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.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Leo Strauss and Natural Right, Part 3-C: Max Weber

STRAUSS IT WOULD APPEAR tries to save Weber from inconsistency, or tries to understand his theory and practice as an aggregate to establish some synthesis. Strauss concludes that Weber's rejection of value judgments is limited to so-called "ultimate values" only. Strauss, 64. Accordingly, Weber would recognized that sociology necessarily refers to judgment, and that a sociologist must be sensitive to, and appreciate, such a thing as values. The social scientist is, moreover, authorized to make limited value judgments, and so is able to distinguish
between the genuine and the spurious and between the higher and the lower . . . between knowledge and mere lore or sophistry, between virtue and vice, between moral sensitivity and moral obtuseness, between art and trash, between vitality and degeneracy, etc.
Strauss, 63-64. These sorts of subordinate value judgments are allowed to the social scientist (Weber himself engaged in them).

However, the story is different for "ultimate values." It is in the realm of "ultimate values" that the social scientist (if he follows Weberian orthodoxy) refuses to choose. At the heart of Weberian dogma is the supposition that it is impossible through the use of reason to resolve value judgments when it comes to "ultimate values," and so the social scientist must be indifferent or neutral with respect to these. The social scientist may therefore opine that it is better to be a Gretchen than a prostitute, but cannot opine that it is better to follow God than the Devil. Reason serves to help adjudge the former value judgment, but is helpless in resolving the second value judgment because it is "ultimate." It deals with other-worldly realities.

Is the Weberian premise that "ultimate values" are not subject to the scrutiny of reason valid? If so, how does Weber prove it or justify it? In an effort to glean Weber's justification, what Strauss finds among the entirety of the published Weberian corpus is shockingly thin.
. . . Weber, who wrote thousands of pages, devoted hardly more than thirty of them to a thematic discussion of the basis of his whole position [that reason cannot determine ultimate values].
Strauss, 64. It appears that Weber thought this premise so self-evident, so much a "given," as to require virtually no proof or discussion. In Strauss's view, the Weberian assumption was nothing less than an extenuation of the earlier (Machiavellian) doctrine that posited an insoluble tension, perhaps even conflict, between politics and ethics. This influence is supported by Weber's notable Heraclitean view that conflict is what is real, that, in fact, peace is not. The essence of life being conflict, then, it follows that life is more governed by "power politics," which is how conflict is handled, than by ethics, which is how good is handled.

Weber put tremendous worth in power. Indeed, it was of easy or expedient measure, and that's why many are tempted to or attracted to power as a substitute for right. There is great objectivity in determining who is on top in the course of a war, a battle, or a fight. It is usually easy to determine which boxer won the fight: it is the guy on the mat after the count of ten. Contrariwise, moral victories are more subtle, perhaps more ambiguous. We can actually suffer more by being loyal to moral principles than by being disloyal, falling into the temptation of power, and lapsing into war, and even immoral war. (Consider how much more carnage we would have incurred had President Truman done the right thing and refused to bomb innocent civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Do the ends justify the means? Hardly in traditional morality.) Certainly, in Weber's eyes such thing as ultimate values were impossible to rank, which means, of course, it is hard to tell who's the winner when it comes to ultimate things. The moral winner, may, in this world, be the loser in conflict. Whether it is good that a reprobate beats a saint in a fight is one thing; whether the reprobate wins and the saint loses is another. The latter is much easier to judge using objective standards, and for Weber for that reason the only judgment that could be based upon reason.

Regardless of Weber's Machiavellian tendencies, however, he does engage in a limited effort at proving his premise that reason is not competent to judge between ultimate values, to arbitrate, adjudge a conflict between ultimate values. Strauss selects two samples from Weber's efforts.

Weber's first example selected by Strauss invokes the concept of justice. Social policy, it is agreed by most, has justice as its aim. But what is justice? Here we fall into what Weber would see as irresolvable conflict. Some say that we ought to give to each according to his ability. Others say that we ought to take from each according to his ability. Who is to say whether the Capitalist model of justice or the Marxist model of justice is right? According to Weber, reason is incompetent to determine this in any objective manner. If we rely on reason, the two views are equally defensible. If both are equally defensible, then the only indefensible thing is for someone to say that only one view is acceptable with justice. For Weber, the supposed unanswerability of such a question points to ultimate values such as justice simply being outside the realm of reason.

The other example selected by Strauss involves the famous Weberian distinction between "ethics of responsibility" and "ethics of intention."
According to the former, man's responsibility extends to the foreseeable consequences of his actions, whereas, according to the latter, man's responsibility is limited to the intrinsic rightness of his actions.
Strauss, 69. Which of the two incompatible ethical positions, at least where the ethics of intention was construed to include other-worldly considerations, was superior could never, in Weber's view, be determined through the use of reason. That is, other-worldly considerations were not to be settled, could not be settled, by reason. This is at the heart of the Weberian formula, and it is what precludes, at the very outset, any notion of natural law being part of the social science enterprise:
Weber was convinced that, on the basis of a strictly this-worldly orientation, no objective norms are possible: there cannot be "absolutely valid" and, at the same time, specific norms except on the basis of revelation.
Strauss, 70. Social science limits itself to a this-worldly point of view, and rejects as outside of reason, and therefore outside of its realm of study, any other-worldly, or "ultimate-value" considerations. Implied, clearly, is that an unreasonable, or perhaps better, irrational faith was involved in the grasp of ultimate objective values. Faith was for Weber a Kierkegaardian "leap of faith," a Tertullianesque jump into absurdity. These were not things that could be measured, weighed, and judged by positive science. Only this-worldly considerations were governed by reason and the subject of science, and those considerations did not involve those ultimate values. And here's the rub in Weber's thought, for Strauss:
[W]eber never proved that the unassisted human mind is incapable of arriving at objective norms or that the conflict between different other-worldly ethical doctrines is insoluble by human reason. He merely proved that otherworldly ethics, or rather a certain type of otherworldly ethics, is incompatible with those standards of human excellence or human dignity which the unassisted human mind discerns.
Strauss, 70-71. So Weber fell into the old reason/faith dualism, where reason and faith were at odds. If "genuine insights of social science," Weber felt, could be "questioned on the basis of revelation, revelation" would be "not merely above reason but against reason." Strauss, 71.

Here, poor old Weber, perhaps influenced by his Protestant heritage, had painted himself in a corner. On the one hand, he believed that faith was ultimately irrational, or absurd. On the other hand, his first premise--that ultimate values were outside the decision-making capacity of reason and therefore outside the purview of social science--was ultimately built upon faith. "He contended," Strauss concludes, "that science or philosophy rests, in the last analysis, not on evident premises that are at the disposal of man as man but on faith." Strauss, 71. Weber's fundamental formula would, if Weber's formula is used, result in an irrational or absurd base. Weber says that faith is built upon sand, and reason upon rock, but his theory that faith is built upon sand and reason on rock, is built upon sand. Why is his sand any better than my sand?

It's not. So this leads to the more ominous conclusion. More ominously, since what was ultimately "good" was outside the realm of reason, it was outside the realm of social science. So the very goodness of social science, its very merit as a human enterprises, was unprovable. And, the use of science was ungoverned by any sort of "ultimate value." Science could run amok of any moral constraint and there was nothing we could do to stop it. There simply was no governor, no speed limit, no policing standard. "Just because we can, doesn't mean we should" has no role in Weber's world. There are no "shoulds" or "oughts" in science. We just do things "because we can." There is no punishment for Prometheus. There are no Pandora's boxes. There are no prohibited Trees of Knowledge. There are no moral constraints to science. This is Weber's world. These legends, these myths, these narratives have no meaning. By refusing myths, legends, biblical narratives, we end up with harrowing nightmares like the World Wars, nuclear bombs, mustard gas, torture, experimentation on blacks, the murder of infants in their mother's wombs, concentration camps, genocide. What other wonders, harvests of science, will we be given? These are the fruits of untrammeled, efficient, valueless science. Welcome to Weber's world.

Rather than admit error, Weber concluded that being painted in metaphysical epistemological and moral corner was just simply something modern man had to face. Modern man had "eaten of the fruit of the tree of knowledge," he had been freed from the "delusions which blinded all earlier men," he was "disenchanted." Strauss, 73. It was just the price one had to pay for being a modern man. But, if one thought about it long enough, being painted in a metaphysical and moral corner was perhaps but a bad dream, a will o' the wisp, and ignis fatuus. Since the ultimate could not be known, and all knowledge was this-worldly and relative, that is, historical, then this era of disenchantment and removed delusions was no more objectively superior to any prior era or era to come.
Hence what originally appeared as freedom from delusions presented itself eventually as hardly more than the questionable premise of our age or as an attitude that will be superseded, in due time, by an attitude that will be in conformity with the next epoch.
Strauss, 73.

Oops. This is quite clearly an intellectual, existential crisis. Science is to be the way of life and of knowledge, even though we know it is only a way? (We certainly know it is not the Way. Only the Man-God had the basis for saying Ego sum via, "I am the way.")

This just does not work. But this was the world into which Weber was born and to which he adapted. It was Faith or Reason. It was believed that
Man cannot live without light, guidance, knowledge; only through knowledge of the good can he find the good that he needs. The fundamental question, therefore, [was] whether men [could] acquire that knowledge of the good without which they [could not] guide their lives individually or collectively by the unaided efforts of their natural powers, or whether they [were] dependent for that knowledge on Divine Revelation. No alternative [was] more fundamental than this: human guidance or [only] divine guidance. The first possibility is characteristic of philosophy or science in the original [that is, not Weberian or Baconian] sense of the term, the second is presented in the Bible.
Strauss, 74. In Weber's day, the question of the good was like a path that divided into two roads. One either had to go the way of reason or go the way of faith. The sign said "Fides" on one side, and "Ratio" on the other. Weber, who grew up with Protestant blood, did not believe in a reconciliation of faith and reason. He refused to believe that there was a "narrow road," a tertia via or third way, perhaps one less-traveled though certainly trumpeted as existing by the Catholic Church, between the main fork where one could deftly walk using both reason and faith.
It was the [perceived] conflict between revelation and philosophy or science in the full sense of the term and the implications of that conflict that led Weber to assert that the idea of science or philosophy suffers from a fatal weakness. He tried to remain faithful to the cause of autonomous insight, but he despaired when he felt that the sacrifice of the intellect, which is abhorred by science or philosophy, is at the bottom of science of science or philosophy [which admitted of the possibility of reasonable revelation].
Strauss, 75.

It is symptomatic of one who despairs of reaching substantive truth or good to lapse into methodology. So those who despair of defining social good or social justice talk of the methodology or procedure of democracy. Similarly, those, like Weber, who despair of reaching substantive truth through reason, lapse into the methodology of experimental or positive science. Those who despair of religious truth fall into the methodology of dialogue or a cuius regio eius religio.

"[M]ethodology is reflection on the limitations of humanity or the situation of man as man." Strauss, 76. It is the cover for which we yearn when we find ourselves naked as a result of having yielded to disbelief, or, what is saying the same thing, that belief is not rational. This is what happens when we taste of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. There is no real difference between believing that belief is irrational and believing that it is irrational to believe. Methodology is the shade-tree under which, or perhaps better the Platonic "cave" in which, we will find those who have lost the Augustinian and Anselmian formulae that faith seeks understanding (fides quaerens intellectum) and that we believe so that we may understand (credo ut intelligam). It is where we find those who have rejected the Thomistic, nay Catholic, doctrine that it is not either reason or faith, but both faith and reason, fides et ratio by which we must abide. It is where we find those little white, pasty intellects that fear the sun and hard work, those who refuse the labor sub sole. Methodology is the recourse, the haven of unbelief. It is the fig leaf we use to cover up our pudenda, which is what we always see when we try to make ourselves god.

Strauss completes his chapter on Weber by addressing the historical (17th century) departure of "science" (really, at first physics; the other natural sciences followed physics) from the greater realm of "philosophy." This was the time when a unified subjective/objective "common sense," based upon a "natural understanding," was divided into its two strands, two "understandings," eventually trickling into noumenal subjectivism ("philosophy") and phenomenal objectivism ("science"). Natural understanding was based upon the whole, "the world in which we live." "Scientific" understanding was based upon a subset of that world, the borders of which were defined by the "scientist," the demimonde which we may call "the world of science." Strauss, 78-79. During this three hundred year transformation of thought when the intellectual world shrank, a huge change came over human understanding as man extruded as it were "scientific understanding" from the greater "natural understanding." When it comes to natural law, this was a huge, defining event because it transformed the notion of science and of philosophy, and the natural law is part of that joint, that is, pre-scientific, enterprise. Unfortunately, the extrusion of "scientific" understanding from the greater "natural" understanding caused some intellectual imbalance, really perhaps even intellectual suicide.
[T]he scientific understanding of the world emerge[d] by way of a radical modification, as distinguished from a perfection of the natural understanding. Since the natural understanding is the presupposition of the scientific understanding, the analysis of science of the world of science presupposes the analysis of the natural understanding, the natural world, or the world of common sense. The natural world, the world in which we live and act, is not the object or the product of a theoretical attitude . . . .
Strauss, 79.

Indeed, not. The natural world is reality in its entirety. By making an incision in the the natural world and our natural understanding of it and removing from it a "scientific world" and a "scientific understanding," we have caused massive intellectual and moral trauma. We have killed our natural understanding of the world. It is as if a surgeon had removed the eyes and brain of a patient, set them aside in a bloody heap on a sterile steel tray, and then, removing his surgical gloves and mask, and presenting us with the tray, suggesting with a broad smile that his artful excision would allow the eyes and brain of his patient, removed from their original place, finally to know reality unburdened by the remainder of the body. His patient was finally healthy, finally free, finally emancipated. Who would accept the benefits of such an operation?

We did.

Can we put it back together? We cannot. Perhaps the Providential God can. It is His expertise to bring good out of evil, or to exploit our shortcomings for a greater good. Is there an anti-Bacon, an anti-Descartes, an anti-Kant the Lord can send us like he sent Moses or St. Paul or St. Benedict or St. Thomas? Is there one such as these here now or to come? Would we listen to him or spurn him as a prophet in his own country? Or are we waiting for Godot? Or, without knowing it, a Thief in the Night?

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