Philosophy’s Hidden Revolt against God

  • Shadia B. Drury


The conflict between philosophy and society has its origin in the fact that philosophy cannot rationally justify the two things on which society rests: morality and religion. For Strauss these two are not separate. Morality has its source in law, and the latter cannot elicit the respect and obedience of the many if it is not believed to have divine origin. Strauss follows the Judaic and Islamic tradition in conceiving of religion in terms of Sacred Law. In this chapter I will set aside the question of morality and focus on what Strauss believes to be at issue between philosophy and religion, reason and revelation, or as he likes to say, Athens and Jerusalem.1


Western Civilization Romantic Love Heavenly Body Political Idea Islamic Tradition 
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  1. 3.
    CM, p. 65; Plato’s Laws, bk 10; see also my ‘Idea of Nature’, in S. B. Drury and R. Knopff (eds), Law and Politics: Readings in Legal and Political Thought (Calgary: Detselig Enterprises, 1980).Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Ibid., pp. 85, 93; see also ‘On Plato’s Apology of Socrates and Crito’, in SPPP, pp. 38–66, and SA. See also Harry Neumann, ‘Civic Piety and Socratic Atheism: An interpretation of Strauss’s Socrates and Aristophanes’, Independent Journal of Philosophy, vol. 2 (1978) pp. 33–7; for Strauss’s view of Socrates see Chapter 4 below.Google Scholar
  3. 16.
    Frederick D. Wilhelmsen, Christianity and Political Philosophy (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1978) p. 218;Google Scholar
  4. see also R. Sokolowski, The God of Faith and Reason: Foundations of Christian Theology (Notre Dame, Ill.: Notre Dame Press, 1982) pp. 157–64. For Straussian responses to these criticisms see Joseph J. Carpino’s review of Wilhelmsen’s book in Interpretation, vol. 8, nos 2 & 3 (May 1980) pp. 204–22; and Walter Nicgorski’s review of Sokolowski’s book in Claremont Review, vol. 4, no. 2 (Summer 1985) pp. 18–21; see also ‘Memorials to Leo Strauss’, St. John’s Review, vol. 25, no. 4 (January 1974): Jacob Klein tells us that Strauss was once an Orthodox Jew, but he ‘later changed his religious orientation radically, tying the question of god or of gods to his political reasoning, without letting his own life be dependent on any divinity or on any religious rites’ (p. 2, my italics). Laurence Berns points to the fact that even though Strauss was a Jew, he insisted that ‘there is no such thing as a Jewish philosophy’ (p. 5).Google Scholar
  5. 17.
    Strauss has been described as one who replaces argument by exegesis; and while this is quite true, I believe that it is not an ineffective way to argue; see M. F. Burnyeat, ‘Sphinx Without a Secret’, New York Review of Books, vol. 32, no. 9 (30 May 1985) pp. 30–6.Google Scholar
  6. 37.
    Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, trans. E. B. Speirs and J. Burdon Sanderson, 3 vols (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1895, 1962) vol. III, p. 54;Google Scholar
  7. see also discussion of this in Emil L. Fackenheim, The Religious Dimension in Hegel’s Thought (Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1970) p. 133.Google Scholar
  8. Compare Hegel’s view with Jacob Boehme, Six Theosophic Points, trans. J. R. Earle (Michigan: Ann Arbor Press, 1958).Google Scholar
  9. 40.
    See Arlene W. Saxonhouse, ‘The Philosopher and the Female in the Political Thought of Plato’, Political Theory, vol. 4, no. 2 (1976) pp. 195–213; see also her ‘Eros and the Female in Greek Political Thought: An Interpretation of Plato’s Symposium’, Political Theory, vol. 12, no. 1 (1984) pp. 5–27.Google Scholar
  10. 43.
    Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (New York: Viking Press, 1965, 1963) p. 10.Google Scholar
  11. 79.
    OT, pp. 210–18; Victor Gourevitch, ‘Philosophy and Politics: II’, the second part of a two-part study of Strauss’s thought, Review of Metaphysics, vol. 22, no. 2 (December 1968) p. 325; James F. Ward, ‘Experience and Political Philosophy: Notes on Reading Leo Strauss’, Polity, vol. 13, no. 4 (Summer 1981) p. 681.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 89.
    Strauss, ‘Marsilius of Padua’, HPP; see also Walter Berns, The First Amendment and the Future of American Democracy (New York: Basic Books, 1976) p. 22, on the rule of priests. Strauss shares the sentiment of Marsilius of Padua in abhorring the rule of priests; he adds that Marsilius follows the tradition of Machiavelli. In Chapter 6, I argue that Strauss shares the sentiments of Machiavelli on religion and the rule of priests.Google Scholar
  13. 91.
    See G. E. M. Anscombe, ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’, in W. D. Hudson (ed,), The Is/Ought Problem (London: Macmillan, 1973) pp. 175–95. This excellent essay is more articulate than anything Strauss has written on the issue. John Finnis disagrees with this position, see his Natural Law and Natural Rights (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), and his The Fundamentals of Ethics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), and my review of it in Review of Politics, vol. 47, no. 3 (July 1985) pp. 432–6.Google Scholar
  14. 92.
    Leo Strauss, ‘An Unspoken Prologue to a Public Lecture at St. John’s [In Honor of Jacob Klein, 1899–1978]’, Interpretation, vol. 7, no. 3 (September 1978) pp. 1–3; see esp. p. 1. Strauss wrote the piece on the occasion of Klein’s 60th birthday. On the death of Klein, the editors of Interpretation saw fit to publish this piece in Klein’s honor.Google Scholar
  15. The same theme of ‘heart and mind’ can be found in Strauss’s funeral speech, delivered upon the death of one of his graduate students, 6 December 1961, quoted in George Anastaplo, ‘On Leo Strauss: A Yahrzeit Remembrance’, University of Chicago Magazine, vol. 67 (Winter 1974) p. 38.Google Scholar
  16. 105.
    Sigmund Freud, Future of an Illusion (New York: Doubleday, 1957) pp. 43, 56–7.Google Scholar
  17. 106.
    Ernest L. Fortin, ‘Gadamer on Strauss: An Interview’, Interpretation, vol. 12, no. 1 (January 1984) pp. 1–13. Gadamer comments that, in real life, Strauss avoided confrontations with worthy opponents. He reports that he tried on many occasions to engage Strauss in a debate on matters of importance to both of them, without success (p. 13). The noteworthy exception to this is Strauss’s exchange with Alexandre Kojève, published in OT. Google Scholar
  18. 120.
    Freud, Future of an Illusion, pp. 61–2; for a contemporary exposition of this view see Kai Nielsen, Ethics Without God (London: Pemberton Books, 1973).Google Scholar

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© Shadia B. Drury 2005

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