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 24, 2010

Leo Strauss and Natural Right: From We to I, From Ours to What Is

AUTHORITY IS QUESTIONED BY PHILOSOPHY, and by its adjuncts, natural law and natural right. Confronted with the legion of authoritative "divine codes," divine laws and commandments, even in matters of the "way" and of "first things," how is one to chose? They cannot all be right. And even if they are all conventional, at least one view is not. "The view that the gods were born of the earth cannot be reconciled with the view that the earth was made by the gods." Strauss, 86. Even less can the existence of gods, whether earth-bearing or earth-born, be reconciled with the I AM WHO AM, the Ehyeh asher ehyeh, אהיה אשר אהיה‎, who revealed himself to Moses. Here, then, is the fundamental question whether one be Jew or Greek, Muslim or Hindu, Buddhist or Shinto, Atheist or Agnostic:
[T]he question arises as to which code is the right code and which account of the first things is the true account. The right way is now no longer guaranteed by authority; it becomes a question or the object of a quest. . . . It will prove to be the quest for what is good by nature as distinguished from what is good merely be convention.
Strauss, 86.

So how is this quest for the first things and the right way to be engaged? If authority cannot be relied upon because of the clamor and inconsistency of the number of authorities "The philosophic quest for the first things presupposes . . . that the first things are always and that things which are always or imperishable are more truly being than the things which are not always."
--Leo Strauss
and no single authority to distinguish among the true and the false, then in our quest for the first things and the right way where are we to turn? If, because the number of authorities making claims, we are not to able simply to rely upon authority, are we to rely on "hearsay," or are we to rely on what we see "with our own eyes." That is, do we rely on indirect evidence or on direct evidence of what is the right way and the first things? Direct evidence is considered superior to indirect evidence, and so the philosopher for the first time was able to oppose the "I" to the "We." The search for first things and the right way became personal.
Judgment on, or assent to, the divine or venerable character of any code or account is suspended until the facts upon which the claims are based have been made manifest or demonstrated. They must be made manifest--manifest to all, in broad daylight. Thus man becomes alive to the crucial difference between what his group considers unquestionable and what he himself observes; it is thus that the I is enabled to oppose itself to the We without any sense of guilt.
Strauss, 87. But this "I" which engages in pursuit of the right way and the first things is not an autonomous I. "But it is not the I as I that acquires that right" to oppose itself against the We. That would be merely to shift the authority from the group to the individual. This is no forward progress at all; indeed, it is arguably a negative progress."The distinction between nature and convention, between physis and nomos, is therefore coeval with the discovery of nature and hence with philosophy."
--Leo Strauss
It would be to splinter authority and exacerbate the problem of finding the right way and first things. Instead of social or group answers in the dozens, we have individual answers in the millions. The vision that must govern the "I" is not a private, idiosyncratic world. The I must look for "the one true and common world perceived in waking," and reject "the man untrue and private worlds of dreams and visions." Strauss, at 87. The "I" that separates itself from the "We" is man as man. The things that are looked at as the source of standard are things as things, not things made by man. We are relegated to the only possible source for sifting and parsing through the multiple answers posited by authority and private dreams to find what is true: nature, the natural reality of things, things that are not made by man, but by the Creator:
Thus it appears that neither the We of any particular group nor a unique I, but man as man, is the measure of truth and untruth, of the being or nonbeing of all things.
Strauss, 87. So, ultimately, objective reason, both speculative and practical, must be retained to help us select among rival versions of ultimate reality. The natural law is what helps us determine which rival versions of reality are false (a religion whose moral teachings violate the natural law is to be rejected). Natural philosophy likewise helps us determine which rival versions of reality are false (a religion that teaches contradictory things, or whose doctrines are against reason is to be rejected). The nature of things, then, was the judge of the false oracle from the true. But this philosophical quest had also to distinguish between things of man and things that are of nature prior to man, things that are permanent and things that are not:
Nature was discovered when man embarked on the quest for the first things in the light of the fundamental distinctions between hearsay [indirect evidence] and seeing with one's own eyes [direct evidence], on the one hand, and between things made by man and things not made by man, on the other. . . . In brief, then, it can be said that the discovery of nature is identical with the actualization of a human possibility which, at least according to its own interpretation, is trans-historical, trans-social, trans-moral, and trans-religious.
. . . .
The philosophic quest for the first things presupposes not merely that there are first things but that the first things are always and that things which are always or are imperishable are more truly beings than the things which are not always . These presuppositions follow from the fundamental premise that no being emerges without a cause or that it is impossible that "at first Chaos came to be," i.e., that the first things jumped into being out of nothing and through nothing. In other words, the manifest changes would be impossible if there did not exist something permanent or eternal, or the manifest contingent beings require the existence of something necessary and therefore eternal.
. . . .
Once nature is discovered, it becomes impossible to understand equally as customs or ways the characteristic or normal behavior of natural groups and of the different tribes; the "customs" of natural beings are recognized as their natures, and the "customs" of the different human tribes are recognized as their conventions. The primeval notion of "custom" or "way" is split up into the notions of "nature," on the one hand, and "convention," on the other. The distinction between nature and convention, between physis and nomos, is therefore coeval with the discovery of nature and hence with philosophy.
Strauss, 88-90.

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