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Note on the First Chapter of Leo Strauss' Final Work.

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  • sauwelios
    As a Nietzsche specialist, the first thing that struck me about the essay was something it claimed about Nietzscheùin fact, the very first thing. The first
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 2013
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      As a Nietzsche specialist, the first thing that struck me about the essay was something it claimed about Nietzsche—in fact, the very first thing. The first thing it claims about Nietzsche is that the basis on which he "questioned the communist vision more radically than anyone else" was his disagreement with the Marxian view on specialization: whereas according to Marx "the members of the world society [...] are free and equal [...] in the last analysis because all specialization, all division of labor, has given way to the full development of everyone", Nietzsche "identified the man of the communist world society as the last man, as man in his utmost degradation: without 'specialization,' without the harshness of limitation, human nobility and greatness are impossible" (paragraphs 6-7). What immediately struck me about this claim was that it seemed in blatant contradiction to what Nietzsche himself said about specialization, for example in the penultimate aphorism of the sixth chapter of Beyond Good and Evil: "In face of a world of 'modern ideas' which would like to banish everyone into a corner and 'specialty', a philosopher, assuming there could be philosophers today, would be compelled to see the greatness of man, the concept 'greatness', precisely in his spaciousness and multiplicity, in his wholeness in diversity: he would even determine value and rank according to how much and how many things one could endure and take upon oneself, how far one could extend one's responsibility."

      The next thing Strauss says about Nietzsche did not at all strike me as odd. He says there is an alternative to the last man, namely "the over-man, a type of man surpassing and overcoming all previous human types in greatness and nobility" (paragraph 7). But why is the one extreme called the last man and the other the over-man? Would one not rather expect the opposite of the last man to be called the first man, and that of the over-man, the under-man? This subtlety is the key to understanding, not only the first thing Strauss says about Nietzsche, but his entire essay.

      Shortly before introducing Nietzsche, Strauss says that "for Marx human history [...] has not even begun; what we call history is only the pre-history of humanity" (paragraph 6). This implies that what for Marx counts as human history, we would call post-history. Now in the first chapter of his Second Meditation Out of Season, Nietzsche calls his counterpart to this post-historical epoch the supra-historical standpoint. Even as Nietzsche considers his vision supra-historical whereas Marx considers his post-historical, so whereas the last man would be the man who comes after all specialization, the over-man is the man who is above all specialization; whereas Marx's vision is one of serial order, Nietzsche's is one of order of rank. This explains why Nietzsche "questioned the communist vision more radically than anyone else". For according to Nietzsche, "the full development of everyone" is an impossibility; only a minority can be noble and great, which is to say free (frank) and fully developed; and this only inasmuch as the majority is limited. This difference between the few on high who are free and the many down below who are limited is the same difference as that between the supra-historical and the historical, respectively. The few on high, the philosophers, have a comprehensive view; the many down below have a decisively limited view. Existentialism's rejection of political philosophy is essentially a rejection of the possibility of philosophy (cf. the final sentence of the first paragraph).

      In the final sentence of the first chapter of Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche says that "psychology is now again the path to the fundamental problems." By this he does not mean naturalistic psychology but rather a kind of phenomenology; it is not "based on the science of physical nature" (paragraph 14), it does not "begin with the roof" but with "the foundation" (paragraph 5). There is however something paradoxical about Husserl's terms "roof" and "foundation". "The roof" here ultimately means the most basic elements natural science might posit; "the foundation" here means the highest phenomenon, the human psyche in general and the philosopher's psyche in particular. Starting from his own psychical phenomena, Nietzsche works down or "up" to the whole "so-called mechanistic (or 'material') world" (aph. 36 of Beyond Good and Evil). The psychical phenomenon "will" cannot be explained in terms of the physical concept "force"; the latter must be explained in terms of the former (cf. e.g. Will to Power nr. 619).

      In his discussion of aphorism 36, Strauss says: "Precisely if all views of the world are interpretations, i.e. acts of the will to power, the doctrine of the will to power is at the same time an interpretation and the most fundamental fact" (paragraph 8 of the central chapter of the work). This reasoning can be applied as well to the existentialism from the first chapter. A Weltanschauung is literally a view of the world. Precisely if all Weltanschauungen are historical, historicism is at the same time historical and supra-historical: the philosophers are the step-sons of their time (paragraph 30 of the central chapter); philosophy is at the same time Weltanschauungsphilosophie and rigorous science.

      Philosophy being possible, existentialism's rejection of political philosophy is groundless. Be this as it may, Nietzschean political philosophy is in a sense not political philosophy but rather religious philosophy. In the central two sentences of the first paragraph, Strauss says that the disappearance of political philosophy is simultaneous with the emergence of the fact that "[u]nrest in what is loosely, not to say demagogically, called the ghetto of an American city has repercussions in Moscow, Peking, Johannesburg, Hanoi, London, and other far away places and is linked with them". Moscow and London are in Europe; Peking and Hanoi are in Asia; Johannesburg is alone in Africa, and occupies the central position among the capitals listed. Now the Dutch name Johannesburg would be Ioannopolis in Greek and Johnsborough or Johnstown in English. It may thus be taken to mean "the polis of John the Evangelist", whose gospel begins with a hymn to the logos and represents Revelation's capture of Reason under the influence of the ghettos in the strictest sense—of Diasporic Judaism. Platonism's noble city and lie, the polis and myth harboring the logos, became Christianity's holy city and lie; Christianity is Platonism for the people, the demos. "Die vornehme Natur ersetzt die göttliche Natur" (final sentence of the central chapter), but political philosophy does not replace religious philosophy; for Nietzsche "[t]he fundamental alternative is that of the rule of philosophy over religion or the rule of religion over philosophy; it is not, as it was for Plato and Aristotle, that of the philosophic and the political life" (paragraph 6 of the central chapter). As in Heidegger's work (paragraph 2), so in Nietzsche's the room for political philosophy is occupied by gods or the gods: Dionysus and Ariadne (cf. paragraph 15 of the central chapter). And like Heidegger's (paragraph 8), Nietzsche's work, too, invites a dialogue with the most profound thinkers of the Orient: "The origins of Siva's dance of death, rebirth and the eternal cycle is entirely reminiscent of the Dionysian revels of ancient Greece in which the god is destroyed and reborn" (Claudia Crawford, "Nietzsche's Dionysian arts". See also Seung, Nietzsche's Epic of the Soul).
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