“Strauss Talks”

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”.  

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