Today’s New York Times carries a piece by James Atlas on the alleged influence of the thought of Leo Strauss on key members and advisors of the Bush administration. It was Strauss’s lifelong project to resurrect the serious study of the works of political philosophers from Xenophon, Plato, and Aristotle to Machiavelli and his heirs because he thought that they raised the permanent questions of political life. His books and essays are devoted almost in their entirety to interpreting the classic works of these political philosophers.
Strauss died in 1973 and his public comments on political events during his lifetime were limited; they seem to me to have referred mostly to the Cold War. He detested tyranny and its modern variant, totalitarianism. Strauss did criticize certain trains of thought as inherently contradictory and untenable, such as the relativism of modern social science. Anyone who has ever read a single essay or book by Strauss knows how difficult it is to derive an opinion applicable to current issues from Strauss’s works. The last three books published before he died, for example, were devoted to works of Xenophon, a writer whom Strauss greatly admired.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the article in today’s Times is incredibly crude and offfensive. I can’t find a single fact in it that demonstrates the influence of Strauss on the identified individuals. It does not state expressly that the few individuals identified as Straussians influential with the Bush adminstration–Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and William Kristol–are students of students of Strauss, with their own special interests and emphases. Yeterday they were nefarious Jewish neo-cons; today the Times dubs them “Leo-cons.” I found the article of interest because of the subject and because of the quotations from the individuals identified as Straussians. The article is “A classicist’s legacy: New empire builders.”
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