Incredibly Obvious Solutions to Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

According to Freddie deBoer, Israel has been astonishingly successful (emphasis added): “In every meaningful sense… Israel is one of the most well-off nations on earth.” Therefore, Israel should radically alter its policies.

Meanwhile, as deBoer observes in some detail, the Palestinians and their would-be friends have been astonishingly, pitifully unsuccessful. Therefore, it would appear, their concept of the conflict and their strategies need not be questioned.

The apparently insufficiently obvious questions are whether Israeli and pro-Israeli policy as deBoer describes it is in fact related to Israeli success as deBoer also describes it; if so, whether the moral costs as he and many others describe them are in any sense discountable or sustainable; and, finally, whether a useful discussion is possible under insistence that other views are “profoundly bizarre” and comprehensible only as “obvious”-ly morally infirm.


32 comments on “Incredibly Obvious Solutions to Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Commenting at CK MacLeod's

We are determined to encourage thoughtful discussion, so please be respectful to others. We also provide a set of Commenting Options - comment/commenter highlighting and ignoring, and commenter archives that you can access by clicking the commenter options button (). Go to our Commenting Guidelines page for more details, including how to report offensive and spam commenting.

  1. While Freddie does appear to imply that a rich states oppression is morally different from that of a poor state, that doesn’t discredit the entire account. Israel should change their policies not because of income, but because they are unjust.

    Claims to the effect of “without those policies the state of Israel cannot survive” are, IMO, synonym for saying that the state of Israel should not survive. Any entity that requires the subjugation of others, justice roots for its failure.

    This isn’t to say that they’re uniquely bad, mind you. If anything the shame is in being all too common. Hell, look at the expressions of solidarity some Palestinian folks have been sending all the way over here to occupied Missouri…

    • We’re at our usual impasse: That a state of affairs “should” be possible, in anyone’s view, does not necessarily mean that it is possible, or that, even if it is, that a particular notion or set of notions about how to bring it about is a good and workable set of notions.

    • “Claims to the effect of “without those policies the state of Israel cannot survive” are, IMO, synonym for saying that the state of Israel should not survive.”

      are all your comments meant to be comical or is this sorta special?

      • Now wait a sec – I disagree with Mr P on many things, but he is consistent on this point. In his view if the state depends on injustice in order to survive, then it deserves to perish, and its dependence on injustice points to weakness. If all states depend on injustice, then, to him, that means all states deserve to perish: That’s why he considers himself an anarchist. I don’t agree with his perspective – beginning with his assumptions regarding justice – but what’s funny about it?

        • what’s injustice here?

          and why should weakness merit non-survival?

          it may often happen that the weak go to the wall (despite you demolishing it, Tsar) but from whence do we draw the idea that they should?

          • The injustice or apparent injustice to which Mr. P would be referring would be all of the suffering of the Palestinians described in the deBoer post, under the assumption that it is gratuitous and inexcusable – not possibly justifiable.

            Whether or not weakness “merits” non-survival – rather a Spartan view – it implies greater vulnerability. If a state is unjust, or seen to be unjust or deeply unjust, then it inspires rebellion and begins to lose the ability to command respect, trust, and commitment from within – to be able to distinguish itself even in its own eyes from a “gang of thieves.” Some, like Mr P, seem to believe that the distinction is always false. People like Mr P see no reason to sacrifice their personal interests or beliefs for the sake of the life of the state/nation/community. When everyone or a critical mass begin to think that way, the state begins to dissolve, as everyone looks to private interest and alternative recourses.

            As for “should” – that’s the problem, also the problem for B Psycho’s moralism.

      • What CK said, for the most part.

        By stating the oppression of others as needed, one undermines the construct they’re arguing in favor of. Why should people who would be subject to its burden, or oppose applying such, be expected to recognize their claim to authority? Similar issue came up in the US with slavery, & then Jim Crow afterwards; there were people that said each were necessary, that they were around for an existential reason — blacks and those opposed to our being enslaved & oppressed openly disobeyed those laws. That is in effect to condemn to ashes any state in which the argument from the defenders of those laws was correct.

        Indeed I would say the same of other states. To any member of the ruling class of one of the Islamic theocracy regimes who said without forcing their favored interpretation of Islam the country could not survive, I’d say “then I’ll happily watch it fall”.

        • am I correct in thinking that you claim that any nation that fights a protracted conflict with a neighbor and holds the upper hand without the strength or will or desire to destroy the enemy is therefore fatally deficient and unworthy of existence?

          seems as though there most be great flaws in my understanding of your thoughts.

          • No. They are deficient and unworthy because according to them they must oppress people to survive. It’s like declaring oneself a cancer or a parasite.

            To go back to the original example: there are Israeli politicians right now that call for evicting Palestinians by force, with any survivors forced to sign loyalty oaths to Israel as a Jewish State. Presumably these politicians feel that necessary for Israel’s continued existence. I’m saying that such a justification is inherently invalid. Why should people who are not Jewish be expected to be loyal to an officially Jewish state when no one (other than white supremacists) would expect blacks to to be loyal to a slavery or segregation regime? How does the end of maintaining Israel — or any other nation-state — justify prejudice?

            • “How does the end of maintaining Israel — or any other nation-state — justify prejudice?”

              In reply, one might reasonably ask, “How does the end of maintaining the liberal regime justify the eradication of prejudice?”

                • Well, I suppose I could point to the thought of Burke as an example of an argument for the conservation of prejudice–whereas the standpoint of the commenter seemed to be that the conservation of prejudice is simply inconceivable or at least impermissible (the question as posed was entirely rhetorical).

                  My own question in reply to the commenter’s rhetorical question had itself a rhetorical dimension, though not entirely so. Its rhetorical dimension has to do with what I might call the several valences of human souls. Many human souls are more or less innately convinced that prejudice is reprehensible. Other human souls, such as mine, lack that valence. I simply wanted to make the point that the commenter’s ostensibly unassailable point will fall on deaf ears when it is addressed to a soul with a different valence than his own.

                  Nevertheless, as a devotee of philosophy, I by no means aver that the valence of anyone’s soul (including my own) ought to be allowed simply to stand as it is without being scrutinized as to its rightness or wrongness. And in that sense, my question can be read as a genuine one.

                  • I think you make a valid point, and it’s easy to imagine a number of arguments in favor of “prejudice,” though much will depend, of course, on how we define the term. I think Mr. b-p means oppressive discrimination, though there are other problems with the question as he puts it, sooner or later leading to our initial exchange on this thread (and typical of many exchanges between us over the years).

                    Looking again at b-p’s comment, we could also note that the presumption that “no one (other than white supremacists) would expect blacks to to be loyal to a slavery or segregation regime” may fail close scrutiny in other ways: It might be in fact that the white supremacists alone or most typically would not expect loyalty from blacks, while during the time of legal segregation blacks were among those most determined to demonstrate their patriotism and demand a right to defend the “regime” as a whole if not in all odious particulars, even serving in segregated units or under other forms of discrimination. There were even apparently some tiny number of “black Confederates” (takes all kinds!), even though it was against Confederate law up until nearly the end of the Civil War to enlist black soldiers. A common practice in other slave states has been to give slaves the opportunity to win their freedom through service.

                    • “Oppression” in this context always implies injustice – or has, apparently, ever since the introduction of the word into English in the 14th Century. So you would be saying that you are incapable of distinguishing between justice and injustice or do not recognize any distinction between them – which would be the same as saying that you’re incompetent for any inquiry at all. Doubt you mean that!

  2. Yes, the Palestinian state, has been corrupt, gorged with Saudi and now Qatari contributions, but it doesn’t produce anything, the relief aid went to build the tunnels for the rocket launchers to be sent through,

    • outrage and self-pity are never nothing.

      and beside those things, many, many, many fine people are produced…. a good number of them are driven to leave the area, and other countries, including ours, have greatly benefitted by having them here, miggs.

      the USA does and had done quite well with offering a home to those driven from the four corners (of North Carolina) and the rest of the planet.

  3. Why is it frog, that in nearly 20 years, nothing good has come from the Authority, first with Arafat, and now with Hamas, Israel is to blame, they were hunting down jews before there was an Israel,

  4. awm miggs! how can you say that nothing good has come from the Palestinian Authority?

    the Authority founded and operates Ma’an News one of the most trusted sources of honest reporting to be found anywhere.

    I learned that not too long ago when the Tsar nudged me into reading MondoScheiss.

    I remember that Ma’an news reported that a pro-unity rally in a public square in gaza City drew a crowd estimated at 1,000,000 people.

    you didn’t get coverage with details like that anywhere else.
    so that’s one really great achievement of the PA.

    and, just off the top of my little green head, there’s also the pension benefits that the PA hands out to widows.
    they can be pretty good. the old lady who was sorta married, Suha Daoud Tawil i think her name is, to that dead guy, isn’t getting regular monthly checks, but did get a nice lump-sum settlement.

    that’s not nothing.

    • onthudderhand, word is the Iz are a bit impressed that the PA kept a good lid on things during the recent fighting. Though one never expects anything to come of PA initiatives, I have to admit that I find the latest one sort of correct, since in effect it asks for the Palestinians to be recognized as wards of the IC, and the mess there to be the IC’s to clean up.

  5. Well, I suppose there’s something to what you’re saying–although it sure does have the annoying ring of that ontological argument for the existence of God. (Actually, I find the ontological argument for the existence of God to be interesting; but an ontological argument for the existence of liberalism is just annoying.)

    Let’s review the “context” in which our discussion of “oppressive discrimination” is taking place. The commenter above maintained that Israel was reprehensibly “oppressively discriminating” against the Palestinians. In order to animate this charge, he courageously made reference to the “oppressive discrimination” against blacks in the American South greater than which no oppressive discrimination may be conceived.

    Now allow me to re-phrase my previous comment. Many human souls are more or less innately convinced that oppressive discrimination against Palestinians by Israelis, or oppressive discrimination against American blacks by Southern whites, is reprehensible. Other human souls, such as myself, lack that valence.

    I’m fairly sure you find the oppressive discrimination against American blacks to have been reprehensible. I’m also fairly sure that you didn’t come to feel that way by philosophizing. That is to say, it is a prephilosophic sentiment. It may well prove to be the sentiment in accord with right or justice, when it is subjected to philosophic scrutiny. But that the right or just is to be equated with the “liberal”, with liberality or liberty, or with equality for that matter, is of course controversial in the tradition–though it is non-controversial in today’s climate, which is to say that it has the status of a vulgar opinion.

    • Mr. McKenzie: You continue to use the word “oppressive” in such a way that you end up insisting on the justice or possible justice of injustice, except where you seem to be suggesting that some “human souls” may “more or less” be born with an inability to empathize with members of certain groups, to recognize them as eligible for justice. I think one way or another you’re seeking validation or philosophical alibi for racism or for being a racist yourself. Since I’m not sure what exactly you’re describing, however, I can’t critique it. I’m not sure whether you’re saying you don’t and simply can’t care about the ethnic “other,” or whether you’re saying you feel hostility toward the other. I think you’re trying to say further that lacking sympathy or feeling hostility, whichever, ought to be accorded as much respect as any other position – that there’s no “philosophical” basis for rejecting it.

      As for the association of the “right or just” with “liberality” and “liberty” – two different things, I’m sure you’re aware – and then “equality,” I’m not sure “controversial” is the right word for this discussion in the philosophical tradition – not because there haven’t been controversies, but because there has also been, as a central concern and from the beginning in Western philosophy, a careful examination of the relationship of concepts of the “just” and concepts of “equality,” including the recognition of different types of equality.

      For now, I’ll observe that I don’t think you will escape your own dependence on the same presumptions of liberality and equality. Today someone calling for anything else other than liberty, equality, and fellowship has to depend on the liberality of strangers and their presumption of an equal right to be heard. If you believe your arguments are good and valid, then you will have to depend on the openness to argument on the part of others, and on their willingness to apply fair standards, to treat all arguments as subject to the same criteria of validity – to treat arguments and therefore arguers equally.

      Relatedly, there is an irreducible element of “equality” in “justice,” as expressed in the earliest known fragment of Western philosophy, the statement of Anaximander’s that I am fond of quoting, on things giving to each other “justice and recompense for their injustice.” “Recompense” implies a counter-action commensurate (equal) to the harm: It restores balance – thus also, of course, the image of blind Justice holding the scales. She’s blind so that she will treat the parties in a dispute equally, in pursuit of judgment capable of bringing or restoring balance – via equality before the law, civil and moral – to the two sides. Justice is meant to bring things back into line – into equality. How this argument turns into a natural law (or ontological) argument for an organization of society that might be called “liberal” – or actually for an approach to the organization of society with wide latitude for different particular applications – will have to be a topic for some other time.

      • Obviously, our dispute centers on the nature of justice. I contend that justice necessarily has something to do with inequality and I take it that you are claiming that justice necessarily has something to do with equality. It’s possible that, in some way, justice has to do with both equality and inequality together, but we’re each clearly emphasizing the one or the other. Of course, just as we have to define justice, we also have to define equality. To say that “there is an irreducible element of ‘equality’ in ‘justice'” doesn’t exactly get us to the égalité of the French Revolution or the egalitarianism of the United States–and it would seem as well that there is “equally” an irreducible element of inequality in justice.

        I find your recurrence to the Anaximander fragment to be interesting, though I’m a little surprised that in going back to the origins of the inquiry concerning justice in the beginnings of Western philosophy you don’t reference what I take to be a more common, ready-to-hand starting point than the idea of balance: namely, that justice is getting what one deserves. Now, by the very nature of the concepts themselves, what is noble is more deserving than what is base–but that necessarily entails an imbalance of sorts. I don’t think it’s inconceivable that that imbalance is somehow finally compatible with “equality”–but I do think it’s difficult to square with the equality of the modern liberal political order, in which the distinction between the noble and the base with their corresponding deserts is continuously being eroded.

        Of course, when I say “modern” liberal political order, I’m being redundant. Prior to the modern era there were no liberal political orders and neither were there any liberal political philosophers. Your comment suggests, however, that the general drift of the Western philosophical tradition is toward liberalism. I don’t know if you really suppose this to be true or if you aren’t perhaps engaging in a bit of rhetorical legerdemain–but, if the former, then you and I perceive the significance of the tradition very differently. From the time of, say, Hobbes on through to Hegel, the general spirit of the tradition might plausibly be described as liberal–though certainly not before. And after this period, the major thinkers are as liable to be illiberal–even deeply so–as they are to be liberal.

        As to this business that, in seeking to have a conversation with you concerning the nature of justice, I am implicitly committing myself to the liberal political order–if this were so, then every philosopher and student of philosophy in all of history would’ve been an implicit liberal. Again, I can’t say whether you really subscribe to such a notion or not. If you do, then I can only reply that you do many of them an injustice.

        Finally, we mustn’t forget that justice is typically contrasted with mercy. That is to say, justice is harsh, severe, austere and unforgiving–and quite possibly even cruel. While I would by no means say that this is the final word concerning justice, it is surely something like the first word and our inquiry must begin there. In essence, I see the modern liberal political order as an ongoing and deeply misguided attempt to replace the virtue of justice with the virtue of mercy or to equate the two.

        • I take it that you have never picked up the Strauss anthology Liberalism Ancient and Modern, whose title alone ought to put in doubt your claim about the redundancy of the term “modern liberal.”

          I won’t attempt to delve into Strauss’ views. I have found that in my attempts to reply to your statements on justice, equality, and political orders I enter upon long excursions I have no hope at present of taking even to the first resting point, much less to completed journeys. So, I’ll resort to etymology and quote the entirety of the On-Line Etymology Dictionary entry, since it’s all useful, and since it includes an amusing bonus at the end:

          liberal (adj.) Look up liberal at

          mid-14c., “generous,” also, late 14c., “selfless; noble, nobly born; abundant,” and, early 15c., in a bad sense “extravagant, unrestrained,” from Old French liberal “befitting free men, noble, generous, willing, zealous” (12c.), from Latin liberalis “noble, gracious, munificent, generous,” literally “of freedom, pertaining to or befitting a free man,” from liber “free, unrestricted, unimpeded; unbridled, unchecked, licentious,” from PIE *leudh-ero- (source of Greek eleutheros “free”), probably originally “belonging to the people” (though the precise semantic development is obscure), and a suffixed form of the base *leudh- “people” (cognates: Old Church Slavonic ljudu, Lithuanian liaudis, Old English leod, German Leute “nation, people;” Old High German liut “person, people”) but literally “to mount up, to grow.”

          With the meaning “free from restraint in speech or action,” liberal was used 16c.-17c. as a term of reproach. It revived in a positive sense in the Enlightenment, with a meaning “free from prejudice, tolerant,” which emerged 1776-88.

          In reference to education, explained by Fowler as “the education designed for a gentleman (Latin liber a free man) & … opposed on the one hand to technical or professional or any special training, & on the other to education that stops short before manhood is reached” (see liberal arts). Purely in reference to political opinion, “tending in favor of freedom and democracy” it dates from c.1801, from French libéral, originally applied in English by its opponents (often in French form and with suggestions of foreign lawlessness) to the party favorable to individual political freedoms. But also (especially in U.S. politics) tending to mean “favorable to government action to effect social change,” which seems at times to draw more from the religious sense of “free from prejudice in favor of traditional opinions and established institutions” (and thus open to new ideas and plans of reform), which dates from 1823.

          Conservative, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others. [Ambrose Bierce, “Devil’s Dictionary,” 1911]

          On a personal note, I’ll add that my family name, MacLeod, is tied to the same *leudh-ero ancient root mentioned as direct source of the ancient Greek eleutheros. I won’t say I take pride in this fact. Whether one ought to do so, or can do so, and, if so, how one might do so, is in a way the subject of our discussion. “Liberty” can be a brute condition or condition of “licentiousness” or  it can be, in the ancient meaning that Strauss emphasizes, the condition “befitting a free man” rather than a slave. According to a philosophy of the noble and the base, “liberal conduct” (or “liberality”) can be conduct befitting the noble spirit, or authentically noble conduct – a notion that, as I have frequently considered in these virtual pages, would oppose liberalism to democratism, in the manner of the ancient liberals, or at least the wise or wisely moderate among them, who opposed democratism or saw it as a degenerate basis for government except where properly balanced.

          As for your interpretation of my comments on philosophical politics, I didn’t claim that in seeking a hearing at all you are committing yourself to “the liberal political order,” if the latter phrase refers to a specific so-called liberal order – the contemporary American one – or to a particular political tendency or movement within contemporary American political culture. I was not saying that, in seeking a hearing you are committing yourself to voting for Hillary Clinton if she faces some dastardly Republican two years from now, or that you are compelled to support Social Security, Affirmative Action, Obamacare, and the decision in Roe v Wade. I don’t, however, exclude the possibility of such an argument being valid – in other words the possibility that the defense of philosophy may at some point require the support of one party over another, or the embrace of one issue position or set of positions over another, or may, as Strauss also suggests, lead to an adoption of classical “moderation” in politics, but, in above asserting your (not just your) final dependency on the liberality of others, I was mainly observing one way that the Straussian argument on behalf of liberal orders in general and even of “our liberal order” in particular comes into play: The democratic order also committed to the freedom of all and each, or the liberal-democratic order, affords the philosopher a necessary prerequisite to the conduct of philosophy in a way that competing systems or orders may not. In the essay “Liberal Education and Responsibility” (prepared for a lay audience), Strauss identifies with what he calls an “old saying,” that “wisdom cannot be separated from moderation.” He goes on to make a for him characteristic assertion of a type often set aside by his contemporary critics: “[W]isdom requires unhesitating loyalty to a decent constitution and even to the cause of constitutionalism.”

          Now, I wish I could spend the rest of today, or perhaps the rest of this year, expanding on this line of thinking, and in the meantime re-reading Strauss on “The Liberalism of Classical Political Philosophy,” checking his sources thoroughly, and refining my own thoughts further, but I can’t. Thanks, however, for helping me to keep the candle burning a little.

          • I must confess to being a little surprised that you would cite the work of Leo Strauss in an attempt to criticize some of the notions I put forward in my comment. Strauss practiced a studied ambiguity in his writings. Thus, it is perhaps no accident that there seems to have arisen a factional split in Straussian studies that might be likened to the Right and Left Hegelianism of yore. It may be that we find ourselves on different sides of the line in this as in other things.

            For example, I recently re-read Thomas Pangle’s and Nathan Tarcov’s essay on Strauss that concludes the Third Edition of History of Political Philosophy. They go to some lengths to identify Strauss as a “friend of liberal democracy”. It just didn’t ring true to my own reading of Strauss and I couldn’t help but suppose that they had been hoodwinked by Strauss’s polite rhetoric. Please remember that Strauss made much of the fact that the philosopher ought not to “publicize” his criticisms of the existing order. Strauss may well have been content with liberal democracy since it gave him the freedom to read, write, and think; but I’m very much inclined to doubt the idea that liberal democracy was his preferred regime-type. Nevertheless, I’ll be the first to grant that what I’m saying is speculative.

            I have indeed read Liberalism Ancient and Modern, though I haven’t studied it intensively–aside from the “Preface to Spinoza’s Critique of Religion” and the “Notes on Lucretius”, each of which I’ve read with great care. Now I’m an admirer of Leo Strauss, but it must be acknowledged that several of his books were cobbled together from somewhat disparate articles and given overarching titles that are a little misleading. No book of Strauss’s conforms more to this description than Liberalism Ancient and Modern. One expecting to find there an intensive meditation on classical and modern liberalisms, except in a vicarious sense, will be disappointed.

            Even so, it seems to me that you have misread Strauss’s distinction between classical liberalism and its modern counterpart. Your account of the adjective “liberal” in its relation to personal virtue and the philosophic and scholarly life is well taken, but it seems to me that it is precisely Strauss’s point that the virtue of liberality which gives rise to the liberal arts and liberal education is a strictly personal and philosophic virtue that ought not to be made the central virtue of any political order and could only ever have a limited application in the sociopolitical domain as such. Strauss was really suggesting that any replacement of the liberal political order by an illiberal one needn’t involve the expulsion of the personal virtue of liberality, which makes life between gentlemen pleasant.

            I think Strauss’s Notes on Carl Schmitt’s Concept of the Political best makes the case concerning the Straussian separation between the modern political order and the premodern illiberal orders. If memory serves, Strauss’s critique of Schmitt’s book goes something like this: Schmitt is an opponent of liberalism. Thus, he sets out to craft a theoretical anti-liberalism. But by doing so, he takes his guideline from liberalism and so his orientation is strangely determined by liberalism. In a sense, he ends up being a sort of perverted liberal. Then Strauss gives some advice to anyone who finds themselves in opposition to liberalism. Rather than being “anti”, instead return to the classics and/or the medievals–and leave the land of liberalism entirely behind.

            In closing, I want to make clear that I am a great proponent of the personal virtue of liberality. I would hope that anyone who might meet me in person would find me to be a liberal, humane, tolerant, sympathetic, generous and benevolent fellow. The personal virtue of liberality is a fine virtue, it really is–though a mediocre one. It is a virtue of middling rank. Now my complaint about political and philosophic liberalism has nothing to do with the congenial virtue of liberality in its proper setting of personal relations between gentle men and women and votaries of philosophy, but with its inappropriate elevation to the status of an organizing principle for society as a whole. In that improper context, I believe it goes from being a pleasant virtue to a most unpleasant vice.

            • Philosophical politics as conceived by Strauss is richer than any reduction I might attempt here. (I think you might find Meier’s Leo Strauss and the Theologico-Political Problem useful, and enjoyable, too, since you seem, like me, also to be an admirer of Strauss’ writings on religion.) The lines on constitutionalism that I quoted from his essay on liberal education are followed by an even more frequently cited passage that demonstrates a consistency in Strauss’ approach and temperament over 30 years, from the Schmitt essay in 1932 to an essay for a broad audience in 1962:

              Moderation will protect us against the twin dangers of visionary expectations from politics and unmanly contempt for politics. Thus it may again become true that all liberally educated men will be politically moderate men. It is this way that the liberally educated may again receive a hearing even in the market place.

              It’s the “twin dangers clause” that gets quoted most frequently. It would have been shortly after originally offering it that Strauss would be writing to Republican Senator Charles Percy, with a letter full of advice on dealing with the Soviets. The letter featured prominently in the attempt to defame Strauss along somewhat the same lines that you seem to want to praise him.

              I believe that much of the appearance of “studied ambiguity” in Strauss’s work derives from his practice of attempting to elucidate an argument as its proponent understands it, and, when Strauss sees that the argument in question is a potentially important argument, attempting to put it in its strongest and clearest form. He disdains the easy victory relying merely on the opponent’s weakness or error – since victory over a thinker is much less interesting, and much more common, than victory over a thought. When dealing with lesser works – as in his reviews of books by colleagues – the same approach can give an appearance of mercilessness, since there are so many weaknesses and errors to repair. (Strauss does on occasion indulge in a witticism at another author’s expense, but maybe it relieves the pressure of his intellect.) This approach has as its chief benefit that it allows Strauss, and us with him, to follow a thought wherever it leads, including to effects that may seem to qualify as radical or immoderate, but that will pose little danger to the probity and self-possession of a mature thinker.

              Against the vague suspicions that, for example, in denouncing tyranny, Strauss was secretly praising it, and whatever else some say they read between the lines, what Strauss says in plain English seems to me quite clear: The modern liberal democratic regime form has significant and definitive qualities in common with the ancient mixed regime, is likely as close to the latter as a mass society can manage, and “the classics,” as Strauss would sometimes put it, would have approved of the project, while recognizing its flaws and vulnerabilities, and offering friendly criticism. He said things along these lines more than once. He said them in different ways and at different points in his career. They follow logically from his premises, as he demonstrated. They fit his temperament, and he put what he claimed to believe into action. I am not aware of anyone claiming otherwise who has managed to justify or perform a between-the-lines reading of Strauss in the same way that Strauss justified or performed his own readings of selected others.

              Specifically on Strauss’ essay on Schmitt, I find your recollection of the argument accurate in some respects, distorted or exaggerated in others. It’s worth keeping in mind when it was written: early in Strauss’ career, at a fraught political moment. In any event I don’t believe “leave the land of liberalism entirely behind” encapsulates his view. It seems to me that it may encapsulate the German predicament, for Strauss a highly inconvenient situation that he was forced to leave behind in turn. That view and program of a complete departure from liberalism would, I think, be much closer to the anti-liberal position that he is critiquing not just for its dependency on (modern) liberalism or its entrapment within a “horizon” defined by (modern) liberalism, but for its embrace of an extreme for its own sake. He doesn’t fault Schmitt for examining politics as determined finally by the lethality of human beings. but for embracing that concept arbitrarily or willfully as a kind of program, and for advancing the critique of liberalism destructively. One does not oppose an opposition as limiting, or move beyond it, by wholly adopting one of its terms, only by stealth.

              In short, Strauss’s approach to Schmitt, and to political life in general, fits more neatly under the Hellenic motto “Meden Agan.” Strauss faults Schmitt for doing in his otherwise quite brilliant work what Schmitt went on to do in his real political-professional life, but which Strauss never did either in Germany or at any point in his later career. Of course Strauss could not have followed Schmitt’s path in Germany if he had wanted to do so, a fact which creates suspicions among some observers that Strauss would have been a Nazi or at least a “conservative revolutionary” if he could have been, but the fact is also one that one might suppose would make an independent impression on him, and the supposition is borne out in Strauss’ work. He understood that a certain kind of conservatism had no place for him or for the philosopher pursuing philosophy for its own sake at all. In later works, and throughout his career, Strauss resoundingly attacks the kind of intellectual who loses the ability to distinguish tyranny from its alternatives theoretically or practically, and who goes on to betray thought for the sake of a mere idea. In this sense the classical perspective that Strauss is already embracing in the Schmitt essay, and that he would go on to embrace more completely, qualifies as authentically conservative, a perspective that also tends to appear undecided or uninterested or ambiguous regarding numerous issues of great interest to nominally conservative politicians and their adversaries.

              • This is a fine exposition and I thank you for taking the trouble to write it up. I’ll be sure to re-read it and think it over. You obviously have a highly articulated understanding of Leo Strauss. I think our apparent disagreement concerning the import of his work may be far less pronounced than my previous comment indicated.

                The quote from Strauss which has just shown up in your Twitter feed might perhaps be an instructive example of where we do perhaps differ. The key phrase, it seems to me, is “which can be accepted as true”. We mustn’t forget that a great deal of Strauss’s work was devoted to pondering concealed and disguised subtexts–though Strauss treated the comprehensive understanding of the surface of a text as a sacred duty, as your comment makes very clear. But one ofttimes comprehensively studies the surface of a text (as, for example, the Platonic dialogues) in order to ponder (not “accept as true”) prospective “subterranean” meanings that would seem to be a necessary ramification of the surface presentation. It is enough to point to Strauss’s contention that Locke–despite his “own explicit statements”–really was not a Christian theist, to provide evidence for this.

                The question then becomes: did Strauss himself practice such an art of rhetorical disguise, to whatever degree (and I certainly do not think it was to the degree of, say, Plato or Maimonides)? Reasonable opinions may certainly disagree on this, though I incline to the affirmative–in part because I would contend that all texts (save instruction manuals), not just so-called “esoteric” ones, employ a rhetorical procedure which strives to keep the intent to persuade as hidden from view as is possible in the circumstance. But when discussing the work of a great scholar like Strauss, that would be a pleasant disagreement to have.

                • You’re welcome. Also, I’m not sure how I got in my head that the essay on liberal education was delivered as a public adress. Could just be the tone of the piece, and its having been written on request from “The Fund for Adult Education.” Anyway, I’ve corrected my comment. Maybe I’ll re-discover whatever it was that got me imagining him delivering the statement at a convention of adult educators…

                  • Thanks as well for the book recommendation–I’ve added it to my wish list. And please feel free at any point in our discussions to recommend books; I’d welcome that.

            • To accept liberality in personal relations while rejecting it as general principles appropriate for a society to follow suggests that some people can and/or must be presumed undeserving of its benefits. If it is an exclusive club, what are the admission criteria, and how were they created & agreed upon?

              As for your remark about oppressive discrimination… I’m not going to get into a Who Was/Is Oppressed More game. History is littered with details of the various ways and times that mankind has divided and conquered each other so deeply that it’s not worth sorting out unless one were planning to write a book about a particular example. My interest on the matter stems from the view that ALL such behavior is reprehensible anyway (there is no reason to treat others as lesser en masse. On top of the aggression involved, it erases individuality), so weighing X vs Y is besides the point.

Commenter Ignore Button by CK's Plug-Ins

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *