A Short Reflection Pertaining to the Question of Whether Strauss Philosophized
At this point I would like to bring forward some clumsy remarks about a specific problem which Strauss often mentioned which has ceased to make sense to me. And so has become a bother, and a fishwife of thought, and a predicament for thinkers with the sensitivity to think it. I do not know whether it ceases to make sense because it was always wrongly thought, or because we are moving further from the epoch in which Strauss philosophized. One can not necessarily take Strauss at his word when he announces himself as a Historian of philosophy, chiefly working out the details of the disagreements of the Great philosophers. Viewed not as reactionary, but as a thought that faced the movement of the epochs, Strauss must be understood as philosophizing. The fact that the nature of seeking principles through reasoned discussion becomes enigmatic, which is to say one no longer quite knows what such a work is about, does not set aside the possibility of the work. Which is to say, one can accept the primacy of being, as the essence of man, which comes in and replaces the view of Reason as the essence, and yet continue to Reason, though Reason has now become enigmatic. In a certain sense, the pursuit of Reason becomes greater, at the moment it can no longer exist.
In his works and lectures Strauss often fell to the consideration of the matter of this excerption:
“I dimly remember the time when people argued as follows: to deny the possibility of science or rational value judgments means to admit that all values are of equal rank; and this means that respect for all values, universal tolerance, is the dictate of scientific reason. But this time has gone.Today we hear that no conclusion whatever can be drawn from the equality of ail values; that science does not legitimate nor indeed forbid that we should draw rational conclusions from scientific findings.”
This point, so to speak, is on the cusp of Strauss’s concerns. It is beyond the chief part of his work. Since his work was concerned precisely with ranking (human) facts. He devoted all his powers to the task of rescuing the highest things, at least in the possibility of thinking them and distinguishing them from the trivial things. There is no high or low so far as there is no ranking.
On the crude view in thought what happens is that certain matters simply appear or disappear. They seem important, or they cease to seem important. But Strauss always distinguished between the practical situation, the ideas that controlled the field for the day, and the theoretical situation, the deeper consideration of the most sober minds. It becomes difficult to see how the phrase “the equality of all value”, which was still accepted by Weber, makes any sense. Because equality implies a measure taking, a reckoning. If there were no possibility of measuring the height of two human beings, in what sense could they be said to be of equal height? The question itself makes no sense because one who had no possibility to measure height, in any way, would not even know of the feature of beings called height. Something like this darts into each thought in this epoch. One speaks of values, but one means “ideology” or some such thing. But, spoken more seriously, didn’t one mean to say, simply nothing? Value is a nonce word, concealing the difficulty, that there is nothing.
In other words the ability to distinguish between unconstitutional states, and despotic or tyrannical states, can only make sense if there is a will that can be controlled by reason--if there is a will, and reason. On the other hand, one is compelled to go on calling that thing a constitution, and distinguishing between a state run not by some human beings personal discretion, and a state run sheerly by discretion of some untrammeled leader. There is a hard factual distinction, a matter of empirical record, but it flies away in its content. Everything empirical begins to fly in this epoch, but so does everything that has to do with reason. For now I can not ponder this matter more, but leave it to others to show what errors are made in what is said here.
It is really of no help that for those who know nothing of thought, with no sense of these matters, it is possible to go on as though nothing had happened. And make bemused remarks about those usless and unseriousness fellows who pretend to by nihilists, or to uphold nihilism. Surely, anyone who speaks so has no sense of the air in which they move. Nihilism is a fact, and not mainly an argument made in remote and private chambers with low voices, or by boasters and fools in the public square. Philosophy has perished, to be replaced by analysis and intellectual biography, sham arts from a stringent view, mere collections of unessential matters for the generous observer. But since dust is holy, can what is dust come into a new exercise?