On sycophancy

Xenophon devoted a challenging dialogue — Hiero, included in Leo Strauss’s On Tyranny — to the subject of tyranny. The dialogue subtly depicts how a philosopher should behave with a tyrant. If Benjamin Barber has ever read it, 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.
Professor Paul Rahe is the author of Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift and is one of the most prominent intellectual historians in the United States. He considers the case of Barber and others, placing them in historical context, in “The intellectual as courtier.”
In the related Ricochet post “Tyranny’s allure,” on the Vogue spread featuring Assad’s wife, Professor Rahe warms to the subject with reference to the Libyan tyrant:

You have to hand it to Muamar Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad. They and their minions have an unerring instinct for finding what Lenin called “useful idiots,” and they know their prey.
For a measly quarter of a million a month, the Libyan tyrant hired the Monitor Group, founded by a group of faculty members at Harvard, to shill on his behalf, and in the process he managed to snare not only the London School of Economics but also – as I pointed out last week – an American political scientist inclined to think he is “an internationally renowned political theorist,” who has even now not yet figured out that he and a host of others were snookered by Gadaffi’s well-heeled and charming son Saif. . . .

Professor Rahe has contributed deep understanding to a sordid phenomenon.


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