Parce qu’il est de plus en plus difficile de se taire …

Depuis la début de la nouvelle opération israélienne sur Gaza, on ne cesse de répéter comme un mantra, le droit d’Israël à se défendre … en oubliant qu’il y a aussi un droit à résister et que s’il y a bien un peuple dans ce conflit qui lutte pour sa survie, pour son droit à exister, c’est bien le peuple palestinien. Les chiffres des victimes parlent d’eux-mêmes …

Dans ce contexte, on ne peut que s’indigner de l’attitude du gouvernement français qui prit dans l’engrenage d’un occidentalisme importé d’outre-Atlantique en vient à bafouer toujours plus les principes sur lesquels sa politique moyenne-orientale a été historiquement bâtie, sans même qu’on puisse voir concrètement quels bénéfices une France dont l’influence décline toujours plus dans la région, une France dont la seule force était d’introduire de tant à autre une voix dissonante, espère retirer de ses reniements. S’il est louable de vouloir prévenir les débordements antisémites (phénomène historiquement européen rappelons-le), comment ne pas voir que l’attitude du gouvernement ne peut qu’attiser la colère et favoriser la tache de ceux qui voudraient détourner les mouvements de protestation vers d’autres cibles ? Comment ne pas voir non plus que l’attitude du gouvernement consiste moins à lutter contre le communautarisme en tant que tel, qu’à en favoriser l’un contre l’autre, alors même qu’il devrait mettre tous ses efforts à rechercher avec ses partenaires européens une solution politique à un conflit qui reste matriciel. Ces identités qui s’entrechoquent et s’absolutisent, ces religions qui se politisent et ces politiques qui se métamorphosent en eschatologie ne sont pourtant jamais que l’effet d’une impasse du politique, d’une gangrène de la puissance devenue aveugle. Le meilleur service que les alliés d’Israël pourraient lui rendre, alors même que la colonisation rend chaque jour plus impossible une solution des deux Etats (seule solution réaliste pour deux peuples qui s’entretuent depuis plus de cinquante ans, seule solution finalement compatible avec le projet sioniste lui-même), ce serait de l’obliger à négocier un règlement durable … plutôt que le réapprovisionner en armes à la manière de pompiers pyromanes et devenus schizophrènes. Quitte à lui forcer la main par des sanctions que les Occidentaux sont tout prêts à agiter par ailleurs contre les Russes ou les Iraniens.

On devrait presque s’excuser de partager des idées aussi élémentaires, si le conflit israélo-palestinien, symbole de toutes les hypocrisies du système de sécurité internationale actuel, ne suscitait pas d’incroyables phénomènes d’amnésie et de lâcheté … Pour avoir été témoin dans le passé de la répression israélienne, même si c’était à petite échelle (les temps changent, mais pas pour le mieux), il m’était difficile de rester totalement silencieux.

Meditations on the Himalayas

At my return from a trek in the Indian Himalayas, I have started to read Julius Evola’s Meditations on the Peaks. The book is a collection of articles about his experience of mountain climbing. I was struck again by the combination of genuine insights with more or less ideological distortions of traditional symbols. It is not however the place to return to the political wanderings of a man whose trajectory partially overlaps with the one of Martin Heidegger. One finds nevertheless, some beautiful passages in Evola’s Mediations on the Peaks that I would like to share:

“The notion of the divinity of the mountains is found equally in both Eastern and Western traditions … This notion is expressed in the form of myths and legends concerning either the mountain of the gods or of the heroes— which is allegedly the dwelling place of those who have been “taken up there”— or places inhabited by mysterious forces of glory and immortality. The general foundation for the symbolism of the mountain is simple: since the earth has been associated with everything human (the etymology of the word human is from humus, “soil”), the earth’s peaks, which reach to the sky and which are transfigured by perennial snow, were spontaneously regarded as the most apt material to express, through allegories, transcendental states of consciousness, inner spiritual realizations, and apparitions of extranormal modes of being, often portrayed figuratively as gods and supernatural beings.
(…) According to the Hindus, the most divine mountain chain is the Himalayan, a name that means in Sanskrit, “the seat of the snows.” More specifically, Mount Meru is the sacred mountain and is believed to be located in the Himalayas. It is important to note two things. First, Mount Meru is conceived to be the place in which Shiva, the great ascetic, performed his meditations. Second, it is from here that Shiva incinerated Kama, the Hindu god of love, when the latter tried to expose his heart to passion. In the Hindu tradition, the idea of absolute asceticism and stringent purification of nature is associated with the highest mountain peak. This idea is inaccessible to anything coming from lust and desire and is therefore stable in a transcendent sense. Hence, in the ancient Vedic formulas for the consecration of kings, we find the image of the mountain symbolizing the stability of the power and of the imperium the king will assume . Moreover, in the Mahabarata we see Arjuna go to the Himalayas in order to practice asceticism because it is written that “only on the high mountains could he have achieved the divine vision.” Likewise, the emperor Yudhisthira traveled to the Himalayas to achieve his apotheosis by climbing onto the “chariot” of the “king of the gods.” It is also notable that the Sanskrit word paradesha means “elevated site,” or “high region,” and therefore, in a specific material sense, mountain peak. But paradesha may be etymologically associated with the Chaldean word pardes; hence the term paradise, which has been turned into a dogmatic theological concept by the later Judeo-Christian faith.
(…) At this point I must mention the Hellenic legends of those mythic characters who have been transported to a mountain. .. . Immortality, besides the Olympian gods’, was the privilege of the heroes, or, in other words, was the exceptional achievement of a few superior beings. In the oldest Hellenic traditions we find that the heroes’ achievement of immortality was often portrayed since in this disappearing we must see the material symbol of a spiritual transfiguration. The expressions “to disappear,” “to become invisible,” and “to be taken up into the peaks,” should not be taken literally, but essentially mean to be virtually introduced to the world beyond the senses, in which there is no death, and removed from the visible world of physical bodies, which is that of common human experience.

It is well known that Shankara himself also “disappeared” in the Himalayas. In his writings, Evola expresses a concern about the desacralization of mountains under the pressure of consumerism and the religion of sport. Each time, I have visited the Himalayas, I have witnessed not only an increase in the number of tourists and touristic infrastructures, and a degradation of the local ecosystem but an acceleration of the military build-up at the frontier between India and China. When the conflicts between men reach the land of the gods, what refuge is left to the gods?

Konchenzonga

La guerre des genres n’aura pas lieu.

Il semble désormais acquis que l’espace politico-médiatique est désormais occupé par les différents avatars de la « théorie des genres. » Mariage gay, lutte contre les discriminations dès la petite enfance etc… Une machine médiatique soigneusement rodée, mais paresseuse, s’indigne au nom du politiquement correct et du droit à la différence de la permanence de certains stéréotypes dans nos sociétés. A l’arrière-plan, une sorte de vulgate post-moderne a pris la relève de la vulgate freudo-marxisme et s’efforce finalement de déconstruire l’idée même d’une nature humaine rendue responsable de tous les maux et de toutes les formes d’aliénation. Il est de bon ton de défendre les droits de l’homme, mais sans jamais se poser la question de ce qu’est un homme (ou une femme). Ce que ces penseurs de la post-modernité semblent en peine de réaliser, c’est qu’il leur ait rigoureusement impossible de fonder la défense des droits des homosexuels ou des transsexuels sans en appeler aux valeurs d’un modèle libéral dont ils sont le produit mais contre lequel ils se dressent en permanence. Comment justifier en effet la lutte contre les discriminations, autrement que par une défense de la personne humaine, dont l’intellectuel post-moderne dans la mesure où il est conséquent avec lui-même ne peut que se moquer.

En face les porte-paroles des orthodoxies religieuses ou les simples conservateurs ne font guère plus preuve d’imagination ou de bon sens. Quand ils ne font pas preuve d’une véritable hystérie, ils ne ménagent guère leur audience en leur servant les pires platitudes sur l’idée de nature humaine ou sur les différences naturelles entre les hommes et les femmes. A force de lutter contre les apprentis sorciers de la postmodernité, ceux qui ont perdu à peu près toutes les batailles politiques et sociétales depuis le 19ème siècle, se transforment en véritables épouvantails, en simples caricatures des “valeurs” qu’ils veulent défendre.

L’auteur de ces lignes se définit comme un conservateur mais qui ne s’interdit pas d’être imaginatif et qui sur les questions de sociétés peine à partager les enthousiasmes ou les terreurs de uns et des autres. Il a du mal à comprendre en quoi l’homosexualité qui a toujours existé est soudainement devenue la grande menace pour la civilisation occidentale. Il ne peut non plus s’empêcher de penser que la volonté de lire les textes religieux à la manière d’un code de morale sexuelle reflète avant tout une prodigieuse perte de sens du Sacré chez leurs soi-disant défenseurs.

L’idée que je voudrais avancer dans ce billet est d’une toute autre nature. Moins qu’une idée, il s’agit d’une simple suggestion qui mériterait de longs développements. Le rapport entre sexualité et nature humaine n’a certes pas attendu les « lumières » de la post-modernité pour être abordé. Il existe même une longue tradition, tant au sein des monothéismes que de la pensée classique qui aborde la question de la nature humaine à partir du symbole de l’androgyne.

C’est ainsi qu’on peut lire dans le Banquet de Platon le texte suivant que je me permets de citer longuement :

Jadis notre nature n’était pas ce qu’elle est à présent, elle était bien différente.

D’abord il y avait trois espèces d’hommes, et non deux, comme aujourd’hui : le mâle, la femelle et, outre ces deux-là, une troisième composée des deux autres ; le nom seul en reste aujourd’hui, l’espèce a disparu. C’était l’espèce androgyne qui avait la forme et le nom des deux autres, mâle et femelle, dont elle était formée ; aujourd’hui elle n’existe plus et c’est un nom décrié. De plus chaque homme était dans son ensemble de forme ronde, avec un dos et des flancs arrondis, quatre mains, autant de jambes, deux visages tout à fait pareils sur un cou rond, et sur ces deux visages opposés une seule tête, quatre oreilles, deux organes de la génération et tout le reste à l’avenant. Il marchait droit, comme à présent, dans le sens qu’il voulait, et, quand il se mettait à courir vite, il faisait comme les saltimbanques qui tournent en cercle en lançant leurs jambes en l’air ; s’appuyant sur leurs membres qui étaient au nombre de huit, ils tournaient rapidement sur eux-mêmes. Et ces trois espèces étaient ainsi conformées parce que le mâle tirait son origine du soleil, la femelle de la terre, l’espèce mixte de la lune, qui participe de l’un et de l’autre. Ils étaient sphériques et leur démarche aussi, parce qu’ils ressemblaient à leurs parents ; ils étaient aussi d’une force et d’une vigueur extraordinaires, et comme ils avaient de grands courages, ils attaquèrent les dieux, et ce qu’Homère dit d’Ephialte et d’Otos, on le dit d’eux, à savoir qu’ils tentèrent d’escalader le ciel pour combattre les dieux.

Alors Zeus délibéra avec les autres dieux sur le parti à prendre. Le cas était embarrassant : ils ne pouvaient se décider à tuer les hommes et à détruire la race humaine à coups de tonnerre, comme ils avaient tué les géants ; car c’était anéantir les hommages et le culte que les hommes rendent aux dieux ; d’un autre côté, ils ne pouvaient non plus tolérer leur insolence. Enfin, Jupiter, ayant trouvé, non sans peine, un expédient, prit la parole : « Je crois, dit-il, tenir le moyen de conserver les hommes tout en mettant un terme à leur licence ; c’est de les rendre plus faibles. Je vais immédiatement les couper en deux l’un après l’autre ; nous obtiendrons ainsi le double résultat de les affaiblir et de tirer d’eux davantage, puisqu’ils seront plus nombreux. Ils marcheront droit sur leurs deux jambes. S’ils continuent à se montrer insolents et ne veulent pas se tenir en repos, je les couperai encore une fois en deux, et les réduirai à marcher sur une jambe à cloche-pied ».

Ayant ainsi parlé, il coupa les hommes en deux, comme on coupe les alizes pour les sécher ou comme on coupe un œuf avec un cheveu ; et chaque fois qu’il en avait coupé un, il ordonnait à Apollon de retourner le visage et la moitié du cou du côté de la coupure, afin qu’en voyant sa coupure l’homme devînt plus modeste, et il lui commandait de guérir le reste. Apollon retournait donc le visage et, ramassant de partout la peau sur ce qu’on appelle à présent le ventre, comme on fait des bourses à courroie, il ne laissait qu’un orifice et liait la peau au milieu du ventre ; c’est ce qu’on appelle le nombril. Puis il polissait la plupart des plis et façonnait la poitrine avec un instrument pareil à celui dont les cordonniers se servent pour polir sur la forme les plis du cuir ; mais il laissait quelques plis, ceux qui sont au ventre même et au nombril, pour être un souvenir de l’antique châtiment.

Or quand le corps eut été ainsi divisé, chacun, regrettant sa moitié, allait à elle ; et, s’embrassant et s’enlaçant les uns les autres avec le désir de se fondre ensemble, les hommes mouraient de faim et d’inaction, parce qu’ils ne voulaient rien faire les uns sans les autres ; et quand une moitié était morte et que l’autre survivait, celle-ci en cherchait une autre et s’enlaçait à elle, soit que ce fût une moitié de femme entière –ce qu’on appelle une femme aujourd’hui –soit que ce fût une moitié d’homme, et la race s’éteignait.

Alors Zeus, touché de pitié, imagine un autre expédient ; il transpose les organes de la génération sur le devant ; jusqu’alors ils les portaient derrière, et ils engendraient et enfantaient non point les uns dans les autres, mais sur la terre, comme les cigales. Il plaça donc les organes sur le devant et par là fit que les hommes engendrèrent les uns dans les autres, c’est-à-dire le mâle dans la femelle. Cette disposition était à deux fins : si l’étreinte avait lieu entre un homme et une femme, ils enfanteraient pour perpétuer la race, et, si elle avait lieu entre un mâle et un mâle, la satiété les séparerait pour un temps, ils se mettraient au travail et pourvoiraient à tous les besoins de l’existence. C’est de ce moment que date l’amour inné des hommes les uns pour les autres : l’amour recompose l’antique nature, s’efforce de fondre deux êtres en un seul, et de guérir la nature humaine. (Platon. Le Banquet. Traduction E. Chambry, 189d. 193d.)

On peut interpréter le texte comme une justification de l’hétérosexualité mais aussi comme suggérant que l’homme ou la femme d’aujourd’hui garde en lui-même la trace d’une androgynéité primordiale et que tout individu est en proportion diverse homme et femme. Ce thème de l’androgyne se retrouve, bien avant l’avènement du Freudisme, à travers toute la tradition de l’ésotérisme occidentale dans des symboles comme celui de l’Adam Kadmon. Il trouve aussi des résonnances dans la pensée de l’Inde, dans le tantrisme ou dans le symbole d’Ardhanarishvara, la divinité formée par l’union de Siva et de Parvati.

Ce détour par des mythes qui, pour certains, appartiennent à la tradition occidentale la plus classique nous semble pouvoir ouvrir des pistes de réflexion et offrir une alternative salutaire au dialogue de sourd entre postmodernistes et conservateurs classiques sur le thème des genres. La question est peut-être moins de se prononcer pour ou contre l’idée de “nature humaine” (dont le besoin se fait toujours sentir face aux puissances de déshumanisation du monde postmoderne) mais de mettre à disposition certaines ressources mythiques et philosophiques pour la repenser. En somme, il s’agirait peut-être de pratiquer une forme d’anamnèse face au péril des idéologies de droite comme de gauche.

Androgyne

About Tolkien

Over the last few months, I found myself more and more attracted by the world of Tolkien. I had long felt that the Ring was closely connected to the myth of the Fall in Christianity. I also discovered more recently that according to Tolkien himself (who in general dislikes allegories), the Ring was a symbol of the machine. One may recall here the analysis of Heidegger about technology as an expression of the “will to power”. There is a deep antimodernist component in the Lord of Ring that puts Tolkien in the lineage of Heidegger but also the traditionalists.

About this latter connection, I came accross an interesting posting by James Cutsinger.

Qatar, Arab Spring and Conspiracy Theory

The beginning of 2013 saw a flourishing of new publications in French about Qatar. For more than a decade, Qatar has carefully worked to shape its international image through a subtle diplomacy balancing between its alliance with the US and its ties with political Islam. With the beginning of the Arab Spring, Qatar has sided however with the revolutionaries, at the risk of making more enemies that it can afford and of losing control of its image.

Among these publications, Nicolas Beau and Jacques Marie Bourget’s Le villain petit Qatar, cet ami qui nous veut du mal deserves to be singled out. The title could not be more explicit. It can be translated as “Nasty little Qatar, this friend who wants to harm us.” At least, the readers know in advance what to expect …

As early as in the introduction, the authors claim that they want to reveal a “State Scandal”, the “hidden face” of Qatar. The French political elites, since the Sarkozy’s presidency have been bought by a small Authoritarian Islamic State from the Gulf, secretly committed to global Islamic hegemony and Jihad. The authors use mostly well-known material that they simply present under the most unfavorable light (treatment of the migrant workers, lack of democracy etc…). At the same time, they ignore the good side of Qatar. No credit is given to Qatari elites for the modernization of their country or for the promotion of women through education etc. In fact, it is hard to find a single positive line about Qatar in the entire book, although the authors deny that are engaging in a form of “Qatar-bashing”.

The book echoes in particular certain theories regarding the revolutionary events of the Middle-Est and that are gaining a new momentum as Syria is descending into Civil War and States like Tunisia and Egypt are struggling. We learn that Qatar is the head of a vast Islamic conspiracy. Al-Jazzera has been used by Qatar as a weapon of mass deception. Its goal was from the beginning to topple down secular regimes and after a brief democratic interlude to establish Islamic governments throughout the region. The Arab Spring itself was in fact manufactured by the US, with the support of Qatar and Al-Jazeera (originally an Israeli idea …). The Obama administration, having seen the failure of the Bush administration to spread democracy by war, decided to train bloggers who later played a pivotal role in the Arab revolutions. The authors are careful however to write that this conspiracy does not explain everything. There was a genuine anger against the corrupted regimes of the Middle-East.

Ultimately, this book falls into the same trap as most of the conspiracy literature. The central thesis is largely incoherent and present Qatar as more powerful than it is. On the one hand, Beau and Bourget show (probably quite correctly) that Qatari investments around the world are not always very successful. The perspectives on the long term are not correctly accessed. On the other hand, the book wants to make the reader believe that Qatari elites would be driven by a long-term goal of Islamic hegemony. Since the very beginning, Al-Jazeera was created for this purpose. Qatar, with the help of the US, would have initiated and controlled the Arab Spring from behind the scene. The authors fail to explain why the US would support a jihadist agenda that they fight in Afghanistan. No sure that Israel is fully comfortable with the plan of the other conspirators.

The book illustrates above all the lack of enthusiasm of France for the Arab revolutions. There is also a clear neo-colonial prejudice: Arabs could not have made their own revolutions. They were necessarily manipulated by outside forces. Also typical of conspiracy theories, the book has to present the conspirators as almost omnipotent, secretly controlling world events and if possible all sides of the conflict at the same time. The more absurd the conspiracy is, the more you are supposed to believe in its existence. We learn for instance that Qatar has a plan to solve the Israelo-palestinian conflict by overthrowing the King of Jordan and replacing him by the head of the Palestinian Hamas. Sure, it is going to work ….

It was probably unavoidable that the Arab Spring, an event that took most observers by surprise, would encourage dubious speculations. After all the French revolution since Augustin Barruel has been presented as the product of vast free-masonic conspiracy by counter-revolutionaries. The fact that Joseph de Maistre himself was a Freemason did not change anything to it.

It is not that there is no conspiracies going on. The world is full of conspirators (and conspiracy hunters ….). The problem is that most of these groups just fail and that that their actions have unexpected consequences for themselves and for others. Take Ahmadinejad for instance. He and his mentor Mesbah Yazdi probably believed in the imminent return of the Mahdi. Unfortunately, the Supreme Guide (who does control the security forces) had a different agenda. The conspirators were just fools, which does not mean that they did cause harm. And the all world knew, thanks to the divine internet. The conspiracy was out … After all, even the US government has also some troubles these days keeping its own secrets.

The attractiveness of conspiracy theories certainly comes from the fact, that disregarding complex socio-economic and cultural evolutions, they pretend to be able to account for unexpected events, to restore the intelligibility of the world. One should wonder if there is a direct correlation between the secularization of our worldview and the attempt to re-enchant history by conspiracy theories. There is an Intelligence behind the scene. It may not be divine but somebody knows what it is doing …

In the meantime, if the reader wants a solid study of Qatar, he should better have a look at Ennasri’s L’Enigme du Qatar (Armand Colin with a preface of Pascal Boniface). He will learn much more about Qatar.

Leo Strauss on the phenomenon of “esoteric writing”

The works of Leo Strauss about the phenomenon of esoteric writing in a context of persecution is probably one of the most fascinating aspects of his legacy. The readers learn with him how to read political philosophy as a “detective story”

The assumption that classical text should be « read between lines » proceeds directly from Strauss’s interest in the theologico-political question. The philosopher needs to justify himself, and the right of free enquiry, both in the eyes of the city and in the eyes of religion. To the extent that he deviates from orthodoxy or social accepted view he will have to conceal his real teaching, practice esoteric writings. Only a certain type of reader will be able to crack the code, to understand his real intention.

This may sound quite conventional in a way. But it proves a quite unsettling hypothesis when interpreting for instance medieval texts. Take what Strauss writes about Farabi, who is generally considered as a neo-platonician:

At the beginning of the treatise On the Attainment of Happiness with which he prefaces his summaries of the philosophies of Plato and of Aristotle, Farabi employs the distinction- between “the happiness of this world in this life” and “the ultimate happiness· in the other life” as a matter of course. In the Plato, which is the second and therefore the least exposed part of a tripartite work, the distinction of the two kinds of happiness is completely dropped. What this silence means becomes clear from the fact that in the whole Plato (which contains summaries of the Gorgias, the Phaedrus, the Phaedo, and the Republic), there is no mention of the immortality of the soul: Farabi’s Plato silently rejects Plato’s doctrine of a life after death.

Farabi could go so far in the Plato, not merely because that treatise is the least exposed and the shortest part of a larger work, but also because .it sets forth explicitly the views of another man. As has been mentioned, he treats differently the two kinds of happiness in On the Attainment of Happiness and in the Plato; and he treats religious knowledge somewhat differently in the Enumeration of the Sciences and in the Plato. Proceeding in accordance with the same rule, he pronounces more or less orthodox views concerning the life after death in The Virtuous Religious Community and The Political Governments, i.e., in works in which he speaks in his own name. More precisely, in The Virtuous Religious Community, he pronounces simply orthodox views, and in The Political Governments he pronounces views which, if heretical, could nonetheless still be considered tolerable. But in his commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics he declares that there is only the happiness of this life, and that all divergent statements are based on “ravings and old women’s tales.'”

Farabi avails himself then of the specific immunity of the commentator or of the historian in order to speak his mind concerning grave matters in his “historical” works, rather than in the works in which he speaks in his own name. Yet could not Farabi, as a commentator, have expounded, without a muttering of dissent, such views as he rejected as a man? Could he not have been attracted, as a student of philosophy, by what he abhorred as a believer? Could his mind not have been of the type that is attributed to the Latin Averroists? It almost suffices to state this suspicion in order to see that it is unfounded. The Latin Averroists gave a most literal interpretation of extremely heretical teachings. But Farabi did just the reverse: he gave an extremely unliteral interpretation of a relatively tolerable teaching. Precisely as a mere commentator of Plato, Farabi was compelled to embrace the doctrine of a life after death. His flagrant deviation from the letter of Plato’s teaching, or his refusal to succumb to Plato’s charms, proves sufficiently that he rejected the belief in a happiness different from the happiness of this life, or the belief in another life. His silence about the immortality of the soul in a treatise designed to present the philosophy of Plato “from its beginning to its end” places beyond any reasonable doubt the inference that the statements asserting the immortality of the ;soul, which occur in some of his other writings, must be regarded as accommodations to the accepted views.

(…)

In the light of these considerations, it would appear to be rash to identify the teaching of the falasifa with what they taught most frequently or most conspicuously. The attempt to establish their serious teaching is rendered still more difficult by the fact that some opponents of the falasifa seem to have thought it necessary to help the falasifa in concealing their teaching, because they feared the harm which its publication would cause to those of their fellow-believers whose faith was weak.

What Farabi indicates in regard to the procedure of the true philosophers, is confirmed by a number of remarks about the philosophic distinction between the exoteric and the esoteric teaching which occur in the writings of his successors. Farabi’s Plato informs us about the most obvious and the crudest reason why this antiquated or forgotten distinction was needed. Philosophy and the philosophers were “in grave danger:’ Society did not recognize philosophy or the right of philosophizing. There was no harmony between philosophy and society. (Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing)

For Leo Strauss, it is because Liberalism has gradually come to prevail in western societies after the Enlightenment, that the phenomenon of esoteric writings has been progressively forgotten (and even denied by historicists). The beginning of modernity was characterized by a progressive collapse of the boundaries between esoteric and exoteric writings. The result is that most readers, even academics, will tend to remain at an exoteric understanding of the classics. The liberal dogma of public transparency has been extended even to those who could not afford it.

The concept of “esoteric writing” is a powerful hermeneutic key that forces us to pay a closer attention to « familiar » texts. In the present western context, persecution may no longer come from religion, but on the contrary from an aggressive secularism or from the hegemony of liberalism that force religious or conservative thinkers to hide their real intention. It was probably the type of attitude that Strauss himself was cultivating in his works.

One may wonder though whether Strauss does not remain trap in a too simplistic post-enlightenment dichotomy between faith and reason, compared for instance to Voegelin’s richer analysis of the phenomenon of noetic illumination in Plato and Aristotle. Strauss takes for granted that reason and faith are irreconcilable, ignoring not only a vast body of literature in the three monotheisms but also possibly distorting the very essence of the teaching of Plato.

The content of the esoteric truth that would be buried behind an exoteric language is itself not very interesting: a post-enlightenment skepticism toward the supernatural. The question of Strauss’s personal religious views has never been fully sorted out but it often seems that “his” esoteric truth is simply that there is no God and no immortality of the soul, that the summum bonum is the life of the intellect, understood in a very secular sense.  In other words, truth is ugly, a cause of individual despair as well as collective disorder. Only an elite can stand it. It sounds a little bit more like Nietzsche than like Plato, doesn’t it?

Strauss alerts us about the phenomenon of esoteric writings. He awakens us from our liberal “dogmatic slumbers”. It does not mean however that we have to accept Strauss’s nihilism as the esoteric truth concealed by the philosophers of the past.

How not to get bored: read “conservative”/ “politically incorrect” thinkers

Sometimes my liberal friends are asking me why I study horrible reactionary/ PI thinkers. There are many reasons why they are important. One of them is that by their more or less radical criticism of western liberal democracies, they do raise vital questions about our present (even if we have to disagree with their conclusions). Heidegger’s attempt to find a response to nihilism ended in a political disaster and moral failure of epic magnitude. The question he asked about our technological and globalized world still haunts us nevertheless.

A lighter response to this question is that … well … you never get bored with these thinkers. Seriously … Take Carl Schmitt for instance. An horrific personality by any ethical or religious standard. But the more you dig into his thought, the more you realize that he cannot be understood without his doctrine of the Katechon. To put it simply, in each age comes a savior that prevents the coming of the Anti-Christ and the end of the world (Sic, just reread Saint Paul). Schmitt really believed that the Jesuit order or the last Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire played this eschatological role … as well as a more sinister German leader of his time (probably he just mixed up the characters in the script).

He was definitively not alone in his apocalyptic dreams. Heidegger waited all his life for a new Parousia (Ereignis), a new coming of Being. With the publication of his Contributions to Philosophy (of the Event), I think it is impossible to deny the messianic and gnostic impulse behind his thought.

Leo Strauss comes from the same intellectual environment but at least he was a much more lucid witness of the ethical bankruptcy of a whole generation of intellectuals, chiefs among them being Schmitt and Heidegger.  Still, reading him is like entering a labyrinth, once you realize that the category of “esoteric writing” that he uses to interpret the writings of medieval and early modern thinkers …. does apply to him also. And Leo Strauss is sometimes described (wrongly I think) as the ideologue behind the dumbest Republican administration you had for decades. When you know that Strauss spent most of his academic life writings about Plato or Hobbes, you have a real mystery to solve out!

Take a last of these “conservatives”: Eric Voegelin. He energetically rejected the label of conservative (really got angry about it apparently) but it was applied to him nonetheless. In his youth, he was a member of the neo-Kantian circle of Kelsen (“The Theory of Pure Law”!).  Toward the end of his life, he was interested in the experience of the Sacred and its symbolization … in the Paleolithicum. Between, you have a voluminous work (some 30 volumes in the Complete work of Eric Voegelin, if I recall well) treating a vast range of subjects from Ancient Egypt to Gnosticism and modern political ideologies or the philosophy of consciousness. He was such a prolific writer that he was still dictating texts on his deathbed! There is little more rewarding than trying to sort out the secret behind his atypical intellectual trajectory (and possibly the back ground religious experience that made it possible).

In the meantime, I just started Benjamin Lazier’s God interrupted about heresy, Gnosticism and pantheism in the Weimar Republic. He claims that Scholem believed at some point in his life that he was the Messiah … well I have to sort this out too ….