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Reviewed by:
  • Socrates and Divine Revelation by Lewis Fallis
  • William H. F. Altman
FALLIS, Lewis. Socrates and Divine Revelation. Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester Press, 2018. viii + 186 pp. Cloth, $95.00

Three recent trends in the Straussian reception of Plato are visible in this book, a reworking of a 2015 Ph.D. dissertation in political science written under the supervision of Thomas Pangle at the University of Texas (Austin). By adding two chapters on Ion to “The Aim of Dialectics in Plato’s Euthyphro,” Fallis’s book becomes comparable to the work of one of his endorsers: Robert C. Bartlett, Sophistry and Political Philosophy: Protagoras’ Challenge to Socrates. Breaking with the tradition of devoting interpretive monographs to a single Platonic dialogue, Bartlett’s earlier diptych links a refreshingly original reading of Protagoras with a much less adventurous take on Theaetetus. Fallis’s slim book follows the same pattern: guided positively by Leo Strauss’s “An Untitled Lecture on Plato’s Euthyphron” and dialectically by Marlo Lewis’s “An Interpretation of Plato’s Euthyphro,” he breaks no new ground in finding something other than piety in “the Platonic dialogue on piety,” a description that may well apply better to Plato’s Laws or even Epinomis. More adventurous on Ion, Fallis continues to downplay Socrates’ daimonion and then gives short shrift to Socrates’ inspired speech on divine inspiration, finding “divine revelation” only in the poems the rhapsode recites. This marks the second trend, not surprisingly also visible in Pangle’s The Socratic Way of Life: Xenophon’s Memorabilia: the application of the loaded phrase “divine revelation” to pre- or rather non-Jewish antiquity. For Strauss, “revelation” never even refers to the New Testament, only to the Jewish scriptures, and as a result, applying it to Homer’s poems or Socrates’ daimonion undermines the letter of the archetypically Straussian division between ancients and moderns. For Strauss, then, the return to the ancients is necessary for those who are confronted with the conflict between “Athens” and “Jerusalem.” Following Pangle in failing to confront this problem, Fallis leaves us wondering if Socrates’ Athens (and its gods) have now become his “Jerusalem,” as they never could for Strauss. Indeed, one of the two most interesting moments in the book is when Fallis takes Lewis to task for imposing a “‘modern tint’ on Socratic political philosophy,” exactly the same objection that could be lodged against Fallis himself, and on a much less superficial level. This creates an interesting gap between the well-crafted letter of Strauss’s antinomies and the more easily recognizable spirit guiding his own decision for “Athens” as opposed to “Jerusalem,” for true it certainly is that Fallis argues throughout—indeed this is his book’s thesis—that the philosophically justified “moral” is prior to the experience-based claims of “divine revelation.” Finally there is the third [End Page 597] trend to be considered: a similarly post-Straussian insistence on the necessarily selfless implications of morality: “By a recognition of how to act morally, I mean a recognition that and how one ought to subordinate one’s self-interest for the sake of something higher, or of greater dignity or importance than oneself.” In his “change of orientation” review of Carl Schmitt’s Begriff des Politischen (1932), Strauss took the author to task for surrendering morality to a liberal humanitarianism instead of lodging a Plato-based—that is, derived from treating “what is virtue?” as an unsolved problem—moral objection to this kind of moralism, and it would be antithetical to Strauss’s project to present self-sacrifice as moral, let alone as what the ancients regarded as καλόν. And yet a ready willingness to emphasize the selfless aspect of nobility has recently become visible in Bartlett, Pangle, and another of his students; see Ariel Helfer on “the very idea of the noble” in Socrates and Alcibiades: Plato’s Drama of Political Ambition and Philosophy. As was the case with an Athens-based use of “divine revelation,” the emergence of a simply moral sense of morality upholds the spirit but not the letter of Strauss’s own project. To take the relevant example, although Fallis’s Socrates maintains the master’s opposition to...


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