Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Leo Strauss, "Natural Right and History'

 While Strauss is considered to be at least one of, if not THE premier thinker of the mid 20th Century, he is hard to read and understand. I think his review (although still not a walk in the park) is a decent attempt to do a fairly rigorous summary of the book. 

I look at the book as a chronical of man's futile attempt to pull himself up by his own bootstraps to create fundamental and universal "morals, values, truths, imperatives, etc." After a decent amount of time chasing this chimera myself, I come to the conclusion that we cannot hove to ever pull ourselves up in any manner, therefore we require a transcendent ultimate being, usually referred to as "God". 

Worse, our attempts to "pull ourselves up" invariably lead to a deeper fall into the abyss of meaningless depravity. 

On page 14 we have this quote from Max Weber; "Follow God or the Devil as you will, but which ever choice you make, make it with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your power. What is absolutely base is to follow one's appetites, passions, or self-interest and to be indifferent or lukewarm toward the ideal or values, or towards gods or devils". 

There is an infinity to unpack here. First, the idea of free will. Up to the Reformation, Christendom largely sidestepped the issue with infant baptism. Ater the Reformation, the Anabaptists plucked the baby from the baptismal font with the thought of decision theology. Weber also thinks you can choose. 

Matt 22:37 Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’

Rev 3 14-16 "To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: 'I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 'So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.

I would guess that Weber is quite familiar with the Bible, he too detests the lukewarm. Much of modern man is in the "absolute base" camp serving "appetites, passions, or self-interest. In fact, democratic capitalism with the "pursuit of happiness" is a sterling example of "absolute base". 

From the review. 

Once we realize that the principles of our actions have no other support than blind choice, we really do not believe in them anymore. We cannot wholeheartedly act on them anymore. We cannot live any more as responsible beings. In order to live, we have to silence the easily silenced voice of reason, which tells us that our principles are in themselves as good or as bad as any other principles. The more we cultivate reason, the more we cultivate nihilism: the less we are able to be loyal members of society. The inescapable practical consequence of nihilism is fanatical obscurantism.

 Without God, there is no "Natural Right", and there is no "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights". 

Give up God, and you give up truth. "Truth" is whatever power says it is. We are all "lukewarm" other than we will confess whatever power tells us to ... or as power becomes more intrusive, we will be drugged, brainwashed, tortured, etc. until we do confess the "truth" of power, or we will surely die. 

In the search for "Natural Right" without God, the philosophers' return to the idea of the noble or ignoble savage. They spend a lot of time tramping around in this swamp, and it always makes me suspect they have spent too much time in libraries. 

So, no God, no Adam, no soul, no love, just sex. "Man" at "some point" becomes self-aware?  aware that he dies? figures out how to make a marguerita from some fermented cactus, and has a cocktail party?? According to Hobbes, "natural man" leads a life that is "nasty, brutish and short". Because of this, he decides he needs society, and "Leviathan" (government) arises with a level of security at the cost of some of his freedom. Rosseau is like the original lotus eater ... man's natural state is bliss, a natural Garden of Eden, and his nature is good. Rosseau said "man is born free but is everywhere in chains".  Outside of Satan, he is the first liberal. Man is born in pain, blood, and completely helpless, requiring constant care to survive ... and very ungrateful for the care.  Much like liberals today. 

A Christian view says that man (and everything) was created perfect with no sin and no death and a perfect "good" nature, then he fell, taking the universe with him. In our current left brained "fact based" universe, that seems insane ... from a cultural view however, that western worldview worked remarkably well up to a century or two ago. Today, our materialist amoral social imaginary is showing many signs of collapse, but that topic is discussed in many other blogs. 

The idea of man evolving from monkeys being by nature "good" is wishful insanity. Jane Goodhall documented that chimps in the wild are murderous by nature. Hobbes was enough of an observer of reality to see that nature was "bloody in tooth and claw".  

If you are a political scientist, this book is likely required reading ... although it is possibly "too triggering" today. If you are not, you likely don't need to dive this deep into the well of hopelessness that is the secular Natural Right. 

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