Thursday, July 18, 2019

Leo Strauss Endorsed "Might Makes Right" in World War Two

Over the years, I have written a series of posts claiming that the assertion of natural rights in Lockean liberalism depends on the forceful resistance to oppression and tyranny, which suggests that it really is true that might makes right.  Natural rights emerge in history as those conditions for human life that cannot be denied without eventually provoking the natural human tendency of individuals to rebellion against exploitation.  Thus it is that individuals assert what Locke called "the executive power of the law of nature" in punishing those who violate their natural rights.

For this reason, the history of Lockean liberalism has often turned on the history of warfare--both revolutionary and international warfare--and the history of weaponry.  So, for example, the Declaration of Independence was not just a declaration of Lockean principles but also a declaration of war, so that the success of those principles depended on the fortunes of war.  Similarly, the American debate over the justice of slavery was settled by the bloodiest war in American history.  And the establishment of the liberal international order after World War Two depended on the defeat of Nazi Germany in the war.

Some of my posts on this line of reasoning can be found hereherehere, hereherehereherehere, and here.

Recently, in reading for the first time a lecture by Leo Strauss delivered in 1943, I was interested by some of his remarks suggesting that he might have agreed with me about this.  It was delivered at a public session on "The Re-education of Axis Countries Concerning the Jews" at the annual meeting of the Conference on Jewish Relations, November 7, 1943, at the New School for Social Research in New York.  Strauss never published this in his lifetime.  It was published for the first time in 2007 in The Review of Politics (vol. 69, pp. 530-38).  It can be found online.

Here's the long paragraph that caught my attention:
"When we speak of re-education, we imply that the wrong education, which is to be replaced by a second education, by a re-education, is of crucial political importance.  We are apt to imply that the root of the difficulties is some sort of education, of indoctrination, viz. the Nazi indoctrination.  Is this really the case?  And how is it the case?  We must beware of taking the Nazi doctrines, their Rassenkunde [racial anthropology] and their geopolitics and what not, too seriously.  What was important, what did influence the Germans, what educated the Germans were not those pedantic follies by themselves, but the prospect opened up by Nazi rearmament, by Nazi diplomacy, and by Nazi arms, of the solution of all German problems by a short and decisive war.  And, after the hope of a short victorious war was shattered by the Spitfires, the prospect of the solution of all German problems by a new Hubertusberg peace on a planetary scale. [The editor notes that "the Treaty of Hubertusburg at the end of the Seven Years War in 1763 established Prussia's place as a great European power."]  If we disregard the German high school teacher, if we consider the mass of the Germans, we shall find, I believe, that what guided their outlook, and hence their actions, was merely the crucial implication of the Nazi doctrine, viz. the implication that the needs of the German people as interpreted by the most efficient man in the land are the supreme law, not subject to any higher consideration.  To put it bluntly, the Nazi education consisted in this: that they convinced a substantial part of the German people that large scale and efficiently prepared and perpetrated crime pays.  I remember the argument of German students in the early 1920s: a country whose policies are not fettered by moral considerations is, other things being equal, twice as strong as a country whose policies are fettered by moral considerations.  For 50% of all possible ways and means are rejected, as immoral, by the moralistic countries, whereas all ways and means are open to the unscrupulous country.  It is evident that this doctrine is subject to the test of sense-experience and, hence, that the Nazi doctrine is a force only as long as Nazi strategy is successful.  The victory of the Anglo-Saxon-Russian combination, if followed by a just and stern and stable peace, will be the refutation of the Nazi doctrine, and thus will uproot Nazi education.  The re-education of German will not take place in classrooms: it is taking place right now in the open air on the banks of the Dnieper and among the ruins of the German cities. [The editor notes that "the Red Army crossed the Dnieper in early October 1943 and took Kiev November 6."]  It will be consummated by a meeting of British-American and of Russian tanks in Unter den Linden, and by the harmonious cooperation of the Western and Eastern occupying forces in bringing to trial the war criminals.  [Unter den Linden is a boulevard in the heart of Berlin.]  No proof is as convincing, as educating, as the demonstration ad oculos:  once the greatest German blockheads, impervious to any rational argument and to any feeling of mercy, will have seen with their own eyes that no brutality however cunning, no cruelty however shameless can dispense them from the necessity of relying on their victims' pity--once they have seen this, the decisive part of the re-educational process will have come to a successful conclusion" (532).
So Strauss thought that any talk about the need for "re-educating" the Germans was mistaken if this implied that the pretended theoretical doctrines of the Nazis should be taken seriously, because these theoretical doctrines were nothing more than "pedantic follies."  The only Nazi doctrine that was persuasive with the Germans was the claim that Nazi arms would win a short and decisive war that would give Germany global dominance that would solve all German problems and satisfy all the needs of the German people.  And this would all be possible because the Nazi leaders--under "the most efficient man in the land"--would be Machiavellian in being unconstrained by any moral considerations and consequently free to use all of the brutal means necessary for fighting a successful war.  The "moralistic countries" would be defeated by an utterly immoral country.  The Nazis would thus prove the Nazi doctrine "that large scale and efficiently prepared and perpetrated crime pays."

That Nazi doctrine is "subject to the test of sense-experience," because we can see with our own eyes whether immoral warfare is victorious or not on the battlefield.  And so the defeat of the Nazis in World War Two is "the refutation of the Nazi doctrine."  This began when "the hope of a short victorious war was shattered by the Spitfires."  The Spitfire was a single-seat fighter aircraft used by the British Royal Air Force throughout World War Two.  The Spitfire was perceived as crucial during the Battle of Britain (from July to October of 1940) for blunting the attack of Germany's air force, the Luftwaffe, and thus saving Great Britain from German conquest.  From that point, seeing that Great Britain could not be conquered, the Germans knew--by their own eyes--that they would be fighting a long and costly war.

Then, by the middle of 1943, the Germans were in full retreat on the Eastern Front, falling back from the attack of the Red Army; and the British and Americans had opened a Southern Front by invading Sicily (in July of 1943) and then advancing through Italy.  Strauss points to the Battle of the Dneiper River, which was being fought as he spoke.  This was one of the biggest military campaigns of the war, involving almost four million troops.  The German troops had retreated from Russia to the Dneiper River, one of the major rivers of Europe, which divided the Ukraine in half between the west bank and the east bank.  Beginning on August 26, the Red Army launched a campaign to take the eastern bank and then cross to the western bank.  As the Red Army moved through the villages, cities, and countryside where the Germans had brutally killed and tortured innocent people, the Red Army soldiers became ever more aroused to vengeful retaliation to punish the Germans for their brutality.  By December 23, six weeks after Strauss's lecture, they had succeeded in taking complete control of the river.  This explains Strauss's remark that "the re-education of Germany will not take place in classrooms: it is taking place right now in the open air on the banks of the Dnieper."

Strauss then foresaw that this re-education of Germany would be consummated by a meeting of Allied tanks in Berlin, and then the Western and Eastern occupying forces would bring the German leaders to trial for war crimes.  He was anticipating what became the Nuremberg war crimes trials that began in November of 1945, acting under international law and the laws of war.  Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels escaped this punishment by committing suicide in the spring of 1945 before they could be captured.  This would prove the Nazi doctrine wrong by proving that "large scale and efficiently prepared and perpetrated crime" does not pay.  But this lesson in the legal rule of just punishment had to be preceded by the lesson taught by the meeting of Allied tanks in Berlin.

Notice that to refute the Nazi doctrine of the immoral rule of the stronger over the weaker, Strauss suggests, we cannot appeal to some transcendent standard of right set by God, Nature, or Reason.  Rather, we must appeal to "the test of sense-experience" by seeing that "moralistic countries" can defeat immoral countries in war as an exercise of "the executive power of the law of nature."

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Does Aristotelian Natural Right Require the Cosmic Teleology of the Unmoved Mover?

At the end of August, I will be going to the convention of the American Political Science Association in Washington, DC.  I will present a paper on "The Aristotelian Teleology of Darwinian Natural Right," as part of a Claremont Institute panel on "Natural Right and Classical Political Philosophy," with two other presenters (Glenn Ellmers and Dustin Sebell), two discussants (Catherine Zuckert and Richard Hassing) and a chair (Jason Jividen).

A big part of my paper will be a reconsideration of my argument that Darwinian science supports the Aristotelian immanent teleology of natural right, and that Leo Strauss was wrong in claiming that natural right requires an Aristotelian cosmic teleology that has been refuted by modern science.  I have written about this in previous posts (here , here,   herehere, and here).

Claiming that Aristotle's "teleological conception of the universe" depends on the teleology of "the heavens, the heavenly bodies, and their motion," Strauss cites two passages in Aristotle's Physics--196a25ff. and 199a3-5.  But as I and other readers have noted, those passages don't affirm any cosmic teleology of the heavenly bodies; and, on the contrary, this part of the Physics seems to say that the most evident manifestations of teleology are in the living phenomena of animals and plants rather than the nonliving phenomena of the universe.  So it's hard to see how these passages support Strauss's claims about the cosmic teleology of natural right.

Nevertheless, what Aristotle says elsewhere in his writings about the Unmoved Mover as the divinely perfect actuality that is the universal "mover of all things" (Meta. 1070b34)--including the heavenly spheres--does appear to some readers as a cosmological teleology that might confirm what Strauss says.  Desire for the Prime Mover causes the eternal revolution of the First Heaven, which carries with it the sun, the stars, and the planets.


In the Metaphysics, Aristotle asserts that to explain the motion in the universe there must be a divine immaterial substance that is pure mind (nous) and "a mover that moves without being moved" (1072a25).  It moves without being moved by being an object of desire (orexis).  In all things, "nature always desires what is better" (GC 336b28).  And as divine perfection, the Unmoved Mover is the most desirable object that moves all things by being loved.  In its self-sufficient perfection, the Unmoved Mover does not desire or love anything beyond itself.  Its only activity is self-contemplation--"thought thinking itself" (nous noesis) (Meta. 1074b34).

The teleological ordering of nature--acting for the sake of an end--is more clearly manifest in living beings than in nonliving, because animals and plants must grow and develop as self-maintaining organisms for the sake of survival and reproduction.  Consequently, to see the universe as teleologically ordered, Aristotle must assume that the heavenly bodies--the stars, the sun, the planets, and the moon--are not inanimate beings but living beings.  In On the Heavens (De Caelo), he writes:
"On these questions it is well that we should seek to increase our understanding, though we have very little to go on, and we are placed at a great distance from the phenomena that we are trying to investigate.  Nevertheless, if we base our consideration on such things, we shall not find this difficulty by any means insoluble.  We think of the stars as mere bodies and as units with a serial order but completely inanimate (apsychon), and yet we ought to conceive of them as partaking of action and life.  Once we do this, things cease to appear surprising. . . . We must, then, think of the action of the stars as similar to that of animals and plants. . . . This then is the reason why the earth does not move at all, and the bodies near it have only few motions.  They do not arrive at the highest, but reach only as far as it is within their power to obtain a share in the divine principle.  But the first heaven reaches it immediately by one movement, and the stars that are between the first heaven and the bodies farthest from it reach it indeed, but reach it through a number of movements" (292a15-b25).
There are two points here that might lead a careful reader to doubt that Aristotle really believes what he is saying about the divine life and teleological order of the astronomical bodies.  First, Aristotle draws our attention to the fact that we can know very little about astronomical phenomena because they are so far away from us.  Elsewhere in De Caelo, he says that "very few of their attributes are perceptible by sense experience" (286a7).  In The Parts of Animals, he says that while the cosmological bodies "are of the highest worth and are divine," there is little opportunity for studying them because "there is so little evidence available to our sense experience."  By contrast, we have better means of information in studying animals and plants, which are "nearer to us and more akin to our nature," and we live amongst them (644b23-645a5), which sets the science of biology apart from theological astronomy.

The second point that suggests skepticism about Aristotle's cosmology is his comment that while "we" (Aristotle?) think of the stars as inanimate bodies, we "ought" to think of them as living beings.  Why "ought" we assume this?  Aristotle never gives us any scientific explanation of why we should believe that stars and planets are living beings like plants and animals.

In some passages in De Caelo and the Metaphysics, he indicates that the fundamental premises of his reasoning about cosmology are based not on observational evidence but on ancestral myths about the divinity of the heavens that must be accepted on faith.
"All men have a conception of the gods, and all assign to the divine the highest place, both foreigners and Greeks, as many as revere the gods. . . . If, then, there is something divine, as there is, what we have said about the first bodily substance has been well said.  The truth of it is also clear from the evidence of the senses, enough at least to warrant the assent of human faith [pistis]; for throughout all past time, according to the records handed down from generation to generation, we find no change either in the whole of the outermost heaven or in any of its proper parts" (DC 270b5-15).
For his "as there is," Aristotle offers no reasoning other than popular belief in the existence of divinity.
"Therefore we may feel convinced that these ancient beliefs, so much a part of our tradition, are true . . . Our ancestors assigned heaven, the upper region, to the gods, believing that it alone was deathless; our present argument bears witness that it is indeed imperishable and ungenerated" (DC 284a2-5).
Immediately before this passage, however, Aristotle admits that some people "think differently" and believe that the universe is not eternal but had a beginning.
"The ancients of very early times bequeathed to posterity in the form of a myth a tradition that the heavenly bodies are gods and that the divinity encompasses the whole of nature.  The rest of the tradition has been added later as a means of persuading the multitude and as something useful for the laws and for matters of expediency; for they say that these gods are like men in form and like some of the other animals, and also other things that follow from or are similar to those stated.  But if one were to separate from the later additions the first point and attend to this alone (namely, that they thought the first substances to be gods), he might realize that this was divinely spoken and that, while probably every art and every philosophy has often reached a state of development as far as it could and then again has perished, these doctrines about the gods were saved like relics up to the present day.  Anyway, the opinion of our forefathers and of the earliest thinkers is evident to us to just this extent" (1074b1-14).
There are at least two possible ways of interpreting these passages.  Readers can assume that Aristotle regarded these religious myths about the divinity and cosmic teleology of the heavenly bodies as true myths.  Or readers can see Aristotle here as intimating that these superstitious beliefs are false, but he prefers not to openly challenge them.

In either case, Aristotle has not supported these mythic beliefs with observational evidence or demonstrative proof.  And so there is no good reason to doubt that the evidence and reasoning of modern science have refuted this religiously founded cosmic teleology.

It is true, however, that Aristotle does briefly point to some observational evidence for this theological cosmology--that the ancient records of astronomy (perhaps including the astronomical records of the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians) show that the outermost heaven of stars has remained unchanged (see the quotation above from De caelo, 270b).  But even this was cast into doubt when astronomers saw what looked like "new stars," or what modern astronomers have identified as a supernova--the exploding of a large star that becomes bright enough to be seen for the first time.  Pliny the Elder in his Natural History (II.95) says that Hipparchus saw a nova in 134 BC, and he wondered whether this meant that stars are born and die and thus not eternal.

Beginning early in November of 1572, a supernova was visible around the world.  It was so bright that it was visible even during the day.  This was one of the eight supernovae visible to the naked eye in historical records.  In 1573, Tycho Brahe published his De nova stella, with his careful observations of this "new star."  It remained visible to the naked eye until 1574, when it finally faded from view.  Today, however, astronomers have found the remnant of "Tycho's Supernova," and it can be seen in X-ray light from the Chandra X-ray Observatory.  This is the kind of observational evidence in modern science that refutes Aristotle's theological cosmology of the heavenly bodies as divine and eternally unchanged.

                                   
                                               A Video of Tycho's Supernova Remnant

And yet this refutation of Aristotle's cosmic teleology of the universe is not a refutation of his immanent teleology of plants and animals that he bases upon the observational evidence collected in his biological works.  For that reason, Strauss is wrong in saying that natural right depends upon a teleological view of the universe that has been refuted by modern science.

Even those scholars who interpret Aristotle's account of the Unmoved Mover as requiring a cosmic teleology sometimes concede that it is reasonable to ignore this cosmic teleology if we see that the immanent biological teleology can be defended scientifically on its own biological grounds.  See, for example, Charles H. Kahn, "The Place of the Prime Mover in Aristotle's Teleology," in Allan Gotthelf, ed., Aristotle on Nature and Living Things (Pittsburgh, PA: Mathesis Publications, 1985), 183-205.

Aristotelian natural right depends upon a biological teleology that is explained--in his biological works such as The Movement of Animals--as animal movement for the sake of an end through the combination of desire and thought.  For the voluntary action of an animal--including the human animal--we must have an end characterized as desirable and a cognitive specification of how it can be realized.  The good is the desirable, and thus the generic good for each species of animal varies according to the natural desires distinctive to that species, and the particular good for each individual animal varies according to the ranking and organization of natural desires distinctive to that individual with his peculiar temperament and capacities in the particular circumstances of his life.

So the generic good for the human species is the inclusive end that encompasses all of the natural human desires, while the highest good for each human individual is the dominant end at the top of the ranking of natural desires that is best for that individual.  For example, the natural desire for intellectual understanding might be the dominant end for a philosopher like Socrates; but for others without Socratic propensities and capacities, the natural desire for intellectual understanding might rank lower than other natural desires.

Strauss disagreed with this, because he taught that the only natural human good is the philosophic life of the philosophic few, because he claimed "man's desire to know as his highest natural desire." Consequently, the great multitude of human beings who live non-philosophic but moral lives are "mutilated" human beings, who live lives of "human misery, however splendid" or "despair disguised by delusion."

Oddly, however, Strauss never offered any demonstrative proof of this strange assertion.  There is at least one place where one might think the proof of the supremacy of the philosophic life has been provided--the end of Book 10 of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.  But some readers have noticed that Aristotle's arguments there are remarkably dubious.  They are so dubious--particularly, when one considers them in the context of the whole of the Ethics--that the careful reader might conclude that Aristotle does not take them seriously, that he is actually mocking the Platonic arguments for the supremacy of philosophy as a human life that is divine.

I have written some posts on this herehereherehere, and here.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Justin Amash Declares His Independence from the Two-Party System

"Today, I am declaring my independence and leaving the Republican Party."

That was Justin Amash's announcement on this 4th of July in an article for The Washington Post.  He is in his fourth term as the representative for Michigan's 3rd Congressional District in the House.  A few weeks ago, he provoked Trump and Republican Party leaders by becoming the first Republican in Congress to call for Trump's impeachment.  I wrote a blog post (here) about a town hall meeting in Grand Rapids where Amash explained his position.  Now, this announcement of his independence from the two-party system prepares the way for his running for President as the candidate of the Libertarian Party.

Many of the arguments that Amash makes in his Washington Post article were stated at his town hall meeting.  What is new in the article is his claim that George Washington in his Farewell Address of 1796 warned against the dangers of the excessive passions of a party system that we see today in the hyperpartisanship of American politics.

As Amash indicates, Washington said that the "spirit of party" or "faction" was "inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human Mind," and so it exists in all governments.  It is natural for human beings to divide into competing political factions fighting for dominance over their opponents.  (This is what Frans de Waal has called "chimpanzee politics.") Washington also concedes that "parties in free countries are useful checks upon the Administration of the Government and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty."  But still Washington worried about the "constant danger of excess," which he saw emerging in 1796, and which was fully displayed in the intensely partisan presidential election of 1800.

Amash quotes two paragraphs from Washington's address.  I have added the three questions in brackets:
". . . The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an Individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction more able or more fortunate than his competitors [Trump?], turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty."
"It serves always to distract the Public Councils and enfeeble the Public administration.  It agitates the Community with ill founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another [through social media and cable news networks?], foments occasionally riot and insurrection.  It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption [Russia?], which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.  Thus the policy and will of one country, are subjected to the policy and will of another."
By laying out his reasoning in this article, Amash indicates what would have to be said by his critics to refute his positions.

First, the critics would have to argue that the American two-party system today has not become dangerously excessive in its partisan passions.

Second, the critics would have to argue that congressional party leaders recognize the constitutional mandate for the Congress to act as an independent branch of government that checks the executive branch, even when the congressional party leaders belong to the same party as the President.  Alternatively, the critics could contend that the country is better off when the Congress allows the President to rule as the supreme leader without any limits, and so the constitutional system of separated and limited powers needs to be set aside.

Third, Amash's critics would have to show that he is wrong in claiming that the Congress no longer functions as a deliberative body, where outcomes are discovered through congressional debate over policy, because most major outcomes in the Congress today are dictated by the president, the speaker of the House, and the Senate majority leader. Or the critics could argue that there is no need for the whole body of Congress to deliberate about public policy, and it's better to allow policymaking by the President and a few congressional leaders.

Fourth, his critics would have to show that he is wrong in saying that most Americans are not rigidly partisan, because they don't see either of the two major parties as representing them, and that the two parties have become more partisan because they are catering to small groups of partisans (playing to the "base").

Finally, the critics would have to argue that most Americans support the existing two-party system, and so very few will vote for an independent or third-party candidate like Amash.  Over the next few years, we will see whether this is true.