Thursday, May 05, 2005

Christopher Hitchens Overreaches on Leo Strauss

According to Christopher Hitchens, Leo Strauss, the late Jewish scholar of political philosophy, was a conservative who like Ayn Rand was an unbeliever or nonbeliever. While Rand was quite explicit about her atheism, Strauss explicitly criticized the grounds of modern atheism.

Consider these excerpts from a lecture he gave in the early fifties.

Now I have to say a few words about the present-day argument. The present-day argument in favor of philosophy , we can say, is practically non-existent because of the disintegration of philosophy. ... I shall not waste words on the most popular argument which is taken from the needs of present-day civilization, the present-day crisis, which would simply amout to this: that we need today, in order to compete with communism, revelation as a myth. Now this argument is either stupid or blasphemous. I think this whole argument has been disposed of in advance a long time ago by Dostoievsky in The Possessed. ...

Now there is today, I believe, still a very common view, common to nineteenth and twentieth century freethinkers, that modern science and historical criticism have refuted revelation. Now I would say that they have not even refuted the most fundamentalistic orthodoxy. ... The Bible speaks of creation; creation is a miracle, the miracle. All the evidence supplied by geology, paleontology, etc., is valid against the Bible only on the premise that no miracle intervened. The freethinking argument is really based on poor thinking. It begs the question. ...

If one can say colloquially, the philosophers have never refuted revelation and the theologians have never refuted philosophy, that would sound plausible, considering the enormous difficulty of the problem from any point of view. And to that extent we may be said to have said something trivial; but to show that it is not quite trivial, I submit to you this consideration in conclusion. And here when I use the term philosphy, I use it in the common and vague sense of the term where it includes any rational orientation in the world, including science and what have you, common sense. If this is so, philosophy must admit the possibility of revelation. Now that means that philosophy itself is possibly not the right way of life. It is not necessarily the right way of life, not evidently the right way of life, because this possibility of revelation exists. But what then does the choice of philosophy mean under these conditions? In this case, the choice of philosophy is based on faith. In other words, the quest for evident knowledge rests itself on an unevident premise. And it seems to me that this difficulty underlies all present-day philosophizing.

The Mutual Influence of Theology and Philosophy.

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