The German Stranger: Leo Strauss and National Socialism

The German Stranger: Leo Strauss and National Socialism

William H. F. Altman

Language: English

Pages: 618

ISBN: 0739147382

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Leo Strauss's connection with Martin Heidegger and Carl Schmitt suggests a troubling proximity to National Socialism but a serious critique of Strauss must begin with F. H. Jacobi. While writing his dissertation on this apparently Christian opponent of the Enlightenment, Strauss discovered the tactical principles that would characterize his lifework: writing between the lines, a faith-based critique of rationalism, the deliberate secularization of religious language for irreligious purposes, and an "all or nothing" antagonism to middling solutions. Especially the latter is distinctive of his Zionist writings in the 1920s where Strauss engaged in an ongoing polemic against Cultural Zionism, attacking it first from an orthodox, and then from an atheist's perspective. In his last Zionist article (1929), Strauss mentions "the Machiavellian Zionism of a Nordau that would not fear to use the traditional hope for a Messiah as dynamite." By the time of his "change of orientation," National Socialism was being led by a nihilistic "Messiah" while Strauss had already radicalized Schmitt's "political theology" and Heidegger's deconstruction of the ontological Tradition. Central to Strauss's advance beyond the smartest Nazis is his "Second Cave" in which he claimed modern thought is imprisoned: only by escaping Revelation can we recover "natural ignorance." By using pseudo-Platonic imagery to illustrate what anti-Semites called "Jewification," Strauss attempted to annihilate the common ground, celebrated by Hermann Cohen, between Judaism and Platonism. Unlike those who attacked Plato for devaluing nature at the expense of the transcendent Idea, the émigré Strauss effectively employed a new "Plato" who was no more a Platonist than Nietzsche or Heidegger had been. Central to Strauss's "Platonic political philosophy" is the mysterious protagonist of Plato's Laws whom Strauss accurately recognized as the kind of Socrates whose fear of death would have caused him to flee the hemlock. Any reader who recognizes the unbridgeable gap between the real Socrates and Plato’s Athenian Stranger will understand why “the German Stranger” is the principal theoretician of an atheistic re-enactment of religion, of which genus National Socialism is an ultra-modern species.

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Strauss’s first allusion to Heidegger,81 and (3) the reference to “five years” makes sense only if one bears in mind that Strauss first encountered Heidegger in 1922,82 five years before the publication of Sein und Zeit, which brought its author immediate fame. It is, moreover, clear that Strauss regards Heidegger as a great man in 1930: “Hence: if one takes the great men seriously that rule the present, one will not consider a synthesis, a muddying, and a watering down of that which mattered to

Stranger’s often expressed admiration for the latter is striking; the first mention of prosecution for impiety involves violation of Egyptian practices; see Laws 798e4-799b9 and AAPL 25. Numenius, by contrast, famously described Plato as “Moses atticizing.” 26 Introduction This, indeed, was an important component of his ongoing pedagogical project: to show Kluft-cleaving philosophers their obligation to follow Socrates back down into the Cave lest the likes of Thrasymachus administer their

sentence. “After Lessing, who died in the year in which Kant published his Critique of Pure Reason, the question of exotericism seems to have been lost sight of almost completely, at least among scholars and philosophers as distinguished from novelists.”43 The words “almost” and “seems” are important (as will soon become clear) and may stand as a validating example of my claim that Strauss must be read literally. Jacobi’s On the Doctrine of Spinoza (1785) could only have been written after

hapless gentlemen like Mendelssohn with an ongoing and pervasive Bewegung zwischen den Gegensätzen suggests the folly of constructing a list of only five areas of influence. Every one of his readers must have felt at times like the honest Mendelssohn, sincerely trying to figure out whether Strauss’s last word is “Athens” or “Jerusalem” or whether he ultimately comes down on the side of “Ancients” or the “Moderns.”155 But as the following chapter will show, it is Strauss’s ability to attack the

under Saul was stylized as an apostasy only later, that is, in exile; if, as the sources permit to shine through, what originally impelled the establishment of the kingdom was self-evident and elementary needs rather than the theatricality of some hysterical intoxication with normality, if the later stylization was indeed the effect of prophecy, but the effect of prophecy on a people weaned of political responsibility, then the opponents of our political Zionism, who fight us by an appeal to

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