Sunday, March 14, 2021


Attack on Modernity

Arnaldo Momigliano (1908-1987), "Hermeneutics and Classical Political Thought in Leo Strauss," Essays on Ancient and Modern Judaism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), pp. 178-189 (at 180; I've omitted the second principle):
This attitude with respect to the past implies on the one hand a certain way of reading books from the past and also supports a certain consideration of the classics of the past. As to how we should read books from the past, two principles emerge from Strauss's books. One is that in order to understand a writer one must follow him, not guide him, trying to bear in mind all of the meander and apparent contradictions of his thought. For Strauss, the possible danger lies in the fact that a reader might superimpose his own notions of the past onto the past even before he discovers what the ancients thought of a particular issue. Hence, Strauss's lengthy discussion of the book by E.A. Havelock, The Liberal Temper in Greek Politics (1957) in the Review of Metaphysics 12 (1959): 390-439. Strauss does not like liberals in the modern sense; thus he does not like the attempt (indeed a weak one) by Havelock to single out a liberal tradition in Greek thought. Strauss's indignation is directed against the modern interpreter who replaces the thought of the author he is interpreting with his own personal thought: "Havelock takes it for granted that the modern social scientist, but not Hesiod, understood what happened in Hesiod or to Hesiod."6

6. Review of Metaphysics 12 (1959): 404.
Id. (at 187, n. 22):
It is typical of Strauss that in reaffirming his Judaism he should declare: "the most profound truth cannot be written and not even said." He also adds, "a secession from this world might again become necessary for Jews and even for Christians."
Id. (at 188):
Strauss has been able to uphold certain principles of Arab and Jewish medieval philosophy in the contemporary debate between historicism and sociology; he has developed (under the influence of traditional methods of Talmudic exegesis) an original hermeneutics of texts; finally, he has proceeded from medieval thought to classical thought, not with the intention of rediscovering the modernity of the classics but of drawing inspiration from their example in order to fight the moderns. "Modernity has progressed to the point where it has visibly become a problem."23

23. What Is Political Philosophy, 172. (See G.P. Grant in Social Research 31 [1964]: 45-72. Among the most recent writings of L. Strauss's [sic, read Strauss is?] "Notes on Maimonides Book of Knowledge," in Studies in Mysticism and Religion Presented to G.G. Scholem. Jerusalem, 1967, pp. 269-83.)

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