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«Leo Strauss and Islam by Daniel Townsend BA, B.Litt (Hons.) Submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Deakin ...»

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Leo Strauss and Islam


Daniel Townsend

BA, B.Litt (Hons.)

Submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

Deakin University

June, 2014

I am the author of the thesis entitled “Leo Strauss and Islam”

submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy

This thesis may be made available for consultation, loan and limited copying in

accordance with the Copyright Act 1968.

'I certify that I am the student named below and that the information provided in the form is correct' Full Name: Daniel Townsend Signed: D. Townsend Date: 20/6/2014 I certify the following about the thesis entitled (10 word maximum) Leo Strauss and Islam submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy a. I am the creator of all or part of the whole work(s) (including content and layout) and that where reference is made to the work of others, due acknowledgment is given.

b. The work(s) are not in any way a violation or infringement of any copyright, trademark, patent, or other rights whatsoever of any person.

c. That if the work(s) have been commissioned, sponsored or supported by any organisation, I have fulfilled all of the obligations required by such contract or agreement.

I also certify that any material in the thesis which has been accepted for a degree or diploma by any university or institution is identified in the text.

'I certify that I am the student named below and that the information provided in the form is correct' Daniel Townsend

Full Name:

Signed: D. Townsend Date: 20/6/2014 Acknowledgements I’d like to thank my supervisors Matt Sharpe and George Duke. Matt put a lot of work into this thesis. I’m very grateful for the encouragement he has given me, and all his efforts on the project generally. George made a number of insightful criticisms that helped strengthen several important arguments. I’m lucky to have had two dedicated supervisors.

I’d also like to sincerely thank Herbert Davidson, Laurence Lampert, Robert Sinnerbrink, and Georges Tamer for commenting on the thesis. The thesis benefitted from their erudition.

I am grateful for the support I have received from the Monash University Philosophy Department and the Deakin University Philosophy Department. I’d like to particularly thank Toby Handfield, Andy Lamey, and Linda Barclay.

Thanks to Will H. F. Altman for his advice and example.

I am grateful to all those scholars who kindly responded to my emails and questions.

I’d like to thank the students I’ve taught since 2007 for their energy, enthusiasm, and humour.

–  –  –

When I have added text of my own to a quotation for elaboration or clarification, I have used square brackets and prefaced my remark with “sc.” When italics have been added to in-text quotes, I have noted “[Italics added]” at the end of the block quotation.

When referring to chapters, or sections of chapters, of the present thesis, I have capitalised the words “chapter” and “section.” This is to help distinguish references to the thesis from references to other texts.

When translating Arabic, I have used modern standard transliteration. Where Arabic or German texts are used, I also note any English translation that I have drawn from. Full text details are included in the thesis’ bibliography.

I have preferred the terms “medieval Islamic philosophy” and “Islamic philosopher” over “medieval Arabic philosophy” and “Arabic philosopher.” I have favoured the term “Islamic philosophy” to “Arabic philosophy” as I believe this accentuates the importance the rise of Islam had in the preservation, and development, of philosophy. When identifying key dates, I use the Gregorian calendar, as it is the most widely used.

I have endeavoured to ensure that the thesis follows U.K. English although, at times, I may have periodically used American English.

I have endeavoured to write a thesis with no spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors. I have attempted to ensure that quoted passages are entirely accurate.

D. Townsend Melbourne, June 2014 For M & O Table of Contents

–  –  –

Leo Strauss (d. 1973) remains a controversial thinker. Criticism of Strauss – a German-Jewish political scientist who emigrated to America in 19371 – began in the mid-1960s, as scholars began noticing the divisive effects Strauss was having in North American Political Science and For a detailed account of Strauss’s early life and career, see Sheppard, Leo Strauss and the Politics of Exile; Zank, Leo Strauss: The Early Writings.

Politicized hermeneutics Philosophy departments. Strauss’s earliest critics argued that he used philosophy for political ends; specifically, in his texts, Strauss subtly advocated for the establishment of “closed” societies. Strauss was, these critics asserted, counter-Enlightenment and anti-liberal.2 Debate over Strauss’s work grew in the 1980s with the publication of Myles Burnyeat’s scathing “Sphinx without a Secret” (1985) and Shadia Drury’s broadside The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss (1988).

These texts suggested Strauss was, essentially, a right-wing ideologue and masterful manipulator.3 In 2003-4, the controversy surrounding the German-Jewish émigré became more public. Strauss was accused – not entirely inaccurately – of being one of the intellectual godfathers of the “Neoconservative” political movement.4 As a consequence of the connection between Strauss and contemporary politics, Strauss’s works, legacy, students, and political views, became subject For early examples of censure, see, for example, Rothman’s “The Revival of Classical Political Philosophy: A Critique” (1962) or McShea’s “Leo Strauss on Machiavelli” (1963). At Rothman, 352: “Despite his concern with identifying the “true nature of man,” Strauss’s definition of the human, his longing for the “closed society” of Plato’s ideal, is rather less than human.” Similarly from McShea, 796: “The solution [sc. for Strauss] is a closed, static, and aristocratic society with a state religion.” McShea charges Strauss as being counter-Enlightenment (ibid., 797): “The Straussian outlook, consisting as it does of an unsystematic collection of intuitions and ipse dixits, cryptically expressed, is not coherent. The tendency of that outlook, however, is rather clear; we would do well to prefer the degree of light we have thus far achieved to this most recent variety of the Kingdom of Darkness.” That other academics largely ridiculed or ignored Strauss during his lifetime has been well-documented by his students; see Rosen, Hermeneutics as Politics, 107, 113; Bloom, “Leo Strauss: September 20, 1899-October 18, 1973,” 386; C. & M. Zuckert, The Truth about Leo Strauss, 1-2.

A response to Burnyeat from a number of Strauss’s supporters came in the 10 October 1985 edition of the New York Review of Books. Burnyeat’s response was published in the same volume. Responses to Drury’s work come in C. & M.

Zuckert, The Truth about Leo Strauss; Smith, “Drury’s Strauss and Mine”; Minowitz, Straussophobia. Altman’s The German Stranger (2010) is the most recent critical reading of Strauss.

See Kristol, Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea, 6-7. Following the American pragmatist Sidney Hook, the “two thinkers who had the greatest subsequent impact on my thinking were Lionel Trilling in the 1940s and Leo

Strauss in the 1950s.” Strauss was “a powerful Germanic, supersubtle political philosopher.” Kristol writes:

His [sc. Strauss’s] students – those happy few who sat at his feet – became “Straussians,” though they preferred to be known as “political theorists.” (One such student was my dear friend, the late Martin Diamond, who helped me understand what Strauss was up to.) These students of Leo Strauss, in turn, have produced another generation of political theorists, many of whom relocated to Washington, D.C., since the academic world of positivist “political science” has become ever more hostile to Strauss and “Straussians” – even while his mode of thought has filtered down to an ever more numerous “happy few.” Kristol (ibid., 9) claims that Strauss was not, however, a “right-wing ideologue, as some of his critics have claimed” and denies that Strauss easily comports with “contemporary conservative discourse.” Politicized hermeneutics matter for the American Congress,5 the U.S. and European print media,6 a three-part television documentary,7 a Broadway production,8 a host of academic texts,9 and numerous journal articles.10 At the time of writing, Strauss remains the focus of an entire philosophical-political dispute: the “Strauss wars.”11 At its most basic level, the focus of the “Strauss wars” is the extent of Strauss’s connection to Neoconservatism.

Although a topic of significant interest, the present thesis does not concentrate on detailing Strauss’s relationship to Neoconservatism. Suffice it to say that, contrary to denials found in some recent scholarship,12 there is a connection between Strauss and strands of Dr. Ron Paul, “Neo-CONNED!” Speech to the United States House of Representatives, July 10, 2003.

A list of the media sources in which Strauss appeared comes in the Zuckert’s The Truth About Leo Strauss. See the notes to their introduction, 269-73.

The documentary series was entitled “The Power of Nightmares.” It was created by British documentary maker Adam Curtis and originally screened in the U.K. on the BBC in October 2004.

The play was written by actor and activist Tim Robbins. For a media review of Embedded see Brantley, “Prowling

for Laughs From Today’s Foreign Policy”:

That cabal [sc. the political elite in Washington] is the satanic power center in “Embedded,” a coven of policy makers called the Office of Special Plans. Its members have resonant names like Dick, Rum Rum, Gondola, Woof and Pearly White. They wear sinister half-masks and offer Black Sabbath-style hymns of praise to Leo Strauss, the neo-conservative philosopher. And though they plot their military strategy with icy detachment, they become sexually aroused at the mere prospect of more power. [Italics added] For criticisms of Robbins’s play see the Zuckert’s, The Truth About Leo Strauss, 115; Smith, Reading Leo Strauss, 185;

Pangle, Leo Strauss, 131n2.

To inventory, on the supportive side there has been the Zuckert’s The Truth about Leo Strauss (2006); Smith, Reading Leo Strauss (2006); Pangle, Leo Strauss (2006); Batnitzky, Leo Strauss and Emmanuel Levinas (2006); Minowitz, Straussophobia (2009); Gottfried, Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America (2012). There are also supportive comments on Strauss in Fukuyama’s America at the Crossroads (2006). On the opposing side, and highly critical of

Strauss are, for example, Drury, The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss (updated edition: 2005); Wolin, Democracy Incorporated:

Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (2008); Xenos, Cloaked in Virtue (2009); Altman, The German Stranger: Leo Strauss and National Socialism (2010). See also note 31 below.

See, for example, Xenos, “Leo Strauss and the Rhetoric of the War on Terror;” Drury “Leo Strauss and the American Imperial Project” and “Reply to Smith”; Smith “Drury’s Strauss and Mine.” Lilla also published supportive articles on Strauss in the 21 October 2004 and 4 November 2004 editions of the New York Review of Books.

For use of this term, see Altman, “The Hindenburg Line of the Strauss Wars.”

–  –  –

Politicized hermeneutics American conservatism that cannot be dismissed entirely.13 This connection is made particularly apparent in the writings of Neoconservatism’s better-known “godfather,” Irving Kristol.14 One might therefore claim that Strauss’s writings on Islam and Islamic philosophy are worthy of serious study as the “clash of civilisations” – Islam versus the West15 – and “war on terror” were defining features of the Neoconservative G.W. Bush administrations. The problem with such an approach, however, would be that it would risk distorting Strauss’s thought; it would mean viewing Strauss’s philosophy through the lens of modern politics. Such a practice might not be entirely fair to Strauss.

Strauss’s political influence is not, in any case, the only, or even the most important, reason for engaging with his works. Strauss offers a series of critical readings on ancient, medieval, and modern philosophy. He gives us much to think about. At the heart of Strauss’s contribution to modern philosophy and the history of ideas are his challenging and fascinating hermeneutic claims. Strauss argues that some works of philosophy, particularly those written during ages in which persecution was a distinct possibility, contain an outer, exoteric, doctrine that serves to hide an inner, esoteric, teaching.16 Strauss’s absorbing hermeneutic claims are particularly prominent in his interpretation of the Muslim philosophers, the falasifa, and it is noteworthy that Strauss’s career-defining work on exoteric writing came at a time when he was immersed in the study of medieval Islamic and Jewish texts. Given Strauss’s fascinating hermeneutic claims, any critical engagement with medieval philosophy might well be complemented by having Strauss’s works ready-at-hand.

Subjecting Strauss’s works on medieval Islamic philosophy to critical examination is the aim of the present thesis. By carefully exploring Strauss’s frequently overlooked texts on Strauss’s defenders generally deny any such connection, although, as mentioned above, Kristol is clear regarding Strauss’s influence on his thought. Fukuyama (America at the Crossroads, 22) writes: “Strauss did not produce doctrine in the sense that Marx and Lenin did, and it is extraordinarily hard to extract from his writings anything that looks like public policy analysis.” Batnitzky offers a similar denial (Leo Strauss and Emmanuel Levinas, xvii; 210-2) as does Smith (Reading Leo Strauss, 201). Compare, though, with what Drury asserts in The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss and Leo Strauss and the American Right. See also Norton, Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire.

–  –  –

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