[This Epilogue (“The Thinker as Artist”) was provided for George Anastaplo,
The Artist as Thinker: From Shakespeare to Joyce (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1983), pp. 249-72, 473-85.]
Once there was in the city a beautiful woman named Theodote, who was ready to keep company with anyone who prevailed upon her. One of the bystanders mentioned her, declaring that the beauty of the woman defied words and adding that artists visited her to paint her and to them she showed as much as was fitting. Socrates said, “We must go see for ourselves: whatever defies words can’t very well be learned by hearsay. ” “Come with me at once, ” replied his informant. So off they went to Theodote’s house, where they found her posing before an artist, and they looked on.
Xenophon, Memorabilia, III, xi, 1-2
Works of art, like other things of beauty, seem to defy words. Must not one simply go to look at them, as well as think about them, if one is fully to know them? They do seem to await all comers.
Of course, one can be helped to find one’s way by the guidance that bystanders provide—bystanders who report the existence of a particular work, or who have noticed interesting features about it, or who can locate it with reference to other works. But the work itself—if it is indeed a work worth serious attention—must be permitted to exercise its magic. And so my readers are urged to search out, perhaps in most cases to return to, various of the works I have sketched—and thereby to see for themselves what is to be thought of the features I happen to have noticed.
The critic, like any thinker, is to some extent an artist, adapting his “method” and
his ideas to the circumstances—that is, to the work at hand and to those whom he is addressing. In each chapter of this book, the suppositions I have relied upon and the method I have employed have been, for the most part, evoked by the particular work under consideration.
But a more general exposition of principles may be fitting here.280 An indication of the suppositions and methods I have drawn upon is provided by what I have had occasion to say about one of my teachers at the University of Chicago. In this case, too, the serious student would have to go to look at his works. Even so, one is more likely to be induced to go see for oneself if the reports brought to one are intriguing. My somewhat personal report, on the beauty of a remarkable mind at work (and at play), first appeared in the University of Chicago Magazine. It was originally addressed, that is, to fellow alumni of the University under the title, “On Leo Strauss: A Yahrzeit Remembrance.” That 1974 article follows in [the next seven sections] of this Epilogue.281
“When we were in our twenties”
There came to my attention, during my first twenty-six years in the University of Chicago community, two men of an extraordinary eminence, Enrico Fermi and Leo Strauss.
This has been an eminence accorded them by their immediate associates. That is, a number of men of obvious talent have recognized each of them as somehow of a different order from other intellectual leaders they have known at the University and, indeed, anywhere else in their respective professions, physics and political science.
My primary concern on this occasion is with Mr. Strauss, particularly as approached from his years at the University. But it will be useful, in thinking about Mr. Strauss, to glance at Mr. Fermi and his career. The significance of modern physics for modern life, including for politics and political science, is no doubt generally appreciated. Physics can be seen as attempting to provide us that comprehensive view of things once expected by most men from Revelation.
Mr. Fermi was born in Italy on September 29, 1901. He came to the United States in 1939, to the University of Chicago with the Manhattan [Atomic Bomb] Project in 1942, and became an American citizen in 1944. He died in Chicago on November 30, 1954, in the fifty-fourth year of his life.
Mr. Strauss was born in Germany on September 20, 1899. He came to the United States from England in 1939, became an American citizen in 1944, and came to the University of Chicago from the New School for Social Research in 1949. He died in Annapolis, Maryland, on October 18, 1973, in the seventy-fifth year of his life.
Mr. Fermi—by the time I came to the university in 1947 upon completing my service as an Air Force flying officer—was already a figure of international renown. He had been awarded the Nobel Prize for physics in 1938 “for his identification of new radioactive elements produced by neutron bombardment and his discovery, made in connection with this work, of nuclear reactions effected by slow neutrons.” He had been in charge of the successful military efforts (at the University of Chicago) to achieve “the first self-sustaining chain reaction and thereby initiated the controlled release of nuclear energy.” He would be pointed out to new students as a campus institution. I recall sitting in on lectures of his, where an exceptionally vital mind could be observed in action. It is upon talking to former colleagues and students of his—mature men who are themselves obviously talented in their own right—that the outsider can really get some idea of how remarkable Mr. Fermi must have been, ranking just below Albert Einstein in their estimation.
Mr. Strauss, on the other hand, worked in a field (that of political philosophy) where excellence is less readily recognized today than it is in physics. Even so, I had heard enough about him to want to sit in on classes of his while I was still in the Law School. But it was not until after it became unlikely that I would ever practice law and that I should go ahead for my doctorate while I was employed at the University (this was after 1951), that I began to follow his courses steadily-something I was to do for his final thirteen years at the University.
That which was said of Mr. Fermi by a fellow physicist can be said as well of Mr. Strauss: “[His] most striking trait was his simplicity and realism, his willingness to accept facts and men as they were. He disliked complicated theories and avoided them as much as possible.” Each man was, as I have indicated, distinguished by the caliber of the men who regarded him as their master. Mr. Fermi’s admirers included the scientists who had harnessed the atom; Mr. Strauss’s included much-traveled veterans of the Second World War. Both investigators shared as well, but in different ways of course, a reliance upon numbers and numbering as an indispensable key to the things most worth studying: in physics, such reliance is generally recognized to be required; in political science—in the reading of the books of the greatest minds—counting (as distinguished from quantifying) has long been regarded with suspicion because of its cabalistic connotations.
The successes of Mr. Fermi’s discipline, ratified in recent centuries by noteworthy technological feats, make more difficult today the proper recognition of Mr. Strauss’s old-fashioned political science. What physics and the method generated by mathematical physics (along with Darwinism) have done to the idea of “nature,” as well as to our understanding of “knowing,” very much affects the status, standards, and methods of the social sciences. All this has been complicated by the understandable inclination of university administrations to be fashionable, to go along with the opinions and judgments of the discipline to which each department is devoted. In this way, universities become essentially derivative, and hence unimaginative if not even irresponsible, in their assessments.
In the case of Mr. Fermi, of course, such institutional timidity did not matter. A scientist who had won the awards he had, and who was eventually to have an element named after him, was bound to be recognized by any university which he served. Thus, we have on campus (right across Ellis Avenue from the site of the famous Stagg Field experiment, now marked by Henry Moore’s ominous death-head helmet) the Enrico Fermi Institute for Nuclear Studies. Mr. Strauss did become a Distinguished Service Professor at the University in 1959. But he remained controversial (and, one may even say, generally suspect) to the end of his days here: his students were enthusiastic but always a minority even in his own department, and they expected to remain that in the political science profession.
A few more comments on modern physics can serve to illuminate what will be said on this occasion about Mr. Strauss’s career. What seems to be missing in the current scientific enterprise is a systematic inquiry into its presuppositions and purposes. That is, the limits of modern science do not seem to be properly recognized. Bertrand Russell has been quoted as saying, “Physics is mathematical not because we know so much about the physical world, but because we know so little: it is only its mathematical properties that we can discover.” But the significance of this observation is not generally appreciated-as one learns upon trying to persuade competent physicists to join one in presenting a course devoted to a careful reading of Aristotle’s Physics.
Is there any reason to doubt that physicists will, if they continue as they have in the Twentieth Century, achieve, again and again, “decisive breakthroughs” in dividing subatomic “particles”? But what future, or genuine understanding, is there in that? I believe it would be fruitful for physicists—that is, for a few of the more imaginative among them—to consider seriously the nature of what we can call the “ultron.” What must this ultimate particle be like (if, indeed, it is a particle and not an idea or a principle)? For is not an “ultron” implied by the endeavors of our physicists, by their recourse to more and more ingenious (and expensive) equipment and experiments? Or are we to assume an infinite regress (sometimes called progress) and no standing place or starting point? Or, to put this question still another way, what is it that permits the universe to be and to be (if it is) intelligible? To ask such questions is to raise fundamental questions about what Mr. Strauss called “the modern project.”
It was one of Mr. Strauss’s accomplishments that he recognized there were several long-standing philosophical questions, taken by contemporary intellectuals to be settled, which had merely been bypassed in recent centuries. His work consists, in large part, in reviving such fundamental questions, in demonstrating that they have not really been answered, in demonstrating also that they very much need to be addressed today. He had no ready answers himself—and indeed he can be thought of as having no answers at all—but he was confident (and he managed to instill that confidence in others) that the truly important questions had been most usefully addressed (and sometimes forgotten) long before the twentieth century. Even so, he also recognized that modern science has kept alive a tradition of inquiry, a respect for reason and for the truth.
This is not the occasion to try to develop Mr. Strauss’s thought, even though that is the essential part of him. Rather, I shall provide here a few notes toward a memoir, notes about the “human side” of Mr. Strauss which may be useful for those who will try some day to write at length about him. These notes, in addition to being an introduction of him to the larger University of Chicago community served by this magazine, also hold a mirror up to both the University and contemporary scholarship.
The human side of Mr. Strauss may have been easier to observe while he was at the University of Chicago than at any other stage of his career, for he was here for a generation and thus long enough to share with a settled community the full range of human experience—to have opportunities to respond to both joy and sadness, to birth and death, to triumphs and disasters, to the wholeness of life.
Such wholeness, with its proper mixing of gravity and levity, is suggested by what he wrote in his Thoughts on Machiavelli:
Other contemporary readers are reminded by Machiavelli’s teaching of Thucydides; they find in both authors the same “realism,” i.e., the same denial of the power of the gods or of justice and the same sensitivity to harsh necessity and elusive chance. Yet Thucydides never calls in question the intrinsic superiority of nobility to baseness, a superiority that shines forth particularly when the noble is destroyed by the base. Therefore Thucydides’ History arouses in the reader a sadness which is never aroused by Machiavelli’s books. In Machiavelli we find comedies, parodies, and satires but nothing reminding of tragedy. One half of humanity remains outside of his thought. There is no tragedy in Machiavelli because he has no sense of the sacredness of “the common.”
My limitations, even as the mere reporter I here try to be, should be acknowledged at the outset of these recollections: I was a quarter century Leo Strauss’s junior; I was never an intimate of his; and I am neither Jewish nor conventionally conservative, both of which conditions did tend to promote intimacy with him. In fact, I was probably the most, at times the only, “liberal” of the students associated with him, at least among those I know well. He was to identify, and hence tolerate, me as someone “unique,” as “a conservative libertarian.”282
The last time I talked to Mr. Strauss was in a hospital room in Annapolis. (He had, upon retiring from the University in 1967, settled in as Scholar in Residence at St. John’s College after a trial interlude at a Southern California college.) I had then the impression that I was intruding upon a dying man. It was at his insistence that I did not simply pay my respects and leave him to his nurses and their ministrations. There then followed what had happened with his students during other hospital visits over the years, a revival of his spirits and his strength as he talked. And so we had an hour and a half of good conversation, even though he had begun by saying that the day before had been the worst day of his life.
I had the sense, on this occasion, that various “accounts” between us were being settled, that he felt that certain things should be said by him “for the record.” Much of our talk was about the University of Chicago, partly because he no doubt recalled my inclination on other occasions to say what could be said on its behalf. Certain memories had at last been softened for him.
I encouraged him to dwell upon the better aspects of his days on the Midway. Thus, he could volunteer and enjoy the recollection of having had three good political science department chairmen (whom he named) and of having been able to teach classes of enduring worth. He wryly recognized as well, in accounting for the difficulties he had had in his last years at the University, that he had been so imprudent as to show his contempt for certain colleagues and administrators.
Mr. Strauss indicated, in the course of this “settling of accounts,” that he had recently been obliged, by the considerate competence shown him by his nurses during intermittent hospital visits, to move closer than he had been to the “liberal” position on American race relations. He was particularly impressed, in this connection, by the sacrifices he had learned one of the hospital scrubbing women to have been making in order to send her children to college.
He was, in these as in other respects, a man always open to new experiences and to reconsiderations of both the old and the new. Such reconsiderations, we can assume, must take into account his caution (in the preface to his Spinoza book), “It is safer to try to understand the low in the light of the high than the high in the light of the low. In doing the latter one necessarily distorts the high, whereas in doing the former one does not deprive the low of the freedom to reveal itself fully as what it is.”
Mr. Strauss was, during the last twenty years of his life, a man who was often seriously ill and in pain. (He expressed, during our last conversation, amazement and not a little pleasure that he had somehow managed to live longer than his father, a far stronger man, it seems.) Students who met him for the first time in his final decade could be impressed most of all by how ill he was. Yet there was throughout this period, however much he dramatized and even exploited his afflictions, a steady dedication to his work. Despite the general decrepitude of his body, heralded by a massive heart attack
in (I believe) 1956, he was able to do a quite considerable amount of fine writing after leaving the University. Through one medical disaster after another, the mind kept working steadily—and he seemed to the end clearly superior to even his best students both in depth of insight and in literary productivity.
Mr. Strauss was small, markedly small, of delicate features and bones, at times quite frail. His hands were especially delicate and most expressive. His manner was gentle and courteous, yet sometimes so firmly efficient as to border on a callous selfishness. He could remind one of Socrates—not in his body, for evidently Socrates was robust and took care of himself (or at least did not abuse his body)—but in the majesty of his head, a very large head, made to appear even larger by the smallness of the body which supported it. He had, as well, a very small voice—and a congenital incapacity to make proper use of a microphone or of a telephone, especially when he warmed up to his subject. He sported, with charming casualness, a beret, a cigarette holder, American slang, and an acute sense of propriety.
For years students at the University (many from outside his department) packed his classes, classes which would routinely run double the ninety minutes allotted to them in the time schedule. I believe that personal contact was critical to the effect Mr. Strauss achieved. I do not believe that his intellectual common sense, his instructive playfulness, and the range of his scholarship and memory are as evident in his writing as they were in conversation (of which one can get some notion from the transcripts which have been preserved of his courses). Nor do I believe that his writings alone would have produced the personal devotion which has contributed so much to his influence among thoughtful political scientists in this country and abroad. Certainly, it was largely a matter of chance that most of us got to know him—for I doubt that his writings alone would have induced us to go to him.
The University of Chicago was, I believe, the right place for him to be in this country. Things of the mind mattered here, even in such “practical” departments as political science, not the delusion by which certain other schools are dominated that “we are going to run the country some day.” I pointed out to him, at a time when he was considering leaving the University even earlier than he did, that many, perhaps most, of his. best students since the war had been of the kind who would normally be attracted to the University, who had come here for other purposes, and who had been “captured” by him. But it soon became evident to me that this consideration did not matter for him as it might have a decade earlier. He would, in his declining years, establish few intimate ties of the kind established earlier. He once pointed out to me that a man of fifty could establish relations with twenty-five-year-old graduate students that a man of sixty-five simply could not.
He was never, upon leaving Chicago, to teach as he had here. The old-style conversations (with considerable good-humored give-and-take) came to be reserved for the most part for those whom he had come to know earlier. He did continue to work hard, of course, but he was less open and relaxed in class, less inclined to consider at length the questions which students raised. (In addition, the students were younger and less informed professionally than the Chicago graduate students he had gotten used to.) He was all too conscious that time was running out—and he had a sense of much to do. And yet, he once explained to me, he had done far more than he had ever “planned” to do. Thus, he considered his last books as “bonuses.”
The significance of the University of Chicago in Mr. Strauss’s life can be suggested in still another way. Two anthologies have been published in which there is reflected his influence on others, a history of political philosophy (which he co-edited) and a Festschrift (on the occasion of his sixty-fifth birthday). Of the three dozen different contributors to these two volumes, about three-fourths have been associated in some capacity with the University. Thus there developed a “Chicago school,” generated by one man, which the University has not yet been able to acknowledge properly.
Even if the University of Chicago was the right place for Mr. Strauss to have been in this country, the question remains whether it was good for him to have been in this country at all. I believe he could accomplish in American universities what he could never have done in Europe. It was in a sense fortunate for him (as well as for us) that he had been obliged to leave German academic life and become exposed for so long to the English and American communities–communities in which political common sense was much more important than it had been on the Continent for at least a century.
In fact, I suspect that our political sobriety, implicit in the very language which we shape and are in turn shaped by, is needed to permit one to deal properly with the metaphysical excesses of the Germans who have dominated philosophical endeavors of the past two centuries. This suspicion is supported by Mr. Strauss’s note, in one of his last writings, that he had relied for an interpretation of one of Edmund Husserl’s essays upon the English translation as well as upon the German original. Or, put another way, it was good that someone dedicated as he was to political philosophy should have spent so much of his academic career in a country where politics are fairly sensible, decent, and stable.
This is not to say that Mr. Strauss allowed himself to get caught up in American political life, however alert he might have been to what was happening here. He was always interested primarily in the books produced by the greatest minds, in articulating each book strictly in its own terms and getting to the nerve of its argument. What he did was referred to by him as “interpretation.” What this meant for him is a problem. Thus, a classical scholar has found Mr. Strauss’s book on Aristophanes’ plays one of the strangest books he has ever read. It first appeared to him only a paraphrase of the plots of various comedies—mere summaries. Then, as he reconsidered the book, he changed his mind and decided that it was not about Aristophanes at all but was entirely a construction by Mr. Strauss himself.283
Be that as it may, Mr. Strauss’s primary concern was to understand books in their own terms—and this permitted and required him to take the classics seriously. (There was about this approach something which could be recognized as Talmudic or rabbinic in character. Of course, sectarianism can result from such an approach, especially when “reading between the lines” is made as much of as Mr. Strauss was obliged to do.) Although his comments on the moderns are valuable, it is probably his restoration of interest among political scientists in the classics which remains his greatest achievement. Xenophon has been resurrected by him, and this may be thought of as his distinctive contribution to conventional scholarship. Even so, Plato was his acknowledged philosophical master.
The competent authoritativeness of Mr. Strauss’s mind remained evident to the end. One of my children remarked upon the uncompromising thoroughness with which Mr. Strauss would approach a text in his weekly seminar at St. John’s College. He did not make big, spectacular points (I was reminded by this account of what I had myself observed a generation earlier) but rather accumulated, as he moved along, a considerable aggregate of many points (any one of which, it sometimes seemed, other scholars might have made). Mr. Strauss somehow managed to keep all these points in mind, all of them together, as he subjected the text to a deeper and deeper interpretation week after week.
This youngster, who had been imbued with the salutary St. John’s College modesty in the face of the greatest authors, once listened in silent wonder when we visited the Strauss apartment. It is unusual for a St. John’s student to hear someone speak as familiarly as did Mr. Strauss about the authors touched upon during that conversation. Particularly memorable for the student that afternoon was a comment Mr. Strauss made about Friedrich Nietzsche: he always found Nietzsche interesting in his masterful generalizations, but he often found him simply wrong in the details which he could check out for himself. It was somehow evident that this magisterial assessment was not presumptuous on Mr. Strauss’s part.
One almost always had the impression in Mr. Strauss of a mind at work, a mind in which the reason was in charge, not what we call the esthetic element. He had little to do with the plastic arts. Nor did he have an ear for music, except (I believe he once told me) for military marches and synagogue music. These, I take it, were legacies of his childhood—as was, in a different way, the political Zionism to which he was passionately devoted as a young man. All that was put behind him as he sat down at his well-ordered desk for a half-century of truly serious inquiry.
One of his former students now on the faculty of the University, who regards Mr. Strauss’s reading of books as “somewhat doctrinaire” and who is dubious about the discipleship he “permitted” among students, continues to stand in awe of his “electrifying seriousness.” And a former University colleague can remember him, despite their profound differences, as “a man of extraordinary mental power with a kind of fantasy of the intellect, creative, almost like a poet. . . He cared about thoughts and their life and their relation to books and to the world with a white-hot intensity.”
These remarks have been, at times, more intimate than might have properly been made public in Mr. Strauss’s lifetime. How he seemed to some of us then, insofar as that could be expressed in his presence, may be seen in the introduction I delivered December 1, 1967, when he lectured at the Downtown Center of the University of Chicago:
Heretofore it has been sufficient upon Mr. Strauss’s annual appearance on these premises merely to call the meeting to order. It is obvious from the size of this audience tonight that on this occasion, too, no introduction is required.
But it is also obvious that since this is the last public appearance of Mr. Strauss as a member of this university, something in the way of a valedictory prologue is called for. As Mr. Strauss himself once advised me in circumstances far sadder than these, propriety requires that certain ceremonies be prolonged, that it is better in such cases to err on the side of excess than of deficiency.
The lecture tonight is sponsored by the political science department of the University of Chicago and by the University’s Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults. Mr. Strauss—who has been for two decades a distinguished member of the political science department—has had a significant influence on the Basic Program. He has been, for at least a decade, not only a regular lecturer at the Downtown Center of the University but also a teacher on the Quadrangles of Basic Program teachers. His lectures have included examinations of the Book of Genesis, of Aristophanes’ Clouds, of Plato’s Republic, of Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things, of Machiavelli’s Prince, of Hobbes’s Leviathan, and of liberal education.
These lectures (which reflect his wide-ranging work in political philosophy) have been particularly appropriate for Basic Program—that is, for adult—audiences, not only because of the quality of the books examined, but even more because of the rigorous yet imaginative way Mr. Strauss examines them. His way of reading, informed as it is by an abiding respect for nature and hence for the whole of things, takes very seriously (if only as a beginning) the surface, the obvious meaning, of a great book, the appearance of the book as it first comes to view not to the learned scholar but to the interested adult. He utilizes, in his quest for the eternal, that which common sense discovers.
Mr. Strauss shares with the layman the all-too-human desire to make sense of the world and thus to master it. This yearning is nicely suggested by an observation made by a former prison inmate who happened some years ago to talk with members of the political science department of this university. The ex-convict was thereafter asked for his impressions of various members of the department. Yes, he did recall Mr. Strauss. In fact, he was moved to describe him by drawing upon his prison experience: “He reminds me of a con about to make a break.” It was not, we trust, any incipient criminality which was detected by that observer—for Mr. Strauss is (despite his playfulness) obviously the most law-abiding and, some might even say, the most pious of men—but rather there must have been divined in Mr. Strauss the single-minded and even consuming purpose, the self-confident yet cautious daring, and the disciplined but infectious excitement which have characterized his constant wondering about the things that truly matter.
An even more fitting description of him, however, is one spoken not in the accent of American prison life but comes rather from the ghettos of Eastern Europe, where it would be said of a rare kind of man, “He knows how to learn.” Mr. Strauss, too, is a man who knows how to learn. It is sad to realize that he is about to succeed, at last, in making a break from our community by escaping to those Elysian Fields men believe California to be. But how much sadder still we of this university would have reason to be if fortune had not afforded us the opportunity all these years to observe through him what it means to know how to learn.
Mr. Strauss is a man who knows also how to speak for himself—and this we can now permit him to do, now that our spiritual debt is acknowledged and our ceremonial duty is discharged. His subject for this occasion, “The Socratic Question,” is most fitting and proper, reminding us once again of Mr. Strauss’s lifelong eagerness to examine, with all who desire to know, “the treasures of the wise men of old.”
Mr. Strauss departed Chicago shortly after this lecture. He came back to the city only once more, on the train which took him from California to Annapolis in 1969. A spontaneous champagne party greeted him, his wife, adopted daughter (an orphaned niece), and son-in-law at the railroad station between trains.
It is fitting that his last book—on Plato’s Laws—should be published by the University of Chicago Press.
“Comedies, parodies, and satires”
Mr. Strauss’s seriousness was no doubt evident to all. There was about him no foolishness, even though there was often considerable comedy in what he had to say. Indeed, it was a joy to see him truly amused. He did like to joke, but usually with a point to be made in the process.
Even my 1967 introduction of him could not be delivered without the risk of provoking some playfulness on his part. His spontaneous response on that occasion is revealing, reminding us in passing of what he had learned about enthymemes, about America from hours of relaxation in front of the television set, and about the significant exotericism which moderns have lost sight of:
I must say a few words about the remarks of Mr. Anastaplo. lf one may compare a lofty thing with a thing that is not so lofty, Mr. Anastaplo’s remarks reminded me of a verse which some of you may have heard: “If you’re out of Schlitz, you’re out of beer.” That is an exaggeration. We all know there is Pabst and Budweiser and Lowenbrau and quite a few others. Someone might say, “But it was Schlitz that made Milwaukee famous.” To which I would reply, “There are other brands which made other places famous—for example, Berkeley and Harvard and some other places.”
But to speak somewhat more seriously, it is an embarrassing situation. If I agree with Mr. Anastaplo—then I would be justly accused of lack of modesty. If I disagree with him, I accuse him tacitly of lack of judgment and not only him but, in a way, even the University of Chicago—and this would seem to show lack of civility.
What then should one do? Now, some of my teachers—they were Islamic philosophers in the twelfth century or thereabouts-found a way out of a comparable, although not identical, dilemma. They began their books in about this manner: “After the praise of Allah, I say that it is my intention to explain the intention of Aristotle’s science of prior analytics.”
So I will say, “After my thanks to Mr. Anastaplo, I say that it is my intention to explain the Socratic question.”
Mr. Strauss then turned immediately to his lecture.
I trust I had in mind, as I prepared my introduction of him (which I later learned he spoke well of in private), the story Mr. Strauss liked to tell about the public reception accorded a prominent official by an obsequious subordinate who punctuated virtually every sentence with “Your Excellency.” To this reception the great man eventually responded, ”’Your Excellency,’ yes, but only now and then. ”
Such playfulness as Mr. Strauss could exhibit was, I suspect, inherited, for another story he liked to tell was of a prank played by his father upon a traveling businessman who used to stop in their German town. The traveler was known as a prodigious eater—and among his feats was that of feasting upon an omelet of a dozen eggs. On one occasion, the elder Strauss paid the innkeeper to put, unannounced, two dozen eggs in the omelet. The traveler ate and ate and ate but simply could not finish what had been served him. He was heard to lament, as he pushed his plate away, “I am not the man I was.”
The man Mr. Strauss always was may be seen in a story he told a decade or so ago on his “closest friend,” a friendly rival of a half century who had always had an “idiosyncratic abhorrence of publicity—of anything which even remotely reminds of the limelight.” 1 make a few minor adjustments in Mr. Strauss’s story for publication:
I always found that Mr.— went somewhat too far in this but all too justified abhorrence of publicity. When we were in our twenties we worked every day during a longish period for some hours in the Prussian State Library in Berlin, and we relaxed from our work in a coffee house close by the library. There we sat together for many hours with a number of other young men and talked about everything which came to our mind—mixing gravity and levity in the proportion in which youth is likely to mix them. As far as Mr.—was concerned, there was, I am tempted to say, only one limit: we must not appear to the public as young men cultivating their minds; let us avoid at all costs—this was his silent maxim—the appearance that we are anything other than idle and inefficient young men of business or of the lucrative professions or any other kind of drones. On such occasions I derived enjoyment from suddenly exclaiming as loudly as I could something such as “Nietzsche!” and from watching the anticipated wincing of Mr. —.
Mr. Strauss, it was evident to all who knew him well, not only had eccentricities but was not unaware of them. He did get some reassurance as well as pleasure, however, from a story he told of an exchange with one of his nurses in Annapolis: He had had occasion to apologize to her for a series of impositions. “I’m a queer man in some ways….No doubt you’ve noticed.” “No, Mr. Strauss,” she replied, “you’re not queer; you’re real!”
Some would consider even more eccentric what he said on another occasion to one of his students. “I’m aware of the fact that the wholeness of a part does not preclude a plural: there is barely a moment in my waking life when I do not think of dogs and donkeys.” However that may have been, he did delight in the exuberance of puppies and the braying of donkeys.
One of his finest jests took the form of the pious insistence, opportunely resorted to when it suited his convenience, that he was “always respectful of authority.”
The Socratic question
Socrates was, for Mr. Strauss, always a question, a riddle, not an authority. He devoted himself in his last years to a search for the meaning of Socrates, relying on the guidance provided by Aristophanes, Plato, and Xenophon and testing thereby the seductive prescriptions of Nietzsche. He had prepared himself for this quest by delving for many years into the moderns, into the men who claim to have superseded the ancients.
The “Socratic question” includes an inquiry into how it was that philosophy and political philosophy emerged when they did, into what the relation is among poetry, philosophy, and revelation (or “physics”), and into what it was that Socrates sought and did. There were about Mr. Strauss several features which could be said to be Socratic. He had a certain immoderation, an uncanny singlemindedness, with respect to the things of the mind. His probing into the very foundations of things could and did threaten established scholars: since he did try to go to the root of things, he could not help but call into question much of what passes today for academic accomplishment. (He could say that there may have been one or two of Plato’s dialogues which he completely understood. Such modesty could threaten those conventional scholars who believe themselves to know virtually all there is worth knowing about the classics.)
In Mr. Strauss’s hands the “value-free” social sciences (and many of the humanities as well) either were exposed as childish or were supplied a setting which made some sense of them. Neither contribution made him popular with his academic peers. Secondary sources became superfluous as he encouraged his students to approach directly the texts most worth reading. But he also encouraged them to practice the prudence he saw in the greatest writers, a prudence which reflects an awareness of the tenuous position both of philosophy in the cities of men and of the rule of law in every community.
Mr. Strauss attracted the students he did because deep thinking was obviously the major part of his life. Students could see how close he was to the life of great minds, how much that kind of life mattered to him, and what he could do for and with it. He managed to face, and to seem to face, the great questions more directly than the other scholars one encountered. But not all serious questions occupied him, it should be noted, or at least not all of them to the same extent: he had more to say (at least explicitly) about anthropos and nature than about nous and the cosmos. (These can be considered parallel inquiries, but with different emphases.)
One of his students—a man who was for many years very close to him—spoke at the St. John’s College memorial meeting for Mr. Strauss “about the themes of his investigations”:
Philosophy and science come into the world, according to Strauss, with the discovery of nature, and the fundamental intraphilosophic issue, the issue between the ancients and the moderns, concerns their different understandings of nature and nature’s status. Mr. Strauss concentrated especially on the study of human nature. This is not the place to go into how the study of human nature is complicated by the rediscovery of exotericism, except perhaps to remark that the study of what most of the greatest writers prior to Kant mean by human nature is inseparable from the study of the implications of their rhetoric. The connection between nature and human nature becomes evident by questions such as these: Are we correct to speak of what is good for man by nature? Are we equipped by nature to understand nature, to understand what is good by nature? Or is nature indifferent or hostile to man’s highest aspirations? Is it naive to think that the human intellect is constituted by nature so as to understand nature, that nature is so constituted as to be understood by the human intellect? If it is naive, as the moderns argue, is not nature rather to be studied with a view to its ultimate conquest, with a view to its intellectual conquest by means of the art of symbolic mathematics and experiment and its physical conquest by the technological arts concomitant with mathematical physics? Is nature then to be studied with a view to the ultimate triumph of human art? But if nature cannot provide us with standards, how are we to determine the purposes to which that art is to be put? The dilemmas, not to speak of horrors, consequent upon the modern project require a careful tracing back of our steps, the rediscovery of the fundamental notions and assumptions that brought us to this impasse. That means, to speak in the broadest outline, the rediscovery of the fundamental notions and assumptions that underlie the modern understanding of nature, the rediscovery of the fundamental notions and assumptions of the classical understanding of nature which the moderns reject and thereby presuppose that they understand. And lastly it means the rediscovery of the basic insights and assumptions that underlie the original discovery of nature, the original discovery of philosophy and science. This last task brings us face to face with the alternatives to philosophy.
Mr. Strauss was so compelling and so alive (and hence truly human) because he took seriously the possibility of philosophy. He did question even this, in that he took seriously as well “the alternatives to philosophy,” including the recourse to living-according to-nature (a radical rejection of civilization) and the recourse to an all-consuming political (or religious) life. What he had to say, especially in his Herculean revival of the ancients among political scientists, was like a light in the dark. He was thus able to appeal to and challenge the best in students, especially the young and the young in heart.
It would be both foolhardy and superfluous of me to attempt to say more than I have already about “the Socratic question” to which Mr. Strauss addressed himself. His writings are, of course, available to the interested reader. Different kinds of introductions to Mr. Strauss’s thought (including his “method,” the most careful reading) are provided by three of his books, On Tyranny, The City and Man, and Natural Right and History and by four of his articles, “Persecution and the Art of Writing,” “Preface to Spinoza’s Critique of Religion,” “What is Political Philosophy?” and “What Is Liberal Education? ”
Something more might usefully be recorded, as a guide for those who come to write some day of Mr. Strauss’s career, about the perhaps inevitable effects of his Socratic ways upon those in the community who (for one reason or another) could not be expected to understand his thought. Thus, the sensitive wife of one of his students could write years afterwards of the teacher who had come to mean so much to the graduate students she had known at the university:
Mr. Strauss was a man’s man. This was instantly obvious to any woman who met him. Whatever exists in a man’s personality to interest a woman or to be interested in her was lacking in him. I believe he could respond to feminine admiration; in fact, I rather suspect he thought it was his due, and he could talk to women without discomfort for short periods of time. But the bridge that forms quickly between some minds of opposite sexes would never form with him.
Mr. Strauss was both over-anxious and indifferent to the conditions of the material world. He had no sense of measure. He ignored things while he worked until “nature struck back” and he had to rely on others to salvage the situation. Although he could judge which way the wind was blowing, he was not quite sure what to do about it.
He could be a delightful companion and, I hear, an ardent pursuer of ideas. However, much of his personality was childlike. He could sum up the world at a distance in writing and words, but one had the feeling that somehow he had never really grown to be a man.
A kind of impracticality, a not-caring, about the things of this world may be detected in this sketch of Mr. Strauss, the sort of aloofness from the cares of the world (with its sometimes disastrous effects on family life) which one detects as well in the complaints about Socrates. (One recalls, in this connection, Socrates’s long-suffering, and long-suffered, wife. One recalls as well Callicles’ rebuke to Socrates: “Grow up!”) Also Socratic is the dedication to philosophy of the erotic part of the soul which may be detected in the sketch just quoted (which blithely contradicts in its closing words what had been said in its opening words).
It should at once be added that Mr. Strauss did not have that contempt for death which one also associates with Socrates. He was through much of his life a physically timid man, perhaps unduly so; certainly, curiously so. (I am reminded in this respect both of Cicero and of Hobbes.) But bodily existence did become a dreadful burden for him—and he could finally ask to be allowed to die. This was a long way from the man who could once be intimidated by thunder and lightning. (See Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights, XIX, i.)
However that may be, it would have been unthinkable for Mr. Strauss, while in good health, to go to his death as willingly as Socrates seems to have gone. He always felt vulnerable, physically and financially, even while most confident about his ability to think and to write.
But, on the other hand, Socrates did have his “daemonic thing” to help protect him from a premature death, thereby permitting him through a long life to do good both for himself and for others.
Jerusalem, yes; Athens, now and then?
Mr. Strauss’s curious sense of vulnerability (which he himself never seemed to treat as a serious defect) has not kept several of his most intimate, and perhaps best, students from publicly pronouncing him to have been a philosopher. He, it should be noticed, never called himself a philosopher. That was a term he carefully reserved for the
rare man, perhaps one or two a century at best. He did call himself a scholar. Perhaps we can dare to expand that appellation at least into Plutarch’s phrase, “philosophical companion.” (See, e.g., Plutarch, Cicero, XX, 2.)
To regard Mr. Strauss as simply a philosopher would mean (among other things) that one had come to terms with the Judaism which seems to have meant so much to him. Of course, one could simply say that what Judaism really meant to him can be inferred from the fact that he was a philosopher—but this, it seems to me, would not take due account of the reservoir of passion in him upon which “Jewish” issues drew. (His occasional references to the medieval “Islamic philosophers” should also be considered.) Did his Judaism, with its dedication to a wise righteousness, permit him to ignore to the extent he did the cosmology of modern science? But must not philosophy come to terms with physics, ancient or modern? (See Cicero, Republic, I, x, 15-16; Diogenes Laertius, Lives [“Socrates”], II, 45. Cp. Plato, Phaedo 96D sq.; Deuteronomy 4:6. See, also, Philo, On the Account of the World’s Creation Given by Moses. Cp., also, Philo, On the Eternity of the World; Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, II, 13 sq.)
Socrates, we suspect, did not really recognize the traditional gods of his people. No such public charge was ever leveled against Mr. Strauss, even though he was not (in the conventional sense) an observant Jew. Indeed, it may have been his Judaism, including its tradition of careful reading of the most exalted texts, which permitted a man of his extraordinary talents to remain open to philosophy by keeping him from certain contemporary excesses—excesses associated with the Enlightenment and Cosmopolitanism and their infatuation with the idea of progress, with modern science and its technology, and with individuality.
I have heard it said that Mr. Strauss’s Judaic studies alone would have made a name for him in the scholarly world. One could see him at Hillel House, helping a particularly astute rabbi and his conscientious successor make Judaism intellectually respectable for sophisticated young Jews. Mr. Strauss showed them, as well as their Gentile fellow travelers, that there was indeed much in Jewish faith and tradition to be respected and salvaged. There was, perhaps above all for him, an obligation for every Jew (mindful of family feeling, honor, and gratitude) to stand firm with his people around the world and through the ages. (See Plato, Apology 34D.)
If there is any “false step” among Mr. Strauss’s writings it may have been occasioned by his dedication to this noble obligation to defend the respectable post in which one happens to have been stationed by one’s birth. That is, he observed in one of his last essays:
In order to understand Heidegger’s thought and therefore in particular his posture toward politics and political philosophy, one must not neglect the work of his teacher Husserl. The access to Husserl is not rendered difficult by any false step like those taken by Heidegger in 1933 and 1953. [The reference here is, of course, to Heidegger’s Nazi experiment in 1933, which was never repudiated by him and
which he tacitly reaffirmed in 1953.] I have heard it said that the Husserlian equivalent was his conversion, not proceeding from conviction, to Christianity. If this were proven to be the case, it would become a task for a casuist of exceptional gifts to consider the dissimilarities and similarities of the two kinds of acts and to weigh their respective demerits and merits.
I suspect that this kind of “weighing” would not really be much of a problem for a Gentile casuist appalled by Martin Heidegger’s gross misconduct, misconduct which leaves him exposed as the Macbeth of philosophy.284
Be that as it may, the serious student of Mr. Strauss must certainly come to terms with what Judaism meant for him and why. He did travel to Israel. I do not believe he ever made it to Athens and its Acropolis. He did get as far as the Piraeus, on a voyage between Israel and the United States. But he was too ill to travel up to the city and had to settle for a view of Athens from its port. Was Jerusalem necessarily for him more a thing of the body than was Athens, something to be seen close-up rather than from a distance?
Mr. Strauss did walk the streets of Jerusalem and felt at home there. Fellow Jews can remember him standing in front of his apartment at 7:30 in the morning, with his fuel can in hand, waiting for his regular allotment of neft from a horse-drawn wagon. This was a physical discipline which he seems to have looked forward to and which it would have been unthinkable to expect of him in the Chicago that served as his Athens.
“The sacredness of ‘the common’”
It should be evident, when I speak of Mr. Strauss and Judaism, that I do presume to speak of matters which I can glimpse only at a distance, if at all. Even so, as I have indicated, the outsider can recognize that there is something here to be investigated by a competent student. Thus, Mr. Strauss could acknowledge publicly that there was a disproportion between the “primitive feelings” he always retained from his Orthodox upbringing and the “rational judgment” guided in him by philosophy.
Perhaps nothing can serve as well as certain remarks made thirteen years ago by Mr. Strauss himself both to put the trespassing Gentile on notice here and to challenge the thoughtful Jew. One can see in these remarks, made by Mr. Strauss on December 6, 1961, at the funeral in Chicago of a thirty-two-year-old graduate student, the solace which Judaism can provide mankind in the face of death, especially an untimely death:
We are struck by the awesome, unfathomable experience of death, of the death of one near and dear to us. We are grieved particularly because our friend died so young—when he was about to come into his own, to enter on a career which would have made him esteemed beyond the circle of his friends here and elsewhere and his pupils in the Liberal Arts Program. It is not given to me to say words of comfort of my own. I can only try to say what, I believe, Jason Aronson had come to know. I saw him for the last time about three weeks ago in my office. He knew where he stood. He jokingly reminded me of an old joke: all men are mortal but some more than others. He decided bravely and wisely to continue his study of Shaftesbury. At his suggestion we agreed that we should read the Bible together, starting from the beginning.
Death is terrible, terrifying, but we cannot live as human beings if this terror grips us to the point of corroding our core. Jason Aronson had two experiences which protected him against this corrosive as well as its kin. The one is to come to grips with the corrosives, to face them, to think them through, to understand the ineluctable necesitties, and to understand that without them no life, no human life, no good life, is possible. Slowly, step by step, but with ever greater sureness and awakeness did he begin to become a philosopher. I do not know whether he knew the word of a man of old: may my soul die the death of the philosophers, but young as he was he died that death.
The other experience which gave him strength and depth was his realizing ever more clearly and profoundly what it means to be a son of the Jewish people—of the ‘am ‘olam—to have one’s roots deep in the oldest past and to be committed to a future beyond all futures.
He did not permit his mind to stifle the voice of his heart nor his heart to give commands to this mind.
I apply to his life the daring, gay, and noble motto: courte et bonne—his life was short and good. We shall not forget him and for what he stood.
I address his wife, his mother, and brother, and his sister the traditional Jewish formula: “May God comfort you among the others who mourn for Zion and Jerusalem.”
Thus ends my remembrance for this occasion of a most remarkable man, an intrepid stepson of the University of Chicago and its determined benefactor. Even if I should be destined to remain in this university community another twenty-six years, I for one do not expect to happen upon his like again.
This, then, was my 1974 report on Leo Strauss, a teacher of extraordinary powers and influence.285
Of course, much more can be said about Mr. Strauss than I have provided here.286 But this article [set forth here, having been taken from The Artist as Thinker]) does indicate what he, and hence some of his students, considered important in choosing the things worthy of the greatest care and in settling upon the proper way to read such things.
The proper way to read depends not only upon a “method” of reading but perhaps even more upon the suppositions about the good, about prudence, and about human nature on which the soundest reading rests. Particularly instructive for readers of this book should be the comment by the scholar who remembered Mr. Strauss as “a man of extraordinary mental power with a kind of fantasy of the intellect, creative, almost like a poet….He cared about thoughts and their life and their relation to books and to the world with a white-hot intensity.”287 Here, indeed, we catch much more than a glimpse of the thinker as artist.
Critical to an understanding both of the artist and of the thinker is a sense of the general order of things—that sense which is the proper subject of philosophy and (with respect to human things) of political philosophy.288 Mr. Strauss drew upon his studies of political philosophy, as well as upon his lifelong dedication to Jewish studies, to reassure his students that there are standards by which moral precepts and opinions about the common good can be defended and refined. Such a reassurance, I have argued in this book [The Artist as Thinker], is vital to sensible readings of most of the works of the better artists.
But what I have done in this book will probably stand or fall, not on the basis of any “theory” I have drawn upon or developed, but rather on the basis of the “practice” I have exhibited—a practice which consists of bringing to one text after another appropriate observations and questions for illuminating one’s reading of each particular text. If I have succeeded in sharing with patient readers what I have discovered (or, in most cases, rediscovered) about a variety of familiar yet still challenging books, plays, and poems, I may be entitled to say with Socrates:
Just as others are pleased by a good horse or dog or bird, I myself am pleased to an even higher degree by good friends….And the treasures of the wise men of old which they left behind by writing them in books, I unfold and go through them together with my friends, and if we see something good, we pick it out and regard it as a great gain if we thus become useful to one another.289
NOTES [in The Artist as Thinker]
280. Even so, the work itself (in each case) suggests, at least to the experienced reader, how it should be dealt with. Principles of interpretation are suggested in the Preface, in, the Prologue, Section ii, in Chapter I, Part One, above, and in the Appendixes, below. See, also, notes 3, 29, 38, 145, 164, 179, 182, 263, and 279, above. See, as well, Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, p. 281, n. 52.
I have had occasion (7 Interpretation 71 [January 1978]) to collect “indicated interpretations of various literary texts” heretofore, as found in Anastaplo, The Constitutionalist: pp. 651, 798-99 (Antigone), 30-32, 436-38, 651, 687, 725, 772 (Hamlet), 278-81, 552-53, 690, 791-92, 807-8 (Iliad), 790-91 (King Lear), 581, 707-08, 817 (item 1) (Little Orphan Annie et al.), 439, 503, 793 (Nathan the Wise), 278-81, 546, 552-53, 612, 690, 719-20, 791-92, 797 (Odyssey), 642, 783, 798-99 (Oedipus), 510, 779, 787 (Remembrance of Things Past).
Consider, as well, the following observation in Kitto, Sophocles,Dramatist and Philosopher, p. 1:
In the end I hope to have persuaded you that Sophocles was not only a superb artist but also a profound thinker. Indeed, I would argue that he could not be the one without also being the other.
281. The article may be found in the University of Chicago Magazine, Winter 1974, p. 30. No major changes in the text have been made in the reproduction here of that article. The seven sections of the article, which appeared as Sections ii-viii of the Epilogue, originally had the following titles:
“When we were in our twenties”
“Comedies, parodies, and satires”
The Socratic question
Jerusalem, yes; Athens, now and then?
“The sacredness of ‘the common'”
The article, which included a fine picture of Mr. Strauss, was written as of the first anniversary of his death. Notes 282, 283, and 284, below, were provided with the original publication of this article. Several citations were provided in the text of the original article. They remain in the text here.
The original article had the following dateline:
22 Tishrei 5735.
282. Mr. Strauss, I should add, may not have been as conservative as most of his devoted students, not only because he did not care as much as (or in the way) they did about practical matters, but also because he knew better than they that the institutions which conservatives so passionately protect often have questionable radical origins.
His conservatism, I should also add, did not even mean that he dogmatically took the conventional “anti-Communist” position. Thus, he could (in a two-sentence letter of June 22, 1961) write to a student of his who had been turned down in the courts after running afoul of McCarthy-era “loyalty proceedings”: “This is only to pay you my respects for your brave and just action. If the American Bench and Bar have any sense of shame they must come on their knees to apologize to you.” [Original note]
283. Interpretation is the name of the valuable journal, edited at Queens College of the City University of New York, in which Mr. Strauss’s influence may be seen. [Original note]
284. Mr. Strauss himself treated Heidegger’s conduct quite differently from Husserl’s. Thus, he could instruct certain of his students visiting Germany after the war not to have anything to do socially with Heidegger. (I know also that he refused to have anything further to do personally with a noted scholar, a Jewish friend of his from their youth in Germany, who made his peace with Heidegger.) Even so, he always acknowledged the remarkable talents of Heidegger, considering him “incomparable in our time,” especially in the comprehensiveness of his thought.
Fortunately, the revival of the classics in political science today is saved from serious temptations to, or facile charges of, fascism because someone as important to that revival as Mr. Strauss was obviously and passionately anti-Nazi in his conservatism. [Original note]
285. One can get some notion of the discipleship Mr. Strauss inspired among some students when one learns that even this eulogy by me has evidently not been considered sufficiently laudatory by the more zealous defenders of the faith. The self-crippling as well as ungenerous suspicions of this silent minority can perhaps be traced back to their failure to read carefully enough what I had written—a childish failure to appreciate what I did and did not say. See Plato, Symposium 198D sq., Meno 95A. On the other hand, no article of mine has received as favorable a response from strangers as has this one—including from a number of people who identified themselves as having studied with Mr. Strauss at one time or another over the years.
Even so, I apologize to anyone I might have unintentionally offended: I can only hope to deserve some day to be spoken of one-seventh as highly as I have spoken here of Mr. Strauss, perhaps the soundest teacher of our day. See, for my defense of Mr. Strauss’s partisans, who can at times be provocative in their cliquishness, Modem Age, Summer 1979, p. 315. See, also, National Review, Jan. 22, 1982, pp. 36-45; note 251, above. See, for an indication of the silly things that can and will be said about Mr. Strauss, Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, Hannah Arendt: For Love of the World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982), pp. 98, 169; Newsweek, May 3, 1982, p. 75. (Mr. Strauss was inclined to dismiss Professor Arendt as a “coffee-house intellectual.” Perhaps it suffices to say that she was an intellectual. See, e.g., Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, p. 95; note 288, below.)
One thing should be noticed about the circumstances of my article: Mr. Strauss’s standing at the University of Chicago, when he left, was such that a farewell address by him could be conveniently given only at the Downtown Adult Education Center of the University. (This was conceived of and arranged by me.) Special commendation is due to Don Morris, then editor of the University of Chicago Magazine, that an article as laudatory as this one is of Mr. Strauss (and as critical implicitly of the University for its shabby and self-destructive treatment of him) could be published at all. See for my long-standing reservations about the then-president of the University, Anastaplo, 9 Southwestern University Law Review 977, notes 42 and 62 (1977); National Law Journal, June 18,1979, p. 33. See, also, note 280, above.
The longstanding reservations I have about some of the positions taken by perhaps the most influential politically of Mr. Strauss’s students are suggested in the remarks I had occasion to make about the best-known “Straussian” (at Rosary College, on December 4, 1980):
It is my privilege to introduce on this occasion a friend of a quarter century and a distinguished political scientist, Harry V. Jaffa, of Claremont Men’s College and Claremont Graduate School. Professor Jaffa, whose appearance at Rosary College has been made possible by the support of him by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, is available this afternoon for an extended conversation with us about matters ancient and modern.
Mr. Jaffa is, to my mind, the most instructive political scientist writing in this country today. The things he writes about range from Socrates and Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas and William Shakespeare, from the Founding Fathers to Abraham Lincoln, from Tom Sawyer and Winston Churchill to contemporary politics and the joys of cycling.
I am reminded, when I encounter Mr. Jaffa, of another provocatively influential American, a great woman who died only this past weekend, Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker movement (whom I was privileged to see close-up only once). It was true of Miss Day, as it is true of Mr. Jaffa, that it was virtually impossible for her not to be interesting about whatever she wrote. Intelligence, hard work, and a gift for language no doubt contribute to this capacity to invest every discourse with significance. But fundamental to such influence is a certain integrity, even a single-minded moral fervor. Thus, it could be said of Miss Day in her obituary in the New York Times on Monday of this week that she had sought “to work so as to bring about the kind of society where it is easier for people to be good.” Much the same can be said about Mr. Jaffa. Indeed, Miss Day, in the way she lived her life, in an unrelenting effort to better the lives of the downtrodden, could be said to have put into practice the much-quoted proposition by Mr. Jaffa which was used by Senator Goldwater in his Acceptance Speech upon being nominated for the Presidency by the Republican Party in 1964, “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
A little more should be said by me about Mr. Jaffa now, if only to suggest matters that we might want to talk about on this occasion. A few differences between us, of which I was reminded when I heard him speak yesterday at Loyola University, could usefully be indicated.
Mr. Jaffa not only makes far more of exercising than I do—I limit myself to walking whenever possible and to the avoidance of elevators for ascents or descents of less than five floors—but he also is a much more vigorous moralist than I am, both in regulating his own conduct and in judging the conduct of others. I believe that I allow more than he does for good—intentioned errors, for inefficiency on the part of people, and for circumstances which account for, sometimes even justify, what seem from the outside to be moral aberrations. Compassion can be almost as important as moral indignation in these matters, particularly with respect to domestic relations, whether the subjects be abortion, divorce, or homosexuality. Perhaps also I make more than he does
of the importance-if only out of respect for the sensibilities of others and for the moral tone of the community—of discretion, if not even of good-natured hypocrisy.
We differ as well with respect to the conduct of foreign relations. We do share an abhorrence of tyranny, whether of the Right or of the Left. But we sometimes part company on assessments of how constitutional government and American republicanism can best be defended abroad. Thus, he was much more hopeful than I could ever be that our involvement in the Vietnam War (however noble in intention that involvement might have been, and that it surely was, in some respects)—he was much more hopeful than I was that our Vietnam involvement could do the American or the Indo-Chinese people some good. Today we differ as to precisely what kind of a threat the Russians pose to us. I see them as much more vulnerable (both politically and militarily) than does he; and I consider all too many calculations about nuclear war “scenarios” to depend too much on game theories and not enough on political judgment. I believe, for example, that Russian leaders are much more constrained by domestic public opinion (by a pacific, even though patriotic, public opinion) and by other factors than many of us recognize. They have suffered, at home and abroad, a considerable setback in Afghanistan; we can only hope that they, and we, do not suffer an even greater setback by a Russian invasion of Poland. But whatever happens in Poland, it is now evident that the cause of freedom is bound to be in better shape in Eastern Europe than it has been since the Second World War—in part because of what Polish workers have done in showing the world how things really stand there. The only question may be what price the Polish people will have to pay, and this may depend, in part, on their prudence and on ours.
Perhaps at the heart of the differences between Mr. Jaffa and me—whether the differences be as to the status of exercise or as to assessments of the Russians—is with respect to how much one should be concerned with the preservation of one’s life. An immoderate cherishing of what happens to be one’s own can lead, it seems to me, to psychic paralysis or to undue combativeness: either can undermine that relaxed competence which makes healthy statesmanship more likely. Certainly, Mr. Jaffa responds much more than I do to the apocalyptic as against the comic and somewhat less than I do to “liberty” as against “equality.” Obviously, we touch here on questions about the nature of human existence, of virtue, and of happiness.
On the other hand, at the heart of our deep affinities—besides the fact that we were both fortunate enough to share a great teacher in Leo Strauss—is our minority belief that fundamental to sensible political science and to a decent life as a community is a general respect for natural right and what is known as natural law. This means, among other things, that discrimination based on arbitrary racial categories cannot be defended, especially by a people dedicated to the self-evident truth that “all Men are created equal.” It also means that the family as an institution should be supported.
I mention in passing that we do differ with respect to the Equal Rights Amendment—but here I believe that Mr. Jaffa, even though he puts what he says in terms of nature in his opposition to that amendment, has allowed himself to be unduly influenced by the antics and “principles” of a minority of the proponents of that largely symbolic grace note for our Constitution.
Be all this as it may, an informed study of nature in human things is perhaps the most pressing demand in education today—and for this Mr. Jaffa, with his profound grasp of the classical writers, of Shakespeare’s thought, and of the career of Abraham Lincoln, is an invaluable guide.
Permit me to close these introductory remarks by returning to something else that has been said about Dorothy Day, something which (with appropriate adjustments) can be applied to the tireless dedication Mr. Jaffa devotes to his “conservative” creed and to his graduate students. We are reminded by Dorothy Day’s New York Times obituary that Church officials in New York were “often sorely tempted to rebuke Miss Day—her ardent support of Catholic cemetery strikers a number of years ago especially irked Cardinal Spellman—but they never could catch her in any breach of Church regulations.” Besides, the editor of Commonweal has observed, one of the bishops she fought with, James Francis McIntyre (who later became a cardinal himself), “was afraid he just might be dealing with a saint.” “He was alluding to what has been called Miss Day’s ‘indiscriminate and uncompromising love of the Mystical Body’ as well as to her courage and her care for the poor in hospices she established in New York and elsewhere.”
But enough of this canonization of Harry Jaffa, who does remind me in certain ways of St. Augustine. Any effort at canonization, you recall, requires that the devil’s advocate have his say also. As you can see, I have had to take on more than one role in introducing to you a gifted colleague whom we are privileged to have with us today.
Some of you must have questions—but first, Mr. Jaffa may have something to say in response to the remarks I have made in an effort to guide the conversation I look forward to in the hours and years ahead.
Mr. Jaffa’s immediate response to my remarks was, “Well, thank you very much, Professor Anastaplo. I must say that that is the most remarkable introduction I have ever had or that I am ever likely to have.” Two hours later, at the end of the general discussion, he concluded, “Thank you for your introduction, which certainly inspired me, or gave me a sense of responsibility for something to live up to.” Mr. Jaffa has subsequently spoken well of this introduction to others. The transcript of this two-hour conversation at Rosary College has been published in the December 1981 issue of the Claremont Review of Books, pp. 5-14.
My discussions of Mr. Jaffa’s work over the years may be found in Human Being and Citizen, especially Essay No.5; in “American Constitutionalism and the Virtue of Prudence,” especially note 64; and in Modern Age, Summer 1979, p. 315. His considerable influence may be seen in Anastaplo, “Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.” See, also, Modern Age, Winter 1981, p. 106. See, as well, Jaffa, “Inventing the Past,” The St. John’s Review, Autumn 1981, p.1, Winter 1982, p. 113. Cp, Anastaplo, “Preliminary Reflections on the Pentagon Papers,” University of Chicago Magazine, Jan./Feb., March/April 1972 (reprinted in 118 Congressional Record 24990 (July 24, 1972]); “Notes Toward an ‘Apologia Pro Vita Sua’: A Response to Mr. Thurow,” Interpretation, 10/2, 3 (1982) (note 13, above).
Still another way of indicating my differences with some of Mr. Strauss’s students is to note that I have been a student as well of Malcolm P. Sharp. See, on Mr. Sharp, note 164, above. See, also, Anastaplo, “The Rosenberg Case and the Perils of Indignation,” Chicago Lawyer, June 1979, p. 19; Sharp, “Crosskey, Anastaplo, and Meiklejohn on the United States Constitution,” 20 University of Chicago Law School Record 3 (Spring 1973); Sharp, “The universe has its good and friendly features” (my intended title), Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May 1981, p. 1 (“Kuana” should be “Kuaua”); Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, Essay No. 4. See, as well, Daedalus, Winter 1981; Nation, Jan. 24, 1981.
See the text at note 65, above, notes 95 and 183 (end), above, note 288 and Appendix F, below.
286. See, for example, Anastaplo, “Jacob Klein of St. John’s College”; also, Book Review, Modern Age, Summer 1979, p. 314.
Citations to other eulogies and articles honoring Mr. Strauss may be found in Emma Brossard, “Leo Strauss,” Academic Reviewer, Fall-Winter, 1974, p. 1. See for other discussions bearing on the work of Leo Strauss: (1) Victor Gourevitch, 22 Review of Metaphysics 58, 281 (1968); (2) James Steintrager, 32 The Thomist 307 (1968); (3) Henry S. Kariel, 1 Political Science Reviewer 74 (1971); (4) Gerhart Niemeyer, 1 Political Science Reviewer 277 (1971); (5) Willmoore Kendall, Contra Mundum (New Rochelle: Arlington House, 1971); (6) Charles N.R. McCoy, 35 Review of Politics 161 (1973); (7) Allan Bloom, 2 Political Theory 372 (1974) (also, Bloom, The Republic of Plato; Pangle, The Laws of Plato); (8) Howard B. White, 41 Social Research 3 (1974); (9) Werner J. Dannhauser, American Scholar (Fall 1974 ) (reprinted in Epstein, ed., Masters); (10) James R. Adams, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 18,1974, p.14; (11) Harry V. Jaffa, The Conditions of Freedom (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1975); (12) Eugene Miller, in Anthony de Crespigny and Kenneth Minogue, eds., Contemporary Political Philosophers (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1975); (13) Milton Himmeifarb; Commentary, August 1974, p. 60, January 1975, p. 14; (14) George N. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 (New York: Basic Books, 1976); (15) Harvey Mansfield, Jr. and J.G.A. Pocock, 3 Political Theory 372, 385, 402 (1975); (16) John P. East, Modern Age, Winter 1977, p. 2; (17) Ralph Lerner, American Jewish Year Book, 1976, p. 92; (18) Harry V. Jaffa, How to Think About the American Revolution (Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 1978); (19) John G. Gunnell, 72 American Political Science Review 122 (1978); (20) Joseph A. Buijs, 27 Judaism 448 (1978); (21) Seth Benardete, 8 Political Science Reviewer 1 (1978); (22) Hwa Yol Jung, 9 Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 11 (1978); (23) Hans-Georg Gadamer and Leo Paul de Alvarez, Newsletter, Politics Department, The University of Dallas, Spring 1978, p. 4; (24) Laurence Lampert and S. A. Maaranen, Modern Age, Winter 1978, pp. 38, 47; (25) Frederick D. Wilhelmsen, Christianity and Political Philosophy (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1978); (26) E.B.F. Midgley, 53 New Scholasticism 168 (Spring 1979). See, also, note 215, above.
See, for bibliographies of the writings of Leo Strauss, Joseph Cropsey, 5 Interpretation 133 (1975); Hilail Gildin, ed., Political Philosophy: Six Essays by Leo Strauss (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1975); David L. Schaefer, Intercollegiate Review, Summer 1974, p. 139. See, for various of Mr. Strauss’s works, notes 2, 4, 15, 145, 24, 77, and 236, above.
See, for citations to the work of various scholars influenced by Mr. Strauss, J. Harvey Lomax, ed., A Contemporary Bibliography in Political Philosophy and in Other Areas (1976) (4215 Glenaire Drive, Dallas, Texas 75229). [The Lomax bibliography has been substinentally developed in John A. Murley, ed., Leo Strauss and His Legacy (Lexington Books, 2003).]
See, for an obituary of Leo Strauss, New York Times, October 21, 1973, p. 77.
287. See the end of [the “Memorabilia” section] of this Epilogue, above. The scholar quoted here is David Grene, the Committee on Social Thought, The University of Chicago. See on Mr. Grene, National Law Journal, June 18, 1979, p. 33, n. 17; Strauss, What is Political Philosophy?, p. 299.
The Jason Aronson funeral remarks [the ‘sacredness of ‘the common’” section] were originally published by Dean Maurice F. X. Donohue for the University of Chicago (along with remarks by Thomas McDonald and me). Mr. Aronson was, at the time of his death, an instructor in the Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults.
Mr. Strauss’s “Nietzsche!” story [the “Comedies, parodies, and satires” section] may now be found also (in a slightly different version) in 7 Interpretation 1-2 (September 1978). See, as well, The College, St. John’s College, January 1979, p. 30.
See, on the relation of poetry and philosophy, Strauss, Liberalism, Ancient and Modern (New York: Basic Books, 1968), p. 134. See, also, notes 3 (end) and 145, above.
288. See, on politics as the master art, Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 1094a18 sq.; note 237, above. See, also, note 3 (end), above.
Consider, for a suggestion that the political art should be used to master the religion-based strife between evolutionists and creationists, my essay, “Science, Repression and Morality,” prepared for the annual Clarence Darrow Memorial Meeting in Chicago, March 13, 1981:
Clarence Darrow, a few years after the Scopes evolution trial, explained, “I am an agnostic because I do not believe everything I hear. I believe some things. No person can believe anything unless he is an agnostic about something else….We are all agnostics. The question is, What are you agnostic about?” Just as we may all be in some sense agnostics, may we not be, in a sense, all deists as well?
It can be useful, therefore, to begin to clarify one’s thoughts as to what one is, or must be, agnostic about, and as to what belief in a divinity (or in nature) can mean. A case in point is the current evolutionist-creationist controversy, at the heart of which are doctrinal differences as to what one is entitled to believe about the origins of life on this planet.
For some time now we have been warned against repressive attacks by religious fundamentalists upon Darwinian opinions. Thus, I recall meeting the mild-mannered John Scopes (here in Chicago more than a decade ago) when he was campaigning against such efforts with respect to textbooks. This past fortnight, front-page stories in the press reported an effort in court by creationists to change how these matters are taught in California public schools. They insist that evolution should be taught as no more than a “theory” (whatever that may mean to them), not as a dogma. More such efforts are anticipated, especially since we now have a President who is believed to be in sympathy with the creationists.
But lest “right-thinking” people become unduly alarmed, certain obvious facts should be pointed out. The most telling is that there is virtually no chance that creationists will long prevail anywhere in the Western world at this time. They are fighting a rearguard battle. The scientific prejudices of this age, which are remorselessly against them, are growing stronger, not weaker. Indeed, that may have already been true in this country at the time of the Scopes Trial in 1925. This suggests that there is something unrealistic, if not even hysterically unbecoming, about the threats [that is, the fears] now being publicized by evolutionists, as well as something illusory, if not even shortsightedly provocative, in the challenges now being made by creationists.
Still, it should be recognized by those who ridicule the challenges posed by creationists that evolution theories are themselves critically limited in certain respects. On the one hand, they [seem to] require, in explaining what has happened in the emergence of animal life on this planet, a fantastic series of minor changes made over a vast time—changes made in “slow motion,” so to speak. On the other hand, they require, in explaining the era which saw the formation of the universe in which all this has taken place, cataclysmic reactions (associated with the so-called Big Bang) which happened on a gigantic scale almost instantaneously.
For most of us, then, the complicated accounts given today by science about the sudden origins of the present universe and about the gradual descent of the various species we know are so incredible, if not simply incomprehensible, as to require at least as much (if not the same kind of) faith as does belief in the accounts given some thirty-three centuries ago in Genesis. Of course, both the scientist and the mystic may believe themselves to know the things they tell the rest of us about.
Be all this as it may, one of the critical questions remaining for anyone interested in these things is how life itself originated, whether from inanimate matter (which matter is assumed by many scientists “always” to have existed) or from nothing (which is assumed by most creationists). (The more sophisticated among both the creationists and the evolutionists can now be understood to agree that there may have been stages of development in the emergence of the life we now have—stages recorded, for example, in the ample fossil record. Thus, the six “days” of creation can now be seen as laying down in matter the patterns which were destined to take the forms we know—with the first three or four “days,” by the way, not being defined in their duration by any existing sun.) To believe that a divine artist originated life still leaves a considerable mystery, of course, but then so does the belief that the richly varied forms of life we know, which routinely exhibit a sense of purpose as well as a remarkable exuberance, developed more or less accidentally after chance electrical charges (or whatever) animated something in the primordial “soup” once available on this planet. Certainly, the modern biologist in his study of animate things again and again assumes that a purposeful art is naturally involved in the operations of living bodies. (It is also instructive to notice that every science, indeed everything we know, rests upon impressions and premises which are somehow simply grasped as self-evident rather than secured through demonstration. Thus, a kind of trust [pistis] or faith, not agnosticism, is naturally relied upon at the foundation of all we believe ourselves to know. See, e.g., Plato, Epinomis 974B-C.)
To say all this about the limitations of evolution theory is not to disavow the proposition I have advanced, that the present faith in science, its claims and its accomplishments is apt to grow among us. Perhaps science would come to be generally repudiated if mankind should suffer unprecedented disasters (in war or otherwise) because of the powerful technology, grounded in modern science, which we depend upon. But such repudiation is, in our present circumstances, highly unlikely.
Those, then, who stand with modern science—and this would include, I take it, most of those who continue to honor the memory of Clarence Darrow—should appreciate that they deal from considerable strength. Certainly, such people are not truly vulnerable these days to sustained repression, however much chatter there should be by media intellectuals to that effect. Rather, as people of superior education and standing in the community, they should be particularly tolerant—as well as confident that they will prevail both in the courts and in the academies.
A much more serious question than whether desperate creationists will win a temporary victory here or there is the question of whether the moral foundations of our national community are being subverted, those foundations which depend to a considerable extent upon the traditional religious opinions (particularly with respect to divine providence) which careless scientists do tend to undermine. Unless those foundations are firm, we are not apt to have a community which is confident and sensible enough to resist such genuine threats to our well-being, if not to our very existence, as fearful and hence reckless recourse to nuclear and biological weapons in the coming decades. Do not both scientific research and a productive use of that research, as well as a safe and decent way of life, continue to depend on a community which is rooted in moral assurances and in a political harmony which science is itself not the source of?
In short, the more “advanced” members of our community should moderate doctrinal quarrels among us, especially since (for better or for worse) time does seem (at least with respect to the evolution issue) to be on their side. This means, among other things, that they should deal prudently (and hence gently) with creationists, whose moral dedication and good will a healthy community cannot long do without, however troublesome their self-righteousness and intolerance may be at times.
It has been in the spirit of Clarence Darrow that I have suggested that we should not believe everything we hear about the repression we face today.
One danger we do face, and about which privileged intellectuals should not be agnostic, is with respect to the permanent damage that can be done when “right-thinking” people make much in public, without regard to social consequences, of their differences from their seemingly less enlightened fellow citizens. Are not magnanimity and accommodation called for among us in these matters today?
See, as bearing on the subjects of this Clarence Darrow memorial essay, Anastaplo, The Constitutionalist, pp. 803-04. Human Being and Citizen, Essays No. 7, No. 8, and No. 10. See, also, Franklin, Autobiography, pp. 56-57; note 76, above.
See, as well, Plato, Laws 885B sq.; Epilogue, Section ii; Appendix C, Sections v-vi, xi-xii; Appendix E, Section viii; notes 3 and 145, above.
289. Xenophon, Memorabilia, I, vi, 14. See Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, p. 8. See, also, note 145, above.
Consider, as well, A. Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Norwood Builder, in which Sherlock Holmes observes of an ingenious culprit who overreached himself in executing his “masterpiece of villainy”: “But he had not that supreme gift of the artist, the knowledge of when to stop.”