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What is Political Philosophy? And Other…

What is Political Philosophy? And Other Studies

by Leo Strauss

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Collection of ten essays and lectures, and sixteen book reviews authored between 1943 and 1957. Includes the famous articulation of "What is Political Philosophy?" Updates the "Persecution and the Style of Writing", and other works. Provides a synoptic outline of Strauss' great work on the murder of classical philosophy and the formative steps toward a science of politics.

On the critical side, a disappointment concerning his "history": Strauss' earlier views on Macchiaveli are not revised here [41-43] but are restated, in spite of the fact that we now know and Strauss really knows, that Macchiavelli was hiding truth and did not at all intend to empower little Princes on posterity.

In studying the classics, Strauss became aware of the tension between the quest for truth (science) and Society. [221] Science is the attempt to replace Opinion about things with Knowledge of them. But Opinion is the element through which Society breathes. To dissolve it, is to endanger Society.

{There is NOTHING in any of Professor Strauss' ideas which gives comfort to extremists of any kind. Specifically, he is in no way a progenitor of the "neo" Right Wing we have seen emerge in American politics since 2000. } ( )
  keylawk | Jan 16, 2013 |
The Enticing Ambiguities of Leo Strauss, February 8, 2006

For an author who is most often despised, and occasionally revered, one is surprised on how little consensus there is on what Leo Strauss actually thought. In this brief review I would like to give the prospective reader a little taste of the great enigma that is Leo Strauss.

The difficulty is this, in reading Leo Strauss one always gets the feeling that one is either on the edge of a rather large insight or the target of an elaborate, but delightfully subtle, joke. In the essay on Maimonides ("Maimonides Statement on Political Science," p155-169) LS speaks a great deal about the (meaning of the) order of Maimonides' listing of the divisions and subdivisions of Theoretical and Practical Philosophy, all the while taking special note of the central topic. Centers of lists, books, chapters, and so forth are very important to LS - they represent the least exposed position, and thus (perhaps!) the place to look for the philosophers true meaning.

Maimonides' list:
1. Theoretical Philosophy:
A. Math:
i. Arithmetic
ii. Geometry
iii. Astronomy
iv. Music
B. Physics
C. Theology:
i. God, Angels
ii. Metaphysics
2. Practical Philosophy:
A. Man's Governance of himself.
B. Governance of the household.
C. Governance of the City.
D. Governance of the Nations.

Unfortunately, or so it seems, there is more than one center to our list. There are two "centers" to this list considered as a whole. If one only pays attention to the ABC divisions the center is 2A: Man's Governance of himself. However, if one pays attention to the i,ii,iii subdivisions the center of the whole list is 1C.i: God and Angels. Furthermore, the center of theoretical Philosophy itself is either (in the ABC division) 1B -Physics or (in the i, ii, iii subdivision) 1A.iv -Music. Interestingly, of the 3 major divisions within theoretical philosophy only Physics isn't further subdivided. And (perhaps somewhat more alarmingly) there is no center at all to Practical Philosophy considered on its own.

Practical Philosophy has no center but one of its elements (2A, in the ABC division) is a contender to be the center of the whole of philosophy. Of the centers considered (two for the whole of philosophy, Man's Governance of himself and God and Angels; and two for theoretical philosophy, Physics and Music) only one (God and Angels) could, I think, be considered orthodox or religious. Thus one could (perhaps) be forgiven for thinking that what LS is insinuating, by drawing our attention to this list of Maimonides, is that (with the possible exception of Physics, which has no subdivisions) theoretical philosophy & practical philosophy are based on nothing but Man; the different types and needs of men. Psychology, apparently, is indeed the Queen of the Sciences, as Nietzsche much later maintained.

In any case, when LS says that, "[w]e are tempted to say that the Logic [i.e. the book by Maimonides where the above list occurs] is the only philosophic book which Maimonides ever wrote" one is eerily reminded of how LS saw fit to end the previous essay (How Farabi Read Plato's Laws, p134 -154): "[w]e admire the ease with which Farabi invented Platonic speeches." Now, is LS actually denying that Maimonides later work is philosophical? Or, is the speech (or purpose) LS seemingly attributes to Maimonides' list an invention? Has LS here `invented' a Maimonidean speech?

Further, if one takes into consideration the beginning of the Farabi essay (observations by LS on Farabi's story about the mystic dissembling to escape a city) one is forced to wonder if (or to what degree) LS seriously meant what he indicates, or can be said to indicate, here. Or, another possibility, is LS `criticizing' Maimonides for daring to be so bold? Does a `genuine' philosopher ever dare say what he actually thinks? By not mentioning the youthfulness of Maimonides when he wrote this work (the `Logic' supposedly was written when he was 16!) is LS drawing our attention to it, seemingly to emphasize that no genuine philosopher would ever speak so frankly when mature? Thus, if this line of interpretation were correct, Maimonides, at the height of his powers (i.e. in the Guide), would never, or so LS maintains above, risk writing a philosophic work.

The central chapters, btw, of `What is Political Philosophy' are the essays on Farabi and Maimonides. ...Strauss was not young when he wrote them.

Additionally, I should point out that in the Farabi essay Strauss draws our attention not only to the similarity between philosophers and the pious (i.e. both face persecution) but also to the differences between them.

"We must understand this in the light of the story of the pious ascetic. Plato was not a pious ascetic. Whereas the pious ascetic almost always says explicitly and unambiguously what he thinks, Plato almost never says explicitly and unambiguously what he thinks. But Plato has something in common with the pious ascetic. Both are sometimes compelled to state truths which are dangerous to either themselves or others. Since they are both men of judgment, they act in such cases in the same way; they state the dangerous truth by surrounding it properly, with the result that they are not believed in what they say. It is in this manner that Plato has written about laws."

This last is directly attributed to Farabi by Strauss. Seemingly, LS would want us to choose between two alternatives: either Maimonides is a pious ascetic/mystic who "almost always says explicitly and unambiguously what he thinks" or he is a philosopher who "almost never says explicitly and unambiguously what he thinks". Eventually, one finds oneself wondering something similar about LS himself.

But why all this ambiguity?

"Farabi's Summary consists of allusions to those thoughts to which, as he thinks, Plato has alluded in the Laws. Farabi's allusions are meant to be helpful for men for whom Plato's allusions are not equally helpful: allusions which were intelligible to some of Plato's contemporaries are not equally intelligible to men of the same type among Farabi's contemporaries."

One can perhaps at this point be forgiven for adding that whereas Plato wrote allusively for ancient pagans and Farabi wrote allusively for medieval monotheists Strauss himself writes allusively for modern atheists. ...Is there then only one Philosophy?

Obviously I do not, btw, mean to claim that this is an exhaustive account of what LS says in these important essays. This is only a snapshot (i.e. a particular, if not peculiar, view) of what is going on in these essays; read and reread these, and the other essays, carefully to try to get a more comprehensive view. ( )
1 vote pomonomo2003 | Nov 30, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0226777138, Paperback)

"All political action has . . . in itself a directedness towards knowledge of the good: of the good life, or of the good society. For the good society is the complete political good. If this directedness becomes explicit, if men make it their explicit goal to acquire knowledge of the good life and of the good society, political philosophy emerges. . . . The theme of political philosophy is mankind's great objectives, freedom and government or empire—objectives which are capable of lifting all men beyond their poor selves. Political philosophy is that branch of philosophy which is closest to political life, to non-philosophic life, to human life."—From "What Is Political Philosophy?"

What Is Political Philosophy?—a collection of ten essays and lectures and sixteen book reviews written between 1943 and 1957—contains some of Leo Strauss's most famous writings and some of his most explicit statements of the themes that made him famous. The title essay records Strauss's sole extended articulation of the meaning of political philosophy itself. Other essays discuss the relation of political philosophy to history, give an account of the political philosophy of the non-Christian Middle Ages and of classic European modernity, and present his theory of esoteric writing.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:47 -0400)

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