gibt Seiendes, wenn es kein Sein gibt) nur dann und allerdings dann zu den Holzwegen fuhrt, wenn der vornherein nie bezweifelte, dogmatische Historismus auch weiter nicht bezweifelt wird.
The criticism of Heidegger has consequently the goal of making clear the modernity of the late Heidegger. It does not suffice to show that the late Heidegger has broken with Being and Time, although he simply denies this - you show convincingly that this is false - but that in a deeper sense, Heidegger's self-interpretation is right -- ie that the motivation of Being and Time is preserved in Holzwege. One sees this immediately if one compares the "idealism" or "subjectivism" of Being and Time with that of German idealism: the displacement of the sovereign I by existence. And the itinerary from existence to being is so necessary, that is to say, so predictable, as that of the German youth movement (the milieu of Being and Time) to the remarkable fruition of today (mediated by the discovery of maturity and prudent wisdom in 1933: the end of the "Self-Assertion of the German University" - the point of the transformation of the German youth movement into reasonableness -- if there is something funny here, I don't get it). It seems to me that the obscurities and even absurdities of Being and Time (there are beings -- not being -- if there is no Dasein, that is to say, there are beings when there is no being) leads, and only then, to Holzwege, if the heretofore unscrutinized, dogmatic historicism is left unquestioned.
12.13.60 Lowith
I am not sure however that you are right in what you say about the “lasting” (das Bleibende). This is the same as the eternal only if das Ewige is understood as derivative from ewe, aevum, aion, ie something in time and not lasting for ever and ever. It is, I believe, essential to Heidegger that there is nothing eternal in the sense of nunc stans, or sempiternal: the finiteness of the being of the world, temporally and also spatially is, as far as I understand, still essential to Heidegger. I also do not entirely agree with you regarding Sein needing man. I believe that Heidegger’s view is supported by the difficulties to which the alternative is exposed: the self-sufficient God as the ens perfectissimum which necessarily leads to the radical degradation and devaluation of man. Differently stated, if Heidegger were wrong, man would be an accident, there would be no essential harmony between thinking and being, the hopeless difficulty of Kant’s thing in itself would arise.

Banfield Eulogy


Our chairman has asked me to bid farewell to Edward Banfield. I suppose he asked me to do this because he knows that Mr. Banfield and I are particularly close to one another. This is true and thus justifies this request that I should speak tonight in the name of the Department. But it also creates a difficulty: shall I speak as a close friend of Banfield's, or for the Department? I must find the proper mean between the indelicacy of imputing to the Department my feelings toward Banfield and the vagueness which would follow if I were to identify myself with the opinion moyenne of the Department—to say nothing of the difficulty to find out what that average opinion is. Under no circumstances will I make an advance obituary, although for some people it is a great pleasure to hear their obituaries while they can still hear them: a complete list of all their virtues and a complete silence about their vices. Parting is sad—but it is not parting forever. So I shall keep one eye dry.

I know I speak in the name of every member of the Department when I say that we are very sad to lose you because you are a very good scholar and teacher and colleague. I shall not say more on this subject because our fields are so different. I prefer to speak of your qualities as a human being—of qualities which incidentally contribute much to scholarship. I will do so in a way which, I hope, agrees with your taste, if not with everyone's taste. I shall not speak of your integrity—or complete freedom from pretense. Nor shall I speak of your charity—you yourself prefer to conceal your charity under a shell of bluntness and gruffness. You succeed quite well in this: not everyone in this room, I imagine, will agree with me when I say that you are a man of unusual charity. I shall speak instead of your sense of humor which suffuses your integrity and your charity and enhances these moral qualities and makes them to me, at any rate, particularly attractive—that sense of humor of yours which appears to the uninitiated sometimes as impishness, not to say as sheer perverseness. Sense of humor is not easy to define. It is surely a form of the sense for the ridiculous. The ridiculous, we have learned, is primarily the strange, the deviation which is innocuous (e.g., to grow a beard on one side of the face). Sense of humor, I think, consists in being open to the ridiculous strangeness of the customary or the normal—of what we ordinarily take very seriously. We cannot live without a bit of make-believe and we are not always sufficiently aware of this fact. You are unusually aware of it.

Take the case of Department meetings and especially of meetings dealing with questions of appointments. Wholly inconclusive arguments are advanced on both sides of the question—for the question invariably arises as to the judgment of the speakers as well as of the outsiders who recommend a given candidate. If a man is to be appointed the question whether he has judgment or not can be freely discussed; but once he is appointed this question can no longer be raised with propriety: we must act on the dubious assumption that he is a man of judgment. It is a kind of circle, not a vicious circle, but a merry circle. This state of things on which much more could be said is not altogether depressing. To quote Mr. Banfield's favorite limerick: There was a young man from out East Who tried to grasp the big beast His traps did not work, his models were not right But then he heard a voice in his night: "Look at the small group which thou seest." Unfortunately that young man did not understand the voice: he built telescopes through which he could not see any small group, and microscopes through which he could see only tiny segments of a group—he never got a good macroscopic look at a small group. Mr. Banfield, on the other hand, goes thinkingly through Department meetings and he thus got hold of a clue to political life in general. Naturally he never forgets the difference between such groups as a Department of Political Science and a nation: the fact that an American father and an American mother ordinarily generate an American baby, whereas an offspring of a marriage between a political scientist father and a political scientist mother is not ordinarily a baby political scientist.

On the basis of this and similar insights we had a substantial agreement from the moment we met for the first time—an agreement which extended, I am happy to say, although on a different basis, to our ladies. We never had the slightest friction. We did have a running fight through these many years. The fight concerns natural law. I vainly tried to convince Mr. Banfield that being an honest man he was a principled man, he acted on principles, and natural law is nothing but an attempt to spell out the principles on which honest men act and have acted and will act as long as there are men. But my friend cannot bear the sound of natural law. His innate impishness does not permit him to conceive of his actions as dictated by any law, natural or non-natural—he is not pleased if he cannot trace the best in him to whim and to mood—to his mere liking and even to his liking it at the moment. In a word, his relativism is a very individual relativism—it is so because he is a character, a rugged individual—not a mere rugged individualist, for in order to be an individualist one does not have to be an individual. Being an individual he is not a calculating man: not a time server and not a men server and, whether he likes it or not, he is a good citizen in the City of God: i.e., a man who knows that he would rebel against Providence if he were even to wish for the disappearance of calculating men and of time servers. From all this I draw the conclusion—and I come to the conclusion—that I shall miss you very much. And I hope I speak for all my colleagues if I add: we all shall miss you very much. But we are not so sorry for losing you as not to wish you a very happy life and a very great career at another University which, it must be confessed, is inferior to ours in everything except endowment and old age.

Letter to Klein November 27, 1939

Sunday, 22 July 2007 1:34 A GMT

Letter 76 To Klein

449 W. 123rd St., NY City


Dear Friend!

Why don’t we hear from you? I ask you, don’t leave this letter unanswered, but rather hasten to reply. Agitur de duabus tribus. Primo de pecunia. I very much urge you to lend me $40 from December 1 to Decebmer 15. I know of nobody else in the USA, or on the entire planet, or in the entire universe, who I could ask, and I am entirely broke by the 12th. You will receive the money back in your hands on the 16th.

Secundo de tractinuculo. Send it back immediately, if possible, with your critical remarks. I am not going to publish it, but I would like to have your judgment in hand when I write the letter to Baron. I have also begun writing a new article on the same theme – te non effugit me de philosophia a historia literanda scriptitare: On the study of classical political philosophy, in which I will show that Herodotus, Thucydides, and Xenophon were not historians – “of course not” – but were authors of exoteric, protreptic writings (protreptikoi eis philous). History was for them the narration of meta tauta, meta tauta ad infinitum, and was nothing serious. Instead, their historical writings were precisely the stories for children that Plato recommended in the third book of the Republic: prose writings, in which the metaxu twn resewn, (ie, the portrayal of erga) outweighs the reseis (ie, the logoi, the speeches, which are inserted in the history) – whereas the tragedians not only don’t write in prose, but are exclusively logoi. (The Platonic dialogs, in which the author entirely hides, belong according to Plato to another level). I will show this in concreto with regard to Xenophon’s Education of Cyrus, which is an entire book of sublime irony: what Socrates is, is displayed through the caricature of Cyrus. Only through the medium of this caricature does Xenophon show the true, hidden Socrates, while in the Memorabilia he shows the phaneros Socrates. (His version of Socrates is also not fundamentally different from that of Plato). Hws silenti eipein – the Eduation of Cyrus is a very unbarbaric portrayal of the ugliness of barbarism, ie the lack of paideia, and therefore a very “elevated” (eukaristotatos) protreptikos to paideia. That is so!

Warm greetings in my and Miriam's name,


Leo Strauss

Letter to Klein February 2, 1949

Letter 114

1130 Hyde Park Blvd., Chicago 15, Ill.


Dulcissime amice,

How should I begin? Would it interest you to know that we had trouble finding a house, but only because we demanded to take our dog Schwulch? That every difficulty was overcome only through the energetic interventions of Hutchins, who simply forced the housing office to find Schwulch and us a house? And that Schwulch, by of my and Miriam's hearts, had turned "the Big White Father" Hutchins into his servant? Or in other words, it all worked out for us because, in the words of "the lady from the housing office": "When the others complained you were a pain in the neck, I always told them you were a lovely person." She told me this as I was asking her to get the real estate agent to take $5 off the monthly rent, "because we have no use for the garage belonging to our apartment." She fulfilled my request, and now we rent the garage out for $5 a month. The great financial crisis was solved in a 2 minute long conversation with the dean of the division.

The apartment is majestic: "1 dining room, 1 living room, 1 study, 3 bedrooms, 1 breakfast room, 1 kitchen + butler's pantry, 2 sun parlors, 3 bathrooms." Kurfurstendamm? Alla aneu apeirokalias. I can only say: philosophoumen met' eutelias (my pass book is always open on my desk, and I also study "How to live within your income," a going-away present from Frau Lowe) kai philokaloumen aneu malakias.

One or two blocks from us is Chicago Heights (German Jewish refugees). Our local deli is owned by a former classmate from Marburg, and "the owner of the animal hospital" (in which Schwulch stayed while were living in a hotel) is a relative of a relative from Biebrich.

We see the Scofields. They were always very nice. Unfortunately things aren't going well for them. Same for Harvey Smith. And Lowith. Lowith's "call" to Chicago seems to me to be a fata morgana. In the fall he's going to the New School.

As to the university, I've seen very little, or as good as nothing. Scofield spoke about Mac Keon "along the familiar lines." I will try to avoid him, which will be much easier now that I am, according to the register, "professor of political philosophy in the Department of political Science." Lowith told me about a German clique lead by Bergstrasser, a group of SS types, who preserve the idiotic boche arrogance, totally uninfluenced by everything that's happened. Next semester ("spring") Riezler and Reinhardt are coming.

When are you coming? We are all waiting for you. Your "coach" awaits you. Your wash room (with all the amenities) awaits you.

When are you going to write about De Tyrannide?

Sincerely yours,


Note: Passages in quotes and italics written in English in the original.