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.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Leo Strauss and Natural Right, Part 1: Introduction

LEO STRAUSS (1899-1973) will be the focus of our next several blog postings. In particular, we shall focus upon Leo Strauss's understanding of the natural law as presented in his Natural Right and History.* Originally published in 1953, the book was based upon Strauss's Walgreen Lectures of 1949.

Born in 1899 in Kirchhain, Hesse-Nassau, (Prussia) Germany of Jewish parents, Leo Strauss was raised in a ritually Orthodox Jewish home, one where the Jewish ritual was practiced, but where traditional Jewish learning was not. Rather, Strauss's parents appears to have wanted their son to gain a conventional education. After attending the Volksschule (public school) and the Protestant Rektoratsschule in Kirchhain, Strauss was graduated from the Gymnasium Philippinum in neighboring Marburg in 1917. There, he was exposed to neo-Kantianism. He briefly served in the German army during World War I, in between July 1917 and December 1918. At seventeen, the young Strauss turned Zionist, a movement to which he was attached until he was thirty and which exposed him to a number of Jewish intellectuals. He later referred to political Zionism as "problematic," though fulfilling an important "conservative function" in his life. After receiving his doctorate in Philosophy in 1921 from the University of Hamburg under the supervision of Ernst Cassirer (his doctoral thesis: "On the Problem of Knowledge in the Philosophical Doctrine of F. H. Jacobi"), he spent a short period of time attending classes taught by Edmund Husserl and Husserl's assistant, Martin Heidegger, at the University of Freiburg. In 1925, Strauss was employed in a research position at the Akademie für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin. During the next three years, he researched and wrote what was to be his first published work, a work on the philosopher Baruch Spinoza. In 1932 Strauss married the widowed Mirjam Bernsohn.

Leo Strauss (1899-1973)

In 1933 Strauss and his family moved to England. In between 1936 and 1937, Strauss held a research fellowship at Cambridge University where he was affiliated with Gonville and Caius College. Frustrated at finding permanent employment in England, however, Strauss moved to the United States where, for a short period of time, he was a research fellow at Columbia University in 1937. In between 1938 and 1948, Strauss was employed at the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research in New York. In 1944, Strauss became an American citizen.

In 1949, Strauss joined the faculty of the University of Chicago as a professor in the Department of Political Science, and in 1959 was appointed Robert Maynard Hutchins Distinguished Service Professor, a position which he retained until 1969. In 1969 he moved to Claremont Men's College (now known as Claremont McKenna College) in Claremont, California for one-and-a-half years. In 1970, he transferred to St. John's College-Annapolis, where he served as the Scott Buchanan Distinguished Scholar in Residence until his death of pneumonia in 1973. "The contemporary rejection of natural right leads to nihilism--nay, it is identical with nihilism."
--Leo Strauss
During the course of his life, Strauss published numerous books on political philosophy, including what is probably his most popular and accessible work, Natural Right and History. An advocate of the traditional, classical natural law theory (at whose heart was Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero), Strauss was an indefatigable foe of modern liberalism and positivism, which he saw as founded on relativism and leading ultimately to nihilism. With respect to Strauss's faith, Edward Feser summarized it as follows:
Strauss was not himself an orthodox believer, neither was he a convinced atheist. Since whether or not to accept a purported divine revelation is itself one of the “permanent” questions, orthodoxy must always remain an option equally as defensible as unbelief.
Edward Feser, "Leo Strauss 101," in National Review (May 22, 2006). Thus, Strauss's advocacy of the traditional and classical natural law cannot be said to be based upon a religious presupposition, much less a Roman Catholic one. He based himself on the gem of Western tradition. Indeed, he based himself on what he viewed to be the sound nature of man himself.

Written on the heels of World War II, Leo Strauss's introduction to his Natural Right and History starts out rather forcefully by suggesting that Americans have traded in their inherited traditions, those documented in the Declaration of Independence, that man is endowed by his Creator with inalienable rights, and that such a truth is self-evident. It was a Esauian bargain, the trading of one's heritage and patrimony for a mess of pottage. In its place, America--indeed not only America, but the whole of the Western world--seemed bent on adopting the "yoke" of Germanic thought, in particular its relativistic "historical sense" political philosophy and jurisprudence. With the sole exception of Catholics, American social science--and this includes political science and jurisprudence--"is dedicated to the proposition that all men are endowed by the evolutionary process or by a mysterious fate with many kinds of urges and aspirations, but certainly with no natural right." Strauss, 2. That is, social thought was governed either by a nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw Darwinism or a boo-hurrah Emotivism, and not by natural law philosophy. Of course, rejection of natural right philosophy leads to (or results from) despair in objective morality, and therefore leads to a reliance upon pure positivism in law, where "right is determined exclusively by the legislators and courts of the various countries." Strauss, 2. So in this view the most that any ideal could be is convention, "nothing but the ideal adopted by our society . . . ." Arbitrary choice, perhaps not even so much active choice, but maybe even "dull and stale habit," define our values. Cannibalism for cannibals; abortionalism for abortionals; homosexuality for homosexuals; liberalism for liberals. "[O]ur ultimate principles have no other support than our arbitrary and hence blind preferences." Strauss, 4.
We are then in the position of beings who are sane and sober when engaged in trivial business and who gamble like madmen when confronted with serious issues--retail sanity and wholesale madness.
Strauss, 4.

This is absurdity. A form of delusional schizophrenia. Indeed, it is as if the floor has caved in and we have tumbled headlong into nihilism. "The contemporary rejection of natural right leads to nihilism--nay, it is identical with nihilism." Strauss, 5.

Strauss won't stand for it. We talk too much about justice. We argue and wrangle too much over right. By the very asking and arguing of these questions we give hint to the fact "that there is something in man that is not altogether in slavery to his society." Strauss, 3. Arguing belies the truth. There is a hint, then, of some extrinsic, extra-legal, extra-political, extra-cultural "standard" to which we even unwillingly pay implied obeisance despite our foolish rejection of natural right. The problem of justice, of right "cannot be solved if we do not possess knowledge of natural right." Strauss, 3. It is implicit in our discourse. And yet, Strauss warns, "the seriousness of the need of natural right does not prove that the need can be satisfied." Strauss, 6.
Even by proving that a certain view is indispensable for living well, one proves merely that the view in question is a salutary myth: one does not prove it to be true. Utility and truth are two entirely different things.
Strauss, 6.

Rejecting the tradition of natural right for another social theory is, from a juridico-political view, disastrous. It robs us of our ends, but leaves us with all our means. Bereft of a standard to discriminate between "legitimate and illegitimate, between just and unjust," between "soundness or unsoundness," our sciences become "instrumental and nothing but instrumental." Strauss, 4. (One thinks here of Saul Alinsky's vicious "If the ends don't justify the means, what else does?") It is a fortunate accident of history that, having jettisoned our end, we are given to "generous liberalism," and so the artificial god our means serve has not been bloodthirsty [we say that, but is that really so? How many victims have been sacrificed upon the altar of liberalism if one counts the hideous liberal "sacrament" of abortion?]. But without a standard, our sciences can just as well be used by tyrants as well as free peoples. A Shiite radical can use a nuclear device equally as well as Mr. Truman. Science is no respecter of persons; but then it is not much of a respecter of right or justice either. It works very well in the hand of the mighty, whether that hand is moved by a good or evil is unimportant to it. And it matters to science not, it cares not, it wants not, what the mighty makes of it.

Our country is (or at least was in the 1950s) full of "generous liberals." (The "liberals" of today are less than "generous," they seem bent on controlling thought and speech--political correctness--imposing their values on the majority--homosexual marriage and unabashed secularism, and their values are increasingly bloody--abortion, euthanasia . . . need I go on?)
"Liberal relativism has its roots in the natural right tradition of tolerance . . . but in itself it is a seminary of intolerance."
--Leo Strauss
These "generous liberals" advance the virtue of tolerance as the only meaningful response to the impossibility of knowing objective (or intrinsic: it is the same thing as objective if it is intrinsic) right and wrong. But their purported tolerance of all views leads them down a strange road. If unlimited tolerance is what is in accord with reason, then it is nothing less than an admission that one must prefer (because reasonable) any preference that is tolerant of other preferences. What this means, negatively phrased, is that there is a "rational or natural right to reject or condemn all intolerant or all "absolutist" positions." (Strauss, 5) (emphasis added). One must be tolerant of the tolerant, but intolerant of the intolerant. All the tolerance of the "generous liberals" is, then, is a reverse sort of tolerance, where relativism is tolerated, but "absolutism" (objective morality) is not. An intolerant tolerance. And absolutism against absolutism. Liberalism is built on an oxymoron. Very weird.

Liberalism has done something else. Each and every time it is confronted with some limit, some natural right that constrains its madness for diversity, each time it encounters tension between natural law and diversity or individuality, it selects diversity and individuality.
When liberals became impatient of the absolute limits to diversity or individuality that are imposed by even the most liberal version of natural right, they had to make a choice between natural right and the uninhibited cultivation of individuality. They chose the latter.
Strauss, 5. What this means is that eventually liberalism is led to have to chose between the right to tolerance and diversity and individuality. This places the liberal in a sort of conundrum. If he chooses tolerance as an absolute value, then he has rejected his central tenet of uninhibited individualism. On the other than, if he opts for uninhibited individualism, then he places tolerance on equal footing with intolerance since liberals have no objective footing with which to distinguish objective reality. The liberal cannot advocate the moral equivalence of intolerance to tolerance, and so, by naked choice alone, by liberal fiat only (and not by any objective norm, since liberalism refuses objective, absolute norms), the liberal holds that tolerance is superior to intolerance. And so the liberal ends up being the most intolerant of them all:
Liberal relativism has its roots in the natural right tradition of tolerance or in the notion that everyone has a natural right to the pursuit of happiness as he understands happiness; but in itself it is a seminary of intolerance.
Strauss, 6. This is precisely at the heart of what Pope Benedict XVI has called the "dictatorship of relativism."

At the heart of this modern "dictatorship of relativism" or liberal intolerance, or what Strauss calls "fanatical obscurantism," is the lack of belief in any fundamental principles. It is the frightening reality that liberals "have to silence the easily silenced voice of reason, which tells us that our principles are in themselves as good or as bad as any other principles." Strauss, 6. Liberals choke the life out of the life of reason, and they are left with nothing, nihil. Having cultivated nihilism while choking the life out of reason, they become fanatical obscurants, fugitives from the law of nature that pursues them, like a hound of heaven, for murdering reason. Liberals then are pursued by demons. Like Orestes, then are pursued by Erinyes or Furies for having murdered reason. The blood of murdered reason, like the blood of liberalism's victims, cry out to heaven for vengeance. Could it be that God has heard the cries? Could it be that the rise of bloody Islam is his judgment? Could it be that these godless worshipers of a false God and a false prophet are the Chaldeans of old called by God to do his dirty work of cleaning up that which was caused by our even dirtier work?
Behold ye among the nations, and see: wonder, and be astonished: for a work is done in your days, which no man will believe when it shall be told. For behold, I will raise up the Chaldeans, a bitter and swift nation, marching upon the breadth of the earth, to possess the dwelling places that are not their own. They are dreadful, and terrible: from themselves shall their judgment, and their burden proceed.
Habacuc 1:5-6. We hope not, but we do not know.

The dead end, the intellectual and moral cul-de-sac into which liberalism leads, has led to some renewed interest in natural right. But Strauss warns that in facing the fanatical obscurantism to which the valueless liberalism inevitably tends, we must not ourselves fall into fanatical obscurantism. "Let us beware of the danger of pursuing a Socratic goal with the means, and the temper, of Thrasymachus." Strauss, 6.

In approaching natural right, moderns are in a situation markedly different from the situation that confronted the ancients. They were striving for knowledge that they did not have. We are striving to recover knowledge we once had. Therefore: "[t]he problem of natural right is today a matter of recollection rather than of actual knowledge." Strauss, 7. In the matter of natural right, we are trying to retrieve, not invent, to recover not advance.

In approaching the notion of natural law, we become aware that we will be confronted with a stark choice. We have to chose our loyalties. "Natural right in its classic form is connected with a teleological view of the universe."
--Leo Strauss
We are in the same situation that confronted Christ's disciples after he taught that he was the bread of heaven which they would be required to eat. This made the Jew shudder. (John, Chapter 6) We have to chose to follow a way. We have to chose which way is the Way. And some of us will depart and go one way, and some of us will remain and go another. Perhaps a large number will just do nothing. Shall we follow and go live with the liberals? Or shall we follow and go live with the advocates of natural law? Or shall we simply duck the problem?
The issue of natural right presents itself today as a matter of party allegiance. Looking around us, we see two hostile camps, heavily fortified and strictly guarded. One is occupied by the liberals of various descriptions, the other by Catholic and non-Catholic disciples of Thomas Aquinas. But both armies and, in addition, those who prefer to sit on the fences or hide their heads in the sands are, to heap metaphor on metaphor, in the same boat. They are all modern men.
Strauss, 7.

What is one fact that all modern men--the liberals, the advocates of natural law, the fence sitters--confront? "We are all in the grip of the same difficulty." Strauss, 7. The problem arises from the nonteleological philosophy behind the modern sciences, compared with the teleological view that is inherent in the philosophy of the natural law.
Natural right in its classic form is connected with a teleological view of the universe. All natural beings have a natural end, a natural destiny, which determines what kind of operation is good for them. In the case of man, reason is required for discerning these operations: reason determines what is by nature right with ultimate regard to man's natural end.
Strauss, 7. Modern science, in adopting what is essentially a mechanistic view of the universe, would appear to have destroyed the notion of a teleology in nature. (One recalls Francis Bacon's disdain of the Aristotelian "final cause," and the Cartesian and Hobbesian view of man, or at least his body, as machine, his heart but a spring or coil.) When confronting the scientific, nonteleological view of the universe and the requirement in the classical, traditional theory of natural right or natural law that requires a teleological view of man, what is one to do? How is one to decide?
Two opposite conclusions could be drawn from this momentous decision. According to one, the nonteleological conception of the universe must be followed up by a nonteleological conception of human life. . . . [T]he alternative solution . . . [is] to accept a fundamental, typically modern, dualism of a nonteleological natural science and a teleological science of man.
Strauss, 8. In other words, we must be consistently nonteleological in both natural science and the science of man (the science of man becoming nothing other than part of the natural sciences), or we must become dualists: teleological in the science of man, and nonteleological in the case of all other natural sciences. If we chose the former, we are with the liberals, we are with the relativists, and like it or not, we help usher in the dictatorship of relativism. If we chose the latter, which "the modern followers of Thomas Aquinas, among others," feel compelled to take, we run into another problem. That problem is that we are not really disciples of Aristotle and St. Thomas at all. Because Aristotle and St. Thomas were not the dualists that we feel we are forced to be. They had a comprehensive teleological view, not a piecemeal, dualist teleological/non-teleological view, with science on the one hand, morality on the other.
The fundamental dilemma, in whose grip we are, is caused by the victory of modern natural science. An adequate solution to the problem of natural right cannot be found before this basis problem has been solved.
Strauss, 8.

Alas, however, Strauss avoids the problem in his book. Its limited role, useful enough we suppose, but admittedly not reaching to the heart of the basic problem, is to address the problem of natural right vis-à-vis the social sciences. The main focus of Strauss's book, then, will be whether natural right is plausibly rejected on the grounds of history (and the apparent relativism of values we find in history) or on the grounds of the modern philosophical and ethical distinction between "fact" and "value" (the so-called naturalistic fallacy). The answer to both, we shall learn, is "no."

*Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971).

No comments:

Post a Comment