The Theological-Political Problem in Leo Strauss’s Writings on Moses Mendelssohn

In: The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy

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  • 26

    Cf. Strauss, What Is Political Philosophy?, 42–45; Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965), 165–251. Strauss’s critique of Mendelssohn’s Plato may be understood as containing quite determinate Heideggerian overtones concerning the emphasis on dying. It has been clearly established by Rodrigo Chacón and Richard Velkley that Strauss was a close and continuous reader of Heidegger; see respectively Rodrigo Chacón, “Reading Heidegger from the Start: On the Heideggerian Origins of ‘Political Philosophy,’ ” European Journal of Political Theory 9, no. 3 (2010): 287–307; Richard L. Velkley, Heidegger, Strauss, and the Premises of Philosophy: On Original Forgetting (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011). It would, however, need to be shown that the reading of Plato (that Strauss juxtaposes to Mendelssohn’s Plato) owes more to Heidegger than to the actual Platonic Phaedo (which Mendelssohn was creatively reworking). Put differently, does Strauss apply Heidegger’s conception of Sein-zum-Tode to Plato, or does he simply draw out an element from the Platonic text? This very interesting question is unfortunately far too large to be pursued in the present context. One issue that would certainly merit consideration in such a discussion, however, is the question of whether it is Plato or Heidegger who ultimately provides the impetus for Strauss’s claim that (for Plato) philosophy requires the maintenance of a distance from bodily concerns.

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  • 30

    Alexander Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn: A Biographical Study (London: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1998), 733. Cf. Spinoza Conversations, 137.

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  • 31

    See Mendelssohn, Morning Hours, 83.

  • 32

    Mendelssohn, Morning Hours, 85; translation slightly modified in accordance with Yaffe’s text.

  • 35

    Leibniz, Theodicy, 288. See Moses Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, 2 vols., trans. Shlomo Pines (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963), 2:442 (part 3, chap. 12). It should be noted, in this context, that Spinoza’s critique of final causality (and, as a result, of divine justice), in the appendix to book 1 of the Ethics, is also based on Maimonides’ critique of anthropocentrism.

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