What Leo Strauss Learned from Moses Maimonides

Oct. 26 2016

Reviewing Leo Strauss on Maimonides: The Complete Writings—a new collection, edited by Kenneth Hart Green, that includes several heretofore unpublished or untranslated essays—Steven Lenzner explains the 13th-century rabbi and philosopher’s impact on his 20th-century student:

Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) is the only author on whom Strauss wrote in each decade of his life; he was the one, above all, to whom Strauss always returned. . . . In fact, studying these writings leads the reader to the opinion that, to the extent one can employ such a label for a thinker of Strauss’s rank, he was a “Maimonidean.”. . .

Why was Maimonides of such singular importance to Leo Strauss? Let me note his most important debt: it was in and through his study of (and writing on) [Maimonides’ philosophical magnum opus], the Guide of the Perplexed, that Strauss made his great rediscovery of the art of esoteric writing, by which philosophers communicate their serious thoughts only to the most intelligent and careful readers. . . .

But it was not simply the art of writing that Strauss learned from Maimonides. The medieval philosopher also served as Strauss’s chief guide in navigating the problem that the art of writing serves to ameliorate—namely, the theologico-political problem. That problem is a special version of the more general one of the relationship of philosophy to the political community, the “city.” The city demands unquestioning allegiance to its way of life; philosophy questions everything—not least, the authoritative opinions to which the city demands allegiance. This political problem became the theologico-political problem due to the introduction (as Maimonides notes) of authoritative revealed texts that also demand the unquestioning allegiance of adherents, but in a manner that sets up an additional tension, a third party with pretensions to challenge the claims of both philosophy and city.

So Strauss learned from Maimonides how to navigate a minefield denser than the one faced by the classical philosophers, albeit with the same end in mind: to promote philosophy while giving political society and revelation their due.

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More about: History & Ideas, Leo Strauss, Moses Maimonides, Philosophy

 

Why the Recent Uptick of Israeli Activity in Syria?

Sept. 23 2022

On September 16 and 17, the IDF carried out airstrikes in the vicinity of Damascus, reportedly aimed at Iranian logistical centers there. These follow on an increase in the frequency of such attacks in recent weeks, which have included strikes on the Aleppo airport on August 31 and September 6. Jonathan Spyer comments:

The specific targeting of the Aleppo airport is almost certainly related to recent indications that Iran is relying increasingly on its “air bridge” to Syria and Lebanon, because of Israel’s successful and systematic targeting of efforts to move weaponry and equipment by land [via Iraq]. But the increased tempo of activity is not solely related to the specific issue of greater use of air transport by Teheran. Rather, it is part of a broader picture of increasing regional tension. There are a number of factors that contribute to this emergent picture.

Firstly, Russia appears to be pulling back in Syria. . . . There are no prospects for a complete Russian withdrawal. The air base at Khmeimim and the naval facilities at Tartus and Latakia are hard strategic assets which will be maintained. The maintenance of Assad’s rule is also a clear objective for Moscow. But beyond this, the Russians are busy now with a flailing, faltering military campaign in Ukraine. Moscow lacks the capacity for two close strategic engagements at once.

Secondly, assuming that some last-minute twist does not occur, it now looks like a return to the [2015 nuclear deal] is not imminent. In the absence of any diplomatic process related to the Iranian nuclear program, and given Israeli determination to roll back Iran’s regional ambitions, confrontation becomes more likely.

Lastly, it is important to note that the uptick in Israeli activity is clearly not related to Syria alone. Rather, it is part of a more general broadening and deepening by Israel in recent months of its assertive posture toward the full gamut of Iranian activity in the region. . . . The increasing scope and boldness of Israeli air activity in Syria reflects this changing of the season.

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More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria, War in Ukraine