In September 1975, Rabbi Stanley G. Weber defended a dissertation called “Leo Strauss on Jerusalem and Athens”, supervised by George Parkin Grant in the Department of Religious Studies. The dissertation was meant to “enucleate the thought of Leo Strauss on the relation of Jerusalem and Athens” with a special interest in the relation between Judaism and Philosophy. This is interesting for a whole host of reasons. First, Political Philosophy has always had a home at McMaster, despite the never ending persecution to which it’s been subjected by the last 20+ years of administrations. Second, 1975 is incredibly early to be writing a dissertation on Strauss’s thought.* Really, Grant is one of the few (only?) people who in 1975 could have supervised such a thesis, being a reviewer of Strauss’s On Tyranny and the Strauss-Kojeve debate. Grant was the first to bring attention the the omission of the last paragraph from the French edition in the English “Restatement”. Confer footnote 37 in Grant’s famous Lament for a Nation, where he draws on Strauss to make sense of the Canadian modern predicament. That whole paragraph is clearly a reflection on Strauss’s famous line, “Tyranny is a danger coeval with political life” and Kojeve’s response to it in view of the “world state”. In Lament (1965) Grant points us to What is Political Philosophy? and The City and Man. In his 1966 Appendix to Philosophy and the Mass Age, Grant points us again to WIPP but now substitutes CM for Thoughts on Machiavelli.
Returning to Rabbi Weber, it appears only Professor Kenneth Green has come across his thesis, granting it a citation in Jew and Philosopher, but I can find it only in the citations not in the text. Rabbi Weber was mentioned in the Ottawa Citizen on May 27, 1961 [link]. This is a stunning thesis, which deserves much more publicity than it’s received. Especially interesting is that Rabbi Weber appears to have met Strauss, listing his “two days with Strauss” among the abbreviated works. More to come…
*Richard Zinman, I believe, also wrote a dissertation on Strauss. But this was awarded (according to his CV on the Olin Center page) in 1976.
For months I’ve been trying to avoid the confrontation that awaits with Heidegger’s Being and Time. Given that I happened to be the bearer of a gift card to my university bookstore, and after a small existential crisis about the merits of Stambaugh/Schmidt vs Macquarrie/Robinson – or whether perhaps Foucault’s History of Madness might be more worth my time – I finally heard/felt “the call”. Everything has been pointing here in recent months. Strauss, Levinas, Derrida, Schmitt, Sloterdijk, &c. I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed Richard Velkley’s Heidegger, Strauss, And the Premises of Philosophy: On Original Forgetting. And, as an I.R. student trained in the Critical tradition, the problem of nomos has been uncharacteristically making itself known in a variety of ways. Let a large amount of angst ensue.
A gentle reminder for my future self. Compare Machiavelli’s Epistle Dedicatory in il Principe with Thucydides’ Possession for Everlasting, 1.22, or his famous statement on methodology. Machiavelli’s Prince lacks superfluous ornaments; Thucydides’ History, avoiding the story telling of patris, will “perhaps seem less enjoyable for listening.”
Wilfrid Laurier’s Lecture on Political Liberalism is currently my distraction of choice. Volume II of Richard Gwyn’s Nation Maker: Sir John A. MacDonald has been sitting on my desk, ready to read, for weeks now as well. This will be a recurring theme – piles of unread books, waiting to be cracked. On that note, the Coffee Philosopher has a nice list of books that one should read before they’re 30. I have only a few months left. I am also mere hours away from my yearly sojourn through Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men. Maybe this year I’ll finally understand this most philosophic and esoteric of works.
Miracles: A Preliminary Study by C.S. Lewis is a small and important book that has been in the back of my head now for many, many months. The cover states: For the reader who has difficulty in finding use for miracles, the author restores them to their reasonable place as part of God’s way with man. This is a book with seventeen chapters. The ninth chapter bears the title “A Chapter Not Strictly Necessary”, followed by “Horrid Red Things.” Confer “The Beast with Red Cheeks” from End of History or “Men without Chests” from Abolition of Man. A quote:
“The Englishness of English is audible only to those who know some other language as well. In the same way and for the same reason, only Supernaturalists really see Nature. You must go a little away from her, and then turn round, and look back. Then at last the true landscape will become visible … The “vanity” to which she was subjected was her disease, not her essence.”
I assume Lewis has much to teach the careful reader.
Saint Jerome being visited by Angels – Bartolomeo Cavarozzi
While reading Seth Benardete’s essay Socrates and Plato: The Dialectics of Eros I stumbled across the most fantastic quote. Quote: “…negation is always the other of the other (Sophist 258a4-5). Philosophy therefore tends to become conspicuous at the boundaries of things, where it binds together what seems to be apart and separates what seems to be together.” Someday soon I hope to formulate some thoughts on Being, inside/outside, and philosophy being “on the line”. Perhaps while discussing the quid sit of securitas? Securitas is a freedom from anxiety – freedom from angst – or composure. It is also the name of a minor Roman Goddess or personified as the “tutelary goddess of the Roman state”. Security and Political Theology always, always, go hand in hand. To wit: ti esti nomos?
p.s. Confer Saint Jerome’s translation of Maccabees 11:30
p.p.s. Blushing is the surface that reveals the heart of things.
p.p.p.s. Is philosophy the seaming of seemingness?
Another Vignette. Last week I asked Elise to look at my bookshelf and – judging my books only by their covers – pick the book she thought would be the most difficult to read. Her answer? Volume II of Moses Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed. This is, of course, the correct answer. With the seventeen chapters of the Prophetology, the seven chapters on Ezekiel’s Account of the Chariot, and the enigmatic ending, this is always the correct answer.
A few nights ago Elise woke me up reading in bed and laughing. She highlighted the following:
But beauty, real beauty, ends where an intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of any face. The moment one sits down to think, one becomes all nose, or all forehead, or something horrid.
Needless to say, I was won over immediately. I am far too old to have never read Dorian Gray and we happen to be lucky enough to own two copies. Part of me is more than convinced this book needs to be read alongside Plato’s Symposium, to say nothing of the tripartite relationship of Lord Henry, Basil, and Dorian. I should not shock anyone suggesting a philosophic undertone to Wilde’s book, especially its playful treatment of amour propre and existence. Yet another reason to look for an excuse to teach a course on Political Philosophy in the English Language. All this said it is a joy beyond joy to be reading a book with my wife rather than playing catch up.
Now if only I could tear myself away from The Picture of Dorian Gray