"There are only two ways of telling the complete truth—anonymously and posthumously."—Thomas Sowell
Monday, June 25, 2018
Leo Strauss vs the Modern Future
THE OCCASION WAS LEO STRAUSS’ [1899-1973] years-long correspondence with the brilliant and mercurial Hegel scholar Alexandre Kojève [1902-1968], contained in the volume “On Tyranny.” The Google books preview is HERE.
Kojève is fascinating, one of those major figures in philosophical-political history you never seem to hear of. [Hell, James Madison doesn’t have a memorial, isn’t on a coin or anything anymore since they killed the $5,000 bill. But we digress.]
Was Kojève cool or what? If you threw Sartre, Michael Caine and Woody Allen in a blender, you’d get Strauss’ “Dear Mr. Kojevnikoff.”
By contrast, Uncle Leo had a visage like a potato.
Although the cigarette holder is a nice touch. But we digress yet again. Dang us!
The “End of History” is the not-unlikely prediction that human progress will one day yield something resembling today’s Western World, a bourgeois liberal democracy where everyone’s material needs are met and political division is quieted by the rise of a Universal and Homogeneous State. There will be nothing left to fight about.
Philosophy becomes democratized, the parable of Plato’s cave rendered un-egalitarian and therefore obsolete—if not obscene to modern sensibilities.
Strauss, faced with an effective rebuttal by Kojève of Strauss’ original essay about trying to advise tyrants not to be so tyrannical, on Xenophon’s “Hiero,” was obliged to write a “restatement.” The story is here.
Ah, I’ve taken too much of the gentle reader’s time with preface. I did want to convey the gravity and historical importance of the philosophical issues, laid bare in the Strauss-Kojève correspondence—the clash of the classical and modern worlds played out in the EU/UN/and America’s own left-right context. Hope it enhances the below Strauss excerpt, the final paragraphs near the end of his Restatement.
NB: Although he was an "admirer" of the American liberal system, Strauss is quite the Platonist. He mocked Wilsonianism, and wouldn’t be caught dead in a field with messianic democracy.
TO BUSINESS, THEN, as Strauss assays Kojève’s Brave New World:
“There is no longer fight nor work. History has come to its end. There is nothing more to do.” This end of History would be most exhilarating but for the fact that, according to Kojève, it is the participation in bloody political struggles as well as in real work, or generally expressed, the negating action, which raises man above the brutes. The state through which man is said to become reasonably satisfied is, then, the state in which the basis of man’s humanity withers away, or in which man loses his humanity.
It is the state of Nietzsche’s “last man.” Kojève in fact confirms the classical view that unlimited technological progress and its accompaniment, which are the indispensable conditions of the universal and homogeneous state, are destructive of humanity. It is perhaps possible to say that the universal and homogeneous state is fated to come. But it is certainly impossible to say that man can reasonably be satisfied with it. If the universal and homogeneous state is the goal of History, History is absolutely “tragic.” Its completion will reveal that the human problem, and hence in particular the problem of the relation of philosophy and politics, is insoluble. For centuries and centuries men have unconsciously done nothing but work their way through infinite labors and struggles and agonies, yet ever again catching hope, toward the universal and homogeneous state, and as soon as they have arrived at the end of their journey, they realize that through arriving at it they have destroyed their humanity and thus returned, as in a cycle, to the prehuman beginnings of History. Vanitas vanitatum. Recognitio recognitionum.
Yet there is no reason for despair as long as human nature has not been conquered completely, i.e., as long as sun and man still generate man. There will always be men (andres) who will revolt against a state which is destructive of humanity or in which there is no longer a possibility of noble action and of great deeds. They may be forced into a mere negation of the universal and homogeneous state, into a negation not enlightened by any positive goal, into a nihilistic negation. While perhaps doomed to failure, that nihilistic revolution may be the only action on behalf of man’s humanity, the only great and noble deed that is possible once the universal and homogeneous state has become inevitable.
The Chief of the universal and homogeneous state, or the Universal and Final Tyrant will be an unwise man, as Kojève seems to take for granted. To retain his power, he will be forced to suppress every activity which might lead people into doubt of the essential soundness of the universal and homogeneous state: he must suppress philosophy as an attempt to corrupt the young.
The philosophers in their turn will be forced to defend themselves or the cause of philosophy. They will be obliged, therefore, to try to act on the Tyrant. Everything seems to be a re-enactment of the age-old drama.
But this time, the cause of philosophy is lost from the start. For the Final Tyrant presents himself as a philosopher, as the highest philosophic authority, as the supreme exegete of the only true philosophy, as the executor and hangman authorized by the only true philosophy. He claims therefore that he persecutes not philosophy but false philosophies.
The experience is not altogether new for philosophers. If philosophers were confronted with claims of this kind in former ages, philosophy went underground. It accommodated itself in its explicit or exoteric teaching to the unfounded commands of rulers who believed they knew things which they did not know. Yet its very exoteric teaching undermined the commands or dogmas of the rulers in such a way as to guide the potential philosophers toward the eternal and unsolved problems. And since there was no universal state in existence, the philosophers could escape to other countries if life became unbearable in the tyrant’s dominions.
From the Universal Tyrant, however, there is no escape. Thanks to the conquest of nature and to the completely unabashed substitution of suspicion and terror for law, the Universal and Final Tyrant has at his disposal practically unlimited means for ferreting out, and for extinguishing, the most modest efforts in the direction of thought. Kojève would seem to be right although for the wrong reason: the coming of the universal and homogeneous state will be the end of philosophy on earth.”