November 18, 2005
Elitist nihilism? For Straussians only?
At least, that's how the philosophy is summarized by Strauss expert Shadia Drury, whose views are discussed in an excellent post by Jon Rowe. While Rowe disagrees with Drury's assessment of Straussians, he acknowledges a Straussian tendency which I've always found disturbing:
The Truth is not a Pearl, but rather is, or at least often is, harsh and something that most ordinary persons cannot handle unadulterated, because it can be so unpleasant. The wise philosopher receives intense pleasure from discovering the Truth even if what he discovers is horrifying.
Therefore, certain knowledge should be kept off limits ("nihilism for the elite"?):
the Straussians genuinely believed that keeping nihilism confined to the wise few was better for society, in a sort of utilitarian sense (though they weren't utilitarians). It was, I sincerely believe, out of genuine concern for society. This is important: While they believe that Nietzsche and Heidegger were correct as to the ultimate nihilistic nature of reality, such a "Truth" could not be used to found political orders. And indeed, such a Truth gaining wider public acceptance made Weimar Germany more receptive to Nazism.It's a mischaracterization of the Straussians to call them moral nihilists, for their morality is horrified by nihilism, even though they tend towards a sort of brutal honesty about nihilism which demagogues might characterize as championing nihilism:
...the Straussians genuinely believed that keeping nihilism confined to the wise few was better for society, in a sort of utilitarian sense (though they weren't utilitarians). It was, I sincerely believe, out of genuine concern for society.Such genuine concern is not true nihilism.
Jon Rowe's post reminded me that this collusion might revolve around a common core.
Disturbing as it might be to acknowledge the dark side (I find it tough to ignore), I think that attempting to restrict it to a certain tiny elite is far worse.
The idea that truth is too dangerous for the masses has a poor historical track record.
My own thoughts about nihilism are beyond this post, but I certainly have years of practical experience. I think that nihilism is one of the dark sides of truth, but I also think truth includes a lot more. (At the risk of oversimplifying, it's not an either/or choice. Light is not possible without dark.)
posted by Eric on 11.18.05 at 10:37 AM
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