in 1950 when Strauss was a professor at the University of
Chicago, this tour de force is remarkable for the effect it
had on the
Today, the book
is equally remarkable for the brouhaha it elicits
amongst the conservative factions. It is well nigh impossible
to go a
day or two without reading that the book and Strauss are responsible
our troubles in Iraq (from the paleos) or that he espoused ideas
justify our occupation (the neo contention that we should conduct
foreign policy so as to protect liberal democracy).
Both the neos and
paleos are skimpy and careless in their analyses. But,
first, what did Strauss say?
Right and History" Strauss explicates modern conceptions
natural law (or its alter ego, natural rights). He discusses
Locke, Rousseau, Burke (yes,Burke) and others. He finds their
wanting because they had departed from the doctrines of Plato,
Aristotle, and Cicero. As a result of not consulting with the
sages, an emergence of destructive trends (positivism and historicism)
led to Nihilism and, as we all know, the rest is history.
ignorance of the ancients leads to "...(the) inescapable
practical consequence of ...fanatical obscurantism."
As he says, " Once we realize that the principles of our
actions have no
other support than our blind choice, we really do not believe
any more...We cannot live any more as responsible beings. In
live, we have to silence...the voice of reason, which tells
us that our
principles are in themselves as good or as bad as any other
principles...." The late, great, Will Herberg, writing
at about the
same time, and referencing the conservative critique of modernism,
(this sums up Strauss perfectly!):
true to the classical tradition, of our culture, whether
Hebrew or Greek...affirm the doctrine of the higher law as the
cornerstone of their moral, social, and political philosophy.
have frequently rejected this doctrine in favor of some form
positivism, cultural relativism, and moral pragmatism."
is what the book is about. No more. No less. So why the vitriolic
miasmic and stupid reasons, I think.
conflict between the paleos and neos is not a family quarrel.
Both cabals have motives (resulting from their philosophical
underpinnings) that result in verbiage designed to entice the
public to their side. As a result, inanities prevail. The fact
that Irving Kristol hailed Strauss as one of his heroes should
not lead to William Pfaff's observation that "...His real
appeal to the neoconservatives...is that his (Stauss') eltism
presents a principled rationalization for policy expediency
and ...necessary lies." Hell, I liked Hendrix 30 years
ago; now, I like Segovia. Or, the neo versions, abounding in
the "Weekly Standard" that castigate the paleos with
the charge of anti-Zionism and worse because Paul Wolfowitz
Strauss, and paleos, as we are told endlessly, fear a Wolfowitz
in Iraq. Peter Berkowitz, in the 6/02/03 issue of the "Weekly
says of Strauss and his supposed power that...(the Neos)
are able, a generation and a half after (Strauss') death, to...compel
the actions of highly successful and well-placed individuals
not only in
politics, but in the media and the academy." He says this
but his point is germane. Both the paleos and neos are off-kilter
Strauss made a very important contribution to the conservative
that's all. Both factions would do well to review Kant and his
pertaining to epistemology. Kant makes it clear that knowledge
"is" or "is perceived." The warriors of
both sides are perception-whacky I fear.
have not found a decent analysis of Strauss yet. So forgive
a distinction is made between transcendence and immanence.
Transcendence refers to the permanent and objective presence
Godhead, of the eschaton, if you will. God's status is independent
His Creation. He intervenes, from time to time, within nature
history, through miracles. Immanence speaks of God's presence
and activity within the arenas of nature, human nature, and
what we think of as reality -- as a day-to-day thing. Here,
God's status is that of a continual presence within us.
The history of man
shows a marked presence for immanence. Eric Voeglin
has warned us to not "immanentize the Christian eschaton."
But we do. We
can't help it. Strauss saw transcendence in Plato and immanence
And thus we witness
Strauss' contribution to the conservative cause. And
I posit, we witness the real Strauss -- a traditionalist pure
simple, not a classical liberal (sorry, Paleos. Sorry, Neos).
theologian extraordinaire, clears it up for me when he
says, "The twentieth century has seen several movements,
heavy emphasis upon divine immanence...classical liberalism...has
God as immanent within the world. The difference is a world-view...The
conservative operates...with God outside the world...he sees
occupying more than one level (with sound morality an a priori
consideration)...The Liberal tends to have a single-story view
of reality. (For him), there is no supernatural realm outside
of the natural realm...God is within nature rather than beyond
or outside it."
Neither the paleos
nor neos can claim Strauss. Both camps are well
within the confines of classical liberalism. Both camps pay
Strauss was a traditional
Catholic. He just didn't know it.
is the first of 25 books Dr. Peppe will be reviewing as part
of the top 25 conservative books on political philosophy and
ideology. Seminal books such as "The Federalist Papers"
and "The Wealth of Nations" are not included in this
list because they are already on most lists of the top books.
Click here for the rest of IC's
top 25 books.
Enrico Peppe is a retired educator who runs the website The
Third Way. A widower with too much time on his hands, he
spends most of his time reading and thinking about the conservative
movement, studying Catholic theology, working on his "Third
Way" website, listening to Sinatra and Miles Davis, and
admiring Ann Coulter.
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