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Leo Strausss Critique of Martin Heidegger

David Tkach

Thesis submitted to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies In Partial Fulfillment of the requirements For the PhD degree in Philosophy

Department of Philosophy Faculty of Arts University of Ottawa

David Tkach, Ottawa, Canada, 2011


AcknowledgementsI wish to acknowledge the Government of Ontario for its generous funding of the final year of this project in the form of an Ontario Graduate Scholarship. I also wish to acknowledge the University of Ottawa for providing several scholarships and awards. I wish to thank all of the professors with whom I have studied, at the University of Winnipeg, Concordia University, and the University of Ottawa, whose knowledge, dedication, and patience informed and guided this project. I wish to thank especially Professor Daniel Tanguay of the University of Ottawa for serving as a source of wisdom and inspiration in his supervision of this project. He served and continues to serve as a model for scholarship, intellectual curiosity, and, above all, the philosophical way of life. Finally, I wish to thank my parents, Isobel Anderson and Walter Tkach. Without their undying love, support, and encouragement, none of this would have been possible. I dedicate this thesis to them.


AbstractWhile remaining rooted in a comparison of some of the primary texts of the thinkers under scrutiny, my thesis also discusses several issues which arise in the mutual consideration of Heidegger and Strauss, specifically the questions of the ontological and political status of nature, the problem of first philosophy, and the method by which to interpret philosophical texts, as well as a continuous analysis of Strausss appellation of modern, as opposed to ancient, and religious, as opposed to philosophical, to Heideggers thought. I first consider every moment in Strausss corpus where he discusses Heideggers thought. From this discussion, I identify four main lines of critique which may be extracted from Strausss writings on Heidegger. Then, I turn to Heideggers texts themselves in order to determine if Strausss critique indeed finds purchase there, addressing each of the lines of critique in turn. Finally, I consider Strauss and Heidegger in tandem, in light of the three questions identified above. I show that many of what Strauss determines to be Heideggers errors arose as a result of the way that Heidegger read ancient philosophical texts, and I suggest that Strausss approach, i.e., to consider the possible esoteric meaning of a text, in fact permits the reader to access an interpretation that is truer to the textual phenomena. This claim, however, is not intended to obscure the remarkable similarities between each thinkers respective interpretive methods. I conclude that Strausss critique of Heidegger, vehement as it is, also indicates Strausss dependence on Heideggers thought for the inspiration of Strausss own philosophical project. The relation between Strauss and Heidegger, then, remains profoundly ambiguous.


Table of ContentsGeneral Introduction 1. Analysis of Strausss Critique of Heidegger 1.1 Introduction 1.2 1922-1935: Orientation 1.3 1935-1961: Opposition 1.4 1962-1973: Socratic Return 1.5 Strausss Conception and Critique of Heidegger 1.6 Conclusion 2. A Response to Strauss: Heideggers Texts 2.1 Introduction 2.2 Heideggers Conception of History 2.3 Heideggers Conception of Angst as Originary Experience 2.4 Heideggers Religious Thinking 2.5 Heideggers Conception of Philosophys Task in Response to the Crisis of Modernity 2.6 Conclusion 3. Strauss and Heidegger: Convergence and Divergence 3.1 Introduction 3.2 Results of the Foregoing Investigation 3.3 Specific Points of Convergence and Divergence: Nature, First Philosophy, and Hermeneutic Method 3.3.1 Strausss and Heideggers Respective Conceptions of Nature 3.3.2 Strausss and Heideggers Respective Conceptions of First Philosophy 3.3.3 Strausss and Heideggers Respective Hermeneutic Methods 3.4 Conclusion Concluding Remarks Bibliography 167 168 172 174 210 230 257 262 273 93 94 106 115 145 161 11 12 19 68 84 92 1


General IntroductionWollen wir die Gegenwart so wie sie ist, erkennen, frei von den herrschenden Auffassungen, die wir erst prfen mssen, so mssen wir allererst von der Gegenwart frei sein. Diese Freiheit fllt uns nicht in den Schoss, wir mssen sie uns erobern. Leo Strauss, Religise Lage der Gegenwart, 1930

wir uns selber nicht von der Modernitt befreien knnen, wenn wir die Modernitt nicht verstehen. Leo Strauss, letter to Karl Lwith, 21 December 1951

The only question of importance of course is the question whether Heideggers teaching is true or not. But the very question is deceptive because it is silent about the question of competenceof who is competent to judgeThe more I understand what Heidegger is aiming at the more I see how much still escapes me. Leo Strauss, Existentialism, lecture given in February 1956

This thesis is an attempt first to describe in detail, and then to examine critically, Leo Strausss critique of Martin Heidegger. Its method is primarily exegetical and tentative, and is therefore not an attempt to posit the understanding or conclusive reading of the complex relation between Strauss and Heidegger. Rather, its purpose is to raise properly the philosophical questions which necessarily arise when one considers the two thinkers in tandem. These questions concern the foundation of both the history and the practice of philosophy, touching on such themes as the relations between theory and practice, philosophy and political life, and political theorizing and ontology. Thus, I propose, an analysis of these two thinkers can provide clarificatory tools even for those to whom Strauss and Heidegger, for various reasons, remain anathema. This thesis, it must be said from the beginning, is written from a perspective rooted in Strausss thought, although it is, I hope, a skeptical and nonpartisan perspective. I leave answering the question of whether this is possible or not to the disciples of both thinkers, disciples from whom I wish to distance this project. Nevertheless, the thesis is guided by

2 two of Strausss overarching themes, namely the theologico-political problem and the quarrel between the ancients and the moderns.1 I believe that an examination of Strausss writings on Heidegger, as well as an analysis of Heideggers writings themselves in response to Strausss critical remarks, permits a clear view both of these problems, and how each thinkers respective work is to be understood in relation to these problems. Up to the time of this writing, only essays and chapters of books, not to mention paragraphs and brief remarks in footnotes, have addressed the relation between Strauss and Heidegger. Thus, I also propose this thesis to be worthwhile for purely scholarly reasons. Both Heidegger and Strauss are among the most important thinkers of the 20th century as determined at least by their respective influence, for good or for ill. There are few thinkers who continue to be as controversial philosophically and politically as these two, and there are few thinkers who have attracted such large groups of disciples, who have subsequently influenced not only philosophy but arguably the direction of studies in the humanities, in the social sciences, and even, so it is claimed, concrete political life. These reasons, important as they might be, are not adequate to justify a prolonged philosophical comparison, however. Instead, I quote, hopefully with due consideration of hubris, one of Strausss most important passages concerning the task of the student of philosophy: liberal education consists in listening to the conversation among the greatest minds. But here we are confronted with the overwhelming difficulty that this conversation does not take place without our helpthat in fact we must bring about that conversation. The greatest minds utter monologues. We must


The essential qualities of these two themes, perhaps through their identification and elaboration Strausss highest and lasting contributions to philosophical discussion, will become clearer as the argument of this thesis progresses. As an introductory remark that runs the risk of intractable perplexity, I limit myself merely to state that the first theme deals with the problem of the tension, as Strauss sees it, between reason and revelation as two competing and mutually refuting sources of morality, and the consequent political problem inherent thereof. The second theme deals with the differences between the ancient and modern approaches to this problem, as well as the differences between the ancient and modern methods or modes of philosophical expression.

3 transform their monologues into a dialogue, their side by side into a together. (LAM, 7)2 I leave the question of the relative stature of Strauss and Heidegger for a more partisan situation. The first question that follows from this passage, then, is, why these two thinkers in particular? If we leave behind the contemporary controversies and the decided camps and positions, i.e., if we turn to Heideggers and Strausss writings themselves, we find philosophical analyses of the highest order, ones which engage the tradition in radical ways that challenge centuries, perhaps millennia, of philosophical speculation. And, as the dialogue between Heidegger and Strauss was decidedly one-sided, in the sense that Strauss wrote on Heidegger but not the inverse, the conversation demands to be enacted. Strauss was educated in the same intellectual period in which Heidegger had arguably his most decisive influence, not to mention the fact that Strauss attended Heideggers early lectures on Aristotle and, from this brief exposure, believed him to be the most profound thinker in generations, German or otherwise