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.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

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

NATURAL LAW CANNOT EXIST if philosophy does not exist. The theory of natural law or natural right is, in fact, part of the philosophical enterprise. The possibility of philosophy is a necessary, but not sufficient condition of a theory of natural right. What also must be present is the prospect that the philosophical enterprise yields definitive answers. For this reason, "there cannot be natural right if the fundamental problem of political philosophy cannot be solved in a final manner." Strauss, 35. Political philosophy has to be able to have a basis to select from competing fundamental political schema of reality, and to be able to do this it must be able to fathom ultimate answers of what is good and right, what is wise, what is true. "The whole galaxy of political philosophers from Plato to Hegel, and certainly all adherents of natural right, assumed that the fundamental political problem is susceptible of a final solution." Strauss, 35-36. Reason must not only be able to provide us alternative solutions, reason must be able to resolve the conflict presented by such alternative solutions. It is modern man's despair at choosing definitely between alternatives that, in addition to the historicist thesis we discussed in the last blog posting, blocks him from access to a natural law philosophy:
Natural right is then rejected today not only because all human thought is held to be historical but likewise because it is thought that there is a variety of unchangeable principles of right or of goodness which conflict with one another, and none of which can be proved to be superior to the others.
Strauss, 36.

Portrait of Max Weber

Part of the modern propensity to refuse a definitive answer may be laid at the foot of one of the fathers of the modern social sciences, Max Weber (1864-1920). Strauss therefore spends the entirety of his second chapter in his Natural Right and History on Weber's thought. Weber was affected by historicism, though his attachment to it can be debated. In Strauss's view, however, Weber's "peculiar notion of timeless values," takes him out of the historicist school, but it also takes him out of the natural law school. Strauss, 39. For Weber, facts and values are entirely distinct things, they are "absolutely heterogeneous." Strauss, 39. There is absolutely no overlap, no communication between the world of fact and the world of value. "No conclusion can be drawn from any fact as to its valuable character, nor can we infer the factual character of something from its being valuable or desirable." Strauss, 39. For Weber, the social sciences dealt with facts, and not values. More precisely, the social sciences dealt with facts (which included factual "reference to values," e.g., it could determine that something is valuable in reference to advancing individual freedom), but it avoided "value judgments" (e.g., it could not tell you whether individual freedom was a good). With respect to the crucial value problems, social science considered itself incompetent.

Of course this opposition of fact and value is a sort of relative to the Humean opposition of "is" and of "ought." More subtly, however, Weber believed that social science could determine the linkage between and "is" and an "ought," in the sense that social science could explore and understand causal connections between means and end, and ends were often driven by "oughts" or the values of social groups. However, when it came to deciding what "oughts" are in any objective sense good and what "oughts" are not, Weber disclaimed that the social sciences had any genuine knowledge of that.
[Weber] denied to many any science, empirical or rational, any knowledge, scientific or philosophic, of the true value system: the true value system does not exist [at least our minds are unable to know it or know of it]; there is a variety of values which are of the same rank [empirically, or scientifically], whose demands conflict with one another, and whose conflict cannot be solved by human reason.
Strauss, 41-42. Arbitrary choice, or faith, but certainly not reason, could chose between alternatives. This thought, fundamental to Weber, Strauss insists, is rank nihilism. It may be a "noble nihilism," not a base nihilism, since it demands "intellectual honesty" and and "rational self-determination" once that choice is made, but it is nihilism nevertheless. Strauss, 48. Then again, it may not be "noble nihilism" at all, for under Weber's view, there is nothing that one may use to distinguish noble nihilism from ignoble or base nihilism.

Strauss attempts to trace its source. Weber's thought was fundamentally a neo-Kantian and historicist combination.
From neo-Kantianism he took over his general notion of the character of science, as well as of "individual" ethics. Accordingly, he rejected utilitarianism and every form of eudemonism. From the historical school he took over the view that there is no possible social or cultural order which can be said to be the right or rational order.
Strauss, 43. While Weber distinguished between "moral commands" or "moral imperatives," on the one hand, and "cultural values" on the other, and seemed to hold the former as more fundamental than the latter, ultimately, that distinction was superficial. Weber "really thought . . . that ethical imperatives are as subjective as cultural values." There was parity between "cultural values" and "ethical values," since both were subjective. " "According to [Weber], it is as legitimate to reject ethics in the name of cultural values as it is to reject cultural values in the name of ethics, or to adopt any combination of both types of norm which is not self-contradictory." Strauss, 44. Man's unique dignity was autonomy, the ability to choose the values by which he would run his life. But in terms of discriminating between those values, Weber despaired of reason's ability to choose. Reason was unavailing: it could not answer the question of whether it was more reasonable to follow the Devil as opposed to following God. These two choices were, in Weber's view, equally reasonable or equally unreasonable. They were, simply, indistinguishable options from a scientific point of view. So the only thing left, if reason couldn't help select a comprehensive view, was will. So if you were going to will, then will boldly, with energy and with consistency. This was, it seems, Weber's categorical imperative: "Follow God or the Devil as you will, but whichever choice you make, make it with all your heart, with all your soul, and will all your power." Strauss, 45. Vitalism, not reason, determined virtue. It was not the choice that determined excellence (because all choices of good were ultimately equal, which is to say, they were all equally irrelevant), but the devotion and dedication to that choice is what determined excellence. Strauss, 46-47. Weber's ultimate ethical principle could be formulated to be: "Thou shall have preferences." Strauss, 47.

Once this fundamental selection is made, then reason and integrity came into play. But Strauss finds this belated entry of reason indefensible. If reason is not involved in the decision of the foundation, the selection of the end, why ought it be involved in the decisions relating to the means? Why can't man act on impulse all the time? Why only at the outset?

It would appear that many today have engaged in a sort of Faustian bargain. They have bargained away their judgment of truth and good and right (in other words adopted nihilism), but they have obtained as a result "a truly scientific social science." Strauss, 49. They are very happy Jacks who have traded in the cow for some beans that will eventually grow into the beanstalk of the scientific social science enterprise. Strauss therefore explores whether a truly scientific social science can really be achieved on the Weberian distinction between facts and values.

Strauss finds a certain absurdity in the proposition. If a social scientist is unable to chose between a spiritually-empty life and a spiritually-fulfilling life because such a choice is predicated upon unscientific value, then what good are the social sciences? If the social sciences are to tell us truths about social phenomena, how can they neglect the truth that some ways of living are spiritually stultifying, whereas some are not? If one is blind to such a difference, which is what the social scientist operating under Weberian principles claims to be, then it seems that he is as disqualified from engaging in social science as a blind man is from being an analysis of painting. Strauss, 50. The absurdity is revealed through a reductio ad absurdum:
The prohibition against value judgments in social science would lead to the consequence that we are permitted to give a strictly factual description of the overt acts that can be observed in concentration camps and perhaps an equally factual analysis of the motivation of the actors concerned: we would not permitted to speak of cruelty.
Strauss, 52.

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