Kalev’s Anti-Blog: Strauss’ Dialectic, Athens and Jerusalem

There is a thesis, and there is a negation of it by an antithesis, and the two are resolved in what happens to be a new thesis. There is much more to it this process, of course, but essentially the new thesis is negated by another antithesis and then a new thesis is formed. This kind of dialectic is exceptionally suited to a historical progress, and Marx materialized it to bring the world to capitalism and a revolution and Hegel used it to become wise.

Leo Strauss uses a dialectic, a much older one, that is fundamentally Platonic which does not make for any history. For example, there are two opposites, Athens (philosophy) and Jerusalem (revelation, faith); both make a claim to wisdom, but neither, apparently, fully disprove the other. This seemingly unresolved “tension” as the Strauss scholars like to put it are two poles that are at the heart of the development of the Western world, or so it is said. Put in this way, Straussians of the right especially, who believe in revelation and faith instead of philosophy, point to the remarkable opposition and declare that the claims of revelation have the same validity as the claim of philosophy.

Jerusalem was originally discovered by Plato, and it is actually a part of Athens. The understanding that Plato had was applied by Strauss to the situation between the political problem caused by the opposition of philosophy to biblical (Jewish) revelation and to a lesser extent to Muslim and Christian revelation in his writings. In Strauss, one must never confuse Jerusalem with Rome or Christianity.

The first problem is to decide whether this opposition is a genuine contradiction or is it more a case like yin and yang or motion and rest or fire and water, a problem of complements. Revelationists initially see this opposition not one of contrariness, but that philosophy and revelation are truly complements that form a unity. That view allows the revelationist to hold onto his faith in the face of philosophy’s questioning of everything, especially the revelationist’s belief in a monotheistic god. Their claim is that this complement is in fact the whole that philosophers seek.

Revelationists also want to see this dichotomy as contraries at the same time. Philosophy’s work is to attempt to question and negate faith and revelation, but it cannot do so. It can’t do so, because philosophy apparently requires a kind of faith in it to justify its claim to wisdom, a self-contradiction. Of course, anyone on the philosopher’s side of the problem would see that the philosopher of necessity is true, while the revelation is false, either in part or whole. After all, there has to be knowledge and ignorance. Again, however, the revelationist’s claim is that this whole is the one the philosophers seek and he can only know it through faith.

If these two are contraries, then, represent two poles of opposing thought, then the whole that these two represent are never whole, but only two forces that are always in conflict and cannot overcome each other. This view is that philosophy and revelation are at war and that uncertainty arises because one cannot be sure of the whole. If one views the two as complements, then there is a unity and peace, but philosophy’s intransigence in the superiority of philosophy is defeated as it cannot overcome its own faith in philosophy and because there is no philosophy without revelation.

However, in each of these two views, the whole is simply the sum of the two parts unified by art into a whole, even if that artist is a god. But as Strauss has repeatedly shown, as has Plato before him, the whole is something beyond the parts. The whole is a community that is not identifiable with any of the parts. It is beyond being. The Platonic formulation of this problem mathematically is “each is one, both two.” Reason and revelation, two separate poles, find their commonality in something that is not identical with either one of them.

The revelationist’s position with respects of the importance of Jerusalem is that of the sophist, or the poet, because in both proposed cases, revelation as contrary and revelation as complement, the true whole that is beyond both positions is, in effect, denied. The reason that it has to be denied by the revelationist is rooted in the very character of Jerusalem’s claim that man cannot know god or be a god. There is no actual true knowledge of god, only faith. There is no knowledge of the transcendent whatever it may be. There is only faith in it.

The philosopher’s position is for the quest of the whole, a whole that is not the sum of its parts, that commonality which is not identical with any one part. In Plato, he calls that whole the Good. He does so to distinguish between the whole that is seem solely as unity, like an Aristophanean cosmic monster man (the whole according to revelation, an Adam-Eve, an image in the likeness of god), and the true whole which is possession of the Good, which is beyond all beings. This quest is carried on by an actual man, in flesh and blood, who attains the Good and thus achieves philosophy in actuality. Thus, the philosopher uses the seeming whole or the revelation to achieve knowledge of the true whole, in effect to know something that has no form and is ineffable.

The fortifications of Jerusalem, according to Strauss: “One is thus led to say that the Bible contains both ‘myth’ and ‘history.’ Yet, this distinction is alien to the Bible; it is a special form of the distinction between mythos and logos; mythos and historie are of Greek origin. From the point of view of the Bible the ‘myths’ are as true as the ‘histories’: what Israel ‘in fact’ did or suffered cannot be understood except in the light of the ‘facts’ of Creation and Election. What is now called ‘historical’ is those deeds and speeches that are equally accessible to the believer and unbeliever. But from the point of view of the Bible the unbeliever is the fool who has said in his heart ‘there is no God’; the Bible narrates everything as it is incredible to the wise in the biblical sense of wisdom. Let us never forget that there is no biblical word for doubt. The biblical signs and wonders convince men who have little faith or who believe in other gods; they are not addressed to ‘the fools who say in their hearts ‘there is no God.'”

Or as Francis Bacon would say, “I had rather believe all the fables in the Legend, and the Talmud, and the Alcoran, than that this universal frame is without a mind. And therefore, God never wrought miracle, to convince atheism, because his ordinary works convince it. It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion. For while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further; but when it beholdeth the chain of them, confederate and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity.” It is truly for the relief of man’s estate.

In a certain sense, Jerusalem is indispensible for Athens, because Jerusalem is so naturally a part of the politics of men that it cannot be destroyed. As long as men are political, which will be as as long as there are men who live together, Jerusalem, wherever it is located, will be with us, the faithful city.

Strauss notes: “The perfectly just man, the man who is as just as is humanly possible, is according to Socrates the philosopher and according to the prophets the faithful servant of the Lord. The philosopher is the man who dedicates his life to the quest of the knowledge of the good, of the idea of the good; what we would call moral virtue is only a condition or by-product of that quest.” What we finally see is that the true divine revelation is philosophy.

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About Kalev Pehme

I am an icastic artist and a Straussian. I am not a conservative or neocon Straussian. Sadly, there are too many of them. My interests are diverse, however, and sometimes quite arcane. I have a deep interest in Daoism, Indo-Aryan religion, Buddhism, Plato, Aristotle, and whole lot more. I love good poetry. I also enjoy all things ancient. And I would like to meet any woman who is born on May 29, 1985.
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One Response to Kalev’s Anti-Blog: Strauss’ Dialectic, Athens and Jerusalem

  1. thag says:

    “Jerusalem was originally discovered by Plato, and it is actually a part of Athens. The understanding that Plato had was applied by Strauss to the situation between the political problem caused by the opposition of philosophy to biblical (Jewish) revelation and to a lesser extent to Muslim and Christian revelation in his writings.”

    Could you elaborate? I’m not sure that the quarrel between the poets and philosopher is what you make it out to be? (I’m thinking here of the Euthyphro)

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