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  • Against the Lobotomites:Thoughts on the Bible, Philosophy, and Politics
  • Peter Augustine Lawler (bio)

My effort here is to keep alive the conflict between the natural theology of the philosophers and the personal theology of the Bible, particularly the Christians. I'm siding with Thomas L. Pangle against those who would hide or obscure the fundamental moral and political implications of that conflict. It may surprise some to side with Pangle against many distinguished students of Leo Strauss. Pangle showed me we're on the same side in the final chapter of his fine new book on Leo Strauss (Leo Strauss: An Introduction to His Thought and Intellectual Legacy [Johns Hopkins, 2006]).

There Pangle criticizes many Straussians for their understandable but still rationally indefensible circumvention of the radical core of Strauss's thought. They do so, for example, by diminishing the importance of what's atheistic and what's distinctively modern about Locke's thought. They fail to highlight and confront what Pangle calls the modern effort to lobotomize the modern brain, to purge from it through various diversions and technological transformations the permanent human problem of the relationship between the particular human being and eternity. The effort, in other words, is to keep us from thinking about our deepest desire and our hopes for its satisfaction. The effort is to produce human beings who for the most part live unmoved by love or death, who live with their most passionate human longings replaced by relative indifference.

The failure of the modern effort to lobotomize human beings, and so the permanence of the human problem, is visible, Pangle adds in a note, in the work of theologically inspired Straussians such as the French Catholic political philosopher Pierre Manent and myself, although neither Manent or I embrace classical rationalism's way of dealing with the problem. And it's one sign among many of the superiority of Pangle's book to the others recently written about Strauss is that he finds an important place—almost an indispensable place—at the Straussian table for theologically-inspired or what Jim Ceaser called faith-based Straussians.

I have to add that being theologically inspired seems more open-minded to me, than Pangle's alternative of being inspired by the necessity of defending rational independence. The standpoint of Pangle's book on the Bible (Political Philosophy and the God of Abraham [Johns Hopkins, 2003]) seems to be that of the [End Page 1] [Begin Page 4] independent rationalist standing on a high hill fighting off an enemy—revelation—that he has propped up to be stronger than he really thinks it is on its own. But the theologically inspired Straussian is, in effect, constantly animated by the concerns that arise among social, political, and religious beings who are incurably God directed. To be theologically inspired, it would seem, is to be animated by the question who or what is God, a question which is inseparable from another: who or what am I?

Let me say I really do agree with Pangle on the fundamental human problem. I'm stunned by his unwavering resolve, coupled with extraordinary intellectual exertions and an unimaginable display of erudition, to confront it. And I admit that I don't understand and/or don't buy classical rationalism's way of dealing with it, at least in the way he understands classical rationalism. Of course, that may be because my exertions are less than stunning and my erudition is quite imaginable.

From the view of philosophy, the pro-lobotomy or, to sound more Biblical, lobotomite modern philosophers described by Pangle thought they were doing us a favor. God with his grace has the power to save us all, but the modern philosophers knew that no amount of power could turn most people into philosophers. But their lobotomizing procedure just didn't work in chilling the patient out or getting him to compliantly be obedient to reason. Among its main practical effects was what Harvey C. Mansfield calls the totalitarian manliness run amok of the 20th century, and now the growing postmodern conviction that the main effect of rationalism on human life is to reduce particular human lives to utter insignificance...


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