sábado, 16 de enero de 2016

The Political Legacies of Strauss and Voegelin

The Burkean Tradition of Strauss and Voegelin

by Robert Kraynak

Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin were scholars in the field of political philosophy, yet they did not have an explicit political teaching. They studied the great political philosophers of the past in order to learn lessons that might become living truths for us today. But Strauss and Voegelin did not write political treatises defending a specific political ideology, such as conservatism or liberalism, or a specific regime, such as ancient Sparta, constitutional monarchy, or liberal democracy. Aside from early writings and occasional statements, their published works do not contain an identifiable political doctrine.[1]

Nevertheless, their approach to philosophy is essentially “political”—rather than metaphysical, epistemological, or ethical in the narrow sense. And they are widely regarded today as “conservatives,” with students and followers who are prominent conservatives of one kind or another. For example, Voegelin’s legacy is carried on by scholars such as John Hallowell, Ellis Sandoz, and David Walsh who defend the Christian basis of liberal democracy. And Strauss’s legacy is carried on by a variety of followers: by “Jaffaites” defending the natural rights doctrine of the Declaration of Independence and Abraham Lincoln; by Harvey Mansfield defending the Aristotelian basis of politics; by Allan Bloom in his cultural critique of relativism; by Michael Zuckert with his Lockean view of “natural rights republicanism;” by the “faith-based” Straussians following Fr. Ernest Fortin, not to mention the infamous neoconservatives who have been linked to Strauss.[2]

These observations raise important questions about Strauss and Voegelin and their influence as scholars: Is there a political teaching that emerges with any kind of clarity from their writings, and what kind of political legacy is fairly traceable to them? In attempting to answer these questions, I will argue that Voegelin and Strauss were devoted primarily to the recovery of philosophy as the open-ended quest for ultimate truth, and that this goal led them to embrace classical or Christian models of wisdom and made them philosophical radicals in the academy. It also led them to become strong critics of modern currents of thought, although they differed somewhat in diagnosing the ills of modernity. Voegelin saw the false certitude of utopian ideologies or Gnosticism as the main danger and Christianity as part of the solution, leaving a political legacy of scholars who support religiously based, Anglo-American democracy. Strauss saw moral relativism or nihilism as the main problem and natural right as the solution, leaving a legacy of mostly nonreligious natural right thinkers who develop political views from Aristotle, Locke, the American Founders, and Churchill. In contemporary terms, their prudent views on politics fit the label “conservative” and resemble the Anglo-American constitutionalism of Edmund Burke, yet Voegelin and Strauss were reluctant to align themselves with Burkean conservatives and often seem unfairly critical of Burke. These observations point to the difficulty of appropriating Voegelin and Strauss for any political cause, although I will argue that their views may be usefully described as a blend of philosophical radicalism and political conservatism.

The Permanent Problem of Philosophy and Politics

Voegelin and Strauss taught political philosophy, not by writing political treatises, but by presenting a grand interpretation of Western thought through the careful analysis of classic texts. In developing their teachings, they sought to discover the Truth about the permanent problems of man or human nature, which they understood as political problems in the broadest sense. For Strauss, the fundamental issues arose from the relation of law and philosophy, while for Voegelin the abiding issues arose from the relation of political order and the search for cosmic order. Let me elaborate these points in order to show the similarity in overall orientation of the two thinkers, along with some crucial differences.

The permanent problem of man that emerges from Strauss’s writings is the relation of the Philosopher and the City, as expressed above all in Plato’s dialogues. This relation is seen in the inherent tension that exists between the need of the political community for an authoritative law—ultimately based on divine law—and the erotic need of the philosopher for rational knowledge of the whole. These two needs create an inevitable conflict because the city is “closed” in the sense of demanding belief in a particular religion and form of government as the only true or authoritative law, while the philosopher is “open” in the sense of questioning all received opinions in order to ascend from opinion to knowledge, or from convention to nature. These conflicting needs were the underlying cause of the trial and death of Socrates, which became the paradigm for the precarious relation of philosophy and politics everywhere and led many philosophers to develop an esoteric style of writing to avoid persecution by their political communities.

Using a different kind of terminology, Voegelin describes the permanent problem of man as the relation between two needs—the “truth of the soul” and the “truth of society.”[3] Despite the use of more technical terms, Voegelin resembles Strauss in viewing this fundamental relation as a kind of tension in the human quest for order. On the one side, there is the openness of the soul to truth, which Voegelin describes as the encounter of philosophers and other seekers of wisdom with the “divine ground of being.” This experience arises from the “in-between status” of man as a mortal being seeking transcendent order in the cosmos, which is expressed in different “symbols,” including the ideas of philosophers. On the other side is the need of society for “representations of order,” which in healthy societies takes the form of a civil theology open to transcendence and in unhealthy societies becomes a rigidly closed ideology. In the historical quest for order, the proper balance between “open” and “closed” souls and societies is rarely achieved, especially in the modern world.[4] As Voegelin says of an earlier period, “the tension between a truth of society and a truth of the soul existed before…and the new understanding of transcendence could sharpen the consciousness of the tension but not remove it from the constitution of being.”[5]

In reflecting on these statements, one can see a similarity in Strauss’s and Voegelin’s claims that an inherent tension exists between the needs of philosophers and the needs of societies that cannot be eliminated without distorting one or the other. Hence, they are critical of the modern Enlightenment for attempting to remove the tension, either by making the political community more rational and attuned to theoretical doctrines or by making philosophers more practical and activist in trying to change the world. While agreeing on these major points, the two men disagree on the role of reason and faith in the quest for truth. In a famous exchange of letters, Voegelin describes philosophers and theologians as engaging in the same enterprise, meaning they use reason and revelation as comparable tools in seeking to know and to express the ever-elusive “divine ground of being.” Strauss opposes Voegelin’s tendency to synthesize philosophy and religion, asserting that “philosophy is radically independent of faith”—this is “the root of our disagreement.”[6] For Strauss, reason and revelation are exclusive alternatives that admit of no synthesis that does not subordinate one to the other, requiring an either/or choice—philosophy or religious faith.


Read more:

No hay comentarios:

Publicar un comentario