Friday, September 28, 2012

Why do Straussians write horrible books?

A tendentious question, yes. And one that suggests its own answer.

It occurs to me as a result of quickly reading this review of Charles Kesler's book on Obama, which sounds both awful and delusional (though in a more measured and intellectual way than, e.g., Dinesh D'Souza, who borders on being clinically insane).

Mark Lilla, the NYT Book Review's reviewer of Kesler's I Am the Change,  describes Kesler as a "Harvard-­educated disciple of the conservative philosopher Leo Strauss, an admirer of Cicero and the founding fathers and Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. and Ronald Reagan... [who] teaches at Claremont ­McKenna College [something of a hotbed of Straussianism--LFC] and is the editor of The Claremont Review of Books...."

So what is the overriding problem here? If you guessed "disciple of the conservative philosopher Leo Strauss," you're right!! Ding, ding, ding!! Go to the head of the class.

Strauss is polarizing (disciples adore him, others don't), and I hesitate to even suggest something to read for those who want to find out about him (though a piece by Myles Burnyeat in the New York Review of Books many years ago remains a good statement of the 'anti' case, I think). Also, Alan Gilbert at the Democratic Individuality blog has much to say about Strauss (none of it positive) in an erudite vein.

P.s. For a recent post by Ben Alpers about Strauss and one of the lesser-known of his works, see here.

P.p.s. Of course there's always the option of trying to read Strauss himself. (But life may be too short for that.)

P.p.p.s. About the only good thing I can say about Strauss is that, unlike some people, I do not hold him posthumously responsible for the invasion of Iraq.

Update: Strauss's colleague and collaborator Joseph Cropsey died this past summer. Obituary from U. of Chicago site here.


Bro said...

The ppps is a good one!

hank_F_M said...


I don't waste time reading advocacy bios of current leaders pro or con.

Like us, most of the people who are accused of being Straussian deny having ever read him. Actually, I never heard of him until his alleged ideas were used to pejoratively explain away the neocons who are explicable without Strauss. Of course I am not one, they would be better named "Progressive LITE (c)"

Why do say Dinesh D'Souza is bordering on clinical insanity. He almost certainly disagrees with you on everything but the time of day but disagreement is not insanity. I read on of his books,IEnd of Racisim) well written, entertaining, knowledgeable, respectful of others no matter how much he disagreed with them, but I did not think the evidence he presented standing alone convincingly established one of the two major points. Much one could disagree with but he certainly did not seem insane.

LFC said...

My reference to D'Souza has to do with his book 'The roots of Obama's rage'. (D'Souza also has another book about Obama and some kind of film.)

If you look up 'The roots of Obama's rage' on Amazon, you will see that the thesis is that Obama is channeling the 'socialist' 'anti-colonial' views of his father, i.e., this explains his current policies.

Here is a quote from the book, via Amazon:

"This philandering, inebriated African socialist [i.e. Obama's father], who raged against the world for denying him the realization of his anti-colonial ambitions, is now setting the nation’s agenda through the reincarnation of his dreams in his son."

So Obama's father is "setting the nation's agenda." If that does not border on clinical insanity -- a bit of rhetorical exaggeration on my part -- it comes pretty close.

I believe in trying to be respectful to people w whom one disagrees, at least most of the time. But occasionally someone goes off the deep end. D'Souza appears to have gone off the deep end. (Do people still use that expression? anyway i think you know what i'm getting at.)