Are the neoconservatives closet atheists?

But for all the neoconservatives’ bluster about the need for a religious orthodoxy to hold society together, Strauss was an atheist and taught that “philosopher-kings” had to maintain their special standing by keeping silent about their personal atheism, playing along with the illusion of there being a God and an afterlife. Believing that reason and revelation cannot be reconciled. Strauss believed that religion can only have currency if it stifles dissent, imposes clannishness and gives citizens a reason to die for one’s homeland. As Professor Holmes observes, Strauss also believed that only philosophers can handle the truth that there is no Creator and that we are only left with nature which is indifferent to human values and needs. In other words, organized religion is nothing more than exoteric myths for the rubes, designed to sedate them by fear of eternal damnation.

Full Story: Frank Cocozzelli’s Diary.

This reminds me: can anyone recommend me a good book on Leo Strauss?

3 Comments

  1. For books on Strauss, I would suggest Stephen Smith’s, Reading Leo Strauss: Politics, Philosophy, Judaism; and Michael and Catherine Zuckert’s, The Truth About Leo Strauss: Political Philosophy and American Democracy.

    With respect to your post, let’s take it line by line:

    “But for all the neoconservatives? bluster about the need for a religious orthodoxy to hold society together,… ”

    Do neo-coinservatives really say this sort of thing? I try to keep up, but I just can’t remember Bill Kristol or anyone like him, saying anything like this.

    “Strauss was an atheist and taught that ?philosopher-kings? had to maintain their special standing by keeping silent about their personal atheism, playing along with the illusion of there being a God and an afterlife.”

    Can you point me to passage in Strauss’s many books that says this about philosopher-kings?

    On Strauss’s atheism, it’s fair to say that some thought he was an atheist and others not. Hannah Arendt, for example, in a letter to Jaspers, calls Strauss an atheist, but Jaspers responds that he always thought Strauss was a believing Jew. You may be right about this, but the evidence that I know of points in both directions. What evidence do you have?

    “Believing that reason and revelation cannot be reconciled, Strauss believed that religion can only have currency if it stifles dissent, imposes clannishness and gives citizens a reason to die for one?s homeland.”

    Strauss did indeed think that reason could not refute revelation, and that revelation could not refute reason, so yes, they are in a fundamental sense seperate and distinct. But because revelation could not be refuted, the truth-claims of revelation cannot be refuted, which means that at least in principle, revelation could be true. That is why Strauss’s purported atheism remains doubtful.

    As far as religion stifling dissent, etc., could you give me a citation from Strauss’s works where he says this?

    “As Professor Holmes observes, Strauss also believed that only philosophers can handle the truth that there is no Creator and that we are only left with nature which is indifferent to human values and needs.”

    But remember — reason, i.e., philosophy, cannot refute revelation, so revelation may true. That’s why Holmes is wrong in this instance. Based on Strauss’s thinking, one cannot say that there is no Creator only that if there is such a Creator, human reason cannot comprehend Him.

    Do you think nature cares about human suffering?

    “In other words, organized religion is nothing more than exoteric myths for the rubes, designed to sedate them by fear of eternal damnation.”

    Sounds like Marx! Strauss’s claims about esoteric writing are a method for interpreting texts (in light of persecution often from religious authorities). It has nothing to do with how to govern, or any sociological claims about myths.

  2. REPLY TO ROBI?S CRITIQUES:

    Forgive me for not addressing your criticisms earlier than today, but I only became aware of my article being linked to this site only yesterday.

    As to the questions of my sources of Strauss?s atheism I actually rely more upon sources from the political Right; here they are:

    Robert Locke (Claremont Institute) http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=1233

    Steven Smith:
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0226764028/qid=1149227199/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/102-8915153-2919338?s=books&v=glance&n=283155

    And this from Leo Strauss and Emmanuel Levinas: Philosophy and the Politics of Revelation. By Leora Batnitzky. Cambridge University Press, 2006:

    What is this problem? Strauss thought that “to be a [religious] Jew and a philosopher” is impossible: religion and philosophy both demand ultimate allegiance. Philosophy recognizes nothing higher than reason, but religion depends on a revelation by God to which reason must bow. If one must choose between them, is it not clear that Strauss chose philosophy? Batnitzky quotes a passage from an early review that strongly suggests he rejected religion: “in the age of atheism, the Jewish people can no longer base its existence on god [sic] but only itself alone, on its labor, its land, and its state. . .Political Zionism, wishing to radically ground itself, must ground itself in unbelief.” (@ p.142)

    As if this were not enough evidence, his friend Gershom Scholem, the great historian of Jewish mysticism, who had tried to obtain for Strauss a job at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, threw up his hands in exasperation: “Writing to Walter Benjamin in 1935, Scholem. . .wrote that he did not think the faculty of The Hebrew University would ‘vote for an appointment of an atheist to a teaching position that serves to endorse the philosophy of religion.'”(@ p.182)

    Finally, you ask of me, ?Do you think nature cares about human suffering??
    No I don?t; but the loving God I believe who created nature does.

    And that is the essence of my dislike of this Right-wing Jacobins: they are abusing faith ultimately to serve unrestrained self-interest and egotistical nationalism.

  3. Marco Andreacchio

    May 15, 2010 at 4:09 am

    Mr. Cocozzelli,

    Why not attempt to ground your claim that Strauss was an “atheist” in Strauss’s own writings? What did Strauss actually state and argue? Does this count LESS than what others (detractors?) stated (insinuated?) about him? If so, why? What makes “secondary sources” more reliable or necessarily more truthful than “primary sources”? Shouldn’t we agree that, ultimately, what really counts is what Strauss actually taught, quite aside from private speculations about hidden (evil?) intentions?

    On the question of Zionism, I think it is best to refer to Strauss’s “Preface to Spinoza’s Critique of Religion”–where Strauss evidently rejects the political Zionism attributed to him in your previous Comment. He does not merely reject the position; he gives reasons for his readers to reject it.

    The fact that a thinker describes various political and/or philosophical positions does not eo ipso mean that he ascribes to any of them, himself.

    A previous commentator (above) correctly notes that your characterization of Strauss’s private attitude towards religion applies to Marx, not to Strauss. The previous commentator is also perfectly right about the incompatibility of the whole “atheist” thesis with Strauss’s systematic rejection of any philosophy that is not open to revelation. Indeed, Strauss denounces any such “philosophy” as an impostor.

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