It need not be said that the full implications of this statement take a lifetime to realize. Of significantly less consequence is how ‘love as memory’ affects what we profess. I’ve been curious recently about the structure of a short essay by Strauss featuring this passage:
In Cohen’s deliberately exaggerated expression, God’s being becomes actual in and through His correlation with man. “God is conditioned by the correlation with man. And man is conditioned by the correlation with God.” God cannot be thought properly as being beyond His relation to man, and it is equally necessary to understand man, the creature constituted by reason or spirit, as essentially related to the unique God Who is spirit. Reason is the link between God and man. Reason is common to God and man. But it would contradict reason if man were only the passive partner in his correlation with God. Correlation means therefore also and especially that God and man are equally, if in different ways, active toward one another. (Leo Strauss, “Introduction to Hermann Cohen: Religion of Reason out of the Sources of Judaism” 238)
It takes a lot of Scriptural twisting to identify rationality as the central link between God and man. A sharp distinction between reason and revelation is much more sound for the study of philosophy or Scripture. And yet Cohen uses this strange set of thoughts to get here:
Our fellowmen we do not know through experience pure and simple but only by virtue of the command that we love them. Only on the basis of this intrahuman correlation can the correlation of God and man become actual: in man’s behavior toward men, not in his behavior toward God, the distinction between good and evil arises. It is in the light of “the social love” of our fellowmen that we must understand the love that proceeds from God and the love that is directed toward him. (239)
It’s beautiful. We understand fully there is nothing particularly rational, erotic or even friendly about this. This is a moral vision and it seems to indicate that concerns about the beautiful are moral concerns. It places a higher love as prior to justice, knowledge and even divinely inspired order. One does not argue with such a vision. There is too much in its generality and universality at stake to lodge petty complaints. What one does is sketch the more complicated pictures elsewhere. We recognize fully the power of the declaration that started this reflection. Sight, memory and thought create another world from the emergence of reason from darkness. Cohen, in his original vision, may not be attuned to the whole as tragic (although, given Providence and the fate of peoples, he certainly is aware of tragedy).
Strauss, Leo. “Introduction to Hermann Cohen: Religion of Reason out of the Sources of Judaism” in Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy, ed. Pangle. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983. 238-9.