Leo Strauss and Israel: Confronting Modernity I

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Jeffrey Neuzil

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Nov 30, 2007
To the memory of Franz Rosenwieg and Walter Rathanau—Friends of Philosophy, Politics, Freedom

The Jewish Question Of Spirit: On a Certain Profound "Modification" of the Galut

I touch here upon the problem of the Genesis of Christianity. The 'first' principle for its solution is: Christianity can be understood only in terms of the soil out of which it grew—it is not a movement of opposition against the Jewish instinct, it is its very consequence itself.—(Nietzsche's Antichrist, 24)

Oh no, no know—It's "never again,"—Again!—anonymous witt(en).

What I hope to do in this essay is set forth an interpretation of certain puzzling and profound features of Leo Strauss' "Auto-biographical Preface" to his work, "Spinozas' Critique of Religion," a preface that was interestingly added to the work in 1965, the year, incidentally, in which Malcolm X was assassinated in New York City.
It is my provisional contention that of all of Strauss' published works this statement is, perhaps, the deepest expression of the political intentions of Mr. Strauss' work, but that it is also one of the most enigmatic and even subterranean, if Serpentine, of his formulations of those intentions. The statement begins almost literally in the war torn and besieged Germany of Leo Strauss' youth, where Strauss himself came "face-to-face" with the "Theological-Political predicament," or the "Theological Political Problem."
The essay, it is obvious to see, is an attempt to wrestle with a question that was posed by Karl Marx in the 19th century, namely, what is to be done with respect to the Jews?—with respect to assimilation or non-assimilation?: In other words, Strauss tried to forcefully and manfully confront the issue of how the Jews were to avoid endless pogroms and persecution, how they were to survive in a hostile world in which liberalism and liberal democracy had let them down, casting them about violently in a state of Diaspora and dispersion, not unrelated to the "Falleness" that is made thematic by Heidegger in relation to his Dasien analysis of "Zein und Ziet."
If the outcome of modernity seemed in no way to provide the answer to the Jewish question—in other words, if assimilation "proved" to be untenable and incompatible with natural right or history, then some form of "return" must—per impossible?—be effected; but what made this so problematic, as Strauss was, on my analysis, so prescient to see, was that this required the rehabilitation of Jewish "Culture," and this was also shown by Strauss to be inadaquate, for any "return" merely on the level of "culture," or even politics, if the Zionist solution was prefered, was inadaquate, because it did not allow for the kind of absolute comittment that was necessary to the survival of a people in a hostile, even murderously hostile, world: The most manifest implication of this, Strauss argues profoundly, is that a "return" to Jewish orthodoxy in the deepest and most religious and spiritual sense is the one thing needful—and, indeed, in some sense, this is a, paradoxically, "progressive return."
However much one can agree with this conclusion of Strauss' analysis, one must probe more deeply to fathom the manner in which Strauss would effect this return to orthodoxy on the plane of the spiritual, religious, cultural, Prophetic, and, finally, political plane of History itself; and all of this is further made complicated by Strauss' attempt to return to a conception of a mysterious and unknown, perhaps unknowable, Deity—belief in which, or Whom, is a prerequisite for the regeneration of Jewish High culture and Spirit and an overcoming of the political weakness—or as Strauss has it effeminency—which has prevented the Jews from attaining their rightful high place among the religions of the world.
Much more can, and should, in my view be said about this conception of the deity set forth by Strauss, but it has the peculiar, if not paradoxical, consequence of not being based on revelation or being based on revelation that is incomplete to the degree that Strauss emphasizes both the "mysteriousness" and "unknowability" of this deity, which provokes the question, "To what degree is revelation being attenuated or "displaced" in this analysis(?) To what degree is this conception of the deity in Strauss more like the God of Islam or even of the Islamic Aristotelians than like the Biblical deity? This "displacement" or "attenuation" of Revelation was already a profound implication of Strauss' "Philosophy and Law," where Strauss' reasons that philosophy is the highest way of life, and, thus, is "commanded" by the law of Revelation, but once initiated, philosophy appears to secure for itself a realm, if not "The" Realm of Freedom, and thus can "modify" through textual interpretation Revelation. This is a question that is quite complex in Strauss for the very reason that he breathes the theological air of not just one religious tradition, but many; when the "mysterious" and "unknowable" character of the deity is emphasized—and this is proclaimed forthrightly in Strauss' reference to the God of scripture as the God who shall, at the end of time, "Be what He shall Be," not be what he always was, which is another way of saying that scripture may have merely revealed one mode of an evolving deity.
Perhaps this conviction of Strauss' is what leads him to the conclusion that Maimonides procedure of "Negative Theology" is primary, and so all that can be said or shown of God is that He is not this or that thing, this or that lifeless or living thing, but something else altogether: (I suspect that there may be a profound conection here between Kojeve's "Master and Slave dialectic," and that this latter concept or practice would, perhaps, illuminate the former: If it would not, at the same time, cast one into the darkest dungeon of the darkest kingdom "within" the Kingdom of Darkness!)—: The most that can be said is that in this conception of God all that we can do is wait for Him to reveal Himself to man and to provide a respite from our Theologically "Fallen" age. And it is not accidental, if it is not exactly necessitated, possibly, that the most supple currents of Francophone Philosophy have proclaimed both the "Death of God," and the "Death of Man": while they have not, correspondingly,—yet may soon—declare the death of "Manna," (see Robert Pippin's references to the "Pathologies" of "late-stage" capitalism as well as his reference to Strauss' "On Tyranny," as presenting a essentially "twofold" teaching, divisible (like the human brain) into a first part, "pathology" and a second part, "therapeutics" (Cf. Heidegger's originally projected "twofold" Zein und Ziet, which was to contain a "pathological" analysis of Kant, if not also a "therapeutic" analysis as well and both Hannah Arendt's work on Kant's political philosophy and Kojeve's untranslated work on Kant).
Strauss declares in his preface the the creation of the state of Israel will prove to be a blessing to all Jews everywhere, even if they do not know it (Yet?)! If I understand Strauss correctly here he means to be suggesting—but not only suggesting—that since the foundation of the state of Israel, Jews no longer face that level of extreme vulnerability in the world which once they did, for now they have a home to which they can "return" and to which they will be welcomed in however dire of a circumstance they may find themselves—and this for all the"forseeable future."
But could one not ask if the Jews in this current situation, supposing that a new "wave" of anti-semitism should erupt, thereby forcing Jews everywhere to migrate to Israel, if the Jews would not find themselves in the most "concentrated" of all "concentration" camps ever constructed: so that what appeared—but only appeared—to be a blessing for "all Jews everywhere" might prove to be indeed the largest curse upon them, for they would then be vulnerable to attack from without by whatever hostile power existed, and they would be concentrated and thus vulnerable on a mass scale—something that was not a problem for Diaspora Jews. In this sense, but only in this sense, could one say that the foundation of the state of Israel represents the profoundest "modification" (See SPPP 'modification' or 'modify') of the Galut—but only a modification: which should give a profound impetus for scholars to begin a serious and critical study of the historical foundations of Zionism and its relationship to the foundation of the state of Israel as well as the United States' role in this process?
One could, perhaps, draw an analogy to the "vulnerability" of philosophy on Strauss' analysis in "On Tyranny" after the coming into being of the "Universal and Final Tyrant," who would preside over the "Universal and Homogenous State," should such a state come to pass: The philosopher in this situation would have nowhere to seek refuge, just as a Jew, driven to Israel by persecution would have nowhere else to go, if the outside world should succumb to a ruthlessly anti-semitic—and misologistic—ideology.
Leo Strauss and Israel: Confronting Modernity II

And if within modern Israel, there are profoundly anti-Jewish elements and forces, perhaps hostile, and more than hostile, to Jewish orthodoxy, the Jews who would migrate there as protection from outside persecution would, ironically, face persecution—now within that very "oasis," which promised safe harbor and they would face ruthless persecution—Ironically, and paradoxically, by the very sovereign state established for such protection from pogroms ad persecution? Make no mistake about this: There is monumental irony in the fact that the State of Israel may have facilitated, not the survival of the Jewish people, but the consummation of the "final solution"—the extinction of the very people the state was meant to preserve: The Hegelian or Left-Hegelian/ Left-Nietzschean "cunning of Reason," can lead in just a few steps, I am suggesting, to the Hegelian "slaughter-bench of History."
No more re-assured does one become when one considers the implications of Strauss' attack—if it can be called an attack—on the insufficiently self-defensive nature of modern liberal democracies or liberal regimes in general; Strauss' locus classicus, in this instance, was the Wiemar Regime of his young adulthood, of his early years of being a brilliant young scholar, a young Zionist, a furtive reader of Nietzschean texts (ages 22-30), and someone who found himself in the grip of the "Theological Political Problem," and thus someone who more than many others would experience this problem as a central an animating impetus to reflect seriously and critically on this problem as a key to all reflection on the political.
The implication of Strauss' reasoning and analysis of liberal democracy, as this comes to sight most forcefully in his work "Spinoza's Critique of Religion," especially in the autobiographical preface to the work added to the 1965 publication of the American edition of the work, amounts to the asservation, that all liberal and democratic regimes—regimes protecting, for example broad liberties of the press, assembly, free speech, and individual privacy together with the vigorously defended right of a citizen to be free of the rapacity and assault of his fellow citizens—have a fundamental weakness in that they allow for intolerance to thrive within their breasts (as Goethe had it "alas, two souls do dwell within my breast").
They allow for the cultivation of intolerance—which can take the apparently deceptive form of Toquvellian "voluntary associations" of free citizens, but, Strauss deftly sweeps aside such facile delusions, showing that in the case of the Wiemar Republic such "liberal and democratic institutions" (one could say as a matter of class, or Marxian, contradictions within them, and indeed to formulate this more strongly, inherent within them by dialectico-material necessity—that is to say, they are potentially subject to a fatal aporia that leads to them being transcended historically).
What raises Strauss' analysis to such prescience is that he means for it to be taken as scientific analysis of the flaws inherent to liberal democratic society, and so he means to point to future crises that could be faced by any liberal and democratic polity that had not taken sufficient measures to protect itself from "internal" hostilities or what Strauss profoundly labels the cropping up of "seminaries of intolerance" within liberal democracy (and one should pay careful attention to the various connotative and denotative significances to the word "seminary"—for Strauss may here be referring to well established institutions, hostile to liberal democracy, but not seen oridinarily as such (for example both within the university and in sacerdotal institutions as well: see Roger Kimbal, "Tenured Radicals," and Dinesh De' Souza's "Illiberal Education," Jacques Derrida's "Disseminations," and Alan Bloom's edited "Confronting the Constitution."
If I understand the implications of Strauss' reasoning well, then he is warning all liberal democratic regimes whether they be a single state or a confederation of them—including modern America, the European Union, and, especially, modern Israel, situated as she is among many dire enemies as Strauss was to so profoundly argue in one of his only public political acts, in a letter he wrote to William Buckley's "National Review," an article in which he defended the newly-created state of Israel against what he perceived to be the somewhat anti-Israel bias of the magazine or certain of its editors.
The reasoning provided by Strauss is invaluable and can by extension be seen to apply just as much if not more today than when he originally wrote to the "National Review." What each individual within a nation must do to defend himself against unjust, if not unlawful, encroachments against himself or his liberty or his privacy, must, a fortiori, be undertaken by nations to protect themselves: this means that today Israel, the united States, Europe, South America, and Asia may be fostering, harboring or concealing, unbeknownst even to its own nominally soveriegn governments, subversive forces or forces which harbor seditious and revolutionary intentions towards their continued existence within the scope of their current and cherished historical and legal heritage (setting aside the all-important question of the value and worth of each such tradition based on a philosophical analysis, value free, of such a tradition: Like an antomist or pathologist would carry out objectively and without respect to the worth or value intrinsically of the tradition but rather focus on the instrumentality of it, perhaps in light of some future goal).
But this is the crux of the issue for Strauss' work—to what degree did he succeed in "reviving" and in what way "resolving" the" tension" that was seen by him to be at the heart of the tradition of the West—the "tension between Athens and Jerusalem," and to what degree was this envisioned or effected "resolution" resolved to the domination by one of the parties, say the fiedeists, to the disfavor of, say the "critico-empericists"? But, perhaps this is to evade just the decisive issue: Is the tension that Strauss, following his doyen in this matter, Nietzsche, a tension that is, when all is said and done, "resolvable"—and thus is not the fatal aporia of hyper-modernity just that whatever "solution, however "final" that solution be one perspectivally adopts, that solution depends, finally, on arbitrary, if grounded on an unmitigated "mastery and possesion of nature"—in fulfillment of Descartes' Dream—willings that in the end amount to the mere and nihilistic will-to-will diagnosed so well by, primarily Neitzsche, but in an ontologically—and, especially "onto-theo-logically" even more seriously by Nietzsche's "successor," Martin Heidegger.
The contrast that Strauss points to in his "autobiograpical preface" of 1965, between the view of the prophets of Israel as propounded by Martin Buber and that propounded by his massively dominant and dominating—I mean that in a quite honorific sense, intellectually at least—contemporary, Martin Heidegger, the German Nazi philosopher—and I am not supposing that the conection of Heidegger's philosophy with his politics is a necessary one or even a "probable" one, although Strauss and Msr. K. Lowith would seem to consent to at least a weak version of this "thesis"—that of the possibly essential connection—or as I have elsewhere formulated it "necessary entanglement of politics with philosophy or, in the case at bar, of "existentialism" with "Nazism" thesis. Buber saw the prophets (of Israel?—Ancient or Modern) as pronouncing security to the nation and thus providing comfort and security to the people; by contrast Heidegger argued just the opposite—in a grand demonstration of "creative" perhaps "violent" "interpretation: Effecting a discharge of the philosopher's highest duty to mankind the philosopher-prophet pronounces on the absolute "insecurity" and even "hopelessness" and "falleness" of the age, and in so doing he bears witness to the 'nihilism' of the age—the emptiness, the "homelessness" that man feels, however comfortable man's dwelling truly is: this sense of fragmentation and meaninglessness that is the substance of so much of modern life for all of us, and so Heidegger was on the solid ground of "fundamental ontology"—begging, by avoiding for the moment, all the tantalizing and deep questions of how we got "situated" for this kind of fatalistic discourse—in providing us with this understanding of the prophets, Ancient and Modern: these prophets, these heralds of the "decline of the West"—and the correspondingly precipitous rise of the East—are pronouncing their "lived sense" of an age that is perilously disconected socially from the deepest realities of their age; that alone, Heidegger belived, warranted the belief in a diagnosis related to Heidegger's profound confrontation with Hoerderlin, or with his trope, "the darkening of the world": this was Holderlin's sense of nhilism in the modern period: So, for Heiddegger, nihilism was only going to deepen in the West, so prophets, should their be any should only proclaim the "darkening of the world," the deepening of nhilism, or the withdrawal of being.
If Heiddegger were ever to have been asked if modern day prophets of Israel should feel hope for a "bright future" or retreat to the Ancient Prophets proclamaition of doom, if not doomsday, and the Coming Judgement, he would have inclined toward saying that the age was a dark one and dread inducing.
Leo Strauss and Israel: Confronting Modernity III

So there would not have been, in my opinion, anything sanguine about his "prophet's" proclamations; but if this is the sense in which ancient pieities can be restored—on the stage where the point is to provide the deepest and most god-forsaken sense of the nihilistic Age— then perhaps the Modern age is capable of adopting "enlightened," if potentially grotesque, solutions to its dilemmas after all, and thus, just possibly, the way out of Modernity is more prosaic and "banal," less apocalyptic and Evil, than thrill seekers or those drawn to bread and circles would have us believe. The safest thing to say is that Leo Strauss and Martin Heidegger have profoudly pointed the way for us, ever anew, to confront the modernity "problem," and there critical guidance can indeed do much to guide us in our troubled and soon to be, perhaps, more troubled world.
It is only unfortunate that so few readers of Strauss seem to reflect deeply on what he truly and nobly tried to teach—and no doubt succeeded at teaching—and that western levels of education have for all the foreseeable future have precluded the anything but exiguous readership of Heidegger's masterwork, only half-completed at "completion"—if that makes sense to some—a work that deserves to be brought to the home of every American with an attendent demonstration of "just how really relevant this philosophical movement "existentialism" and, to coin a term, "ontologizing phenomenology" are to the American Dreamscape, which is largely the manufactured shadows, the "Images" of comercial culture which take up such a large part of the cavernous walls these days.
If in hypermodernity the only way forward was backward, then it seems that—but maybe only seems that—we are all fated, whether or not we are "lovingly fated" to take some portion of the flight of the "Owl of Minerva," but that flight in the end will not, we can all fear, be the ordered course of the birds "first flight," but now, perhaps, a Bachic frenzy of such flights, such visitations as those experienced by Faust on "Walpurgis Night," more of an Icarus-flight, than the fulfillment of a journey—the dream or "nightmare" of History that, perhaps over and over again, Sisiphus-like, Stephen Daedalus was trying to awake from: The same dream that today has Jewish people and many others, principally, Philosophers or "lovers of philosophy" trying to "awake" from the "nightmare of History," from the dominance and hegemony of its narrative, and if that narrative should be governed by "logo-graphic necessity," we can at least hope that the author of History allows us to end our mortal course with a sleep.
Jews and non-Jews can share this fate, and together they must, as the great philosopher Immanuel Kant exhorted, "dare to Know!"—Sapere Aude! In so striving to know, in daring to know, "By any means necessary," they must face the question and the quest to discover a solution to the Jewish question, which is the most manifest symbol of the human problem, for the question of Tyranny—and not only the question of Tyranny—is coeval, if not inextirpably coeval, with political life, which is to say human life, all too human life, as seen by some. God only knows which perspective should normatively prevail or which one will—and we can not be assured that, although we can wish and pray that—the God who only can save us does not withhold his "saving grace." (Cf. "Zein und Zeit" with the later work, especially the seminal "On Time and Being".).
The Jews were the people destined to face the most horrible persecutions throughout their historical wanderings and wonderings: Diaspora seemed to be their destiny, and Pogrom and persecution their unalleviated lot in History—but now History has provided them with shelter and it has come to "warn" and "comfort" them—but History has not ended, all must remain eternally vigilent, at least until Stephen Deadelus wakes from what could be a nightmare, or worse a universal and "final" Galut. If the universal and homogenous state should come to pass—whether by the will-to-power, the will-to-power as art, or by the hand of the "only" God who can save us, then it would seem that both philosophers and religionists, Platonists and Jews would face persecution, if the state was not ruled by wisdom or even or especially if it was so ruled—and we do not possess wisdom as the prophets of Israel were—and are—to tirelessly remind us.
May we all have the courage to face the unknown and unknowable future, the courage to be edified by it but not crushed by its overwhelming "Spirit of Gravity." I began this essay with a quote from Nietsche which expresses his desire to understand Christianity and Judaism as much a to offer a solution, if a final solution, to the obstacle that these religious traditions presented to the construction of a truly modern civilization;it seems appropriate—in asking who we are?—to close it with one of the most enigmatic and poetical of Leo Strauss' comments, which is powerfully revealing of his relationship to Enlightenment and Revelation—
This final atheisim with a good conscience, or with a bad conscience, is distinguished from the atheism of the past [see Burke's comment on the seditious atheism of his time] by its conscientiousness from the atheism at which the past shuddered. Compared not only with Epicureanism but with the unbelief of the age of Spinoza, it reveals itself as a descendent of Biblical morality. This atheisim, the heir and judge of the belief in revelation, of the secular struggle between belief and unbelief, and finally of the short-lived but by no means inconsequential romantic longing for the lost belief, confronting orthodoxy in complex sophistication formed out of gratitude, rebellion, longing and indifference, and in simple probity, is according to its claim as capable of an original understanding of the human roots of the belief in God, as no earlier, no less complex-simple philosophy ever was.

A new book by Hienrich Meir, "Leo Strauss and the Theologico-Political Problem," promises to be a great read for any student of Leo Strauss' who shares the founder's penchant for shunning surfaces and penetrating the depths of his subject: for this is the very essence of philosophy's erotic intention—striving desperately, not always sucessfully, for a return to the origin—to the experience of the "whole" through "knowledge" of the "part," or "parts."
My favorite contribution of this volume to Strauss studies is the way in which it "responsibly" and unswervingly defines the tenets of Strauss' "sophrosterion," or his "thinkery" (I felt as if I were there, in the "Clouds" as it were, with Socrates, swooping down on the demos, and affably begining a dialogic testing of the waters.). Meir authoritatively claims that Strauss founded a "School" at the University of Chicago. Meir means this in a quite high-minded sense.
I do not disagree with him, and his clarification of this fact does more than a little to aid one in comprehending Strauss' "eternal" concerns. Some who have heretofore been unclear on the relation of terms like "political-philosophy" to "political theology" now have no excuse for not perceiving the radical difference of each, even while one perceives a continuity as well.
It is a creative tension, but one that does not foreclose dialogue (taking into account, of course, the many different varieties of dialogues that can be commenced).
Meir further provides his already well-profited reader with two heretofore unpublished lectures of Strauss', one " The Living issues of German Post-war Philosophy" (1940), and, secondly, "Reason and Revelation" (1948). I should note en passant that the latter lecture date is significant, for in that same year, Mr. Strauss published, for incidental reasons, his study on Xenophon's "Heiro" in French—that charming and much bethumbed volume, which graces my shelf, my little red book. Mr. Mier's book, by contrast, is jacketed most pleasingly with a charming photograph of Leo Strauss. But if you were unfortunate enough to receive the book through a college library, you will not have the pleasure of seeing this charming photograph—but instead the book beneath the cover, which is of the darkest hue; it is black.
All in all, Mr Meir has succeeded admirably in capturing the fundamental intention of Leo Strauss as I understand that intention—to promote philosophy in the highest sense and to make clear wherein it differs fundamentally from its rivals to the throne: If philosophy in modernity has become a weeping Heccuba, the thought of Leo Strauss and Heinrich Mier is surely directed at redressing this lacrimony; philosophy must learn how to laugh and by this route to philosophically forge a new horizon. My hat goes off to Mr. Meir for enriching our understanding of the revolutionary thought of Leo Strauss, if one can even speak of revolution in connection with a thinker whose only revolution consisted in a revolutionary defense of moderation.
I consolidated these three posts into one thread. In the future, please don't clutter things up by posting three individual threads for a three-part article.

Two other things: First, does this really belong under US Politics? And second, we have a general rule that any articles that are posted must have accompanying commentary as well, and I can't tell if you've commented on any of this, if it's your own work, or what. Just a heads up.
OK well, vyo kinda beat me to it, but your getting your own thread. I'm locking this one up, just leave the other ones alone and start a thread called something like 'Jefferey Neuzil's Thread' in the most appropriate section OK?

If you don't start consolidating your epic posts into one thread you will start to recieve infractions. Bear in mind, this is not in any way blocking your freedom of speech but keeping the forums clean and easy to use.
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