DAVID BRIN's world of ideas

 

THE GURU OF NEOCONSERVATISM (The Intellectual/Platonist Version)

by David Brin, Ph.D.

(Copyright © 2004)

"Strauss taught his disciples a belief in absolutes, contempt for relativism, and joy in abstract propositions. He approved of Plato's 'noble lies,' disliked much of modern life, and believed that a Straussian elite in government would in time overcome feelings of persecution. Strauss's teachings can be found in vulgarized form in Allan Bloom's 1987 best seller, The Closing of the American Mind.... Yet students of Strauss and Bloom -- William Kristol, the editor; Robert Kagan, the anti-Europe polemicist; Francis Fukuyama, the 'end of history' prophet; Paul Wolfowitz, the strategic planner -- inspired perhaps by the Straussian vision of philosopher-kings, flocked to the Washington of Ronald Reagan, were discontented during the presidency of the elder Bush, and came into their own under the younger Bush." From "The Making of a Mess," by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., cited below.


[image from Harpers Magazine]

Jim George of The Australian National University attempts to be fair, offering both a best-case and a worst-case interpretation of Leo Strauss in this excerpt:

...it's possible to read Strauss as a profound but distressed old world intellectual, effectively out of his cultural time and place, who sought to warn his adopted homeland of the dangers of thinking frivolously about matters of life and death. In particular about the ever present threats of totalitarianism and tyranny. His contribution, in this regard, was to train a disciplined and classically educated American elite in the knowledge of the ancients, those who knew best how to confront such threats. Those who understood the need for simple unwavering patriotism internally, and ruthless and relentless punishment of external enemies. The task of this American elite was to instigate in the great mass of the liberal community a comprehension of the stark realities of modern life and of the need for adherence to their leaders and their national cause. If one reads Strauss in this way there is at least a nobility of purpose associated with his fundamental dislike of liberalism and his contempt for the modern masses.

On the other hand, if one reads Strauss in the way that he insists we must read philosophical texts — skeptically and always aware of esoteric strategies — he is very much what his detractors claim he is, a cynical manipulator of young minds, a right wing fundamentalist seeking to undermine liberal freedoms in the US and instigate an old world 'war culture' at the core of U.S. foreign policy. In this reading of Strauss, his classically trained elite is little more than a reconstituted pre-modern aristocracy encouraged to believe that their intellectual superiority entitles them to rule over their fellow citizens and to use any duplicitous means at their disposal in this process.