Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Leo Strauss and Natural Right: Hidden Nature, Hidden God

PHILOSOPHY DISCOVERS BOTH NATURE AND ITS MAKER, the contingent and the necessary, permanent, eternal First Cause--God. Nothing comes from nothing. De nihilo nihil. Nature--the first things or the right way--comes from the necessary, permanent, eternal. Philosophy thus leads us from phenomena to nature and unto God.

Nature would not have to be discovered were it obvious, were it not hidden. God is Deus absconditus. Nature is likewise recondite, hidden: natura abscondita. In part, nature is hidden by convention, by human custom, by human law--nomos.
Man cannot live without having thoughts about the first things, and, it was presumed, he cannot live well without being united with his fellows by identical thoughts about the first things, i.e., without being subject to authoritative decisions concerning the first things: it is the law [nomos] that claims to make manifest the first things or "what is." the law, in its turn, appeared to be a rule that derives its binding force from the agreement or the convention of the members of the group.
Strauss, 91.

Here, perhaps, is the germ of animosity between politics, especially arbitrary power, and philosophy and the natural law. Both philosophy in general, and the natural law in particular, challenge the artifice, the convention that man seeks to impose, perhaps first as an expression of the first things and the right way, but later, often in a sort of creeping challenge or perhaps a slow ossification or sclerosis, in substitution of, or in contradiction to, nature. So philosophy in general and the natural law in the area of morals in particular, seek to go beyond or behind convention to the mother of all customs, the custom of all customs, the tradition of all traditions:
Nature is the ancestor of all ancestors or the mother of all mothers. Nature is older than any tradition; hence it is more venerable than any tradition. . . . By uprooting the authority of the ancestral [and a fortiori the conventional], philosophy recognizes that nature is the authority.
Strauss, 92. It is an authority, but Strauss clarifies, perhaps better referred to as the standard, as it is reason or understanding that discovers nature through abstraction of reason from sense perception, and so nature is never known except through reason. It is the latter that may be said to be the authority that both discovers and then applies the standard.

As Strauss observes the discovery of nature, which means also the distinction between nature and convention, is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the discovery of natural right. The reason why the discovery of nature is not enough to inform us of natural right is that it may be that all right is conventional, and there is no such thing as natural right. Nature may be bereft of right. It may be beyond good and evil, a sort of premoral given, like the nominalists or voluntarists would liken God. It is still possible--even after having discovered nature--that God, for example, simply does not care about justice. He is far above us, an Olympian. He is far away from us, a Deistic self-regarding not communicating, not a Providential God.
God [it may be] is not concerned with justice in any sense that is relevant to human life as such: God does not reward justice and punish injustice. Justice has no superhuman support. The justice is good and injustice is bad is due exclusively to human agencies and ultimately to human decisions.
Strauss, 94. Indeed, it is precisely the rejection of "particular providence" that is father of such a thought. That thought comes into the mind of man when he stumbles upon the scandal of particular providence, a scandalous providence that states that God regards the number of hairs on our head, or that he concerns itself with the fall of the sparrow. (Cf. Luke 12:6-7) If so, we doubt, where is the proof of it? The vast cosmos seems indifferent to our plight. It appears, for example, not to have answered the prayer of the Jew caught within killing camps, the Vernichtungslagers and the Todeslagers of the Nazi. It appears sublimely unconcerned in the main. It is possible to get stuck in the apparent disconnect between Providence posited and Providence realized. So, for example, Simone Weil could not jump the gap, and separated the world of nature from the world of God. But Strauss thinks that there is an Aristotelian--etiamsi daremus non esse Deum--way around the problem, that "the example of Aristotle alone would suffice to show that it is possible to admit natural right without believing in particular providence or in divine justice proper." Strauss, 94. So technically, the light of the Gospel, or even belief in a providential God, is not required to believe in natural law or natural right. This, at least, is Strauss's view. He would expand the tent of the natural law and natural right to bring in those who harbor doubt, perhaps even disbelieve, in the God of revelation, and even in the God of natural theology.* For Strauss, natural right and natural law exist, etiamsi daremus non esse Deum.

*Strauss cites Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1178b7-22, Socinus, Praelectiones theologicae, cap. 2, Grotius, De jure belli ac pacis, Prolegomena § 11, Leibniz, Nouveaux essais, Book I, chap. ii, § 2, and III, chap. 16 and II chap. 6 of Rousseau's Social Contract. I am not sure of it. It seems to me that there is a greater connection between the providence of God and the rule of the cosmos (including man)--the eternal law--and natural law or right, which is nothing less than man's participation in the eternal law. While the difficulty of believing in particular providence may be conceded, its existence need not. We must ever realize that our sights are limited. We have no ability to see sub specie aeternitatis, under the light of eternity. And we certainly have no ability to encompass the entirety of the cosmos so as to become privy to the particular plan of God for each of his creatures in particular and the cosmos as a whole. There has to be room for faith, even if intellectual and not supernatural, in a philosophy of natural law or natural right. We have addressed this issue before: see Natural Law: Ecstasis and Telos and Potpourri of Natural Law, though a lot more could be said about it. Moreover, we have to remember that particular Providence may be hidden because of our sin, because of others' sins, because of convention, or a combination of all three. In the maw of Auschwitz, where God's providence was hid, as it were, with the black drapes of institutionalized and personal sin and wicked convention--like our statues draped in purple cloth during Lent--St. Maximilian Kolbe was able to look past all these veils and never disbelieved God's particular providence even in extremis. Indeed, he was a vehicle of particular providence for Franciszek Gajowniczek, the Jewish father and husband whose place he volunteered to take in a starvation cell.

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