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Review: January 2009 Nietzsche, Strauss, and Philosophy To begin with, I will start by noting that this book contains a commentary by Lampert on the essay 'Note on the Plan of Nietzsche's "Beyond Good and Evil"' written by Leo Strauss. It also contains the original essay by Strauss. This is a wonderful place to begin to learn of the 'political' esotericism of the philosophers. Lampert is probably the most insistent, and easily the most informed, voice (among admirers of Strauss) maintaining that there are deep similarities between the thought of Nietzsche and Strauss. Today, the defenders of Leo Strauss prefer to see him as a Platonist. But, as Stanley Rosen (perhaps the greatest student of Strauss) has gently pointed out, the unwillingness of Strauss to even mention, much less discuss, the Platonic Ideas makes Strauss an extremely peculiar Platonist - to say the very least! [Perhaps a digression on our author is in order. First, Lampert's books are as follows: Nietzsche's Teaching: An Interpretation of Thus Spoke Zarathustra (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986). Nietzsche and Modern Times: A Study of Bacon, Descartes, and Nietzsche (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993). Leo Strauss and Nietzsche (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996). Nietzsche's Task: An Interpretation of Beyond Good and Evil (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001). Francis Bacon's Advertisement Touching a Holy War, edited, with an introduction, notes, and interpretive essay by Laurence Lampert (Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland, 2000). I believe he is currently working on a book on Nietzsche and Plato tentatively entitled 'Nietzsche and Ancient Times'. It will continue Lampert's task of reinterpreting the history of philosophy in a Nietzschean manner. All the published books are excellent. But keep in mind the strategic nature of all philosophically esoteric works. They reveal as much as they hide. ...Digression ends.] Lampert is, however, in this superb book, at pains to explain why Leo Strauss was not, in fact, a Nietzschean either. Indeed, since Lampert (who is, unlike Rosen, a 'Nietzschean') maintains that Strauss has given us, in his brief essay on Nietzsche ("Note on the Plan of Nietzsche's 'Beyond Good and Evil'"), the best reading of Nietzsche available, Lampert must show the deep reasons behind the refusal by Strauss of Nietzsche. It is certainly not that Strauss did not learn from Nietzsche, or that he somehow failed to see the profundity of his thought... But first, I would like to highlight the unique form of this book. This book by Lampert is what medieval philosophers would've called a 'supercommentary'; that is, it is a commentary upon a commentary. Leo Strauss, in his essay, writes a commentary upon Nietzsche's 'Beyond Good and Evil' (BGE), and now Lampert writes a commentary upon that commentary. All three authors are esoteric (or, if you prefer, 'esoterically-aware') writers. This means we must read very carefully, referring back and forth from text to text to text. It is a bit like playing Tri-Dimensional Chess! So why isn't Strauss a Nietzschean? Well, before we get to that we must understand that there are more than a few Nietzsche interpretations out there; of which Lampert's is among the most acute. Briefly, and perhaps most importantly, Lampert argues that far from being 'the village atheist' Nietzsche understands the importance of Religion: it is the Poetry of Everyday Life. However, according to Nietzsche (and Lampert) the monotheisms we live under betrayed today for tomorrow and hated this world in the name of the next. It is these religions of 'tomorrow and elsewhere' that Nietzsche entirely rejects. Before we get back to Strauss perhaps a bit more about Nietzsche, as interpreted by Lampert, is in order. Now Lampert maintains, quite emphatically, that Nietzsche is no enemy of modern Science. Although this is, strictly speaking, correct we must keep in mind that the Nietzschean Aufklärung, when compared to modern 'popular' enlightenment, is peculiar in that it is only genuine philosophers who are actually enlightened. One could argue that not even scientists, in the new Nietzschean dispensation, are (philosophically speaking) 'enlightened'. The "real interests" of the scientist and scholar, according to Nietzsche, "lie usually somewhere else, in his family, say, or in making money, or in politics; indeed, it is almost a matter of total indifference whether his little machine is placed at this or that spot in science, and whether the "promising" young worker turns himself into a good philologist or an expert on fungi or a chemist:--it does not characterize him that he becomes this or that. In the philosopher conversely, there is nothing whatever that is impersonal; and above all his morality bears decided and decisive witness to who he is--that is, in what order of rank the innermost drives of his nature stand in relation to each other. (BGE, section 6)" The "real interests" of the scholar and scientist lie elsewhere; they are not, in any necessary way, at all with the 'enlightened' activities of (say) chemistry and philology. But the truly enlightened activity (i.e., philosophy) of the genuine philosopher is all he is consumed with. In this way Nietzsche reminds us that while philosophy cannot actually 'enlighten' anyone, non-philosophers can still participate in enlightened activities... But why doesn't Nietzsche just come out and say this? Nietzsche believes the world must be changed and so he sets out to do so. This process of changing that Nietzsche begins causes many problems for both philosophy and world. Not the least being the fact that in exposing the esoteric maneuvers that philosophers used to make (what he was pleased to call 'Platonism') Nietzsche runs the risk of people searching for his maneuvers. Nietzsche needs to say, in effect, 'we are all done with that esotericism. It belongs to the bad old days.' This is the story that Nietzsche (and Lampert) must be heard telling in order not to be decapitated by the guillotine he builds for prior philosophers. Lampert, of course, does not see it exactly this way. He speaks often of Nietzsche's 'probity'. For instance, he says that, "For Nietzsche, the Platonic lies are both false and base. And both judgments claim a scientific foundation; intellectual probity employing the tools of rational investigation of natural phenomena shows them to be false and base (p. 170)." Hmmm... One wonders exactly which rational 'scientific' tool discovered Dionysus, and which one has proven 'Eternal Return'... Or is it that Science has not (or cannot) disprove them? - But all this really is quite besides the point! Science, despite what its popularizers and idolators say, is, according to Nietzsche, only a method, not a repository of 'Truth'. "It is not the victory of Science that distinguishes our nineteenth century, but the victory of scientific method over science ('Will to Power', 466)." Now, no mere method can ever bring peace to the City. So Nietzsche creates a non-base (note that we do not dare say non-false) esotericism. In 'Ecce Homo' Nietzsche (in the brief chapter on BGE) speaks of the Yes-Saying and No-Saying parts of his work. He indicates that Zarathustra is the former and the several books that followed Zarathustra (BGE included) are the latter. We can perhaps infer from this that while Yes-Saying (this "great expenditure of goodness") might have been difficult for him, no-saying would prove to be be most difficult for his readers... In any case, it seems to me that one can make a better case for a Nietzschean Aufklärung (=Science of Wisdom) from the post-Zarathustran books than from Zarathustra itself. Zarathustra is purposefully beyond any science... The No-Saying post-Zarathustra books are merely intended to destroy the various 'false and base' Platonisms (whether religious or secular) and to prepare the way for the noble Zarathustrian world. As we saw, Lampert correctly reminds us of the Nietzschean distinction between noble and base. But the distinction noble/base reminds us of the psychoanalytic distinction between sublimation/neurosis. Just as the latter ultimately refers to 'socially acceptable' and 'socially unacceptable' actions so too the former distinction refers to 'life-affirming' and 'life-denying' actions. Now, orthodox Freudians objected to this understanding of sublimation and neurosis because it made sublimation and neurosis equivalent. Indeed, what was sublimation in one culture could be neurosis in another. In other words, I am maintaining that both pairs of distinctions (noble/base, sublimation/nuerosis) refer to circumstances and nothing but circumstances. One suspects (I almost typed 'fears') that everything that philosophy makes (the 'noble') must eventually be destroyed because in later, changed circumstances this 'noble' activity or speech will, in actual fact, be 'base'. Thus Nietzsche overturns Plato and, eventually, some Philosopher eventually appears and overturns Nietzsche. This process could only stop if circumstances could be entirely understood. Unfortunately, there is no Science of circumstances... And therefore everything philosophy makes either turns into monsters and/or crumbles into dust. Thus today we have crumbling Platonisms, whether secular or religious, destroying our world. To this problem Political Philosophy is supposedly the answer. You see, Philosophy Itself (Socratic questioning) is a danger to the political health of all cities and all regimes. First, it makes you doubt the political 'health' of your city; then it makes you doubt the possibility of cure, and finally, and most dangerously, you come to doubt the possibility of disease. And so we fall from 'philosophical' criticism, to despair, and lastly, to decadence. This decadence leads to either nihilism or rebirth; that is, for Nietzsche, to either a dark age or a new 'religion'. We now understand how philosophers of the stature of Plato and Nietzsche could be so 'tolerant' of Religion. While it is true that philosophy is the greatest summit that the individual can reach; Myth is the health of the City (that is, Civilization). For the City, Myth is at one and the same time the antidote to Nihilism - and to Philosophy. But, fortunately and unfortunately, myth is not a cure. Every Myth eventually falls... So, Myth and Philosophy can never be one. Philosophy destroys ones faith in the City (I mean any City); Myth saves the City. Nietzsche famously remarked that perhaps 'the gods too philosophize' (BGE, section 294) and he elsewhere said that philosophers 'do not believe that there are any men of Knowledge' (Gay Science, Book 5, section 351.). As Nietzsche indicates, Philosophy (i.e., the love of Wisdom) is itself an admission that one is not entirely Wise. It was the Sophists who were deluded enough to think that they simply knew. Some people read that the 'gods too philosophize' and purr... "Oh you see! The gods are just like us, lovers of Wisdom!" Of course, this is not exactly what Nietzsche is indicating. The 'gods too philosophize' means that there are no Knowers (weep here) anywhere; that even a genuine 'Revelation' (I mean by that even one that actually was coming from a 'god') would merely be another opinion. In the end, genuinely philosophical enlightenment is accepting responsibility for what one cannot possibly know. But this genuinely philosophical 'enlightenment' does not help any City. The genuine philosophers, whether gods or men, can only help it by concocting myths, made of pre-existing materials, that bring some order, peace and joy to the City. So, one can perhaps say that philosophical myth is (in part) the penance philosophy (as Critique) pays for corrupting the youth of the City. Platonic/Nietzschean esotericism is the penalty philosophy forever pays for Socrates corrupting the youth of Athens... But what of Leo Strauss? What of his esotericism? Does he toe the Nietzschean/Platonic line and accept the necessity of philosophico-mythical world-making? Well, of course, the answer is no. In order to have done so he would've had to practice 'metaphysically' speculative mythology as Plato (Timaeus, e.g.) and Nietzsche (in Zarathustra) certainly did. Strauss famously does nothing of the sort. Now, what can esoteric philosophy, without the speculative metaphysical component be? ...Could it be Nihilism? Two quotes might be in order here: First, Rosen will go so far as to say, while alluding to the Medieval legend of the Golden Apple in intricate settings of Silver (Golden Apple = Philosophy), that "Strauss's ambiguity consisted in directing our glances through the small holes in the silver filigree, but in such a way as to give the distinct impression that there was no golden apple within. Inside the silver, as it were, was more silver, perhaps of a purer alloy than the exterior, but in no sense the promised gold." (Stanley Rosen, The Golden Apple, in "Metaphysics in Ordinary Language," p. 65.) Lampert asks, "Does the public good always depend upon public identification of one's own with one's people or nation? When a public Science has discredited the grounds of such localism and provided a new basis for appreciating the unity of our species across space and time and within the whole staggering array of species, and when history continues to testify to the dangers of such local loves and hates, can it serve the interests of philosophy to make it seem that philosophy itself is tied to such beliefs?" (p. 173) If one reads the history of philosophy in the manner Spinoza advised us to read the Bible (searching for what the authorities always agree upon, discarding all else) one is left with two points only. First, the struggle towards ever greater universality, and secondly, the war against nihilism. Without the 'yes-saying' component of Nietzsche's philosophy (i.e., Zarathustra) Straussian esotericism is yet another form of genealogical unmasking; the 'no-saying' that the post-Zarathustrian books called forth. Who does Leo Strauss most remind us of? The great philosophical esotericists (Plato, Maimonides, Nietzsche) and their Cosmogonies and Mythographies? No, the works of Strauss contains nothing of the sort. One fears that in the end Strauss is, along with Deleuze, Derrida, and Foucault, one of the Nietzschean 'no-sayers' who merely unmask words, power and (alas) philosophy itself. - But they can neither make nor save anything... The Straussians will object, pointing to their masters 'patriotism' and thus denying his nihilism. However, siding with an old universalism (American liberal capitalism) that cannot possibly win is to side, actually and in effect, with but another particularism (or localism). As Nietzsche said, "In rare and isolated instances it may really be the case that such a will to truth, some extravagant and adventurous courage, a metaphysician's ambition to hold a hopeless position, may participate and ultimately prefer even a handful of "certainty" to a whole cartload of beautiful possibilities; there may actually be puritanical fanatics of conscience who prefer even a certain nothing to an uncertain something to lie down on - and die . But this is nihilism and the sign of a despairing, mortally weary soul: however courageous the gestures of such a virtue may look." (BGE, section 10) Thus, as Nietzsche indicated long ago, the inability to believe a philosophical myth, a noble lie, is itself also nihilism... A note to all our Straussian realists! Philosophy, the struggle towards an ever-greater Universalism and the struggle against Nihilism, demanded so much more of a thinker of the stature of Strauss. ...Sigh. By incorporating the cosmological and mythological into his philosophical esotericism Nietzsche has revealed himself to be an ancient, by refusing to do the same Strauss is revealed to be a (post)modern.