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To: Stultis; Shermy; x
This is a very good article, and well worth the time to read through. I have said in the past that anyone resorting to "Straussians" as a buzz word should be required to define it, and the writers have made an effort to do just that. If you read it carefully, though, they (almost) admit in the end that "Straussian" is itself a misnomer; Straussians are credited with ideas on subjects on which Strauss himself took no position, nor any public interest.

The "Straussians" referred to are a group of intellectuals who believe in an active projection of American values, and a belief in American exceptionalism. Their connection to Strauss himself is rather coincidental, almost like the game which purports to prove that everyone in the world is only 5 steps removed from Kevin Bacon.

They do admit that "neo-conservative" is a misnomer. American conservatism is not, at its heart, conservative on the European model. 'Neoconservative' is a misnomer. They have nothing in common with those striving to guarantee the established order. American conservatism is at its heart classic liberalism, or whigism. American conservatives are often also conservatives in the traditionalist mold, which helps to confuse the matter, but few on the left ever note the distinction, which is what helps them to misjudge both events and conservatism itself consistently and egregiously.

As they note, the conservatism of some writers assumes a tragic view of human nature, but Americans are idealist-optimists convinced of the universal value of the American democratic model. The Classic Liberalism at the heart of American conservatism is ultimately hostile to the status quo where the status quo is anti-liberal.

There is a "Straussian" current in American conservatism, but Strauss is not the source. The elements the authors attribute to Strauss are his belief that "virtue is the basis for democracies" and a hostility to moral relativism; where it intersects with politics, the belief that "relativism of the Good results in an inability to react to tyranny".

But this is not unique to Strauss.

The idea of America as a moral project is repeated over and over from the founding fathers forward. The belief in American exceptionalism, that God has uniquely blessed this country, and has uniquely charged it with a moral mission and purpose, that Americans are in effect the "other" Chosen People, is deeply embedded in the American psyche, and is reinforced continuously from a million pulpits all across the land.

The writers note the apparent contradiction of "Straussians" coexisting with fundamentalists in the current administration, but it isn't such a contradiction. Both believe that life and politics cannot be separated from morality. Both believe in American mission and purpose. And both believe, in the field of geo-politics, that coexistence with evil can only be a temporary solution to a deeper problem.

Their willingness to go after the countries that attacked us is also rooted in American character. No one accused Roosevelt of being a "Straussian" or a neo-anything when he took the American people to war to avenge an attack on a Navy base, and chased the Japanese all the way back to Tokyo, and burned their cities to the ground. No one bothered to comment on it, or to look for a deeper philosophical explanation for our reaction. What else would you do when someone threatens you in your home?

Similarly, the willingness of the Reaganites to confront the Soviet Union rather than acquiesce to its tyranny is rooted more in traditional American character, perhaps fed by the evengelical protestant tradition referred to earlier. It shouldn't have required a Strauss to tell us that a passive response to the Soviets was slow-motion suicide, or that a robust defense of our values would have consequences far beyond our shores.

In the current climate, Strauss is being credited for positions he never took on matters of Mid Eastern policy. But we have been at war with Iraq for 12 years, we have been under attack by forces emanating out of the middle east for 40 years, and it doesn't require an obscure classicist to tell us what to do about it, it only requres courage, the ability to distinguish between good and evil, and clarity of purpose.

The mystery is not that the thinkers and politicians orchestrating our almost-robust defense of the country are all within 5 steps of separation from Leo Strauss, but that the willingness to defend the country, and the willingness to distinguish good from evil, have become so remarkable. That is the mystery, that the willingness to confront Soviets and middle eastern psycho killers is considered strange.

15 posted on 06/04/2003 10:18:12 AM PDT by marron
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To: marron
Excellent analysis. I agree that the Straussian angle is gratuitous. I posted the article primarily because I thought it was a decent precis on neo-cons more generally.

The mystery is not that the thinkers and politicians orchestrating our almost-robust defense of the country are all within 5 steps of separation from Leo Strauss, but that the willingness to defend the country, and the willingness to distinguish good from evil, have become so remarkable. That is the mystery, that the willingness to confront Soviets and middle eastern psycho killers is considered strange.

America itself seemed headed toward embracing this "mystery" from about '68 to '79. Even the first Bush, despite a foreign policy that was much more competent than Clinton's, and occassionaly rising to the occasion (Panama, Kuwait) began our tragic vacation from history by failing to prosecute obvious changes in policy called for by the end of the Cold War.

Thank God the vacation is over.

16 posted on 06/04/2003 11:18:15 AM PDT by Stultis
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To: marron; monkey
Part of the problem with this article is that the French political spectrum runs further to the left than our own. Anti-globalist, anti-market views expressed in Le Monde Diplomatique win more support there than comparable views in The Nation or Mother Jones do here. The "real" French left, Communists and Trotskyites, is almost off the scale here. Liberal "New Republic" views already count as conservative in France. Indeed, from the point of view of the Communist, Socialist or Social Democratic left, "liberalism" (in the European sense of middle-class, market- oriented individualism) is a form of conservatism. France is a more "statist" or "collectivist" environment: a "Rightist" like Chirac, or an "Extreme Rightist" like LePen are probably both less free market than the average Republican in the US.

I don't think anyone could successfully argue that neo-conservatives have taken over the New Republic. Rather the leftists and liberals who edit, publish, and write for the magazine discovered that leftist views didn't work or correspond to their own view of reality. In spite of the retreat from radical or laborite views, the New Republic is quite hard on neo-conservative writers.

One could call Andrew Sullivan a "neo-conservative," but not a Straussian. Sullivan went to Harvard to "get his ticket punched" and probably studied under Straussians, but his real master is Michael Oakeshott, an English philosopher of a very different stripe. More and more, "Straussianism" doesn't reflect the influence of Strauss on its supposed adherents, but simply the presence of Straussians at the elite universities where those who have power studied.

American politics and political thought are very different from the French, but I'm not so sure that Strauss himself follows the optimistic American way, rather than the pessimistic European one. Though Strauss respected the American experiment, he was steeped in the pessimism of Weimar and exile. There certainly are affinities between Strauss and America -- belief in natural law, rejection of relativism, emphasis on religion and public morality, respect for firmness and resolve, rather than weakness -- but Strauss's American disciples, especially the "West Coast" school, "Americanized his teaching.

Strauss has been maligned for believing that democracy only works when there are responsible, public spirited guardians. This would be considered a pessimistic view of popular government that doesn't go well with the desire to spread the benefits of democracy far and wide. The emphasis on religion is likewise ambivalent: I suspect that for Strauss it must have involved maintaining rites, rituals and the proper reverence for the divine, not an evangelical effort at converting and winning souls.

Anti-totalitarianism, whether in the 1930s, 1950s or 1970s, was a pessimistic stand. Certainly there was the hope of eventual victory, but the intellectuals who were most inspired by anti-communism (or earlier, anti-nazism) saw themselves as fighting a "twilight war" against the encroaching forces of darkness. If the struggle had been easier, if it had just been a matter of crushing this or that hostile regime it wouldn't have been so inspiring. Americans and Europeans were able to work together in this effort.

What's happened in the last few years is that attitudes that grew up in the difficult years of the Cold War have been adapted to a situation of greater US power. Many Europeans and some Americans don't think the dangers are as great as they were before, or that Saddam was a real threat to the West. Of course it's also true that many Europeans had little stomach for the Cold War in its later stages, but the European argument is that the rationale of maintaining the balance of power doesn't apply to recent wars, nor does the sense of the West as underdog. Their idea is that the Iraq war had less in common with the wars against fascism or communism, which could be seen as struggles against domination, and more in common with imperial wars fought for greater dominion.

The admiration for Churchill that Strauss shared with today's neo-conservatives is a worthy sentiment. But the European feeling seems to be that Saddam Hussein wasn't a threat or menace on the scale of Hitler or Stalin.

19 posted on 06/04/2003 8:07:15 PM PDT by x
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