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, September 10, 2010

Leo Strauss and Natural Law: Hobbesian Natural Law

LOCKE LIKED TO DRESS IN HOOKER'S ROBES, but underneath he wore Hobbes's breeches, or perhaps better his soiled skivvies. Richard Hooker, Strauss notes, was safely within the Thomistic natural law tradition. Thomas Hobbes most definitely was not. And John Locke, more judicious, or perhaps more of a dissembler than the judicious Hooker, quoted Hooker while thinking Hobbes. Locke is the American political philosopher par excellence, and so when it comes to natural law Americans tend, like Locke, to be disguised Hobbesians and not, alas, Hookerian Thomists, much less just simple Thomists.

With this introduction of Hobbes's influence on Locke, Strauss launches into his criticism of Hobbes. Hobbes was notable for having extruded the core of modern science, that is "nonteleological natural science," and applied it to the realm of political philosophy, replacing the classical philosophical basis which he regarded "rather a dream than science," thus ushering in, as self-proclaimed father of political science, "modern natural right." The rejection of a teleological view of nature required a replacement, and Hobbes's mechanistic, atomistic view of random, arbitrary movement supplied no adequate replacement. (How can one know chaos?) So Hobbes replaced nature's teleology with human knowledge. (But is this not, on Hobbes's theory, chaos knowing chaos?)

[Hobbes's] notion of philosophy or science has its root in the conviction that a teleological cosmology is impossible and in the feeling that a mechanistic cosmology fails to satisfy the requirement of intelligibility. His solution is that the end or the ends without which no phenomenon can be understood need not be inherent in the phenomena; the end inherent in the concern with knowledge suffices. Knowledge as the end supplies the indispensable teleological principle. Not the new mechanistic cosmology but what later on came to be called "epistemology" becomes the substitute for teleological cosmology. . . . Of political philosophy thus understood, Hobbes is indeed the founder.

Strauss, 176-77.

But this Hobbesian "modern natural right" is a theory markedly different from that of the past; indeed, it represents a break from all classic natural right. "He presents his novel doctrine as the first truly scientific or philosophic treatment of natural law." Strauss, 168. Hobbes, Strauss tells us, "became the creator of political hedonism, a doctrine which has revolutionized human life everywhere on a scale never yet approached by any other teaching." Strauss, 169. (Strauss ignored Islam, a rival political theory, which is political theology, based upon the teachings of a professed prophet, and presents itself as more revolutionary, and even more dangerous, than anything Hobbes ever dreamed of. I say professed because Muhammad contradicted the natural law in a variety of ways in both his teaching and his life, and a prophet of God would not have violated the natural law. It presents an absolute impediment to a thinking man to the acceptance of Islam. But this topic is for another day.) But Hobbes is more. Hobbes is an advocate of "political atheism." His natural philosophy, mathematical and mechanistic at its core, is that of the materialists, the atomists Democritus and Epicurus, though guised in Platonic ideal form. "His philosophy as a whole," Strauss concludes, "may be said to be the classic example of the typically modern combination of political idealism with a materialistic and atheistic view of the whole." Strauss, 170. Thus Hobbes presents us with a new beast, a synthesis of two opposing world views, the Platonic and the Epicurean.

There are several core features of classic natural right that are rejected by Hobbes and supplanted by foreign concepts. First, Hobbes rejects the Aristotelian notion that man is by nature political or social. Here, Hobbes adopts an Epicurean view of man "that man is by nature or originally an a-political and even an a-social animal," and he draws out the political implications of that view. Strauss, 169. He also adopts the supreme Epicurean moral principle and identifies the good with the pleasant, or at least with self-interest. Hobbes "tries to instil the spirit of political idealism into the hedonistic tradition." Strauss, 169. It is an odd, bizarre and monstrous yin-yang combination of "idealism" and "anti-idealism." Strauss, 178. At heart, Hobbes appears to have accepted the methodological doubt, the fundamental skepticism, of Descartes, rejecting at the same time pre-modern or scholastic nominalism which maintained faith in ability of the mind to grasp accurately the reality of the cosmos. Strauss, 171 n. 7, 174-75. For Hobbes, "[t]here is no natural harmony between the human mind and the universe." Strauss, 175. (Is Hobbes a precursor to Kant? But it was Hume, not Hobbes, that Kant said awoke him from his dogmatic slumbers.) And his mechanistic view of the universe, even of man, likening his heart to a metal spring, is well-known. And with it came a resolute rejection of any notion of a final end, of a teleological view of the world or of nature, where the universe "is nothing but bodies and their aimless motions." Strauss, 172. Hobbes's mixture was explosive, revolutionary; it had all the instability of a barrel of nitroglycerine placed at the foundations of the moenia, the walls, of the City of God and the City of Man which saw the heavenly city as its ideal, so as to undermine them. Hobbes's vision, though "an unsupported hope," was a "vision of the City of Man to be erected on the ruins of the City of God." Strauss, 175.

Hobbes's intellectual effort may be viewed as his attempt to explore the continent discovered by Machiavelli, "that greater Columbus" of political philosophy, in whom we also see a combination of idealism and anti-idealism (his "realistic" revolt against "tradition," or "moral virtue" and the value of a "contemplative life," supplanting it by "patriotism or merely political virtue.") Strauss, 177-78. As Strauss views it, Hobbes's efforts were intended to fill a gap left by Machiavelli's corrosive theories:
It was the difficulty implied in the substitution of merely political virtue for moral virtue or the difficulty implied in Machiavelli's admiration for the lupine policies of republican Rome that induced Hobbes to attempt the restoration of the moral principles of politics, i.e., of natural law, on the plane of Machiavelli's "realism." . . . . The predominant tradition had defined natural law with a view to the end or the perfection of man as a rational and social animal. What Hobbes attempted to do on the basis of Machiavelli's fundamental objection to the utopian teaching of tradition, although in opposition to Machiavelli's own solution, was to maintain the idea of natural law but to divorce it from the idea of man's perfection . . . . This complete basis of natural aw must be sought, not in the end of man, but in his beginnings, in the prima natura or, rather, in the primum naturae.
Strauss, 180. For Hobbes, the most fundamental nature of man was passion, not reason. (Hume was to take this thought, and run with it.) "Natural law will not be effectual if its principles are distrusted by passion or are not agreeable to passion," thought Hobbes. "Natural law must," therefore, "be deduced from the most powerful of all passions." Strauss, 180. Accordingly, not justice, not right, but fear of death, especially violent death, becomes the source of all right. In a sort of morbid irony, death, or perhaps more accurately, the desire for self-preservation, becomes the source of political life. But it is not excessive an exaggeration to state, as Strauss does, that in Hobbes: "Death takes the place of the telos." Strauss, 181. Satan, we may remember as an important (though "unscientific") aside, is the Angel of Death.


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