The May 16 issue of National Review carries Steve Hayward’s article “The Tyrant Temptation,” which NR has now made available online. In the article Steve draws on Xenophon’s dialogue Hiero and Leo Strauss’s commentary on it, both included in On Tyranny. The dialogue subtly depicts how a philosopher should behave with a tyrant, as Strauss explains in his commentary. On Tyranny, incidentally, is a great book for anyone seriously interested in the study of politics.
If Benjamin Barber has ever read Xenophon’s dialogue, I don’t think he absorbed the lesson. Barber still has something to teach us, not about tyranny, but rather about sycophancy, to use another word derived from Greek. Barber is Exhibit A in Steve’s consideration of the Western intellectuals’ attraction to tyranny as illustrated in the case of Muammar Qaddafi. Paul Rahe considered the phenomenon in his Chronicle of Higher Education article “The intellectual as courtier” and in his Ricochet post “Tyranny’s allure.”
In addition to Benjamin Barber Steve also cites the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman — a repeat offender– and Dartmouth’s Dirk Vandewalle. Steve quotes Vanderwalle explaining that Qaddafi’s bizarre squad of all-female “Amazon” bodyguards was not evidence of the usual tyrant’s indulgence in kinkiness, but arose from his “attempt to improve the situation of Libyan women.”
Is there a Bartlett’s devoted to notably stupid quotations? Vanderwalle deserves to have his comment memorialized in some book of that kind.
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