Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Belated Happy Birthday to Lincoln and Darwin

Here are some very thoughtful comments by Ivan the K. People who care about people--and human freedom--have to admit that Lincoln was more important than Darwin. But Darwin, to be fair, was a great critic of the idea of personal importance or significance.

Discussions - 9 Comments

I am not so sure the divide is between reason and faith as described by Ivan the K--at least as it pertains to Lincoln. Lincoln made appeals to "Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason..." (Lyceum) And he seemed to hold faith before the tribunal of reason. After all, both the North and South prayed to the same God (2nd Inaugural).

So, I do not see the divide as stark as IK does. Certainly, there is a difference between Darwin (reason/science) and Lincoln. I think we can say more correctly, that Lincoln's faith was in reason, which we ought not abandon to "science."

To back up Erik's point, see my quote on Lincoln by Gopnik about a week ago.
There may be some difference, though, between young man Lincoln and Lincoln chastened by the experience of war.

Well, in that context I was discussing the popular reception and legacies of the two--I wasn't trying to make Lincoln a representative of revelation versus reason. I think the real divide between Darwin and Lincoln is NOT between reason and revelation but between those who take scientific reason as comprehensive with respect to all things human and those that accept reason but deny its comprehensiveness. Also, Christianity complicates the Straussian tension between reason and revelation since it neither pits thems against one another as mutually exclusive nor attempts a definitive, sustematic synthesis--this is one of the reasons, I believe, Strauss generally neglected Christianity.

"Strauss generally neglected Christianity." This is true. And yet he's taken as an authoritative guide to the trajectory and fate of modern political thought.

How you can really understand Europe and America while neglecting Christianity is beyond me. This is why the most interesting Straussians are also the "worst," i.e. they take Christianity seriously, and also have the most nuanced understandings of modernity/postmodernity. Like Peter, of course.

It seems to me that the more seriously you take Christianity, the more dubious the typical Straussian categories (nature/history, political theology/political philosophy, ancient/modern) become. So at some point, Ivan, I'd love to see you work through the implications of your concession about LS and Christianity. Perhaps you have -- this isn't a hostile comment on my part.

It is true IK, that Strauss did not pay a lot of attention to Christianity, but he did pay attention to it.


Strauss makes a distinction between Judaic/Islam revelation and Christian revelation (the latter being more open to philosophy), but I think on some fundamental level, revelation stands as a group to him. Judaism is the historical precursor to Christianity. His criticisms of Christianity may come via his discussion on Thomas--whom he considers blurs the distinction between reason and revelation too much. In that, the Eastern Orthodox Christians are the closest inheritors of the Judaic tradition. In that sense, Christianity and Judaism go more closely together.


There is still a tension between reason and revelation, even with the appearance of Christianity. But, there is more to Christianity than the Western version--the East is the other half of the lung. Susan Orr has much on Christianity in her book Jerusalem and Athens. It explores these questions much better than I here (tho I insert the East as purely my own).

In that, the Eastern Orthodox Christians are the closest inheritors of the Judaic tradition

As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I do not have a sense of that, either experientially nor in the Church's theology. On the contrary many of the western perculararities in theology and experience seem to be a rehash (or is it forgetfulness) of "Judaic" tensions that were resolved in the Church long ago.

the East is the other half of the lung.

I take offense to that! No seriously, as a rhetorical cue to westerners that there is more to the Church than the Pope and the protestant revolution, it's fine. However, the Church is the Church in her fullness - The pope of Rome has his own reason(s) for using such terminology...

Matt S, part of what comlicates the story is that Erik is right---it's not so much that LS ignored Christianity in that he purposely neglected it--it seems that both the project of reinvigorating classical philosophy and reintroducing a non-Nietzschean basis for hierarchicial rank were complicated by Christianity. For similiar reasons,as Brague has discussed so ably,LS' divide between the ancients and the moderns unjustly ignores medieval philosophy as a "time of latency between two summits". LS' orientation, as he himself describes it, was always guided by the theological-political problem, which simultaneously presumes Christianity (in the mediation between the divine and logos) but also negates it (in assuming too strict a divide between reason and revelation. So, in my view, one could not simply be a doctrinnaire Straussian and be a Christian, however, it's not all that clear that Strauss was a doctrinnaire Straussian in the conventional textbook sense.

Christopher, please elaborate, and Erik, please reply! Blessings on you both. Why are the divisions among Orthodoxy (a Russian Church, a Greek one, an Armenian, etc.) legitimate, if there is One Church?

What about the idea that Darwin is as much revelation as he is reason. There is little hard evidence to back his theory that all species evolved from a common anscestor and yet, all of science holds it up as a sort of universal truth and jealously guards it. I saw a show on the National geographic network that portrayed Darwins voyage on the beagle as some sort of strange religious experience. Even though the biographies I have read suggest that his theory came after the trip on the beagle and that another scientist came up with the same theory at the same time, Darwin was a slightly bigger name and from a better family so he got credit. I really think there is about as much reason in some of Darwin as there is in revelation.

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