Classic Natural Right or the Teaching on Tyranny

  • Shadia B. Drury

Abstract

Socrates was put to death when the amoral and apolitical nature of his philosophical life became apparent to his fellow citizens. If the philosopher is to redeem himself, he must, in justice as well as for the sake of appearances, make some contribution to the city: he must be compelled to return to the cave. But how could he possibly contribute to the well-being of the city since his truth is destructive of social life? The answer rests in the fact that philosophers, despite their shortcomings, are peculiarly fit for two tasks essential to the well-being of the city. First, their clever rhetoric (which enables them to make the weaker argument appear the stronger), can serve the city by strengthening its noble fictions. Secondly, philosophers are particularly fit to rule because they are wise. But since they are unlikely to take or be given power, they can serve the state best as advisers to those in power. What sort of political advice are they likely to give? To what standard will they appeal? For Strauss, their standard will understandably be derived from nature. They will regard political and legal justice best which comes closest to what is right by nature or to natural right.

Keywords

Income Expense Defend Stake Havoc 

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Notes

  1. 28.
    Ibid., p. 79; Strauss believes this to be the central theme of Plato’s Laws: see WIPP, pp. 31–2; AAPL; see also Pangle’s ‘Interpretive Essay’, in his translation of The Laws of Plato (New York: Basic Books, 1980).Google Scholar
  2. 39.
    Ibid., p. 140; for an elaboration of this point, see Harry V. Jaffa, Thomism and Aristotelianism (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1952, 1979) pp. 182ff.Google Scholar
  3. 50.
    See, for example, Dante Germino, ‘Second Thoughts on Leo Strauss’s Machiavelli’, Journal of Politics, vol. 28 (1966) pp. 794–817.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 51.
    J. S. Mill, in S. Gorovitz (ed.), Utilitarianism (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971) ch. 5, p. 49.Google Scholar
  5. 53.
    The example is from H. J. McCloskey, ‘A Note on Utilitarian Punishment’, Mind, vol. 72 (1963) p. 599; see also his ‘An Examination of Restricted Utilitarianism’, Philosophical Review, vol. 66 (1957) pp. 465–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Leo Strauss, ‘Letter to Helmut Kuhn’, Independent journal of Philosophy, vol. 2 (1978) pp. 23–6, esp. p. 24.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., pp. 82ff.; Ernest Fortin elaborates the same themes in his article ‘St. Thomas Aquinas’, HPP, 2nd edn; Jaffa also follows Strauss’s interpretation in his Thomism and Aristotelianism; the Straussian interpretation has recently been undermined by the work of John Finnis, Natural Law and Natural Rights (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980);Google Scholar
  8. see also Ernest Fortin, ‘The New Rights Theory and the Natural Law’, Review of Politics, vol. 44 (1982) pp. 590–612, and the ‘Communications’ between Fortin and E. A. Goerner in the same journal, vol. 45 (1983) pp. 443–4. What is at issue between Finnis and Fortin is not just the correct interpretation of Aquinas, but whether it is right to live according to the principles of natural law or those of Strauss’s classic natural right.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    For a more eloquent version of this argument see G. E. M. Anscombe, ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’, in W. D. Hudson (ed.), The Is/Ought Problem (London: Macmillan Press, 1973).Google Scholar
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    See Bernard Williams for a penetrating critique of consequential ethics, in J. J. C. Smart and Bernard Williams, Utilitarianism For & Against (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See Bernard Williams, Morality: An Introduction to Ethics (New York: Harper & Row, 1972);Google Scholar
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    J. J. C. Smart, ‘Extreme and Restricted Utilitarianism’, in Philippa Foot (ed.), Theories of Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1967) pp. 171–83.Google Scholar
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    E. A. Goerner, ‘On Thomistic Natural Law: The Bad Man’s View of Thomistic Natural Right’, Political Theory, vol. 7, no. 1 (February 1979) pp. 101–22, and by the same author, ‘Thomistic Natural Right: The Good Man’s View of Thomistic Natural Law’, Political Theory, vol. 11, no. 3 (August 1983) pp. 393–418. Goerner follows John Roos, ‘Natural Right and Natural Law’, delivered at the Annual Meeting of the Political Science Association (1975), in maintaining that Aquinas’s natural law doctrine is only exoteric, and that, in reality, he holds a classic natural right doctrine indistinguishable from that of (Strauss’s) Aristotle.Google Scholar
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    See Ernst Troeltsch, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, trans. Olive Wyon (London: Allen & Unwin, 1956); Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, bk i, chap, x, sec. 13; see also my ‘Transcendence of Natural Law’, in S. B. Drury and R. Knopff (eds), Law and Politics: Readings in Legal and Political Thought (Calgary: Detselig Enterprises, 1980).Google Scholar

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© Shadia B. Drury 2005

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  • Shadia B. Drury

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