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On Tyranny by Leo Strauss

On Tyranny

by Leo Strauss, Leo Strauss

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This book includes, in addition to the titular essay by Leo Strauss the following essays: "Hiero or Tyrannicus" by Xenophon, "Tyranny and Wisdom" by Alexandre Kojeve, and "Restatement on Xenophon's Hiero" by Leo Strauss. All of these are considered classics of political philosophy. ( )
  jwhenderson | Mar 20, 2019 |
Philosophy and the World It Rules, November 30, 2006

This book is composed of a translation of Xenophon's Hiero, a commentary by Leo Strauss ('On Tyranny') on it, two essays (one by Kojève, one by Strauss) outlining the controversy between them and finally, in the latest edition, the correspondence between them. After reading the essays Kojève and Strauss aimed at each other one comes to suspect that the major difference between the two is how, precisely, philosophy is to rule the world. Strauss prefers the ancient way of moderately (and occasionally) influencing the Nomos while Kojève insists that Nomos (i.e., Law) must be exactly equal to Philosophy - or, more precisely, equal to exactly what philosophy wants of it. Thus Strauss is for 'ruling' while Kojève wants to Rule.

Thus it really is very funny how Kojève 'accuses' Strauss of insanity! By this, Kojève only means that if a philosopher does not go forth and change the World he can never know that his understanding is not mere private fancy - that is, madness. Since Kojève believes that in order to be rational philosophy must rule all he accuses the practical moderation defended by Strauss of madness. Of course, one could moderately accuse Kojève's 'Enlightened' dream of One World of the same thing...

Thus the argument between them is not whether philosophy should rule - but exactly how it should rule. Kojève believes that without the arrival of the Final Philosophical Artifact -the Universal Homogenous State (UHS)- philosophy is only a private mania. But Strauss says that the UHS will make philosophy impossible. To Kojève, the UHS is a monument to Philosophical Reason while for Strauss it is its tomb. Kojève invites Strauss to join him in making the UHS -it is a great honor!- but Strauss declines because he cannot bring himself to preside over the End of Philosophy.

Thus it is very amusing that over the years, thanks primarily to Allan Bloom (who studied with both Kojève and Strauss) and students (of students) of Bloom there has arisen the 'Straussian' neoconservative position that it is the duty of US foreign policy to make the World into good democratic, liberal capitalists in the Euro-American vein. But this 'Straussian' neoconservative position really is at most a hybrid of Kojève and Strauss which leans decidedly in the Kojèvean direction.

No? Then have the courage to read the exchange between Kojève and Strauss (Essays and Correspondence) and decide for yourself.

For those that only have the old 1983 edition I want to point out, even insist, that the correspondence adds some nice touches to the argument between Kojève and Strauss that should not be missed. For instance, we see here quite clearly how important the Criterion of Knowledge is to Kojève's thought:

"As regards myself, I came to Hegel by way of the question of criteria. I see only three possibilities:

(a) Plato's-Husserl's "intuition of essences" (which I do not believe [for one has to believe it]); (b) relativism (in which one cannot live); (c) Hegel and "circularity." If, however, one assumes circularity as the only criterion of truth (including the moral), then everything else follows automatically." (Kojève, Letter of Sept 19, 1950, p 256.)

Thus when one sees that between the extremes of what Kojève is pleased to call 'intuition' (Religion, Phenomenology, 'esoteric' silence) and its failure ('chatter', relativism, postmodernism) there is only the 'Circularity of the Concept' then one begins to see why Kojève must proclaim the 'End of History' - it is to protect the 'Absolute Knowledge' such Circularity requires. (Absolute Knowledge, btw, means unchanging knowledge while circularity means that wherever we begin our research we end, if we proceed scientifically (i.e., in a Hegelian manner), always in the same place.)

Kojève, in the same letter, goes on to concede that there was for him once a fourth possibility:

"For a time I believed in a fourth possibility: nature is "identical," hence the classical criterion can be retained for nature. But now I believe that one can only be silent about nature (mathematics). Hence: either one remains "classically" silent (cp. Plato's Parmenides and Seventh Epistle), or one chatters "in the modern manner" (Pierre Bayle), or one is an Hegelian." (p. 256)

Thus we see that nature was at one time also a possible 'criterion' for Kojève. But he abandons it and with it the Hegelian 'Philosophy of Nature'. Strauss, however, is insistent that there is a 'human nature' and he continually throws it in the face of Kojève. Of this Kojève writes:

"Regarding the issue, I can only keep repeating the same thing. If there is something like "human nature," then you are surely right in everything. But to deduce from premises is not the same as to prove these premises. And to infer premises from (anyway questionable) consequences is always dangerous." (Kojève, Letter of October 29, 1953, p 261.)

Thus Kojève says to Strauss that he can't prove what he says and, of course, Kojève can. -But he can do so if, and only if, History Ends as Kojève says it will. But the proof of success is no proof of Reason but only of power...

In any case, we see Strauss still pressing the point on nature a few years later:

"You have never given me an answer to my questions: a) was Nietzsche not right in describing the Hegelian-Marxian end as "the last man"? and b) what would you put into the place of Hegel's philosophy of nature?" (Strauss, Letter of Sept 11, 1957, p 291.)

It is my belief that Strauss is convinced that this lack of what the ancients would have thought of as a cosmology (i.e., cosmogony) allows ordinary people in the secular, atheistic UHS to turn to religion. He argues that Wisdom in the UHS can only belong to a tiny few and that:

"...if wisdom does not become common property, the mass remains in the thrall of religion, that is to say of an essentially particular and particularizing power (Christianity, Islam, Judaism...), which means that the decline and fall of the universal-homogenous state is unavoidable." (Strauss, Letter August, 22, 1948, p 238.)

Without some sort of Cosmogony the atheistic UHS cannot hold onto its citizens. Of course, this is true only if the UHS must be entirely secular. However, if somehow a right-Hegelian (i.e., religious) interpretation were to prevail in the UHS this would no longer be necessary. And the UHS could survive indefinitely... But Kojève, of course, discounts this possibility, for him there are only two Hegelian possibilities:

"If the Westerners remain capitalist (that is to say, also nationalist), they will be defeated by Russia, and that is how the End-State will come about. If, however, they "integrate" their economies and policies (they are on their way to doing so), then they can defeat Russia. And that is how the End-State will be reached (the same universal and homogenous State). But in the first case it will be spoken about in "Russian" (with Lysenko, etc.), and in the second case - in "European"." (Kojève, Letter of Sept. 19, 1950, p 256.)

But historically this is false. The first interpretation of Hegel (during his lifetime) was religious. Thus one wonders if the UHS with a universal Hegelian religion could somehow be brought about... But that is another story.

So, for those of you familiar with an earlier edition I hope I have given some hint of how the letters amplify and expand the argument between Kojève and Strauss that we first saw in the essays included in earlier editions. This book is superb - I have only hinted at its intricate arguments - do not pass it up! ( )
  pomonomo2003 | Dec 1, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0226776875, Paperback)

On Tyranny is Leo Strauss's classic reading of Xenophon's dialogue, Hiero or Tyrannicus, in which the tyrant Hiero and the poet Simonides discuss the advantages and disadvantages of exercising tyranny. This edition includes a translation of the dialogue, a critique of the commentary by the French philosopher Alexandre Kojève, Strauss's restatement of his position in light of Kojève's comments, and finally, the complete Strauss-Kojève correspondence.

"Through [Strauss's] interpretation Xenophon appears to us as no longer the somewhat dull and flat author we know, but as a brilliant and subtle writer, an original and profound thinker. What is more, in interpreting this forgotten dialogue, Strauss lays bare great moral and political problems that are still ours." —Alexandre Kojève, Critique

"On Tyranny is a complex and stimulating book with its 'parallel dialogue' made all the more striking since both participants take such unusual, highly provocative positions, and so force readers to face substantial problems in what are often wholly unfamiliar, even shocking ways." —Robert Pippin, History and Theory

"Every political scientist who tries to disentangle himself from the contemporary confusion over the problems of tyranny will be much indebted to this study and inevitably use it as a starting point."—Eric Voegelin, The Review of Politics

Leo Strauss (1899-1973) was the Robert Maynard Hutchins Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:22 -0400)

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