Modern Views of Plato’s Silence (Part II)

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James Rhodes Eros Plato

Leo Strauss joins the debate about Platonic silence on the side of Gott-hold Lessing.60 Perhaps he also sides with Friedrich Nietzsche secretly. He opposes Friedrich Schleiermacher and G. W. F. Hegel. He treats Socratic and Platonic irony specifically in The City and Man and the esotericism of great philosophers generally in Persecution and the Art of Writing. At first, his analysis of irony seems straightforward. As one reads further into his work, however, one realizes that he writes esoterically about esotericism. Therefore, his account of its purposes is difficult to understand.

In Persecution, Strauss glances briefly at Schleiermacher, calls him a “great theologian,” and credits him with “an unusually able argument.”61 One infers from both of his books just cited that he appreciates Schleier­macher for his hermeneutic principles, as follows.

First, Strauss strongly argues: “One cannot understand Plato’s teaching as he meant it if one does not know what the Platonic dialogue is. One can­not separate the understanding of Plato’s teaching from the understanding of the form in which it is presented…. At any rate to begin with one must pay even greater attention to the ‘form’ than to the ‘substance,’ since the meaning of the ‘substance’ depends on the form.”62 This rule tallies with Schleiermacher’s maxim that Plato’s “form and content are inseparable,” and it entirely rejects Hegel’s dictum that it is necessary to “separate the form … in which Plato has propounded his ideas . . . from philosophy as such in him.”

Second, Strauss declares: “What it means to read a good writing properly is intimated by Socrates in the Phaedrus when he describes the character of a good writing. A writing is good if it complies with logographic necessity’ with the necessity that ought to govern the writing of speeches: every part of the written speech must be necessary for the whole; the place where each part occurs is the place where it is necessary that it should occur.” Strauss also maintains: “The context in which a statement occurs, and the literary character of the whole work as well as its plan, must be perfectly under­stood before an interpretation of the statement can reasonably claim to be adequate or even correct.”63 This recalls Schleiermacher’s insight that one must respect Plato’s great premeditation in composing his dialogues. It also implies assent to Schleiermacher’s rule that in Plato, every sentence is un­derstood correctly only in its place, and in the connections and boundaries in which Plato has set it. It abjures Hegel’s method of culling philosopheme from different texts and recombining them into arguments of allegedly greater logical coherence.

Third, in keeping with Plato’s awareness of the mysterious wholeness and heterogeneity of being, Strauss denies that a Platonic dialogue can be construed as “a chapter from an encyclopedia of the philosophic sciences or from a system of philosophy.”64 This reaffirms Schleiermacher’s analysis of Plato’s sense of the unity of knowledge. It pointedly rejects Hegel’s effort to remake the Platonic corpus into a system.

Finally, Strauss notes that Plato never appears in his own dialogues. Thus, he affirms (at least provisionally): “In none of his dialogues does Plato ever say anything.” To writers who believe that “Plato speaks through the mouths of his spokesmen,” he replies that “we do not know what it means to be a spokesman for Plato; we do not even know whether there , is such a thing as a spokesman for Plato.” Elsewhere, he adds: “The views of the author of a drama or dialogue must not, without previous proof, be identified with the views expressed by one or more of his characters, or with those agreed upon by all his characters or by his attractive charac­ters.”65 Thus, in his own way, Strauss reproduces another of Schleier­macher’s conclusions, that we cannot tell from Plato’s dialogues what Plato seriously thought. He contradicts Hegel’s assurances that Plato puts hisfinal judgments and settled doctrines into the speeches of Socrates, Timaeus, and the Strangers.

Strauss’s sympathy with Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics does not ex­tend to the latter’s interpretation of Platonic silence. Strauss differs from Schleiermacher—and also from Hegel—over the question of whether Plato has one teaching or two, the esoteric and the exoteric.66

In The City and Man, Strauss moves immediately to the crux of this dis­agreement. He renews Kierkegaard’s question, remarking, “Very much, not to say everything, seems to depend on what Socratic irony is.” Now, whereas Schleiermacher had analyzed esotericism as a matter of whether Plato’s audiences could be true auditors of the inner, Strauss answers: “Irony is a kind of dissimulation, or of untruthfulness.” Citing Aristotle’s comment that the historical Socrates always understated his own merits (Nicomachean Ethics 1127522-31), he continues by maintaining: “Irony is then the noble dissimulation of one’s worth, of one’s superiority.” Because the highest form of superiority is wisdom,

[i]rony in the highest sense will then be the dissimulation of one’s wis­dom, i.e., the dissimulation of one’s wise thoughts. This can assume two forms: either expressing on a “wise” subject such thoughts (e.g., generally accepted thoughts) as are less wise than one’s own thoughts or refraining from expressing any thoughts regarding a “wise” subject on the ground that one does not have knowledge regarding it and there­fore can only raise questions but cannot give any answers.67

This definition of “irony in the highest sense” has another important fea­ture: “If irony is essentially related to the fact that there is a natural order of rank among men, it follows that irony consists in speaking differently to different kinds of people.” Strauss thinks that the “if” clause is satis­fied. This leads him to the following argument: In the Phaedrus, Socrates states that writing is an invention of doubtful value. However, Plato wrote dialogues—a contradiction that would call Socrates’ intuition or Plato’s work into question unless it were reconciled. However, the contradiction can be reconciled:

We may assume that the Platonic dialogue is a kind of writing which is free from the essential defect of writings. Writings are essentially defec­tive because they are equally accessible to all who can read or because they do not know to whom to talk and to whom to be silent or because they say the same things to everyone. We may conclude that the Pla­tonic dialogue says different things to different people … or that it is radically ironical…. The proper work of a writing is to talk to some readers and to be silent to others.68

Taking further instruction from Xenophon, Strauss learns the two differ­ent ways in which Socrates the speaker (and, hence, Plato the writer) was inclined to approach others: “It would not be strange if Socrates had tried to lead those who are able to think toward the truth and to lead the others toward agreement in salutary opinions or to confirm them in such opin­ions.” Accordingly, “the proper work of a writing is truly to talk, or to re­veal the truth, to some while leading others to salutary opinions; the proper work of a writing is to arouse to thinking those who are by nature fit for it.”69 We should note that Nietzsche preceded Strauss in the judgment that the real content of writing should be addressed only to the naturally fit.

It is now clear that for Strauss, Socratic irony is a form of untruthful-ness in which the philosopher, a naturally superior man, (1) has “wise thoughts,” and, indeed, even knows “the truth”; (2) has it in his power to “express” his wise thoughts, or to “reveal” the truth, to those who can think, by “truly talking”; (3) is silent about his wise thoughts, or refrains from telling the truth, to his natural inferiors who cannot think, although he definitely could transmit his knowledge to them by talking if he wished; (4) dissimulates his wisdom, either by expressing less wise, generally ac­cepted thoughts or by pretending not to know the truth; (5) uses writing to reveal the truth to the thoughtful and to lead the thoughtless to untrue, salutary opinions; and (6) communicates with readers who can think by relying on them to “read a good writing properly,” such people knowing that “the good writing achieves its end if the reader considers carefully the logographic necessity’ of every part, however small or seemingly insignif­icant, of the writing.”70

Some things are not so plain, though. If we grant that the philosopher is already wise, which Socrates, as Strauss expects, denies, just why does the philosopher conceal his wise thoughts? Further, what is his truth? What is the character of the logographic necessity that should govern a good writing? Is this necessity scientific (that is, identical with the demands of inquiry or explanation) or is it rhetorical (in other words, identical with the aims and techniques of the program of simulta­neous disclosure and deception)? How can one “consider” the logographic necessity of a writing to get at its teaching?

On the subject of why the philosopher dissimulates his wisdom, Strauss first offers a reason of gentility: the superior man “spares the feelings of his inferiors by not displaying his superiority.”71 One surmises that Strauss himself is being ironic and that he has some ulterior motive for saying this, for he certainly knows from the Apology that whatever Socratic irony truly aimed to do, it shamed Socrates’ inferiors, resulting in a murderous resent­ment of him. Strauss soon proposes another reason. He declares that “the literary question, the question of presentation, is concerned with a kind of communication. Communication may be a means for living together; in its highest form, communication is living together.” So, the “literary question properly understood is the question of the relation between society and philosophy.”

One gathers that the wise man resorts to irony because it is the only form of communication that enables philosophers and the many to live together. Why is that? Strauss drops a hint not unrelated to the fate of Socrates: “Xenophon’s Socrates engaged in his most blissful work only with his friends or rather his ‘good friends.’ For, as Plato’s Socrates says, it is safe to say the truth among sensible friends.”72 One concludes that a superior man must be ironic to the many and tell the truth only to friends because revealing the truth to the many is dangerous for philosophers.73 Why should that necessarily be so, though? Strauss seems to fall silent. Thus, The City and Man does not finish any direct explanation of why a philosopher hides his wise thoughts.

This guarded book is even less informative about the substance of the verities that the philosopher conceals. Strauss provides no obvious tanta­lizing clues, no ironic suggestions. He is equally laconic about the nature of the logographic necessity, the iron law that dictates the construction of a good writing. He does raise brief hopes that he will be helpful in the matter of how the logographic necessity should be considered. He declares that the Platonic dialogue reveals to us “in what manner the teaching con­veyed through the work is adapted by the main speaker to his particular audience and therewith how that teaching would have to be restated in order to be valid beyond the particular situation of the conversation in question.”

He also remarks that “we must understand the ‘speeches’ of all Platonic characters in the light of their ‘deeds,'” the “deeds” including such things as the settings of the particular dialogues, the traits of the par­ticipants, the manners in which their conversations arise, the intentions of the main speakers, their successes and failures in attaining to their ends, the silences of these characters with regard to the “facts” known to Socrates or Plato but not mentioned in the speeches, and casual remarks.74

These ob­servations are surely useful. However, upon close inspection, they turn out to be nothing more than excellent advice on how to read fine dramas with minimally adequate understanding, some of this counsel having also been given by Schleiermacher. They do not illuminate the problem of why Plato necessarily put these kinds of dramatis personae into his dialogues, why he necessarily assigned them precisely these speeches at the times when they are spoken, or why he necessarily made them perform these deeds at the junctures when they occur. Thus, Strauss avoids explicit explanations of everything about Socratic esotericism that he leaves unclear in his original delineation of it.

Perhaps Strauss implicitly clarifies these matters in The City and Man, in the relationships among his analyses of Aristotle, Plato, and Thucydides. Possibly, an acute study of the book would ascertain such an implicit teach­ing. However, this work would be prohibitively long. Here, it will be more practical to turn to Persecution and the Art of Writing in search of additional explicit enlightenment.

Not surprisingly, Persecution presents original prototypes of most of the arguments of The City and Man. There is the emphasis on untruthfulness: Strauss indicates that he will risk shocking decent modern readers with the suggestion that “a great man might have deliberately deceived the large majority of his readers.” There are the philosophers who alone possess the “scientific truth.” There is the capacity of the philosophers to communi­cate “the truth” to the “trustworthy,” the “intelligent,” the “thoughtful.” There is the silence of the philosophers to the many, although they could reveal the truth to them if they wished. Indeed, Strauss goes out of his way to mention “that some great writers might have stated certain important truths quite openly by using as mouthpiece some disreputable character; they would thus show how much they disapproved of pronouncing the truths in question.”75

In such cases, the truths lie in the great writers’ works like the purloined letter, unidentified, for the philosopher knows that he would “defeat his purpose if he indicated clearly which of his statements expressed a noble lie, and which the still more noble truth.” In making “noble” truths utterable, Strauss plainly opposes Schleiermacher, whose verities require an unspoken hearing of the inner, and Kierkegaard, whose divine truths silence all predicates before their splendor. He clearly sides with Lessing, whom he describes as “one of the most profound humanists of all times, with an exceedingly rare combination of scholarship, taste, and philosophy,” whose authority he cites for the precept that “there are truths which should not or cannot be pronounced,” and whose rule he repeats, with a slight but significant variation of language, by remarking that “there are truths which would not be pronounced in public by any decent man.” He agrees with Hegel, too, on the narrow issue of whether truth is ineffable.

Persecution also speaks of the dissimulation of philosophic wisdom in “popular teaching of an edifying character,” which consists in the expression of opinions “not… in all respects consonant with truth.” It treats the use of writing to “perform the miracle of speaking in a publication to a minority, while being silent to the majority,” a miracle in which “an author does not tire of asserting explicitly on every page of his book that a is b, but indicates between the lines that a is not b,” such that the book offers “two teachings: a popular teaching of an edifying character, which is in the fore­ground, and a philosophic teaching concerning the most important subject, which is indicated only between the lines.” Finally, it suggests the philos­opher’s reliance on “the very careful reader” to know how to ascertain the meaning of his book, thus grasping “the truth about all crucial things” that is “presented exclusively between the lines.” Strauss does not maintain that this reader will consider logographic necessity, but he boldly imposes what might be an equivalent obligation on him, that he should “adapt the rules of certainty which guide his research to the nature of his subject.”76

This prepares the ground for another try at the unanswered questions, which can be put into expanded form: Why does the philosopher hide and dissemble his wisdom? What is “the most important subject”? What are the “crucial things”? What is the philosopher’s truth, or his teaching about the most important subject and the crucial things? What is the nature of the logographic necessity that ought to govern a good writing? Alterna­tively, what makes the hermeneutic “rules of certainty” certain, and what are these rules? How does one consider the logographic necessity of a writ­ing? How does one adapt the rules of certainty to the nature of the philos­opher’s subject?

Addressing himself to the question of why the philosopher conceals and dissimulates his knowledge of the truth, Strauss opens Persecution with the theme of his second answer in The City and Man, namely, the topic of “the relation between society and philosophy.” He asserts that the book will “supply material useful for a future sociology of philosophy.” Such a so­ciology is needed because the contemporary sociology of knowledge “did not see a grave practical problem” in “the fundamental relation of thought as such to society as such.” This is to say that the contemporary sociol­ogy of knowledge “failed to consider the possibility that all philosophers form a class by themselves, or that what unites all genuine philosophers is more important than what unites a given philosopher with a particular group of non-philosophers.”

Strauss means that the fundamental relation of thought as such to society as such is a relation of class struggle. Philoso­phers qua philosophers cannot live peacefully with the rest of society. As Farabi realized, “there was no harmony between philosophy and society.” Hence, Farabi indicated “the most obvious and crudest reason” that “the philosophic distinction between the exoteric and the esoteric teaching” was necessary: “Philosophy and the philosophers were in ‘grave danger.’ Soci­ety did not recognize philosophy or the right of philosophizing.” Strauss states the case more bluntly in his own name: Philosophers adopt their “pe­culiar technique” of writing in response to “persecution” because it helps them avoid “the greatest disadvantage” of public communication, “capital punishment for the author.”77

This argument leaves one theoretically unsatisfied. Everybody is aware that philosophers, prophets, and artists have occasionally been persecuted, that some have been killed, and that others have had to lie low in or­der to avoid trouble. Why, though, should we believe that, far from being chance meetings of truth or zealous opinion with evil or intolerance, these most lamentable troubles inhere in “the fundamental relation of thought as such to society as such,” thus rendering irony “necessary” to philosophy? Why should revealing the truth to the many be unsafe for philosophers in principle?

Beginning his answer to this question, Strauss declares: “To realize the necessity of a sociology of philosophy, one must turn to other ages, if not to other climates.” He then launches into an extremely enigmatic discussion of substantive theological, philosophical, and political matters. This sug­gests that in addition to “the most obvious and crudest reason” for irony and esotericism, there are subtle and refined ones. Indeed, one infers from this turn of the argument that class struggle between philosophers and the other members of society arises because the very natures of the “wise” sub­jects, the “most important” subjects, and the “crucial things,” together with “the truth” about all these things, inevitably inspire deadly antagonism be­tween the philosophers and the many. We shall learn the ultimate reason that philosophers dissimulate their wisdom as soon as we discover what their truth is.

So, the next logical step is to resume the inquiry into Strauss’s most im­portant subject, crucial things, and philosophic truth. However, we must now expect serious difficulties. If the causes of class hatred between phi­losophers and the multitude are “fundamental to thought as such,” this implies that the philosopher’s truths are intrinsically offensive to the many. It follows that they can never be pronounced in public “by a decent man,” for this will always “do harm to many people who, having been hurt, would naturally be inclined to hurt in turn him who pronounces the unpleasant truths.” Again, if the sources of the class antagonism are “fundamental to society as such,” the many could never be fit to hear the truth.

In this re­gard, Strauss approvingly reports the view of “earlier” writers who “be­lieved that the gulf separating ‘the wise’ and ‘the vulgar’ was a basic fact of human nature which could not be influenced by any progress of popular education: philosophy, or science, was essentially a privilege of ‘the few.’ They were convinced that philosophy as such was suspect to, and hated by, the majority of men.” Hence, even if they “had had nothing to fear from any particular political quarter,” such thinkers “would have been driven to the conclusion that public communication of the philosophic or scientific truth was impossible or undesirable, not only for the time being but for all times.”78

This means that, Schleiermacher’s objections notwithstanding, it is improper to demand that Aristotle, Strauss, or any other good reader of Plato prove that Plato dissembles his truths by disclosing the truths that Plato dissembles. Because persecution is more than an accident that hap­pens during chance meetings of thought with evil, because persecution is a necessary consequence of every collision of genuine thought with society, no one may reveal the philosophic truth that alone would make it evident that this truth should not be revealed. This forces Strauss to allow his word about the fundamental relation of thought to society to be doubted. He as­serts: “The truly exact historian will reconcile himself to the fact that there is a difference between winning an argument, or proving to practically ev­eryone that he is right, and understanding the thought of the great writers of the past.”79

We now appreciate that given the political (rather than ontological or epistemological) impossibility of public communication of the scientific truth, Strauss never will say explicitly what philosophers know or why they hide it. He will indicate these things only esoterically, obeying Maimonides’ injunction to disclose “only the ‘chapter headings'” of the truth.80 Here, one is tempted to think that Strauss botches the job of hiding verities from the many, for two of his “secrets” are rather easy to see in Persecution. However, I believe that this is Strauss’s variation on the trick of the mother quail.

The two secrets that are not so hard to discover are found in the ab­struse discussion of theological, philosophical, and political matters that Strauss undertakes when he says that to realize the necessity of a sociol­ogy of philosophy, one must turn to other ages, if not to other climates. Undoubtedly because he is confining himself to a list of “chapter head­ings,” Strauss serves up what looks like a jumble. He refers to different levels of contemporary understanding of “Christian scholasticism” and of “Islamic and Jewish medieval philosophy.” He then moves freely among authors such as Plato, Farabi, Maimonides, Halevi, Averroes, Avicenna, Is­lamic falasifa, and Spinoza.

He also freely blends several subjects, including Christian scholasticism and Islamic and Jewish medieval philosophy; the literary sources of these bodies of thought in Aristotle and Plato; the es­sential difference between Judaism and Islam on the one hand and Chris­tianity on the other, that is, their diverse ideas of Revelation as Law and as Faith; philosopher-kings; Plato’s Laws; the “Christian notion” of “the natu­ral law”; Farabi’s Plato and his other important books; the purpose common to Plato and Aristotle; Farabi’s view of Plato’s doctrine of the immortality of the soul; Plato’s solution to the problem posed by the fate of Socrates, and the persistent grave danger to philosophy and philosophers, which is illustrated, in part, by “the issue of Jerusalem versus Athens” and philoso­phy’s statuses under Judaism and Islam, on the one hand, and Christianity, on the other.81 Next, Strauss interrupts these arcane reflections for a chapter ostensibly devoted to a straightforward explanation and defense of his the­sis. Then he expands upon his original topics with abstruse monographs on Maimonides, Halevi, and Spinoza.

A close reading of Strauss’s presentation of these “chapter headings” shows that besides assembling them, he combines them with comments that give them a plainly visible Averroist tendency. The following exam­ples are typical of his drift.

First, for the “great man” Maimonides, Farabi was the greatest philo­sophic authority after Aristotle. The book by Farabi that Maimonides most recommended treated of God and the universe in part 1, and of the city in part 2. It was titled The Political Governments.82

Second, the falasifa were “driven to interpret Revelation as the perfect political order which is perfect precisely because it lays upon all sufficiently equipped men the duty to devote their lives to philosophy.” When they rejected rational commandments, “the falasifa implied that the principles of morality are not rational, but ‘probable,’ or ‘generally accepted.’ “83

Third, Farabi’s primary human requirement for “the complete happiness of nations and of cities” is philosophy. When Farabi comprehends that the philosopher and the king prove to be identical, it becomes clear that “phi­losophy by itself is not only necessary but sufficient for producing happi­ness: philosophy does not need to be supplemented by something else, or by something that is thought to be higher in rank than philosophy, in or­der to produce happiness.” The praise of philosophy “is meant to rule out any claims of cognitive value which may be raised on behalf of religion.” Through the mouth of Plato, Farabi maintains that religious speculation, the religious investigation of the beings, and the religious syllogistic art “do not supply the science of the beings, in which man’s highest perfection consists, whereas philosophy does supply it.” Farabi “goes so far as to present religious knowledge as the lowest step on the ladder of cognitive pursuits, as inferior even to grammar and poetry.”84

Fourth, Farabi’s esoteric investigation of Plato “silently rejects Plato’s doctrine of a life after death.” His commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics “declares that there is only the happiness of this life, and that all divergent statements are based on ‘ravings and old women’s tales.’ “85

Fifth, the status of philosophy was much more precarious under Judaism and Islam than it was under Christianity. However, this more precarious status of philosophy under Judaism and Islam was “not in every respect a misfortune” for philosophy. It guaranteed philosophy’s private character and, thus, its inner freedom from ecclesiastical supervision. By implication, philosophy’s relatively favored status under Christianity was a greater misfortune for it than its precarious status under Judaism and Islam. This reasoning forces us to notice that Strauss speaks of “Islamic and Jewish me­dieval philosophy” in his book repeatedly but of “Christian philosophy” never. He acknowledges that no one can be learned in Christian sacred doctrine without considerable philosophic “training.” He does not thereby raise “Christian scholasticism” to the status of “philosophy.”86

Sixth, Halevi and Maimonides were “great men,” Jews of “philosophic competence.” They “took it for granted that being a Jew and being a philos­opher are mutually exclusive.” Spinoza “bluntly said that the Jews despise philosophy.”87

Seventh, “The issue of traditional Judaism versus philosophy is iden­tical with that of Jerusalem versus Athens.” In this regard, it is hard not to see the connections among “the depreciation of the primary object of philosophy—the heavens and the heavenly bodies” and the command not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil in Genesis, the divine name in Exodus, the admonition that the Law is not in heaven nor beyond the sea, Micah’s saying about what the Lord requires of man, and Talmudic utterances to the effect that one had better not study the primary object of philosophy88

Eighth, to obtain examples of writing between the lines, we can “eas­ily imagine” a historian living in a totalitarian country. One assumes that Strauss is thinking of Russia and Germany circa 1941. Thus, one would expect his historian to write a circumspect critique of something like the government’s myth of the class struggle and the proletarian revolution, or its myth of the fall of the Aryan race through miscegenation with “ani­mal men” whose offspring were the Jews, and of the guilt of world Jewry in the Dolchstoss of the German army in 1918. Instead, with the prefatory comment that his illustration is “not so remote from reality as it might first seem,” Strauss elects to fancy that his historian will “doubt the soundness of the government-sponsored interpretation of the history of religion.” He pictures his fictitious scholar staging mock attacks on “the liberal view.” These assaults employ “virulent expansions of the most virulent utterances in the holy book or books of the ruling party.”89

Ninth, the great Halevi knew well that “a genuine philosopher can never become a genuine convert to Judaism or to any other revealed religion,” for “a genuine philosopher is a man like Socrates who possesses ‘human wisdom’ and is invincibly ignorant of ‘Divine wisdom.'” Also, Halevi’s dialogue, the Kuzari, has a minor character named “the philosopher.” This interesting man “denies as such the premises on which any demonstration of the truth of any revealed religion is based,” ostensibly because he has not enjoyed the experience of Revelation.

However, the “philosophers” whom Halevi knew “went so far as to deny the very possibility of the specific experiences of the believers as interpreted by the latter, or, more precisely, the very possibility of Divine revelation in the precise sense of the term. That denial was presented to them in the form of what claimed to be a demonstrative refutation.” Moreover, the philosopher prefers prudence to an inflexible moral or natural law. Strauss comments: “It is hardly neces­sary to add that it is precisely this view of the non-categoric character of the rules of social conduct which permits the philosopher to hold that a man who has become a philosopher, may adhere in his deeds and speeches to a religion to which he does not adhere in his thoughts; it is this view, I say, which is underlying the exotericism of the philosophers.”90

Finally, Spinoza’s aim in the Theologico-Political Treatise was “to refute the claims which had been raised on behalf of revelation throughout the ages.” Spinoza often contradicted himself about biblical faith, the second halves of the contradictions indicating that theology demands obedience, not truth, and that “the very foundation of theology is an untruth.” This supports the hypothesis that “there is a fundamental antagonism between reason and faith.” It should be observed that Strauss himself propounds this last thesis in depicting a basic conflict between the pillars of Western civilization.91

The general thrust of these pronouncements, and of many others like them, generates the suspicion that Strauss secretly—but not too secretly— propagates the following teaching. First, the “most important subject” is the relationship of philosophy to religion and politics, this being the rea­son that Strauss professes elsewhere that “the theological-political prob­lem has remained the theme of my investigations.”92 Second, reason is the only means of human access to “the truth.” Philosophy, which is reason’s product, is the only body of human thought with a legitimate claim to be true. Third, “the truth” is that every religion, and every popular, categori­cal morality such as “natural law” doctrine that agrees with religion, espe­cially by promising rewards and threatening punishments in an afterlife, is demonstrably bogus.

Strauss publicly proclaims that philosophy and Rev­elation have “never” refuted one another.93 However, that assuredly is one of Strauss’s ironic, exoteric lies. The great Halevi understands that Reve­lation has been refuted. Fourth, Karl Marx’s claim should be broadened. Religion and morality together are the opium of the people. Historically, priests have given this drug to the many to control them. Admittedly, this manipulation of the people has been salutary both for the people and for philosophers. It has prevented the people from destroying society, which is good for the people, who are society, and for the philosophers, who depend upon a stable, irenic society as a condition necessary to the life of philoso­phy. This is one reason that the philosophers keep their truth to themselves. Strauss comments:

Philosophy or science, the highest activity of man, is the attempt to replace opinion about “all things” by knowledge of “all things;” but opinion is the element of society; philosophy or science is therefore the attempt to dissolve the element in which society breathes, and thus it endangers society. Hence philosophy or science must remain the pre­serve of a small minority, and philosophers or scientists must respect the opinions on which society rests. To respect opinions is something entirely different from accepting them as true.94

Fifth, all priests are dangerous to philosophy because they fanatically pro­tect their fraudulent doctrines from public exposure. Christian priests, though, have threatened philosophy much more than Jewish or Islamic priests because they have imagined themselves competent to philosophize and to oversee philosophy. The Christian priests have eliminated philoso­phy from Christian culture. Sixth, the people are also dangerous to philoso­phers when they sense that their religions and moralities have been contra­dicted. The many even menace society itself when they get carried away by their beliefs. National Socialism grew out of the most virulent utter­ances in the Christian holy book. Last, accordingly, philosophers dissemble their wisdom and pretend to be devout adherents of society’s religions and moralities.

The suspicion that Strauss secretly—but not too secretly—maintains this doctrine cannot be proved at law because he slyly builds deniability into his words.95 However, Strauss declares frequently that everyone must choose between philosophy and the Bible, and Rosen confidently comments: “No competent student of Leo Strauss was ever in doubt as to his teacher’s choice.”96 By extension, one could suggest that no serious reader of Strauss ought to doubt that he subscribes to the Averroist tenets just enumerated. Nevertheless, no one should think that Strauss’s esoteric teaching has now [been laid completely bare.

There are three grounds for assuming that Strauss has more or deeper secrets. First, he has made his Averroist opinions quite easily visible. He must want many readers to see them, yet he does not want many to ascertain his principles. Second, if the antireligious creed were Strauss’s whole teaching, we would have the unseemly spectacle of an intelligent man timidly uttering opinions that he knows “enlightened” Westerners have been stat­ing frankly through much of the modern period with impunity.

Strauss could not avoid grasping that the social reality contradicts his proposition that the philosophic truth “poses a grave practical problem in the fundamental relation of thought as such to society as such.” Third, and most tellingly, Strauss mentions that examples of the most important sorts of persecution for his purposes are “found in the Athens of the fifth and fourth centuries b.c., in some Muslim countries of the early Middle Ages, in seventeenth-century Holland and England, and in eighteenth-century France and Germany—all of them comparatively liberal periods.” He also remarks: “Spinoza attempted to appease not any orthodox theologians but those who were more or less inclined toward a liberal Christianity. He con­cealed his partial, but decisively important disagreement not with the or­thodox theologians but with liberal believers of all shades.”97

It would be fair to take Thomas Jefferson as an example of Strauss’s idea of a worthy liberal. In a famous saying, Jefferson once insisted that “it does me no injury for my neighbor to say that there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”98 Thus, Strauss knows that in a comparatively liberal period, “liberal believers” would bat nary an eye over his stage whispers about Averroist atheism. They would find his “se­crets” much too harmless to warrant persecution. This makes it plain that Strauss’s seemingly clumsy efforts to hide his antireligious tendencies are a ruse to draw his most benighted readers away from his serious, real secrets. For the more sagacious, he clearly indicates that his verities are something much different, something that would disturb the liberals. It is not neces­sary, or even probable, that the undisclosed something would be a theolog­ical disagreement; liberals tolerate everything in that line. The “theological-political problem” proves not to be “the most important subject” after all.

In Strauss’s view, this disposes of Schleiermacher’s objection to seeing reli­gious irony in Plato, who would have also used it as a conspicuous decoy to bore Athenian liberals. The unrevealed something would not be an ethical disagreement, either. Strauss’s ideas of “the non-categoric character of the rules of social conduct” and of the conventionality of ethics, which appear at first glance to justify our suspicions that he and his students such as Allan Bloom are sophists and “nihilists,” distress “orthodox” believers but cer­tainly not the positivistic liberals who have succeeded Jefferson. Strauss’s apparently incompetent efforts to disguise his moral relativism are another ploy that induces liberals to view his “secrets” as tame old hat.

To continue our search for Strauss’s genuine buried treasure, we turn to the second of his easily discernible secrets. In addition to imparting a clearly visible Averroist tendency to his “chapter headings,” Strauss gives them a rather thinly veiled aristocratic-monarchical cast, as we shall see in the following examples.

First, as we have observed, Strauss introduces his doctrine of the “natu­ral order of rank among men” offhandedly, as if he were trying to sneak it by his readers. His naturally superior men, the philosophers, have a sense of noblesse oblige that protects society by “respecting” opinion, “the ele­ment in which society breathes.” Indeed, the philosophers encourage all opinion that is “salutary”—one supposes that this means “salutary for society”—whether or not it is true. Everybody can “discover” immedi­ately that Strauss’s premises are aristocratic. His claims will antagonize the demos, who acknowledge only equals and insist that they think for themselves.

Incidentally, we must admit that the claims would not upset the most able liberals. Thomas Jefferson declared to John Adams: “I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy among men. The grounds of this are virtue and talent.. . . The natural aristocracy I consider as the most precious gift of nature, for the instruction, the trusts, and government of society.”99 It happens, however, that the tactics urged by Strauss do anger liberals of a more recent vintage, who do not like talk of elitists who ma­nipulate popular opinion.

Second, we have also noticed that Strauss maintains that philosophers constitute a class by themselves. In Persecution, in his treatment of the eternal class struggle between philosophers and society, he asserts: “The philosophers . . . defended the interests of philosophy and of nothing else. In doing this, they believed indeed that they were defending the highest interests of mankind.”100 This looks like an inept attempt to prettify the arrogant idea that philosopher aristocrats are devoted solely to knowledge and, accordingly, alone understand what is best for the human race. Ev­erybody can “unmask” such imperiousness immediately. The democratic many will be incensed. Again, their finest leaders will not share their out­rage.

Jefferson, who believed in a natural aristocracy of talent and virtue, would have been forced to concede that the philosophers are a class unto themselves, standing alone in their dedication to the rational discovery and defense of truth. It is possible that he would have been alarmed to hear that his aristocrats “defended the interests of philosophy and of nothing else.” Then again, his fears on this score would have been allayed when Strauss explained that he meant that the philosophers “were defending the high­est interests of mankind.”

Jefferson, an aristocratic liberal who was also a genuine democrat, a true lover of the less capable many whom he desired to serve, would have assumed that philosophy’s exclusive interest in the truth led automatically to the advancement of the highest interests of all mankind, including the backward, sometimes balky demos who had to be guided to their own good. He would have continued to accept Strauss on this basis, though expressing concerns about some of Strauss’s language. However, the more recent liberals are enraged by Strauss’s snobbery. They wish to be the vanguard of the people while remaining men and women of the people.

Last, in his famous Natural Right and History, Strauss maintains that “the best regime, as presented by classical political philosophy, is the object of the wish or prayer of gentlemen as that object is interpreted by the philos­opher.” Actually, he continues, “wisdom appeared to the classics as that title to rule which is highest according to nature.” Government by the wise would therefore be the best regime if it were practically possible. However, the many unwise cannot recognize the wise, and the few who are wise can­not rule the many who are unwise by force. Somehow, the requirement for government by the wise has to be reconciled with the need for the consent of the unwise to their governments.

The solution of this problem is to insti­tute the rule of law administered by leaders who will govern in the spirit of the wise, that is, the rule of law administered by gentlemen. The gentleman is not wise, but he is a “political reflection, or imitation, of the wise man.” Hence, it is clear that “the practically best regime is the rule, under law, of gentlemen, or the mixed regime.” In Persecution, Strauss also speaks highly of the “alliance between philosophy and princes friendly to philosophy.”101

In all this, Strauss apparently tries to conceal not his oligarchic and monar­chical inclinations, but the fact that his philosophers, who will be exercising influence on princes and gentlemen, will strive to disguise their dominance of society under the cloak of “consent of the governed.” Nonetheless, this scheme is transparent. Democrats will condemn it angrily.

As an aside, it is necessary to notice one last time that Thomas Jefferson would not have shared in the general consternation. He undoubtedly perceived John Locke as a wise man and himself as a gentleman, or even as a prince, who ruled in the spirit of the wise man, such that his presidency reflected “the alliance between philosophy and princes friendly to philosophy” in a manner con­sonant with the requirement for the consent of the governed. However, because it would have been inconsistent with his aims, Jefferson would have winced at the use of the terms “gentlemen” and “princes.” He would have wished natural leaders who truly loved the demos to have democratic public labels. Strauss’s apparent change of focus has infuriated the more recent liberals, who denounce him as a conservative for his oligarchic and monarchical machinations.102

The general drift of these arguments, with their natural elites who deftly shape public opinion, their aristocratic class consciousness that arrogates to philosophers the sole responsibility for advancing the highest interests of all mankind, and their government by gentlemen and princes who listen to philosophers, generates the suspicion that Strauss secretly—but not too secretly—longs for the realization of some vestige of Platonic philosopher-kingship. In Strauss’s own words, he wants philosophers to have an impact on gentlemen and princes that amounts in some modest but mean­ingful way to “the secret kingship of the philosopher who, being ‘a perfect man’ precisely because he is an ‘investigator,’ lives privately as a mem­ber of an imperfect society which he tries to humanize within the limits of the possible.” 103  Not even Jefferson would have tolerated this. The liberal president was strongly opposed both to Plato and to kings. The more re­cent liberals are apoplectic about Strauss’s ambition; it is this, more than anything else in his advocacy of esotericism, that has made Strauss “one of the most hated men in the English-speaking academic world.”

Strauss’s muted call for the secret kingship of the philosopher, a domin­ion exercised by means of intellectual influence on gentlemen and princes, satisfies one criterion for identifying his true esoteric doctrine: Although the call is, in the main, acceptable to Jefferson, in the end it is a decisive, important disagreement with liberal believers of all shades. However, I doubt that the hankering for a philosopher-king recast as a gray eminence is Strauss’s real secret, for an obvious reason: It is shielded from the liberals approximately as well as a Christian mother hides a basket of Easter candy from her four-year-old child. Nothing is secret about a public proclamation of the call for a secret kingship, particularly not when the author bludgeons us with the proclamation. It is simply too hard to believe that Strauss, a surpassingly intelligent man, imagines that he can put liberals off the track of this “secret” by giving them a potent scent of “the truth” that is certain to attract their attention and kindle their hatred.

To be sure, Rosen seems to think that Strauss commits this “error.” In an effort to account for the gaffe, Rosen speculates that “Strauss’s apparent disregard of Socrates’ advice in the Phaedrus to adjust one’s speech to the audience is a part of his exoteric accommodation to the circumstances of his time.” 104 If this is true, however, Strauss’s tack is not an “error.” Rather, it is a ruse devised to put liberals on the trail of the wrong doctrines, for Strauss knows that no classical philosopher ever went so far as to say, and he himself certainly could not think, that the gentleman is the political imitation of the wise man, or that the gentleman typically heeds the philosopher. 105

  I infer that Strauss reckons that his greatest safety lies in adopting the pose of an oligarchical, monarchical crank, one that makes him the most hated man in liberal society. His calculation is that once the liberals have enjoyed venting their indignation at him, they will be amused at the fantasies of an obscure professor who, in his academic isolation, imagines himself a king. Having laughed, they will think no more of him and inquire no further into what he is doing. In this connection, I believe that if Strauss learned that a liberal would publish an attack on him titled “Sphinx without a Secret,” he would smile happily. 106

Well, then, are we at a dead end, or can we get some inkling of Strauss’s truths? In this matter, it is impossible to be sure of anything. Still, I think that we can approach the secrets a little more closely. To do so, we must take seriously Strauss’s comment that “some great writers might have stated certain important truths quite openly by using as mouthpiece some disreputable character.” If a philosopher such as Plato has done this, his ultimate secrets will be lying around in his texts like the purloined letter, unlabeled and unrecognized.

So, the question now is whether Plato has a “disreputable character” whom he uses “as mouthpiece.” Strauss appears to point to one. Immedi­ately after speculating that great writers might put their important truths in the mouths of unsavory persons, Strauss adds: “There would then be good reason for finding in the greatest literature of the past so many inter­esting devils, madmen, beggars, sophists, drunkards, epicureans, and buf­foons.” “Sophists” appears in the middle of this list, thus indicating who might be the most significant of the “disreputable characters.”

It is possible that a sophist is the “mouthpiece” for Plato’s “important truths.” Which sophist? In The City and Man, Strauss discusses Thrasymachus extensively. He holds that “in a sense,” Thrasymachus’s intervention “forms the center of the Republic as a whole.” He suggests that Socrates strikes up a “friend­ship” with Thrasymachus, one “never preceded by enmity.” He says: “For all ordinary purposes we ought to loathe people who act and speak like Thrasymachus and never to imitate their deeds and never to act accord­ing to their speeches. But there are other purposes to be considered.” He maintains that Thrasymachus’s “principle remains victorious,” neglecting to mention the possibility that this situation, which might be said by way of exaggeration to obtain at the end of book 1 of the Republic, is altered drastically by the remainder of the dialogue.

Finally, in Persecution, Strauss cites Farabi to the effect that Plato undertook “a correction of the Socratic way,” so that the “Platonic way—as distinguished from the Socratic way, is a combination of the way of Socrates with the way of Thrasymachus.” 107 Which Thrasymachean principle “remains victorious”? Strauss is think­ing of Thrasymachus’s famous definition of justice as “the advantage of the stronger.” What is “the way of Thrasymachus”? This expression is obscure, but it reminds one of Thrasymachus’s argument that the rulers of cities tend to the good of their subjects in the same sense that shepherds tend to the good of their flocks, namely, in order to fleece them. Strauss declares that the definition of justice as “the advantage of the stronger,” when it is cast in the form of legal positivism, “is the most obvious, the most natural, thesis regarding justice.” 108 This is interesting. Thrasymachus himself does not assert that his thesis is the most natural. Thrasymachus never says any­thing about nature at all.

We must inquire what Strauss means by calling Thrasymachus’s thesis the most natural, for he might be doing more than embracing the sophist’s doctrine; he might be adding something of his own to it. Of course, it appears that Strauss means merely that legal positivism is the explanation of justice that occurs most readily to anyone who wonders about it. If so, I doubt that he is right about this. Strauss also might mean that the proposition that justice is the advantage of the stronger is naturally correct. If so, and if Strauss is serious about this, the implication is that Strauss believes in the existence of an order of being in which the strong naturally rule the weak, for the advantage of the strong and against the in­terests of the weak.

A further implication is that Strauss is committed to a “natural right” that demands the victory of the strong and the subjugation of the weak. An order of being in which the strong naturally exploit the weak would be terrifying to the weak. Belief in a natural right that calls for the oppression of the weak, which would be sufficient to associate Strauss with sophistry but not to convict him of “nihilism,” would be absolutely loathsome to liberals. The “truth” of what we could call “Thrasymachean natural right” looks as if it satisfies both of the criteria that it would need to meet to be Strauss’s real secret. It is buried more deeply than his other pseudosecrets. It is anathema in comparatively liberal periods.

Does Strauss actually subscribe to Thrasymachean natural right? His ob­vious belief in a natural order of rank among men is certainly consistent with such a commitment. Some other statements that he makes are com­patible with it, too, as we learn in the following examples.

First, in the popular Natural Right and History, Strauss argues:

In the common view the fact is overlooked that there is a class interest of the philosophers qua philosophers, and this oversight is ultimately due to the denial of the possibility of philosophy. Philosophers as philoso­phers do not go with their families. The selfish or class interest of the philosophers consists in being left alone, in being allowed to live the life of the blessed on earth by devoting themselves to investigation of the most important subjects.

Strauss also comments: “If striving for knowledge of the eternal truth is the ultimate end of man, justice and moral virtue in general can be fully legitimated only by the fact that they are required for the sake of that ultimate end or that they are conditions of the philosophic life.” Once again, Strauss seems to think that the condition in the “if” clause is fulfilled. Accordingly, he asks “whether morality does not have two entirely different roots.”

Fur­ther, in The City and Man, Strauss says that according to Clitophon, one of Plato’s characters (Clitophon 410a6-bl), the only opinion of justice that Socrates adopted was that “it consists in helping one’s friends and harming one’s enemies.” (Strauss ignores the next sentence, in which the befuddled Clitophon protests that his conversation with Socrates soon made it appear that the just man never harms anyone, but strives to benefit all.) 109 It should also be remembered that for the philosopher in Halevi’s Kuzari, the rules of social conduct are “non-categoric.” When added up, these remarks ap­pear to imply that there are two moralities, or two kinds of justice, one for philosophers and one for the demos. Both serve the interests of philosophers, who are obliged to comply with the demotic ethics only when it contributes to their realization of man’s ultimate end.

Second, it is necessary to repeat that in Persecution, in his treatment of the “class struggle,” Strauss comments: “The philosophers were very far from being exponents of society or of parties. They defended the inter­ests of philosophy and of nothing else. In doing this, they believed indeed that they were defending the highest interests of mankind.” 110 In consid­ering this remark for the first time, I interpreted it to mean that “defend­ing the highest interests of mankind” was identical with “defending the highest interests of all men,” an error that Strauss might have been glad to see because it soothed the anxious liberals. However, in the new light of Thrasymachean natural right, the phrase “defending the highest interests of mankind” would clearly mean “promoting the interests of the highest men.”

Finally, in his treatment of the philosopher’s practice of dispensing “salu­tary” opinions to the multitude, Strauss reflects: “Being a philosopher, that is, hating ‘the lie in the soul’ more than anything else, he would not deceive himself about the fact that such opinions are merely ‘likely tales,’ or ‘noble lies,’ or ‘probable opinions.'” Nor would he need to worry about tricking those whom he wished to enlighten, for he could “leave it to his philosophic readers to disentangle the truth from its poetic or dialectic presentation. . . . For philosophic readers he would do almost more than enough by drawing their attention to the fact that he did not object to telling lies which were no­ble, or tales which were merely similar to the truth.” Still, the philosopher’s hatred of the lie in the soul would not deter him from inflicting this deadly falsehood on the many, because “he would defeat his purpose if he indi­cated clearly which of his statements expressed a noble lie, and which the still more noble truth.” In this regard, one must realize that “lying nobly” is what “we” call “considering one’s social responsibilities.” 111 It may be that “salutary” opinions are salutary for the philosophers, not for society.

The general thrust of these examples gives rise to the suspicion that Strauss secretly—a lot more secretly than in the previous instances but still not altogether secretly—subscribes to the following teaching. First, the summum bonum is the philosophic life. Every other good is relative to this one. Thus, for philosophers who wage class warfare to preserve philoso­phy, everything is permitted. They may visit any expedient harm on non-philosophers. Second, it is not true that philosophy is the highest good for all. Mankind is divided into higher, middle, and lower natural classes. The interests of the highest group, the philosophers, are simply “the highest in­terests of mankind” without being the interests of the other groups. Hence, among the injuries that philosophers may inflict upon all other classes is the human summum malum, the lie in the soul. The lies that the wise pur­vey to all others are “noble” not in the sense that they elevate the others to nobler conceptions of the truth, but in the sense that they advance the class interests of the nobility, this being the “social responsibility” of all noble­men. Last, in the Republic, Thrasymachus teaches the truth of natural right. Plato takes it into his “way.”

Thus, a second evil with which philosophers afflict all the others is to treat them as shepherds use sheep. If a nobleman revealed the truth to any of the lower classes, he would ask them the ques­tion that Nietzsche puts to Biedermann: “How does your life, the life of the individual, receive its highest value, its deepest meaning? How is it wasted least? Certainly only in that you live for the advantage of the rarest and most valuable specimens, but not for the advantage of the majority, i.e., those who, taken individually, are the most worthless specimens.” 112 In short, it seems that Strauss does—not so secretly—side with Nietzsche in the debate over the purposes of irony. This would explain why he so oddly refers to Nietzsche as a Platonist, for he projects Nietzsche’s aims onto Plato. He thinks that all great philosophers from Plato to the present strive for a secret kingship that exploits all the lower classes, including gentlemen and liberals.

If this assimilation of Strauss to Nietzsche is correct, it illuminates a ques­tion that has puzzled many: Why does Strauss appear to torpedo esotericism by disclosing its existence, its methods, and its first three layers of pseudo- and real secrets to any minimally capable person who can read? We now suspect that his fear of persecution is only a pose in which he play­fully and ironically reproduces Nietzsche’s practice of allowing the many into his confidence about his “follies and crimes” because he is sure that beings on a lower plane will still not understand the deeper things that he conceals. Strauss is almost more openly contemptuous of the many than Nietzsche because he makes it plain that he only pretends to believe that the many could comprehend his work if he told them plainly what he is doing.

This means, of course, that we have still not penetrated to the bottom of Strauss’s well of secrets. Where do we go next to find out what he re­ally thinks? There is a possibly important clue to the answer to this query in Natural Right and History. Strauss says there that philosophy consists in an ascent from opinions to truth that is guided by opinions. Opinions contradict one another. “Recognizing the contradiction, one is forced to go beyond opinions toward the consistent view of the nature of the thing con­cerned.” In other contexts, Strauss makes self-contradiction a clue to the real meaning of a philosophic writer. Here, contradictions between opin­ions have a stronger role. Through them, “the opinions prove to be solicited by the self-subsisting truth, and the ascent to the truth proves to be guided by the self-subsistent truth which all men always divine.” 113 Studying con­tradictions can (and apparently does) lead all human beings to the ultimate truth.

What does Strauss mean, though? How can it be the case that “all men always divine” the self-subsistent truth? How can Strauss argue this after having issued his dismal prognosis for the prospects of popular education? Further, what is this “self-subsistent truth” that all men supposedly recognize? Is it that the contradictions are contradictions? I doubt this, for I of­ten find myself disagreeing with Strauss and his students when they claim to see a contradiction. What else could it be? Do all men always divine anything whatsoever? Furthermore, why is meditation on contradictions the path to truth at all? Why would reflection on the most recondite contradictions not lead to the discouraging inference that there is no way to an ultimate truth? Or is this precisely what a Nietzschean Strauss means, and do all men implicitly, unconsciously recognize the absurdity of being all the time, that is, every time they shrug their shoulders when they can­not resolve a contradiction? Is the recognition of the void the totality of a Nietzschean package that Strauss projects onto Plato, thus making Nietz­sche Plato’s legitimate successor?

If this is Strauss’s intent, his esotericism is, like Nietzsche’s, aimed finally at himself. It is a tool that he uses playfully to divert his attention from the abysses that regress eternally, thus perhaps preventing him from being a god. The aura of mystery that he maintains around his philosophy is the screen that he uses to veil what he is doing from himself. Stanley Rosen puts this another way: “We may also understand Strauss’s reluctance to make too explicit his Nietzschean conception of philosophy as an act of the will.” 114

A last word on Strauss: In my analysis of this great thinker, I have at­tempted to elucidate the narrow topic of his concept of esotericism. I have not tried to speak to the thrust of his lifework, a project that would proba­bly require several books. In my smaller undertaking, I have attempted to move in a disciplined way from statements that Strauss wrote to inferences about the meaning of those remarks. I am not confident that I have done this correctly. If I have erred in my interpretation, and if I have been mis­taken in thinking that Stanley Rosen understood Strauss better than some others, I greatly regret it. I have two additional things to say. First, consider­ing the vitriolic debates about Strauss’s intentions that have raged among his students, I clearly will not be the first to have gone astray. Second, if a brilliant man deliberately writes in order to prevent people from understanding him, there is an excellent chance that he will succeed in achieving this aim.


60. Strauss said: “Lessing was always at my elbow…. As I came to see later, Lessing had said everything I had found out about the distinction between exoteric and esoteric speech and its grounds” (Leo Strauss and Jacob Klein, “A Giving of Accounts,” at 3).

61. Strauss, Persecution, 28.

62. Strauss, The City and Man, 52.

63. Ibid., 53; Persecution, 30.

64. Strauss, The City and Man, 61-62.

65. Ibid., 52, 53; Persecution, 30; The City and Man, 50; Persecution, 30. This means that Plato’s views could be identified with those of one of his characters with previous proof.

66. Strauss, Persecution, 28.

67. Strauss, The City and Man, 51.

68. Ibid., 51, 52-53.

69. Ibid., 53-54.

70. Ibid., 54.

71. This is clearly not a Nietzschean consideration.

72. Ibid., 51, 52, 54.

73. This does not appear to be a Nietzschean consideration, either.

74. Ibid., 54, 59, 60.

75. Perhaps there is such a thing as a spokesman for Plato after all.

76. Strauss, Persecution, the quoted and paraphrased points being found on 35,34,25, 25, 25, 25, 36, 35, 28, 36, 36, 35, 25, 36, 25, and 30, respectively.

77. Ibid., 7-8, 17, 25.

78. Ibid., 36, 34.

79. Ibid., 30.

80. Ibid., 46-47,53. Cf. Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, introduction to pt.  1, cause 6.

81. Strauss, Persecution, 7-8.

82. Ibid., 9.

83. Ibid., 10, 11.

84. Ibid., 12-13.

85. Ibid., 13-14.

86. Ibid., 19, 21.

87. Ibid., 11, 19, 20.

88. Ibid., 20-21.

89. Ibid., 24-25.

90. Ibid., 104-5, 107, 139.

91. Ibid., 142,170,171; Strauss, “The Mutual Influence of Theology and Philosophy,” 111.

92. Quoted by Pangle, in introduction to Studies in Philosophy, by Strauss, 19.

93. Strauss, “Mutual Influence,” 117.

94. Strauss, “What Is Political Philosophy?” and Other Studies, 221-22.

95. Cf. Strauss, Persecution, 24,14.

96. Rosen, Hermeneutics as Politics, 112.

97. Strauss, “What Is Political Philosophy?” 32-33, 226. This is why we do not need to  turn to “other climates” to understand esotericism. Liberalism is our climate.

98. Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, in The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas  Jefferson, 275.

99. Jefferson to Adams, October 28, 1813, in Life and Selected Writings, by Jefferson,  632-33.

100. Strauss, Persecution, 17-18.

101. Strauss, Natural Right and History, 139,140,141,142-43; Strauss, Persecution, 15.

102. Cf. Shadia B. Drury, “The Esoteric Philosophy of Leo Strauss” and The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss. In some quarters, this book was greeted with outrage. Most of the anger was directed at Drury’s tone. However, some was also aimed at her analysis of Strauss’s politics as aristocratic. This is puzzling, for Drury only repeats what Strauss seems to have intimated more or less openly.

103. Strauss, Persecution, 15, 17.

104. Rosen, Hermeneutics as Politics, 133.

105. On this point, I agree with ibid., 136.

106. Cf. M. F. Burnyeat, “Sphinx without a Secret.”

107. Strauss, Persecution, 36. Cf. Strauss on the parable of the pious ascetic, in “What Is Political Philosophy?” 135-37. On the significance of the “middle,” see Strauss, Perse­cution, 25,185; and Strauss, The City and Man, 73, 74, 74,84. (“Not yet refuted” at the end of an early book is not necessarily the same as “victorious” [Persecution, 16]. Strauss is intelligent enough to know this.)

108. Strauss, The City and Man, 75.

109. Strauss, Natural Right and History, 143,151; Strauss, The City and Man, 70.

110. Strauss, Persecution, 17-18.

111. Ibid., 35, 36.

112. Nietzsche, Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen, in NW, 3.1.380.30-35; 381.1-2 (there is no corresponding Kaufmann translation). Along with straightforward definitions, “Bie­dermann” has the ironic meaning of “Philistine.”

113. On contradictions as clues, see much of chap. 2 of Strauss, Persecution. On con­tradictions as guides to self-subsistent truth, see Strauss, Natural Right and History, 124.

114. Rosen, Hermeneutics as Politics, 137.

This chapter is from  Eros, Wisdom, and Silence: Plato’s Erotic Dialogues.  James M. Rhodes. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2003.

James M. Rhodes

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James M. Rhodes was Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Marquette University. He was author of The Hitler Movement: A Modern Millenarian Revolution (Hoover Institution Press, 1980) and Eros, Wisdom, and Silence: Plato’s Erotic Dialogues (Missouri Press, 2003). Both books were winners of the Alpha Sigma Nu Award.