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 6, 2010

Leo Strauss and Natural Right: The Practical Ideal of Mixed Regime

RESTRAINT IS AS NATURAL TO MAN AS FREEDOM. It is the other side of the coin of liberty. It cannot therefore be said that the forcible imposition of boundaries, both external and internal, that comes with the governance of the city is unnatural. Just as man must exercise force to remain in command of his lower faculties, so must the social body, the city, exercise force to restrain the recalcitrant, the lawless or unvirtuous. "What is true of self-restraint, self-coercion, and power over one's self applies in principle to the restraint and coercion of others and to power over others." Strauss, 133. The city is nothing less than man writ large. "Serious concern for the perfection of a community," therefore, "requires a higher degree of virtue than serious concern for the perfection of an individual." Strauss, 133. It follows that restraint in the city must be done by force.

This is an important principle. Too often, force is seen modernly as incompatible with freedom, as something unnatural, as an evil. In the classical natural law tradition, though there may be tension between freedom and restraint, they are not found to be at mutually exclusive antipodes. Liberty and restraint go hand in hand, and it is incorrect to view liberty as good and restraint as evil. Good is found in the proper balance between liberty and restraint.
Justice and coercion are not mutually exclusive; in fact it is not altogether wrong to describe justice as a kind of benevolent coercion. Justice and virtue in general are necessarily a kind of power.
Strauss, 133.

There is an intimate connection, a connection that modernly has been lost, between virtue and political activity, between virtue and law. Statecraft is no longer seen as involving soulcraft. This is anti-Socratic, anti-classic. "The morality of civil society or of the state is the same as the morality of the individual."
--Leo Strauss

This is against the classic natural law view of things. "Political activity," viewed correctly, "is then properly directed if it is directed toward human perfection or virtue." Strauss, 134. It is this ordering toward virtue, virtue of the individual citizen, that makes the city ultimately have the same morality as the morality of an individual. "The morality of civil society or of the state is the same as the morality of the individual." Strauss, 134. It is this that distinguishes a city from a band of robbers. The robbers do not band together for the purpose of promoting virtue among themselves; rather, it is an exclusive club of vice and selfish self-promotion at the expense of others. Men band themselves together in cities, at least in the ideal or practically ideal city, for another purpose: the promotion of virtue.

Because the city and the citizen shared the same end--the promotion of virtue--it followed that there would be inequality within the city walls. Egalitarianism is not a bed fellow of the classic view of things. Perfection was the goal of man and of the body politic, and this meant that one could expect inequalities among men, despite their essential equality. Necessarily, there are some men that have better natures than others, that have more ordered faculties, that have exercised a greater effort at self-discipline and self-mastery and are more virtuous than others. "Since men are then unequal in regard to human perfection, i.e., in the decisive respect, equal rights for all appeared to the classics as most unjust." Strauss, 134-35. "One Law for the Lion & Ox is Oppression." (Blake) One had to realize that among men there are lions and oxes. There are those that are by nature better formed to be rulers.

It is, however, altogether the reality of things that the ideal city is rarely to be a reality. There are too many contingencies in the life of cities and of men that seem to work against the ideal. But for all that, one ought not to despair, though one may have to lower one's sights. "Whereas the best regime is possible only under the most favorable conditions, legitimate or just regimes are possible and morally necessary at all times and in all places." Strauss, 140. There is, in the classic view of things, therefore, a distinction between the ideal or utopian polity, the just or legitimate polity, and the unjust or illegitimate polity. Perfection is to be expected rarely, and a certain level of imperfection in the administration of a city does not immediately translate into injustice and illegitimacy.
The distinction between the best regime and legitimate regimes has its root in the distinction between the noble and the just. Everything noble is just, but not everything just is noble. . . . A very imperfect regime may supply the only just solution to the problem of a given community; but, since such a regime cannot be effectively directed toward man's full perfection, it can never be noble. . . . The best regime is that in which the best men habitually rule, or aristocracy.
Strauss, 140.
Xanthippe Dousing Socrates by Reyer van Blommendael (1655)

There is, however, a constant factor that works against the maintenance of the ideal or noble city. For the city's rule to work, the few wise cannot use force over the many unwise, and so the few wise have to try to persuade the unwise. However, the wise have limited ability to persuade the unwise because the unwise, wed perhaps to some passion, or limited by some vice or by limited education and culture, are not always able to grasp reasoned argument. Consequently, the wise shall not be able to govern the unwise, just like Socrates was unable to govern his wife, Xanthippe. Generally, what happens is the opposite: one or more of the unwise will more readily able to appeal to the mass of his unwise fellows, and thereby will usher in a tyranny, even through majoritarian consent. Here is a distinction between classic natural right and its egalitarian cousin:
The political problem consists in reconciling the requirement for wisdom with the requirement for consent. But whereas, from the point of view of egalitarian natural right, consent takes precedence over wisdom, from the point of view of classic natural right, wisdom takes precedence over consent.
Strauss, 141.

The best way of reconciling wisdom and consent is through law and a mixed regime, a regime that floats halfway between aristocracy and democracy. The wise legislator ought to frame a code of laws, an embodiment of wisdom, that the body politic adopts. The law, then, should curb the advent of tyranny, as "the rule of law is to take the place of the rule of men, however wise." Strauss, 141. The law can then achieve, sort of as a proxy, what the rule of the wise man could achieve. The law requires that it be administered by someone in equity, by the "gentleman," a man distinct from the "wise man." The "gentleman" is a middling creature between the common man and the wise man. So it all comes down to this:
To summarize, one may say that it is characteristic of the classic natural right teaching to culminate in a twofold answer to the question of the best regime: the simply best regime would be the absolute rule of thew wise; the practically best regime is the rule, under law, of gentlemen, or the mixed regime.
Strauss, 142-43.

St. Augustine and the City of God

In the classic tradition, natural right was therefore inextricably and intimately linked with political right. The notion of natural right distinct from and in opposition to the polis was simply unthought. Natural right was found within the City of Man.

For the classic Greek and the Roman imitator, there was no City of God. The classic thinking of natural right was significantly modified by the intrusion, as it were, of the biblical faith. That occurred in the encounter between the City of God and the City of Man, when the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ confronted the classic notions of natural right as had been discovered and developed by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero.

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