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The Philosopher of Neoconservatives
The Boston Globe ^ | 5/11/2003 | Jeet Heer

Posted on 05/11/2003 6:43:44 AM PDT by A. Pole

Edited on 04/13/2004 2:09:46 AM PDT by Jim Robinson. [history]

The late Leo Strauss has emerged as the thinker of the moment in Washington, but his ideas remain mysterious. Was he an ardent opponent of tyranny, or an apologist for the abuse of power?

ODD AS THIS MAY SOUND, we live in a world increasingly shaped by Leo Strauss, a controversial philosopher who died in 1973. Although generally unknown to the wider population, Strauss has been one of the two or three most important intellectual influences on the conservative worldview now ascendant in George W. Bush's Washington. Eager to get the lowdown on White House thinking, editors at the New York Times and Le Monde have had journalists pore over Strauss's work and trace his disciples' affiliations. The New Yorker has even found a contingent of Straussians doing intelligence work for the Pentagon.

(Excerpt) Read more at ...

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Government; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: chicago; conservatism; culture; government; leostrauss; neocon; neocons; philosophy; strauss
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To: Helms
I've read a lot about Heidegger and I've read his work. There's no doubt that Being and Time was the most important philosophical work of the 20th century and that Heidegger was a formidible thinker.

Richard Wolin's book is important, I think, because it shows the link between Heidegger's political affiliation with the Nazi Party and his Fundamental Ontology. The same is true for Habermas and Safranski.

There's no doubt that Heidegger was instrumental in the establishment of postmodernism. Liberals, of course, love to throw around the Nazi canard, but they've done everything in their power to separate Heidegger's Nazism from his philosophy. The same is true for others as well, and one need only think of their defense of Paul De Man when it was uncovered that he wrote pro-Nazi articles in his native Belgium before he became one of the heroes of deconstructive Critical Theory.

41 posted on 05/11/2003 10:56:54 AM PDT by Reactionary
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To: x
Go figure. Do I dare trust that you don't mean to push a contradiction here?

Does it invite both ways? An argument always picks up the thread in part.

BTW, thanks for your links. The Claremont Institute is doing good work too.

42 posted on 05/11/2003 11:03:28 AM PDT by cornelis
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To: A. Pole

What is Straussian Political Philosophy? --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Some distinguishing aspects of a Straussian approach to political philosophy:

(1) A return to treating old books seriously, reading them slowly and with an effort to understand them as their authors did, rather than as History does.

(2) A recognition of the political nature of philosophy, that most philosophers who wrote did so wrote with a political purpose.

(3) A recognition that the greatest thinkers often wrote with both exoteric and esoteric teachings, either out of fear of persecution or a general desire to present their most important teachings to those most receptive to them. This leads to an attempt to discern the esoteric teachings of the great philosophers from the clues they left in thier writings for careful readers to find.

(4) A recognition of the dangers that historicism, relativism, eclecticism, scientism, and nihilism pose to philosophy and to Western culture generally, and an effort to steer philosophy away from these devastating influences through a return to the seminal texts of Western thought.

(5) Careful attention paid to the dialogue throughout the development of Western culture between its two points of departure: Athens and Jerusalem. The recognition that Reason and Revelation, originating from these two points respectively, are the two distinct sources of knowledge in the Western tradition, and can be used neither to support nor refute the other, since neither claims to be based on the other's terms.

(6) A constant examination of the most drastic of philosophic distinctions: that between the Ancients and the Moderns. An attempt to better understand philosophers of every age in relation to this distinction, and to learn everything that we as moderns can learn about ourselves by studying both eras....

If this is what Straussian philosophy is, it seems quite empty.

43 posted on 05/11/2003 11:13:21 AM PDT by Mihalis
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To: William McKinley
The part that confuses me is who was going to kill Strauss if he didn't talk in code? If the author is going to say he followed the lead of the ancient philosophers, shouldn't he attempt to show that he faced the same threats that they did, which would cause him to adopt the same approach?

Given what Strauss lived through in the twentieth century, do you have to ask? He did see two world wars and the rise of Nazism in Germany. The Russian Revolution and the Cold War also occured during his lifetime. A thinker arriving in mid-century America from Europe would naturally be grateful for freedom, but also have some suspicion about the degree of tolerance that was really allowed here. Many an emigre was troubled by the political conflicts of the 1940s and 1950s here in the US. And it appears that for Straussians the fate of Socrates is always contemporary and always a threat to real thinkers.

The ambivalence in Strauss and his followers may have much to do with the contrast between the disillusioned, pessimistic European and the modestly hopeful emigrant who wanted to believe in his new country. And a common fate of the emigre was to see his intellectual world destroyed on his own continent, and threatened by commercialism and industrialization in the New World. Strauss wasn't hostile to America, but something of that ambivalence remained. More than anything else though, the comments of the Straussians themselves about their teacher and teaching fuel the controversy. Promoting the idea of an inner, esoteric teaching was a marvellous way to keep Strauss forever alive, but it has made many mistrust him.

44 posted on 05/11/2003 11:13:41 AM PDT by x
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To: A. Pole
''Robert Goldwin became one of the first Straussians to work in practical politics when he joined the campaign of Charles Percy, a Republican candidate for the governorship of Illinois, in 1964. ''
I never thought of Chuck Percy as a conservative. If I remember him rightly I always thought of his politics closer to the RINO catagory.
If Robert Goldwin is a Straussian then I can only assume that Straussian are not conservative but liberals who, realizing they could not win in the election as a Democrat, take on the coloring of the Republican party.
45 posted on 05/11/2003 11:14:38 AM PDT by LauraJean (Fukai please pass the squid sauce)
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To: cornelis
It looks as though the exoteric public Strauss stands up for truth and philosophy against nihilism, historicism, and relativism. While the esoteric private Strauss may be saying that the truth is ugly or empty and that most people can't handle it. Some may only have heard the public Strauss, not the private one. And for those who've heard the private teaching, it's not clear what the next step would be. In any case, the public Strauss is clear in his condemnation of modern relativism, but the private Strauss looks more like a teacher or a Socratic questioner who lays forth the dilemma than a dogmatic or doctrinal philosopher who presumes to answer questions authoritatively.

Some of this ambivalence has to do with Socrates. Philosophy is to be valued. It is of the highest importance, yet it may be destructive of society. And some ambivalence doubtless relates to Germany in the interwar period: to the position of the thinker between those who can't rise to assert anything definitively and defend it and those who unquestioningly pursue a single goat regardless of its consequences or other considerations. Rather than viewing Strauss as the problem or the solution, he looks like another instance of the dilemmas human beings face in times of conflict.

46 posted on 05/11/2003 11:43:00 AM PDT by x
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To: x
The ambivalence in Strauss and his followers

LOL, Strauss with a Pilgrim hat!

There's stuff there for the psychologists, but their preocuppation with texts would place the blame of ambilance directly with the procedure of the zetesis, a search for truth. This is a search which involves duplicity, a two-sidedness with possible subversions and derailment. But it is also free to orient against the a closure: the closure of that search obviates the motion of the argument and denies further criticism. Straussians present criticism as can be possible. Cartesians with their critical epistemology become the impatient rulers who fix their principle as unquestioned determinacy. Libertarians think everything called conservative are their offspring. They ought to be psychoanalyzed. But such a closure can only be done by collapsing the polarity that exists in a search where the object of that search remains distended from the seeker. It is no wonder that Plato understood love as a dance between two.

The elucidates Voegelin's criticism of Locke. Natural right on Locke's reckoning is subsumed by desire on the part of the seeker. Likewise Strauss's beef with Schmitt: the Constitution is based on something beyond itself.

No, Strauss was a philosopher, a lover oftruth. Not a politician, an Alcibiades who used truth to catch unwitting young disciples.

47 posted on 05/11/2003 11:54:24 AM PDT by cornelis
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To: x
Yes, x. I concur with your last. But this is ambivalence of a unique kind. It is one that admits the independent and extra-anthropological existence of truth. Yet it doesn't deny the human participation in it. The implications of this stance are profound in the area of law.
48 posted on 05/11/2003 11:57:30 AM PDT by cornelis
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To: A. Pole
The Philosopher of Neoconservatives - The late Leo Strauss has emerged as the thinker of the moment in Washington, but his ideas remain mysterious. Was he an ardent opponent of tyranny, or an apologist for the abuse of power?

This is an astonishing article. From start to finish. First, is the author’s hangup with neoconservatives, I presume with the warning that by supporting Bush in the Iraqi war, I am falling in with a nefarious crowd of people who are potentially duping all of us. Since, I still don’t know what a neo-conservative is other than a Republic who has incurred the wrath of Pat Buchanan, I am confused. I seriously doubt that there are 10 people in positions of power in Washington who have heard of Leo Strauss. I am further struck in all of this by the notion that these leftists are trying to insinuate that Strauss and Straussians are anti-democratic – they the followers of Carl Marx and Bill Clinton of all people.

One of Allan Bloom's students told me that Professor Bloom had taught them that Plato was just an American-style democrat. This is just absurd. Plato taught the rule of a tiny elite, which is what the Straussians actually believe.''

In this one neat little statement, this author manages to put words that were not uttered in the mouths of a host of people, discrediting all of them, without us having a clue what any of them actually said or believed. Allan Bloom’s “The Closing of the American Mind” is one of the great books of the 20th century. His argument is that American leftism has its origins in the misinterpretation of a German philosophic tradition that no of the adherents actually understood. Far from telling anyone what Plato said, what Bloom says is that everyone should go and read Plato for himself. In fact, his subtitle is From Socrates Apology to Heidigger’s Rektorratsrede. Bloom’s immediate problem is to understand how philosophers went from the intellectual position that of Socrates who died rather than to submit to tyranny to Heidigger who threw the weight of his office and prestige behind the Nazis. It is very hard, based on this book, to understand Bloom as a cryptofascist, or anything other than one who exhorts individuals to do their own thinking, their own interpretation, and have the courage to stand up to the fascists of the left who dominate American campuses and what passes for the American thought.

As such, Bloom is a real problem for the left, because he exposes the American left’s philosophical barrenness. Having assumed the mantel of an intellectual and philosophical elite, they show none of the habits of philosophers thorugh the ages. As such, I suppose it is or was a vital problem for the left to discredit Bloom and Strauss. But they are both dead,

One of the most striking and jarring of Plato’s texts is the Republic, which leads us step by seductive step on the road from democracy to tyranny. Given that this reductio ad absurdum is a standard technique of the Dialogs to demonstrate to individuals how little we really know, in fact, I find it hard to believe that Plato himself endorses the position that is reached in the Republic.

49 posted on 05/11/2003 11:59:40 AM PDT by AndyJackson
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To: Reactionary
You wrote:

"However, I will say that if the the editors at the Boston Globe are interested in people reading Strauss with "Straussian eyes," the first thing to do is to buy the books and read them. Let the author speak for himself. Don't focus on his life or what other people have said about him. In order to read Strauss with "Straussian eyes," let Strauss speak for himself."


I kept thinking the same....when reading the article.

Thanks for saying...what I was thinking.


50 posted on 05/11/2003 12:10:23 PM PDT by Osage Orange (A pig is still a pig.....even dressed up.)
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To: Mihalis
A recognition of the political nature of philosophy, that most philosophers who wrote did so wrote with a political purpose.

This deserves qualification to explain Strauss' stand against Machiavelli: "I can't help loving him--in spite of his errors." There's some debate here about the important distinction between philosophy and politics. Machiavelli's error was to resolve philosophy into politics.

51 posted on 05/11/2003 12:13:14 PM PDT by cornelis
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To: AndyJackson
Paul Wolfowitz was a student of Strauss at U. Chicago. Now I understand what this article is about - an attack on the Pentagon from what the author hopes to be a vulnerable flank - except that the the problem is that those who even care who Leo Strauss was are probably a bit too sophisticated to fall for this.
52 posted on 05/11/2003 12:13:15 PM PDT by AndyJackson
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To: cornelis
Read later
53 posted on 05/11/2003 12:18:51 PM PDT by MEG33
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To: cornelis
...Machiavelli's error was to resolve philosophy into politics...

Which is in contrast with Strauss's assertion that "all practical or political life is inferior to contemplative life" appealing thought.

54 posted on 05/11/2003 12:27:00 PM PDT by Mihalis
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To: All
I have just posted the Robert Locke article on Leo Strauss:

Leo Strauss, Conservative Mastermind

By Robert Locke
55 posted on 05/11/2003 12:30:06 PM PDT by Tarsk
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To: William McKinley
Thank you for posting that. I read it when it was published.

The author and I were in grad school together.

Rosen sees the democrats for what they are, he just has to be careful how he portrays himself, he is quite hated in academia. He is always accused of being a "Straussian Facist" by mainstream Platonists, Po-Mo's and the analytics. He is one of the greatest, if not THE GREATEST, teachers I have ever had and is clearly brilliant. However, Rosen is careful, just as Strauss was careful which means that you can just pick up his work and easily "get it."
56 posted on 05/11/2003 12:33:16 PM PDT by diotima (FR/FRN SUPPORTS OUR TROOPS!!!!!!!!)
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To: Reactionary
I think Rosen's book "Hemenuetics as Politics" is a good book to read for his views of Strauss. I would say that Rosen has Strauss down better than most of the others.

Although he is very academic and sober in his writing, he is hilarious in person and deadly to argue with.
57 posted on 05/11/2003 12:35:46 PM PDT by diotima (FR/FRN SUPPORTS OUR TROOPS!!!!!!!!)
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To: x
58 posted on 05/11/2003 12:39:58 PM PDT by diotima (FR/FRN SUPPORTS OUR TROOPS!!!!!!!!)
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To: x
It was always pretty clear that Strauss abhorred Locke.

I wouldn't go so far as to say Strauss "abhorred" Locke. I think Strauss reserves his harshest treatment for the other contract theorists, particularly Hobbes (whom he called the progenitor of "political hedonism" and a "political atheist") and Rousseau. Locke gets short shrift by comparison.
59 posted on 05/11/2003 12:43:07 PM PDT by bourbon (Law, in its sanctions, is not coextensive with morality.)
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To: cornelis
Hey, hey! It sure was.In response to several of your postings which I read. I just finished "Heidegger's Children"( Arhendt, Marcuse, Lowith and others) by Richard Wolin which wastes no time debunking Heidegger. Heidegger studied under E. Husserl, a Jew, who eventually turned his back on his student. Reading Heidegger and reading about him turns my stomach. Basically Wolin draws a rather sickening portrait of the Magician from Messkirk. Heidder is still alive in France and German intellctual thought. Apparently a "meme" which dies hard.
60 posted on 05/11/2003 12:43:13 PM PDT by Helms (Kulture Wars Redux)
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