A Disheveled Soldier Mourns His Distant Don

A little late on topic. But we couldn’t resist. We noticed Hitch as effete l’enfant terrible (and dissed padawan) carefully salute Irving’s passing. Much of Hitch’s bitchiness we suspect is his own fragile, truculent self image as a leading public ‘intellectual’. Hence, Hitch’s touchiness about his shallowness and failure to be a ‘made’ man. Meanwhile, Krauthammer in a reprise from 2005 grafts Hollywood liberal elegance onto the rough hewn Kristol, beknighting him as ‘Our Own Cool Hand Luke.’

But Who Will Mourn For The Kurds, Hitch?

Still, it’s odd. How many today accept as part of the landscape (and thus wave away) his most destructive legacies. Some try to use his demise as a bizarre inverted ju-jitsu anti-neocon meme.

Bruce Bartlett, for example, makes formulaic gestures to today’s political moonscape — much of it Kristol’s handiwork, direct or indirect — but he genuinely seems to mourn more Kristol’s decision to close ‘The Public Interest’. Trauma can do things to a man. And Bartlett’s seen the mau mau up close when he was necklaced for breaking the magic Kool Aid circle. Still, to feel longing for an AgitProp vehicle discarded when no longer useful misses the forrest for the tree as it were.

We surfed a bit and noticed Andrew Sullivan cited Bartlett, too. Sullivan’s more comprehensive linking of Kristol to our irrational politics is more on point. He correctly draws the dots from both the passed and current Kritsols to today’s Beckism and tomorrow’s inevitable nostalgia for it all.

When Kristol passed a few days ago we sat down to post an item. Made sense given the whole raison d’etre of this place. But then we saw the NYT label him a leading ‘conservative’ intellectual. Suddenly, we knew, there was no point. Game, set, match. We report. You decide.


  1. Hunter says

    Stupid html! this bit in the angular brackets in the second paragraph above was supposed to read “what we think ought to be”. Also, why we think these things is subject to analysis too. See Haidt for the synthesis, and lots of his more technical references for the biochemical analysis.

  2. Hunter says

    Inspired by this discussion, I went and youtubed an old Strauss lecture on the Meno (and re-skimmed the source before listening).
    I know it was just an undergraduate seminar, but it was not nearly as impressive as I had thought it might be, after all the sturm und drang over his ideas over the last decade. I did finally understand that my first teacher of classical philosophy was a Straussian, but he was so pathetically bad at the Socratic method that he turned his hyper-intelligent, mostly Catholic, mostly reflexively conservative students into real live liberals.

    Strauss’s lecture was better than those of my old Prof, but not so much that I was even remotely convinced of even some of his more abstruse positions. Exempla gratia: Science will never tell us what values are? Ha! I’m studying neurology right now, and <> is a subject just as amenable to analysis as any other. Our technical skill at watching the world is progressing faster than he could imagine. A failure of imagination… seems like an accurate assessment of his problem. Ironically, it’s not imagination that drives science, but a rigorous methodological refusal to imagine: just look! is the way. If you can’t see, build a better eye. Don’t imagine what’s there until you have the new eye. Don’t forget to imagine the possibility (technical, not scientific) of the new eye.

    All this is prior to philosophy. Synthetic understanding can be built only after observation has informed the mind. Then, on the basis of this understanding, an idea of where to look next can be had. His hilarious example of the social scientist being given a survey and told to “go interview people” completely misunderstood the situation. Our understanding of what a person is is prescientific in the sense of being a result of non-formalized interaction with the world, but not prescientific in the sense of being metaphysics. The investigations that children undertake into their world are science, not philosophy. Given the centrality of science in Strauss’s critique of modernity, his utter lack of understanding of the process makes his theorizing sort of boring.

    Incidentally, on the impossibility of teaching virtue as discussed in the Meno: the old Chan sages might have had something to show Socrates on that score, not to mention their more systematic Zen successors.

  3. DBake says

    Also a philosophy student, and afraid I can’t muster up inquire’s affection for Strauss. The prose is turgid, and his interpretations of the ancients just seem deliberately eccentric. Yes, Plato plays literary games and doesn’t necessarily believe everything he has Socrates say. But it’s just bad scholarship to move from that to the conclusion that the entire edifice offered in the Republic, for example, is a joke, concealing Plato’s real position.

  4. Comment says

    Leo, in your conrtradictions above we find your multitudes, but we must eaxamine those contradictions – for in the Seventh Cause, we learn the coded meaning purposely denied to the vulgar, the peevish, the swinish multitudes. Let those town hallers squeak and gibber, whilst we lovers of wisdom tell tales of state.

  5. Comment says

    We never thought we’d side with Dubya on much, but we have to offer up a smug chuckle whiile reading lib blogs as they cite the last tittle tattle piffle from speechwriter Matt Latimer.
    Latimer strikes as both ungrateful and obtuse – Most of the anti Bush stuff he writes are actually Bush’s good points (like being bored with Latimer). He also makes ludicrous statements about Cheney – extoling him for being gracious in a lordly way to the staffers in line in the kitchen. Cheney, by most accounts, only cares about his own clique.
    Looks like Latimer is trying to market himself – sort of like Kessler – that winger – who tells so-called infra dig tales about the Bush daughters. Mark Mikinnon too

  6. inquire says

    When Kristol passed a few days ago we sat down to post an item. Made sense given the whole raison d’etre of this place.
    Being somewhat young (certainly in relation to the elder Kristol), I am trying hard to determine if there is any merit to the tar that the real Leo Strauss was actually the veiled mastermind of the now-maligned neo-con movement.
    I am primarily a philosophy student (for real) and have come to discover Strauss’ work on its own terms only in the last few years. I did have a wonderful undergrad professor who was a master of philosophical education and classical knowledge – who was clearly influenced by Strauss (the significance of which I was not cognizant at the time), but almost never directly referred to him, only to those in his orbit (Ernst Cassierer, Tarcov, Pangle, Bloom – but, again, never explicitly simply through the use of Bloom’s translations). So we received something of a ‘Straussian’/classical political rationalist education without our knowledge. But the teacher, like myself, was generally a Canadian soft-left with a deep seated love for the tradition and practice of philosophy – which is primarily what I see when I read Strauss or his more adept students.
    My experience reading Strauss directly always reminds me of someone composing “a love letter to philosophy” that is so masterfully executed with obscure knowledge and an abundance of uncommon resources that both enlightens and enraptures. In short, he’s an extremely valuable author who seems (as Bloom has explicitly claimed of himself) to be primarily partisan to philosophy – to favour the Socratic way of life – that is separate and distinct from, and often times in opposition to, the political and religious ways of life and methods of thought. It is for this reason that I have the utmost respect for all the works of Leo Strauss that I have yet read.
    I have been researching to try to verify if there is any credit to his holding or promoting justly reviled neo-con commitments. That he and Bloom et al. are on the conservative side is no doubt – that many have published for AEI is without question – but overall, I found no fully convincing evidence for why I should hate Strauss or the Straussians for their political views based on my survey of their own work. That is, until I discovered that Strauss and Kristol were associates, and that Kristol was important in Basic Books, which published some of Strauss and much of Bloom’s work. To me, however, they seem entirely different creatures – Strauss was the archetypal academic genius, ensconced in the classics and academics – Kristol was the popularizer, the entrepreneur, the partisan – associated but worlds apart.
    Being young, I am not familiar so much with Irving, but actively despise William Kristol and his loathsome achievements and ‘thinking’ that was promulgated over the last decade. But I see no reason to be hateful of Strauss and the Straussians (some of whom are left, some of whom are ‘neo-con’ – some of whom espouse regrettable views, some of whom stick strictly to classical philosophy) simply because of this Kristol connection – am I wrong? I can think of no better place to understand/discuss this – particularly since I’ve always been intrigued by the choice of moniker and title for this blog – is it respectful, is it ironic, or is it derisive? Please help.

    • Dr Leo Strauss says

      Inquire, serious questions deserving a considered reply.

      First, about the web site and accompanying blog. Stiftungleostrauss.com (sans blog) was put up sometime in 2003-4 IIRC. (This was when Stephen Colbert was still a sideman on Jon Stewart). We intended it as unabashed parody in the now shopworn Colbert tradition. At first the site was quite successful — The Claremont Institute believed it to be serious and devoted a critique on its blog. We simply wished to caricature Neocons we knew and worked with, as well the other (less intelligent) various strands in the overall Movement hookwinked to go along with it all.

      We talked to a vast assortment of political, media, defense and academic acquaintances before doing anything, wanting to ensure that at least a small circle of friends would find entertainment. We expected an initial audience of about 5.

      The blog started a while after. Overhauling an entire site for fresh content was too onerous. We also realized that writing in the same ‘voice’ of the site for a blog was not only physically and mentally tiring (real work!) , but also indistinguishable from the actual product peddled by those left behind in the Cave. The blog quickly assumed a different character and tone from the original site — largely what you see now. At first we might have been more technologically adventurous with animations and more elaborate art but 1.0 is pretty balanced. (One of our favorites was the comic book of W’s attempt to rescue Wolfowitz from the World Bank ala ‘Aliens’).

      Early on Straussians did make cautious probes to determine if the blog was in fact devoted to Leo Strauss’ “teachings”. Our deliberately caustic replies gave them a quick answer we hope. All the while taking philosophy, its implications (both by presence and absence) and ramifications quite seriously.

      The corpus of STSOZ 1.0 answers most of your questions – our views on Leo Strauss, Bloom, Jabotinsky, Neocons, anti-Enlightenment memes, non-biological fascism/alternatives to the Germanic variant *as experienced*, Nick Xenos’ excellent Strauss critique, initially here at http://www.logosjournal.com/xenos.htm and now expanded into a book, etc. (n.b., Xenos and I did disagree via email over Adorno and Horkheimer for ancillary reasons and other matters, etc).

      Perhaps the best compliment the site payed to Strauss is to embrace the notion that the political can not be extricated from the philosophical. It’s perhaps up to you to give Strauss’ writing the close read he advocates and decide for yourself what really is being offered to the world, now via his acolytes and followers. And at what cost. Our answer to that is here in open sight.

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