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Home arrow Philosophy arrow Philosophy, History, and Tyranny: Reexamining the Debate Between Leo Strauss and Alexandre Kojeve

The Relation between Wisdom and Rule

Because philosophy is not wisdom, Kojeve argues that “it necessarily involves ‘subjective certainties’ that are not the Truth, in other words ‘prejudices’” (OT 155). The only way to replace prejudices with truth is to replace subjective with inter-subjective certainties, and the only way to guarantee that these certainties are not prejudices of a segment of society is to confront society as a whole. Thus, philosophers must imitate Socrates who chose to live in the “market place” or “in the street” with the riffraff. Classical thought, however, does not imitate this aspect of Socrates’ life. It tries to address the defects of “subjective certainty” by imitating Socrates’ relations to his philosophic friends, and such friendships were the origin of philosophic schools (the Epicurean garden is Kojeve’s preferred example) that isolate their members from the broader society. But friendships based on common prejudices reinforce, rather than counteract, these prejudices.

Now, Kojeve’s characterization of philosophy is a distinctly modern one. This philosophy first articulates clear and consistent ideas about the world, which clarity and consistency produces the subjective conviction that they are certainly true, which can become objective if one could show that the ideas agree with the world. Philosophy in the original sense of the term, however, does not begin with prejudices, that is, with subjective certainties. It begins with opinions or with the awareness of the questionable character of certain opinions. Philosophy rests on the objective knowledge that one does not know the answer to the fundamental and comprehensive problems. This knowledge is a justification of philosophy, because it necessitates the quest for the solution to these problems. Strauss maintains that this is the “the only possible justification” of philosophy, implying that the justification that Kojeve expects (universal consensus) is out of the reach of man. As long as wisdom is not available, “the evidence of all solutions is necessarily smaller than the evidence of the problems. Therefore, the philosopher ceases to be a philosopher at the moment at which the ‘subjective certainty’ of a solution becomes stronger than his awareness of the problematic character of that solution. At that moment the sectarian is born” (OT 196). The life of Socrates, who “never belonged to a sect and never founded one” shows that “the philosopher does not necessarily succumb to this danger” (OT 196, emphasis added). But the life of Socrates also seems to support Kojeve’s criticism of philosophic withdrawal from the broader society: “If Socrates is the representative par excellence of the philosophic life, the philosopher cannot possibly be satisfied with a group of philosophic friends but has to go out to the market place” (OT 196).

Although Socrates lived his life mostly in the center of Athens (the market place) and treated his city justly as testified to by his military service (OT 191), Strauss suggests that at the deepest level he was not a citizen of Athens. Because according to Socrates there is no essential difference between the city and the family, Strauss can illuminate the nature of Socrates’ attachment to Athens by referring to his marriage to Xanthippe. Socrates was deeply attached to his friends, but his attachment to his wife and children was so weak that “Xenophon goes so far as not to count the husband of Xanthippe among the married men” (OT 196). Plato confirms this by having Socrates ask his wife and son to leave his prison so that he can spend his last day with his friends (OT 200). If “Socrates is the representative par excellence of the philosophic life,” his detachment from his family and political community is not a personal failing or idiosyncrasy but an expression of the philosophic life itself.

Philosophers seek to understand and politicians to rule, but these desires are intertwined with deeper roots of human nature.

According to Xenophon (and Strauss), “the motivation of the philosophic life is the desire for being honored or admired by a small minority, and ultimately the desire for ‘self-admiration,’ whereas the motivation of the political life is the desire for love, i.e., for being loved by human beings irrespective of their qualities” (OT 196-197). Xenophon privileges the desire for honor over love (as commonly experienced) because it is the natural basis for the desire for excellence, whereas love may involve attachment to people who are unable or unwilling to perfect themselves. Kojeve agrees with this assessment and so does Hegel, who abandoned his early dialectics of love for the dialectics of the desire for recognition (OT 125n59) because historical development on the basis of love is impossible. But they disagree as to the role of love in politics. According to Kojeve, “love thrives in the family” (OT 156). One loves a person for his being and not for his actions, but politics has to do with actions and is animated by the desire for the recognition of the excellence of one’s actions. The political man, no less than the philosopher, seeks his self-perfection, and he is not satisfied by the gratuitous admiration of incompetent men. Accordingly, he attempts to enlarge the circle of his competent admirers, that is, to educate his fellow men. Kojeve also disagrees with Strauss’s suggestion that the philosopher is ultimately concerned only with self-admiration. Strauss’s philosopher is concerned with the confirmation of his excellence but not with the pleasure of being recognized by another person. But Kojeve argues that (Christian hypocrisy notwithstanding) there is nothing wrong with the latter pleasure and there is no good reason for denying that Socrates was pleased by the admiration that in fact he received from others. The philosopher, too, ought to enlarge the circle of his admirers, and it is only an aristocratic prejudice that restricts this number. Besides, on Strauss’s interpretation, it is not clear why the philosopher would communicate his thoughts (even orally) to others. In sum, rulers are more like philosophers and philosophers more like rulers than Strauss and classical thinkers suggest.

(A) Strauss’s three-step response begins with an explanation of the philosopher’s detachment from human being. Unlike Kojeve, Strauss attends to the fact that philosophers and rulers find their happiness in different activities. Kojeve refuses to understand politics and philosophy in the light of man’s quest for happiness because he sees no necessary connection between the success in these activities and personal happiness (OT 142-143). But this is an inadequate justification of his neglect. Even if full happiness is unattainable, it does not mean that men do not pursue it and that one should not measure what is attainable in its light. Now, the philosopher finds his happiness in the pursuit of truth that consists of “knowledge of the eternal order, or the eternal causes of the whole.” But in light of eternity all human beings and human institutions “reveal themselves . . . as paltry and ephemeral, and no one can find solid happiness in what he knows to be paltry and ephemeral” (OT 198). The concern for eternity as the philosopher understands it leads him to be detached even from aspects of himself that nonphilosophers tend to regard as most important: “[c]hiefly concerned with eternal beings . . . he is as unconcerned as possible with individual and perishable human beings and hence also with his own ‘individuality,’ or his body, as well as the sum total of all individual human beings and their ‘historical’ procession.” Strauss’s use of “individuality” is almost certainly a reference to a period in Hegel’s life that Kojeve highlights in his lectures on Hegel. The young Hegel’s thought and intuition of the Eternal led to five years of total depression that paralyzed all his powers because “he could not accept the necessary abandonment of Individuality—that is, actually of humanity—which the idea of absolute knowledge demanded.”[1] Hegel eventually overcame his depression by accepting this abandonment of individuality (or the necessity of death), becoming therewith, in Kojeve’s judgment, a wise man.

But such detachment, Strauss argues, is incompatible with the happiness of the political man whose dominating passion is the desire to rule. He “could not devote himself to his work with all his heart or without reservation if he did not attach absolute importance to man and human things” (OT 198). Thus, at the bottom of the political man’s desire to rule is an attachment to man and human things. Ruling others seems to be the opposite of serving them, but ruling necessarily involves attending to the business of others, and willy-nilly it involves serving the needs of others. But “an attachment to beings which prompts one to serve them may well be called love of them” (OT 198). Love in the political man involves a certain disregard of individuality, not of the person himself but of the objects of his love, for he is “consumed by erotic desire, not for this or that human being, or for a few, but for the large multitude, for the demos, and in principle for all human beings” (OT 198). The political man’s disregard of the individuality of his subjects is a highly qualified one, one that actually increases his attachment to human beings by disregarding possible absence of good and noble qualities. Although what distinguishes the political man is his desire to be “loved by all human beings regardless of their quality,” Strauss here suggests that this desire is the consequence of his love for them and of love’s craving for reciprocity.

Having argued that the ruler is characterized by love, Strauss begins the line of reasoning that comes to the surface in section C of this part where he shows that the political man’s love is not true love. The ruler (because of the enervation of his private concerns) seems to stand between a family man and a philosopher, but in truth he is closer to the mother than to the philosopher: “prior to the emergence of the universal state, the ruler is concerned with, and cares for, his own subjects as distinguished from the subjects of other rulers, just as the mother is concerned with, and cares for, her own children as distinguished from the children of other mothers, and the concern with, or care for, what is one’s own is what is frequently meant by ‘love’” (OT 199).[2] Strauss’s phrasing suggests that what is frequently called “love” is not the only kind of love, and by putting love in quotation marks he invites us in the first place to wonder whether it deserves to be called love. In particular, his replacement of “concern with, and cares for” with “concern with, or care for” makes one wonder whether this love always leads to a genuine care for the beloved. While love naturally weakens the concern and care for one’s own individuality, love’s craving for reciprocity tends to rehabilitate this concern and care. When love takes the form of the concern with one’s own, individuality triumphs and the beloved (whether it be one person or the multitude) is turned into one’s “private or exclusive property” (OT 199). This difficulty leads Strauss to express his disagreement with Kojeve’s doctrine regarding love: “According to [Kojeve], we love someone ‘because he is and independently of what he does.’” Now, Kojeve’s characterization of love resembles Strauss’s description of the political man’s love for “all human beings regardless of their quality.” By questioning Kojeve’s doctrine of love, Strauss casts doubt on the truthfulness of the political man’s love. According to Strauss, the actions of a person reveal his or her qualities, which disclosure can either facilitate or undermine love. Kojeve responds with the example of “the mother who loves her son in spite of all his faults.” Strauss answers: “to repeat, the mother loves her son, not because he is, but because he is her own, or because he has the quality of being her own” (OT 199). One may say that this mother loves her son too much, that is, more than he deserves; one may also say that she does not love him at all because she loves him for a quality that is not intrinsic to him. Kojeve’s contention that one loves without a reason protects ordinary love as it demeans its rationality. It thus reflects his lack of critical distance from that love (see OT 230). By contrast, it is doubtful that Socrates could have sustained his critical distance had he not known something that is only infrequently called love, and which lacks some of the marks ordinarily associated with love, but which can be called true love, because it is nourished by perception of lovable qualities and because its care of the beloved is not tainted by unloving sentiments.

(B) According to Kojeve, if the philosopher were ultimately concerned only with self-admiration, he would have no reason for communicating his thoughts to others. In response, Strauss explains that the philosopher’s radical detachment from human beings is compatible with a certain attachment, which induces him to develop and communicate some of his thoughts. He distinguishes between the philosopher’s attachment to the general public and to his friends. He is attached to the former because he remains an embodied human being. He needs to eat and philosophy does not put food on the table. The philosopher needs to live in a society with a division of labor, and he cannot live well with others if he is reproved as a thief or a fraud. What philosophers as philosophers can bring to the table is political philosophy, a comprehensive political teaching that can guide sound political action. But Strauss insists that there is something more at work here than a calculation of mutual benefit. The division of labor has its roots in the division of the sexes, and in human beings sexual attraction presupposes a more general concern and care for human beings. Accordingly, Strauss can speak of “a natural attachment of man to man which is prior to any calculation of mutual benefit” (OT 199-200). The philosopher’s detachment from human beings does not destroy this natural attachment, and while it weakens it in one respect (the philosopher does not find his fulfillment in the love of other human beings), it also protects it from the corrosive influence of the desire to have more than others. His detachment also affects the character of his political teaching. Unlike Kojeve, the classical philosopher’s awareness of the perishable nature of all human institutions prevents him from expecting “salvation or satisfaction from the establishment of the simply best social order” and thus of becoming a revolutionary. The philosopher’s political teaching is then motivated by his concern for protecting the condition of his activity and a general benevolence that eschews harming other human beings.

Whereas the philosopher’s political teaching is conditioned by the limits of his detachment from other human beings, his very detachment from human beings is productive of intense attachment to some human beings: actual or potential philosophers. These are his friends. They are important to him because they remedy the deficiency of “subjective certainty,” but Strauss notes that Socrates took pleasure in his friends apart from any benefits he received from them. To explain the experience of philosophers to nonphilosophers, Strauss proceeds “in a popular and hence unorthodox manner.” “Unorthodox” here could mean contrary to right opinion or contrary to the orthodoxy (to what has established itself as right opinion). He may intend to give an exoteric and untrue account of the philosopher’s attachment to his friends or he may intend to indicate the true account by using expressions that can but need not be interpreted in a “popular” manner.[3] I read Strauss to mean the latter, for his explanation does indeed contradict the orthodoxy that maintains the immortality of the soul.

According to Strauss, our only access to the eternal order is through perishable things. Because one cannot fully understand a being that has a beginning and end without referring to an eternal cause or causes, every perishable being reflects however dimly the eternal order. But the human soul is the only perishable thing that has thoughts of eternity and thus can be said to resemble it. For the same reason, it is a privileged starting point for the ascent to the eternal order. Accordingly, the philosopher’s detachment from human beings (his focus on eternity) leads to a new kind of interest in the human soul. Opinions about the eternal order are not equal, for some are apt to be closer to the truth. The philosopher, who has “had a glimpse of the eternal order,” can distinguish these opinions and the souls that correspond to them. The philosopher’s insight into the eternal order modifies and in some respect intensifies his natural attraction to beauty. He discovers through his conversations that many human beings hold contradictory opinions regarding the most important matters, matters tied to their opinions about eternal things, and that many people are boasters, because they implicitly or explicitly claim to know important things without really knowing them. Being full of inconsistent opinions, the soul of a boaster can be said to be chaotic. It is also ugly and the philosopher is especially sensitive to this ugliness. Disorder and ugliness are marks of disease. The philosopher avoids these diseased souls without trying to offend them. The opposite of a boaster is a person who knows what he does not know because he is passionately concerned with consistency. Accordingly, one can describe this soul as ordered, even “well- ordered.” The philosopher’s glimpse of the eternal order allows him to see that the well-ordered soul reflects or understands the eternal order better than does the chaotic soul. In the souls of other philosophers the philosopher can see a piece of eternity. This aspect intensely pleases him “without regard to his own needs or benefits.” Hence, he “desires ‘to be together’ with such men all the time. He admires such men not on account of any services which they may render him but simply because they are what they are” (OT 201).

We have given a minimalist interpretation of Strauss’s account of the philosopher’s attachment to his friends, one that maintains that the souls of men are akin to the eternal order only because human beings can have thoughts about that order. But we also have repeated in a less dogmatic way the dogmatic assertion that prompted Strauss’s objection to his own account: “did we not surreptitiously substitute the wise man for the philosopher?” (OT 201). It is not clear how the inconsistency of the chaotic soul proves that its opinion about the eternal order is farther from the truth than the opinions of the well-ordered soul. After presenting the argument about the superiority of the philosopher on the basis of his knowledge of ignorance, Strauss asserts “that observations of this kind do not prove the assumption, for example, that the well-ordered soul is more akin to the eternal order, or to the eternal cause or causes of the whole, than is the chaotic soul” (OT 201). Moreover, Strauss seems to imply that the above account presupposes that the philosopher has had “a glimpse of the eternal order” that supports a specific cosmology that is different not only from nonphilosophic opinions but also from some possible philosophic opinions: nature understood as atoms randomly hitting each other or as a hostile force that needs to be mastered. Strauss seems to suggest that one is free to reject the earlier-mentioned assumption in favor of such alternatives: “If one does not make the assumption mentioned, one will be forced, it seems, to explain the philosopher’s desire to communicate his thoughts by his need for remedying the deficiency of ‘subjective certainty’ or by his desire for recognition, or by his human kindness” (OT201-202). Thus, Kojeve’s account of the philosopher’s reason for communication is possible and not necessarily inferior to the account that Strauss gives. And it would seem that those who do not believe that the whole is governed by a divine mind might even prefer it to the Platonic account.

Strauss, however, shows us a way to settle the matter: “We must leave it open whether one can thus explain, without being forced to use ad hoc hypotheses, the immediate pleasure which the philosopher experiences when he sees a well-ordered soul or the immediate pleasure which we experience when we observe signs of human nobility” (OT 202). The dispute over cosmology can be settled by seeing which understanding of nature can explain these human experiences. Strauss implies that philosophers of every stripe experience an immediate pleasure at the aspect of another philosopher. By speaking of the immediate pleasure that nonphilosophers have at signs of nobility, Strauss also indicates that this experience need not presuppose a true perception of the “eternal order,” for the philosopher “alone knows what a healthy and a well-ordered soul is” (OT 201). The assumption that “the well-ordered soul is more akin to the eternal order, or the eternal cause or causes of the whole, than is the chaotic soul” then could have two different meanings: the philosopher has a better grasp of the eternal order than the nonphilosopher

(the cosmological thesis), or nobility however understood is more in harmony with the eternal order than baseness (the moral-psychological thesis). The latter could be an opinion that belongs to human nature whose essence is eros. The debate between the moderns and the ancients involves a disagreement about human nature.

The thesis about the erotic nature of man not only explains why a Socrates would be involved in conversations from which he could not benefit, but it also sheds some light on the character of the conversations from which he could benefit. It shows how a philosopher’s educational activities could remedy the deficiencies of subjective certainty. First, the thesis in question can be confirmed only through encounters with human beings. Second, the classical understanding of man opens a door to a better or firmer understanding of nature as a whole. If man’s experience of nobility is connected with his thoughts about the eternal order, clarity about nobility is a necessary step toward clarity about nature. Since man’s understanding of nobility is affected by his understanding of virtue (see the interplay between virtuous and noble activities [OT 190-191]) the classical approach gives a new incentive for exact understanding of moral questions. Now, conversations with potential philosophers (as opposed to actual philosophers) who as such are attracted to nonphilosophical opinions about the whole are especially useful for confirming the truth of the classical assumption about human nature and its bearing on nature as a whole. We can thus begin to see why these conversations, which are the principal cause of the philosopher’s conflict with political authorities, are so important to the philosopher or why the philosopher cannot be satisfied with conversations with fellow philosophers, if he is lucky enough to know such beings: “The philosopher must go to the market place in order to fish there for potential philosophers” (OT 205).

(C) Having explained the urgency of the philosopher’s desire to educate others, Strauss considers the educational activity of an enlightened ruler. He admits that the insight into “the futility of all human causes” is not the preserve of philosophers, but he argues that this insight “is apt to wither or degenerate into lifeless narrowness” if it is not accompanied by a genuine attachment to eternal things. It is apt to wither because it interferes with the political man’s devotion to his task. But perhaps this task could be reinterpreted: political rule may become the means for the acquisition of wealth and power that serve the advantage of the ruler’s own ephemeral self. Strauss’s characterization of this life as “lifeless narrowness” makes it so unattractive that one may not even care to wonder about its feasibility, but that question is fundamental, because it determines whether political enlightenment—political life based on the truth regarding the futility of human causes—is possible. Strauss suggests that such a life is impossible: “The ruler too tries to educate human beings and he too is prompted by love of some kind” (OT 202). But then he argues that Xenophon’s view of the ruler’s love is conveyed through his description of the older Cyrus who is “a cold [lifeless] or unerotic [narrow] nature.” Although this assertion does not make sense—How can a nature incapable of love explain the ruler’s love?—it has the advantage of directing the reader toward an adequate understanding of Cyrus’ unerotic life, one that sees that life from the perspective of nature. While some of Cyrus’ men may have thought that their king had an unerotic nature, Strauss or Xenophon could not and did not hold this view. According to the classics, as Strauss understands them, eros is the essence of man.[4] As to Cyrus, Strauss characterizes him as a man who dares not to look at beauty, of the beautiful Panthea in particular. He is a man who feels the pull of beauty but who resists it only by avoiding it (OT 125-26n60). But what is the proper judgment on such a man? In On Tyranny Strauss presents Cyrus as a man inferior to Socrates (who can resist the charm of beauty while admiring it) but superior to all other rulers and nonphilosophers. He is “Xenophon’s most perfect ruler” and a “continent” man (OT 125-26n60). But in the “Restatement,” where Strauss is considering the status of political virtue, he allows himself a truer judgment on Cyrus. Here he is the greatest ruler only “at first glance,” and as a human being he fares worse. Cyrus is so far from being a perfect man that Strauss uses imagery that suggests that Cyrus is a eunuch: “The ruler knows political virtue, and nothing prevents his being attracted by it, but political virtue, or the virtue of non-philosopher, is a mutilated thing; therefore it cannot elicit more than a shadow or an imitation of true love” (OT 202, emphasis added). The knowledge of “what a well-ordered soul is” prevents the philosopher from being attracted to political virtue, but a ruler lacks this knowledge and since he has an erotic nature he cannot help but be attached to human beings and attracted to a virtue that is useful to them. Strauss traces the defect of the ruler’s love to the defect of the object of his love:

The ruler is in fact dominated by love based on need in the common meaning of need, or by mercenary love; for “all men by nature believe they love those things by which they believe they are benefitted” (Oeconomicus 20.29). In the language of Kojeve, the ruler is concerned with human beings because he is concerned with being recognized by them.

(OT 202)

Whereas earlier Strauss traced the ruler’s desire to be loved by all human beings to his original love for them, here he reverses the causal order. For the ruler human beings are useful instruments, but one cannot love useful things. To love a person is to care for the person for his or her own sake. The ruler’s love of political virtue and of human beings is sincere without being genuine, for men merely believe they love what they believe benefits them. This vulgar delusion, which seems to offer the advantages of selfishness and love (hence its attraction), upon closer examination deprives men of the fruits of both. The ruler is concerned with human beings but he does not truly care for them. He loves them with an unloving love that he believes to be genuine love, and it is this “love” that guides his educative efforts. Accordingly, the ruler’s educative effort cannot have the same character as that of the philosopher who is not attracted to political virtue.

The two educative efforts also differ regarding their scope. The ruler is forced to educate all of his subjects but the philosopher is “not compelled to converse with anyone except those with whom he likes to converse” (OT 203). But before defending his thesis about the philosopher, Strauss questions the very possibility of a lasting popular Enlightenment. According to Kojeve,“[i]t is not clear why the number of the philosopher’s initiates or disciples necessarily has to be limited or, for that matter, smaller than the number of the political man’s competent admirers” (OT 157). Strauss observes that Kojeve is unwilling to argue for the strong thesis that there are no limits to the number of competent admirers of a philosopher, but “limits himself to contending that the number of men of philosophic competence is not smaller than the number of men of political competence” (OT 203). Kojeve’s phrasing even suggests a doubt about the possibility of all human beings becoming competent judges with regard to political matters. Strauss also observes that Kojeve’s fifth note (which is actually the sixth note of Kojeve’s published review) contradicts his thesis, for there he argues that the success of political action can be measured by its “objective” outcome (a war that is won, a state that is prosperous and strong). It is harder to be a competent judge of a philosopher not only because philosophic issues are more difficult but also because such competence requires freedom from the “natural charm” that “consists in unqualified attachment to human things as such.” To illustrate Strauss’s point, it is not impossible that a lesser man might find John Locke despicable because his philosophy does not sufficiently support this attachment. Because man’s attachment to human things is natural, Strauss argues that there is no hope of permanently removing this source of objection: “For try as one may to expel nature with a hayfork, it will always come back” (OT 203). Remarkably, Kojeve writes as if the position of a philosopher who limits his audience to the few was “maintained a priori, without empirical evidence” (OT 157). He also writes as if the reaction against the Enlightenment has not given any support to this view. Strauss responds that if a philosopher addresses himself only to a minority, he “is following the constant experience of all times and countries and, no doubt, the experience of Kojeve himself.” On this issue, Strauss suggests, Kojeve’s thinking has become so muddled that he even disregards his own experience.

After the above digression, Strauss returns to his thesis that the philosopher is not compelled to educate everyone. The philosopher’s friends suffice to remedy the deficiency of “subjective certainty” and “no shortcomings in his friends can be remedied by having recourse to utterly incompetent people.” The philosopher will not be compelled to educate everyone out of a desire for recognition or ambition for the simple reason that he does not have this desire. Although Strauss had maintained that honor is characteristic of the philosopher and love of the ruler, he ultimately argues that the philosopher is not at all moved by the desire for honor or recognition. The desire for honor is characteristic of the philosopher because he is sensitive to that aspect of honor that is concerned with the acquisition of excellence. But in him the desire for excellence ultimately overcomes the desire for honor, for the content of human excellence is ultimately at odds with the desire for honor. Consequently, Strauss argues that the philosopher who desires honor suffers from a blurred vision. If a philosopher becomes concerned with being recognized by others, “he ceases to be a philosopher. According to the strict view of the classics he turns into a sophist,” a man who has a taste for wisdom without believing that the quest for wisdom is the greatest attainable human good.

Strauss’s contention does not rest on an insight into the hearts of philosophers, but only on the claim that there is no necessary connection between being recognized by others and the quest to know the eternal order, whereas there is a necessary connection between being recognized by others and ruling them. Kojeve objects that selfadmiration that is not accompanied by the admiration of others is indistinguishable from lunacy. But Strauss reminds us that Socrates sometimes made progress in wisdom in conversations with political men that did not lead to agreement, conversations that increased his self-admiration while provoking their hatred. These conversations confirmed his estimate of himself because they showed “again and again that his interlocutors, as they themselves are forced to admit, involve themselves in self-contradictions or are unable to give any account of their questionable contentions” (OT 204). This statement corrects Strauss’s earlier contention that “no shortcomings in his friends can be remedied by having recourse to utterly incompetent people.” Utterly incompetent people can correct those shortcomings not by agreeing with the philosopher but by being forced to admit that they contradict themselves. As to the shortcomings in question, they need not refer to lack of perfect competence. Socrates had the above conversations despite having friends like Xenophon and Plato. The shortcomings in question belong to friends in general who as friends share one’s views. We thus see more fully why “the philosopher must go to the market place in order to fish there for potential philosophers” (OT 205, emphasis added).

  • [1] Kojeve, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, 168.
  • [2] By locating politics in a spectrum between the extremes of philosophy and family, one can dispose of Kojeve objection that Strauss’s characterization of rulersis true only for democratic or demagogic rulers who wish to win the admiration of everyone. For in this light, oligarchical rulers appear as not fully politicalinsofar as they remain chiefly concerned with the interests of their families orclass.
  • [3] Nadon, “Philosophic Politics and Theology,” 92.
  • [4] Leo Strauss, On Plato’s Symposium, ed. Seth Benardete (Chicago: University ofChicago Press, 2001), 152.
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