Leo Strauss and the Owl of Minerva
October 23, 2014
Here are my speculations regarding Leo Strauss and what he may have been about. These speculations were spurred by the old aphorism, “The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk.”
The West is dying; that is, the “modern West” is dying as evidenced by the rise of Nazism and Communism, “isms” that are offshoots of modern liberalism and as such, indicate that modern liberalism is also dead or dying.
What to do? Return to the classics? This is not possible for several reasons but perhaps, most importantly, because of “history” and its “discovery.” [Rousseau] Should modern liberalism then be prolonged? Yuck, as the “last man” comes into view. [Nietzsche] What then?
How about after recognizing that the West is dying stoking its end while pretending to “reinvigorate” or “revive” it? To do this, it will be necessary to appeal to the spirited types, those characterized by hubris or “ambition,” so these people become, proudly, “the guardians,” those “noble dogs” trained to defend those they know and attack those they don’t know, “the others.”
This will in fact facilitate the demise of “the modern West” because these guardians, while ferociously defending what they deem to be “noble,” are unaware of the fundamental defects of what they are defending and of themselves. If, say, a building is essentially and fundamentally defective, then defending it can do little or no good. In fact, its very defense could increase the likelihood of the building’s failure as more and more weight is loaded on to it, weight it will not be able to bear. But as the building must come down, it is not unwise to help raze it and hope for the best.
Moreover, the few, that is, the very few – not the guardians who mistakenly think they are “the very few” – know what is happening, know it is dusk and that night must come before the light can shine again. Nature will have her way with us, even with the wise. The few though take solace both in the abiding worth of their “activity” and in the fact that the guardians are, in their ignorance, well disposed to them. These few will even bill themselves as allies of the guardians, while avoiding “the active/political life” that the guardians take to be a reflection of the best life.
But isn’t this a dangerous game to play? Of course it is. But what if it is the only game in town? Then the wise, at least the courageous wise, will play it. The end.