Monthly Archives: February 2012

At this moment, Wednesday 3:10 AM, I’ve come to realize that voracious underling underlining, often in numerous colours, does little to “help” one learn from a book.  It does, however, help one remember something about oneself, and to recognize and acknowledge the path one takes through understanding.  But these devices do not help one learn how to read a book.  Mike:  annotate the margins as much as you like.  The voracious underlying underlining must stop.


In Carl Schmitt’s The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes, Schmitt makes a handful of comparison’s between Hobbes’s political theory, and Descartes on the mechanization of man, or the interpretation of man as a machine.  This is possible, of course, because in Les Passions de l’Ame Descartes articulates the division between body and soul.  At any rate, the decisive difference in how one can interpret the relationship between Descartes and Hobbes seems to be this.  One can side with Schmitt and believe that Hobbes took the mechanization of man from Descartes and constructed the “huge man” (makros anthropos), if one likes.  But this comparison of Hobbes and Descartes in the mechanization and “hugeness” of man in the form of the state is contrasted by Strauss’s interpretation of this relationship, where Hobbes follows Descartes’ “retreat into consciousness” for the sake of dismissing Descartes’ refutation of the Deus Deceptor in order to refute it on human bases alone (i.e. in the coming into contact with the world, pragmata).  So, either they are similar because the make man big, or they are similar because they reduce him to his ineluctable conscience.  The latter, not the former, allows for the full horizon of modern philosophy to reveal itself.    This horizon is also fully aware of its theologico-political presuppositions, or the account of miracles that opposes the premodern account of the same.  Now the “Account of the Chariot” begs to be read as a critique of miracles, or at least as being fully aware that it is contemporaneously an account and a critique of mystery.  Schmitt turns to sovereignty; Strauss turns to conscience, to synderesis/syneidesis.

The Enlightenment – more specifically, the critique of enlightenment has become in the last three to four days a question of great interest to me.  The germ of this idea began easily enough, reading, rereading Rousseau’s Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts along with Strauss’s 1947 essay “On the Intention of Rousseau”.  This quickly turned into a return to Natural Right & History, and the Rousseau chapter therein.  I was stunned (though I should not have been stunned) at the amount of shared material between these two essays.  Mostly surprising because Strauss doesn’t mention (unlike many of the other sections of the book) that it has been published before.  The differences were more striking than the similarities, especially the framing of the nature–>society question in the Ancients vs the Moderns (compare the relation between natural (in)equality and politics in “OIR” with regards to the Greeks, and in NRH with regards to Hobbes).  The pairing of Cato-Axa has also been made interesting to me.  Cato, the “spectacle and model of purest virtue” that ever existed, with Axa, Rousseau’s aesthetic construction at the end of his Apologia d’Ephraim who’s self-sacrifice brings virtues back to Israel.  Rousseau presents himself as “the confusing spectacle of a man who perpetually shifts back and forth between two diametrically opposed positions.”  Rousseau’s name remains ever-close to the phrase “political philosophy”.   At any rate, whilst trying to make sense of the Discourse on Inequality, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, the pairing of tyrant-legislator finally struck me.  One feels human passion too keenly; the other doesn’t participate in human passion.  Thus the remarks from NRH 287 (“OIR” 481) jumped off the page, urging a comparison between the question coeval with political life that the Legislator answers, and the danger coeval with political life that ensues from this answer.  The crisis of modernity – and Rousseau is the source of the first crisis –  is that man “no longer believes…”.  Strauss opens his introduction to Maimonides with, “I believe…”.  One last thought.  Rousseau – like the medieval or “pre-modern” philosophers – doesn’t urge the separation of law and morality.  Rather, the fusion of law and morality is to be the new source of popular enlightenment, via the Legislator who can “persuade with convincing” (cf. WIPP 46).  Thus one needs to turn to Strauss’s “enlightenment thought”, Philosophy and Law, Hobbes’s Critique of Religion, and so on.  We’re not far off the mark suggesting that Rousseau revives nomos not because he is a conventionalist but for the sake of its interlocution with physis.

Still reading Dan McAdams The Redemptive SelfGreat book, really enjoying it.  I get the impression that he’s the Hugh Gusterson of the Psychology world, in that he’s transcended his specific discipline and is now fully an Academic.  At least this is the impression I get from his written work.  But his notion of redemption has raised at least one question for me:  what about the struggle for recognition?  Isn’t the struggle to be recognized fundamentally at odds with any inner or lifelong narrative of redemption?  George Bush had a story of personal redemption; Barack Obama gives the polis as a whole a redemption story.  But recognition is something different – the desire to have someone acknowledge you, to acknowledge your inherent and essential worth as a human being.  This is not the same as redemption, but people construct lives around this too.  It’s the difference between Cinderella and an Underdog.  They aren’t mutually exclusive, but there is a difference.  To “give one what is due” or to “move from a place of darkness to light”.  Perhaps the answer is simply that this is an overwhelmingly American book, written for Americans about Americans.  The Germans need not interfere.

McAdams provides a very useful lens through which to understand the inability of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich to gain any traction with their base or nationally.  Mitt doesn’t need redeeming; New is simply irredeemable.  The absence of a narrative means the absence of any traction.

I’ve gone through Rabbi Weber’s thesis, and collected the remarks that relate to the two days he spent with Strauss in June of 1973.  Before I get to a quote, let me quickly outline why I’ve been so engrossed with this +35 year old dissertation that was never published as a book.

1) Weber hypothesizes that Strauss’s thought on Maimonides evolved, and as his understanding of Maimonides evolved so did his understanding of political philosophy generally.  Weber also reports that Strauss himself confirms this evolution in his understanding of Maimonides, with a “glimmer” first revealing itself in 1938, (though possibly as early as 1931, as Weber suggests this is the first time Strauss repeats the famous quote from Averroes).

2) Weber’s thesis focuses on the contest between “Judaism and Philosophy” rather than “Jerusalem and Athens”.  And he also views this conflict in the light of the theologico-political problem.  The primacy of the “theologico-political problem” to Strauss’s work wasn’t always as clear to his English readers as it was to his German ones.  Weber recognizes this, having read and compared the German preface to Political Philosophy of Hobbes in the German edition of 1964.

3)Weber provides (I believe) the first English translation of the introduction to Philosophie und Gesetz.  He takes as his guide for translating Strauss, Leo Strauss himself (referring to the Autobiographical preface to the Spinoza book).  I’ll provide two examples of the difference.  Adler translates, “But if one undertakes a confrontation of this kind seriously, and thus in the freedom of the question which of the two opposed rationalisms is the true rationalism, then medieval rationalism, whose “classic” for us is Maimonides, changes in the course of the investigation from a mere means of discerning more sharply the specific character of modern rationalism into the standard measured against which the latter proves to be only a semblance of rationalism” (P&L 21-2).  Compare Weber’s translation of the same sentence:  “If such a confrontation is undertaken in earnest — that is, with the question open as to which of the two opposing rationalisms is the true rationalism — then the following result ensues:  medieval rationalism — whose classic exponent for us is Maimonides — initially taken as merely an instrument for keener cognition of the distinctiveness of modern rationalism, becomes during the course of the investigation the standard, measured by which modern rationalism reveals itself to be a “pseudo-rationalism”.  Weber says he follows Strauss’s use of “pseudo-philosophy” from Persecution in order to translate “pseudo-rationalism”.  Weber provides a note referencing Strauss’s discussion of the proper “instrument” for use in sacrifices in the Averroes’ section, suggesting he has that argument in mind here.  Adler’s “mere means” obscures this (if Weber’s interpretation is right, of course).

Weber reports a comment from Strauss along the following lines: “whereas one may argue for a philosophicus Christi, the case for ‘Mosaic Philosophy’ is hardly tenable.”

I like thinking about this remark on ‘Mosaic philosophy’ very much.  Given the concomitant nature of philosophy and tyranny, consider the negative formulation of that statement.  One may argue for a tyrannicus Christi, the case for Mosaic tyranny is hardly tenable.  But if tyranny is a danger coeval with political life, the “Bible” and the laws of Moses are not political life.  But this seems like it cannot be true, especially if the Torah is The Law.  But then Strauss “heartily agrees” with a comment about the family and philosophy being inversely related.  This is another way of framing his statement from “Accounts” that a philosopher’s “first education he would usually get from his father and mother, and other relatives, that is to say, from the city” (JPCM 466).  Now this makes sense: Torah, The Law, Family, The City, are essentially equivocal.  Wait: my train of thought here assumes that politics is natural, in the same way that a family is natural.  We can abstract Law and Family from Politics, that is they can exist apart from Politics (pace Aristotle [cf.Cain/Able with Shepherds and Agriculturists]).  Is this a way to begin to “enucleate” Biblical wisdom?  I believe I have run up against one of Strauss’s famous hurdles.  But this I hope demonstrates Weber’s point about the importance Strauss gives to “attentiveness”.