Friday, 4 May 2012
Leo Strauss, the Kuzari, and the natural inferiority of Black people
This is a link to Leo Strauss's essay on the Kuzari & Natural Law.
How many people who have read Leo Strauss's "Persecution and the Art of Writing" go on to read the Kuzari? What would be the consequence if this was routine?
What does the Kuzari actually say?- the key argument used by the rabbi to convert the King of the Khazars goes like this- "Granted Judaism & Xtianity & Islam are ridiculous because a just God would not play favourites- and hence there can be no chosen people- but, clearly, because of the manifest inferiority of black people, it follows that God does indeed play favourites. This is not logical, it is not just, but it's the way things are. And, if even one race is inferior to another then the notion of a hierarchy of races becomes logical. Since Moses- who is admitted to be a prophet by all religions- was a lawgiver only to the Jews, it follows Jews are the chosen race. The Jews are in mystical relationship with the King of India, who senselessly lavishes gifts on foreign friends of his friends, without any benefit whatsoever to the people of his country. Thus the Kuzari King, by becoming a Jew, gains a station not equal to the real Jews but still beneficial to himself.
Hitler, of course, also used the notion of the 'natural' inferiority of one race to justify his policies. If the policies of the King of the Belgians were Christian enough for the Congo then why not Hiterism in Europe? It was sufficient to say the Germans were superior to the Slavs or Lithuanians or whatever for a policy of ethnic cleansing to increase German 'living space' to be justified. If this brought the Germans into conflict with the French and their British Allies- then so much the worse for the Allies.
The problem for philosophy, in Strauss's time, was that it had to proceed without accepting the premises of 'ordinary people'- but then validate them by the back door to gain currency within its own narrow coterie. The exoteric shell of philosophical literature was couched in the (seemingly) liberal language of universals but the esoteric kernel was the same old same old which passes for worldly wisdom. This, indeed, is the abiding scandal of philosophy.
What are the implications for how we should judge Straussian advocates of regime change? Answer- The slogan 'When America makes you its bitch, Democracy is the reach-around." should not be taken literally. Democracy is actually about acknowledging your natural inferiority to America and your placing the whole of your population in a hierarchical chain of submission so as to best serve the superior.
The |American army is not in the business of nation-building. Regime change must occur by 'shock and awe'. The true force mulitplier here arises out of a condign acknowledgment of 'naural inferiority' and the reconstitution of the polity to pay an infinite tribute.
Democracy is servitude to the only Democratic power. Just as the King of the Kuzari does not himself rise to a level of equality with the real Jews, but gains some immaterial benefit by clienthood, so to does Iraq, Afghanistan and (had Madam Bhutto lived) now perhaps Pakistan. Indeed, Christopher Hitchens tells us that a grandson of Imam Khomeini came to the U.S to urge a U.S invasion of Iran.
While this may be true, Politics is a game in which everyone has to talk as stupidly as possible, the notion that young Khomeini, or any other Iranian for that matter, really worships the only Super Power in the selfless manner Power always requres is surely quite absurd and risible.
Of course, Strauss himself was a master of 'writing between the lines'. He gave himself an alibi by talking only of Arab & Sephardic writers in his book and putting forward the thesis that the Arabs did not have Cicero and the Stoic conception of "Natural Law" which (supposedly) informs the Common Law tradition and hence shores up the myth of American exceptionalism. But this is quite senseless. Islam insists on the
priority of Justice over Prophesy. Prophet Muhammad said 'I was born in the reign of a just King'. The rule of a just infidel is better than that of an unjust Believer. Truth and Justice were absolute values for the Persians. Indeed, as Herodotus records, the origin of free political thought occurred "after the slaughter of the Magi, when the truth-loving Persians" sat down to discuss what the best form of government for themseves might be.
The historical context further exculpates Strauss- his people were being mercilessly (and utterly senselessly) killed and rescue could only come from countries and Empires which were based on the doctrine of the natural inferiority of the black man. This has nothing to do with Judaism. Indeed, Shulamith, the personification of the Sabbath, in Halevi and other poets down to Celan, is a black woman (the Queen of Sheba). Later on, the Israeli's airlifted the Falassha jews out of Ethiopia during the famine. Why does Halevi use an argument based on a notion of natural inferiority of the black which had no basis in either Classical thought or the universe of Islam? Again we have to look at the specific historical context. Halevi and Maimonides were persecuted by a North African dynasty which was also engaged against the empire of Ghana. In other words, the puritanical Berber rulers who persecuted the Jews- (who found refuge in other Muslim countries of North Africa)- may have used a racist language against the black people whom they were trying to conquer. Furthermore, the greatest of the Arab poets, Mutanabi, had written much satire against the Black Sultan of Egypt who was also hated by the Ismailis. However, this is merely vilification of the enemy whom you are trying to conquer or enslave- i.e. it is a mean spirited polemic rather than a systematic doctrine of 'natural inferiority'. It does not represent a bedrock finding of folk empiricism.
I am not saying Strauss or any other Jew who cared about what was happening in Europe was anti-black. On the contrary. Actually, the truth is, there is now, there always has been, a chosen people- it is those being slaughtered or enslaved. Those who suffer are special. Celebrating exactly those attributes for which they are singled out as being the hall mark of divinity is a religious obligation.
As Leo Strauss says
But not only has this nothing to do with either philosophy or politics- even religious works interpreted by thinkers thus tainted prove not merely unavailing against evil but active forces for harm long after the original context in which they were composed has long been forgotten.
Who persecutes the philosopher? It is writing itself. Why? Because it is a mirror- Vanity's instrument and Vanity's undoing- thus all is Vanity sayeth the Preacher and only thus are books compiled.