Was ist Aufklärung?

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.

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