Strauss 's Critique Of Religion Essay

Strauss 's Critique Of Religion Essay

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In this essay I will advance the argument that Strauss’s account of cultural Zionism’s limitations is inaccurate as well as revelatory. Strauss’s critique of a strictly cultural Judaism reflects not so much his affirmation of Orthodox religious practice, but his rejection of cultural particularity more generally. Recognition of the universalist undercurrent animating Strauss’s rejection of Jewish cultural particularity affords us the additional opportunity to reassess Strauss’s analysis of the Jewish condition in Why Remain Jews. Finally, we will suggest that recourse to a number of pertinent details in Strauss’s biography proves helpful in interpreting Strauss as a political philosopher.
In the essays Progress or Return and Why Remain Jews, as well as in the preface to Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, Strauss argues for the conclusion that cultural Judaism must ultimately reduce to religious Judaism. To quote:
But the heritage to which cultural Zionism had recourse rebelled against being interpreted in terms of “culture” or “civilization,” meaning as an autonomous product of the genius of the Jewish people. That culture or civilization had its core in the Torah, and the Torah presents itself as given by God, not created by Israel.” (Progress or Return 92)
Now, admittedly, the straightforward, favorable interpretation of the above passage suggests that Strauss merely asserts an identity relation between Jewish culture and Jewish religion. Unlike the gentile nations, for whom cultural identity remains over and above religious character, Jewish cultural self-expression and nationhood can only be understood as an advanced manifestation of Judaism’s theological underpinnings. If Strauss’s critique of cultural Judaism solely revolve...


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...d when attempting to understand his universalist orientation. Strauss was (1) a Jew, (2) a German, and (3) lived his formative years in the first half of the 20th century. Strauss witnessed for himself the danger undue focus upon organic nationhood or ethnic identity could result in. The glorification of race and culture had eventuated in the dissolution of European civil society and the attempted genocide of an entire people—Strauss’s reaction to this catastrophe is more than understandable. Nevertheless, Strauss’s conclusion that universal reason or Jewish monotheism can serve as the only means to tame man’s rapacity and ground his social order need not follow. A healthy ethnic and cultural awareness tempered by a Burkean prudence and ultimate acknowledgement of a transcendent moral order offers a viable alternative to the “propositional nation” Strauss preferred.

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