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May 19, 2003

Leo Strauss in the news

Leo Strauss and his proteges, the "Straussians," are again in the news. Jeet Heer writes in the May 11 Boston Globe:

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 .

In the International Herald Tribune, William Pfaff calls Strauss "the main intellectual influence on the neoconservatives," listing as Straussians: "Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Abram Shulsky of the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, Richard Perle of the Pentagon advisory board, Elliott Abrams of the National Security Council, and the writers Robert Kagan and William Kristol."

In her 1988 book The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss, Shadia Drury argued that Strauss was not really a cultural conservative committed to natural law and transcendent truths; he was actually a nihilist who promoted conservatism as a golden lie for the masses. Some of John Gunnell's articles from the 1970s and 1980s had reached similar conclusions. In my 1995 book, Nietzsche and the Modern Crisis of the Humanities, I sharpened this analysis somewhat by arguing that:

  1. Nietzsche was a duplicitous or esoteric author, teaching public doctrines (such as Will to Power and Eternal Return) that he did not believe, because he feared the impact of the nihilistic Truth; and
  2. Strauss was systematically and profoundly influenced by Nietzsche's conclusions and methods of writing. Thus he was a Nietzschean, if anyone deserves that title.

Then, in Something to Hide (1996), I published a comic novel about a conspiratorial group of nihilists/conservatives, loosely based on Leo Strauss. However, given the level of suspicion that Straussians now provoke in some quarters (e.g., among followers of Lyndon Larouche), I should say that I find the actual Straussians curious and sometimes interesting, but not dangerous or malevolent.

Here is the section from my 1995 book in which I assemble evidence for the hypothesis that Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom were Nietzscheans.

May 19, 2003 11:05 AM | category: none


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