Straus' on Liberalism Term Paper

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Strauss on Moral Relativism

The Shifting Sand of Moral Relativism

Current political and social thought which is built on the foundation of moral relativism can no more chart a path for a nation to follow out of confusion into an enlightened and orderly society any more than a blind man can describe an elephant, or a child can pilot a 777 airliner. The tools, talents, skills, and abilities of moral relativism are completely inadequate for leading a nation. As can be seen by the steady social and societal decay which has been evident in our county since political and moral relativism have become the dominantly accepted social understanding since the early 1960's, the fruit of such a philosophy pits one group against another, one segment of the population against another without giving them any shared basis to build upon. 'My rights' replace a shared vision of 'our well-being;' and 'my desires' become the focus of societal energy rather than working for the betterment of all men who call this country their home.

None the less, moral relativism continues to become increasingly entrenched in the political culture. Is moral relativism becoming more accepted because it is serving the needs of the populace? Some would suggest that the removal of old fashioned, religious, or Victorian principles from the under-girdings of societal order have been positive. These liberal voices declare that all members of the society are now accepted, and are no longer subjected to discrimination. However, legal discrimination is based on the refusal of one person to recognize the fundamental rights of another person, and the issues being debated in the political and social market place today are not fundamental human rights, but social and behavioral choices. At all times in history, in all places, and in all societies, men and women have the ability to make choices, and pursue those choices. Different societies have different consequences for the choices made, but the right to make the choice always exists. This cultural war has produced two camps, the moral relativists, or liberal leaders, and moral absolutists, or conservative leaders. The evidence of the differences between these two adversarial belief systems, and they are indeed adversarial, can be seen if they are bought to their logical conclusion. Leo Strauss is one of the few modern philosophers, who understood that moral relativism is a source of evil in the world, and cannot produce a just and fair society. Tracing his dissertations on the inadequacy of amoral philosophy back to Socrates, Strauss said that the moral relativist position was incapable of defending the individual.

Spinoza's Critique of Religion and relativism uses the example of the Jewish people to discuss the insufficiently of the liberal state to lead.

As certainly as the liberal state will not "discriminate" against its Jewish citizens, as certainly is it constitutionally unable and even unwilling to prevent "discrimination" against Jews on the part of individuals or groups. To recognize a private sphere in the sense indicated means to permit private "discrimination," to protect it, and thus in fact to foster it. The liberal state cannot provide a solution to the Jewish problem, for such a solution would require the legal prohibition against every kind of "discrimination," that is, the abolition of the private sphere, the denial of the difference between state and society, the destruction of the liberal state"

In other words, the liberal state cannot align itself with any group who adheres to an absolute understanding of itself, because it too would have to agree to absolute terms. The liberal state is unable, unwilling, and therefore unequipped to protect absolutist groups from harm, because by doing so, it aligns itself against another group which has chosen its own moral belief system. Thus the liberal political system is becomes friends of all, but is the leaders, defenders, or protectors of no interests but its own.

Maybe his unique viewpoint stems from his experience in Nazi Germany. He fled from Nazi Germany (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 2003) at the time of WWII. Hence he had been exposed to the logical conclusion of moral relativism long before the philosophy appeared in American campuses. Hitler's justification for his attempts to eliminate the Jewish people, and to perform radical, destructive experiment on the sick, elderly, and otherwise inferior races was based on his philosophy that the Arian race was superior to them. Because of his superior status, he had the right to decide the life courses of other, inferior races. And hundreds of thousands of Nazi followers agreed with him. His was the moral relativism of the day, and his country accepted and politically agreed to his presuppositions.

The results of his philosophy was culturally, socially, and individually destructive, as is all moral relativism. Moral relativism inevitably comes to the point at which the adherents say that their way is better because they chose it. And because they chose their ethical mooring post, no one else has the right to say that it is wrong, destructive, or otherwise inappropriate. While this may sound like utopia for those who consider themselves oppressed by societies expectations, this approach eliminates the ability of leaders to govern, and thereby creates the political climate for anarchy, or the rise of leaders who govern in the basis of personal opportunism, rather than in the best interests of the population.

The founders of our country understood the relationship between the need for a moral people and the effects on a nation of immoral leaders. Ben Franklin is quoted as saying "Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters." John Adams wrote in the Federalist Papers, "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.... Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." Franklin and Adams knew the legacy which political leaders such as Hitler, Clinton, or Hussein would leave behind - a willingness to pursue their own desires at the expense of others, and the political power to justify or hide their actions from public scrutiny.

The results of turning from moral leadership to the basis of amoral, relativist ethics are the subject of Leo Strauss's works. His perspective was also that of pursuing the moral relativist to his reasonable, logical conclusion and discovering from that conclusion whether or not the philosophy was true and workable for the people. In Liberalism Ancient and Modern, Strauss wrote that "Through (relativist) philosophy the humane desire for tolerance so pushed to the extreme where tolerance becomes perverted into the abandonment of all standards and hence of all discipline." Strauss understood that when relativist philosophy is released of it moorings to the dock of moral behaviors and beliefs, the result is a people and a philosophy which is adrift in a see of personal desires which have no boundaries, and no reasons to restrain themselves.

Strauss's first work, Natural Right and History, was his thorough development of the evolution of this theory. It takes centuries for an essentially moral people to unlearn their moral or religious beliefs and replace them with a self-centered narcissism. None the less, Strauss traced the beginnings of moral relativism to Socrates who turned his philosophy form the realm of religious thought to a man centered ideology. Strauss observes that according to a tradition that dates back to Cicero, Socrates was the first human being to call on philosophy as a divine understanding of human behavior, and force it to make investigations into human affairs. Socrates was the first thinker to turn aside from understanding human behavior in the light of interaction with the divine (either causal or sociological) and theorize on human behavior on the basis of human needs, learned order, and interactions. By so doing, Socrates became the founder of political philosophy and by way of extension the originator of a tradition of natural right teachings. (Guerra, 1999)

Strauss further notes that Socrates was not always a political philosopher. Socrates, like all the early philosophers, initially was preoccupied with the divine and the heavenly things, but that when he turned from attempting to understand a religious basis for man's existence to a humanist basis, Socrates' give up his studies of things that philosophy evidently does not have to be forced to study. Strauss's traced a genealogy of political philosophy from Socrates through other humanist thinkers, and thus Strauss points out that political philosophy is something of an unnatural, and sociological enterprise, not a function of the original concern of the philosophical life. As a sociological behavior, that is, learned behavior, political theory can be based on a number of different ethical paradigms, but only when founded to a religious ethic will politics seek the betterment of all people.

When mankind believes that, as stated in the U.S. constitution, that the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is a right granted to us from our…

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