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ANoteonLeoStrauss'InterpretationofRousseau HilailGildin

LeoStrausspublishedtwoarticlesonRousseau'spoliticalphilosophy. ThesecondofthesebecameChapter6,SectionA,of NaturalRightand History. Both are concerned with Rousseau's political philosophy as a wholeandtheyattempttoshowthatRousseauisjustifiedinclaiminghis teachingtobecoherentinspiteofthebewilderingvarietyofarrestingly lucid and violently opposed assertions that one finds in his writings. Althoughthescopeofbotharticlesiscomprehensive,adifferentwriting byRousseaustandsatthecenterofeachofthem.ThefirstarticleOnthe IntentionofRousseauisastudyofRousseau'sthoughtasreflected,for the most part, in the Discourse on the Sciences and Arts. In the later article, the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality occupies the center. SeveralprominentBritishscholarsinthe70'sdrewattentiontotheimpor tance of Strauss' contribution to the study of Rousseau. (This point de servestobemadeinthelightofattemptsbysometocreatetheimpression that,inEnglandatleast,nothingthatStrausswroteafterhis1936bookon Hobbeswastakenseriouslybyanyonewhocounted.)In1972,Maurice CranstonandRichardS.Peterspublishedacollectionofcriticalessayson HobbesandRousseau.TheirIntroductiondrawsattentiontothechangein attitudetowardsRousseauasapoliticalphilosophersincetheyearsprior tothesecondworldwar.Whereasitwasthefashionbeforethewarto dismissRousseauasasinisterromantic,aforerunneroffascismandof communism,hehasmorerecentlybeenreadwithgreaterrespect.Citing withapprovalaleadarticleoftheTLSinJune1970,CranstonandPeters
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Inthefollowing,referencestoOntheIntentionofRousseauwillmakeuseof theabbreviationIR.ThearticlewasreprintedinHobbesandRousseau,ed.by MauriceCranstonandRichardS.Peters(GardenCity,NewYork:Doubleday& Company,AnchorBooks,1972).Pagereferenceswillbetothatcollection.Leo StraussNaturalrightandHistory(Chicago:UniversityofChicagoPress,1952) will be referred to by the abbreviation NRH, and his What Is Political Philosophy?(Glencoe,Ill.:FreePress,1959)bytheabbreviationWIPP.
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suggest that this change might be dated from two publishing events: BertranddeJouvenel'seditionof DuContratSocial,whichcameoutin Genevain1947, andLeo Strauss' essayonRousseau'sDiscourssurles Sciences et les Arts, which appeared about the same time in Social Research,NewYork.Theeditorsgoontospeakofthenewtraditionof Rousseau scholarship initiated by Jouvenel and Strauss (Hobbes and Rousseau,pp.23). ThefirstofthetwoarticlesbyStraussseekstoestablishthatRousseau recoveredtheclassicalideaofphilosophyorscience,animportantpartof whichistheclassicalunderstandingoftherelationbetweenscienceand society. Strausstracesthecentraldifficultieswhichconfronttheserious studentofRousseau'steachingtoRousseau'sefforttopreservetheclas sicalideaofphilosophyonthebasisofmodernnaturalscience(IR290). TheanalysisofRousseauinNaturalRightandHistoryretainstheseresults totheextentofliterallyincorporatingpartsofthemwithinitself.Thelater treatmentalsotracesthegravestdifficultiesinRousseautothefactthat his Socratic wisdom is ultimately based on . . . a particular kind of theoreticalscience,namely,modernnaturalscience(NRH263).Strauss' later analysis makes two important advances over his previous one. Rousseau is seen, in a broader horizon, as the political philosopher in whose thought the first crisis of modernity occurred (NRH 252). Moreover, Strauss no longer maintains that, according to Rousseau, genuinephilosophyisthehighesthumanpossibility,althoughitremains indispensable for what Rousseau is now held to maintain that highest possibilitytobe. OnecanunderstandthedevelopmentofStrauss'inter pretationofRousseauonthebasisofStrauss'deepenedunderstandingof modern political philosophy and of his continued study of Rousseau's writings.Nothingextraneoustotheseisneededtounderstandthatdevel opment. Thethoughtfulreaderofthe DiscourseontheSciencesandArts is boundtobebewilderedbythecontradictionstobefoundinit.Ontheone hand,Rousseauattackslearningasharmfultothecityandtovirtue.On the other, he enthusiastically praises philosophy or science and its out

standingrepresentatives. AccordingtoStrauss,thisdifficulty(aswellas others)isovercomeonceonerealizesthatRousseauinattackingscienceis, ashehimselfdeclares,attackingtheEnlightenment'sunderstandingofit, and in particular the Enlightenment's understanding of the relation betweenphilosophyandsociety.Heopposesthebeliefthatthepopular izationanddiffusionofphilosophicknowledgeisessentialtoasoundpo liticalorderandtendstobringsuchanorderabout.Headoptstheclassi calviewaccordingtowhichthereisadisproportionratherthanaharmony between philosophy and society. Strauss suggests at one point that in Rousseauthisdisproportionisintensifiedintoanopposition(IR289). According to Strauss' earlier article, Rousseau's attack on the Enlightenmentarisesnotonlyoutofaconcernwithwhatisgoodforafree society but even more out of a concern with what is good for genuine philosophy. Everyonewilladmitthatinthe Discours Rousseauattacks theEnlightenmentintheinterestofsociety.Whatiscommonlyoverlooked isthefactthatheattackstheEnlightenmentintheinterestofphilosophyor scienceaswell. Infact,sinceheconsiderssciencesuperiorindignityto society, one must say that he attacks the Enlightenment chiefly in the interest of philosophy. When he attacks the belief that the diffusion of scientific knowledge has a salutary effect on society, he is chiefly con cernedwiththeeffectofthatbeliefonscience. Heisshockedbytheab surdityofphilosophyhavingdegeneratedintoafashionorofthefight againstprejudicehavingitselfbecomeaprejudice(IR2689).Insupport ofhisoverallinterpretation,Straussnotonlyreferstobutquotesthefol lowingimportantremarkbyRousseauandsuppliesanEnglishtranslation ofit: thedevelopmentofenlightenmentandvicealwaystakesplacein thesame ratio, notin the individuals, but in the peoplesa distinction whichIhavealwayscarefullymadeandwhichnoneofthosewhohasat tackedmehaseverbeenabletounderstand(IR2645). Inhisearlierarticle,StraussunderstandsRousseauasadefenderofgen uine philosophy who regards himself as genuine philosopher and who regards the life of genuine philosophy as the highest life. Rousseau's strong praise of natural freedom points, according to Strauss, to

Aristotle'spraiseofthephilosophiclifewhichistheonlyfreelife....(IR 265).TheperfectlyhappysolitarycontemplativeoftheReveriesisunder stoodasthephilosopherengagedinpureanddisinterestedcontemplation (IR267).Rousseau'soccasionalpraise,inthiswork,ofthelifeofsavagesis alsothoughtbyStrausstopointtothephilosophiclife: thenotioncon nectingnaturalmanwithwisemanisgenius,Straussobserves,andhe quotesMontesquieutotheeffectthatthespeculativesciencesmakemen savage(IRnote58).Inphilosophizing,Straussaffirms,manasserts his natural freedom. By natural liberty or independence Rousseau is believedtomeanphilosophy(IR2756). StraussdoesnotleavetheattentivereaderofNaturalRightandHistory in the dark concerning the relation between the account of Rousseau offered there and his previous one. In the course of summarizing the results of his previous analysis, Strauss arrives at the suggestion that Rousseaureturnedtotheclassicalviewaccordingtowhichscienceisgood for the small number of true philosophers among whom he counts himself,butbadforthepeoples....(NRH260).Atthispoint,Strauss restatestheconclusionbywhichhehadbeenearlierattractedandexplains whyhethinksitisnecessarytogobeyondit.

ItmightthenseemthatitwasRousseau'sbeliefinthefunda mental disproportion between science and society (or the people)whichwastheprimaryreasonforhisbeliefthatthe conflictbetweentheindividualandsocietyisinsolubleorfor hismakinganultimatereservationonbehalfoftheindivid ual,i.e.,ofthefewprivilegedsoulsagainsttheclaimsof eventhebestsociety.Thisimpressionisconfirmedbythefact thatRousseaufindsthefoundationsofsocietyintheneedsof thebodyandthathesaysofhimselfthatnothingrelatedtothe interest of his body could ever truly occupy his soul; he himselffindsinthejoysandrapturesofpureanddisinter estedcontemplationsforexample,thestudyofplantsinthe spiritofTheophrastusperfecthappinessandagodlikeself

sufficiency.ThustheimpressiongrowsthatRousseausought torestoretheclassicalideaofphilosophyasopposedtothe Enlightenment. It is certainly in opposition to the En lightenment that he reasserts the crucial importance of the naturalinequalityofmeninregardtointellectualgifts. But onemustaddatoncethattheinstantRousseautakesholdof the classical view he succumbs again to the powers from whichhesoughttoliberatehimself. Thesamereasonwhich forceshimtoappealfromcivilsocietytonatureforceshimto appealfromphilosophyorsciencetonature.(NRH262) Strauss'deeperinterpretationoftheDiscourseonInequalityledhimto revisehisunderstandingofthe Reveries aswell. Whatnowemergesis that,bythinkingthroughtheaccountsofthestateofnatureofferedbyhis greatpredecessors,Rousseauarrivesatconclusionswhichindeedfollow fromtheirpremisesbutwhichtheyhadfailedtodraw.Naturalmaninthe stateofnaturenowappearsto beasubhuman animal,lackingreason, lackingsociability,lackingwhatonewouldcallheadandheartalthough alsolackingtheirperversions.Manasheisnowis,isunderstoodtobethe productofalonghistoricaldevelopment.Thatdevelopmentissomehow unavoidable,eventhoughitisinnosensepartofwhatnatureintendedfor maninthefranklymetaphoricalsenseinwhichnaturecanbesaidtohave intendedmantohaveeyesandorgansoflocomotion.Throughtheacqui sition of powerschiefly language and reasonwhich nature never intended man to possess, even though, because it was nature and not providence, it could not prevent their development, man underwent transformations that, at least for the overwhelming majority of human beings,werecontrarytohisnatureasasolitaryandindependentbeing. Onthebasisofthisfreshanalysisofthe DiscourseonInequality Strauss now affirms that it is indeed of the savages that Rousseau is speaking when he praises them (NRH 254, 273, 282, 290). The difficulty which confrontsRousseau at this point isthatthe subhuman animal he infers naturalmantohavebeenseemsincapableofsupplyingastandardforman ashenowis.Ontheotherhand,Rousseau,whoacceptedmodernscience andrejectedteleology,sawnoalternativetoappealingtonaturalmanasa

standard. This difficulty, and its implications, leads Strauss to refer to Rousseau'sthoughtasthefirstcrisisofmodernity.Rousseau'stirelessef fortstoovercomeit,hisclaimtohavedoneso,andlingeringdoubtsover whetherthatclaimwasvalid,contributedtothefermentcreatedbyhis thought. Thehappy,freeandindependentsavageofthestateofnaturebecomes Rousseau'snorm.HenceRousseau'sanswertothequestionofthegood lifetakesonthisform:thegoodlifeconsistsintheclosestapproximation tothestateofnaturewhichispossibleonthelevelofhumanity(NRH 282). Onthepoliticalplaneonlyapartialapproximationtothestateofnature ispossiblebecausethetruecitizensimplycannotbeasolitary. Onthe individualplane,however,acompletereturntothestateofnatureonthe levelofhumanityispossible,ifonlyforextraordinaryindividuals.Itisin thislightthatStraussnowunderstandsRousseau'sReveries.Thesolitary contemplativeisnolongerseenasthephilosopherengagedinthelifeof contemplationforitsownsake. Rousseauhasspokeninglowingtermsofthecharmsand raptures of solitary contemplation. By solitary contempla tionhedoesnotunderstandphilosophyortheculminationof philosophy. Solitarycontemplation,asheunderstandsit,is altogetherdifferentfrom,nottosayhostileto,thinkingorob servation. It consists of, or it leads up to, the feeling of existence,i.e.,thepleasantfeelingofone'sownexistence.If manhas withdrawnfromeverythingoutsidehimself,ifhe hasemptiedhimselfofeveryaffectionotherthanthefeelingof existence, he enjoys the supreme felicitygodlike self sufficiencyandimpassibility;hefindsconsolationonlyinhim selfbybeingfullyhimselfandbybelongingfullytohimself, sincethepastandthefutureareextinguishedforhim.Itisin giving himself completely to this feeling that civilized man

completesthereturn totheprimitivestateofnatureonthe levelofhumanity.

ItisofthesolitarycontemplativesounderstoodthatStrausssays:The typeofmanforeshadowedbyRousseau,whichjustifiescivilsocietyby transcendingit,isnolongerthephilosopherbutwhatlatercametobe calledtheartist(NRH291f.). StraussdoesnotclaimtohaveansweredinNaturalRightandHistory everyimportantquestionthatcouldberaisedaboutRousseau'steaching. Among the questions still awaiting an answer are the following. Accordingto Strauss, thefeelingofexistenceas Rousseauexperienced anddescribedithasaricharticulationwhichmusthavebeenlackinginthe feelingofexistenceasitwasexperiencedbymaninthestateofnature.In what does this rich articulation consist? Strauss observes, in What is PoliticalPhilosophy,thatbygivinghimselftothesolefeelingofhispre sentexistencewithoutanythoughtofthefuture,bythuslivinginblessed oblivionofeverycareandfear,theindividualsensesthesweetnessofall existence:hehasreturnedtonature(WIPP53).Howdoesthesolefeeling ofone'sownpresentexistencebecomethefeelingofthesweetnessofall existence?Wasthefeelingofexistenceofthesavageofthischaracter?To putwhatisperhapsthesamequestionsomewhatdifferently,whatisthe relation,ifany,betweentheecstaticfeelingofexistencedescribedinthe FifthofRousseau's Reveries andtheecstaticfeelingofunitywithnature describedintheSeventhone? Inhis1962lecturesonRousseau,Straussraisedseriousdoubtsconcern ingwhetherRousseaubelievedthebestepochinthestateofnaturetohave beenquiteashappyaperiodasthe DiscourseonInequality affirms. A longquotationfromPlutarchin mile regardingwhattheearliesttimes weretrulylikemakesonewonderwhetherRousseauhimselfthoughtthe youthofthehumanracetohavebeenquiteasblissfulasitisdepictedin theDiscourseonInequality.AcloserlookatwhatRousseaudoesinfact assertintheDiscourseonInequalityrevealsthat,accordingtohim,what

hehastosayaboutthehappyperiodinthestateofnatureisfranklycon jectural.Whatisnotconjectural,accordingtoremarkshemakesattheend ofPart1oftheDis courseonInequality ,ishissubhumanstartingpointon theonehandandmenasweseethemtodayontheother.Butitisnotof thatstartingpointthattheclaimsregardingthehappiestperiodinthelife ofthehumanracearemade. Thoseclaimsaremadeofthehypothetical period that follows the nonhypothetical pure and primitive state of nature. Rousseauobservesthateveryalternativeconstructiontotheone heemploystobridgethegapbetweenoriginalmanandmanashenowis wouldenablehimtodrawthesameconclusionsasthosehearrivesatfrom hisownconstruction.Totheextentthatheisseekingtoshowthatmanis bynaturegoodandnottoblamefortheevilswithwhichhislifeisbeset,it isclearthataharshstateofnaturewouldleadtothatresultmoredirectly thantherouteRousseauchoosestotake.Totheextentthatindependence and equality are naturally sanctioned norms embodied in Rousseau's startingpoint,theirstatusasdesiderataisunaffectedbythewayinwhich thetransitionfromthebeginningtowhatoneseesisdescribed.Thehappy youthofthehumanracebecomes,inthelightoftheseconsiderations,a metaphorforRousseau'snormratherthananadequateexpressionofit. Oneisthereforeleftwonderingwhere,inRousseau'swritings,anadequate expressionofitistobefound.
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Important reflections concerning these points, and, on occasion, offering a different interpretation, are to be found in Heinrich Meier's critical edition, with German translation and commentary, of Rousseau's Discours sur l'ingalit(Paderborn:FerdinandSchningh,1984,xcii+532pp.)andinVictor Gourevitch's long review essay of that edition (Rousseau's Pure State of Nature,Interpretation16/1[1988]:pp.2359).
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