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Corine Pelluchon Paper to deliver at the University of Chicago, May 21st, 2007.


I will begin with the 1929 Davos debate between Heidegger and Cassirer. This debate made a huge impression on many young philosophers, including Leo Strauss. It opposed two interpretations of Kants legacy and two different conceptions of reason. Cassirer adopted the Neo-Kantian idea of method and of a transcendental grounding for science and tried to extend them to all aspects of culture. He assumed the self-sufficiency of reason and the possibility of a rational, universalized ethics. Heidegger argued that Truth is relative to Dasein, which means that the always already and temporal being-in-the-world of Dasein throws in doubt transcendental subjectivity as well as the possibility of a universal rationality. This conflict between transcendentalism and hermeneutics interested Leo Strauss and is pertinent to my understanding of his critique of modernity. It was a conflict between an heir of the Enlightenment and a supporter of the tradition of liberal rationalism and one of the figures of a new thinking that tried to excavate the metaphysical and historical inheritance of Western civilization. I say one of the figures of a new thinking, because Heidegger was not the only one to put into question the project of Western civilization embodied in the philosophical tradition or metaphysics. One could mention Nietzsches critique of rationalism, but also F. Rosenzweig and other thinkers who tried to find another way to understand the self and to articulate tradition and modernity. They hoped to avoid the destructive consequences of whatever rationalism they found responsible for political and historical catastrophes, above all philosophy of history. Strauss, who wrote his dissertation in 1921 on Jacobi under the direction of Cassirer, belonged to this movement of critique of the Enlightenment. He borrowed from Cohen both the idea of a critique of Spinoza and of a return to Maimonides. My thesis here is that Strauss has built his work as a response to the Heideggerian alternative to the Neo-Kantianism he too rejected. I will first show that in his 1921 dissertation on Jacobi, six years before the publication of Sein und Zeit and eight years before the Davos debate, he had already understood that any discussion about the legacy of the 1

Enlightenment had to begin with the conception of man and reason that underpinned Spinozas critique of religion; they framed political liberalism and the philosophy of human rights. Strauss used Jacobi to excavate and consider the kind of rationalism at the core of what he called radical Enlightenment, that of Spinoza to begin with. The Jacobi problem and the pantheism controversy which revolved around the legacy of Spinoza did not only show that there is no such thing as the moderate Enlightenment represented by Mendelssohn or Cohen. It also enabled Strauss to overturn Cassirers philosophy of culture and to avoid the Kantian answer to the question: What is Enlightenment? There is no spontaneity in human understanding that could serve as a foundation for science, ethics or politics. There may be another understanding of reason and of receptivity, as shown in Jacobis book on David Hume. And the Enlightenment critique of religion may not have succeeded to destroying the interest in revelation. The way Jacobi highlights the assumptions of modern rationalism will lead Strauss in Spinozas Citique of Religion and in Philosophy and Law to contrast modern and ancient rationalism. Jacobi helped Strauss formulate what will become the main theme of his writings in the thirties: the quarrel between the ancients and the moderns. And this would constitute the first answer to Heidegger: the first error did not begin with Plato and Aristotle, but with the moderns, with their narrow conception of reason and with the conception of man and freedom that is at the core of modern rationalism. In a second part, I will further examine the way Strauss analyses the project of civilization that characterizes radical Enlightenment: The Enlightenment had not so much refuted orthodoxy as mocked it and dismissed it. It left in its rear the impregnable fortress of orthodoxy as it turned to the practice of civilizing the world and man. This meant pushing back natural limits, embracing the ideal of freedom, understood as the autonomy of man and his culture, then the ideal of culture, understood as the sovereign reaction of the spirit. Its fundamental premise is the self-assertion of man against an over-powerful nature. (Strauss, 1935c) This inquiry takes place in the context of Strausss exploration and critique of liberalism. As Strauss moved from Spinoza to Hobbes, I then will focus on the latter. My point of reference however will not be the well-known text he wrote in German and published in 1936 in English, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes: Its Basis and Genesis, but the unfinished manuscript he wrote in 1934 and which was published in Germany for the first time in 2001. In this text, entitled Die Religionskritik des Hobbes, (Strauss, 1934a) Strauss shows the role that the critique of religion played in the foundation of Hobbess political philosophy. He also analyses what he considers as the ontology underlying the project of 2

civilization characteristic of radical Enlightenment. He deconstructs Hobbess articulation of being in recognizably Heideggerian terms, but with anti-Heideggerian results, or intent. This thesis not only overturns Cassirers understanding of the basis and genesis of Hobbess political thought, which he believed was the result of applying Euclids method to politics. It also provides the contours of a second answer to Heideggers diagnosis and historicist solution to the crisis of the West. In Strausss view, the theological-political problem and not the oblivion of the meaning of Being is the right optic to think through the crisis of our time. Heideggers alternative is due to a naive understanding of politics. To understand this, we must turn to other thinkers. Like Strauss who said in a letter to Scholem that his book on Hobbes was an introduction to Maimonides (Strauss, 1935a: 719), I will turn from the early modern philosophers to Maimonides, whose role in Strausss thought is crucial. Far from being a defence of theocracy, I believe Strausss reconstruction of Maimonidess political philosophy and especially his focus on the meaning of the Law as a social, political and religious whole is a way to show how to articulate modernity and tradition in order to help liberal democracy confront its inner and external dangers, be they called Nazism, Communism or the drifts of mass democracy. It is an answer to Heideggers understanding of finitude. What we may learn from the theological-political problem as understood by Maimonides sheds light upon the essence of human being. According to Strauss, Heidegger was right to criticize the Neo-Kantian idea of a spontaneity of reason and to say that consciousness opened to an abyss. (Strauss, 1956) He was right to say that Cassirers inquiry into cultural form might be an expression of Daseins attempt to flee from recognition of its own nothingness: Cassirer had not faced the problem. Heidegger faced the problem, Strauss said. (Strauss, 1956) This led to further problems: Ethics had been silently dropped. But even if beyond consciousness is the abyss, there may be something else than the nothingness of Dasein. Didnt Heidegger (along with Kierkegaard) strip man off from his political context and involvement? To this Strauss opposes Socratess (political) inquiry. The absence of a sustained attention to the political suggests that existentialism belongs to the decline of Europe and represents the crisis of philosophy. (Strauss, 1956) The latter is due to the disappearance of political philosophy and goes hand in hand with the fact that philosophy is scattered into ethics, politics, aesthetics and economy which are understood as different fields of culture. To understand the specific way Strauss connects politics and theology in the context of his critique of liberalism (whose important step was his review of Schmitts Concept of the Political) means to understand to what extent political philosophy is the 3

answer to Heideggers philosophy of Ereignis and to his turn in The End of Philosophy and The task of Thinking. This will be the third part, where I will speak of the legacy of Leo Strauss in our time. The Jacobi Problem And The Rejection of Neo-Kantianism Although Strauss will no longer refer to Jacobi in his later work, the 1921 dissertation is a fundamental document for understanding his whole critique of modernity. Most of Strausss early writings seem to give reason to Plato: the beginning is a God! Strauss borrowed from Jacobis Counter-Enlightenment critique the idea of a destructive character of modern rationalism and of its responsibility for nihilism - a word we find for the first time in Jacobi. Thanks to the pantheism controversy which revolves around Lessings Spinozism and therefore atheism (Strauss, 1937), he also conducts an examination of modernity on the basis of a reconstruction of the Enlightenment. Such reconstruction takes place in the domain of German thought and brings to light the break between ancients and moderns. Such a rupture concerns the conception of reason and of its sufficiency that underlies Spinozas system and especially his critique of revelation on the one hand and, on the other, the idea of the need for Revelation we find in Maimonides and in the Book X of Platos Laws. For Strauss, Jacobi stands for the internal critique of rationalism and helps him to see the real demarcation line between ancients and moderns. The focus on Spinozas rationalism is more likely to highlight the gap between Enlightenment and orthodoxy than, for instance, thinkers like Hume or T. Reid. It eliminates what Strauss calls the moderate Enlightenment, which includes Kantianism. Jacobis revelation of the Spinozism of Lessing who would have said that there is no philosophy but the philosophy of Spinoza served to destroyed the clever truce that the Auklrung had struck between philosophy and religion. By denying to Revelation the heteronomy that constitutes its real meaning, Mendessohn like Lessing assumed that reason was capable of self-grounding and did not need any transcendent Law. They denied the transcendent moment at the heart of reason itself that Jacobi calls revelation. The latter, in the strict sense, is received from the outside and is not immanent. In the 1921 dissertation, Strauss focuses on Jacobis attack against the false rationalism of the Enlightenment which missed the very meaning of reason and confused it with the understanding. The understanding (Verstand) cognizes objects and organizes our perceptions, whereas reason (Vernunft) is the locus of the revelation of Being. Reason along with perception (Vernehmen) is a mode of knowledge 4

where reality is received. Reality is not dependent on our understanding, but is transcendent. Any rationalism that fails to acknowledge this is therefore irrational. This thesis has far-reaching consequences in ethics and politics, as seen in Jacobis condemnation of the French revolution where justice is drawn from abstract principles, instead of being connected to the traditions and customs that constitute the matrix of politics. To say that man is the source of knowledge, of ethics, politics, or science, and that reason is self-sufficient to guide man betrays a misunderstanding of reason and its receptivity. It leads to abstraction and ultimately to nihilism. On the contrary, the recognition of the true meaning of reason, considered as the sense of the suprasensual, is linked to a more descriptive method in the practical field and to realism in general. In the first stage of the pantheism controversy, Jacobi used Kants conception of the thing-in-itself to denounce the false rationalism and to expose a contradiction in Spinozas system - it does not explain how somebody like Spinoza is possible - not to speak of its destructive moral and political consequences. In the 1921 dissertation, we understand that the pantheism controversy which lasted for thirty five years (1780-1815) has a threefold interest for Strauss: it shows, at this first stage (1780-86), whose target is Mendelssohn, that moderate Enlightenment is condemned to be overtaken by radical Enlightenment, that the arguments of Mendelssohn lead back to Spinoza. The weak meaning of revelation leads to its negation. Just as Jacobi shows that purified Spinozism (Strauss, 1937) does not exist, Strauss shows that the conflict between Enlightenment and orthodoxy is a conflict between atheism and orthodoxy. The latter supposes a notion of revelation that affirms its transcendence and argues for a special interest in belief on the part of orthodoxy. This interest in revelation is linked to the idea that man needs a guide, and that an Epicurean society is not possible. By saying that orthodoxy is opposed to the modern belief in man and in progress that underlies atheism, Strauss deprives the intermediate position of Mendelssohn of all credibility. He also shows that the real problem is that of a break between classical thought and the modern ideal of the progress of humanity through science and politics. This is why the pantheism controversy and the disclosure of a conflict between orthodoxy and atheism drove Strauss into reopening the quarrel between the ancients and the moderns. He focused on the conception of man and reason that sustains Platos and Maimonidess Enlightenment on the one hand, and the modern Enlightenment on the other. The 1921 dissertation will directly lead to a confrontation between ancient and modern rationalism. It will lead to Philosophy and Law, where Strauss affirms the destructive character of modern rationalism and calls for the medieval Enlightenment he considers as the true one. It will also lead to his study of the most radical 5

figure of the modern Enlightenment, that is Hobbes, for whom Spinozas ideal of theoria does no longer exist. But to reach this result, Strauss has to see that there was an antagonism between these two camps. They stand for two competing stances and the victory of modern Enlightenment is not as obvious as it seemed for most of the thinkers of the 18th and 19th centuries. This is why Jacobi was helpful. Thanks to Jacobis distinction between understanding and reason and to his attack against the false rationalism of the Enlightenment, Strauss examines the assumptions of each camp and reveals the core of this antagonism, which typically is a dialogue of the deaf, as seen in his 1936 book on Spinoza, where the latter is opposed to Calvin. Another result of the pantheism controversy is to show that any attempt to reconcile religion and philosophy, Judaism and German idealism, as in the Haskala, but also in Cohen, is an illusion. This means that Kants solution of a religion within the limits of reason is no longer adequate. Such a solution makes religion a mere supplement to morality, but its true meaning disappears. Judaism would disappear as Law. However, the critique of Kant goes beyond this argument, whose target was Cohen. The critique of the Kantian Enlightenment is not so clear in the 1921 text as that of Mendelssohns position. And yet, it is crucial in Strausss rejection of Neo-Kantianism. Again, Jacobi, who overtly turned against Kant at the second stage of the pantheism controversy (1789-1790), helps Strauss take a different path than that of Neo-Kantianism. Despite his debts to Jacobi, Strauss did not simply accept Jacobis conclusions. At the end of the 1921 dissertation, Strauss says that Jacobis philosophy (or anti-philosophy) requires an unwarranted leap. His analyzis of Jacobis concept of belief in his David Hume reminds us that the one who said I am not a Cartesian wanted to overcome Kant on his own ground and accused him of being inconsistent. He affirmed against Kant the existence of the thing-in-itself, in which it is experience that illuminates reason. But there is no spontaneity of human reason. Kant too is a kind of Spinozist and misses the receptivity of reason! Jacobi claimed to be more Kantian than Kant himself. But does this means that Strauss agrees with the philosophy of the salto mortale? Or rather that Jacobis Anti-Enlightenment helps Strauss find his own way outside the critical philosophy and its conception of practical reason? We find in the 1921 dissertation some of the original motives that characterize Strausss philosophy, especially this skepticism in regards to the modern rational or transcendental grounding of ethics and politics. The link between the last stage of the pantheism controversy (1789-1790), which logically turned into a debate concerning the French revolution, and 6

Strausss way to understand politics becomes clear once one understands what is at stake in the French revolution. Just as Jacobi said in his 1770 Letter to La Harpe that it is dangerous to draw any politics and any conception of a just society from ideals coming from our mind, Strauss will oppose in Natural Right and History the ancient natural right to the modern conception of right. The former opposes all subjectivism. More pointedly, his way to raise the theological-political problem in the context of his critique of political liberalism is the answer to the doubts he has concerning the humanistic foundations of politics. Such doubts explain his interest in Jacobi and they are at work in the critique of the Enlightenment project and its belief in the sufficiency of reason. They are also at the core of his rejection of Cassirers philosophy of culture. If Spinozas critique of religion has not destroyed the interest in revelation, as he says in Philosophy and Law, there may be another alternative to NeoKantianism or transcendentalism. If the categories we find in our reason are not sufficient to provide the foundations for a universal ethics, as Strauss will overtly say after the Davos debate, if the dream of a universal peaceful society has collapsed, as proved in the thirties in Europe, the problem is how to replace them. And Strauss does not seem to be convinced by the philosophy of the salto mortale. This also would be true of any philosophy of resoluteness. I believe that, from the beginning, he was neither convinced by Heideggers historicist solution, although he certainly knew that any relevant thought would have to face the problem like Heidegger did. This supposed also diving into the foundations of Western thought, spirit, logos, reason, and undertaking an archaeology of nihilism. But since this first text on Jacobi, Strauss already thought that the beginning of the mistake was in modern Enlightenment, and not in Plato and Aristotle. The point was to answer the question: What is Enlightenment? Apart from this belief in the sufficiency of reason we find in Spinoza, what is at the core of modern Enlightenment? This requires us to turn from Spinoza to Hobbes.

Hobbess Radical Enlightenment and Strausss Reinvigoration of Maimonidess Conception of Law As An Answer To The crisis of Liberalism In The Political Philosophy of Hobbes Strauss demonstrated that it was not modern science which was the real basis of such politics. His studies of Hobbess early thought in England, where the Duke of Devonshire permitted him to examine the Hobbes papers at Chatsworth, led him to see Hobbess view of human life as the genesis of his moral and political ideas. This original conception of human life was present in Hobbess mind before he 7

became acquainted with modern science. It was independent of both tradition and modern science. This interpretation not only flowed from Strausss method, which he employed in his previous inquiry into the moral orientation or the motivations of Spinozas critique of religion, it also led to results that were opposed to the Neo-Kantian view, especially to Cassirers interpretation. (Cassirer, 1907) But is not enough to refer to this now classical book on the foundations of the modern political thought to understand the originality and the depth of Strausss early critique of the Enlightenment. One has to know that in 1934, in Cambridge, Strauss was writing another book he had begun in France one year before. Die Religionskritik des Hobbes, for which he failed to find an English publisher (Strauss, 1935b: 271; 1934b: 503), was an attempt to establish Hobbess critique of religion as the foundation for his political philosophy. Far from being an accessory to his politics, this critique of religion which Strauss analysed by focusing on the English version of Leviathan is that which guides Hobbess whole philosophy. (Strauss, 1934a: 271-2). The antagonism between orthodoxy and atheism which led to the rejection of the compromises and obfuscations of moderate Enlightenment becomes more radical here: Strauss does not simply repeat that Hobbess critique of religion belongs to the Epicurean motive (Epikureertum or Epikureismus), a point already found in Spinoza for whom religion is an obstacle to mans happiness and his ability to shape his own destiny. To be sure, Hobbess science of the Bible and return to the authority of the Scripture against that of the Church are a weapon he used against the ambitions of the Church. According to him, there must be only one authority, that of the state, which means that religion has to be subordinated to politics. At first sight, as Strauss says in the first part of this study, Hobbes appeals to the Scripture. His goal is to fight against the church and theology, but also against the tradition of political philosophy that could make possible a return of theocracy. His critique of religion, what Strauss calls a post-Christian modification of Epicureanism, is the basis of his political philosophy, since it is necessary to eradicate everything that could prepare for a revival of theocracy. This is necessary in order to build a new politics, where the state is based on the individual. But Strauss goes further in the second part of this study. First, he shows the differences between Hobbess predecessors such as Isaac de La Peyrre and those who refer to Faustus Socinius. Hobbess critique of religion is not simply a radicalization of socianianism in the sense of Epicureanism (Strauss, 1934a: 322), but it is also linked to a conception of man and even to a theology that has nothing to do with socianianism or with moderate Enlightenment. For them, Providence is benevolent

and God merciful. This contrast is what enables Strauss to understand the project of mastery of man and nature he finds at the core of the Enlightenment. It is not only Epicureanism that characterizes Hobbess thought, but radical Enlightenment. By asserting the unknowability of revelation (die Unerkenntnisbarkeit), (Strauss, 1934a: 326) Hobbes undermines the authority of Scripture he first pretended to accept. He claims that the world is the incomprehensible result of an incomprehensible God. (Strauss, 1934a: 363-4) This radicalization of Descartess Deus deceptor means that consciousness does not suffice to orient us in a world that is not made for us and whose phenomena we do not understand. Hobbes does not reject the existence of the thing-in-itself, but he says that we only know what we produce and even that knowledge, which is not an imitation of nature, but an art - an invention without any model - is relative to the principles of mechanics we have invented. (Strauss, 1934a: 368-9). There is no such thing as Providence and mans survival on earth is not guaranteed. We have to fight in order to survive. Science and politics are the two main instruments of this battle. Far from being the result of Hobbess phenomenalism and materialism, they are founded on his ontology in which he articulates Being into that which resists and that which does not, between bodies and minds. (Strauss, 1934a:365) This way to articulate the being that we are, we who face the world through action, and the being against which we affirm ourselves, is the basis of Hobbess critique of religion. In other words, a project of civilization based on the idea that man has to do his best to become the master of nature, is at the core of Hobbess radical Enlightenment. It explains his rejection of revelation and his political philosophy, considered in its method as well as in its content. It is because of this conception of man and the world that Hobbess politics recognized itself in modern science and in Euclids geometric method. It is because of this idea of an incomprehensible world, because of this nothingness, where there is neither Providence nor Summum bonum, that Hobbes provides a individualistic and liberal foundation of the state and chooses absolutism. The latter he famously called the artificial, mortal God. Homo homini Deus. What light does this study of Hobbess radical Enlightenment shed upon the predicament of political liberalism? And why did Strauss write to Scholem that his book on The Political Philosophy of Hobbes was an introduction to Maimonidess Guide of the Perplexed ? These two questions are related and provide clues to the way Strauss responds to the crisis of liberalism. He reopens the theological-political debate as understood in light of his studies of the Arabic and Jewish medieval thinkers, studies he began in the mid-thirties and which could explain why he did not continue his efforts to publish Die Religionskritik des Hobbes. 9

As John Gunnell put it (Gunnell, 1993: 123), in the early writings Strausss structure of his critique of liberal theology was transformed into a critique of liberal politics and his repudiation of modern rationalism and liberalism propelled him toward the historical recovery of a different ground of judgment and conception of political phenomena. Strausss major contributions to Hobbes studies take place in the context of his general reflection on political liberalism, which included an engagement with the great critic of liberalism, C. Schmitt. Strauss had already encountered Schmitt in the late twenties and at the beginning of the thirties. The crisis of liberalism, of which existentialism is a symptom, is visible in its relativism: Whereas the core of democracy is the conscientious individual, the core of permissive egalitarianism is the individual with his urges The man who wants to indulge his urges does not have the slightest intention to sacrifice his life and hence also his urges This is the moral decline which has taken place. (Strauss, 1964). This assessment, although formulated in the sixties, is already present in Strausss early writings and explains his interest in Carl Schmitts Concept of The Political. Before arguing in Natural Right and History that the contemporary rejection of natural right leads to nihilism, Strauss maintained that any critique or deconstruction of liberalism had to begin with Hobbes. He is the founder of liberalism, of the idea of civilization and of the notion of a rational universal society (Strauss, 1932), with all its technological complexity and its drive toward the goal of a universal homogeneous order. The latter, which would suppose a complete exploitation of nature through technology, would be the triumph and the reign of the last man, as Strauss said to Kojve. (Strauss, 1948). To carefully examine Strausss conception of modern natural right and the idea that the individual precedes, temporally and ontologically, the state and politics, helps understand the replacement of classical political philosophy with modern political science, where a reflection on power has buried any teleological conception of human excellence and nature - whose first example we find in Machiavelli, as Strauss himself said in the 1964 preface of The Political Philosophy of Hobbes. It also sheds light upon the link between political liberalism and a new kind of tyranny which Schmitt diagnoses in the Concept of the Political. Schmitt refers to the era of neutralization and depolitization that makes technology the only reference. (Strauss, 1932). Such a power attributed to technology is less the result of Western metaphysics than the consequence of the negation of the state and the eclipse of politics. The so-called neutral liberal state makes technology and humanitarianism its only references. This neutrality is a mirage, however: politics always intrudes; but the new kind of wars engendered by this new moral horizon may be more inhuman than the former wars between friends and foes. This is 10

not the place to analyze the link between Strausss critique of political liberalism and his skepticism in regards to cosmopolitianism and humanitarianism, critique we find in his text on K. Riezler, in the last chapter of What is political Philosophy? It is important, though, to understand the differences between Strausss and Schmitts denunciation of some modern and contemporary political dreams which can lead to catastrophes. Not to speak of the belief in a progress of humanity through science and reason that characterizes Hegels philosophy of history and marxism. What is at work is Strausss way to provide an alternative to liberalism and communism and his own reinvigoration of the concept of the political in his use of Maimonides as a way to transcend liberalisms horizon. Strauss praised Schmitt for his affirmation of the political over against liberal humanitarianism; he however does not define politics by the demarcation line between friends and foes. He believes that the crisis of liberal democracy, which is endangered from within, that is from the kind of man who has appeared in the midst of the third wave of modernity, is linked to the disappearance of the political. This shows up in the philosophy of culture we referred earlier. Just as the state is swallowed up by society, the political is reduced to an isolated field within culture, torn between economy and morality. It is no longer something substantial that could give our decisions their moral and political point de repre. Such a horizon has to be rediscovered beyond the political philosophy of Hobbes and beyond liberalism. It requires calling into question the liberal relegation of the moral to the private realm of mere normativities. According to Strauss, this was not achieved by Schmitt, whose critique of liberalism as a regime of entertainment was still too liberal and paradoxically, too moral. At least, it was linked to the repugnance he had toward a figure of human being incapable of sacrifice and grandeur, blind to the serious things. Thus, instead of decisionism which contributes to, rather than helping to overcome, nihilism, and far from the philosophy of history or even the waiting for the last God we find in Heidegger, Strauss turned toward Maimonidess conception of the Law. As seen in the third chapter of Philosophy and Law, the philosophic grounding of the Law and Strausss inquiry into Maimonidess political philosophy and prophetology constitute his answer to the problem of political liberalism. The point is to understand that such inquiry is not an apology of theocracy or of any political theology, but takes place in the context of Strausss analyzis of a critique of modern rationalism he began with Jacobi. This requires a new form of rationalism. The conviction of the inadequacy of human understanding to know the most important things is the condition of the possibility of a philosophers having an interest in Revelation. This thought informed Maimonidess exploration of Torah as a whole. The meaning of 11

Maimonidess conception of the Law will be used by Strauss to articulate modernity and tradition in a way that suggests an alternative to what is destructive in the liberal foundation of the state. Nor is Maimonides the only premodern thinker who can help, although it is for Strauss a necessary stage to Platos and Aristotles political philosophy and to Socrates, the exemplar of classical rationalism. Instead of thinking that the negative freedom and Hobbess conception of right as the instrument of ones liberty and preservation can provide a relevant foundations for political decisions, Strauss suggests reinvigorating the wisdom of ancient political philosophy. The latter is more likely to lead to political moderation than the philosophy of Hobbes or that of Rousseau or Hegel, Strauss argued in Three Waves of Modernity, but also in his correspondence with Kojve. Political moderation is rooted in the refusal to resolve the mystery of human life by political means, as H. Jaffa argued. (Jaffa, 1993: 209) The question is to know what can we learn from Platos political philosophy and why is the theological-political problem as understood in light of Maimonidess rationalism the right optic to think through the crisis of our time and prevent Enlightenment from being obfuscation? To answer this question is to highlight the legacy of Leo Strauss to our time as well as the differences between his thought and Heidegger.

Strausss and Heideggers Conception of Finitude While Heidegger doesnt allow for a political moment in his thought, or for politics as a pregnant fact of the human condition, Strauss returns to Socratess investigations as dialectical inquiry into our common life, that is into what we authoritatively hold in common. Political philosophy, where the City is the condition and matrix, as well as subject, of our philosophical inquiry is a more radical phenomenology than Husserls. Husserl in effect accused neo-Kantianism of beginning with the roof, and not with the foundations, but his own conception of the natural understanding of the world that precedes and shapes our scientific knowledge does not constitute the real return to the things themselves. ( Strauss, 1971). Heidegger made a similar charge against Husserl. But for Strauss, even Heideggers return to the pragmata and his attempt to describe the ecstatic structure of Dasein miss an essential component of the structure of human existence. Strauss provides the method of political philosophy, paradoxically understood as first philosophy. Not first philosophy - prot philosophia - in Aristotles sense, but considering the City its nomoi, its doxai - as the starting points of any philosophical inquiry: political opinions are what come first for us, and 12

political matters are most urgent. Neither consciousness nor Dasein can be the immediate source of truth. Existentialism presupposed, rather than analyzed, mass society. Nor is truth relative to Dasein. In Strausss classical account, it is discovered through a specific form of inquiry, a dialectical ascent, that leads to, or aimts at, the replacement of opinions by philosophical ideas. True, philosophical ideas, as well as philosophical inquiry, can clash with the Citys authorities and authoritative doxai, which suggests a gap and tension between the City and Philosophy. Here, too, Socrates is superior to either Husserl or Heidegger, not to mention Cassirer. Husserls invocation of the life world in a conference of May 1935 and later in the Krisis is still bound up with his conception of philosophy as rigorous science and Europe as the civilization of reason, of speaking in evidence. Such a rationalism remained enthralled to the Enlightenment project and makes Husserl inadequate for a critical overcoming of Enlightenment thought. Strauss seeks to overcome Husserl and Heidegger on their own ground, the starting point of philosophy, as well as by a closer look at science and society, by returning to Socratess political philosophy. None of this, I believe, is particularly controversial among students, friendly or critical, of Strauss. But my claim is that it was his reinvigoration of Maimonidess conception of the Law as a whole that most enabled him to replace Heideggers historicist alternative to Enlightenment humanism. Strausss quarrel with Heidegger is not only about the nature and itinerary of philosophy, but also concerns the solution we can offer to the crisis of the West. Neither Heideggers early teaching of resoluteness nor his later teaching concerning Ereignis which Strauss found fatalistic can help us overcome nihilism. Maimonidess interpretation of the Law, though, helps Strauss find an answer to Heideggers contempt for the reasonableness and praise of resoluteness which could encourage to extremist movements. (Strauss, 1956). By restoring the initial authority of the moral order common to philosophy and to the Bible and by restoring the conviction that human life could be well lived only by devoting oneself to the high (Jaffa, 1993: 208), Strauss thought one could engender intellectual humility and modesty, and therefore contribute toward moderation in politics. This was not simply a matter of reintroducing the idea of excellence among human beings, one we find in classical political philosophy, and which must be restored as the horizon of any political decision. (This, however, is a most important and difficult task in liberal democracy, a regime based upon human equality and freedom, which tends towards skepticism and relativism.) To overcome nihilism requires above all showing how liberal democracy can be saved from internal and external threats to it by a way of thinking that its


philosophical originators, Hobbes and Spinoza, with their anti-theologico-political treatises apparently consigned to the dustbin of progressive History. This way led to Maimonides. By acknowledging the inherent limits of human reason, Maimonidess Philosophical Grounding of the Law and his way of philosophizing with the Law in view, could show how, and to what extent, Tradition can teach us the meaning of human existence. Far from assuming the self-sufficiency of reason, of making it the grounding for ethics, politics, and wisdom as such, Maimonidess account of the natural conditions of prophecy made reason the sense of the suprasensible, the topos where truth reveals itself. The distinction between the prophet and the philosopher is that the former receives the truth immediately from above; his knowledge is more perfect than the latter who only sees the truth in its premises and conclusions. It is this suprarational perfection of the intellect (and then imagination) that helps explain why the prophet can communicate to non-philosophers, to the people, the truths he has understood and be a political leader. There is one truth, though, but it can be attained and expressed in different ways; it is not always or simply the product of human understanding. In Maimonidess understanding, Revelation is a matter of communicating truth which has been so received. Such a conception of Revelation and of truth goes hand-inhand with Maimonides well-known intellectualism - what scholars call his Aristotelianism. Together they constitute what Strauss considered true Enlightenment, that is, the way we always need to follow if we are to be(come) enlightened. If Heidegger, perchance, had encountered Maimonidess complex conception of truth, if he had followed Jacobis critique of Enlightenment rationalism, he may not have said that the task of thinking implies or requires the overcoming of philosophy. He may not have maintained that Plato and Aristotle were at the beginning of a fateful turn in philosophizing that ultimately led to the Gestell. Strausss return to Athens and Jerusalem, his claim that they are necessary destinations on the journey to take in order to address the contemporary crisis of the West was unusual, of course, at time when many or most tried to find their way by following in the footsteps of Kant or Hegel (and their epigones such as Marx). They thought that modernity alone possessed claim to reason. It also departed from, and responded to, Heidegger. From Jacobi to Maimonides, there is a thread, a line of thought, that led Strauss from the critique of NeoKantianism and the inadequate rationalism of modern Enlightenment to the rejection of the Heideggerian alternative to humanism because of its political irresponsibility and spiritual dangers. For Strauss, Heideggers philosophy could not help us overcome nihilism and resist irrationalisms temptations. There was something deeply wrong in his conception of human 14

finitude. Despite the demonstrated defects of Neo-Kantianism, it is not the philosophers proper task to take us back to nothingness, as if that was the chief fact about human life, as if life has to be understood as a battle against, a resolute facing up to the hardness of our fate. Heideggers conception of finitude is rather close to Hobbess anthropology and ontology, too close in fact to help us escape from modern assumptions and to help us find a credible intellectual horizon beyond liberalism. Genuinely post-modern thought must contain a pre-modern component, or two. Such, at any rate, is Leo Strausss proposition to those of us who find ourselves somewhere in modernity, dissatisfied and searching. REFERENCES Cassirer, Ernst. 1907.Die Anfnge des Empirismus. In Das Erkenntnisproblem in der Philosophie der neueren Zeit, ed. B. Recki (Hamburg: Dagmar Vogel, 1999), 2: 46-70. Gunnell, John. 1993.Strauss before Straussianism. In Leo Strauss, Political Philosopher and Jewish Thinker, ed. K. L. Deutsch and W. Nicgorski (Lanham: Rowman Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 1993), 107-128. Heidegger, Martin. 1929. Davos Disputation Between Ernst Cassirer and Martin Heidegger. In Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics. Indiana University Press, 1997: 171185. Jacobi, Friedrich, Werke, (Darmstadt : Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1980), 2 and 4. -------------------- Lettre la Harpe du 5 mai 1790 . In Werke, 2: 513-544. Jaffa, Harry. 1993. Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy. In Leo Strauss, Political Philosopher and Jewish Thinker: 195-210. Schmitt, Carl. 1929. The era of neutralization and depolitization. ----------------. 1928-1932. The Concept of the Political. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996. Strauss, Leo. 1921. Das Erkenntnisproblem in der philosophischen Lehre Fr. H. Jacobis. In Gesammelte Schriften, ed. H. Meier (Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler, 1997), 2: 237-297. ----------------. 1932. Comments on Carl Schmitts Concept of the Political. In Spinozas Critique of Religion. New York: Schocken Books, 1965. ---------------.1934a. Die Religionskritik des Hobbes. In Gesammelte Schriften, 3, 2001: XXXVIII-799. ----------------.1934b. Letter to J. Klein, April 25. In Gesammelte Schriften, 3: 455-605. ----------------.1934c. Letter to A. Kojve, June 3. In On Tyranny, revised and expanded edition, New York: The Free Press, 1991. ---------------. 1935.a Letter to G. Scholem, October 2. In Gesammelte Schriften, 3: 699-771. ---------------. 1935.b Letter to A. Kojve, May 9. In On Tyranny.


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