Neoconservative Kabbalism
May 7, 2003 6:45 PM   Subscribe

Many members of the Bush administration have strong ties to philosopher Leo Strauss. Can this representation of his views be accurate? ... Strauss believed that he alone had recovered the true, hidden message contained in the "Great Tradition" of philosophy ... that there are no gods, that morality is ungrounded prejudice, and that society is not grounded in nature. (This Times profile doesn't make him sound as creepy, but is vague about his actual ideas.)
posted by lbergstr (18 comments total)
* dons tin foil hat and clicks away *
posted by xmutex at 7:02 PM on May 7, 2003

None Dare Call It Conspiracy.

They can't stop laughing long enough to.
posted by alumshubby at 7:14 PM on May 7, 2003

For what it's worth, this Slate piece also uses the second link from above (the one I'm assuming inspired the tinfoil hat comment) as a reference for Strauss.
posted by lbergstr at 7:24 PM on May 7, 2003

I don't think you've been paying attention.
posted by NortonDC at 7:29 PM on May 7, 2003

The Straussians are also the only group of "conservatives" ever to amount to anything in the academic world. They have reportedly been gradually, quietly infiltrating and taking over political-science departments, making that discipline characteristically theirs

Ah, yes, poli-sci, that characteristically conservative field.

The idea that Straussians are taking over poli-sci departments is just silly. At most, it would be conceivable that they'd be able to take over political philosophy, but that has astonishingly little to do with what most poli-sci types actually do. Most of us take a course or two, either out of interest, a sense of scholarly duty, or to fulfill a requirement, and that's about the extent of it. Most of us just don't give a shit about Straussianism or non-Straussianism or anti-Straussianism, unless one side somehow develops a new technique for estimating time-series problems or discrete choice models, or unless one side has a propensity for producing assholes that make departmental life unbearable.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:00 PM on May 7, 2003

ROU_Xenophobe: That makes most poli-sci quant research sound a bit more complex than it really is, typically. (Most research is regression analysis based on secondary or original survey data, seems to me.) But no, Straussians have not taken over the field, not even in theory. (How did that piece on James Baldwin get in the latest issue of Political Theory?) For gosh sakes.
posted by raysmj at 8:11 PM on May 7, 2003

Here's where you can see the TOC for an issue of Arion (articles not online) where a mainstream student of Plato's writings (& Plato is the heart of everything for Straussians) actually took the trouble to read and report (critically but sympathetically) on Strauss's methods and readings. Those who have read Strauss know that his style can be forbiddingly dense, certainly even perversely portentous for unbelievers. Those non-disciples like Ferrari who have taken the trouble to understand and respond intellectually really deserve some credit.

P.S. I'm not a Straussian—but I used to have a friend who was a Straussian! :)

Note that it's the same issue that featured the original "Who Killed Homer" article—the screed that launched Victor Davis Hanson into a prominent place in our American Kulturkampf. With the result that he's often been mentioned here.
posted by Zurishaddai at 10:23 PM on May 7, 2003

I was about to comment, but then I realized it was stupid, because I don't know who Strauss is and I got a C in Political Science. Just some stupid joke about Ignatius J. Reilly, and the fact that the FPP made me think.

Then... I read that New Yorker article. Now that is some good shit worth making a pointless "me too" comment about. Those paragraphs are a thing to strive for. I don't even aspire to learn enough about Watergate, the Kennedy assassination, or Navy Seals, to do a really sharp satire; but I want to study the structure of that article. That is some great writing, and much smarter than the stuff conspiracy writers churn out.

Also: Why no mention of Ayn Rand? Are only "real" intellectuals considered? She's influenced the beer and pretzels crowd more than anybody. (This may also relate to the "dangers" Strauss supposedly pointed out, which I have a feeling started with Nietzche. I made a deliberate turn against this kind of thing more than a few years ago, though.)
posted by son_of_minya at 10:34 PM on May 7, 2003

Should we all pitch in and get son_of_minya a subscription to the New Yorker?
posted by Zurishaddai at 10:55 PM on May 7, 2003

ROU_Xenophobe: That makes most poli-sci quant research sound a bit more complex than it really is, typically.

Sure, but just you try getting into AJPS with simple OLS when you should have used something else. You'll get really... interesting... reviews.

Anyway, people in poli-sci mostly argue about stuff like that, and not about Strauss and whether we need to have DEEP DARK SEKRITS from the dirty people or whatever. Theorists argue about it, I guess, but they mostly keep to themselves.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:05 PM on May 7, 2003

Metafilter: some good shit worth making a pointless "me too" comment about.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:34 AM on May 8, 2003

People get work based on surveys (including federally or assisted, multi-million dollar annual surveys) and secondary data in major political science journals all the time. I read them. They get theoretical pieces in there too.
posted by raysmj at 12:45 AM on May 8, 2003

In the poli sci department at the University of Toronto, the Straussians have created a powerful enclave/ghetto - they encourage their grad students to remain aloof and apart from the rest of the department. But the sub-field of political theory - let alone the department - is in no danger of being taken over by them. Of course, this is Canada...
posted by stonerose at 4:46 AM on May 8, 2003

raysmj: sure, but if you look in the top-tier journals, you're going to see less plain-vanilla OLS and more stuff like ordered probit and event-history poisson regressions and simulations and Bayesian stuff. Which isn't to say you won't see vanilla OLS too, but you can expect to get called on the carpet if there are more efficient / less biased methods out there.

stonerose: yeah, that sounds about as far as it could go. It would be [understatement] hard [/understatement] to convince a bunch of Americanists/Canadianists or comparativists that they ought to defer to the theory people about who they hire in their fields.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:45 AM on May 8, 2003

ROU: Yeah, but you'll still see a lot of survey stuff with not-so-advanced analysis. Surveys are fine and useful, and I've worked on them and with their data. Would that there were a better way. The use of secondary data is also essential in a field whose research often involves mass populations and data from past decades and even centuries. That was my main point. I think a lot of people would like to give this impression of poli-sci research being this ultra-advanced precise stuff with guys sitting around working out advanced equations all day, etc., that have a relevance the initiated can only guess at. It's really not quite that way, which if fine. Telling example: My in-the-works dissertation is partly based on Robert Putnam's work on social capital. In all his (very popular) work, he makes normative statements, assertions based on hunches and not empirical evidence, uses anecdotal info to demonstrate points, etc. And until recently he was the prez of the American Poli-Sci Assoc. (He's far from a Straussian, of course.)
posted by raysmj at 7:10 AM on May 8, 2003

The Leo Strauss Yahoo! group. Maybe William Kristol's in there, in a flame war.
posted by raysmj at 7:35 AM on May 8, 2003

*shrug* So the Bush administration is composed of people who have a similar point of view. I could have told you that. It's hardly a conspiracy that a bunch of conservatives try to make themselves sound more edumacted by claiming to be afficianados of the best known American conservative political philosopher of our time.

My teacher was a student of Leo Strauss, and she'd be appalled at what the administration is doing. Then again, she may also have read the constitution. :)
posted by Orkboi at 8:17 AM on May 8, 2003

I'm not as interested in the politics of university poli sci departments as I am in the fact that apparently, a respected scholar thinks that the great philosophers were nihilists who wrote in code. The history of philosophy as a grand conspiracy? What the fuck?
posted by lbergstr at 10:59 AM on May 8, 2003

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