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Green, Kenneth Hart. Leo Strauss and the Rediscovery of Maimonides.

GREEN, Kenneth Hart. Leo Strauss and the Rediscovery of Maimonides. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. ix + 207pp. Cloth, $35.00--This is a companion volume to Leo Strauss on Maimonides: The Complete Writings, edited by Kenneth Hart Green, a collection of probing, ground-breaking essays by the political philosopher Leo Strauss (1899-1973) on Moses Maimonides (1135-1204). Pursuant to his second thoughts about the usual description of Maimonides as a Jewish Aristotelian, Strauss argued elaborately, if subtly, that Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed and related writings on the foundations of Jewish law, and so forth, were more deeply indebted to Platonic political philosophy. The present volume shows how Strauss meanwhile found in Maimonides his own philosophical role model.

Accordingly, Green's seven chapters address seven meta-questions.

First, what did Strauss see in Maimonides beyond what others saw or claimed to see? Strauss was surprised, says Green, that Maimonides turned out to have clearer insight, both theoretical and practical, than his most formidable modern critics (including Spinoza and Hermann Cohen) into the difference between belief and knowledge, that is, between religion and philosophy, or Jerusalem and Athens.

Second, if so, how did others miss what Strauss found? Green answers that they discounted Maimonides' irony, his understated (or "exoteric") writing style that enabled him to instruct adherents of "Jerusalem" without unduly flaunting "Athenian" premises, and vice versa--by expressing himself in a manner congenial to both sets of readers at the same time, so as to allow each reader to examine his way of life on its own terms and to consider its competitor on its terms as needed and at his own pace.

Third, however, isn't Maimonides' mind limited or biased by being "medieval"? Green points out, following Strauss, that we do not know this to be so beforehand in the case of deep thinkers and, in any case, that Maimonides at bottom may (and, if Strauss is right, does) prove to be an exception.

Yet fourth, if as already suggested Maimonides deliberately conceals his deeper thought, what lets Strauss (or anyone else) think it can be penetrated here and now? Strauss himself cites a key Maimonidean passage addressing this same question, to the effect that Maimonides writes above all for those "single virtuous ones" who are willing and able to follow Maimonides' own elaborate clues about how to penetrate his intricate literary defenses; in Green's words, "he made them work for it; they must become diligent students or careful readers ... a strategy Strauss himself adopted, especially in his last essays, which seem to imitate much of the circuitousness and even evasiveness characteristic of what Strauss discerned in Maimonides."

Fifth, why do we modems still need the medievals? Green emphasizes that Strauss does not advise us to swallow them whole but suggests instead that studying them helps us address three pressing needs: (1) it opens us to the possibility of recovering philosophical truths lost or ruled out by modern thought; (2) it fosters our independence of mind, by encouraging us to venture outside our customary modern premises so as to be able to assess their merits afresh in the light of formerly (and perhaps currently) plausible alternatives; and (3) it offers closer access to our ancient religious roots as found in the Hebrew Bible and subsequent Jewish tradition, so as to let us grasp these without being encumbered by the premises peculiar to modern thought.

Sixth, would Strauss have us dismiss out of hand the dominant Maimonides scholars prior to himself--Salomon Munk, Julius Guttmann, Isaac Husik, and Harry A. Wolfson--each of whom he is on record as disagreeing with radically? On the contrary, Green notes that Strauss considered these scholars, along with others, "essentially representative of the spectrum of modern philosophic thought and ... unacknowledged exponents of its positions: Enlightenment rationalism, historical romanticism, neo-Kantianism, or existentialism (whether in its Nietzschean, Kierkegaardian, or Heideggerian variety)," so that examining their arguments in appropriately thorough detail would amount to judging those various positions by Maimonidean standards and would have the potential benefit it had for Strauss, namely, vindicating Maimonides' thought as superior to that of his modern critics.

Finally, why does Strauss consider Maimonides--rather than, in the circumstances, Plato--to be not only, as Strauss says, the '"classic of rationalism' in Judaism" but also "the tree natural model" for rationalism per se and "the stumbling-block on which modern rationalism falls"? Citing Strauss's testimony about his career-long, frequently interrupted but never entirely abandoned study of Maimonides, Green speculates that he was attracted to Maimonides' uncompromising attention to the full claims of both "Jerusalem" and "Athens," that is, to the ongoing challenge each poses to the other in its claim to be the best or most reasonable guide to life for Western civilized human beings.

Green's lively meta-discussion is to be welcomed by both cognoscenti and newcomers.--Martin D. Yaffe, University of North Texas.
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Author:Yaffe, Martin D.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2014
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