So I leave early tomorrow to go the APSA in Chicago. Tomorrow at 415, you can see me (somewhere in the Palmer House) comment on the topic above. I’m obviously running behind in preparing, and so consider the comments below very tenative and completely unproofed. Still, it’s always good to hear what you have to say.
Strauss and Kojeve appear (in their own minds) as fundamental alternatives. That’s not to say that Strauss, in particular, fully embraces his fundamental alternative. He’s more about the price to be paid for becoming wholly oblivious to it.
Is BEING equal to ETERNITY, which is the assumption or conclusion of classical rationalism?
Or is BEING equal to TIME or HISTORY or HUMAN FREEDOM or THE SINGULAR CAPACITY OF HUMAN BEINGS FOR NEGATIVITY, which is the Kojevian or radically modern conclusion?
What we have here, among other things, are two forms of ATHEISM. There’s no room for God in the conclusion that all there is what can be loosely called the eternally true impersonally necessitarian laws of nature OR in the conclusion that History is all there is.
What and who God creates IS not ETERNAL in the Greek sense–having, after all, a beginning. Matter, in the light of eternity, is neither created nor destroyed. And God himself exists outside (as well as in) HISTORY or TIME. Anyone who believes in the existence of the personal, relational Creator of the Christians can’t be satisfied with the classical view of ETERNITY or the modern view of HISTORY.
What we have, it might also seem, are two forms of EXTREMISM, keeping in mind that extremism is what you might well end up with when your thought is relentlessly uncompromising. It is, obviously, easier to negate than defend an extreme position. That’s why Strauss is strongest in his criticism of Kojeve, and Kojeve strongest in his criticism of Strauss.
Kojeve seems to be right that to equate ALL of being with ETERNITY is to negate what we can see with our own eyes about PERSONAL FREEDOM. Strauss seems to be right that to identify ALL of being with HISTORY or TIME or even BEING PERSONAL seems to negate what we can see with our own eyes about NATURE or the COSMOS, about what we didn’t make and can’t really change.
Saying we can only know what we make doesn’t extinguish our natural desire to know what we don’t make. And to say only ETERNITY is worth knowing is to deny any real significance to what we make (or create) or even who we are as particular beings. It is to say, as Allan Bloom memorably did, that there’s no real difference between particular people and particular leaves. So to say that philosophers only care about what’s eternal is, as Kojeve says, to deny any real significance to our desire for personal significance or recognition. It’s arguably to define “the philosopher” in a way that doesn’t wholly correspond to any real human being.
From Kojeve’s point of view, ancient atheism is hypothetical. It cannot be proven to be true. And Strauss seems to agree that reason can’t definitely refute the personal claims of revelation. But Strauss doesn’t seem to leave the question there. Philosophy–which, it seems to me, means really knowing–depends on making some Socratic or dialectical progress in refuting revelation. That progress makes the truth of revelation highly unlikely–or reasonably incredible–to those who know.
Philosophy is more than a “fundamental alternative” or decision. Even if that’s true, the evidence for “philosophy” or the philosophical way of life won’t or can’t be decisive for most people. Strauss pretty much says that what Pascal observes about the misery of man without God is true in the overwhelming majority of cases. So the Socratic case for philosophy can be dismissed as an idiosyncratic fantasy, one very lacking in empirical verification.
More certainty even than Socrates actually had is required to replace philosophy with the learning objective of philosophy–which is wisdom. And that’s why Socrates distinguished between himself and his imaginary construction the philosopher-king, who is, it seems, a wise man who knows even what gives being its beingness. In truth, Kojeve says, the possibility of philosophy can only be vindicated by the reality of the wisdom–the wise man. And wisdom is possible only if History is all there is, if one lives at the end of History, and from that vantage point one can show a complete, discursive knowledge of the logos that is the record of the being with time in him.
For Kojeve, ancient atheism depends on a denial of the observable reality of human freedom or negativity. In this respect, Kojeve sees Christianity as an advance over classical rationalism, because it observes that the human person or personal identity or the desire to be recognized just as I am can’t be integrated into any account of nature. What human beings have been given by nature they creatively transform to satisfy their desire to be free from nature. From the point of view of the various forms of that desire, nature, after all, has given them almost worthless materials. Human freedom isn’t eternal; it’s present in the beings with time in them. It’s a temporary quality in temporal beings.
So the free, creative, and relational Christian God is made in the image of free and creative historical beings–beings who make themselves more historical (and relational) and less natural ( or naturally self-sufficient) over time. What’s true about Christianity has been demonstrated historically. What Christ promised in the next world has been achieved–by human creativity–in this one. That there could be no better world than the one found at the end of History is, of course, the definitive proof of atheism.
The Christian God, of course, is also rational; his, Christians believe, is a creative LOGOS. Free creativity, we can see at History’s end, really is a LOGOS, but one that’s the result of human or this-worldly action–one with no place or no need for God. At the end of History, we are satisfied, as God claimed to have been on the seventh day, to know that what we have made is good.
The Straussian case against HISTORY and on behalf of CLASSICAL NATURAL RIGHT is exceedingly strong when thinking of HISTORY as all there is morphs into a progressivism based on the denial of the reality or the irreplaceable significance of particular persons. So persons becomes HISTORY fodder to be slaughtered to bring history an end in the mode of murderous, terrorist COMMUNISM.
The abolition of HISTORY through philosophical criticism from the point of view of ETERNITY frees up PERSONS from the tyranny of philosophy over History. But the move from HISTORY to ETERNITY isn’t really some return to personal significance or a secure ground for natural rights and limited government. It does free up ordinary life from philosophical obsession and so returns political moderation. But from the point of view of ETERNITY, there’s both nothing HISTORICAL and nothing PERSONAL of fundamental significance for thought.
MORE TO COME, PROBABLY SCRIBBLED ON THE PLANE.