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The problem of the Enlightenment: Strauss, Jacobi, and the Pantheism controversy.

Denn was die Philosophen sogar ein wenig nachsehend und parteiisch gegen Enthusiasten und Schwarmer macht, ist, dass sie, die Philosophen, am allermeisten dabei verlieren wurden, wenn es gar keine Enthusiasten und Schwarmer mehr gabe. Lessing, Uber eine zeitige Aufgabe


IN HIS FIRST BOOK, LEO STRAUSS PROVIDES the reader with an interesting clue to one of the sources of his groundbreaking critical study of the Theological-Political Treatise. While identifying the guiding question of his undertaking, he also points out its pedigree:
 Even if all the reasoning adduced by Spinoza were compelling,
 would have been proven. Only this much would have been proven: that
 on the basis of unbelieving science, one could not but arrive at
 results. But would this basis itself thus be justified? It was
 Heinrich Jacobi who posed this question, and by so doing lifted the
 of Spinoza--or what amounts to the same thing--the criticism
 of Spinoza on to its proper plane. (1)

This statement is both literally and figuratively singular: the only reference to Jacobi in the whole book, unaccompanied by any mention of its source, it makes us wonder about the importance of this author for Strauss's endeavour. A renowned critic of the Enlightenment, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi (1743-1819) singled out Spinoza as one of the main targets of his attacks. (2) Similarly, in Spinoza's Critique of Religion, Strauss casts doubt on the legitimacy of Spinoza's attack against revealed religion, thereby also questioning the foundations of the Enlightenment. In a discerning review of the book, his contemporary Gerhard Kruger noted that in Spinoza's Critique of Religion, "there is concealed a fundamental philosophic discussion of the problem of the Enlightenment." (3) If this interpretation is sound, then from a merely formal point of view the procedure followed by Strauss closely resembles that of Jacobi: to address the problem of the Enlightenment by means of a critical assessment of Spinoza. (4)

However, even if Strauss's critique of Spinoza may be said to take its cue from Jacobi, it is not clear whether the latter's influence reaches beyond this initial impulse, nor is it clear to what extent. Recently it has been suggested not only that Spinoza's Critique of Religion is "by its own account, `Jacobian' in orientation," but also that "the Jacobian dilemma and the critique of rationalism [remained] fundamental for Strauss's perspective" throughout his career. (5) Moreover, these assumptions carry an implicit criticism, to the extent that Strauss may be said to be heir to the irrationalism, conservatism, and authoritarianism attributed to the anti-Enlightenment with which Jacobi is commonly associated. (6) This paper will attempt to show that such assessments are in need of qualification. It will be argued that even if a certain affinity between Strauss and Jacobi can be shown to exist, this affinity is far more complex than it seems.

In order to bring out this complexity, a closer look will be taken at those writings in which Strauss discusses Jacobi. To begin, there is his doctoral dissertation, which, although he later disparaged it as "a disgraceful performance," nevertheless merits closer investigation. (7) A comprehensive account, moreover, must broaden the inquiry. After the completion of Spinoza's Critique of Religion, Strauss worked as a coeditor of the Jubilee Edition of Moses Mendelssohn's collected works. As a part of this employment, he conducted research into the so-called Pantheism Controversy. This debate was launched by Jacobi, with Moses Mendelssohn as its principal addressee, and initially concerned the philosophical legacy of the thinker and writer Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. However, it soon developed into a full-blown debate concerning the foundations and the legitimacy of the Enlightenment, involving such prominent contemporaries as Johann Georg Hamann, Immanuel Kant, Karl Reinhold, and Johann Gottfried Herder. (8) The results of Strauss's research are published in the introductory commentaries he wrote to several of Mendelssohn's writings. Besides a thorough treatment of the latter's position in the controversy, these introductions contain an astute and well-documented investigation of its general background, particularly of the position of Jacobi and Lessing. (9) In this respect, they enable us to come to a more exact determination of Strauss's own perspective. It will become apparent that, although Jacobi does play a very important role, this role differs considerably from what the current view has made it out to be.


Judged solely by its title and its structure, Strauss's doctoral dissertation is typical of the genre: an inconspicuous exhibition of academic proficiency. Yet his treatment of The Problem of Knowledge in the Philosophical Doctrine of Fr. H. Jacobi reveals some distinctive traits. (10) Thus, at the beginning of the work, Strauss expressly states his intention to treat Jacobi as a competent thinker in his own right, not as the romantic enthusiast and proponent of the Sturm und Drang he is often made out to be. Moreover, he cautions the reader that he intends to deal "not so much with Jacobi himself, but rather with the problems or perspectives designated by the title `Jacobi'." (11) Near the end of the work, this approach is reaffirmed and put within a larger framework, when it is asserted that "the eidos `Jacobi', so rich in consequences for intellectual history, ... corresponds to a distinct and autonomously coherent complex of problems on the level of timeless problems." (12)

For various reasons, these statements merit closer examination. To begin, they are formulated in a language with unmistakable Platonic resonances, oddly prefiguring the interpretation of Platonic Ideas as timeless problems in Strauss's later works. (13) More important, they suggest that Strauss is more concerned with the philosophical problem brought to the fore by Jacobi than by the particular solution he propagated. This does not do away with the fact that the problem only becomes visible through the solution argued by Jacobi in his polemic against the Enlightenment. As Strauss shows in his analysis, this polemic is deployed on both the epistemological and on the ethical-political level although both dimensions are ultimately rooted in a single conviction characteristic of Jacobi's thought.

On the level of epistemology, the main target of Jacobi's critique is the Cartesian method of radical universal doubt at the heart of modern rationalism. As is well known, this method attempts to secure the reality of Being by reducing it to an indubitable condition of possibility, from which it then sets out to reconstruct Being according to the requirements of reason. In Jacobi's view, this amounts to a systematic reduction of Being or reality to non-Being or Nothingness--a procedure for which he coined the term "nihilism." All that remains is the pure thinking subject that thereby becomes the only source of reality and the sole warrant of genuine knowledge. Strauss rephrases this view of the Cartesian program as follows: "We can only know what we can produce. Thus, the philosopher who wants to understand the world must become the creator of the world." (14)

Moreover, according to Jacobi, the Cartesian procedure is deliberately selective: it filters out those aspects of its object that withstand reduction and rational control. In this way, it ignores or even destroys such vital elements of the object as it can never artificially replace or reconstruct. These elements point to what Jacobi calls "natural certainties" (naturliche Gewissheiten), which are known prior to any attempt at rational knowledge and therefore constitute the possibility of such knowledge. From his point of view, both the source of knowledge (human understanding) and its object (reality) are "irrational" or, to be more exact, "superrational" (uberrational). They come to light in propositions that are grasped with intuitive immediacy and therefore cannot be made the object of subsequent rational proof, such as "I am" and "There is a world outside of me," but also the reality of God. (15) As a result, Jacobi rejects Kant's notion of God as a regulative idea of reason. The latter, he argues, reverses the original primacy of God with regard to reason and thus is devoid of any content and hence both theoretically and ethically useless. (16)

Because of its deliberate disregard of these natural certainties as the limits of knowledge, Cartesian rationalism and the modern sciences based on it can be nothing more than the organization of ignorance, Jacobi holds. (17) For if the method of rational demonstration exerts its power within a domain limited by the irrational and transcendent certainties, a strict determinism can rule only within those bounds. Unable fully to justify the precedence of radical doubt over against natural certainty, rationalism can never attain to the truth because it is based on an initial surrender of the truth. (18) Rationalism sacrifices theory or contemplation in order radically to exclude irrationality. In Strauss's words: "Doubt is the relinquishment of theoretical life (truth) for the sake of the theoretical evil (irrationality) which is necessarily related to it." (19)

On the level of ethics and politics, Jacobi's argument runs parallel to his epistemological critique. In this case, his polemic is directed against the idea of autonomy at the heart of the moral and political program of the Enlightenment. In his dissertation, Strauss summarizes the main contention as follows:
 Autonomism is the ethical form of general doubt, of the principle of
 modern culture, which invokes the autonomy of religious conscience,
 of scientific reason and of moral legislation (sola fides, sola
 ratio, `only
 a good will'). In opposition, Jacobi emphasizes that, in ethical
 it is simply unnecessary for the acting subject to understand the
 and to affirm it out of its own insight. It is not the case that
 insight precedes
 and obedience follows, but precisely the reverse: only out of
 as a result of following the norm, from the penetration of the
 norm into the center of our lives as a consequence of obedience,
 moral insight emerge. (20)

Just as the principle of radical doubt and the belief in proof and demonstration express a refusal to submit to the transcendence of reality, so does the concept of autonomy disclose a rejection of the ethical norms inherent in this reality, incited by man's proud desire to be the sole source of morality. Correspondingly, just as it leads to organized ignorance and determinism on the level of knowledge, so does rationalism lead to atheism and fatalism on the level of morality and politics, Jacobi asserts. Its claim to the contrary, rationalism is incapable of replacing what is has destroyed; it is unable to establish morality on purely immanent grounds.

The intrinsic relationship among epistemology, ethics, and politics postulated by Jacobi explains why his opposition to the Enlightenment takes the form of a critical discussion of Spinoza. The latter, in Jacobi's view, exemplifies the defiance of Cartesian rationalism in the face of transcendence. In his introduction to Mendelssohn's contributions to the Pantheism Controversy, Strauss recalls how Jacobi locates the root of rationalism in "the tendency to prove everything and to accept nothing as given; if one follows this tendency honestly, i.e., without compunction, it leads to Spinozism, i.e., to atheism and fatalism ... the origin of the tendency to prove everything is the will of man not to be dependent on a truth that transcends him, the will `not to obey the truth, but to command it', pride, vanity.'" (21) With unrivalled clarity, Jacobi argues, Spinoza's thought shows that the common root of the Enlightenment's philosophy and politics is a rebellious and revolutionary effort to liberate man from the authority of transcendence. As Strauss notes subsequently, Jacobi was "still too closely tied to the theistic tradition not to be compelled to see in atheism (and `Spinozism is atheism') a result of anti-theism, of the revolt against God." (22)

According to Jacobi, however, the motive underlying this revolt proved to be at least as tyrannical as that of its putative opponent: Descartes and Spinoza heralded a new metaphysical despotism of autonomous demonstrative reason, which found its political complement in the new political despotism of Hobbes's Leviathan. His objections notwithstanding, Jacobi respected both Spinoza and Hobbes for the consistency and rigor of their thinking. In fact, he preferred these "classics of despotism" to the German Aufklarer of his time. What he perceived as the latter's half-hearted rationalism and readiness to compromise with autocratic regimes provoked his aversion to such an extent that he went so far as to defend the ideal of a liberal state. (23) Nevertheless, he remained intensely critical of rationalism because of the lack of justification and the "nihilism" characteristic of Cartesian doubt.

Claiming at least equal justice, Jacobi's own philosophic doctrine takes precisely this deficit as its point of departure. His procedure is first to pursue rationalism to its ultimate consequences, up to the point where its fatalism, atheism, and nihilism become apparent, as well as its rootedness in ignorance. The knowledge of this ignorance (Wissen des Nicht-Wissens) then becomes the basis for a salto mortale: a leap out of rationalism and nihilism into faith or Glaube, motivated by the willingness and the courage to take the risk of believing reality instead of doubting it. As Strauss emphasizes, the concept of Glaube at the heart of Jacobi's doctrine is not primarily religious: it comprises both "faith" and "belief' in the Humean sense, according to which human knowledge is ultimately based on indemonstrable beliefs. In this respect it proved to be a most powerful weapon in Jacobi's polemic against the Enlightenment for it enabled him to argue that even the choice for rationalism and demonstration rests upon a primary belief, an initial act of faith. (24)

In Jacobi's view, Glaube is not only an epistemological but also and even primarily an ethical category: affirmation of the transcendence of reality is the basic prerequisite for true virtue (Tugend), which in its turn is the necessary condition for true knowledge. Without the recognition of his heteronomy and of the necessity of loving obedience to God's commands, man can never hope to attain true knowledge. In fact, Jacobi goes so far as to equate virtue and knowledge: the Platonic character of this identification, far from being accidental, actually points to the foundations of his thought, Strauss emphasizes. According to Jacobi, the history of philosophy is determined by the predominance of one of two typical theoretical attitudes, whereby each type is rooted in a more general type of intellectual and moral attitude. The first, which Jacobi dubs "Platonic," is characterized by nobility, audacity, confidence, faith, and love and is therefore able to gain access to truth and virtue. (25)

The other type, called "non-Platonic," displays the opposite qualities: baseness, apprehension, diffidence, distrust, disbelief, doubt and pride and accordingly the inability to attain to truth and virtue. According to Jacobi, the non-Platonic attitude has become dominant in modern philosophy, and this decline has reached its nadir in the age of the Enlightenment. The latter, in spite of its earthly accomplishments, is animated by a Cartesian fear of the immediacy of transcendent reality and characterized by the subsequent attempt to circumvent its claims. Faced with what he perceives to be the dire consequences of this refusal, Jacobi's doctrine of Glaube is an emphatic attempt to restore the Platonic attitude. Through a change in morality, it seeks to reaffirm the transcendence of reality with a view to reinstating what has been lost and thus accomplishing a renewal of philosophy. (26)

Because of the largely analytic and descriptive nature of Strauss's account, it is difficult to assess the impact the eidos "Jacobi" may have had on his own thinking. Looking ahead at his ulterior writings, it is nevertheless possible to highlight a few aspects. The first of these concerns the critique of Cartesian methodical doubt. Very likely, Jacobi's challenging the legitimacy of radical doubt informs Strauss's question in Spinoza's Critique of Religion, mentioned at the beginning, whether "the basis of unbelieving science" underlying Spinoza's philosophy is justified. For, as Strauss argues in the same book, it is precisely with an appeal to Cartesian doubt that Spinoza excludes both the possibility of miracles in general and of prophecy in particular (as a miraculous collaboration of reason and imagination). (27) In the same context, Jacobi's comment on the selective character of methodical doubt may very well have provided the background for a basic question, raised by the later Strauss, concerning the Ethics: "But is Spinoza's account clear and distinct? ... Is its clarity and distinctness not due to the fact that Spinoza abstracts from those elements of the whole which are not clear and distinct and which can never be rendered clear and distinct?" (28) In Natural Right and History, he seems to answer this question in the affirmative when criticizing modern philosophy's "dogmatic disregard of everything that cannot become an object, that is, an object for the knowing subject, or the dogmatic disregard of everything that cannot be mastered by the subject." (29)

Second, among the elements of transcendent reality that are not and cannot be rendered clear and distinct under the auspices of rational demonstration, Jacobi gives pride of place to the existence of God. Against Kant, he argues that, as Strauss puts it in his dissertation, "The [philosophical] system must accommodate itself to the existence and meaning (Sinn) of God; the fundamental religious phenomenon may not be diverted (umgebogen) for the sake of the system." (30) Interestingly enough, we see Strauss himself making frequent use of a similar argument during the 1920s and 1930s, in various discussions involving the main currents within contemporary Judaism, such as political Zionism, cultural Zionism, Jewish orthodoxy, and the so-called return movement or neo-orthodoxy. Since it would lead us too far to discuss each of these debates in detail, a few examples must suffice. (31)

In his very first publication, a contribution to a Zionist debate written in 1923, Strauss argues against those Zionists who advocate a qualified acceptance of religious contents for purely political reasons, mainly with a view to the needs of the human soul: "Wholly inseparable from the essence of religion is a minimum of doctrinal content, which minimum is the existence of God, wholly independent of human existence and human need." (32) Two years later, the same criticism is directed against Jewish orthodoxy when Strauss reproaches its adherents for "obeying the law for the sake of their people or for the sake of all peoples, and not--or not primarily--for the sake of God." (33) In like manner, finally, Strauss addresses cultural Zionism and the "return movement," through representatives like Hermann Cohen, Franz Rosenzweig, Martin Buber, and Julius Guttmann. (34) In his view, the attempts of each of these thinkers to return to the Jewish tradition remained partial and qualified by reservations because of their failure to consider "the original, non-`internalized' meaning of the basic tenets of tradition." (35) In sum, Strauss criticizes contemporary Jewish thought for reducing one of the fundamental tenets of Judaism, the radical transcendence of a personal God, either to a postulate of reason or consciousness, to a product of religious experience, to a psychological need, to a cultural or even a natural phenomenon. An adequate philosophical understanding of the condition of modern Judaism, he argues, requires that this transcendence--with regard to the Jewish nation, to human consciousness, and to reason--somehow be accounted for in its original radicalness.

What makes these criticisms particularly puzzling and perplexing is that they are leveled by someone who presents himself not only as an adherent of "simple, straightforward political Zionism" but also as an admitted nonbeliever. (36) As becomes apparent from recently published material, the young Strauss was a political Zionist in the strict sense of the term, advocating the political self-organization of Jews on a purely secular, unbelieving basis. In his early publications, he systematically argues that modern science and politics have destroyed the closed world of the tradition, that the requirements of modern politics and those of the tradition are mutually exclusive, and that "political Zionism which wants to found itself radically must found itself as unbelieving." (37)

At the same time, however, Strauss never ceases to stress that the fundamental claims of the tradition somehow continue to exert their power and hence cannot be dismissed forthwith. Regarding this quandary, he admits there is no obvious way out. Precisely for this reason, unbelieving political Zionism is compelled to acquire full clarity regarding its own position. This, however, can only succeed on the condition that it rejects attempts to secure a middle ground and approaches "the question of God" with at least as much seriousness as "the question of politics." (38) As Strauss has already perceived at this initial stage, doing justice to both requires a renewed understanding of the old quarrel between belief and unbelief and thus of its latest installment, Spinoza's critique of religion.

Although he is never mentioned by name in these early writings, it is hard to disregard the impression that Strauss's perception of this fundamental issue and of the road to be taken is partially indebted to Jacobi. (39) This is borne out most clearly by what might be called the "theologico-political" aspect of Jacobi's polemic. As we have seen, Jacobi subordinates the epistemological question to the ethical-political question and focuses on the specific motive underlying modern rationalism. A similar approach may be said to be one of the distinctive characteristics of Strauss's study of Spinoza. In an article written in preparation of the book, he points out that Spinoza's theoretical critique, according to its own view of religion as based on obedience and faith, necessarily presupposes disobedience and unbelief. As a result, a critical reading of Spinoza must concentrate on "the `Why' of theory as the `Why' of disobedience and unbelief. This `Why' precedes every theory; it is no theoretical insight or conviction, but a motive." (40) Subsequently, in the book Strauss traces this motive to the Epicurean tradition and its attempt to relieve the human condition by liberating man from fear of the gods, the cause of the greatest unrest and the gravest crimes. On the basis of this connection, he argues, "the concern for safeguarding and alleviating life may be designated as the characteristic concern of the Enlightenment." (41) As such, it animates Spinoza's construction of a world in which there is no place for an inscrutable God or for a revealed law teaching man what is good and what is evil.

At the same time, this concern reveals the limits and flaws of Spinoza's critique. As Strauss argues at various points in the book, Spinoza's neo-Epicurean motive caused him to disregard the fundamental distinction between superstitious or profane fear and genuine fear of God, which is the traditional prerequisite for true love of God and true obedience to the revealed law. This shows that Spinoza did not even attempt to understand or to take seriously his opponent. Driven by a Cartesian "will to immediacy," he was incapable of understanding the "will to mediacy," which, as a response to the original revelation, is the basis of obedience and loyalty to the tradition of revelation. Instead, he urged the legitimacy of his position to the point of committing a fatal petitio principii by presupposing the freedom of philosophizing that he set out to argue against revealed religion. While this precluded any offensive tactics and only allowed for a defensive position, it left his opponent essentially intact. The defensive critique, however, could only uphold itself and its freedom by permanently turning revealed religion into ridicule, thereby concealing its own questionableness. (42) In the final analysis, there is at "the basis of unbelieving science" a moral motive that is no more or no less problematic than that of revealed religion, Strauss concludes. This motive, furthermore, differs from its Epicurean precursor on a crucial point: its probity and its conscientiousness, which reveal it to be a descendant of biblical morality. (43)

Both the approach and the results of Strauss's investigation seem to be closely akin to those of Jacobi. For both, the inquest into the motive of the Enlightenment points to a revolutionary antitheism animated by proud human reason, self-postulating and therefore deeply problematic. In his dissertation, Strauss even goes so far as to subscribe to Jacobi's typological characterization of modernity as an age of fear, distrust, and pride:
 In any case, it seems to us that a specific moment of modern culture
 is viewed here for the first time in such a comprehensive manner.
 How little one has reason to regard--and to disregard--this
 expression as a mere circumstance of Jacobian sentiment, is made
 evident most clearly by the fundamental agreement in which it finds
 itself with the results of the research of contemporary sociologists
 (such as Troeltsch, Sombart, Max Weber, Scheler). (44)

However, Strauss immediately goes on to qualify his assent by adding that this does not mean he also shares the strong evaluative judgment (Bewertung) Jacobi appends to it. At this stage, Strauss is less dismissive regarding the claims of modern rationalism, even if in many ways he shares Jacobi's insight into its flaws. Thus, he makes the critical remark that although Jacobi is fundamentally aware of the scope of Cartesianism as "a general philosophic principle of method," he fails to do justice to "its profound practical legitimacy (tiefes sachliches Recht)." (45) As a critical response to Cartesian doubt, the foundation of Jacobi's doctrine of Glaube seems to be at least as questionable as that of its opponent. Accordingly, in Spinoza's Critique of Religion, though viewed with an increasingly critical eye, rationalism is still treated with more impartiality than is meted out by Jacobi. (46)

In a different form, this reservation is also visible on the ethical-political level. Commenting on Jacobi's defense of heteronomy, Strauss notes that it is basically the expression of the principle of traditionalism or, to be more exact, conservatism: "The principle of tradition--which doesn't mean the recognition of a particular tradition. Rather, one should say: principle of conservatism." (47) To the extent that the "leap of faith" implies the espousal of the principle of traditionalism, it leaves undetermined what particular tradition is embraced. Nevertheless, Jacobi insists that "the leap of faith" necessarily requires an espousal of the Christian tradition. Even though he justifies this view by equating the principle of Christianity with the absolute principle of religion as such, this cannot hide the fact that, as Strauss puts it, "the difficult problem of the specification (Besonderung) of the highest moral norm does not exist as a theoretical problem for Jacobi." (48) As a result, the leap of faith bears the mark of decisionism, in its attempt to affirm what, according to Jacobi's own doctrine, is in no need of affirmation. In exposing the act of faith at the basis of rationalism, the Jacobian option against Cartesian doubt succeeds in restoring the balance, but it fails to do better than its opponent.

These and other considerations suggest that Jacobi's influence on Strauss's early thinking, although certainly not negligible, is not as univocal as it appears to be. At the same time, they indicate that, as a result of his investigations into Spinoza's critique, Strauss had more or less reached a quandary. On the one hand, his youthful allegiance had become deeply problematic: modern rationalism was seen to be based on a questionable moral motive with biblical roots. On the other hand, the Jacobian alternative turned out to be equally flawed and unacceptable. In order to see how Strauss found his bearings in this dilemma, we must take a further look at the introductions to Moses Mendelssohn's collected works. Written between 1931 and 1937, these writings are of particular interest, not only because they reveal a profound knowledge of Mendelssohn's thought but also because they focus on the latter's dispute with Jacobi, which came to be known as the Pantheism Controversy. Above all, they suggest that Strauss had begun to find a way out of the quandary in which he found himself. Since both the Pantheism Controversy and its aftermath have been amply and excellently documented from a variety of perspectives by different authors, the discussion will be limited to such aspects and features as are salient in Strauss's analysis. (49)


The beginning of the Pantheism Controversy is well known: in 1783, Jacobi informed Mendelssohn, by way of a mutual acquaintance, that "in his last days, Lessing had been a committed Spinozist." (50) For Mendelssohn, this disclosure amounted to nothing less than a slanderous degradation of the highest to the lowest. At that time, the German intelligentsia revered Lessing as a champion of the Enlightenment while it denounced Spinozism as a heretical, atheistic, and anarchistic doctrine. By the same token, Jacobi cast a shadow over Mendelssohn's long-standing friendship with Lessing.

With his declaration, Jacobi wanted to buttress his contention that the Enlightenment and its rationalism as such ultimately led to atheism and fatalism. Lessing, he claimed, had reached the same conclusion and had consistently embraced its radical consequences. By making this publicly known, Jacobi intended to force upon the Aufklarer the dilemma of either following in the footsteps of Lessing and accepting the destructive effects of rationalism or rejecting rationalism in favor of his own doctrine of Glaube. As a result, Mendelssohn was compelled to defend not only the memory of his friend, but also his own position as a protagonist of the moderate Enlightenment.

As Strauss argues, Jacobi's attack struck home because he and Mendelssohn found themselves on common ground. Both faced the same problem: "the final crisis of modern metaphysics of Cartesian-Leibnizian stamp." (51) More particularly, they both grappled with "the knowledge that the attempt of modern metaphysics to found the concept of God particular to faith by means of unbelieving speculation had failed." (52) The result of this attempt, generally known as natural theology or natural religion, had become increasingly problematic as the radical premises of "unbelieving speculation" had come to the surface and demanded a hearing. As we have seen, Jacobi responded to this crisis by a wholesale repudiation of modern metaphysics and the attempt to return to traditional faith. For Mendelssohn, this solution was out of the question. Refusing to abandon the moderate wing of the Enlightenment, he held on to the idea of a natural religion and to the possibility of harmonizing religion and reason, not least because it provided the cornerstone of his defense of Judaism as a religion of reason. (53)

In the course of his introductions, Strauss critically discusses several key elements of Mendelssohn's natural theology, showing how it became increasingly embattled by the atheism of radical Enlightenment, on the one hand, and by the Jacobian return to faith, on the other. For the present inquiry, these are relevant only to the extent that they enable Strauss to single out general characteristics and general problems. In this perspective, the most important point in his treatment is his observation that Mendelssohn systematically privileges goodness as the primary attribute of God. This, Strauss holds, is a central characteristic of the Enlightenment:
 The whole of the Enlightenment, insofar as it implicitly or
 explicitly preserves a relationship with the tradition
 rooted in the Bible, is characterized by the fact that it
 combats the traditional doctrines and convictions by having
 recourse to the goodness of God. More precisely, proper to the
 Enlightenment is the unequivocal priority it accords to
 God's goodness over his power, his honor and his punishing wrath;
 for the Enlightenment, God is not primarily the demanding, summoning
 God, but rather the benevolent God. (54)

The priority of goodness over the other divine attributes determines almost all of the distinctive tenets of Mendelssohn's natural theology, Strauss maintains. It provides the basis for his demonstration of the immortality of the soul, of human perfectibility and freedom, his concomitant rejection of eternal punishment and his denial of revelation. A good and benevolent God, Mendelssohn holds, does not need to make himself known by revelation but enables man to acquire knowledge of his design by studying the perfect order of creation. Moreover, a benevolent God could not have created man but with a view to happiness, so that man must be infinitely perfectible. As a consequence, Mendelssohn rejects the ceaseless suffering of eternal damnation, for it contradicts human perfectibility as well as the perfection of creation. In addition, human perfectibility also implies that every individual possesses both an irreducible existence and certain inalienable rights which not even God can violate. This can never lead to difficulties, Mendelssohn assures, for any conflict between the rights of man and those of God is excluded. (55)

According to Strauss, however, giving priority to divine goodness does not express "a theological concern of any kind, but instead the concern for the substantiality, the independence, the autonomy, and the proper right of the Ego (das Ich): the unconditional goodness of God is given priority because it is in accord with the claims of the autonomous Ego." (56) In other words, Mendelssohn's natural theology proves to be ultimately guided by and accommodated to interests particular to modern philosophy. (57) This is rendered manifest by several observations. Thus, for Mendelssohn, one of the principal tasks of modern metaphysics consists in securing human happiness and individual progress by liberating man from the fear of death and divine wrath. Not surprisingly, he once referred to his natural theology as to a "rather Epicurean" theism. (58)

This modern character also becomes apparent in Mendelssohn's attempts to "correct" the doctrines concerning the immortality of the soul of two of his revered predecessors, Plato and Leibniz. As Strauss shows, Phadon, Mendelssohn's translation of Plato's Phaedo, contains many alterations and emendations to the effect that the original teaching and its exigencies are mitigated and moderated. In a typical manner, for example, Mendelssohn's Socrates emphasizes the consoling effect of the idea of immortality of the soul, whereas Plato's Socrates does not regard this as a valid argument but instead considers it an obstacle to philosophizing. A similar approach marks Mendelssohn's Sache Gottes, oder die gerettete Vorsehung, ostensibly an elaboration of Leibniz's Causa Dei. Whereas Leibniz argues divine providence by asserting that God's justice is his goodness guided and limited by his wisdom, Mendelssohn reverses the order of wisdom and goodness. As a result, he must reject eternal punishment and suffering, which Leibniz could still justify as a necessary component of the best of all possible worlds.

However, although it was intended as a defense of the orthodox religious view of providence, Leibniz's concept of divine justice implied a radical break with the tradition since it no longer allowed divine justice to be distinguished from divine goodness and divine wisdom. In this way, Strauss argues, Leibniz prepared the momentous transition from the old notion of law to the modern notion of right: "[B]y dissolving the classical concept of justice which had preserved the original meaning of justice as obedience with regard to the law, he had considerably precipitated the process that aimed at the eradication of law understood as obligation in favour of right understood as claim." (59)

Mendelssohn, a self-confessed follower of Leibniz, could not but accept this result and adapt his natural theology in accordance with it. However, his edifice started to topple when his faith in the power and the authority of demonstration was decisively shaken in acrimonious disputes with critics who attacked his natural theology: "Compelled to defend his Judaism and his rationalism at the same time, he had to present Judaism as a purely rational religion. In any case, however, the teaching of the Bible is not demonstrative.... Saving Judaism was only possible for him in this way, that he severely restricted the right and the significance of demonstration." (60) This restriction found its expression in Mendelssohn's introduction of the notion of "common sense" or "plain human understanding" (gesundes Menschenverstand), a specific human capacity to grasp intuitively and with full clarity certain essential truths which speculative reason alone cannot demonstrate. In Mendelssohn's view, since common sense alone could provide a basis for agreement among men, it had to guide and to supplement reason, which he had come to regard as insufficient.

Not surprisingly, Strauss is critical of this move. In the first place, he notes that this new configuration of reason and common sense is merely a reiteration of the traditional religious notion of revelation as a necessary guide for insufficient reason. Confronted with the failure of Cartesian-Leibnizian metaphysics as a substitute for traditional faith, natural theology could do no more than to seek refuge on "the neutral isle of common sense," while the realm of speculation was invaded by the radical atheist metaphysics of Spinozism. (61) As Mendelssohn himself admitted, this move did not differ essentially from Jacobi's leap of faith out of speculation and demonstration. In both cases, the appeal to a faculty beyond speculation proved to be the only way of saving teleology.

In addition, Strauss challenges Mendelssohn's judgment--foreshadowing the current view--that Jacobi's doctrine of Glaube threatens philosophical speculation and leads to irrational "enthusiasm" (Schwarmerey). On the contrary, he argues, it is precisely common sense which endangers speculation: "For common sense lets the animating conviction appear as self-evident, whereas [Jacobi's] admission that this conviction is merely believed, implies or may imply the knowledge of ignorance and therewith an impulse to speculation." (62) Differently stated, Jacobi's teaching preserves an unexplored latitude for philosophical speculation, which is altogether excluded by Mendelssohn's notion of common sense.

Third, Strauss argues that the notion of common sense merely compounds the predicament it seeks to escape from. Cartesian philosophy, he explains, was motivated by the view that traditional philosophy had relied too much on everyday language. As a result, it called for a distinct and purely scientific language. This demand, however, could not be brought into agreement with the equally important requirement that the new philosophy enlighten humanity in general by supplanting the old popular beliefs, for:
 especially in its `language', this philosophy was further removed
 from the language of common sense than the earlier philosophy; it
 tended to extreme unpopularity. However, it thus became entirely
 incapable of replacing the `popular system', and therewith of
 fulfilling one of its most important functions, that of
 `Enlightenment'. Small wonder, then, that `enthusiasm' reared its
 head anew. However, small wonder, as well, that common sense, which
 had allowed itself to be enlightened to the best of its abilities
 by modern metaphysics, when it perceived that it could expect a
 new `obscurantism' from the `subtleties' of this metaphysics,
 dismissed its nurse without further ado and declared itself
 mature. (63)

It did so, however, in the illusion that it could now freely marshal clear and distinct metaphysical truths since it regarded the latter as having been assimilated within everyday language. Hence, although it was introduced to remedy the shortcomings of Cartesian philosophy, the notion of common sense remained within the horizon established by modern philosophy's estrangement from everyday language. As a result, it did not lead to a serious reconsideration of "earlier philosophy" in relation to premodern, "nonenlightened" common sense. As Strauss points out, Mendelssohn was convinced that premodern metaphysics had been definitely surpassed by modern metaphysics. He therefore persistently identified metaphysics with modern metaphysics and thus proved incapable of understanding premodern thought as it understood itself. One example of this failure is his distorting appropriation of the Platonic teaching concerning immortality. (64)

According to Strauss, however, this general critique applies with equal force to Jacobi. The latter, in spite of his sweeping repudiation of modern metaphysics, also remains decisively bound to its presuppositions and exhibits a similar blindness to premodern thought. This becomes apparent in a central ambiguity of his critique of Spinoza. One of Jacobi's main objections against Spinozism is that it gives priority to action over thinking, whereby the latter is regarded as the mere continuation of action (die Handlung im Fortgang). However, he himself adopts precisely this proposition in his polemic against the Enlightenment when he asks, rhetorically and polemically: "Can philosophy ever be anything more than history?" and when he asserts that "every age has its own truth, just as it has its own living philosophy, which describes the predominant manner of acting of the age in question in its continuation (in ihrem Fortgange)." (65) These assertions show that Jacobi's irrationalism and traditionalism, according to which true knowledge can only result from virtuous action motivated by obedience to transcendent reality, are actually rooted in historicism. This accounts for the decisionism characteristic of his "leap of faith," as well as for his attempt to bring about a renewal of philosophy through a change in morality.

In spite of his efforts, Jacobi remained equally captive to the horizon of modern--historical--thought, Strauss concludes: "Persisting in his critique of Spinoza to the end, he would not have been able to appeal to history against the Enlightenment, nor to faith (Glaube) understood within the horizon of the concept of history." (66) The implications of this terse remark deserve our attention: a sustained critique of Spinoza, it seems, would have called into question "the concept of history" and, perhaps, opened the possibility of a nonhistorical approach to both the Enlightenment and faith. It is hard to disregard the impression that, in this remark, Strauss is thinking of his own undertaking. For, as his principal writings of the 1930s show, this is precisely the path his research has taken. Between Spinoza's Critique of Religion (1930) and Philosophy and Law (1935), he has radically questioned the universal claim underlying historical consciousness by tracing its origin to the concept of "prejudice" introduced by Descartes and adopted by Spinoza. By the same token, he has begun to reopen the quarrel of the ancients and the moderns and to recover the nonhistorical horizon of premodern thought, the horizon of "the old concept of law" shared and disputed by "earlier philosophy" and revealed religion. Guided by the medieval Enlightenment of Islamic and Jewish philosophers such as Alfarabi, Avicenna, Averroes, and Maimonides, he is led back to Plato and, ultimately, to the enigmatic figure of Socrates. (67)


If Jacobi's thought was certainly influential in the development of Strauss's early thought, it was by no means decisive. Generally speaking, Jacobi made Strauss aware of the problem of the Enlightenment in two different ways: by means of his trenchant critique of the epistemological, theological, ethical, and political characteristics of modern rationalism but equally by the shortcomings of the solution he proposed. On the first account, Strauss adopted several of Jacobi's criticisms and insights in his own study of Spinoza as well as in his discussions with contemporary thinkers. On the second account, he expressed a number of fundamental reservations as to Jacobi's doctrine. The most important of these pertains to Jacobi's failure to sustain his critique of Spinoza and his subsequent failure to question radically the horizon of modern thought.

Although this constitutes a crucial and, in a certain respect, decisive point of divergence between Strauss and Jacobi, it is by no means the occasion for a critical farewell, nor does it fully express Strauss's final appreciation. Throughout his analyses, he repeatedly suggests that the many ambiguities and contradictions in Jacobi's position may have been deliberate. In his campaign against the Aufklarung, Jacobi constantly changed tactics and continually moved the line of battle. Depending on the conduct of his opponent, he would alternately take the side of radical atheists such as Spinoza and Hobbes against the prudent dogmatism of the Aufklarer or launch a spirited defense of Christianity and tradition against the antitheistic dogmatism of radical Enlightenment. For Strauss, this agility suggests that Jacobi may have been neither a dogmatic atheist nor a religious enthusiast. Commenting on Mendelssohn's bewilderment regarding the position of his opponent, he writes:
 It has been noted that he lacked Jacobi's spiritual freedom, and
 that, as a result, Jacobi's vacillating between atheism and
 Christianity remained incomprehensible to him: at times, he really
 did not know whether he encountered in Jacobi an atheist or a
 Christian; only for a brief instant did he prove capable of rising
 to the insight that Jacobi was a philosopher. (68)

According to Strauss, Jacobi's great example in this particular modus operandi was none other than Lessing himself. In various debates that had established his reputation as a writer and thinker, Lessing had alternately defended radical orthodoxy and radical Enlightenment without paying allegiance to either camp. He was unable to adhere to any doctrine, and his loyalty only regarded an elusive truth that lies between and beyond. The search for this truth enabled him to experiment with conflicting opinions without accepting any of them as final. This philosophical independence found its expression in his well-known love of paradox as well as in his preference for conversation over doctrine. For Mendelssohn, who disapproved of his friend's "theater logic" (Theaterlogik), this vital aspect of Lessing's thought was inaccessible: he could not accept a paradoxical truth but dismissed every philosophical dispute as "mere verbal disagreement" against the fixed background of the certainties perceived by common sense understanding. Identifying philosophy with ontology, he was unable to appreciate Lessing's dialectical style of thinking, which Jacobi had partly emulated:
 If one pays attention to the How rather than to the What--and for
 Jacobi and Lessing alike, the great manner of thinking held more
 weight than the recognition of this or that opinion--one will be
 inclined to reckon with the possibility that Jacobi was the most
 intelligent follower Lessing found among his contemporaries....
 Jacobi felt himself to be, not entirely without justification,
 the legitimate heir of Lessing and of the latter's radical, i.e.,
 undogmatic way of thinking. (69)

To be sure, the praise implicit in this assessment is qualified. In the first place, it does not detract from the pertinence of Strauss's objections to Jacobi's historicism and his failure to pursue his critique of modern rationalism to the end. Furthermore, Strauss elsewhere suggests that even Jacobi did not fully fathom the extent of Lessing's irony and may have become its dupe. (70) In any case, it suggests that any influence Jacobi may have exercised over Strauss's thinking is secondary to the impact of Lessing and is even conditioned and mediated by the latter. Although an adequate assessment of this impact would exceed the limits of his paper, it is not amiss to give two examples in support of this contention.

First, there is some evidence that Lessing played an important role in Strauss's rediscovery of the art of writing of ancient and early modern thinkers. This may be inferred from the introduction to Mendelssohn's Sache Gottes. Discussing the difference between Mendelssohn and Leibniz regarding the defense of eternal punishment, he makes the following noteworthy remark:
 Leibniz, however, did not believe in eternal damnation as it was
 understood by the Christian tradition. ... The fact that he was
 nevertheless able to defend the ecclesiastical doctrine is
 ultimately rooted in the conviction that determines the content
 of his defense: in the conviction of the unconditional priority
 of the beauty and order of the whole over the happiness of the
 parts, hence also of human beings, and in the conviction,
 inseparable from the former, that beatitude consists in the
 contemplation of the universal order. For the ideal of
 contemplation carries with it the division of mankind in
 `the wise' and `the many', and therewith the recognition of a
 twofold way of communicating truths, an esoteric
 and an exoteric. (71)

Although Strauss does not mention it in his commentary, he is well aware that the source of this view is none other than Lessing. This is borne out by "Exoteric Teaching," a text he wrote three years later in 1939 but chose not to publish at the time. There he refers to Leibniz von den ewigen Strafen, in which Lessing comments as follows on Leibniz's defense of the orthodox view of eternal punishment: "He did no more and no less than what all of the ancient philosophers used to do in their exoteric speech. He observed a sort of prudence for which, it is true, our most recent philosophers have become much too wise. ... I admit that Leibniz treated the doctrine of eternal damnation very exoterically, and that esoterically he would have expressed himself altogether differently on the subject." (72) At the end of the same text, Lessing indicates that one ancient philosopher who observed this sort of prudence was Socrates, who "believed in eternal punishment in all seriousness, or at least believed in it to the extent that he considered it expedient (zutraglich) to teach it in words that are least susceptible of arousing suspicion and most explicit." (73) That this remark did not escape Strauss is evinced by the fact that he reproduced it in its entirety in Persecution and the Art of Writing. (74) As he indicates in "Exoteric Teaching," "Lessing was the last writer who revealed, while hiding, the reasons compelling wise men to hide the truth: he wrote between the lines about writing between the lines." (75) By the same token, Lessing may well have been the first writer from whom Strauss began to learn how to read between the lines.

Second, as an assiduous student of his undogmatic way of thinking and of his art of writing, Strauss knew that Lessing was familiar with medieval Jewish and Islamic theology and philosophy. (76) It is not unlikely that this had some bearing on his own investigations. Thus, in 1946 he sketched the plan of a book tentatively titled Philosophy and the Law, the final chapter of which was to be devoted to Lessing's Nathan der Weise. Although this celebrated play is generally regarded as a tribute to Mendelssohn, the symbol of enlightened tolerance, Strauss hints at a strikingly different interpretation: "The recollection of the man Maimonides was probably one of the motives underlying Lessing's Nathan the Wise, the outstanding poetic monument erected in honor of Jewish medieval philosophy." (77) It is still far from clear whether and to what extent Lessing guided Strauss to Maimonides's art of writing and perhaps also to the theater logic of Plato's dialogues, that poetic monument erected in honor of Socratic classical philosophy. (78) Nonetheless, if there is some foundation for the view that Strauss was a Jacobian, there is all the more reason to explore the possibility that he was a committed Lessingian. (79)

Tilburg University

Correspondence to: Faculty of Philosophy, Tilburg University, P. O. Box 90153, 5000 LE Tilburg, The Netherlands..

(1) Leo Strauss, Spinoza's Critique of Religion, trans. Elsa M. Sinclair (New York: Schocken Books, 1965), 240.

(2) Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Uber die Lehre des Spinoza in Briefen an den, Herrn Moses Mendelssohn (Breslau: Lowe, 1785). English translation: F. H. Jacobi, The Main Philosophical Writings and Thee Novel Allwill, trans. George Di Giovanni (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press 1994).

(3) Gerhard Kruger, "Review of Leo Strauss' Die Religionskritik Spinozas als Grundlage seiner Bibelwissenschaft," Independent Journal of Philosophy 5/6 (1988): 173. Very likely, Kruger's use of the word "concealed" is deliberate. As becomes apparent from his correspondence with Strauss, the latter encountered objections from Julius Guttmann, his superior at the Akademie fur die Wissenschaft des Judentums. Guttmann demanded that certain passages in the book be altered or even omitted. Though Strauss deferred to Guttmann, he asked Kruger to criticize the opaqueness of his work so as to guide his readers to his true intentions. See the Strauss--Kruger correspondence, in Leo Strauss, Gesammelte Schriften Band 3: Hobbes' politische Wissenschaft und zugehorige Schriften--Briefe, ed. Heinrich Meier (Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler Verlag, 2001), 379, 393.

(4) See Frederick C. Beiser, The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987), 44-8.

(5) See, respectively, Susan Shell, "Taking Evil Seriously: Schmitt's `Concept of the Political' and Strauss's `True Politics,'" and John G. Gunnell, "Strauss Before Straussianism: Reason, Revelation and Nature," in Leo Strauss, Political Philosopher and Jewish Thinker, ed. Kenneth L. Deutsch and Walter Nicgorski (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1994), 183 and 171.

(6) Compare Stephen Holmes, The Anatomy of Antiliberalism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996).

(7) Leo Strauss (with Jacob Klein), "A Giving of Accounts," in Leo Strauss, Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity (hereafter, "JPCM"), ed. Kenneth H. Green (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997), 460.

(8) As Strauss notes, the Pantheism Controversy marked the "formal reception of Spinoza." This reception was followed by a wave of "Spinoza enthusiasm" that lasted into the twentieth century, until the spell was broken by Hermann Cohen's renewed excommunication. Cohen's attack formed the occasion for Strauss's reassessment of Spinoza's critique. Leo Strauss, "Preface to Spinoza's Critique of Religion," in Strauss, JPCM, 154-8. See also Leo Strauss, "Das Testament Spinozas," in Leo Strauss, Gesammelte Schriften Band 1: Die Religionskritik Spinozas und zugehorige Schriften (Zweite Auflage), ed. Heinrich Meier (Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler Verlag, 2001), 415-22.

(9) Both the dissertation and the introductions to Mendelssohn were published in Leo Strauss, Gesammelte Schriften Band 2: Philosophie und Gesetz: Fruhe Schriften, ed. Heinrich Meier (Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler Verlag, 1997). Henceforth, all references to the Gesammelte Schriften will be given as "GS' followed by volume and page numbers. All translations from the Gesammelte Schriften, are the sole responsibility of the present author.

(10) Leo Strauss, Das Erkenntnisproblem in der philosophischen, Lehre Fr. H. Jacobis, in GS 2:237-92. Henceforth cited as "EPLJ." The dissertation, defended on 17 September 1920, was written under the direction of Ernst Cassirer, who conducted a large-scale research project on the problem of knowledge in modern philosophy. See Ernst Cassirer, Das Erkenntnisproblem in der Philosophie und Wissenschaft der neueren. Zeit (Berlin: Verlag Bruno Cassirer, 1906). A French translation of the dissertation is available in Revue de Metaphysique et de Morale, no. 3 (1994): 291-311 and no. 4 (1994): 505-32.

(11) Strauss, EPLJ, GS 2:243. In a handwritten note appended to a summary of his dissertation, Strauss calls his work "a non-Jacobian approach to Jacobian problems," adding the remark that "I have not presented `Jacobi as such', but only insofar as I needed him"; Strauss, GS 2:297.

(12) Strauss, EPLJ, GS 2:283.

(13) In a similar vein, Strauss asserts in the introduction to the dissertation: "Certainly, a philosophy that understands itself and refuses to surrender to relativism, must conceive the truth it pursues as an independent and coherent condition, which it does not create but rather seeks, discovers and recognizes." Strauss, EPLJ, GS 2:244. Compare Leo Strauss, What is Political Philosophy? And Other Studies (Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press, 1959), 39; Natural Right and History (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1953), 123-4, 150 n. 4; The City and Man (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1964), 119-21; The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism, ed. Thomas L. Pangle (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1989), 174-6.

(14) Strauss, EPLJ, GS 2:249. Compare Strauss, Natural Right and History, 173-4; 174 n. 9, 201; The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism., 243-4; Liberalism Ancient and Modern, (New York: Basic Books, 1968), 212.

(15) Strauss, EPLJ, GS 2:249. Compare Beiser, The Fate of Reason, 46.

(16) Strauss, EPLJ, GS 2:285. Compare Beiser, The Fate of Reason, 81, 89-91.

(17) Strauss, EPLJ, GS 2:258. In this light, Beiser's assertion that "natural science is the source of nihilism" (The Fate of Reason, 85) must be supplemented: with equal justification, one might say that, for Jacobi, nihilism is the source of the natural sciences.

(18) Strauss, EPLJ, GS 2:252, 258-9.

(19) Strauss, EPLJ, GS 2:252.

(20) Strauss, EPLJ, GS 2:281.

(21) Leo Strauss, "Einleitung zu Morgenstunden und An die Freunde Lessings," in GS 2:537-8. Henceforth cited as "EMFL." Compare Strauss, EPLJ, GS 2:278.

(22) Strauss, EMFL, GS 2:549.

(23) Strauss, EMFL, GS 2:533-5. Compare Frederick C. Beiser, Enlightenment, Revolution, and Romanticism: The Genesis of Modern, Political Thought, 1790-1800 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992).

(24) Compare Beiser, The Fate of Reason, 89.

(25) Strauss, EPLJ, GS 2:242-3, 270, 274-5, 277, 279-80, 282.

(26) Strauss, EPLJ, GS 2:245-7, 252.

(27) Leo Strauss, Die Religionskritik Spinozas als Grundlage seiner Bibelwissenschaft, GS 1:235-47.

(28) Leo Strauss, "Progress or Return? The Contemporary Crisis of Western Civilization," in JPCM, 117. Compare Strauss, "Preface to Spinoza's Critique of Religion," JPCM, 253-4: "The Ethics thus begs the decisive question--the question as to whether the clear and distinct account is as such true and not merely a plausible hypothesis ... the clear and distinct account of everything which it presents remains fundamentally hypothetical."

(29) Strauss, Natural Right and History, 30. Compare David R. Lachterman, "Laying Down the Law: The Theologico-Political Matrix of Spinoza's Physics," in Leo Strauss's Thought: Toward a Critical Engagement, ed. Alan Udoff (Boulder, Co.: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1991), 123-53.

(30) Strauss, EPLJ, GS 2:251-2.

(31) For a more extensive account, see David Janssens, "Weimar Revisited: Judaism, Zionism, and Enlightenment in Leo Strauss's Early Thought" (in Hebrew), Iyyun 50 (2001): 407-18.

(32) Leo Strauss, "Antwort auf das `Prinzipielle Wort' der Frankfurter," GS 2:305.

(33) Leo Strauss, "Ecclesia Militans," GS 2:353. See also Leo Strauss, "Biblische Geschichte und Wissenschaft," GS 2:357-9.

(34) Strauss, "Preface to Spinoza's Critique of Religion," JPCM, 144-55.

(35) Leo Strauss, Philosophy and Law: Contributions to the Understanding of Maimonides, trans. Eve Adler (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), 136 n. 3. Compare Strauss, "Bemerkungen zu der Weinbergschen Kritik," GS 1:429; "Die Zukunft einer Illusion," GS 1:433; "Zur Ideologie des politischen Zionismus," GS 1:447.

(36) Strauss, "A Giving of Accounts," JPCM, 460.

(37) Strauss, "Die Zukunft einer Illusion," GS 1:433. Compare Strauss, "Zur Ideologie des politischen Zionismus," GS 1:445: "Political Zionism is the organization of unbelief in Judaism; it is the attempt to organize the Jewish people on the basis of unbelief."

(38) According to his closest friend Jacob Klein, these two problems were at the center of the young Strauss's attention. Compare Strauss, "A Giving of Accounts," JPCM, 458.

(39) Another indication is the fact that in his early writings Strauss frequently acknowledges his indebtedness to Rudolf Otto's The Holy. This seminal work initiated a renewal of theology by restoring the transcendence of God as its primary object and by identifying the irrational as the core of the divine. Already in his dissertation Strauss appeals to The Holy, pointing out that Otto's thought is substantially connected to Jacobi by way of the German philosopher Jacob F. Fries. See, respectively, Leo Strauss, "Das Heilige," "Biblische Geschichte und Wissenschaft," and "Zur Auseinandersetzung mit der europaischen Wissenschaft," GS 2:307-10, 357-62, and 341-50.

(40) Strauss, "Zur Bibelwissenschaft Spinozas und seiner Vorlaufer," GS 1:404.

(41) Strauss, Die Religionskritik Spinozas, GS 1:265.

(42) Strauss, Die Religionskritik Spinozas, GS 1:166, 193-4, 225, 247. Compare Strauss, Philosophy and Law, 28-30.

(43) Strauss, Die Religionskritik Spinozas, GS 1:266 n. 276. Regarding the "free spirit" that animates modern theory, Strauss remarks: "it presupposes itself, like faith presupposes itself"; Die Religionskritik Spinozas, GS 1:214. See also Strauss, Philosophy and Law, 37; Strauss, "Preface to Spinoza's Critique of Religion," JPCM, 151 and 172.

(44) Strauss, EPLJ, GS 2:247. Consider also the later Strauss's well-known elaboration on Plato's simile of the cave, to the extent that modern thought has become trapped within a second cave beneath the first. As he suggests, fear may have been at the origin of this event: "People may become so frightened of the ascent to the light of the sun, and so desirous of making that ascent utterly impossible to any of their descendants, that they dig a deep pit beneath the cave in which they were born, and withdraw into that pit"; Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing (Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press, 1952), 155 (emphasis added).

(45) Strauss, EPLJ, GS 2:247-8.

(46) Strauss, Die Religionskritik Spinozas, GS 1:229-46.

(47) Strauss, EPLJ, GS 2:282 n. 135.

(48) Strauss, EPLJ, GS 2:282.

(49) See chaps. 2, 3, and 4 of Beiser, The Fate of Reason. In his account, Beiser names Strauss's introduction among the best treatments of the controversy. Compare Beiser, The Fate of Reason, 335 n. 12. See also Alexander Altmann, Moses Mendelssohn: A Bibliographical Study (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974) and Hermann Timm, Gott und die Freiheit: Studien zur Religionsphilosophie der Goethezeit (Frankfurt: Klostermann, 1974). The main documents of the controversy were edited and published in Die Hauptschriften zum Pantheismusstreit zwischen Jacobi unit Mendelssohn, ed. Heinrich Scholz (Berlin: Reuther and Reichard, 1916). A concise discussion of Mendelssohn's position in the controversy, critical of Strauss's account, can be found in Allan Arkush, Moses Mendelssohn and the Enlightenment (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994).

(50) Strauss, EMFL, GS 2:531. Compare Beiser, The Fate of Reason, 61.

(51) Strauss, EMFL, GS 2:572.

(52) Strauss, EMFL, GS 2:587.

(53) Compare Moses Mendelssohn, Jerusalem, or On Religious Power and, Judaism, trans. Allan Arkush, with a commentary by Alexander Altmann (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1984).

(54) Strauss, "Einleitung zu Phadon," GS 2:491. Compare Strauss, Philosophy and Law, 44.

(55) Strauss, EMFL, GS 2:583-6.

(56) Strauss, EMFL, GS 2:585.

(57) In Philosophy and Law, 78 n. 28, Strauss renders this criticism more explicit by pointing out the Hobbesian pedigree of Mendelssohn's "surrender of the ancient natural right of duty in favor of the modern natural right of claim."

(58) Strauss, EMFL, GS 2:573-4.

(59) Leo Strauss, "Einleitung zu Sache Gottes, oder die gerettete Vorsehung," GS 2:527.

(60) Strauss, EMFL, GS 2:578. Challenging Strauss's thesis, Arkush argues that Mendelssohn "could have defended Judaism without downplaying the importance or denying the possibility of philosophical knowledge of religious truths," because he never did "place such an absolute value on philosophical knowledge" in the first place. Rather, Mendelssohn regarded the balance between reason and common sense he tried to strike as a temporary settlement in anticipation of an ultimate demonstrative proof of God's existence. See Arkush, Moses Mendelssohn and the Enlightenment, 88-93.

(61) Strauss, EMFL, GS 2:581.

(62) Strauss, EMFL, GS 2:587.

(63) Strauss, EMFL, GS 2:575-6.

(64) Strauss, EMFL, GS 2:573. On p. 577, Strauss comments on Mendelssohn's "pride in this progress [of metaphysics] and, at the same time, the concomitant inability to understand the character of Aristotelian ethics, which had been adopted by Maimonides."

(65) Strauss, EMFL, GS 2:588. With slight alterations, I reproduce Beiser's translation of both quotations in The Fate of Reason, 88-9. On p. 88, Beiser aptly dubs Jacobi's doctrine an "epistemology of action."

(66) Strauss, EMFL, GS 2:588.

(67) For an account of this stage in Strauss's development, see David Janssens, "Questions and Caves: Philosophy, Politics, and History in Leo Strauss's Early Work," The Journal, of Jewish Thought and Philosophy l0 (2000): 111-44.

(68) Strauss, EMFL, GS 2:570.

(69) Strauss, EMFL, GS 2:542. Compare the characterization of Mendelssohn's position in Strauss, "Einleitung zu Sendschreiben an den Herrn Magister Lessing in Leipzig," GS 2:474, 556. Compare Strauss, EPLJ, GS 2:282. Compare Strauss, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes: Its Basis and Its Genesis, trans. Elsa M. Sinclair (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1936), 145.

(70) As Strauss observes, before admitting to Jacobi that for him "there is no other philosophy than Spinoza's," Lessing had already qualified his commitment by saying, "If I were to name myself after anyone, then I know no one better." In a similar vein, to Jacobi's avowal that "my creed is not in Spinoza," he had rejoined ironically: "I hope it is in no book," that is, not even in Spinoza. See Strauss, EMFL, GS 2:546. Referring to Jacobi's conversation with Lessing in "A Giving of Accounts," Strauss praises the latter as "the author of the only improvised live dialogue on a philosophic subject known to me." In the same context, looking back on Spinoza's Critique of Religion, he states: "In this study, I was greatly assisted by Lessing," that is, not Jacobi. See Strauss, "A Giving of Accounts," JPCM, 462.

(71) Strauss, GS 2:522.

(72) Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Leibniz von den ewigen Strafen, in Werke in acht Banden (Munchen: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1979), 7:180-3. Compare Strauss, "Exoteric Teaching," in The Rebirth, of Classical Political Rationalism, 65. In his quotation, Strauss does not reproduce the final sentence.

(73) Lessing, Leibniz von den ewigen Strafen, Werke 7:196.

(74) Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing, 182.

(75) Strauss, "Exoteric Teaching," in The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism, 64. Compare Clemens Kauffmann, Strauss und Rawls. Das philosophische Dilemma der Politik (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2000), 129-41.

(76) In 1747, Lessing completed a comedy entitled Der junge Gelehrte. At the beginning of the play, the protagonist, a young scholar, is reading Maimonides's Mishneh Torah. See Lessing, Werke 1:282. In the famous Fragments purposely published by Lessing, Hermann Reimarus praises Maimonides as "the wisest (verstandigste) of all Jews." See Lessing, Von Duldung der Deisten,. Fragment eines Ungenannten, Werke 7:322. Compare Friedrich Niewohner, "Vernunft als innigste Ergebenheit in Gott. Lessing und der Islam," Neue Zurcher Zeitung, no. 262 (2001): 83.

(77) Strauss, "Plan of a Book Tentatively Titled Philosophy and the Law," in JPCM, 470. In the same context, Strauss announces: "While preparing the edition of Mendelssohn's metaphysical writings for the Jubilee-Edition of Mendelssohn's works, I discovered some unknown material which throws new light on that controversy." However, it is not clear from the text, nor does it become clear in the introductions what this material consists of. Although the book was never published, there is fragmentary evidence in Strauss's Nachlass in the University of Chicago Library that he worked on an interpretation of Nathan the Wise. Compare Leo Strauss Papers, box 11, folder 7.

(78) Strauss, EMFL, GS 2:535. Consider also Strauss's comment on Mendelssohn's art of writing in casting Morgenstunden as a dialogue: "A dialogue is a kind of drama; a drama, being a product of poetry, is an ideal presentation of nature, in specific cases an ideal presentation of real occurrences; and art is playful, whereas life is serious"; Strauss, EMFL, GS 2:590.

(79) In a letter to Alexander Altmann, written in 1971, Strauss acknowledges his great debt to Lessing. Compare Heinrich Meier, "Vorwort des Herausgebers," GS 2:33. In 1937, Strauss wrote "Eine Erinnerung an Lessing," a short note in which he recorded that he did not find among his contemporaries "a single man of Lessing's spiritual freedom"; GS 2:607-8.

A previous version of this paper was presented to the Seminaire de Metaphysique at the Universite Catholique de Louvain in May 2001. I am grateful to Gilbert Gerard, Emmanuel Tourpe, and Ludovicus De Vos for their comments.
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Title Annotation:Leo Strauss, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi
Author:Janssens, David
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Mar 1, 2003
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