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Leo Strauss

Far from Amazon and bookshops here in Kabul, I can only suggest a good article by Paul Gottfried on his newest book and hope that someone reviews it here.

Dr. Gottfried, a prolific conservative author who teaches at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, has written Leo Strauss and the American Conservative Movement: A Critical Appraisal, recently published by Cambridge University Press, and he gives us a tasty amuse bouche on to be read here.

Dr. Gottfried shows respect for Strauss as “a person of vast humanistic learning, and more thoughtful and less pompous than some of his famous students,” as some The Imaginative Conservative contributors do, while he remains “hardly friendly to the Wilsonian Weltpolitik of the Straussians.” But without using the word “ideology” (in the article at least) he describes Strauss, Straussians and their so-called NeoConservative fellow travellers as ideologues in a way that resonates with anyone who possesses a Kirkian cast of mind.

Near to the heart of it, he accuses the Straussians of imposing their own (often modern and liberal) values onto history, seeing their own narrative justified everywhere, and going to indefensible lengths to defend their positions.

Ludwig von Mises

Ludwig von Mises

He recounts a disagreement between Strauss and Ludwig von Mises over whether facts exist apart from one’s values: “As the debate wore on and Strauss began to moralize, Mises lost his equanimity. He indicated to (economist Murray) Rothbard that he was being asked to debate not a true scholar but a ‘gymnasium instructor.’’

Ideology is not merely a kind of party-game that ends in genocide; the participants blind themselves incrementally until what Dr. Kirk scornfully calls ‘defecated reason’ triumphs and make-believe trumps reality and prudence. Dr. Gottfried asks, amusingly:

“…in their attempt to find “secret writing” in texts, Straussians would almost compulsively read their own values into the past. Presumably all smart people who wrote “political philosophy,” no matter when they lived, were religious skeptics, yearning for something like “liberal democracy.” This speculation could be neither confirmed nor disconfirmed and contributed zip to scholarly discussion. (We)…also wondered why none of the great minds whom the Straussians wrote about was ever shown to be a Christian heretic or something other than a forerunner of those who are now revealing their concealed meanings…Why do all “secret writings” seem to have originated with a Jewish agnostic residing in an American metropolitan area?”

At the end, if what Dr. Gottfried describes is not a diagnosis of ideology, one wonders what is. It fits Sir Karl Popper’s principle of empirical falsification (if it cannot be disproven it is not a valid proposition) as well as the Procrustean definitions of ideology familiar to students of Burke and Kirk.

He also critiques Strauss and his followers for failing to see the similarities of state socialism in its many noxious forms and, instead, blaming everything on ethnicity, specifically Germans. Hence for many modern NeoCons, it is always 1938, everyone on their side is always Churchill and every opponent is Hitler.

On the basis of one insightful article, the book sounds worthwhile.

Books on the people and topics discussed in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative BookstoreThe Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.

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6 replies to this post
  1. I am looking forward to the release of this book, although I wonder what on earth they are thinking at Cambridge University Press in charging $82.75 for a 192 page book. Dr. Gottfried is an excellent writer and a brilliant scholar and I'm sure this book will be full of insight into the mind of Leo Strauss and his followers.

  2. Love the Gottfried quote you posted. But yours is sublime," Ideology is not merely a kind of party-game that ends in genocide; the participants blind themselves incrementally until what Dr. Kirk scornfully calls ‘defecated reason’ triumphs and make-believe trumps reality and prudence."

    I am writing a paper on truth, beauty, and goodness and the pursuit to bring that to others. May I quote you?

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