Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Leo Strauss and Ze'ev Jabotinsky

From this article by Samuel Goldman, assistant professor of political science at The George Washington University. (thanks to MP)

Yet there is something missing from Howse’s portrait of Strauss as a liberal internationalist. That is a detailed consideration of the role of Zionism in Strauss’s thought about violence.

In his intellectual autobiography, Strauss describes his earliest political decision as a commitment to “simple, straightforward political Zionism” at the age of 17. Throughout the 1920s, he was active in the Revisionist movement led by Vladimir Jabotinsky. In the 1930s, Strauss endorsed the “the principles of the Right, fascist, authoritarian, imperialist principles…” as the only basis for defense of Germany’s Jews. In the 1940s, he offered a moral defense of the British Empire partly because of the mercy it offered to the vanquished—including the Jews settled in Palestine. In the 1950s and 1960s, Strauss lectured and wrote extensively on Jewish themes, rarely failing to voice his admiration and gratitude for the foundation of the State of Israel.

These facts are barely mentioned in Leo Strauss: Man of Peace. In fact, the only explicit reference to the State of Israel that I have found comes in the conclusion, when Howse mentions Strauss’s 1957 letter to National Review defending Israel from accusations of racism. As part of his polemic against the neoconservative appropriation of Strauss, Howse assures readers that, “This was an act of loyalty to the Jewish people, not to the political right.”

Howse may be correct about Strauss’s intentions. But Strauss’s personal relationship to the American conservative movement is not the most important issue. Strauss’s lifelong commitment to Zionism tells us something important about his views on political violence. In this decisive case, he endorsed the politics of national self-assertion that Howse contends he had rejected by end of his career.

Strauss makes this point obliquely but unmistakably in the “Note on Maimonides’ Letter on Astrology” that he composed in 1968. In the letter, Maimonides attributes the destruction of the Second Temple to the fact that the Jews relied on magic to provide their defense, rather than practicing the art of war and conquest like the Romans who defeated them.

Strauss describes the remark as “a beautiful commentary on the grand conclusion of the Mishneh Torah: the restoration of Jewish freedom in the Messianic age is not to be understood as a miracle.” The Mishneh chapters that Strauss cites clarify this statement, explaining that the only difference between between the current age and the Messianic era will be “emancipation from our subjugation to the gentile kingdoms.”

For the mature Strauss, in other words, the redemption of the Jewish people was not mystical event. It is a political condition, defined by the reestablishment of Jews’ sovereignty in their own land. The achievement depended on much the same unsettling principles that Strauss endorsed in the infamous letter to Löwith. It may not be a coincidence that they were written almost exactly one year after Israel won control of the Temple Mount.

Strauss may have hoped the Jewish State could eventually become a respected member of a peaceful international federation. Nevertheless, this passage suggests that t’shuvah may not have been the central theme of Strauss’s career. Rather than enacting a return from extremism to moderation, Strauss’s thought about political violence was remarkably consistent concerning the nation that he cared most about. When it came to the Jewish people, Strauss felt that he had nothing to repent.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I understand this entry is meant as a rebuttal at Howse's characterization, but if we take the man's outlook on the whole, does advocating a founding by fire and rule by moderation discount his positions on peace?