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Monday, September 30, 2019

Strauss on Three Waves of Modernity

In his Natural Right and History, Leo Strauss talks about  the three waves of modernity. Machiavelli, he says, is the architect of the first wave which includes the early modern philosophers like Spinoza, Hobbes, and Locke; these philosophers reduced the moral and political problems to the level of a technical problem—they emphasized on institutions rather than on moral education; they believed that modernity is a movement away from nature and into an artificial social environment.

The second wave, launched by Rousseau who questioned the tenets of the first wave doctrine, emphasizes on virtue and the role that history, or the historical process, in determining man’s humanity. This wave includes the great 18th and 19th century philosophers—Kant, Fichte, Hegel, and Marx—and goes right up to Nietzsche, even though Nietzsche is not part of the second wave, he is the one who initiates the third wave, according to Strauss.

By his rejection of the conclusions reached by the second wave thinkers, Nietzsche launched the third wave. He was applied by Rousseau’s belief that while making men more humane, the historical process effaces in them the naturally good (the sentiment of existence)—Nietzsche notes that “the sentiment of existence” is not in agreement with Rousseau’s conception of it, but rather it's an “experience of terror and anguish.”

According to Strauss, the first wave philosophy inspired the rise of liberal democracies (like America); the deficiencies in the first wave provoked the second wave philosophy, which led to the communist regimes (like the Soviet Union); and the failures of the second wave led to the third wave philosophy which climaxed with the fascist regimes.

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