Progress or Return Vs the Mutual Influence of Theology and Philosophy

Leo Strauss was a political philosopher who was born to a Jewish family and  was raised as an orthodox Jew. He was one of the most controversial thinkers of his time and had been facing opposition from the political and academic authorities owing to his sharp criticism of existing dogmas. Initially he adopted philosophical position as a neo-Kantian but later he was exposed to the inadequacies hidden in the philosophy after he met Martin Heidegger and Franz Rosinweed. Later on he attempted to seek philosophy as rigorous science. In his early twenties Strauss became a member of Zionist Youth but he could not accept Jewish faith and thus was caught in the dilemma. He distinguished philosophers from scholars and was of the view that most of the philosophers who claim to be philosophers are actually scholars. Strauss gained fame for a great interpreter of modern and ancient Western political theory. He was the founder of Straussians (school of thought). Strausss own philosophical teaching had been the subject of great controversy because he had presented much of his teachings and ideas in an elusive fashion.

Idea of Return Vs the Idea of Progress
The title of Leo Strausss lecture Progress or Return The Contemporary Crisis in Western Civilization suggests the problem inherent in the very word progress that has led us to the brink of an abyss therefore alternative to progress, that can be return, must be considered. Return is the translation to a Hebrew word that means repentance. Strauss states that deviation or sin or imperfection is not original man is originally at home in his fathers house and he becomes a stranger through estrangement. Repentance is return and redemption is restoration (Strauss). Judaism is concerned with return than progress. The hero of Strausss jewish thoughts is Moses Maimonides and in all of his works he has treated Maimonides with a great reverence.

The frequently asked question about Strauss is the reason behind a modern Jewish thinkers keen interest in a medieval thinker. Strauss has expressed interest in the modern theological-political crises facing the jews and judaism and the causes of the crises. Leo Strauss along with his contemporary, Hannah Arendt, calls for a return to Athens(classical political philosophy) to examine and further address the crisis the West is facing that is the loss of stable political authority which has imperiled the Western democracy. The solution suggested by Strauss is to return to Plato and Aristotle and that some traditions of the West, Jerusalem(the Bible) has contributed to this nihilism,by undermining the authority of the Greeks (G.Havers). For Strauss, Jerusalem and Athens are the two roots of Western civilization and to choose between the two is like choosing the life under the surveillance of Divine law or life under freedom. The Athens vs Jerusalem dichotomy played a major role in the later works of Strauss. Strausss career as a scholar is about the journey from Jerusalem (Spinoza and Maimonides) to Athens (Plato and Xenophon). Remi Brague in Athens, Jerusalem, Mecca Leo Strausss Muslim Understanding of Greek Philosophy throws light on another interesting and new point that Mecca synthesizes the two (Athens and Jerusalem) .

Strausss interpretation of Plato is grounded on the understanding of philosophical style of Farabis view. Strausss rediscovery of esotericism depends on Islamic conception of revelation in opposition to the Christian conception. He made the center of his study of Hobbes with the context of investigation of the origins of biblical criticism of 17th century (Spinozas Theological political Treatise) and it was from then that he made the theological political problem the theme of his investigations. He was more concerned with premodern Judaism than the modern Judaism while he focused more on modernity in general than Jewish modernity. His works which deal with the impact of modernity on Jews and Judaism through light not only on Strausss own pattern of thinking but also on the ways in which Jews have responded to the challenges in the anti-Jewish stance in Strausss native land (Germany) and all over the world. In his first book Spinozas Critique of Religion he reflects on the process of evolution of his thought pattern at the beginning of his intellectual development when he was passionate about the solution of the Jewish problem. He passes through the phases of his life with political Zionism to Jewish teachings that had laid considerable influence on his views about theology and finally recognizes the incapability of modernism in solving the Jewish problem. Strauss believed in the Western tradition as thinking of it as Judaism and Western philosophy. His Jewish thought rests on the critique of the modern. He attempted to fully understand the strenghts and weaknesses of modern Jewish thought from Spinoza to Buber. Maimonides was the standerd for modern Jewish thinker for Strauss and idealized him as ajewish thinker, a philosopher, an esoteric writer  and a guide to the queries regarding God, man and the world. Strausss Jewish thought is characterized as return to Maimonides.

For Strauss politics and philosophy are related to each other. Strausss source of inspiration comes from Socrates who argued  that philosophers can not study nature unless they put their own human nature under consideration. Strauss has constantly emphasized the importance of Jerusalem and Athens (reason versus revelation) and ancient versus modernism. The Socratic philosophers, Ancients, made philosophy more political by bringing it back to earth. The Moderns, Machiavellian, resented the domination of revelation in the Medieval society and supported the concept of reason. The very life of Western life, argued Strauss depended on the tussle between reason and revelation. The history has witnessed the post- Classical world that was equally tyrannical and intolerant under government of religious authorities that was scattered into the bits of  sectarian groups. Governments like Marxist-Leninist authority under sectarian philosophic authority had also been unequivocal and tyrannical. Many scholars, therefore, promote the American Founding as separating religion (Church) from the affairs of the state and granting religious freedom and freedom of speech to make it the greatest regime of Western Civilization. Although the issues such as slavery have imperiled the regime.

Strauss criticised modern philosophy for overcoming the self-destruction of reason and was of the view that authority of Classical philosophy and theology (the Bible) must be restored.   

Idea of Theologian Vs the Idea of Philosopher
In Judaism philosophy rose under the influence of Greeks although early religious works of the  Jews reflect philosophical approach that was not influenced by the Greeks. Bibles book of Job and Ecclesiastes had been favorite works of medieval philosophers. Strauss is best known for his defense of classical political philosophy and he himself had acknowledged that since 1920s theological-political has been the running theme of his studies. He does not define theologian and philosopher in an arbitrary fashion. He thought that to be a Jew and a philosopher is impossible. Religion and philosophy both demand utmost fidelity and allegiance. Philosophy regards reason as the most important while religion takes revelation as above the reason. Many writings of Strauss point out the atheistic aspect of his life as when he said that in the days of atheism the Jewish nation can no longer base its existence on god but only itself alone, on its labor, its land, and its state wishing radically to ground itself must ground itself in unbelief. It was owing to his controversial beliefs that his friend, Gresham Schoolmen, showed his disappointment over the failure for getting a job in The Hebrew University that would not vote for an appointment of an atheist to a teaching position that serves to endorse the philosophy of religion. He knew that philosophy can not reject the possibility of religion. In Natural Right and History Strauss argues that philosophy must grant that revelation is possible and that must imply that philosophy is not the only one thing needful lest it may suffer from a fatal weakness. Strauss thought that philosophy solely can not establish philosophy that would have to begin from law and tradition and universal morality can not come from philosophy but from revelation. While local morality can come from philosophy but not the universal one. He did not see all theology with a favorable stance and viewed Scholasticism, that claimed to show the rationality of religion, as perilous and opposed the view taught by Averroes which taught that religion and philosophy and were competing truths. He diagnosed that the blend of revelation and philosophy in medieval Christendom has destroyed the meaning of both philosophy and revelation. He found out that philosophy and religion can neither be blended into each other nor can each of them be rejected by the other and this recognition of the fact make Islamic, according to Strauss, and Jewish philosophers having a depth that the medieval Christian philosophers lack.

Christian Scholasticism made philosophy subservient to theology. It was in Enlightenment and Machiavellis manipulation of philosophy that theology then was made subservient to philosophy. Strauss was also inspired by Franz Rosinweed, one of the influential thinkers of 20th century, who emphasized the perilous challenge that wholly other God laid for philosophy. Both the thinkers shared the challenge to Hermann Cohens attempt to rationalize Judaism. Many thinkers are of the view that Strausss emphasis on the difference between reason and revelation is important and would be beneficial if adopted. Strauss is often compared with Emmanuel Levine who had been writing on Jewish themes and has earned the fame of a religious thinker than Strauss who was an atheist. Levines reduced religion to philosophy but Strauss maintains the polarity existent between religion and philosophy. Strauss maintained that reason can not refute revelation. For him the message of Bible does not come from a supernatural God but he takes it as political discourse.

In 1952 Strausss Persecution and the Art of Writing was published that presented an important point about the philosophers that some philosophers write esoterically to avoid the persecution by religious or political authorities. Strauss suggested esoteric writing as the most appropriate for philosophical learning as enhances the flood of thought of the readers and they are provoked to think for themselves. He argued that since all writings are inherently available to the readers so philosopher could expound only such opinions as are suitable for the non-philosophic majority all of this writing has to be, strictly speaking, exoteric (Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing). Strausss contribution to political philosophy and Jewish thought are remarkable especially the essay, Why We Remain Jews, deals with the challenge posed to Judaism by modern secular thought(Deutsch and Nicgorski).

In his personal life Strauss was an atheist although he showed his loyalties to his religion and contributed in proving the utility of religion. He has also shown his abhorence of atheism in his works on Max Weber and openly denounced contemporary dogmas for their being irrational and ushered that one must be the theologian open to the challenge of philosophy or the philosopher open to the challenge of theology (Deutsch and Nicgorski). Strauss in the interplay of Jerusalem and Athens (or reason and revelation) tried to seek to hold revelation to the rigours of reason. There have been controversies over Strausss being a secular Jew and it is established by many writers that he was neither an orthodox nor an atheist and he may have used religion owing to its mere utility than its truth. As a philosopher his interest also centered around knowing the nature of divinity and in his Natural Right and History Strauss persuaded Socratic view of divinity different from materialistic view. He talks about the question of religion along with the question of the nature of the civil society and duties that is different from the conventional view with which atheism is associated that proves the superficiality of the arguments that claim that Strauss used religion for utilitarian purposes. Biblical revelation posseses a challenge to philosophy and refutes philosophy by revelation. Strausss denunciation of philosophy by revelation comes from Socrates. In Natural Right and History Strauss shows how in Max Werber revelation is transferred into value judgments. The conflict between reason and revelation does not prove reason weak. In his effort to restore the dignity of revelation he supports the significance of the awareness of knowing nothing (I know that I know nothing) and ones need to know. The need to know is fulfilled by faith or reason is another significant question.

Philosophy that stands upon the ultimate belief in reason stands in contrast with faith that revolves around the belief in the existence of God who is a mysterious entity for a philosopher. Strausss demonstration of the self-devastation of reason ending in nihilism proves the superiority of Socratic skepticism and biblical faith. Despite the dissimilarities between Socratic skepticism and bilblical faith, they are similar in one thing only that is in their opposition to modern rationalism. Reason must be the authoritative force to make judgments. In his The City and Man Strauss speaks of political philosophy as the handmaid of theology but it is necessary , maintains Strauss, to shiw that it is the rightful queen of all social sciences. While the authority of the revelation can not be the ground of political authority. Revelation has now become confused with value judgments or liberation theology. Modern philosophy is now being transformed into nihilism, rather than wisdom itself and biblical meaning is being taken under the light of ones passion that makes things worse according to some thinkers. As Socratic skepticism and biblical faith share same epistemological foundation it becomes impossible to ignore one at the expense of the other. Liberation theology is becoming credible with the transformation of Modern philosophy into nihilism and rejection of rational standards for human actions and thoughts. It is, according to some thinkers, owing to similarity between nihilism and doctrine of creatio ex nihilio which Bible itself teaches.

Strauss rejected Machiavelli and was of the view that full revelation of the low can not be ignored by political philosophers and political authorities. Strauss never neglected the claims of revelation to be high, neither did he reject the judgment based upon reason. He suggested that philosophy and Bible both must be recognized by human being as he concludes Progress or Return saying that the very life of Western Civilization is the life between two codes and it results in a fundamental tension. There is, continues Strauss, no reason inherent in Western Civilization and its constitution then why it should give up life. He attempted tiredlessly to keep the Western Civilazation from giving up life. The self-davastation of reason in the wave of modernity tended to lead towards the abandonment of both reason (philosophy) and revelation.

In this paper the ideas of Leo Strauss were analysed, along with the discussion of the works by other writers and thinkers and it is found that Strauss had diagnosed the causes behind the Jewish problem and Western Civilization. The reason and revelation nexus is also discussed in the paper. The root of confusion stems from Strausss deliverence of his ideas in an elusive fashion that makes it difficult to draw a fine line between a philosopher and a theologian. Moreover, as Strauss favors return rather than progress to revitalize the Western Civilization, he does not suggest to ignore one of the two dichotomies at the expense of each other.  


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