Sunday, December 30, 2012

Joseph Wood Krutch on Leo Strauss

The following is excerpted from page 173 of Joseph Wood Krutch's book Human Nature and the Human Condition  (1959):

            Professor Leo Strauss, a present-day defender of the now usually discredited concept of natural right, has recently pointed out that the collapse of the eighteenth-century argument based upon "general Consent" does not logically invalidate the concept itself:

     "'Consent of all mankind,'" he writes, " is by no means a necessary condition of the existence of natural right.  Some of the greatest natural right teachers have argued that, precisely if natural right is rational, its discovery presupposes the cultivation of reason, and therefore natural right will not be known universally:  one ought not even expect any real knowledge of natural right among savages. "

     This defense is applicable, not only to the concept of natural right, but equally to all the other phases of the more general concept of the natural as some sort of reality.  But it is not likely to be very effective with most contemporary relativists because it assumes that reason, as distinct from rationalization, is possible and because it rules out as irrelevant the opinions and practices of the savage, the uncultivated, and the stupid upon which the relativists lean so heavily in drawing their conclusions concerning what is "natural" and "normal"!

Leo Strauss came back into wide attention when the neoconservatives became the ideologues of the administration of President George W. Bush.  Then Strauss was widely attacked as a defender of elitism; i.e., the theory that all societies by default, if not by purpose, are ruled by an elite. Of course, Strauss did not simply describe what he believed to be a reality, but was its defender.  It is interesting that Krutch, usually considered to be a representative of liberalism of the ordinary garden variety drew upon the work of Leo Strauss, if only in this passing comment.