Judaism, Internationalism, and Leo Strauss

Oct. 27 2014

The brilliant and much-maligned political philosopher Leo Strauss has often been painted by his detractors as a reactionary warmonger. In a recent book, Robert Howse argues that in fact he espoused a firm belief in international law and cooperation. Furthermore, Howse contends, Strauss came to his position through introspection and the peculiarly Jewish process of teshuvah—repentance and return—in his case, for his youthful flirtation with the German right. Howse comes to these surprising conclusions in part through careful analysis of recently-published transcripts of Strauss’s classroom teaching. Steven B. Smith writes:

It is only in [his] seminars on [the 17th-century Dutch philosopher Hugo] Grotius and [Immanuel] Kant . . . that Strauss applied the insights gleaned from Thucydides to the revival of international law and just-war theory in the years after World War II. Strauss, we learn, was by no means opposed to a policy of enlightened internationalism. The very fact that he devoted an entire course to Grotius’s Rights of War and Peace is itself revealing. Here he found Grotius struggling with the same question that had occupied him since his early Weimar period, namely, how to fashion a political theory that threads the needle between sheer Machiavellianism and Kantian moralism. Accordingly, he finds in Grotius’s idea of a law of peoples, the ius gentium, a way to provide a ground for political ethics that is both rational and secular, and yet that recognizes the need for statesmanlike prudence and the ability to adapt to the needs of circumstance.

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More about: Hugo Grotius, Immanuel Kant, International Law, Leo Strauss, Political philosophy, Repentance

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