Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Or he could have cited John Lennon

Via DeLong, Jason Kuznicki is skeptical of Leo Strauss's notion that "the many" must believe in an afterlife of rewards and punishments:
. As John Stuart Mill wrote about a century earlier:

It is, in short, perfectly conceivable that religion may be morally useful without being intellectually sustainable: and it would be a proof of great prejudice in any unbeliever to deny, that there have been ages, and that there are still both nations and individuals, with regard to whom this is actually the case.

But Mill had a bit more courage than Strauss; he ends his essay in part:

History, so far as we know it, bears out the opinion, that mankind can perfectly well do without the belief in a heaven. The Greeks had anything but a tempting idea of a future state. Their Elysian fields held out very little attraction to their feelings and imagination. Achilles in the Odyssey expressed a very natural, and no doubt a very common sentiment, when he said that he would rather be on earth the serf of a needy master, than reign over the whole kingdom of the dead. And the pensive character so striking in the address of the dying emperor Hadrian to his soul, gives evidence that the popular conception had not undergone much variation during that long interval. Yet we neither find that the Greeks enjoyed life less, nor feared death more, than other people.

No existential, civilization-ending crisis of unbelief for him! Without it, no need for philosopher-kings to trick us into a belief in natural right.
The irony of refuting Strauss by reference to the Greeks is a pleasant one.

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