Strauss Against the End State

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Bronze Age Pervert

In some unusually combative and satirical, sometimes emotional language, Strauss attacks Kojeve's idea of the "universal and homogenous state" that is supposed to exist at the end of History as its fulfillment. From On Tyranny, "Restatement":

NOTE: below Strauss keeps referring a lot to "human beings" and only a few times to "men." The distinction exists in Greek, anthropos vs. aner, anthropoi vs. andres. The former are just "human beings" of some kind, but the latter word refers specifically to men, as in real men... in particular Achilles is an aner, while others around him are just "human beings"; the distinction is not just abstract or when Strauss specifically uses the word andres at a critical point, he means to point to this.

<<According to Kojeve...>> classical philosophy created the idea of the universal state. Modern philosophy, which is the secularized form of Christianity, created the idea of the universal and homogenous state. On the other hand, the progress of philosophy and its transmutation into wisdom requires the "active negation" of the previous political states, i.e., requires the action of the tyrant: only when "all possible active [political] negations" and thus the final state of the political development has been reached, can and will the quest for wisdom give way to wisdom.

I need not examine Kojeve's sketch of the history of the Western world. That sketch would seem to presuppose the truth of the thesis which it is meant to prove. Certainly the value of the conclusion he draws from this sketch depends entirely on the truth of the assumption that the universal and homogenous state is the simply best social order. The simply best social order, as he conceives of it, is the state in which every human being finds his full satisfaction. A human being finds his full satisfaction if his human dignity is universally recognized and if he enjoys "equality of opportunity," i.e., the opportunity, corresponding to his capacities, of deserving well of the state or of the whole. Now if it were true that in the universal and homogenous state, no one has any good reason for being dissatisfied with that state, or for negating it, it would not yet follow that everyone would be satisfied with it and never think of actively negating it, for men do not always act reasonably. Does Kojeve not underestimate the power of the passions? Does he not have an unfounded belief in the eventually rational effect of the movements instigated by the passions? In addition, men will have very good reasons for being dissatisfied with the universal and homogenous state. To show this, I must have recourse to Kojeve's more extensive exposition in his Introduction a la lecture de Hegel. There are degrees of satisfaction. The satisfaction of the humble citizen, whose human dignity is universally recognized and who enjoys all opportunities that correspond to his humble capacities and achievements, is not comparable to the satisfaction of the Chief of State. Only the Chief of State is " really satisfied." He alone is "truly free." (p. 146) Did Hegel not say something to the effect that the state in which one man is free is the Oriental despotic state? Is the universal and homogenous state then merely a planetary Oriental despotism? However this may be, there is no guarantee that the incumbent Chief of State deserves his position to a higher degree than others. Those others then have very good reason for dissatisfaction: a state that treats equal men unequally is not just. A change from the universal-homogenous monarchy into a universal-homogenous aristocracy would seem to be reasonable. But we cannot stop here. The universal and homogenous state, being the synthesis of the Masters and the Slaves, is the state of the working warrior or of the war-waging worker. In fact, all of its members are warrior-workers (pp. 114, 146). But if the state is universal and homogenous "wars and revolutions are henceforth impossible" (pp. 145, 561). Besides, work in the strict sense, namely the conquest and domestication of nature, is completed, for otherwise the universal and homogenous state could not be the basis for wisdom (p. 301). Of course, work of a kind will still go on, but the citizens of the final state will work as little as possible, as Kojeve notes with explicit reference to Marx (p. 435). To borrow an expression which someone used recently in the House of Lords on a similar occasion, the citizens of the final state are only so-called workers, workers by courtesy. "There is no longer fight nor work. History has come to its end. There is nothing more to do." (pp. 385, 114) This end of History would be most exhilarating but for the fact that, according to Kojeve, it is the participation in bloody political struggles as well as in real work or, generally expressed, negating action, which raises man above the brutes (pp. 490-492, 560, 378n). The state through which man is said to become reasonably satisfied is, then, the state in which the basis of man's humanity withers away, or in which man loses his humanity. It is the state of Nietzsche's "last man." Kojeve in fact confirms the classical view that unlimited technological progress and its accompaniment, which are indispensable conditions of the universal and homogenous state, are destructive of humanity. It is perhaps possible to say that the universal and homogenous state is fated to come. But it is certainly impossible to say that man can be reasonably satisfied with it. If the universal and homogenous state is the goal of History, History is absolutely "tragic." Its completion will reveal that the human problem, and hence in particular the problem of the relation of philosophy and politics, is insoluble. For centuries and centuries men have unconsciously done nothing but work their way through infinite labors and struggles and agonies, yet ever again catching hope, toward the universal and homogenous state, and as soon as they have arrived at the end of their journey, they realize that through arriving at it they have destroyed their humanity and thus returned, as in a cycle, to the prehuman beginnings of History. Vanitas vanitatum. Recognitio recognitiorum. Yet there is no reason for despair as long as human nature has not been conquered completely, i.e., as long as sun and man still generate man. There will always be men ( andres ) who will revolt against a state which is destructive of humanity or in which there is no longer a possibility of noble action and of great deeds. They may be forced into a mere negation of the universal and homogenous state, into a negation not enlightened by any positive goal, into a nihilistic negation. While perhaps doomed to failure, that nihilistic revolution may be the only action on behalf of man's humanity, the only great and noble deed that is possible once the universal and homogenous state has become inevitable. But no one can know whether it will fail or succeed. We still know too little about the universal and homogenous state to say anything about where and when its corruption will start. What we do know is only that it will perish sooner or later (see Friedrich Engels' Ludwig Feuerbach, ed. by Hans Hajek, p. 6). Someone may object that the successful revolt against the universal and homogenous state could have no other result than that the identical historical process which has led from the primitive horde to the final state will be repeated. But would such a repetition of the process--a new lease of life for man's humanity--not be preferable to the indefinite continuation of the inhuman end? Do we not enjoy every spring although we know the cycle of the seasons, although we know that winter will come again? Kojeve does seem to leave an outlet for action in the universal and homogenous state. In that state the risk of violent death is still involved in the struggle for political leadership (p. 146). But this opportunity for action can exist only for a tiny minority. And besides, is this not a hideous prospect: a final state in which the last refuge of man's humanity is political assassination in the particularly sordid form of the palace revolution? Warriors and workers of all countries, unite, while there is still time, to prevent the coming of the "realm of freedom." Defend with might and main, if it needs to be defended, "the realm of necessity."

CONTINUED BELOW...will post part two soon