Thomas Pangle declares that, in “The Legacy of Leo Strauss” (Claremont Review of Books, Fall, 1984), I am “guilty of gross misinterpretation” of his “interpretation of Strauss and of the political philosophizing Strauss resuscitated.” Pangle quotes me, correctly, as writing that his (Pangle’s) “account of the noble and just things . . . is nothing but an account of the high in the light of the low.” But, he says, what he had written about Strauss and his legacy was almost exactly the opposite of what I had attributed to him. To prove this, he quotes a lengthy passage, from “near the beginning of [his] essay.” The substance of this passage supports his contention. It does represent a viewpoint opposite to the one that I had attributed to him, one which I had found, not near the beginning, nor near the end of his essay, but at its very center. The question then is, which of these conflicting and contradictory interpretations, both of which are to be found in the same essay, is the careful reader intended by the author to take as true or authoritative? Let me say at the outset that I was wholly aware of this problem—of how to read Pangle’s essay—and never for a moment assumed the truth of the interpretation I adopted as the correct one. After all, one of the main themes of Leo Strauss’s work was the discovery, not only that philosophic writings frequently abound in contradictions, but that these contradictions—contrary to appearances—are often, if not always, symptomatic of a noncontradictory intention. The greater writers are not the ones whose work is most free of contradictions. The greater writers are the ones whose contradictions are intentional, and who guide their more intelligent readers through the contradictions to their noncontradictory intention. I do not for a moment think that Professor Pangle is a great writer. He is, on the contrary, a lesser writer infatuated, if not intoxicated, with what he thinks he has learned about Socratic or Platonic rhetoric. In commenting on his text, I thought it best to expound his true argument, without going through the wearisome process of disentangling it from its sophistical cocoon, or from what Churchill would have called its “bodyguard of lies.” I displayed what I was confident was the anatomy of Professor Pangle’s argument, without a priori distinguishing it from its fig leaves.
In distinguishing the center of his text from its periphery, I was, Pangle says, making “an argument so contrived that it strains one’s faith in [Jaffa’s] sobriety.” In doing so I was, however, following Professor Pangle’s example. In a public lecture at Claremont, about three years ago, Pangle declared that Nietzsche was the philosopher, according to Strauss, and that it was in Nietzschean—that is to say, historicist—concepts that Strauss believed one must look for a solution of the dilemmas of contemporary social sciences and, indeed, of the dilemmas of modern man. This represented to me a reversal of nearly everything I believed I had learned from Strauss, and about Strauss, in an association of nearly thirty years. Strauss’s distinctiveness—indeed, his uniqueness, I had thought—lay above all else in the fact that he was the first great critic of modernity whose diagnosis of the ills of modernity did not end by seeking a solution of those ills through a radicalization of the principles of modernity. Strauss was, in this decisive respect, unlike his great predecessors, Rousseau and Nietzsche. To be told by Pangle that he was in the decisive respect, not their opponent, but their follower, was astounding. In the discussion following Pangle’s lecture, I raised objections to what I had heard. I cited the Introduction of Natural Right and History in which Strauss declared that “the contemporary rejection of natural right leads to nihilism—nay, it is identical with nihilism.” I said I had always understood that to imply a rejection of Nietzsche’s rejection of natural right, however more sophisticated Nietzsche’s rejection may have been than any merely “contemporary rejection.” Pangle began his reply by declaring that he was obliged “to pull rank” on me. (These, his exact words, were my first intimation that “Straussians” were ranked.) He then said that Strauss never returned to the theme of natural right “in his later and mature works.” Apparently among the ranks of the cognoscenti Natural Right and History was an early and immature work.
This reply of Pangle’s is, however, contradicted by Strauss himself in the Preface to the 7th impression of Natural Right and History published by the University of Chicago Press in 1971. In that Preface, written some eighteen years after the book it precedes was completed, Strauss observed that “It almost goes without saying that if I were to write this book again, I would write it differently.” From the phrase “it goes without saying” one would normally infer that Strauss means by this that almost any author would write a book differently eighteen years after its original composition. But, Strauss ended, “Nothing I have learned has shaken my inclination to prefer ‘natural right’ especially in its classic form, to the reigning relativism, positivist or historicist.” (The word “positivist” is misprinted “politivist.”) I think Strauss here disavows any such change in perspective as Pangle has imputed to him. In the Introduction to Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy, Pangle comments (p. 9) on the 1970 Preface to Natural Right and History thus:
. . . . twenty years later Strauss had come to believe that the book could have been rewritten in an improved version. His own understanding of “natural right and history” had “deepened” in the interval; and apparently the most important aspect of the deepening had resulted from his “concentration on the study of ‘classic natural right,’ and in particular on ‘Socrates.'”
But Strauss in this Preface does not himself apply the word “deepened” to his studies of classic natural right and Socrates. Strauss wrote that his “deepened . . . understanding” applies in the first place to “modern natural right.” “My view [he wrote] was confirmed by the study of Vico’s La scienza nuova seconda. . . .”
Strauss thus characterizes his “deepened” understanding—”in the first place”—as a confirmation of his view that “natural right . . . is not properly approached and understood by those who take ‘the historical consciousness’ for granted.” Strauss then remarks that since he has not written anything on Vico, he refers his readers instead to his articles on Hobbes and Locke in What Is Political Philosophy? (1959). “I refer particularly to what I wrote on the nerve of Hobbes’ argument (p. 176n),” Now the Hobbes article was first published in 1954, and the one on Locke in 1958. Both antedated that “last ten years” (preceding 1970) in which Strauss devoted himself to classic natural right and Socrates. Thus Pangle’s broad hint that Strauss’s understanding of “natural right and history” was transformed by his studies of Socrates and of classic natural right in the decade before 1970 is not borne out by what Strauss himself says in this Preface.
But what is that “nerve of Hobbes’ argument?” It is to be found, according to Strauss, in Hobbes’ assertion that “the only natural peculiarity of man’s mind” is the faculty of discovering cause and effect in the nonteleological or modern scientific sense of those terms. Hobbes, Strauss says, regarded teleological thinking as “common to man and beast”! I believe that what Strauss meant by referring us to this footnote to his 1954 essay, in the 1970 Preface to Natural Right and History,was to point to the importance in modern thought of this Hobbesian redefinition of human nature. Hobbes himself preceded the discovery of history and the historical consciousness, but Strauss believed that the key to these concepts lay nevertheless in Hobbes. For Hobbes’s redefinition meant that man was the being who could—as Marx declared in his famous thesis on Feuerbach—change the world instead of merely interpreting it. It meant that the distinctively human faculty was a faculty of increasing power, not one of abstract knowing, or of contemplating imaginary “essences.” Contemplation, for Hobbes—and Marx—belonged not to reason but imagination, and the imagination was a faculty which man shared with other animals. But the ability to change the world by the conquest of nature meant that man alone was not fated to live in nature, but instead could inhabit that world of transformations arising from his own power called history. Strauss therefore saw this turning of philosophy into science in the 17th century as the theoretical root and origin of the idea of history and of the historical consciousness. If Natural Right and History had been rewritten in the 1970s it might then have featured a deepened understanding of the ground of history and the historical consciousness. Strauss says nothing, however, to lead us to believe that this would have contributed to a deeper sympathy with radical modernity, or a lesser sympathy with classic natural right. Or, I might add, that his studies of Socrates had led him to see an affinity he had not seen before between radical modernity and Socrates—for this is the esoteric thesis at which Pangle is continually driving Pangle’s misinterpretation—and misrepresentation-of the 1970 Preface is symptomatic of his whole misreading of Strauss.
In another discussion, in which Pangle tried to depreciate natural right in favor of history (and to depreciate Natural Right and History), I also cited, to the contrary, the beginning and the end of Thoughts on Machiavelli. In the former, Strauss had declared himself “inclined to the old-fashioned and simple opinion according to which Machiavelli was a teacher of evil.” In the latter, Strauss indicated his continuing rejection of Machiavellian modernity by concluding that “It would seem that the notion of the beneficence of nature or of the primacy of the Good must be restored. . . .” But Pangle brushed aside these quotations, declaring that whatever Strauss said at the beginning or the end was merely rhetorical (or exoteric). His real opinions, Pangle said, were radically different from these, and were to be found at or near the center of the book. There, he said, Strauss showed his profound agreement with Machiavelli. Now I too have studied the center of Thoughts on Machiavelli, although not perhaps as someone of Professor Pangle’s rank. I have found there nothing inconsistent with its beginning or its end. I was, however, persuaded by Pangle to look for just such a striking difference as he had imputed to Strauss, between the center, on the one hand, and the beginning and the end, on the other hand, of anything that he would write. Indeed, having spoken as openly as he did, about Strauss, as both a Nietzschean and a Machiavellian, I wondered why he had bothered, in writing the Introduction to Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy, to drape the body of his argument in such prudish vestments.
* * *
The central section of Pangle’s Introduction to Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy to which we have called so much attention, in “The Legacy of Leo Strauss,” is, we recall, entitled “The Quarrel Between Philosophy and Poetry.” In the central paragraph—the third of five—of that section, Pangle wrote:
The concern for the noble can best be explained on the basis of speculations about its origins. Then one recognizes that the noble was in all likelihood, the semiconscious invention of primitive men. . . .
In what follows, Pangle makes clear that, according to the speculations of the philosophers, the noble and just things are essentially “artificial” goods. Their goodness is essentially an illusion—Marx would call it ideology—an illusion generated by the necessities of civil society, necessities that require that some men sacrifice themselves, if others are to enjoy “personal pleasure, security, and comfort.” As the analysis proceeds, it appears that only the latter goods are truly or naturally good. The “goods” that are ostensibly the fruits of self-sacrifice—the goods that are praised but not really prized—are not goods by nature, but by convention only. But this account, Pangle now says, is not what he himself really meant, or really meant to endorse, or really meant to attribute to Strauss. This passage, he says “is obviously and explicitly meant to summarize Strauss’s account of pre-Socratic philosophy, the philosophy against which Socrates, according to Strauss, turned.”
But if Pangle meant this account to characterize only pre-Socratic philosophy, why is it that he never once uses the term “pre-Socratic” to characterize it? Why does he not call the quarrel, “The Quarrel Between Pre-Socratic Philosophy and Poetry”? How can he say that he “obviously and explicitly meant to summarize Strauss’s account of pre-Socratic philosophy . . .” when he never once uses pre-Socratic to identify the philosophic account he summarizes? It is true that, in the parallel account in Chapter III of Natural Right and History, Strauss also speaks of “philosophy.” But Strauss, unlike Pangle, is at pains to make clear that the philosophy under consideration is pre-Socratic. E.g., “It seems that the answer which prevailed prior to Socrates was the negative one, the view which we have called ‘conventionalism'” (p. 93), “The crucial pre-Socratic text. . . .” (p. 93), “To illustrate the point by . . . the best-known pre-Socratic doctrine,” (p. 94). Pangle does not do this. I am reminded in this of Lincoln’s attack on Taney’s opinion in Dred Scott. The Chief Justice had declared that “the right to property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution.” But how, Lincoln asked, could this be true, if the words “slave” or “slavery” never occur in the Constitution? How then can Pangle’s account of “The Quarrel Between Philosophy and Poetry” have been meant “obviously and explicitly . . . to summarize Strauss’s account of pre-Socratic philosophy” when the word “pre-Socratic” is never used to characterize that quarrel?
The word itself occurs only once in this central section, in the last paragraph. It is in the context of a discussion of the attack on Socrates in the Clouds, where—according to Pangle—Aristophanes imputes to Socrates a more radical atheism “than that of other ‘pre-Socratic philosophers’ like Parmenides and Empedocles.” This is the only time the word “pre-Socratic” occurs in the section called “The Quarrel of Philosophy and Poetry.”
The next section of Pangle’s Introduction is entitled “The Socratic Turn.” One would expect to find here the account of how Socrates became the man Pangle now says turned “against” pre-Socratic philosophy. If the section on the quarrel between philosophy and poetry corresponded in some sense, to Chapter III of Natural Right and History, this section ought in the same sense to correspond to Chapter IV. But this is very, very, far from being the case. What we have instead is a thematic treatment of classic natural right by Pangle which suggests—not very subtly—how Natural Right and History ought to have been rewritten. Thus rewritten, it would have obscured, if it would not have finally wiped out, any important meaning to the distinction between pre-Socratic and Socratic philosophy.
The “Socratic turn” begins by saying that “Plato and Xenophon defend a conception of the philosophic life that has been altered in the light of what was learned from Aristophanes.” They portray, he says, quoting the Second Letter, a “Socrates become beautiful and new.” But, he adds immediately, “the closer one looks, the more difficult it becomes to spell out precisely in what the newness consists.” To which we would add, that as one continues looking, the difficult turns into the impossible! What has been altered in the light of what has been learned from Aristophanes is not—according to Pangle—the nature of philosophy itself, but the need for prudence in concealing itself from the citizens, whose morality it undermines. Thus Pangle: “The mature, Platonic Socrates did not abandon a dedication to a life of inquiry so consuming as to make him appear very, very strange—even inhuman—he did not rejoin the regular citizenry as an enlightened leader . . . Nor did he ever become a teacher of civic virtue. . . .” These statements are not untrue in themselves, but they become entirely misleading as they are combined with an ever greater insistence that the “new” Socrates was not genuinely concerned (and in a philosophical sense which marked him off from his predecessors) with the understanding of the moral and political things. Strauss emphasizes that the distinction between the things that are by convention and the things that are by nature, was as important for Socrates as for the pre-Socratics. But he adds immediately, that for Socrates, what is just or right by nature takes precedence over what is just or right by convention only, and not by nature. Socrates’ defect in loyalty to any actual regime—including that of Athens—arose not from contempt for the city as city, but from awareness of the difference between any defective city compared to the perfect city. But Pangle does not repeat this element of Strauss’s characterization of the difference between Socrates and his predecessors.
“What is new,” Pangle says, “is Socrates’ emphatic admission that his idiosyncratic way of life has to be justified according to standards acceptable to the city and its moral-religious beliefs.” But does “has to be justified” refer only to therhetorical exigencies of philosophy, or does it also refer to a necessity lying at the heart of the philosophical understanding of reality? In Natural Right and History it was Socrates’ refusal to accept the pre-Socratic reductionist understanding of the moral phenomena which constituted the Socratic revolution—or, if one prefers, “turn.” In the Phaedo,Socrates rejects the Anaxagorean—or pre-Socratic-system of explanation, because it cannot account for his reasons for regarding it to be good, that he refuse to run away, but accept instead the judgment of the laws of Athens. Socrates demands an account of the goodness of right action, a goodness rooted in the goodness of being as such. For this, the core of philosophy itself must indeed take a new “turn.” Pangle’s account of the Socratic turn imputes to it little more than a new skill in inventing the myths by which one conceals the real nature of philosophy—which itself remains unchanged. It says nothing about discovering a ground in nature for human excellence, whereby the philosopher might become a lawgiver, or a teacher of lawgivers (like the Athenian Stranger), and thereby the teacher of civic excellence par excellence.
That the “Socratic turn” is, according to Pangle, no real turn at all, is virtually conceded in the next paragraph. “. . . not for one moment does Socrates suppose that moral and political virtue can be made philosophic, or that a healthy society can become rational. . . . He knows that he cannot do more than induce in a few nonphilosophers . . . a respect for a certain poetic image of philosophy. The new Socrates has learned the lesson in political and psychological prudence that Aristophanes sought to teach.” That “a healthy society [cannot] become rational” may of course mean that there cannot, as James Madison put it, be “a nation of philosophers.” That, however, a healthy society cannot be founded upon principles discovered by reason and held by reason is certainly not the teaching of classical political philosophy. The Socratic enterprise in the comprehensive sense is that enterprise whereby codes of decent human conduct are recognized as exercises in reason requiring, so far as circumstances permit, that human conduct be made to conform to nonarbitrary standards. It is that enterprise in which, as our Declaration of Independence proclaims, “the laws of nature and of nature’s God” become of paramount consideration in the deliberations of statesmen.
For Pangle, “the new ‘political’ philosophy originated by Socrates is preoccupied to an unprecedented extent with . . . rhetoric. . . .” Indeed, the very word “political” when applied to philosophy is, according to Pangle, rhetorical. That Socratic philosophy is greatly concerned with rhetoric is certainly true. But the nature of that rhetoric is itself misunderstood if one thinks of it solely, or almost solely, in terms of the defense of a philosophy unchanged in its own inner nature. Pangle, near the end of “The Socratic Turn,” asks finally the question, “To what extent was the core of Socratic philosophizing affected by the Socratic turn?” After citing the end of Strauss’s 1945 essay, “On Classical Political Philosophy,” Pangle concludes “Strauss can thereby be understood to imply that the core of Socratic philosophy was not decisively altered by the Socratic turn.” In accordance with this observation, Pangle finds Strauss “suggesting . . . that the mature Socrates, when not under the obligation to keep company with gentlemen-citizens, pursued investigations into the paradoxical nature of light and liquids, and into the question, ‘Are the beings numbers?'” That is to say, the core of Socratic philosophy remained decisively pre-Socratic, and the quarrel between pre-Socratic philosophy and poetry was, in unmuted form, the quarrel between philosophy and poetry. So much for Professor Pangle’s indignant accusation against me for willfully misrepresenting him.
Professor Pangle is at least as angry with me for misrepresenting him in the matter of Jerusalem and Athens, as in the matter of philosophy and poetry. He quotes me as follows: “At the center of Pangle’s position is the judgment that, according to Strauss, the Bible is only ‘one of many’ kinds of ‘poetry.'” Pangle then adds: “The phrase in quotations, in this sentence, appears nowhere in the text of my essay.” There then follows a series of fulminating denials, not merely at the allegedly spurious attribution, but at the thought contained in it. Now it is true that the phrase “one of many” is not in Pangle’s essay. But then I did not quote it as being in Pangle’s essay. I had used the expression “one among many” at least five times in an earlier paragraph of “The Legacy of Leo Strauss,” and had placed inverted commas around it there. I had commented upon the award that had been established in honor of Leo Strauss by the American Political Science Association, and which had been hailed by some of Strauss’s former students for the recognition it had given political philosophy “as one of the important traditions within the discipline.” In “Political Philosophy and Honor” I had commented extensively upon the absurdity of this language, and in particular upon that aspect of it which implied that political philosophy was “one of many” subdivisions or branches of political science. The very idea of political philosophy, as a practical science, was inextricably connected with the idea of an architectonic science, standing in the same relationship to other practical sciences as that of the architect stands to the builders, viz., the carpenters, masons, plumbers, etc. But the idea of an architectonic practical science originated in and was inseparable from the idea of a single comprehensive human good: happiness, according to Aristotle. Happiness, Aristotle says, to translate as literally as possible, “is not to be numbered together [with other good things] since it is clear that if it were to be so numbered it would become more choiceworthy with the addition of the least of [other] goods…[and hence could not be the final good].” (Nicomachean Ethics 1097 b 17 ff.) The common English rendering of the first part of the last sentence is that “happiness is not to be counted one among many good things.” To complete the thought, happiness is that good in virtue of which other good things—e.g., health or wealth or freedom—become good “for us.” When I put the phrase “one among many” (or “one of many”) in quotation marks, I was recalling one of Aristotle’s most memorable locutions in connection with his doctrine of the summum bonum. I did no more than I would have done had I written that Professor Pangle had questioned whether one ought “to be or not to be,” without adding that this was Shakespeare and not Pangle. All this heavy weather over the quotation marks, however, is a diversion from the substantive issue: that classical political philosophy cannot be “one of many” practical disciplines, and that the summum bonum cannot be one of many good things. The idea of a summum bonum itself, however, implies that such a good is objective, not subjective, and that it stands in opposition to all modern relativism—including Nietzsche’s “will to power.” The proposers of the Strauss award thus had tacitly abandoned the ground upon which classical political philosophy stood, the ground upon which alone Strauss’s career made sense.
Political philosophy—to repeat—cannot then be “one among many” political disciplines, for the identical reason that happiness—the summum bonum—cannot be “one among many” human goods. If we turn from Reason to Revelation, from Plato and Aristotle to the Bible, we find that all the authority of the latter is derived from the fact that the biblical God is not “One among many.” I have written elsewhere of the absurdity of supposing that, when Moses said, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One,” he might have substituted “one and a half,” or “one point zero zero one.” The unity of God, and the uncompromising denial of other gods, are inseparable from the authenticity, and therewith the authority, of Revelation. When therefore Pangle wrote, in his Introduction, that “What is most essential in the quarrel between Plato and the Bible is already present in the quarrel between Plato and the poets . . .” I felt entirely justified in saying that he had asserted that the Bible, in regard to what is “most essential,” falls under the same genus as that to which the work of “the poets” belonged: viz., poetry. Being “a” form, it was “one of many.”
Pangle’s bluster is designed to divert attention from the fact that in his “Reply to Jaffa” he not only repeats the contention that the Bible is one of many species of poetry, but insists that this is Strauss’s contention as well. He insists, furthermore, that
this thought . . . is the very core of Strauss’s rediscovery of what he intransigently held to be the full adequacy of the Platonic understanding of the ultimate questions for man as man.
“To this thought,” Pangle writes, and writes truly, “Jaffa takes strong exception.” Pangle is unclear as to the extent to which the understanding of the “ultimate questions” implies an answer to the ultimate question, What is the right way of life? Strauss, however, was clear that this question is answered differently by Reason and by Revelation. That is to say, it is understood differently by Plato and Aristotle on the one hand, and by the Bible on the other hand. However, Pangle to the contrary notwithstanding, Strauss denied that the answer of Plato and Aristotle (or either of them) was evidently superior to the answer of the Bible. Indeed, no classical philosopher ever attempted the kind of argument that might have proved the superiority of Reason to Revelation. That attempt was left to modern philosophy. To be evidently superior, Strauss held, Reason would have to be able to refute the possibility of Revelation, and therewith the possibility that the answer of Revelation is the true answer. And this he denied had ever been done. That he was skeptical that it could be done, is an understatement. As a philosopher, Strauss may have had an “inclination to prefer” the answer of the classics: but as a philosopher, he denied that any argument for the philosophic life was sufficient to decide in favor of the claims of philosophy. The claims of the Bible had not, he thought, been refuted. In a well-known—but only recently published—lecture, “On the Interpretation of Genesis,” he wrote:
Revelation is a miracle. This means, therefore, that before we even open the Bible we must have made up our minds as to whether we believe in the possibility of miracles. . . . The question as to whether miracles are possible or not depends on the previous question as to whether God as an omnipotent being exists. Many of our contemporaries assume tacitly or even explicitly that we know that God as an omnipotent being does not exist. I believe that they are wrong; for how could we know that God as an omnipotent being does not exist? Not from experience. . . . There is then only one way in which belief in an omnipotent God can be refuted, by showing that there is no mystery whatever, that we have clear and distinct knowledge, or scientific knowledge, in principle of everything, that we can give an adequate and clear account of everything, that all fundamental questions have been answered in a perfectly satisfactory way, in other words that there exists what we may call, the absolute and final philosophic system. According to that system (there was such a system; its author was Hegel), the previously hidden God, the previous incomprehensible God, has now become perfectly revealed, perfectly comprehensible. I regard the existence of such a system as at least as improbable as the truth of the Bible. But, obviously, the improbability of the truth of the Bible is a contention of the Bible whereas the improbability of the truth of the perfect philosophic system creates a serious difficulty for that system. (L’Homme, janv.-mars 1981, XXI (1), pp. 5-20)
Variants of this argument appear many places in Strauss’s writings. We think that Strauss is unequivocal on the proposition that “human reason cannot prove the nonexistence of God as an omnipotent being,” and that it is “equally true that human reason cannot establish the existence of God as an omnipotent being.” The claims of the Bible, however, do not require the establishment by reason of the existence of God as an omnipotent being. On the contrary, the Bible affirms the mysteriousness of God and His incomprehensibility by human reason, as the very ground of its authority. Philosophy, however, needs to establish the nonexistence of such a God, as the ground of its authority. And this, according to Strauss, it cannot do. So long as this is true, Strauss, as a philosopher, could not have held, unambiguously and unequivocally, to “the full adequacy of the Platonic understanding. . . .”
To support his contention, Pangle points to the epigraph of The Argument and Action of Plato’s Laws, which is from Avicenna: “[T]he treatment of prophecy and the Divine Law is contained in . . . the Laws.” Then he quotes from Strauss’s commentary, and emphasizes it as follows:
. . .[T]he Athenian . . . appeals as it were from the accepted interpretation of revelation to revelation itself, which discloses its true meaning only to those who never forget that, being divine, it is supremely reasonable. . . .
It is clear to anyone with eyes to see, that the epigraph of Avicenna means that it is the philosophical treatment of prophecy and Divine Law which is treated in the Laws. To say that revelation itself is supremely reasonable is—according to Strauss—to assume that the cause of everything attributed to revelation is intelligible, and not mysterious. It implies that belief in revelation does not require faith. But the very unity of God, as affirmed by the Bible, implies that God is, at one and the same time, a particular and a universal, hence a unique being, and as such not accessible to reason as reason, from the point of view of reason itself. For reason can attain to universals only by abstracting from particulars, which is not possible if the living God is One. In “How Farabi Read Plato’s Laws,” Chapter V of What is Political Philosophy? (p. 144), Strauss explains the problem confronting medieval Muslim readers of Plato’s Laws as follows:
The Laws contains a teaching which claims to be true, i.e. valid for all times. Every serious reader of the Laws has to face this claim. Every Muslim reader in the Middle Ages did face it. He could do this in at least three different ways. He could reject Plato’s claim by contending that Plato lacked completely the guidance supplied by Revelation. He could use the Platonic standards for judging, or criticizing, specific Islamic institutions, if not for rejecting Islam altogether. He could contend that Islam, and Islam alone, lives up to the true standards set forth by Plato, and on this basis elaborate a purely rational justification of both the content and the origin of Islam.
Every reader of Strauss’s “Persecution and the Art of Writing,” knows that “rejecting the claims of Islam” was not a feasible alternative, for medieval Islamic writers who wanted to avoid persecution, any more than it is a feasible alternative today in Khomeini’s Iran. But it was unfeasible also because most of them believed—with Plato—that the effectiveness of law in most cases depends upon the conviction, in the minds of those subject to the law, that it is divine law. Thomas Aquinas declared that the Second Table of the Decalogue was part of the natural law, and knowable by unassisted human reason. But he said it was incorporated by God into the Divine Law, for the sake of the unphilosophic, and to make it more effective. Returning to the three alternatives, we observe that theologians who rejected Plato’s claim would not write commentaries on the Laws. The philosophers who did write commentaries in fact did judge and criticize Islamic institutions. Mindful however of the necessity of preserving the divine authority of the Laws, they did so by contending “that Islam . . . alone lives up to the true standards set forth by Plato. . . .” In this way they protected the safety of the philosophers and the piety of the citizens, while making the laws more reasonable in and through their interpretations. The Islamic interpreters of the Laws were however only following the example of the Athenian Stranger himself, who attributed perfection to the laws of Zeus, as a way of piously discovering which laws were in fact most perfect—because most reasonable. This assumption, however, which may in fact have decided the question between Plato and the poets (and the divine law or laws as seen from the perspective of Plato) did not decide that more comprehensive question between Jerusalem and Athens, between Revelation and Reason.
In “The Legacy of Leo Strauss” I called attention to Strauss’s having said, in “Progress or Return,” “that the Bible and Greek philosophy agree in regard to what we may call, as we do call in fact, morality.” I did not think that Strauss had forgotten the profound difference between magnanimity and humility, or any of the other differences between biblical and philosophical ethics. It is then with an ill grace that Professor Pangle accuses me of forgetting such differences. Strauss did think that, in the absence of any refutation of Reason by Revelation, or Revelation by Reason, that a civilization characterized by the dynamic tension between the two was in fact the highest civilization: This was what he meant by the West which it was our duty to defend, protect, and preserve. It is precisely by the attempt of modern philosophy to transcend the difference between Revelation and Reason that the West is above all endangered, for if the contention could be maintained that there is no mystery to justify the belief in God, it would follow that there was no ground to doubt that philosophy had been transformed into wisdom. To believe that philosophy had been transformed into wisdom leads necessarily to the unqualified claim of wisdom to rule: the claim of the universal tyrant. In the face of this challenge of radical modernity, the fate of Socratic philosophy and of the Bible are linked in both their separateness and their combination. This I think was clearly Strauss’s conviction, in his great disputation with Kojeve, in On Tyranny. In “The Legacy of Leo Strauss” I pointed out the irresponsibility from Strauss’s point of view, of philosophy as represented by Heidegger. I think it fair to add also that Kojeve was a partisan of Stalin—or at least of Stalinism—as much as Heidegger was of Hitler and of National Socialism. Strauss and Kojeve shared a deep personal affinity and friendship, notwithstanding their differences. Nevertheless, Strauss was convinced that Kojeve’s Hegelianism, culminating in the acceptance, if not the advocacy, of the universal homogeneous state, pointed toward a consummation of evil in this world, quite as much as the victory of Hitler would have done. In resisting this consummation, the cause of Revelation and of Reason do indeed become One.