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.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Leo Strauss and Natural Law: Classical Coda

1789 WAS NOT A GOOD YEAR for the wine of revolution in Burke's view. This is compellingly evidenced in his monograph on the French Revolution which is highly critical of the French Revolution partisans. Burke had the insight to see the French Revolution for what it was, a philosophical, even religious revolution, one which had atheism at its heart. This philosophy fed the masses through intricate arteries of propaganda using labels that are, in themselves, noble-sounding, but which, in actuality, are masks for something altogether demonic: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. It could equally be the motto of a monastic order, as it could be the motto of wild-eyed Jacobins, but this trilogy of words would certainly mean different things to the man who operated under the evangelical counsels, compared to the man who spurned not only the evangelical counsels, but the Ten Commandments as well.

Prudence is perhaps the key trait of Burke, the principal animator of this practical man addressing practical things. Indeed, Burke calls prudence the "god of this lower world." And yet, Strauss detects an unclassical strain in Burke. There is a Burkean cleavage between reason and sentiment, "a certain emancipation of sentiment and instinct from reason, or a certain depreciation of reason," in Burke. Strauss, 312. It is this which Strauss says "accounts for the nonclassical overtones in Burke's remarks on the difference between theory and practice" which is at the heart of his criticism of the French Revolution and its partisans.

Prudence, there can be no doubt, is a virtue, a habit of great value. And yet, one wonders, how many martyrs doth prudence make? How many prophets does prudence nourish?

While Burke's practical prudence would dampen ideology's recoil, doesn't it also dampen faith's spring? Would Burke confuse "speculatism," that is, theory as ideology which is oblivious to, or a falsification of, reality, an idealism ummoored in reality with something else, with supernatural faith? If not, what does he have to distinguish them? In Burke's Whiggish view of the world, heavy with the feet of clay of inherited constitutions, could the spirited faith of martyrs pitted impractically, imprudently against the judgment of the senatus populusque Romanus have been execrable "speculatism"? Had Burke's girth gotten so swollen with victuals and drink that he no longer hungered after eternal verities? Prophets, it may be observed, like martyrs, tend to be highly imprudent, at least when worldly prudence is the canon by which their words and deeds are adjudged. Most kings find prophets unsettling, irritants, idealists unchained to practical realities that come with rule because they are citizens of a world that they cannot see. How shall prudence judge between ideologue, the foolish martyr and prophet, on the one hand, and the authentic martyr and prophet on the other? Burke relies on his historical English patrimony, and advocates a "historical jurisprudence." Strauss, 316. But doesn't this land us back to the "historical school" of Weber and others that Strauss criticized in the first part of his History and Natural Right? Ultimately, we want to avoid the blindness of practical men, such as Pontius Pilate, and want to side with He who had far less worldly attachments such as Christ. Wasn't the prudent Pontius Pilate both deaf and blind to the Christ that was before him? Quid est veritas? What is truth? What good is political prudence, the "god of this lower world," if it blinds one, like it did Pilate, to the God of the world? Is this where Burke would take us? Strauss intimates that it would be so. "Prudence and 'this lower world' cannot be seen properly without some knowledge of 'the higher world'--without genuine theoria." Strauss, 321. (Strauss should have said fides et ratio, but his atheism prevented him.)

Both Burke, in his way, and Rousseau, in his way, tried to tame Providence. Burke saw the English constitution--the rights of Englishmen--as providentially given. Rousseau saw his time as providentially enlightened. So one saw history as providing the "ought." The other saw history as providing the "is." Both, therefore, settled upon an "idea of History" which was nothing less than "a modification of the traditional belief in Providence." Strauss, 316-17. "That modification," Strauss notes, "is usually described as 'secularization.'" Strauss, 317. He explains:

"Secularization" is the "temporalization" of the spiritual or of the eternal. It is the attempt to integrate the eternal into a temporal context. It therefore presupposes that the eternal is no longer understood as eternal. "Secularization," in other words, presupposes a radical change of thought, a transition of thought from one plane to an entirely different plane. . . . . The "secularization" of the understanding of Providence culminates in the view that the ways of God are scrutable to sufficiently enlightened men.

Strauss, 317. This, Strauss argues, is found in both Rousseau and Burke.

There is a watershed of difference between the belief that the ways of God are scrutable to man, or inscrutable. The tradition never had the temerity to suppose, in an institutional way, that it knew the designs of God in history.
The theological tradition recognized the mysterious character of Providence by the fact that God uses or permits evil for his good ends. It asserted, therefore, that man cannot take his bearings by God's providence but only by God's law, which simply forbids man to do evil.
Strauss, 317. In his daily work, in giving himself his daily bread, natural law, therefore, was what man had to follow. Providence would take care of itself. Providence was God's business. Avoiding sin and promoting virtue was man's business. The hubris involved in supposing one could divine God's Providence led to a deprecation of law:

In proportion as the providential order came to be regarded as intelligible to man, and therefore evil came to be regarded as evidently necessary or useful, the prohibition against doing evil lost its evidence. Hence various ways of action which were previously condemned as evil could no w be regarded as good. The goals of human action were lowered. But is precisely a lowering of these goals which modern political philosophy consciously intended from its very beginning.

Strauss, 317. Strauss finds the commonality between Burke and Rousseau elsewhere also. His insight is that, at the heart of both Rousseau and Burke, one finds an overemphasis on individualism. It is the quarrel that both Rousseau and Burke have with the ancients:
The quarrel between the ancients and the moderns concerns eventually, and perhaps even from the beginning, the status of 'individuality.' Burke himself was still too deeply imbued with the spirit of 'sound antiquity' to allow the concern with individuality to overpower the concern with virtue.
Strauss, 323.

But his successors would not have the benefit of that spiritual capital. Rousseau still had his Plutarch. Burke still had the traditions of the ancients. Neither appear to have had a vibrant faith. As man by then had given the faith all up. Modern man has none of these anchors. He flails in the wind, and his politics has no lasting meaning, either in reason, or in faith. His reason and faith is given not to God, but to some substitute. That is to say, modern man has given himself up to idols.

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