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The Crisis of Modernity

  • Shadia B. Drury

Abstract

Modernity is not identical to the crisis of Western civilization. It is a set of ill-conceived ideas that ultimately lead to that crisis. In its heyday or golden age, modernity is bold and self-confident. The first crisis of modernity erupts when confident exuberance gives way to self-doubt. Jean-Jacques Rousseau articulates this doubt, and Strauss therefore regards him as the representative of the first crisis of modernity.

Keywords

Political Philosophy Western Civilization Political Problem Modern Project Political Idea 
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Notes

  1. 8.
    Allan Bloom, ‘An Outline of Gulliver’s Travels’, in Joseph Cropsey (ed.), Ancients and Modems: Essays on the Tradition of Political Philosophy in Honor of Leo Strauss (New York: Basic Books, 1964).Google Scholar
  2. 9.
    Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels and Other Writings (New York: The Modern Library, 1958).Google Scholar
  3. 31.
    Nietzsche, Use and Abuse of History, trans. Adrian Collins (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, Library of Liberal Arts, 1949, 1957) pp. 6, 7.Google Scholar
  4. 35.
    Leo Strauss, ‘The Three Waves of Modernity’, in Hilail Gilden (ed.), Political Philosophy: Six Essays by Leo Strauss (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1975).Google Scholar
  5. 37.
    Leo Strauss, ‘Progress or Return? The Contemporary Crisis in Western Civilization’, Modern Judaism, vol. 1 (1981) p. 27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 40.
    Leo Strauss, ‘Political Philosophy and the Crisis of Our Time’, in George J. Graham, Jr, and George W. Carey (eds), The Post-Behavioral Era (New York: David McKay, 1972) p. 219; Strauss, ‘Progress’, p. 27; NRH, p. 23. The phrase is Bacon’s.Google Scholar
  7. 52.
    See Leo Strauss, ‘Correspondence Concerning Modernity: Karl Löwith and Leo Strauss’, Independent Journal of Philosophy, vol. 4 (1983) p. 107.Google Scholar
  8. 54.
    Heidegger, ‘Letter on Humanism’, trans. Edgar Lohner, in William Barrett and Henry D. Aiken (eds), Philosophy in the Twentieth Century (New York: Random House, 1962) p. 288.Google Scholar
  9. 55.
    NRH, p. 23; for an original development of this theme, see Harry Neumann, ‘Atheistic Freedom and the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs: An Interpretation of Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness’, Interpretation, vol. 4, no. 2 (Winter 1974) pp. 107–14. Neumann argues that universalism in ethics and religion leads to the worst attrocities, and that Conrad’s novel illustrates the truth of this.Google Scholar
  10. 56.
    Heidegger believes that Greek philosophy laid the foundations for modern rootlessness, and hence for the modern crisis (SPPP, p. 33). It is true that for Strauss, philosophy transcends the roots of political society; it is an attempt to reach the universal truth about the human condition that transcends all ideologies and nationalities. This is one reason that Strauss describes the philosopher as a stranger. However, for Strauss, the danger rests not so much in philosophy itself as in the ‘publication’ of philosophy. Christianity is particularly instrumental in the ‘publication’ and hence the vulgarization of philosophy. Christianity is for Strauss, as it was for Nietzsche, Platonism for the masses because it introduces into religion, and eventually into politics, the universalistic element of philosophy — i.e. an element that transcends all particularity. But political society is particular and parochial by nature. Universalism succeeds only in perverting it, as the modern project illustrates. Strauss is at his most cautious when he speaks of Christianity; it is no wonder that his conception of its role in the decline of Western civilization has been missed. See, for example, George Grant, ‘Tyranny and Wisdom: A Comment on the Controversy Between Leo Strauss and Alexandre Kojève’, Social Research, vol. 31 (1964) pp. 45–72, reprinted in his Technology and Emvire (Toronto: House of Anansi, 1969).Google Scholar
  11. 60.
    See Jonathan Glover, What Sort of People Should There Be? (New York: Penguin Books, 1984); see also my review of Glover’s book in Review of Politics, vol. 47, no. 2 (April 1985) pp. 285–8.Google Scholar
  12. 63.
    Nicola Chiaromonteemphasizes this point, see ‘On Modern Tyranny: A Critique of Western Intellectuals’, Dissent, vol. 16 (March–April 1969) p. 148.Google Scholar
  13. 70.
    Ibid.; see also WIPP, pp. 241, 246; SCR, p. 10; Jacob Klein and Leo Strauss, ‘A Giving of Accounts’, The College, vol. 22 (April 1970) p. 3.Google Scholar

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© Shadia B. Drury 2005

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  • Shadia B. Drury

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