The Cunning of the Philosophers

I saw the universe as it is, I saw as the active agent, a gold and red illuminated-letter like plasmatic entity from the future, arranging bits and pieces here: arranging what time drove forward.

—Philip K. Dick, The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick

Unity gain around the loop, unity gain, zero change, and hush, that way, forever, these were the secret rhymes of the childhood of the Discipline of Control— secret and terrible, as the scarlet histories say.

—Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

The artist is the antenna of the race.

—Ezra Pound, 1885-1972, expatriate American, poet, critic, editor

Madmen and philosophers: poets, gamblers, soldiers, and rakes. Is there a difference? Madmen wander in the irrational zones of the abyss without the circular systems of control we’ve come to frame under the sign of Reason and Logic. Philosophers appear to define, delimit, and frame the limits of Reason and Logic. Opposing poles? A sort of gambit between differing realities? Competing realms of memory and perception? Who makes up all this shit anyway, and – more to the point: Why should we bother our simple minds with all this hocus-pocus world of concepts, axioms, principles? What is the point of philosophy and its policing of the civilized and acceptable limits of human discourse and meaning? And, why are so many philosophers in our moment worried that human discourse is unraveling, that the reality systems we’ve evolved at the extreme limits of Reason and Logic are giving way, collapsing, and becoming unglued to the age old metaphysical worldview spawned over some ten thousand years, brought to fruition in Plato and Aristotle, and eroded and spun down to a its bare and nihilist edge worlds of our modern and postmodern malaise. Where do we go from here?

The Reality Studio (or that vast conglomerate of academic, governmental agencies, scientific consensus, mediatainment and global network of communications via Corporate channels of command and control) does not want you to know how it manipulates your memories and perceptions in an ongoing retrosimulative system that captures your desires at the expense of your life.  Parable, metafiction, elaborate hoax? Leo Strauss in his Persecution and the Art of Writing would remark that most humans “would admit, as a matter of course, that man can lie and does lie. But they would add that lies are short-lived and cannot stand the test of repetition-let alone of constant repetition-and that therefore a statement which is constantly repeated and never contradicted must be true”. 1 Yet, what of the lie of the world itself? What of the very world of appearances within which we all assume our memories and perceptions as true and valid? What if the very truth of our lives was based on a lie? How would we know? A lie that merely suborns our desires with distractions to the point that we repeat the unrepeatable world of our lives as if they were real rather than fictive semblances. What if the world is a prerecorded tape being spun on the same record player by agents of the Reality Studio as schematic embellishments in an algorithmic system which is in itself part of a strategic game in the Time Wars? Madness? Paranoia? Philosophy?

For Leo Strauss our readings of the ancients was a lie, but one with consequences. Parodists above all the great philosophers would write under the cover of the censors and socio-cultural police of their era. Each would model their works on the premise of an exoteric and esoteric reading. Strauss would emphasize this duplicity, this sense of hiding the truth in plain site. A chameleon world of masks and copies, a world where truth is not what you see and know, but only a schema for the capturing of desire; a fragmented alterity that resists the very structures of our mind (brain?) within which we are constrained by falsehood and the neruoanalytical neglect of a profaned knowledge. Knowledge itself as a prison rather than an avenue to freedom, truth as repetition of the Same rather than novelty and innovation. Governed by conceptual frameworks that have become so ubiquitous and invisible that we mistake them for reality, while the Real invades us as an alien force instigating all the mishaps, accidents, and errors seeking a way to break us out of our composed worlds. Strauss would go so far as to say that “It’s beginning to dawn on me how misunderstood the ancients are”.2 Strauss would come to understand that “what is between the speeches (i.e., the presentation of deeds) is outweighed by the speeches (i.e., the logoi which are inserted into the historical-works).” (CC: 83) This sense of action stories rather than ideas was more central to philosophy. That action rather than concept brought forward change and the political. For Strauss even Socrates under the influence of his daimonion (defined by Strauss: the “correct translation of daimonion is: nous [mind].” (CC) was guided by the intelligence of earth or natural cunning and mattering. For Strauss Socrates was “a great con man who taught his best students to be con men” but – about what? Irony, duplicity, cunning: the philosophers used “secret” in plain site as the most honored words of everyday use supplied with a meaning very different from their everyday sense, turning them ironic to convey a truth that would pass by the censors of the day. (CC)

So that most of the orthodox readings of Plato to Derrida are for the most part all steeped in an elaborate hoax within which the socio-cultural elite under the auspices of political authority maintain their hold on the populace and the reality systems of which they are the custodians and producers. What Strauss had uncovered was the key to unlock the esoteric messages hidden in the secret words of the philosophers that the cultural police and their minions had no clue of. A cryptographic unveiling of a world of subversive thought waiting for unbinding. Insight into the philosophers’ esotericism makes it evident that the great philosophers transcended their time and place in thought and then descended, as it were, reporting their gains exoterically by accommodating them to the prevailing prejudices of their time. Strauss’s recovery of esotericism is nothing less than the recovery of the possibility of philosophy. (CC: 91)

The point of this is that philosophers have been bound by the discursive practices within which they were born, bound by the censorial regulation of writing and publishing, bound by the strictures, structures, civilized reception and exoteric literalisms of the societies that would allow or exclude their work in its codes and systematic modes of governance, its political stance and mental hygiene. If one speaks or writes too far outside the proscribed limits of one’s contemporary discursive borders one will go unread, unpublished; or, even worse both read and published but labeled as mad, insane, and an example of the mode of excess and transgression that must be clamped down. It is the mental power of the great philosopher who is able to take on the colors and modes of his time, while at the same time working duplicitously, conning the censors and opening up his writing and speeches to the rare reader and thinker.

The purpose of esotericism is to preserve the community of philosophers across time. Such preservation implies esotericism’s second purpose: to enlarge that community one fit reader at a time. (CC:100) This sense that the philosophers are solitaires scattered among the time vectors of an ongoing war, each conveying a message not to the general public at large, nor to the governing authorities of the Reality Studio of the orthodoxy of any given era, but rather as a elite members of the scarlet histories in which the counter-worlds outside the Authority are kept safe from the Time-Wars: this is at the heart of Strauss’s notions of the recovery of esotericism. Strauss made philosophy and revelation irreconcilable warring opposites whose opposition was a boon for philosophy. That boon was strictly private and pedagogical: as philosophy’s allegedly most serious and demanding opponent, revelation had to be refuted by the budding philosopher both to prove his strength and to confirm to him the viability and consistency of his desired life of reason. (CC: 105)

Yet, Strauss, unlike his progenitor Nietzsche, would harbor an anti-liberal and anti-Enlightenment stance. Whereas for Nietzsche the human species was in the throes of an end game, the completion of nihilism in which philosophy was giving way to centuries of Baconian scientific pragmatism and technological advancement saying:  “Perhaps humanity will perish of it! On with it!”3

For Strauss on the other hand the restoration of esotericism, his refusal to endorse the modern enlightenment while acting as if it had poor weapons, seems a misreading of the age with bad political consequences for philosophy. But Strauss’s recovery of esotericism is of permanent importance precisely for furthering the modern enlightenment – not the progressive exoteric regimes of the Authority and their duplicitous capture systems of economic and socio-cultural governance, but of the enlightenment of that inhuman sphere of time where the solitaries of all ages resist the dark declivities of control. Recovering esotericism recovers the history of enlightenment beginning with the Greek paradigm and its provision for alterations by practical reason. Understanding this history immeasurably strengthens the intellectual ground of the modern enlightenment; its founders such as Bacon and Descartes were no more Christians in their thinking than Halevi was a Jew; they were strategists for the rational acting to crush an irrationalism, Christianity, whose wars threatened to make their age a new dark age. They were wise men who, in judging their age, judged it wise not to dissolve their responsibility to philosophy into timidity but instead to act on behalf of philosophy, to alter the social conditions of philosophy fundamentally by changing the direction of their age. (CC: 107)


Notes:

This is the key: religion was and is the enemy of the philosophers in all its guises, and in every era it has sought to convey its wisdom: Sophrosyne: (Greek: σωφροσύνη) is an ancient Greek concept of an ideal of excellence of character and soundness of mind, which when combined in one well-balanced individual leads to other qualities, such as temperance, moderation, prudence, purity, and self-control.


  1. Strauss, Leo. Persecution and the Art of Writing. (University of Chicago Press 1952)
  2. Smith, Steven B. The Cambridge Companion to Leo Strauss. Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (May 11, 2009) CC
  3. Kritische Studienausgabe 11.88 (a notebook of 1884).