Strauss on the Ancients and the Moderns

Epicurus is truly the classic of the critique of religion. Like no other, his whole philosophy presupposes the fear of superhuman forces and of death as the danger threatening the happiness and repose of man . . .

The Enlightenment understands this happy peace, this tranquility in a fundamentally different way from the original Epicureanism—it understands "tranquility" in such a way that the civilization, the subjection, the improvement of nature, and particularly of human nature, becomes indispensable for its sake. While the battle of the Epicureans against the terrifying delusion of religion was aimed preeminently at the terror of this delusion, the Enlightenment aimed primarily at the delusoriness itself.; regardless of whether the religious ideas are terrifying or comforting—qua delusions, they cheat men of the real goods, of the enjoyment of the real goods; they steer men away from the real "this world" to an imaginary "other world," and thus seduce them into letting themselves be cheated of the possession and enjoyment of the real "this worldly" goods by the greedy clergy, who "live" from these delusions. . . .

The latest and purest expression of this is that the religious ideas are rejected not because they are terrifying but because they are desirable, because they are comforting: religion is not a tool which man has forged for dark reasons in order to torment himself, in order to make life unnecessarily difficult, but rather a way chosen for very obvious reasons, in order to escape the terror and the hopelessness of life, which cannot be eradicated by any progress of civilization, in order to make his life easier. A new kind of fortitude, which forbids itself every flight from the horror of life into comforting delusion, which accepts the eloquent description of the misery of man without God as proof of the goodness of its cause, reveals itself eventually as the ultimate and purest ground for the rebellion against the tradition of the revelation. This new fortitude, being the willingness to look man's forsakenness in the face, being the courage to welcome the terrible truth, being toughness against the inclination of man to deceive himself about his situation, is probity. . . . This atheism with a good conscience, or even with a bad conscience, differs precisely by its conscientiousness, its morality, from the conscienceless atheism at which the past shuddered; the "Epicurean," who became an "idealist" in the persecution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, who, instead of being willing to "live in hiding" safely, learned to fight and die for honor and truth, finally becomes the "atheist" who rejects for reasons of conscience the belief in God. Thus it becomes clear that this atheism, compared not only with the original Epicureanism but also with the generally "radical" atheism of the age of Enlightenment, is a descendent of the tradition grounded in the Bible; it accepts the thesis, the negation of the Enlightenment, on the basis of a way of thinking which became possible only through the Bible.

Leo Strauss, Philosophy and Law, Eve Adler, trans. (SUNY, 1995), p. 35-37.

For the religion with which medieval philosophy has to do is revealed religion; the problem posed by revelation is the problem of medieval philosophy, to such an extent that revelation is constitutive for medieval philosophy. The situation of philosophy was altered from the ground up by the reality of the revelation.

Ibid., p. 57.

Since the recognition of the authority of the revelation is prior to philosophizing and since the revelation lays claim to man totally, philosophizing is now possible only as commanded by the revealed law. It therefore no longer lies in the discretion of the man suited to philosophizing whether he will philosophize or not, in such a way that we will have to draw the natural consequences of his discretion and nothing more; it is now no longer undetermined whether or the philosopher is appointed to philosophize by himself or by an authority (cf. Plato, Apology 28d); and it is no longer an obscure, enigmatic, multifarious admonition by which a god summons to philosophy (cf. Plato, Ap. 21a-b and Phaedo 60e-61a); but rather the one God obliges the men suited to it, by a clear unequivocal, simple command of his revealed law, to philosophize. This is the teaching of even and precisely "the most radical thinkers" of the Middle Ages, above all of Averroes himself. Out of the new situation of philosophizing, the obligation by revelation, there emerges a new problem for the philosophers, their accountability to revelation.

Ibid., p. 59.

Philosophy and Law is an illuminating read--both for what it says about Averroes, Maimonides, and relation between the eternity-of-the-world issue and prophecy, and for what it says about Strauss himself. I should blog quite a few more quotes from it . . .

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