Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Stanley Rosen's Critique of Leo Strauss

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Stanley Rosen's Critique of Leo Strauss

Article excerpt

Was there ever a pupil, wise or foolish, who in fact agreed with his master in every point?

--Leo Strauss, Liberalism Ancient and Modern

STANLEY ROSEN'S CRITIQUES OF HIS TEACHER, Leo Strauss, are invariably brisk and stylish philosophic polemics. Over the course of more than forty years they have ranged in tone from the pugnacious to the laudatory. As critiques of Strauss go they are consistently in the highest philosophic echelon. What, then, are we to make of their frequent rough-handling of their subject? Even at their most temperate and even-handed--as in Rosen's chapter on Wittgenstein and Strauss in The Elusiveness of the Ordinary--Rosen ' s interpretations of Strauss rely on unsympathetic, distorting readings of Strauss. (1)

A number of scholars have interpreted Rosen's critiques of Strauss as unfair. While they are not dismissive of Rosen, they present an account of his relationship to his teacher that makes him seem either careless, ungenerous in his manner of reading Strauss, or both. (2) These interpretations of Rosen correctly report a litany of false inferences, misplaced claims, forced conclusions, strident pronouncements, and in one case, an important misquotation. Surely the unique combination of brusqueness and celerity that characterizes Rosen's treatments of Strauss gives them warrant. (3) These accounts fail, however, to credit the genuinely philosophical character of Rosen's encounter with Strauss and Rosen's manner of writing. Those who have written on Rosen's philosophical thought are closer to the mark. (4) They remark on Rosen's differences with his teacher but do not at any length account for the extreme peculiarity of Rosen's critiques of Strauss. Without sufficiently addressing themselves to these critiques, these authors have not successfully answered the charge that Rosen's discussion of Strauss rests on a series of willful exaggerations and distortions. Rosen distorts Strauss because according to his own understanding of the nature of philosophy, such a distortion is required. This mode of speech is, for Rosen, an intrinsic element of philosophy. At the same time, paradoxically, Rosen's distortion of Strauss is the mark of respect shown by one thinker of high rank for another.

Rosen claims that philosophers do not really argue with other philosophers, they instead distort and "punish" them for their mistakes. Rosen writes, "Fair-mindedness and objectivity are (sometimes) the traits of scholars, not of thinkers of the highest rank.

Philosophers educate nonphilosophers; they punish other philosophers for their mistakes." (5) Philosophers, on Rosen's account, do not speak to one another, they punish one another:

   No great philosopher that I am familiar with has ever done justice
   to his great teacher. The same could be said of Hegel's critique of
   Kant, Heidegger's critique of Husserl, Derrida's critique of
   Heidegger and so on. All major thinkers, all people of the highest
   standing, the first thing they want to do is to destroy their
   teachers. Aristotle is very respectful towards Plato, but he always
   presents Plato's view in such a way as to make it implausible, or
   indefensible, in his own, Aristotelian terms, which makes it
   possible for him to establish how superior his own doctrines are to
   those of Plato. I can understand that. (6)

The same could be said of Rosen's critique of Strauss. Rosen distorts Strauss, presents Strauss in "Rosenian" terms, to punish him.

Someone could object, in sympathy with those writers who present Rosen's critique of Strauss as a cataract of misinformation and distortion, that Rosen's remark on philosophers getting other philosophers wrong is a back-handed attempt to certify his own classification with thinkers of the highest rank. This objection fails to account for the consistency of Rosen's distortion of Strauss. As we shall discuss presently, in Rosen's most interesting, even-handed, and temperate critique of Strauss, presented as the fourth chapter of Rosen's book, The Elusiveness of the Ordinary, the features of Rosen's various points of critique all derive from the same principle: Rosen's distortion of Strauss on the issue of opinion. …

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