tv Book Discussion CSPAN December 21, 2014 12:45am-2:16am EST
he is trying to set up or construct intertemporal dialogues. dialogues between thinkers of different periods where, for example, aristotle gets the opportunity to reply to or answer macvelaly -- mark veilly's view of the virtue of political life or plato gets to respond to the importance that niche has to suffering cruelty in relation to human greatness. so you have to appreciate that he is in fact doing this new kind of is in -- philosophizing where we are the judges. we who construct and participate in these dialogues between thinkers of different periods and see how they disagree. and try to understand those
disagreements with the view ultimately to thinking for ourselves about what are the or the most reasonable ans to the fundamental questions and it seems to me that strauss does explicitly actually indicate that this is exactly what he is doing. that it's a new kind of philosophical dialogue he is constructing, and i just want to read you a passage from his liberalism and ancient and modern, what is liberal education. he says: the greatest minds utter monologues. we must transform their monologues into a dialogue. they're sid by side into it together. the greatest minds utter monologues even when they write dialogues. when we look at the platonic dialogues we observe that there is never a dialogue among minds of the highest order.
all platonic dialogues are dialogues between a superior man and men inferior to him. plato apparently felt one could not write a dialogue between two men of the highest order. we must then do something which the greatest minds were unable to do. since the greatest minds contradict one another regarding the most important matters, they compel us to judge of their monologues. we cannot take on trust what any one of them says. on the other hand we cannot but notice that we are not competent to be judges. so, basically, this is for strauss the task of philosophy in the post -- it's really to construction the dialogues to create a new openness, a new way of understanding and appreciating the disagreements between philosophers of the first order of the past, and,
therefore, trying to illumine the human condition and where we can find elements of agreement but also which disagreements are likely to be permanent features of an endless philosophical conversation. once we understand this is the character of strauss' writing in some of his most important books i think that we can explain elements that may seem obscure or passages that may seem suspect in the sense that one might thing that strauss is using machiavelli or niche as mouthpiece for this view. instead he is presenting this philosophical positions and his own voice of judgment emerges very, very subtly, because as he said, in judging these debates
one must be modest as a teacher. one must lead the way in constructing the dialogues but one must not impose on those who are one's readers and one's students, one particular view of what emerges from these constructed conversations between thinkers of different historical periods. so, that's my thesis about the mature writing of strauss. that these are really constructed conversations where strauss' voice is there, but also the emphatic voices of different thinkers in the past. now, the final and perhaps most cycles, if that's not controversial enough -- element in my reading of strauss, is -- has to do with understanding another feature of many of his works that has led some people to come to the conclusion that he is a war mongerer or
machiavellian or nicher, and this is -- basically portray strauss as having not much interest in problems of political violence after he left vymar but focusing on a conception of the good life as theory. that strauss in many of his works actually states, right-wing positions, machiavellian positions, militarist positions, with great force and intensity. on the other hand this is then accompanied by a subtle critique or deconstruction of these positions that is often very, very persuasive because in some cases it hatt has the feature of an internal critique, and to give you a good example i refer to strauss' on tyranny, which is a debate with the marxist
philosopher. so strauss writes about tyranny, that what is the basis for legitimate political rule? well, he says, the best rule would probably be a form of absolutism if you believe that the title to rule is based on wisdom. so here in a way he is indirectly responding to carl schmidt's decision jim, and then win you county of the absolute rule justified on the basis of the most wise person will know what is best for everyone in society, you actually come to a critique or a reversal of the case for absolute rule because what you realize, as strauss takes you through these various steps of the argument, that the people who are likely to want to
be absolute rulers are unlikely to be wise people. the trait of wise people are not the kind of traits that produce amibition to absolute rule. so, if you believe in absolute rule based upon the only possible legitimate justification for absolute rule, which is that the person ruling is wise or all-knowing, then you would have to have a significant rethink whether it would be better to have constitutional rule if the presumption that you are likely to get an absolute ruler who is wise turns out to be false. so, we start with what seems like a case for absolutism, for tyranny so there are interpreters another strauss' position that say he is favor tyranny because they read two or three pages and seems lie he is set us up the case for absolutism, and then he
demolishes it in a brilliant way. to understand how brilliant the demolition is you have to understand the arguments for absolute rule or decisionism by people like carl schmitt. why he -- why is he stating with great force these nasty positions that get him associated with the neocons or extreme right and then somehow deconstructing him. here comes the controversial hypothesis. up to the age of 30 i do think that strauss was attracted to the militaristic right in germany. a point of view that was described and in a way diagnosed by strauss in 1941, in a lecture he gave the new school in new york, called, german anihilism, and it was around the age of 30 that he started turning away
from this point of view when he encountered carl some show mitt and ann had ann engage. with a short essay that he would describe later as the first expression of a quote-unquote change in orientation. that change in orientation came from being sickened by to -- and disillusion eddie be the o'legal mixed of antiliberalism and the realization that to understand the crisis of modern civilization one would need a point of view less empty and brutal than the point of view of what he would call eventually german nihilism. so this is the point where he is starting to really seriously focus on jewish and arab thought of the middle ages, but i think that -- this comes a lot from
the german nihilism essay -- strauss was very concerned he had been tempted by what he called german nihilism, and that by setting up these positions and then deconstructing them, he was trying to provide an education to others who might have also had these temptations. and i suggest in the book that this was a kind of philosophical form -- that there it a transgression, at least a transgression in thought, and then there's a move of return, not through piety but through a philosophical purging of the temptation, and at the previous discussions of the book -- i've been to two discussions, one at harvard and one at penn over the last week -- we have had very good debates and exchange about
whether this really counts in the full or emphatic religious sense, and possibly it doesn't, but it might be then more of a substitute for it, but it is, i think, a kind of explanation of what seems at first to be a very suspicious or off-putting way of proceeding, to actually state or restate forcefully these kinds of extreme positions but then engage in a very intricate, often partly internal critique of them. that's what i think strauss is actually doing. so, now you would say, if all this is true about strauss and he is a man of peace and is not the nasty inspiration for the neocons and so on, well, fine, but maybe he's just not interesting. so why write a book just to kind of correct the misreading of a
thinker who, when you actually do understand what they're up to, doesn't seem to be particularly compelling or interesting, and here i have to just say to you why i think strauss is an interesting and compelling thinker for our times. first of all, i do think that this way of doing philosophy, by setting up dialogues, is a very promising avenue for thinking in a post modern era, because in some ways, philosophical questions and political questions come and go in importance. we're back in a period of time where the relationship between religion and politics, for example, has become a very, very acute issue, and that issue recedes in the background in more recent thought and much anglo-american thought but such
a crucial issue for a range of older thinkers. and by setting up these different positions and relating them to each other and understanding the disagreements about philosophers about the relationship between religion and politics, i think we can illuminate questions and dilemmas of contemporary political life, global political life, that maybe are not so illuminated if you stick with the array of first late 20th 20th century, early 21st 21st century, political theorists. so that's one claim. secondly, strauss is notable for the extent to which he actually, absolute exclusively addressed the question of the political and social responsibility of thinkers and intellectuals. and recently we have had, for example, the release of the black notebooks and the issue of
the political responsibility or irresponsibility of philosophers and intellectuals is i think still a very live one for many of us. and strauss said about niche, that niche was not a nasty and would have abominated everything in a way that naziism stood for, that niche is still indirectly paved the way for fascism because he ruthlessly attack el all responsible political options that existed at the time without showing his readers any way to a new alternative responsible politics. also, strauss' thesis about writing between the lines was an argument about the responsibilities of philosophers and thinkers in times where
there were persecution but also in times of political and social instability, where an intellectual or philosopher would have to be worried that their thought might be misused by the wrong people, and you seek the whole experience of vymar and what followed must have been very much in strauss' mind. but to my view, this is a very important dimension of his thought, and relatively few philosophers of the late 20th 20th century or our century, really address this question directly. they often address it indirectly but rarely make it a fundamental problem for their thinking. ...
so, on that somewhat critical note i think i'm going to end and invite what i'm sure will be a very lively and rich discussion with you. thank you. [applause] yes. [inaudible] specifically i thought your discussion is a kind of new philosopher and discussing him as a genre in abating for loss of her that could be studied was insightful and what else was inside both the fact that you pointed out these things to show he wasn't attacking the european union and then i think the other thing i found inside bulb was the possibility he was a cosmopolitan or metro -- i want to accept your thesis and bears
part of me that's like satisfied with what you purvey here but i think there's this other development that i think is politically significant in the united states but i'm not sure if you discussed strauss' role in nurturing it. broadly claremont conservatism and so specifically the new school strauss in 1948 and 50 what role did he have in the education of harry jaffa so how did we get to 19644 were you have java educating barry goldwater? i think the part that you portray is a critique of 2004 policy by -- like stressing as him. there's another aspect here like the way claremont conservatives are involved with a domestic policy and so the specific. >> that you haven't discussed i
think he was fighting hofstetter's american political tradition which is a progressive book that says it's a dangerous experiment. you think strauss played an important role in developing an interpretation of the american political tradition characteristic of claremont conservatism that found expression in 64 and 1980? >> first of all having read now hundreds of lectures and seminar sessions of strauss i would say that he doesn't say much about the american political tradition. he praises to the extent of which there is freedom of expression in america. he likes the supreme court a lot. he likes the idea of judicial review and something that seemed to haunt him was how quickly the nazis with of course the help of
carl schmidt have been able to destroy legality and the rule of law at the end of the weimar republic. so this idea of a supreme court that is respected by the other branches of government can be a guardian of the constitution, that was an element of american political culture he writes a great deal. but you know he doesn't talk generally about the separation of powers. he doesn't take what i would call any particular ideological spin on american political culture or the american political tradition. in his letters to the somewhat crazy conservative candle he complained about the image or average culture was starting to
influence public life in america and i think he rather unfairly considered john f. kennedy to be an example of that. not i think a well picked example but he had real concerns about that aspect relatively recent aspect of american political cultures, tv oriented, sound bite oriented and so on. but none of this seems to me to point to anything like the way you would describe this claremont conservatives as him and i believe strauss only spent a year or two there. i'm not sure the exact date but jeff was merely one although a very peculiar and very loud student of his. i'm not sure i find much in strauss himself that would account for that kind of view of
the american polity. >> your initial interest in strauss was a philosophy where you could read that in some ways in certain conceptions of order. he was involved in dialogs with those who are conservative with order. i'm wondering if someone who draws from thoughts specifically harry jaffa or the neoconservative criminologist james caesar they would think there something about the way strauss thinks about order content with claremont conservatism. do you think there something about the way strauss does tip for claremont conservatism? >> one of his great sound bites, speaking of sound bites, is that they aim of politics and
political thought should be to produce a regime that balances order without oppression and freedom without license. i think that anyone who witnessed the destruction of order and the republic and its general consequences as general consequences as well as the consequences for the jewish people would not be unconcerned with order or what happens to a society when order breaks down and politics becomes polarized between extreme groups who are prepared to take extraconstitutional measures necessary to seize power. so yes i think order is a theme but order that is not oppression which means a preference for constitutionalism, separation of powers and a letter that strauss
wrote to a german law professor in the 1960s and i mentioned it in the book. a copy of the book he had written on carl schmidt and strauss advises that schmidt might've been right about weimar democracy book was not right about liberal democracy as such. in other words the concern that weimar society has exploded, that model of democracy had a very weak center, a very weak legitimacy of institutions and so on. later in life straddles experienced to liberal democracy study found to be strong, to combine a measure of stability with a great deal of freedom. first of all england and already
you could see that his view of liberal democracy was turning when he wrote, can't remember i think it was jacob kline that he attended a debate in the house of commons and the ref parque, the exchange between baldwin and churchill reminded him of the roman senate, the debates in the roman senate. he found something noble and ennobling in british liberal democracy and in part it was that he liked to say in class, he always called these expressions wrong in english. the british never throughout the baby baby with the bath. of course he meant the bath water but i think what e-mail was that stability and order are necessary ingredients of a political regime where people field secure and he agreed that
liberty and security are not unrelated. one of the definitions of liberty and spirit of the laws is the opinion of each person of their security. and again you can see what he took from weimar to not respect that yes the real concern was with stability, security and order but the example of anglo-american liberal democracy suggests to strauss that these in fact could be combined with freedom and indeed social justice. >> and questioning the traditional characterization of leo strauss as being a supporter of the right, could you provide a definition of the right and
the last? >> yes, maybe i can start from strauss's own definition or an attempt to define the difference between right and left. and a couple of lectures he gave unto thinkers that i describe as liberal humanism. first of all strauss says that right and left did mean something rather different and has a historical meaning that's not terribly relevant in old europe. it was the french revolution and so on and he says it's difficult in the american context to totally differentiate conservative from progressive positions. now one of the aspects of stress
is generally conservative than i do talk about this in the book. he had a distrust in progress, not a dogmatic mistrust or to put it more precisely he cautioned the dogma of progress which was so dear at least at the time and maybe still is today perhaps more moderate or chastened form to liberals and it's the very word for brevity. what was the basis of the doubt about progress? not every change is necessarily it change for the good. to make an assumption that all changes change for the good. on the other hand he also said there's an equal error of conservatives to say that change is likely to be for the bad. it's equally basis as an assumption that all changes likely to be for the good.
when strauss was teaching the dogma in favor of progress was much more the dominant position or prejudice in the academy and so he was more remarkable for questioning that dogma than the opposite conservative dogma which is that we should generally have a presumption of the game change or the change is going to make things worse or the change is going to come at exorbitant or unacceptable costs. so i think that's how he positioned himself in terms of his own views of conservativism and progressivism. in one of his lectures he said he was not surprised to find himself mentioned i gather in a positive way. those of you who know the nation it was a progressive publication back then. it's a progressive publication
now. an interesting factoid is that the editor, i have a twitter feed about leo strauss where have followers and i tweet regularly thinks he is said in his lectures and seminars and his letters because i want to show to strauss' actual voice and it's not a voice from what we would regard as the right. anyhow katrina van roekel has been a follower of mine, the editor of the nation, a follower of that twitter account actually among other people who are certainly progresses but to get back to strauss' or mark strauss said he wasn't surprised to find himself mention possibly in the nation because in one manner he was with them, the progresses. was this some small little matter? no with just a sign with the progresses. what does that mean? where was he with conservatives? he was with the conservatives because even though he was in favor of justice and at the time
he said that certainly meant civil rights probably also elements of the great society and redistribution that he had doubts about using social engineering to achieve much greater equality or justice in the short-term. this goes also to his technological pessimism, his doubts about social science as a technique for manipulating human behavior. so he would say yes i'm with you for social justice but i may not be with you to the extent that you want t do you know change society fast using techniques of social engineering or crazy scientific behavioral changes in which i don't particularly have much trust or i think there might be a dq mind -- dehumanizing downside. >> i have a question about if
you read human rights in histo history. i mean natural rights of history he's clearly at that point got to follow the church. i'm not sure whether what you are saying that he was impressed to learn something from featured and if so could you tell us something about what it was when she was formed and whether was the same thing as something else when he shifted away from it? >> my sense is that part of it was that nietzsche offered a compelling diagnosis of you know what strauss at that point was persuaded of as a decline of
classical intellectual culture in germany but in the european world more generally and the rise of what one could crudely called math or popular culture with the accompanying kind of degradation of society. and so that i think he bought into to some extent and indeed as i say my thesis is that when he wrote german nihilism and 41 his diagnosis of the pathology of german nihilism was anyway kind of semi-veiled self-diagnosis of what he was like when he was quite young. now it's complicated because on the one hand he said he believed everything he understand that nietzsche after that nietzsche after the age of 30. on the other hand if you look at his writings in the 20s is also struggling with different
positions within the zionist movement so it's very complex. another thinker of the times to which he can be compared with this complexity is walter venue. you look at the first world war and the 20s at times he seems to be attracted to schmidt and nietzsche and that kind of thinking. at times he's going back to earlier jewish thought and the bible. at times he seems to be veering towards a new version of marxism. this was a time of great intellectual disorientation but also great intensity after the first world war. these were thinkers who were young jewish in germany, influenced by multiple allegiances and very different kinds and contradictory intellectual sources and temptations.
so you don't get a really coherent view of strauss from at least the published writings up to and around the time of the 30s but there is a revealing statement in a letter that he writes i think to love it -- love that which is to my mind the first exclusive account of his turning to classical thought away from nietzsche. what he says is what he has discovered is a great over valuation of courage or manliness in nietzsche and why is back? it's because it's a reaction to the downgrading of courage or resolve in liberal thought to the supposed that easy-going miss of a liberal or democratic thought and so in order to react
strauss says nietzsche gives much to create a wet to just pure will, courage or resolve and when you turn to plato, plato acknowledge his courage gives its it stupid it's the lowest virtue. and with them. back to my mind one passage in that letter all motion is the character of the reorientation. if you take that passage in you read it through the lenses of what i think it's strauss' self-diagnosis of himself as a young man is it german nihilists. i'm not sure i answered your question. >> he spoke about how strauss had flirted with the idea of
nihilism at an early time and change. you also spoke about how he thought about the duties of philosophy. i was wondering if you could say something about what lessons public intellectuals could draw and i realize it's not really you know so much the theme of your book but what lessons one might take from leo strauss' life and how he conducted his methodology and major temporality and the way he was able himself to use these other thinkers in order to change. there's so much emphasis today on adhering to a position, frowning on flip-flopping, frowning on taking in new political realities and rethinking and it seems to me you're putting forth a view that suggests for strauss that there is this possibility of turning away and of achieving greater wisdom. i was wondering if you could say something about that.
>> well there is what i have characterized as what i think is a desirable and attractive kind of openness. reopening questions, reopening the nature of disagreements between different thinkers about how to answer those questions and therefore the possibility of thinking for ourselves afresh. but what about you know the lessons -- i give one lesson at the end of the book. strauss famously said a lot of you should not try to be edifying but it's intrinsically edifying so strauss was very admirable in not engaging in too much explicit preaching. i think the lesson of his own experience despite himself holding to what he viewed as a high standard of social and political responsibility for the misuse of thought is that he
perhaps was too willing to let his thought be claimed by others. what i mean by this is that he did not himself publicly express a lot of clear political views. he was reticent in those that were distant from the classroom at chicago and therefore in a way it was not that difficult to misuse his ideas during his lifetime. what was that reticence about? i have also thought i would write a book about the meaning of exile for different centrists. strauss would be one. rant another, adorno and other. the thing for strauss there was a typical meaning to the experience of exile which was
that the resistance to assimilation. whether that resistance to assimilation was a sense of fidelity not at the level of simple belief but at some other level to traditional judaism. i don't want to be misunderstood. he was not an observant but deeply connected to judaism. he was not that good-looking and he he was a small and rather fragile man and he was in bad health and his wife was in bad health for much of the time. a variety i think of personal and psychological circumstances or considerations contributed to this reticence to become a public figure. it's very easy to take the
writings of the very cop located and difficult writings of someone who may have a lot of brilliant thoughts in those writings and then turned them into a cult figure if they themselves have been either reticent or speaking in different voices about different issues that lent itself to that. but if you are out there and speak clearly and publicly about your views and it's going to be harder for people to misuse your thought to support other views. not impossible and certainly i don't think anyone can be 100% responsible for the use of their ideas after they have passed away. that would be kind of along the lines of verse bonds and i'm hope that's helpful. >> anything else?
>> what is your view on strauss' view of the quality and when you discuss that i wanted to talk about your views that you don't know stress that put paraguay and two things that are tightly related. and if there's a totem pole. strauss talks about esoteric as him. he that quite clear. it's clear to say that doesn't apply to his life in america but if strauss believes there's fundamental inequality amongst people and of wisdom and their ability to understand and also to misunderstand because one of the topics you talk about is how strauss has been misunderstood. that is inevitable. there's no thinker in the
history of philosophy who has not been fundamentally misunderstood or misconstrued in many ways. you are writing in and doing that in public and there's issue of being misunderstood. maybe that's the most important reason for esoteric writing is to try to minimize the damage that you might do. some damage is inevitable as you take a public stance and whether you lecture or teach. you will have someone misunderstand you. someone asked a question about jaffa. if you are doing anything in public you are likely to be misunderstood so here are a few question of the quality to the question of esoteric writing. >> let me take the last question first.
i certainly think that strauss suggested in any society including a free society one should write in such a way as to minimize the possibility that one's ideas will be misused or will have impacts that are socially and politically responsible. but i don't think that is what he means by esotericism. he definitely teaches that indefinitely tries to practice it but he also you know was very explicit about certain matters that a thinker who wanted to hide teachings that could be subject or get them subject to persecution or even to social
opprobrium would not hide. i don't think he practices esotericism but i do think he practiced restraint and the irony is that restraint sometimes can lead to other kinds of risks of irresponsible thought. that is why i said in response to the previous question that i think speaking loudly take -- for example. how did ron moaned around not gather a reputation for neoconservatism. what we would call a cold word liberal and if you look at the people in the united states these are people who are also attracted to a vision of strauss is a conservative and gets
published in translation and neocon publications and so on. one of his leaving followers in france was also a student of strauss but yet it's clear that he was up cold war liberal. even though he was a hawk with respect to the soviet union he believed in the welfare state. he believes in personal freedom and so on. i think there are very few interpretations they get it wrong that he was basically conservative because he opposed soviet schism and the opposed french marxism. one reason for that is is there's a huge record. he wrote hundreds of newspaper articles for figaro and where he stood with respect to conservative islam and marxism is very clearly defined by a
large body of journalism that is of an extremely high influential level but still quite accessible to people who are educated people, other journalists and so on who are the people that are most influential in forming a public reputation in constructing the public meaning of a major thinker. that's the contrast i would make. on the first question about equality strauss i thank believed that most forms of social equality were unjust. on the other hand social inequality, excuse me, were unjust. on the other hand he saw great difficulties in eliminating certain forms of social
inequality using as i put it earlier forms of social engineering. so there's a side of him that is conservative and there's a side of him that is progressive but the perspective for which he views the problem of inequality is really that it's thinking that is the activity that ultimately is the most fulfilling for human beings. therefore if that's the kind of ultimate perspective or horizon in which you view the problem of equality or inequality then you know most ways in which people are distinguished with honors and rewards in society will be viewed as largely arbitrary and
questionable. and so i suppose that in a way if you're of that view then basically it's like socrates and the apologists saying the appropriate punishment should be to be paid to talk by the people of athens so they should pay his food and lodging and so on. if ultimately excellence is about human activities that most resemble thought and philosophical discussion then as i say the conventional inequalities and social outcomes are something highly questionable. they are not justified because they are not based upon an evaluation of people in what is
really excellent for human beings. again as i say there's a caution about how far you can go using the technology of the modern bureaucratic and welfare state to actually correct a lot of these inequalities in any kind of reasonable timeframe. >> i have some questions about traffic -- chapter 3 which are very significant because what you are doing is trying to understand the grounds that strauss is objecting to a world state and distinguishing that from smith's objection. one reason you are doing that is you are looking at nihilism. this is significant were the discussions with the european union today.
the thinkers you want to distinguish them from today on one hand i was very surprised you didn't discuss their mama in this context or even the book. in the book 2000 world beyond politics and nihilism he discusses there has become extraordinarily intellectual for american writing and elsewhere great song wondering since you didn't discuss it here if you could clarify what you view the relationship between strauss' objection to nihilism and how it relates to those who draw from your minaj today. >> i would say a couple of things. first of all it's fairly clear and i'm saying nothing that he would disagree with. an important source of thought is a conservative view of
current catholicism and that is a route that is completely alien to strauss's way of thinking. there's a sense in which explicitly a lot of this is not channeling strauss but channeling a different intellectual tradition. and actually in the manuscript i did have a discussion and contrasting him with a french student who is much more of a cosmopolitan liberal. they go in different directions than menot and one of them is a catholic conservative and the other is a romanian jewish exile, very different people but i think the editors rightly thought that it was describing the main argument of the book. this kind of book can easily
blow up to 400 pages because you would be inclined to discuss all of these derivative debates. i didn't really want to write that kind of book. the editors didn't want it either because i i think there's enough in here trying to as i put it in the introduction to reopen the case of strauss and start what i would consider would be a sensible and thoughtful and unprejudiced discussion of strauss is a thinker but also a critical one. anyhow to get back to the objection of the world state there is a dramatic turn in the argument, in the restatement, the final repost of strauss where he says he goes there all this business about there being no longer warriors to struggle and so on but sounds a lot like schmidt but then there's a
remarkable turn where he says perhaps it's not action or struggle that constitutes what it is to be human but thinking. so the final pages are the crucial pages because in the final pages strauss reveals the real grounds, the fundamental grounds on which he objects to the homogenous state which is that it would suppress -- if you have a universal political order that order can only survive through a universal ideology that it legitimate than the universal ideology necessarily entails objections to that ideology and intellectual resistance to that ideology. it means a real threat to freedom of thought. now if you compare that line of
argument to the liberal cosmopolitan kant says it's essentially the same line of argument. kohn says i wonder republican federation republican in the sense of a federation state that has liberal democratic type constitutions but i do not want their world state. why? because the world state could result in despotism. in other words for kant the diversity of peoples or nations is a protection against the kind of despotism that would destroy the freedom and to my mind there is almost no difference between us kant's objections to a world state and the one that strauss ultimately makes as philosophically grounded or argued objection in the final pages. i see no essential difference in
that line of argument and of course that makes up for the fact that as you noted it comes through in strauss's lectures that he was actually sympathetic to the project of european integration. he didn't see european union or the european community as a kind of threat as a world state that would suppress diversity of opinion and thought. unlike the criticisms of transnational integration by people like raskin who assume that any project that has as a cosmopolitan character that seeks to extend a governance or institution beyond the borders of a sovereign state is somehow to be regarded as undesirable based upon the kind of criticism of the world state that those people often attribute to strauss.
yes? >> you clarify there's a differential between right and left in terms of how the changes enacted so from the left that change being through the government, from the right being a change through probably private industry and i would hazard to take that a step further to say that from the left perhaps change would be for the poor were as for the changes for the rich. if that is true wouldn't that put strauss is a thinker on the right? >> i think your question is an excellent follow-up question because it will help me to be clear than i perhaps was in my initial response to you. and distinguishing right from
left one could distinguish ends and means. so there are people who are conservative who would say no it isn't particularly just to redistribute wealth because the market insurers that people who have ability to well and why should those people have the obligation to give part of their wealth to other people who don't have it talent or the industry to do as well? i don't want to caricature him but my colleague richard epstein views it as a libertarian view which he also called a form of conservativism. so in other words people like that don't want necessarily more social equality. they view the inequality of wealth is somehow legitimate and
something that it's entirely appropriate to preserve. now there's another group of people sort of like me who are middle-of-the-road who would say actually i do want considerably more social equality but i'm concerned that certain ways of getting there could jeopardize economic growth or could undermine other social values. and i think this is sort of where strauss is coming from. he would say yes in his comment about being quoted in the nati nation. eliminating unjustified or unjust conventional social inequality is not a bad thing. it's a good thing but then we have to ask how we get there. so what i think strauss is often taken taken for in taken for in this maybe goes back to your question which i might answer even more fully in this little
elaboration that strauss is not someone who admires social hierarchy for its own sake. in his lectures and seminars on nietzsche this comes out very clearly. liking the idea of rank or order or hierarchy for his own sake. that there's something inherently admirable in a society that is unequal and where people know their place whether they are at the top for the bottom. that is not at all strauss. i think in terms of the goal it is really greater social justice or equality but with a great deal of caution about how we get there and what other values we might end up sacrificing by using certain methods to get there.
that's a position that's very characteristic of a lot of people who would call themselves liberals today. we don't want to get rid of the market. there are some people who think we need to radically invent all the institutions of capitalism. i respect those views but that's not my view. my view is we need some of those institutions and therefore we need basically to be able to live with a certain amount of social inequality which is an inevitable result of those institutions but i would like to reduce it through smart social policy, smart tax policy, smart redistricting policies and i don't think that's very different from the spirit of strauss's own thinking on these kinds of questions. >> you talk about other social values that would be diminished let's say by the right. what you -- what were you
referring to? give me an example of what would be diminished. >> so for example you could ha have, and i've been in some of these debates in situations of political transition. you could say that you could obtain social justice by radical redistribution of land and this goes to places like south africa where you take land away from people who are you know relatively privileged and give it to people who are poor who are part of the oppressed group that now have finally achieved political power. now i actually think one has to be very cautious about this because there is a value to the
stability of property rights. it's not an absolute value. these people live their whole lives on this land. probably it's a generation that didn't necessarily contribute directly or to put it differently they might not, the primary culprits in those social injustices. they might also be the people with knowledge of how to work in the new society. you don't want to necessarily force those people essentially into exile so it's a complex set of trade-offs. you might say of course the fact that it is whites who are the landholders, social justice now means -- so let's kick them out and give the land away to the people would have been oppress oppressed. but again i have been very
direct in those debates. you see the complexity of how you affect third parties some of whom might be innocent and also the image of the country now basing itself on the rule of law. so those are the kinds of trade-offs i think you have to make. even if the goal of justice is an unquestionably desirable goal. that's just one example. we could enter into other examples. rent stabilization is a complicated problem from the point of view of social justice or redistribution. in new york it results in quite a few people who are well-off living in very cheap apartments and other effects in terms of generally driving up the price of housing. but then people say there are
values in maintaining mixed neighborhoods and continuity in neighborhoods and so on and that has positive social externality. so if you have an abstract conception of social equality is easy to say this is perverse that when you then build than other kinds of human goods that might be affected by those policies it becomes a kind of complex trade-off. now i'm not saying that. some conservatives would say something like that to try to convince you to do nothing about it. oh it's complex. you might be getting more social justice this year but creating other types of social cause they are. i'm not at all doing that. that's not my game. i'm saying it is complex but yet we should still be advancing the cause of social justice even though we have to be cognizant and reflective about other --
how other values are human concerns are affected by the way in which we seek social justice. >> the purpose of politics is basically to produce order and security both domestically and in foreign policy. that is the purpose of government. so this is kind of a limited state view, 19th century view which sort of keeps coming back and as far as strauss is concerned and i haven't read everything he is written by any means but i have never come across a discussion in which he basically argues for more purpose of politics than basically security. he doesn't put the argument,
haven't seen it in the bold terms of 19th century liberals. he seems to be arguing again and again many of the books that they situation of man is such that is so precarious. so conditionally contingent and so open to the violence which can be released in politics particularly if people get involved in politics. that this is the most important to avoid if you know politics which produces peace and order. that's the basic thing. the other is secondary. am i wrong about that? >> well i think that you are partly right and partly wrong in the sense that certainly when he was young i have a sense that strauss did admire a pre
pre-germany. in other words as he put it was thinking of a talk he gave at hillel and there was a certain kind of order that was created. there was an enlightened civil service and we advise the rulers they prevented mass violence but it did not happen for a very long time in germany. definitely he admired order when contrasted with mass violence and radical insecurity including for jewish. but his mature reflections on politics make it very clear that one reason he's very much inclined to the perspective of a the classics is precisely because the tendency from the origins of modern -- modern
political philosophy is perhaps to overemphasize her pledge an exclusive or overriding concern on security for self-preservation. he reads a chapter in the book you alluded to when you asked the first question. i think you'll see strauss presents the classical view as one that tries to cope with there being two rooms of political legitimacy. one is the goal of human perfection that political life ought to support people fulfilling their highest capacities and the need for order or basic stability of society and the solution to the political problem for strauss or at least as he articulates the classics and natural history is precisely the balancing of those imperatives.
because there is a trade-off he recognizes in many situations. and so in a situation where society is under great threat either of the internal disorder from civil war or from a foreign enemy there will be more of an emphasis on order necessarily and some sacrifice of the concern with human perfection. what strauss is very clear about is that the orientation of political life towards human perfection requires freedom. now in conception -- his conception of freedom is a little different from some liberal perceptions of freedom and not all that different elements and some of -- some of john drabelle's writing but in conception of freedom that is connected to the perceived need for freedom in order to pursue human influence.
so strauss is often viewed as being totally critical of democracy but actually if you read his lectures there is often appraisal of democracy and i remember one of them where he interjects didn't democracy -- democracy kill socrates and strauss replies well the fact that socrates was able to live until 70 years of age and engage iin the activities that he did engage in and if it weren't a democracy that would not be so possible. my sense is that he thought the only regime in which the highest human activity or the highest human order which is the order of thinking is possible is something like you know a democracy. and it's true that he explored more conservative options in his
writing but the situation and the jewish and islamic middle east had so little correspondence to available political options in modern time that even though he articulated a kind of conservative politics that comes out of it doesn't ultimately i think determined fundamentally his judgment on liberal democracy which is its emergence in the anglo-american world and evolution of the anglo-american world and perhaps in the european community towards the end of his life definitely suggests the most satisfactory way of combining the concern for human perfection or excellence on the one hand
with the concern for order and stability on the other but yet and this is where strauss is fundamentally non- imperialistic. he doesn't believe that this would necessarily be a regime that you would want to impose or could legitimately impose on any other culture and society society. there might be societies where for example religion would have a public role that is uncharacteristic of contemporary and so you might have to think a little differently about given the function of religion in some other societies. so one area where strauss is very modest or cautious is in the idea that one can export a regime. one can explore general principles of politics such that one should make politics serve the highest human good to the
extent possible consistent with stability but you cannot export or should not export one formula for political regime around the world. >> thank you for this very interesting lecture tonight. thank you for coming home and we hope that you will sign books and many of you will purchase a book and thank you for coming tonight. >> about the book, it turned o out, it turns out that cambridge has sold out of north america. i actually had to bring a number of my author's copies here tonight for sale. if you buy a copy not only will it be autographed but it will be one of the first that ever came off of the printing press. it's going to be back in stock soon. they are reprinting it right now so it's just a small hiatus.
thanks so much. [applause] association, thank you. >> i am a multimedia journalist at channel 5 news in west palm beach and vice president for the national association of black journalists, the miami for lauderdale chapter and the am very happy to introduce two special guests today. dr. cornel west is a prominent
and provocative democratic intellectual, a professor of philosophy and christian practice at union theological seminary and professor emeritus at princeton university. the also taught at yale, harvard and the university of paris. graduated from harvard and obtained his a and b hd in philosophy at princeton. he has written more than 20 books and has edited 13. he is best known for his classics race matters and democracy matters and his memoir brother west, living and loving out loud. he appeared frequently on the colbert report, cnn and c-span and he also made his film debut in the matrix and was a commentator on the official trilogy released in 2004, his latest book, "black prophetic fire" with a distinguished scholar chris the bushindorr prevents a perspective on six
african-american leaders including frederick a. bliss, w. e. b. du bois, martin luther king jr. ellen baker, malcolm x and otto while barnett. examine the impact of these men and women in their ear ats and across the decades and rediscovers the integrity and commitment within these passionate advocates and all so therefore wines by providing new insights that humanize these well-known figures cornel west takes an important step in rekindling the black prophetic fire so essentials in the age of obama. helen has been director of the beacon press since october of 1995. she pulled a master's degree in english literature from the university of virginia. she began her career in publishing and random house in 1976. acquisitions that beginning could get killed don't's the healing, national book finalist, the iron cage, one today, cornel
west's "black prophetic fire" and anita hill at 3 imagining quality. cheese sayre eight years on the board of pen, new england, and is administrator of the hemingway foundation pen award. thank you for being you today. [applause] [cheers and applause] >> thank you for that very warm miami welcome. it is a great pleasure to be here today with all of you and i have a greater honor of being in dialogue with cornel west. in addition to the introduction you just heard a i want to say
that cornel west is working on two other books with us and one coming up soon is his addition of the writings of martin luther king jr. which will be called appropriately the radical king. that will be published on dr. king's birthday and you should all look out for that and his next book after that will be a very important one, justice matters. we are looking forward to that as well. i am going to ask cornel west to talk briefly about each of the six figures he discusses in the new book and then to reflect on how their legacy impacts us today and that i will turn the floor over to questions. michele alexander said that "black prophetic fire" was a fascinating exploration of the black prophetic genius and fire. i would like to start by asking
you how you define "black prophetic fire" and then we can talk about each of the figures. >> thank you for that question. i would like to begin briefly by saluting personnel, my publisher, very blessed to work with james baldwin. the same as james baldwin, so many other talented figures and i would like to salute president petronis and mitchell kaplan. those of the two leaders. 31 years, 31 years is a beautiful thing. and that collaboration and black prophetic fire. i want to begin by saying i am who i am because somebody, somebody cared for me.
we need to and the baptist church, willie cook and vacation bible school teacher. these people provided and lived experience and answer to the voices for questions. how does integrity facebook freshen? how does honesty face deception? how does decency face in salt? and how does virtue meet force? integrity, honesty, decency and a sense of virtue in the face of what? trauma, stigma, i come from people who have been terrorized, traumatized for 400 years in the united states, so when we talk about frederick douglass, we talk about w. e. b. du bois and
ella baker and malcolm or martin, talk about folks who belong to integrity, honesty, decency, a sense of the frigid, telling the truth, expose lies and do it with love in their heart, compassion in the face of catastrophe. we abuse people, wrestle with the catastrophic, not just problems, is not just the negro problem but catastrophe visited on black people. the question is prophetic fire response to that catastrophe, we have a deep sense of trying to tell what truths and most importantly willingness to pay the cost. sacrificing popularity for integrity, sacrifice feeding in for bearing witness and i am very proud to be a small part of that great tradition of great people in this ferguson moment, we need it more than ever, more
than ever. [applause] >> you begin the book with frederick douglass. really interesting choice because he was a very complicated guy, wasn't he? tell us about his bearing witness and a.at which he glossed sight of that. >> it is always on fire. . tubman 19 times, in the belly of the beast. david walker, he is a dead man 9 years later in boston. what a bounty on his head. willing to tell that kind of truth, vicious forms of evil in this society, not just white
supremacy but spills over, to indigenous peoples, coordination of working people, anti-jewish, anti-arab, anti catholic, all of those part of our history but white supremacy sitting at the center. frederick douglass is the most eloquent picks slave in the history of the modern world. by eloquence i'm talking cicero and eloquence, wisdom speaking in the face of catastrophe. there is nothing like him. he is part of the american imperial machine and his relation to haiti and the dominican republic and my critique, it is hard to be on fire for a long time because you have 1860's 7-65. he had 30 years to live. malcolm died at 39, malcolm got at 39, ellen baker was going to
get to that. will was on fire her whole life. it is hard to be on fire your whole life and leno's that because we live in the age of the sellout. and 20 and 30, now you look at them and their well adjusted and even discerning what is going on with the fire in ferguson. and discern what they're going on, the get freedom fighters like ashley yates or alexis templeton and tory russell and brother of wiley, right now in the belly of the beast in mississippi, ferguson. >> let's jump to lighten up wells in fact. she was an extraordinary woman and i discovered so much about her. don't think the lot of people
know much about. >> i wish her name was well-known. and to the degree to which she was and a red hair telling the truth about american terrorism. we have a lot of talk about terrorism since 9/11. all americans feel unsafe, he does for who they are whether it is blackened and erica for 400 years. to be hated for who you are. we have an 9/11 flight initiative. it happens every week. happens every month, happens every year, it is not something that happens one time and everybody gets afraid. would it idle wells do? booker t. washington and the boys were arguing about education and civil rights, she
was confronting american terrorism, lynching, the rock face of the american nation state with courage and they ran her out of tennessee, put a bounty on her head. if not for t. timers fortunate in new york, they still hunted her down in new york and she had to leave the country and go to britain and she came back with her classics, got something to say about the underside, the night side of america, terrorism at the center, jim crow and jane crow. in our textbooks they call it segregation. we are talking american terrorism, for two days it was a precious black man or black woman or black child hanging from a tree, the southern trees at the great billie holiday singing with such power and the jewish brothers writing the lyrics. it was a serious struggle, she organized black women and a black woman's club. we need to know much more, the
classic crusade of justice. we need to know how she was able to sustain -- she is a sunday school teacher in chicago. she led the club music from chicago but was also missed treated as was the case with every individual in this text. many black people -- when you are on fire in that way talked to hate yourself, believe you have the wrong hands and lips and noses and hair texture, believe you are less beautiful, less intelligent, less moral, and black folks have been like that for hundreds of years. and they try to say don't be afraid, don't be intimidated,
don't be scared. and mobilize one of history in their backs up. she was misconstrued by that. including w e boyce himself. but all the human beings are cracked vessels, we try to humanize across the board. i know wells, i wish she was in the house hold, she was a household word. >> maybe it will be soon. >> so many voices, raising their voices. what does it cost? >> bender my bed. >> i thought it was every bed. indeed, very important to have these women voices. they want to tell the truth and
bear witness. brothers too. >> tell us since we are talking about sanitized, tell us about martin luther king and his -- what do you mean by that? >> you mention his name, it is like john cold frame and knee nazi moan, just got to pause for a moment. how, in the face of so much hatred and contempt could he do shout so much love, the face of so much terror? he is in the paddy wagon in the 1960s the get him in the dark with a german shepherd coming get him every moment. and in readsville prison, looks like martin had a nervous breakdown. one word to say, this is the pr