Monday, 30 September 2019

The Three Waves of Modernity

In his Natural Right and History, Leo Strauss notes that there is much less unity in modern political philosophy than in the philosophy of the ancients (in Classical Greece)—this is because the deficiencies in the modern doctrine have provoked a series of critiques which have carved a number of versions and revisions that cluster together in the form three waves, which Strauss calls  “the three waves of modernity.”

Machiavelli is the architect of the first wave which includes the early modern philosophers like Spinoza, Hobbes, and Locke. According to Strauss, these philosophers reduced the moral and political problems to a technical problem. They emphasized on institutions rather than on moral education. They believed that modernity is necessarily a movement away from nature and into a rational and artificial social environment.

The second wave was launched by Rousseau who questioned the tenets of the first wave doctrine. He emphasized on virtue and discovered the role that history, or the historical process, plays in determining man’s humanity. The second 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 rejected Rousseau’s belief that while making men more humane, the historical process effaces in them the naturally good (the sentiment of existence). Nietzsche points out that “the sentiment of existence” is not in agreement with Rousseau’s conception of it, but rather it is 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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