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What Can We Learn from Political Theory?

Author(s): Leo Strauss Reviewed work(s): Source: The Review of Politics, Vol. 69, No. 4 (Fall, 2007), pp. 515-529 Published by: Cambridge University Press for the University of Notre Dame du lac on behalf of Review of Politics Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20452926 . Accessed: 24/01/2013 12:02
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The Review of Politics 69 (2007), 515-529. Copyright (CUniversity ofNotre Dame DOI: 10.1017/S0034670507001179 Printed in theUSA

What Can We Learn From Political Theory?


Editorialnote:punctuation been put insidequotation has marks, spacing has been standardized,and paragraphs have been indented.Strauss's corrections typographical of errors have not been noted. (Lecturetobe delivered in the General Seminar of theSummerCourse 1942,July 1942) The title thislectureisnot entirely my own choosing.1I do not likevery of of much theterm Iwould preferto speak ofpoliticalphilosophy. political theory;2 Since thisterminological question is not entirely verbal, I beg leave to say a few words about it. The term"politicaltheory"impliesthatthereis such a thingas theoretical knowledge of thingspolitical. This implication by no means self-evident. is all Formerly,3 political was considered knowledge practical knowledge,and not theoretical knowledge.I recallthetraditional divisionof thesciencesintotheor eticaland practicalsciences. According to that or division,4 political philosophy, with ethicsand economics, politicalscience,together belongs to thepractical sciences, justasmathematicsand thenatural sciences belong to thetheoretical sciences. Whoever uses theterm "politicaltheory" tacitly denies thattraditional That denialmeans one of thesetwo things both of them:(1) the distinction. or denial of thedistinction between theoretical practicalsciences:all science and is ultimately practical (scientia propter potentiam); thebasis of all reasonable (2) practiceispure theory.5 purelytheoretical, A detachedknowledgeof things pol iticalis thesafest guide for politicalaction,justas a purelytheoretical, detached knowledgeof things physicalis thesafest guide toward conquestofnature:this is theview underlying very term the politicaltheory. The term political theory anotherimportant has implication. According to present-day usage, theory essentially is different, only from not practice, but be suggested"; sometimes,one is asked: "What is your theory?" What is meant by "theory" in such cases is theessentiallyhypothetical assertionof a causeof an observed fact. The assertionbeing essentially hypothetical,it6is
1 "making" is crossed to italics. out and "choosing" inserted by hand.

above all from observation. If a man is asked "how do you account for this or that event?" he may answer: "I have a theory," or "A number of theories may

converted

2"theory" isunderlined by hand. All handwritten and typedunderlinings have been


3"Originally" 4"distinction" 5The following is crossed is crossed handwritten out out and and action "Formerly" "division" added (Comte). inserted by hand. it. above of the page: Science, d'o?

note was

typed at the bottom

d'o? pr?voyance; pr?voyance, 6"it" is inserted by hand.

515

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What is seen-Hitler's rise topower e.g.-is essentiallyarbitrary: theory. my explanations Hitler's rise to power are our of not a theory, our differing but This use of the term theory of fairlyrecentdate. The original is theories. meaning of the Greek verb Oewpexo, which "theory" is connected,is to with to be an envoy sent to consult an oracle, to presentan offering, be present at festivals:7to look at, to behold, to inspect, contemplate, consider, meaning of the termdoes notwarrant at all compare ..., i.e., theoriginal thedistinction theoryfrom observation; it ratherexcludes it; itcertainly of of with or does not justifythe identification, almost identification, theory kind an essentiallyhypothetical of knowledge. I have somemisgivings as regards these two connotationsof the term dis which are, to repeat,(1) the implicationthata purely theoretical theory, view that cussionofpoliticalquestions ispossible,and (2) the politicalknowl edge as a whole consists of observation of "data" and hypothetical the politicalphilosophy explanationof these"data"; I prefertherefore term we By which does not implytheseassumptions. politicalphilosophy, under carriedon by politically minded people, con stand the coherentreflection cerning theessentialsof political lifeas such, and theattempt to establish, the on thebasis of such reflection, rightstandardsof judgmentconcerning and actions;political philosophy is theattempt to dis political institutions cover the Accordingly,Iwould not speak of thepoliticalphil political truth. and relyingon osophy ofHitler, e.g.,Hitler being not interestedin truth It however, to intuitionrather than on methodic reflection. is legitimate, but is philosophy ispolitical thought, not all political thought politicalphilos "law" and "father"imply but very terms political thought, not ophy. (E.g., the human race, political but Political thought as old as the is politicalphilosophy. we philosophy emerged at some definitetime in the recordedpast.) I think
owe it to philosophy thatwe do not use its noble name in vain. speak of the political thought,or of the political ideas, of theNazis. All political

I shall thendiscuss thequestion "What can we learn frompolitical philos nothingfrompolitical philosophy.For: (1) One may doubt whether there exists such a thingdeserving to be called political philosophy, (2) even if we there were a political philosophy in existence, would not need it, (3) would necessarilybe ineffectual. even if would need it,its lessons we are (1) There is nopoliticalphilosophybecause there manypoliticalphilos
ophies; only one of them, if any, can be true, and certainly the layman it is advisable ophy?" For the purpose of a summary discussion, It seems as ifwe first the argument in favor of the negative. to sketch can learn

7"hence"

is crossed

out

by hand.

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WHAT

CAN WE

LEARN

FROM POLITICAL

THEORY?

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from politicalphilosophy, mean, of course, we what canwe learnfrom the true politicalphilosophy? We can learn the nothingfrom wrong pol itical we philosophies,although may learnsomething the on occasion of them. The situationinpoliticalphilosophy isnot fundamentally differ ent fromthat in theotherbranches of philosophy.Philosophymeans theattempt, constantly the renewed,tofindthetruth, very term philos we ophy impliesthat do notpossessthetruth. Philosophy is,atbest,pos sessionof clearknowledge of theproblems isnot possession of clear -it knowledge of the solutions theproblems.The basic questions in all to
branches

does not know which

is the true one. When

we ask: what

can we

learn

new questions have been raised fromtime to time,the interest times; has shifted from one type question toothers, of but the most fundamen tal, the trulyphilosophic questions remainunanswered. This is, of course,no objection to philosophy as such: but it is an objection to the expectation,or the claim, thatphilosophy is a safe guide for action.One may try, and people did try, seclude fromthe realmof to philosophy thequestions which do not seem topermitof a universally but indoing so,one is acceptableanswer, merely evading questions, the not answering them.I have been trying remind to you of that melan choly spectacle called the anarchy of the systems,a phenomenon
which

of philosophy

are as unsolved

today as they were

at all

it is reasonable to expect that it will last as long as philosophy itself. That spectaclebecomes perhaps evenmoremelancholy if one considers
political or social philosophy

is almost as old as philosophy itself and which seems to have so profound roots in the nature of philosophy and of its objects that

damentalquestion ofpoliticalphilosophy, and one could show that no answer existswhich is universallyaccepted by honest seekersof the
truth, to say nothing of the partisans of the various camps. (E.g., is

by itself.One

could

take almost any fun

justiceof theessence of theState?)8 (2) But even if could be reasonably we certainthata givenpoliticalphilos
ophy is the true political philosophy, one could say that one cannot

learnanythingimportant fromitas faras politicalaction is concerned. For thatkind of knowledge which is indispensable for reasonable political action is not philosophic knowledge: practical wisdom, horse sense, shrewd estimationof the situation,these common-sense, are the intellectual qualitieswhich make up the successful man of he affairs: does not require politicalphilosophyfor guidance. Imay his referto the story told in England of H.G. Wells meetingWinston Churchill and asking about theprogress of thewar. "We're getting
along with our idea," said Churchill.

"Yes," said Churchill, "along the lines of our general policy." "You

"You have an idea?" asked Wells.

8This parenthesis was added by hand.

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Wells persisted."Yes," answeredChurchill,"the have a generalpolicy?"


K. M. T. policy." "And what is the K. M. T. policy?" asked Wells. "It is

this,"repliedChurchill,"KeepMuddling Through."The factthat this muddling through todisasterin thecase of Singaporeand Libya9 is led not evidently a proofof thenecessity politicalphilosophy, of considering nor that neither Japanese the generals10 Rommelarepolitical philosophers tospeak of. I have not theslightest doubt as to thepossibility devising of an intelligent international policy,e.g.,without having any recourseto war has tobe won, thattheonlyguarantee political philosophy:thatthis
for a somewhat longer peace-period after the war is won, is a sincere

Anglo-Saxon-Russian entente, that the Anglo-Saxon nations and the nations interested or dependenton,Anglo-Saxonpreponder other in, throw power out of the window without facingthedanger of the first gangstercomingalong takingitup, thattheexistenceof civil liberties all over the world depends on Anglo-Saxon preponderance-to know these broad essentials thesituation, does not need a single lesson of one inpolitical In different philosophy. fact, people adheringtofundamentally have reachedthesesame conclusions. politicalphilosophies
(3) But even if itwere true thatwe could not find our bearings in the pol ance must not disarm nor relax in their armed vigilance, that you cannot

itical world without being guided by politicalphilosophy,i.e.,by the one truepolitical philosophy, thepossibility would still remain that theorientationsupplied by politicalphilosophywould be ineffectual: politicalphilosophy might teachus what should be done, and yetwe might be certainthatthis knowledgewould nothave theslightest influ ence on theunpredictablecourse of events: a set ofmicrobes killing
Hitler may

than theclearestand best demonstratedlesson inpoliticalphilosophy. If we look at the whole course of thehistory politicalphilosophy, of we
of political

seem

to have

an

infinitely greater political

significance

seem to learn that "it is almost a law of the development

of thoughtthat politicalconceptionsare theby-product actual political Minerva relations"(Mcllwain, As Growth, 391)11. Hegel said, theowl of
comes always too late for the gui

danceofpoliticalaction; thephilosopheralwayscomes postfestum; phil


osophy can merely interpret the result of political action; it can make us understand the State: it cannot teach us what should be done with regard

starts its flight in the dusk, philosophy

concepts,or ideas,which are theproduct of political philosophy: all

to the State. One may wonder whether

there are any significant political

9"Gallipoli" by hand. 10"Tojo"

and crossed

"Egypt" out and

are crossed "the

out

and

"Singapore"

and

"Libya"

are

inserted

aiCharles Howard Mcllwain, The Growth ofPolitical Thought in the West, From the Middle Ages (New York: Macmillan, 1932). Greeks to theEnd of the

Japanese

generals"

handwritten.

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WHAT

CAN WE

LEARN

FROM

POLITICAL

THEORY?

519

statesmen, lawyers, political ideas seem togo back topolitical fighters, mixed constitutions but prophets. Would philosophershave spoken of had forthefactthatsuch constitutions been devised by suchnonphilo Would Montesquieu have taught in sophic lawgiversas Lycurgus?12 and judicial power 1748 that the separationof executive, legislative, is desirablebut forthe factthatsuch a separationhad been effected, Act ofSettlement 1701? What of to a certainextent,inEngland by the is the political philosophy of Plato and Aristotlebut a reflection of the Greek political reality?The influenceon political events of Alexander theGreat is infinitely greater than that of his teacher Aristotle-and Alexander's political activityis diametrically opposed to theprincipleslaid down byAristotle. II we our we Now, even if have no knowledgeof owntooppose tothese arguments, to contrary cannot which is takenfrom helpbeing impressed an argument the by If how is itunderstandable authority.politicalphilosophy is an evidentfailure, were convincedthat that men of superiorintelligence quite a few political phil necessarycondition theright of orderof civilsociety, toquote or, osophy is the men, that will not cease in most superior and the most famous these of evils the until thephilosophers have become kingsor thekingshave become thecities was meant by philosophers?Shall we saywith Pascal thatPlato's Republic wrote on politicsas ifthey Aristotle's politicalphilosophiesas follows:"They to They accepted the talking believed [themselves] be kings and emperors. make their of madness as harmlessas assumptions these madmen, inorder to n. might be" (Pense'es, Brunschvig, 771). Even according toPascal, Plato and did use. Aristotle believe that practical politicalphilosophyisof some
were organizing an insane asylum; and they pretended to consider politics as to whom they were something grand, because they knew that themadmen Plato himself as a joke? Itwould certainly be rash to take this for granted. All the more so since Pascal himself continues his remarks on Plato's and

III
Let us then whichwas to theeffect we that considerfirst secondargument, the what should be done in thepol can knowwithout any politicalphilosophy iticalfield, regardsinternational as policy e.g.Now, a reasonablepolicy,I take it, would be along these lines:human relationscannotbecome good if the and human beings themselves not become good first, hence, it would be do
a great achievement indeed if foundations for a peace lasting two generations

12This sentence is added by hand at the bottom of the page.

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could be laid,and hence thechoice isnot between imperialism and abolition of imperialism, but between the13 tolerablydecent imperialismof the of Anglo-Saxon brand and the14intolerablyindecentimperialism theAxis brand. Such a policy,as we all know, is by no means generallyaccepted; it is attackednot onlyby those who dislike theburden, and the responsibility, which go with thedecent hegemony, but above all by a group of infinitely who deny the assumptions, implied in more generous political thinkers no thatreasonablepolicy,concerning human nature. If for otherpurpose, at least in order to defend a reasonable policy against overgenerous or we utopian thought, would need a genuine politicalphilosophy reminding
us of the limits set to all human

he were truethat man doesnotneedpolitical philosophy absolutely speaking, does action isendangered an needpolitical as philosophy soonas reasonable political by If erroneous politicalteaching. Zeno had not denied the realityofmotion, it of would not have been necessary toprovethe reality motion. If thesophists had notundermined thebasic principlesofpolitical life, Platomightnothave Or, to takeanotherexample,people been compelled toelaboratehis Republic. which was the would not have beenwilling toaccept thepolicy of toleration, had not become convincedby politicalphilosophers teenth centuries,ifthey thatit was not their or religious moral duty to rebelagainsthereticalgovern ments; thepoliticalphilosophersdid not inauguratethepolicy of toleration, but these statesmenneverwould was done by reasonable statesmen, this who enlightened have succeededbut forthe help of the politicalphilosophers public opinion. These and similar examples merely show that political philosophy is necessary to defenda reasonable course of action,which was discovered of and embarkedupon independently politicalphilosophy,against allegedly which endanger that reasonable course of action; truepolitical teachings, theseand similarexamples, I say, merely show thenecessityofpoliticalphil Such apologetics are evidently osophy as a sortof political apologetic. useful,
and since they are bound to be backed only way out of the religious wars and hatreds of the sixteenth and seven

hopes

and wishes.

In other words,

even if it

are The concernspol theysupport,they not necessarilyineffectual. difficulty which isnot thehandmaid a reasonablepolicy, itical of but philosophyproper, itsarchitect, it as were.
Let me put the question thisway: of political Is it true that all significant political con life, or thework of statesmen, in which it could seem

by the politicians

or statesmen whom

politicians, lawyers,prophets, and not of philosophers? For argument's one fundamental truebeforeone has siftedtheevidence.There is certainly political conceptwhich is necessarilyof philosophic originbecause itsvery
sake, I will assume that it is true in all cases to be

cepts or theses are the by-product

13"a"is 14"a"

crossed is crossed

out out

and and

"the" "the"

is inserted is inserted

by

hand.

by hand.

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with theemergence philosophyas such. conceptionis,so tospeak, identical of For This concept is theconceptof naturallawor naturalright. "nature" is the fundamental philosophic discovery. Truth, Being, even World, and all other termsdesignating the object of philosophy are unquestionablyolder than -I think,it was philosophy, but the first man who used the term"nature" Odysseus, orHermes, thegod of thieves, merchants,and Athenian democ The only contribution philosophy topoli racy-was thefirst philosopher. of ticsofwhich we can be absolutelycertain is theconcept of natural law or
natural

and has the same force everywhere, which sets an absolute limittohuman arbitrariness.
"Nature" was the firstand decisive and, I think, themost unambiguous dis

right, a law or right which

is not made

by man nor by gods, which

But one does not understand the coveryof philosophy. meaning of the term nature ifone does not bear in one'smind thatfrom which nature is distin were nature or natural, guished and towhich it is opposed. Ifeverything naturewould be a veryemptyconcept.The men who discovered "nature," or conceived of nature as the opposite of convention law. Natural things, theyobserved, are everywhere the same, but the conventionsvary from
country to country, from city to city. Fire bums in Persia as well as in

men are generatedbymen, and dogs by Greece, thatfire bums is necessary; but theft, dogs-these thingsare necessary, the laws concerninginheritance, in etc. are different different countries and even in the same sacrifices, at times:theselaws are essentially country different arbitrary, are conven they tions. On the basis of that distinction, idea arose thatitshouldbe possible the todiscoversuch an orderof life isgood and right as everywhere because itis in standard forjudgments thearbitrary theonly truly on enactments legitimate monarchs and republics, and it is theonly reliableguide forreform and of improvement. Up to then,people had tacitlyor expressly identifiedthe With regardto thisfact, may say:philosophy is the we antitradi (Aristotle).15 fromtheopinions of thepast, theopening up of tional force;the liberation As longas new vistas is,and always has been, of theessence of philosophy. was living up to itsown innatestandard,philosophersas such, philosophy who were willing to by their merely being philosophers,prevented those in any actual order,however satisfactory listen to them from identifying many respects, with theperfect order:politicalphilosophy is theeternalchal neverwill be a time There never has been, and there lenge to thephilistine. when the medicine administered politicalphilosophyhas been and will by be superfluous,although it must always be administered,as all medicine This holds true in particularof our time; for in our must, with discretion.
good with the inherited or the old; from that moment, men began to dis tinguish the good from the old: "We are seeking the good, and not the old" accordance with the one and unchangeable nature of man; this natural order is

15Politics1269a 3-4.

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of the Philistines oldwho identify time, are confronted merelywith the we not Philistines progress who ident of goodwith theold or theactual,butwith the But of this,I shall have to speak ifythegood with thenew and the future. somewhat later.
If it is true that the concept of a natural law, or of a natural order, is coeval

we in utopian with philosophy itself, are justified speakingof the legitimate ism inherentin philosophy as such. This utopianism is the very soul of Plato's and Aristotle's political philosophy whose primary and guiding purpose is to discover that "constitution," that order of civil society, And this because it isnot decep utopianism is legitimate which is "natural." tive: thephilosophers I am speaking of call theperfectorder of societyan which means both wish and prayer: thatperfectorder is object of cV'Xi, people. Since it is acceptable, theobjectof the wish, or theprayer,of all decent con and meant tobe acceptable, todecent people only, it is not a theoretical struction, a practicalideal. By calling it candidly an object ofwish or but prayer, they left doubt as to thegulf separating the ideal fromreality, no theyconsidered that the realization of the ideal is a matter of chance,of which may, ormay not, arise.They did notmake any luckycircumstances While completely suspending theirjudgmentsconcerning the predictions. were definiteas to the ideal itself:this ideal realization the ideal, they of
judg was, and was meant to be, the standard of sincere, uncompromising ments on the real. The practical meaning of this utopianism was not, to repeat, to make any predictions as to the future course of events; itwas

would of merely to point out the directionwhich efforts improvement have to take. They did not seriously believe that the perfectorder of
ever become society would prayer, there is no necessary

actual order could bear improvement,substantial improvement.The


relation of the ideal, or the utopia, to reality, as they conceived of it,may

a reality; for, being an object of wish or reason why it should; but they felt that any

which con be described this way: thereis a common,ordinarycivil justice thatjustice is not concernedwith the justiceof the law itself;it is for this reason a very imperfect justice,forevery law, every legal order is bound to be only imperfectly just; therefore, justicemust be supplemented by which is the correctionof legal justice in the direction of perfect equity justice; the equitable order, or, as we might prefer to say, the order of charity is theutopian order; thatutopian order by itselfis essentially the what brutal, imperfectly just, substructureof common justice; common be "completed," corrected by considerations of equity or justicemust
can never be supplanted by them, although all decent men charity-it would wish, or pray, that it could. It is for this reason that traditional political philosophy, or moral philos ophy, frequently took on the form of exhortation, or moral advice. For if object of wish or prayer, and not of political action; equity, or charity, by themselves are not capable to subsist on this earth without the solid, some sists in obedience to the law of the land and just administration of that law;

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conditioncan be broughtaboutby political you do notbelieve thatthe perfect by to mightbe induced, moral appeal, by advice,by exhortations, sermons, by This do his best in his station along the lines of decency and humanity. in one specialgenreofpoliticalliterature particular, was underlying approach mirrorsof princes. the mirrorsof princes,I have come to thegreat turning While mentioning the point of thedevelopment in the point inpoliticalphilosophy,to thestarting utopianism of the philosophers and, we course of which the traditional modern was gradually replacedby the utopian may add, of the theologians, The ismof thesocialengineer. mirrorsofprincesprovoked thedispleasure,the whole tradition disgust,thepassionate reaction Machiavelli. Opposing the of howmen oughtto he did notwish tostudyany longer ofpoliticalphilosophy, not behave, but how theydo behave. He felt, without good reason, that princes are not likelyto listento moral advice. From thishe drew thecon clusion,which no good man would have drawn, thathe ought to teach if of princeshow theycould be efficient, wicked. Machiavelli is the father of modern politicalphilosophy, and16 inparticularof thattrend modern pol being as a reaction his teaching. very to For itical philosophy which came into were prepared to followhim on his dangerous course.The fewphilosophers was along theselines:people accepted Machiavelli's critiqueof general trend theutopianism of thephilosophic and theologicaltradition;theyadmitted that the traditionalideals are too loftyto be put into practice,but, they argued, one cannot limitoneself tomerely describinghow men are and came into mise between Machiavellianism and thetradition being: theidea to the standardof conduct inorder toguarantee realization the lower traditional these lower standards.Political philosophy attempted,therefore, dis to of realization would be necessary, automatic,and, or cover standardswhose The natural standardof hence,no longeran objectofmere wish or prayer. human societies is the common good; the problemwas to reconcile the with theprivategood, theprivate inter commongood, thecommon interest, with enlightenedself-seeking. or: enlightened self-interest, virtue is identical Accordingly,theprimary task of political philosophybecame to enlighten The people about theirself-interest. ideawas thatthenecessaryoutcome of about self-interest would be thatpeople would no general enlightenment with thatnatural, automatic process which would bring longer interfere with that about social harmonybut for process. people's foolishinterference The guidingmotive of allmen-this is the "realistic,""Machiavellian" self-interest. assumption underlying this modern utopianism-is as necessarily Self-interest, we actually find it,unenlightenedself-interest,
est. The answer which was given was this: the common good is the object of behave; men must be taught how they should be and behave. Thus a compro more action, you cannot hope for than that one or the other of those in power

16"and"

handwritten

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leads to conflict, the to war of everyoneagainst everyone, but thisconflictis by nomeans necessary:everyonecan be brought to realize that would be he
better off in peace. What you have to do is to enlighten people about their self

interest: will enlightenedself-seekers be as cooperativeas unenlightenedself will gradually seekersare untractable. make superfluousthe Enlightenment use of force. with thisidea,or ratherthefallacy The trouble underlyingthisidea, is this: the however enlighteneda man may be about his self-interest, object of his is with the object of his enlightened self-interest not necessarily identical desires.This means: theoriginal conflict strongest betweenmoral demands and desires remains intact-itmerely becomesmuch more difficult cope to betweenmoral demands and desires has itsnatural with. For the conflict remedy: which is the appeal to [a] sense of duty,honor, or however you might like to call it.The appeal to theenlightenedself-interest necessarily lacks that requires as much sacrifice moral sting.Enlightened self-interest as justice itself-but the exclusive appeal to enlightened self-interest
weakens themoral fibers of men

but worse and more con sacrifice. Things become, not betterand clearer, is fused, ifself-interest replacedby self-realization. of Another implication this utopianism is theassumption that people really and basicallywant theobjectof their that enlightenedself-interest, only lack of information prevents themfrom people willing it. Actually,at least some want more: power, precedence, dominion. And these dangerous people, ment by employing'7various devices,which sometimesaremore effectual modern utopianismnaturallyforgets existenceof the known factthatthis the We enlightenment. know a number of people who were honest enough to the admit that theyhad forgotten existenceof evil;we can only hope that man has succeeded in conqueringnature; natural during the last century, and all the science has been amazingly successful;all themore striking,
more they will never do it again. One sometimes hears this kind of reasoning: "forces of evil" and the fact that these forces cannot be fought successfully by than the quiet voice of enlightening reason. What I am alluding to is thewell even if few in number, are able to counteract the whole effort of enlighten

and thus makes

them unable

to bring any

when contrasted with the success of sciences to establish social harmony,


on the basis paradoxical. But it is paradoxical only. For what is the human meaning of the success of the natural sciences? That man has become enormously more powerful than he has ever been. But does a man necessarily become a better, a nicer the natural sciences, appears of modem utopianism

regrettable, is the failure of the social sciences;

the failure of the social

man by becoming more powerful? one would be reason Let us considerfor moment underwhat conditionsit able to say that man becomes better becoming more powerful. Thiswould by

17"employing"

is inserted

by hand.

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were be reasonable ifallwickedness, nastiness, malevolence, aggressiveness theoutcomeof18 want.For as faras thisis thecase, one couldmake men better by satisfying their wants. This view isunderlyingthefamous theory frus of tration and aggression.The decisive fallacyexpressed in this theoryis the assumption that frustration avoidable, thata life is without some sort or otherof frustration possible at all, or thatfullsatisfaction wants isposs is of ible. Imust trytoexplain thissomewhat more fully. and The view thatenlightened self-interest leads to public-spiritedness even to social harmony, whereas only unenlightened self-interest leads to social conflict,is not altogethererroneous.The errorcreeps in as a conse wants whose quence of theambiguityof the term"wants."Which are the as satisfactionis theobject of enlightenedself-interest distinguished from the object of unenlightened self-interest? Philosophers of formertimes used to distinguish between the necessary and the superfluous things. And theyheld that if all men were satisfied with the necessary things, with what thebody reallyand absolutely with the truly necessary things, wants to needs, theproducts of theearthwould be sufficient satisfythese without any fightamong human beings becoming necessary. In other words, theyheld that theonly guarantee of universal harmony is univer sal asceticism. Accordingly, theybelieved that thebasic vice, the roots of all social conflict,is thedesire forsuperfluous things,for luxury.19 Now,
one of the first actions of modern utopianism was the rehabilitation of

exclu luxury.Itwas assumed later on20 that if all men were interested sively in raising theirstandard of living, theircomfort,in the commoda vitae, social harmonywould follow; itwas assumed that the object of enlightened self-interest not the bare minimum of subsistence,but is, the highest possible standard of living. No sensible person can be
unmindful of the great blessings which we owe to the victory of this ten that it has brought about any dency, but one is justified in doubting higher degree of social harmony, or that it has brought us any nearer to universal peace. The number and the extension of the wars of the nine

centuriesare not sensibly smaller than thewars of teenthand twentieth earlier ages. The curious thing about thepresent-day utopist is thathe appears in the He most hardboiled realist. does not speak ofmoral ideals-he garb of the and economic con speaks of economic problems,economic opportunities, He meantime that mere enlightenment, mere that flicts. has learned in the
change of opinions, would not do, he insists on the necessity of changing of

18"of"

is inserted

19Plato'sRepublic?the true city,thehealthy city,called by Glaucon the cityof pigs? Glaucon is dissatisfied with the vegetarian food of thenice peaceful people?he gets
his meat?and 20"later on" the meat: he gets with is inserted hand. by war. [Strauss's hand written footnote]

by hand.

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THE REVIEW OF POLITICS

institutions; does not hesitate to recommendsocial revolution, he unbloody21 on basic agree or otherwise.I am aware of that. Nevertheless,Imust insist the ment between him and his grandfather theeighteenth of century.
No one will misunderstand me as if Iwere saying anything against econ

omists. I stillrememberthepapers read by Drs. Feiler andMarschak in last papers which culminated in the thesis that the year's summer course,22 most important economic problems necessarily lead beyond the sphere of economics into thesphereofmoral decisions. of modem utopianism isnot But to come back to the trend my argument, without good reason inseparable fromeconomism, as distinguished from economics.Formodem utopianismultimatelyrestson the identification of understood as thecommongood with theobject of enlightenedself-interest whereas actuallyhe is mined by economic impulses,if were enlightened, he determinedby such foolish impulses as pride, prestige,etc. The next step
was the assertion that man is in fact decisively determined by economic a high standard of living. The original thesis was that man would be deter

The are impulsesand economic factors. basic social or political facts theecon In it elaborated form, is theeconomic interpret goeswith property." itsfully which boasts of its ation of history more than Machiavellian realism,and which has nothingbut contempt for theutopian socialismwhich it sup
will planted. But to say nothing of the withering away of the State-which still be a matter of pious or impious hope [a] long time after the withering than is more utopian away of Marxism will have been completed-what omic facts: "the firstprivate owner is the true founder of the State," "power

the implicationof Marx's famous sentence: "Hitherto, the philosophers the have limitedthemselvesto interpreting world; what matters is that the For to world be changed." whydid the philosopherslimitthemselves interpret knew thatthe world in theprecise, unmetaphoric world? Because they ing the of world ofman for the looking sentence implies the substitution the little real world, the substitutionof thewhole historical process for the real whole historicalprocess sets absolute whole, which bymaking possible the limitsto it.This substitution, heritage from a Hegel's idealisticphilosophy, order of society, To which is essentiallyperishable? expect expect a perfect
men is the ultimate reason of Marx's utopian hopes. For is it not utopian to sense of the term, the universe, cannot be changed by man. Marx's innocent

not eternal, but less lastingthanthis planet of ours?Tomistake eternity tedly


nonphilosophic eternal,

to put all theirwill, hope,

faith, and love on something which

is admit

sopher. If all human achievements,the jump into libertyincluded,are not


the germ of ultimate destruction will be noticeable even in the

for a time of very long duration, for some billions of years, is the privilege of men; it is themortal sin for a man who claims to be a philo

21

crossed "bloody" 22Arthur Feiler and

out

"unbloody" New Jacob Marschak,

and

it. typed above economics School

colleagues.

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WHAT

CAN WE

LEARN

FROM POLITICAL

THEORY?

527

highest human achievements, hence theso-calledperfect and orderon earthis bound tobe a delusion. were thephilosophersof oldwho insisted the fact Much more realistic on
that the realization of the ideal

theologiansof old who insistedon the factthatthe ways of providence are inscrutabletoman. Modem utopianism is based on the assumption that the realizationof the ideal is necessary,or almost necessary.By "almost necessary" Imean thatbut foran avoidable human shortcoming the ideal would necessarily be realized. The peak of modem utopianism was reached in theapparentlyleastutopian politicalphilosophyof the lastcentu ries,in thepoliticalphilosophyofHegel. For,contrary Plato andAristotle to and their followers on who had insisted thefundamental difference between the ideal and the real,thereasonableand theactual, Hegel declared thatthe reasonable is theactual and theactual is thereasonable. A general surveyof thehistoryof politicalphilosophy is apt to create the impression thatthereisno politicalphilosophyfrom whichwe can learnany thing because there is a disgracefulvarietyof political philosophies which each other to [the]death.Deeper study shows that this impressionis fight
misleading. Itwould be absurd

is essentially

a matter

of chance,

or the

philosophersinperfect agreement;itdoes showus, however, thatthere was a traditionof political philosophywhose adherentswere in agreement as regards the fundamentals,the traditionfounded by Socrates, Plato, and which was transformed, not broken under the influence Aristotle, but of thebiblical virtuesofmercy and humility, which stillsupplies us with and the most needed guidance as regards the fundamentals. We do not need lessons fromthattraditionin order to discern the soundness ofChurchill's approach, e.g., but the cause which Churchill's policy ismeant to defend This traditionismenaced todayby a spurious utopianism.No one will which generated that was generous. deny thatthebasic impulse utopianism
not exist but for the influence of the tradition in question.

to say that deeper study shows us all political

would

it is bound to lead to disaster because itmakes us underesti Nevertheless, mate the dangers to which the cause of decency and humanity is exposed

and always will be exposed. The foremost duty of political philosophy modern utopianism. today seems tobe to counteractthis But to describe the servicewhich political philosophy can render, not but one merely today, at all times, would have tosay that politicalphilosophy it teachesus how terribly difficult is to secure those minimums of decency, which have been taken forgranted,and are stillbeing humanity,justice, taken forgranted, in the few freecountries. enlightening about the us By value of those apparently negligible achievements, it teaches us not to In much fromthe future. the lastanalysis,politicalphilosophy is expect too nothingother than lookingphilosophicallyat things political-philosophi In aeternitatis. thus cally,i.e.,sub specie making our hopes modest, itprotects
us against despondency. In thus making us immune to the smugness of the makes us at the same time immune to the dreams of the visionary. philistine, it

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Experience seems to show thatcommon sense leftto itselfis not23proof against these faultyextremes:common sense requires to be fortified by politicalphilosophy. Man's modern venturewhich has been amazingly successful inmany respects, makes us distrustful all teachings of which insiston the fact that thereare certainabsolute limitsto human progress:have notmany of the allegedly existing limitsproved to be surmountable? But the question is whether the pricewhich had to be paid for these conquestswas not, in
some cases,

can indeed expel naturewith a hayfork, but thatnaturewill always come backwith a vengeance.By erectingtheproud edificeofmodern civilization, and by living within thatcomfortable building forsome generations, many people seem to have forgotten natural foundations, the not dependent on human will and not changeable, which are buried deep in theground and which set a limitto thepossible heightof thebuilding. Inpractical terms, means thatthe taskbefore thepresentgenerationis this Hallam: "the science of policy, like that ofmedicine, must content itself with devising remedies for immediatedanger, and can at best only retard
the progress of that intrinsic decay which seems to be the law of all things to lay the foundations for a long peace period: it is not, and it cannot be, to abolish war for all times. To quote a great liberal of the last century, Henry

too high, in other words,

whether

it is not still true that man

human, and through which every institution man, likehis earthlyframe, of must one day crumble intoruin" (Const. Hist. 1:182).24 This sounds pessimisticor fatalistic, it is not.Do we cease living, but and with reasonable joy,do we cease doing our best althoughwe know living
with absolute certainly thatwe are doomed to die? At the end of the third part of King Henry the Sixth, after the victory of his joy." All the commentary that is needed is implied in the fact that Edward's

house, King Edward theFourth says: "For here, I hope, begins our lasting

brother Richard, afterwards King Richard theThird, is silently present.At theend ofRichardIII, afterthat had been slain, thevictorious bloody tyrant Henry VII concludes his speech by saying: "peace lives again: That she
may Bacon, more long live here, God say amen!" The prudent Henry VII, the favorite of was wiser than the ill-fated Edward IV. A wise man cannot say than the father of Henry VIII did, and he cannot seriously hope for did say "amen" after the victory ofHenry VII, is recorded to face these facts without mercy. But becoming cynical, but it is not

more. To what God

in thehistories.
It is hard

impossible.The philosophers advise us to love fate,stem fate.The Bible


promises us God's the comfort which comes from God is as

23"a

sufficient

Accession of Hallam, The Constitutional History ofEngland from the Henry VII 24Henry to the Death ofGeorge II (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1880).

guarantee"

is crossed

out.

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WHAT CANWE LEARN FROM POLITICAL THEORY?

529

little pleasant to thefleshas is the love of fate. For theflesh, which isweak, wants tangiblecomfort. That tangiblecomfort-a man-made eternalpeace and happiness-non datur. We have to choose between philosophy and the Bible.

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