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Interpretation

A Fictional Letter to the Financial Times:

Sir, the name of Thucydides, Son of Olorus, has appeared in the Financial Times three times in the last eight days. Three times it has been accompanied by grave errors interpreting the relevance of his thought to the current European situation, which I will address in chronological order.

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I’ve read a lot of Rousseau. Far more than most but also less than those self-identifying as “Rousseau Scholars”. Still, I think I understand him once in a while. Reading his Statement on St Pierre’s Project, that is, Rousseau critique of the idea of Perpetual Peace, I see Rousseau confirms something that I was accused of getting wrong in a public setting. Sour grapes this is not. Rousseau is exasperating and confusing. He means everything he says and refuses to say everything he means. Once in a while I get confirmation from him that I was on the right track, and this just happened once again. (n.b. I say this in full knowledge that he’ll pull the rug out from under me soon enough – but this is the price you pay when studying him).

The point at issue here is the status of International Relations in his thought. I am returning to some research on Rousseau and Schmitt re: Sovereignty pretty soon, so I thought I’d give the St Pierre commentary a closer read than I previously have. Now, one of the points that I thought was clear to me was that foreign relations in Rousseau are totally subordinate to the pursuit of the good and just society. What matters is approximating the society of the General Will in one’s particular community and international relations matter only insofar as they impact this pursuit. I thought this was suitably clear from The Social Contract or his fragmentary essay The State of War. When I made this point in a public setting it was met with bewilderment. “This isn’t IR…” Sure, but that’s because Rousseau doesn’t see it as a separate domain of politics. Anyways, I offer this quote, pp.37–38 of Vaughan’s translation:

No man can have thought long upon the means of bringing any Government to perfection without realizing a host of difficulties and obstacles which flow less from its inherent nature than from its relations to its neighbours. The result of this is that the care which ought to be given to its internal warfare has to be largely spent upon its outward security; and we are compelled to think more of providing for its defence against others than of making it as good as may be in itself.

All I have ever done is try to understand Rousseau’s books as he did.

I never start the day reading what I’m supposed to be reading, though I always end the day that way. To wit, the last things I read last night was §29 of Being and Time on attunement, mood, and affect, and finished reading Franz Neumann’s essay “Anxiety and Politics”. This morning, I pulled a collection of essays by C.S. Lewis of the bookshelf (and IR scholar must go the Ls to retrieve Lebow, after all), and (re)discovered this passage on reading old books. Some quotes:

Every age has its own outlook. It is especially good at seeing certain truths and especially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will corrected the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook – even those, like myself, who see, most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united – united with each other and against earlier and later ages – by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century – the blindness about which posterity will ask, ‘But how could they have thought that?’ – lies where we have never suspected it….None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books.

Never forget that Lewis’s book on Nature and Natural Right, on the Order of the Cosmos – The Abolition of Man – begins with a critique of a children’s grammar book. I’ve unconsciously followed Lewis’s advice (in previous posts here) for reading older books by pitting his understanding of Heart and Thumos against Fukuyama’s End of History, where Fukuyama reads Lewis in a purely material way to shape his argument on progress, science, capitalism, and democracy.

Pedagogically, one his hard pressed to disagree with Lewis’s point that it is far, far, easier for students to read Plato than Platonic scholarship. Students proved this to me earlier this year, in a wholly unexpected way. While designing a course on Cosmopolitanism, I left out a week of readings on the Enlightenment, specifically Lessing and Mendelssohn. But when we read a section from Kant’s Theory and Practice on International Right (“against Moses Mendelssohn”), my students preferred Mendelssohn. In fact, they were much more enamoured with Mendelssohn than they were Kant, or with Habermas and Rawls on deliberation and public reason. It behooves teachers to listen to their students.

I haven’t paid enough attention to Chapter 46 of Hobbes’s Leviathan, in English or Latin. This series of remarks from the 14th Latin paragraph are otherworldly:

For after a year or two Pope Leo, in his correspondence, exhorted Emperor Charlemagne to establish universities throughout his dominions, where all letters and sciences would be taught. So he set up, in Paris, the first university; and afterwards other kings set up others, each in his own dominion, which, once the colleges had been set up and organized for study, where to be governed by laws, according to the discretion of the Roman pontiff. Finally, from masters such as Peter Lombard, Duns Scotus, and Thomas Aquinas, was born the theology which they call scholastic, a hodgepodge of Aristotle’s philosophy and Sacred Scripture. In the universities they teach Aristotle’s logic, his physics, his metaphysics, his ethics, and his politics, as if the whole of the sciences were in one man, who was then also the greatest father of the Church, Aristotle. But especially to establish among adolescents a demeanor of deference, they were exercised in public disputations and speeches, by which they could maintain and preach the dogmas of the Roman church. So by the sermons of ecclesiastics, sent from the universities into almost all the cities, towns and parishes of the Christian world, and by published writings, it was fixed inedibly in the minds of all Christians that there is no other rule of just and unjust except the dictates of the Roman church, that kings are not to be obeyed further than is permitted by the Roman church, and kings themselves ought to obey the Roman pontiff like sheep. And they accomplished what they set out to accomplish.

Emphasis mine, on the white-hot fire that Hobbes just threw at Aristotle. A “hodgepodge” of Aristotle and scripture has come to represent the entirety of the contest between philosophy and revelation, Athens and Jerusalem. This is somehow stronger than his justly famous English takedown: “And I believe that scarce anything can be more absurdly said in natural philosophy than that which now is called Aristotle’s Metaphysics; nor more repugnant to government than much of that he hath said in his Politics; nor more ignorantly than a great part of his Ethics. Perhaps the benefits of modern translation vs Olde English explain my impression of the Latin text, but the clear and pernicious influence of Aristotle on the sociology of knowledge at the time Hobbes was writing comes through so loud and clear. And read this phrase again: ”But especially to establish among adolescents a demeanour of deference…" – has the problem of education ever been so pithily explained? Here’s my Hobbesian inspired statement of teaching philosophy from this day forward: to undo the demeanor of deference established among adolescents.

n.b. quotes from Curley’s translation.

It’s probably useful to list them all, in all their variants, in one place. Begin with Diogenes Laertius, compare the changes in Xenophon and Plato, as Strauss suggested on the first page of his Xenophon’s Socrates.

Diogenes Laertius, Lives 2.5.40:

The affidavit in the case, which is still preserved, says Favorinus, in the Metron, ran as follows: “This indictment and affidavit is sworn by Meletus, the son of Meletus of Pitthos, against Socrates, the son of Sophroniscus of Alopece: Socrates is guilty of refusing to recognize the gods recognized by the state, and of introducing other new divinities. He is also guilty of corrupting the youth. The penalty demanded is death.

Xenophon, Memorabilia, 1.1:

I often wondered by what possible speeches those who indicted Socrates persuaded the Athenians that he deserved death from the city. For the indictment against him was something like the following: Socrates commits an injustice by not believing in the gods which the city believes and by bringing in new and different divine things; he commits an injustice also by corrupting the young.

Xenophon, Apology of Socrates to the Jury, §10:

And [Hermogenes] affirmed that Socrates said that, this being his view, when the plaintiffs accused him on the grounds that he did not believe in the gods in whom the city believes but brought in other strange daimonia and corrupted the young…

Plato, Apology of Socrates, 24b

It is something like this: it asserts that Socrates does an justice by corrupting the young, and by not believing in the gods in whom the city believes, but in other daimonia that are novel. The charge is of this sort.

Plato doesn’t report this part of his biography, though Diogenes Laertius does:

Justus of Tiberias in his book entitled The Wreath says that in the course of the trial Plato mounted the platform and began: “Though I am the youngest, men of Athens, of all who ever rose to address you”–whereupon the judges shouted out, “Get down! Get down!”

Xenophon, of course, couldn’t have spoken at the Trial of Socrates because he was busy leading 10,000 Greeks out of Asia, or something. One wonders what would have transpired if Xenophon rose to speak, and not Plato. That begs the question of whether Xenophon would have ever risen to speak in the same way.

In closing, compare Aristophanes’ charges against Socrates with Socrates’ charges against Gorgias.

Immanuel Kant, Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose, under the fifth proposition:

Man, who is otherwise so enamoured with unrestrained freedom, is forced to enter this state of restriction by sheer necessity.  And this is indeed the most stringent of all forms of necessity, for it is imposed by men upon themselves, in that their inclinations make it impossible for them to exist side by side for long in a state of wild freedom.  But once enclosed within a precinct like that of civil union, the same inclinations have the most beneficial effect.  In the same way, trees in a forest, by seeking to deprive each other of air and sunlight, compel each other to find these by upward growth, so that they grow beautiful and straight–whereas those which put out branches at will, in freedom and in isolation from others, grow stunted, bent and twisted.

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Chapter II, “Of the liberty of thought and discussion”

Socrates was put to death, but the socratic philosophy rose like the sun in heaven, and spread its illumination overt the whole intellectual firmament.  Christians were cast to the lions, but the Christian church grew up a stately and spreading tree, overtopping the older and less vigorous growths, and stifling them by its shade. Our merely social intolerance kills no one, roots out no opinions, but induces men to disguise them or to abstain from any active effort for their diffusion.

Far from missing the forest for the trees, there is a world of disagreement buried in this wood.

The more I learn of the Inklings’ outlook on Modernity, the more I come to love them.  I know I’ve written about Lewis’s The Abolition of Man previously in this space, and I should read them (and write) about them far more often.  What is most impressive and accurate to me about the approach that is as clear in the most esoteric and unknown Inkling works as it is in the Tolkein inspired movies, is the profound sense that some humanity has been lost in Modernity.  Modernity (which is a word thrown around too often but also not often enough) as a phenomenon in itself is glossed over too often and too quickly, especially by “international Relations” scholars, a category to which I belong.  (n.b. The proximate cause of this is a dreadfully famous essay by Martin Wight.  I’ve discussed the ultimate cause in a post on Descartes, Hobbes, Schmitt, and Strauss).  I suspect because Tolkein, Lewis, Barfield, and Williams wrote novels, or poetry, or literary criticism, and because the art of rhetoric had already been unjustly discredited and its study fallen into disuse that Political Science neglected the commentary on politics, society, technology, economics, &c. that is so clearly running through everything they’ve written.  What has my attention at the moment is Barfield’s essay “The Coming Trauma of Materialism.”  A quote:

“Materialism” in my title means, not any materialist philosophy … but the mental habit of taking for granted, for all practical purposes and most theoretical ones, that the human psyche is intrinsically “alienated” from nature in the manner indicated, a habit so inveterate as to have entered into the meanings of a great many common words and thus to have become accepted  as common sense itself.  Materialism in this sense is not, for instance, incompatible with deep religious conviction.  The habit is one which owes a good deal to a certain secondary consequence of Cartesianism that is not often recalled or alluded to.”

Again, I’ll remind about the previous post on the makros anrhopos vs. the retreat into consciousness.  The retreat does not take for granted the intrinsic alienation of psyche and physics.  To thwart my own confusion, materialism is compatible with deep religious conviction because of the transformation of common sense.  Modernity and its sciences take a leap of faith.  What Barfield says two paragraphs later about Darwinism is simply magisterial, and speaks directly to something that I can only describe as an “Enlightenment of Biology.”  Even in this small passage above we see the basis of a grammatology and a post-modernity, but a post-modernity that first returns to the past before progressing.  No small feat, and still ignored.  Whatever.  I still have papers to mark and a dissertation to write.

In December 1981, Gadamer did an interview with Professor Fr. Ernest Fortin at Boston College.  It was published in 1984 in Interpretation, Vol.12 No.1.   The interview’s intention is for Gadamer to speak about Leo Strauss, but is more wide ranging than that.  The opening gives us this depiction of Weimar Germany after World War One:

“The general feeling was one of disorientation.  One day  — I was only a youngster then — a number of us got tougher and asked: “What should we do?” “How can the world be reconstructed?” The answers were very different.  Some thought we ought to follow Max Weber; others; Otto von Gierke; others still, Rabindranath Tagore, who was the most popular poet in Germany immediately after World War I, thanks to some moving translations of his plays. (He was a good friend of Paul Natorp and occasionally came to Germany. I saw him once: an enormous figure with the face of a prophet. Fantastic! Natorp himself was a giant in the guise of a dwarf.) These concerns were shared by the young Leo Strauss as well. He too was looking around in search of some orientation.”

What’s interesting, from the perspective of the formal subject of the interview, is that Strauss and Gadamer do not “have their first real acquaintance” until 1933.  I learned of Tagore from this interview, and am very glad for it.  It is certainly worth a moment’s reflection that a man who could write to Gandhi to warn him about the inhumanity of his politics could have had a potential influence over the same intellectual environment in which Heidegger eventually flourished.  The especially interesting comparison though is with the Kronjurist himself, Schmitt.  I will let Tagore speak for himself:

Have you not seen, since the commencement of the existence of the Nation, that the dread of it has been the one goblin-dread with which the whole world has been trembling? Wherever there is a dark corner, there is the suspicion of its secret malevolence; and people live in a perpetual distrust of its back where it has no eyes. Every sound of a footstep, every rustle of movement in the neighbourhood, sends a thrill of terror all around. And this terror is the parent of all that is base in man’s nature. It makes one almost openly unashamed of inhumanity. Clever lies become matters of self-congratulation. Solemn pledges become a farce,—laughable for their very solemnity. The Nation, with all its paraphernalia of power and prosperity, its flags and pious hymns, its blasphemous prayers in the churches, and the literary mock thunders of its patriotic bragging, cannot hide the fact that the Nation is the greatest evil for the Nation, that all its precautions are against it, and any new birth of its fellow in the world is always followed in its mind by the dread of a new peril. Its one wish is to trade on the feebleness of the rest of the world, like some insects that are bred in the paralysed flesh of victims kept just enough alive to make them toothsome and nutritious. Therefore it is ready to send its poisonous fluid into the vitals of the other living peoples, who, not being nations, are harmless. For this the Nation has had and still has its richest pasture in Asia. Great China, rich with her ancient wisdom and social ethics, her discipline of industry and self-control, is like a whale awakening the lust of spoil in the heart of the Nation. She is already carrying in her quivering flesh harpoons sent by the unerring aim of the Nation, the creature of science and selfishness. Her pitiful attempt to shake off her traditions of humanity, her social ideals, and spend her last exhausted resources in drilling herself into modern efficiency, is thwarted at every step by the Nation. It is tightening its financial ropes round her, trying to drag her up on the shore and cut her into pieces, and then go and offer public thanksgiving to God for supporting the one existing evil and shattering the possibility of a new one. And for all this the Nation has been claiming the gratitude of history, and all eternity for its exploitation; ordering its band of praise to be struck up from end to end of the world, declaring itself to be the salt of the earth, the flower of humanity, the blessing of God hurled with all His force upon the naked skulls of the world of No-Nations.

I know what your advice will be. You will say, form yourselves into a nation, and resist this encroachment of the Nation. But is this the true advice? that of a man to a man? Why should this be a necessity? I could well believe you if you had said, Be more good, more just, more true in your relation to man, control your greed, make your life wholesome in its simplicity and let your consciousness of the divine in humanity be more perfect in its expression. But must you say that it is not the soul, but the machine, which is of the utmost value to ourselves, and that man’s salvation depends upon his disciplining himself into a perfection of the dead rhythm of wheels and counterwheels? that machine must be pitted against machine, and nation against nation, in an endless bull-fight of politics?

You say, these machines will come into an agreement, for their mutual protection, based upon a conspiracy of fear. But will this federation of steam-boilers supply you with a soul, a soul which has her conscience and her God? What is to happen to that larger part of the world where fear will have no hand in restraining you? Whatever safety they now enjoy, those countries of No-Nation, from the unbridled license of forge and hammer and turn-screw, results from the mutual jealousy of the powers. But when, instead of being numerous separate machines, they become riveted into one organized gregariousness of gluttony, commercial and political, what remotest chance of hope will remain for those others, who have lived and suffered, have loved and worshipped, have thought deeply and worked with meekness, but whose only crime has been that they have not organized?

But, you say, “That does not matter, the unfit must go to the wall—they shall die, and this is science.”

No, for the sake of your own salvation, I say, they shall live, and this is truth. It is extremely bold of me to say so, but I assert that man’s world is a moral world, not because we blindly agree to believe it, but because it is so in truth which would be dangerous for us to ignore. And this moral nature of man cannot be divided into convenient compartments for its preservation. You cannot secure it for your home consumption with protective tariff walls, while in foreign parts making it enormously accommodating in its free trade of license.

You may continue listening to him speak for himself here.

Insofar as my ongoing interest in the moral consciousness conforms to a “plot”, it thickens.  I love Plato’s Symposium, which I know is rather cliche.  I came across this remark from Allan Bloom’s famous “Ladder of Love” essay:

The study of the soul had become such a part of Catholic Christianity that its destruction in the name of something like consciousness seemed a necessity.  But the Christian teaching was about a specific version of the soul characterized by separability from the body and immortality, great miracles that defied common sense and reason. (p.195)

Okay, so classical political philosophy is about the soul and nomos, while modern political philosophy is about the moral consciousness.  Hmm….

From paragraph #171 of Natural Right & History, in the discussion of the mutability and immutability of natural right:

The Thomistic interpretation is connected with the view that there is a habitus of practical principles, a habitus which he call “conscience” or, more precisely, synderesis.  The very terms show that this view is alien to Aristotle; it is of Patristic origin.

“It is of Patristic origin” or perhaps, “it is of the Patristic, Origen”.  See his homilies on Ezekiel.  One cannot emphasize this point enough: the moral conscience is apparently not a Greek invention.  Is this invention the crisis of classic natural right? Is this what allows Thomas to so easily turn natural right into natural law? What about the comparison between the Nichomachean Ethics 1134b and Rhetoric 1.13.2?  To the Kuzari?  But first:

The doctrine of synderesis or of the conscience explains why natural law can always be duly promulgated to all men and hence be universally obligatory.  It is reasonable to assume these profound changes were due to the influence of belief in biblical revelation.  If this assumption should prove to be correct, one would be forced to wonder, however, whether the natural law as Thomas Aquinas understands it is natural law strictly speaking, i.e., a law knowable to the unassisted human mindto the human mind which is not illumined by divine revelation.  (p.163, emphasis not in original)

I’ll note only two circumstantial coincidences.  The Platonic chariot appears in a dialogue that occurs outside of the city walls.  Maimonides notes that the Account of the Chariot (III 6) implies an understanding of its audience as being outside the city: comparing two mean, one from a settle population and another from desert nomads, “the former knew that city people know in what state the ruler rides, [Isaiah] did not describe that state, but said only: I saw the ruler…whereas the people of Exile required these details [from Ezekiel].”  The biblical Chariot, like the Platonic one, is outside the city.  The biblical Chariot is a picture that is only possible outside of the Second Table, outside of the “minimum requirements for society” (NRH 158). The second circumstance: I usually write in this space in the dead of night, seeking the morning sun; at this moment, I am writing in the middle of the afternoon awaiting the evening dusk.

p.s. Origen postulates a parallel between Ezekiel and Christ on the basis of Luke 3:23, Matthew 3:13, and Luke 3:21. See the Scheck translation, p.32-3.

p.p.s. There are many, many, benefits to the current fashionable love for habitus, doxa, and field in my academic community. But much, much more resides on the surface of these concepts than their first impression admits. And the first impression is already powerful.