To the Editor:
Professor David Spitz’s fear of the restrictions of political liberty—in his article, “Freedom, Virtue, and the New Scholasticism,” (October)—is a valuable antidote to tyrannical excesses that may arise, even in a democracy, under such guises as McCarthyism; his dread of government by the few is well founded both theoretically and historically; and he speaks well when he indicates that liberty of ruler as well as that of the ruled must be kept within proper bounds. But one wonders whether a sufficiently sound basis for human behavior is found in the principle that one liberty restricts another. Are traffic regulations established because men generally value freedom of pedestrians to cross streets above the driver’s freedom? Or are these statutes practical demonstrations of legislators’ convictions that man has a right to life and physical integrity that cannot be jeopardized without grave cause? It is truly important that our society establish and protect democratic processes so that injustice may be rectified. But it seems impossible for judges and legislators to distinguish justice from injustice even tentatively without some sort of standards. Is not “the machinery to correct these injustices” an empty form if there are no criteria for justice? Does not the social and political character of man require that he strive, albeit with great effort and many failures, toward the rules of right conduct? Must he not attempt to abide by the principles, though difficult of discovery and application, that will help to identify the rights and their correlative duties that make social and political existence a possibility?
James P. Henry
To the Editor:
Why does Mr. Spitz in his article say that Leo Strauss “rejects God”?
New York City
Professor Spitz writes:
With respect to personal conduct Mr. Henry’s point is unexceptionable. Men require standards if they are to order their desires into a rational hierarchy and decide on an appropriate course of action in particular circumstances. But the political problem is complicated by certain inconvenient facts. For one thing, men differ as to what those standards are and consequently on what liberties are to be allowed. For another, the exercise of one liberty often operates as a restraint on the exercise of a counter-liberty, so that all liberties cannot be legally sanctioned at the same time. What I argued in my article is that the principle of democracy provides both a standard and a sensible way of negotiating conflicts that emerge from such inconvenient facts, and in particular that the First Amendment as it appears in the Constitution and not as Professor Berns would rewrite it, provides the standard to which public officials must adhere.
As to Mr. Himmelfarb’s question: quite simply, because Strauss subordinates theology to philosophy. He recognizes, of course, that theology has been historically important and politically useful; but he holds it to be philosophically irrelevant, that is, untrue. In his view, philosophy and theology cannot be harmonized or synthesized in any ultimate sense; one must be servant and the other master. And nowhere in his work is there any suggestion that philosophy can be the handmaiden of theology; instead, there is abundant evidence that philosophy is the autonomous or master discipline. Strauss always appeals to nature, or to the classical idea of natural right, never to divine revelation or God.