A sounding…

Even a perfectly just man who wants to give advice to a tyrant has to present himself to his pupil as an utterly unscrupulous man.

Leo Strauss, On Tyranny

Thus, the voice of the Machiavellian – and the Sully-ite, too.  I’m only 60 pages into the book, but I’m finding it wonderfully relevant to all of the discussions we’ve been having lately – on rights from materialist and idealist perspectives, the Ground Zero Mosque/Cordoba House… maybe even unstoppable flows of bad stuff. Even the hypothesis that I (quite independently, you might say serendipitously) proposed at the end of the “Self-Evident Truths” discussion – that our unalienable rights can be derived from the presumptions underlying the inquiry – apparently comes under discussion in some form, during the celebrated exchange between Strauss and Alexandre Kojève.  According to the introduction:

Kojève’s argument stands or falls with his claim that the reconciliation of philosophy and society makes it possible to put an end to philosophy as quest, and provides the conditions for wisdom understood as the definitive, comprehensive, and coherent account.  Such an account would, in Kojève’s terse formula, deduce everything we (can) say from the mere fact that we speak…

Can’t hardly wait.  Incidentally, On Tyranny is considered one of Strauss’ most accessible works, and from the other reading of Strauss that I’ve done, the description strikes me as likely accurate:  The book-length essay isn’t difficult at all on its own terms, mainly because its main subject is a simple and accessible, relatively short classic text – a dialogue between a poet and a tyrant – and especially because Strauss insists on a close, non-historicist (or trans-historical) reading that does not rely, or relies as little as possible, on familiarity with other works.


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17 comments on “A sounding…

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  1. I think you need a good long vacation reading nothing but novels, and not deep novels. Reading too much of guys like Strauss will bend anyone’s mind.

  2. Yes, Strauss is an excellent source of the way of thinking you propose in your “hypothesis.” And Hannah Arendt essentially derives our unalienable rights from the presumptions underlying our need to enter into agreements with each other. Agreements must be voluntary if we are to trust each other, they must be capable of being made public if they are to be made binding, there must be a space in which we can act in accord with the terms of the agreement if we are to be made accountable, there must be artistic and other spaces in which those actions can be recounted, etc. That’s a distillation, of course.

  3. @ adam:
    I read a lot of Arendt a long time ago, so her ideas may be rummaging around un-attributed in my brainpain. Not sure. The insight that struck me the most, with attribution, was from Habermas, on the presumptions of good faith necessary for the conduct of any civil conversation and for civil society generally. I could string together other associations and insights, and maybe I should, but I was struck during my recent reading by how much of what I’ve encountered elsewhere over the years was all there in Locke, and by no coincidence embedded in the founding precepts of this here US of A, which, like all of the rest of you, I presume, I’ve been absorbing since I could speak.

    Now having finished the Pestritto book on Wilson, which focuses heavily on Wilson’s historicist attack on trans-historical natural rights philosophy, I’m looking even harder for a language that synthesizes historicism, many of whose insights I find compelling, and natural rights, which I also find compelling. I seek this not just because it interests me – though that would be reason enough – but because I see us living that synthesis or dialogue. To some extent the Democrats have become the historicist party, the Republicans the natural rights party, and each shows the predictable defects. The people cry out for synthesis and instead get polarization, while the politicians are inevitably perceived as liars and would-be tyrants or facilitators of tyranny from the other pole, since a consensual truth lies inherently beyond their reach, given their starting points.

    Kojève and Strauss are said to have taken the two positions in self-consciously extreme forms, for the sake of putting them in the sharpest possible relief against each other.

  4. historicism that was Hayek’s real foil in the form of Wagner and Schmoller, the counterparts to Wilson in late 19th Century Austria, what the brand of Bismarckian conservatism amounts to

  5. Ah Weisberg, the collector of that elegant political argument known as the Bushism. Balance would dictate that he have a volume of the current incumbent malaproprism, or myriad imcompetences, no, on the budgetary, foreign policy and employment front

  6. @ CK MacLeod:
    You won’t be surprised that for that synthesis I suggest Eric Gans’s originary hypothesis: rights are universal and inherent, because they all go back to the equality on the originary scene; the content of those rights vary because they depend upon the extent to which we have discovered and brought to light hitherto unexamined and unexploited elements of the scene. One might think of it this way–if we make a pact to stick together through thick and thin, the sticking together is an absolute, and it implies certain minimal forms of cooperation and communication–but the various thicks and thins will change what it means to stick together in ways we couldn’t have anticipated. It will all still be “sticking together,” though, and the new forms taken by the rights we grant each other can always be referred back to how essential they are for that.

  7. @ adam:
    I can see that as a beginning point – though, on that subject, the beginning point aspect of the originary hypothesis has stuck in my craw. I never understood why it can’t or doesn’t in fact have to be repeatable. Nature seems to work by massive redundancy, so I have to imagine a latent potential realizable under certain conditions, possibly realized many times, partially, then lost to accident or defect, and realizable again if lost.

  8. @ narciso:
    I think it would be Hegel, if you’re looking for a father. The precursors would I think be Joachim of Fiore or other eschatologists going back to the ancients.

  9. Nature may operate in redundancy, but it takes genuine skill not to notice the obvious, in this day and age. Thrasymachus argued that
    only the rule by the strong was the solution, what’s our excuse, in
    discriminating between toxic philosophies

  10. @ CK MacLeod:
    Yes, it does need to be repeatable. That doesn’t change the fact that there had to be a first time, and that there was no guarantee there would be that first time. A mimetic crisis is something which would happen often, and once a means was discovered for deferring the violence it leads to, that means would have been used, refined and perfected.

  11. @ adam:
    I see – sounds a little less, if you’ll excuse the term, un-scientific than the last time you explained it to me. Will have to read up on it some more. Best most relevant text for a poor man?

  12. @ CK MacLeod:
    The best place to go is the Anthropoetics website, which happens to be on our very own blogroll. I would recommend browsing through the Chronicles of Love & Resentment, where Gans connects his theory to a whole range of political and cultural issues, as well taking up debates over the origin of language, faith vs. science debates, etc. There are about 370 of them (averaging, I supposing, about 5 single spaced printed pages each), going back to the mid 90s, but you can just look at the ones that interest you or clarify some question, and then pick up the threads linked to that.

    The website also has a good, short intro to GA, and the journal Anthropoetics–Gans hasn’t published much there for a long while, but he’s got some very important essays in some of the early issues, and you might find some of the other contributors interesting. But the Chronicles is probably the best way in.

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