Monday, June 26, 2006

Leo Strauss, Father Of Neo-Con Movement?

A new book questions how much influence the ideas of legendary University of Chicago professor Leo Strauss actually had on the neoconservative movement which was founded by some of his prominent former students.

In the mid-1980's, a highly critical article in The New York Review of Books linked Strauss with conservatism, and in the next few years, numerous pieces in other journals followed suit. It has become received wisdom that a direct line issues from Strauss's seminars on political philosophy at the University of Chicago to the hawkish approach to foreign policy by figures like Paul Wolfowitz and others in the Bush administration.

"Reading Leo Strauss," Steven B. Smith's admirably lucid, meticulously argued book, persuasively sets the record straight on Strauss's political views and on what his writing is really about. The epigraph to its introduction, from an essay by the political scientist Joseph Cropsey, sounds the keynote: "Strauss was a towering presence . . . who neither sought nor had any discernible influence on what passes for the politics of the group."

Although it is said that Strauss voted twice for Adlai Stevenson, he appears never to have been involved in any political party or movement. What is more important is that his intellectual enterprise, as Smith's careful exposition makes clear, repeatedly argued against the very idea of political certitude that has been embraced by certain neoconservatives. Strauss's somewhat contrarian reading of Plato's "Republic," for example, proposed that the dialogue was devised precisely to demonstrate the dangerous unfeasibility of a state governed by a philosopher-king.

"Throughout his writings," Smith concludes, "Strauss remained deeply skeptical of whether political theory had any substantive advice or direction to offer statesmen." This view was shaped by his wary observation of the systems of totalitarianism that dominated two major European nations in the 1930's, Nazism in Germany and Communism in the Soviet Union. As a result, he strenuously resisted the notion that politics could have a redemptive effect by radically transforming human existence. Such thinking could scarcely be further from the vision of neoconservative policy intellectuals that the global projection of American power can effect radical democratic change. "The idea," Smith contends, "that political or military action can be used to eradicate evil from the human landscape is closer to the utopian and idealistic visions of Marxism and the radical Enlightenment than anything found in the writings of Strauss."


Blogger Meatball One said...

I keep saying it, these guys are revolutionaries of the Stalinist strain, ie thugs passing themselves off as transformational thinkers but in fact they are only concerned with the projection of covetous and narcissisticly fueled power.

Sure I love to call them Trotskyites cuz it souns rather hilarious to my quirky ears but of course they are not so. They are calculating and murderous brutes endowed with certain talents of bureaucratic invasiveness.

Oh well, perhaps they weren't quite talented enough for their corrupted dreams. Where's Wolfy now?

6/26/2006 5:36 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...


Chris Hitchens came a bit late to the Neo-Con fold, but he actually was a Trotskyite (British Socialist Workers Party).

Re: the U. of Chicago boys; Strauss would indeed probably consider his progeny closer to Communists than to Democrats.

Where's Wolfy now?


6/26/2006 6:16 PM  
Blogger Donald Douglas said...

You guys are both off your rockers here, but what else is new. I keep coming back for the intellectual abuse, in any case.

6/27/2006 4:57 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...


Publish or Perish.

6/27/2006 5:34 PM  
Blogger DrewL said...

Yeah, good old Wolfy is in charge at the World Bank. Just what we need, mixing the neo-con zealotry with financial oversight of global development projects. Who needs a fox when there's a Wolf in the henhouse?

6/27/2006 10:48 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...


The appointment to the World Bank is pretty convenient.

6/28/2006 8:02 AM  

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