Thursday, July 20, 2006

'Reading Leo Strauss,' by Steven B. Smith - New York Times

Update 07/19/2006

Leo Strauss, Authoritarian (Leiter)

The letter by Strauss translated here is certainly revealing, though the comments section is, alas, quickly overun by zombies from the Strauss Cult reciting their mantras against the real scholars and philosophers. From the latter group, Tad Brennan (Northwestern) gets the prize for the single, best comment, which captures both Strauss and the cult rather well:

No one has any idea what Strauss meant.

But anyone who criticizes him is distorting what he meant.

Got that?

You know, I can see taking Strauss seriously as a cultural phenomenon--the way we might take Madonna seriously as a cultural phenomenon.

But as a thinker? There's just no there there--there's no coherent, comprehensible theory or doctrine that one can identify and assess. And that's what his supporters say in his defense!

(But when I say it, its part of the ubiquitous distortion.)

What there was, apparently, was a certain allure, a certain indefinable aura of intellectual mystery, a combination of disdain and come-hither that played on insecurities and made students want to be accepted.

Cool. And Madonna wore some fab outfits on her last tour, too.

If we're supposed to take this guy seriously as a thinker, his supporters had better try to identify some of his thoughts. Horton [translater of the letter] is at least trying to take him seriously in that way, and, whadyaknow, the thoughts look pretty ugly.

And so we get the retreat into claims of ineffability .

If you pore through all the comments, be aware that, as often happens with Straussians, Nietzsche gets particularly badly misrepresented. But I don't recommend perusing the comments.


'Reading Leo Strauss,' by Steven B. Smith - New York Times

The following text about Strauss is taken from this link

The 'noble lie'
Western Magazine Awards

Strauss believed that allowing citizens to govern themselves will lead, inevitably, to terror and tyranny, as the Weimar Republic succumbed to the Nazis in the 1930s. A ruling elite of political philosophers must make those decisions because it is the only group smart enough. It must resort to deception -- Strauss's "noble lie" -- to protect citizens from themselves. The elite must hide the truth from the public by writing in code. "Using metaphors and cryptic language," philosophers communicated one message for the elite, and another message for "the unsophisticated general population," philosopher Jeet Heer recently wrote in the Globe and Mail. "For Strauss, the art of concealment and secrecy was among the greatest legacies of antiquity."

Here's another link where this is found:

In other words, Dury claims that Strauss believes that Men by their nature are inherently aggressive and can only restrained by a powerful nationalist state. �Because mankind is intrinsically wicked,� Strauss once wrote, � he has to be governed. Such governance can only be established, however, when men are united � and they can only be united against other people.� And Dury adds that this means: � If no external threat exists then one has to be manufactured.� Heroic values are required for the accomplishment of this struggle and for this the egoism and utilitarianism of modern liberalism is both an inadequate and unworthy foundation. Apparently this was shown to Strauss�s satisfaction by the utter failure of Weimar Republic to resist the rise of Hitler. In his view, Weimar�s fate is the doom of all liberal democracies given enough time.

And here's a third take:

Challenging the ideas that Strauss was an inflexible conservative who followed in the footsteps of Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Carl Schmitt, the Zuckerts contend that Strauss’s signature idea was the need for a return to the ancients. This idea, they show, stemmed from Strauss’s belief that modern thought, with its relativism and nihilism, undermines healthy politics and even the possibility of real philosophy.

Why does Robert Alter completely ignore this aspect of Strauss?

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