So there was a herd of POSTMODERN CONSERVATIVES in Toronto at the American Political Science Association meeting. Sam Goldman shared many charming—yet troubling—details about his growing up in New Jersey, including his membership in a PUNKER THAN THOU band with an edgy name and controversial lyrics. Ralph Hancock reported that his instrument of choice during his wonder years was the electric violin (although he sadly discovered that the groupies never go for the fiddle player). Ivan the K managed to get into Canada and back to the USA with no passport, compromising the homeland security of two great nations. Jim Ceaser had the tough choice between losing his place in the take-out breakfast line and being a bit late to our stellar Strauss panel. He wisely chose the latter. Jim displayed himself, both seriously and ironically, as the most Straussian of the Straussians, with a perfect and pithy presentation of the relationship between natural rights and natural right in his classical political science. Here’s a bit from my presentation that was added to the draft that so many didn’t like that much:

Straussian Platonism is based on two true Platonic insights. The truth is that until we adequately grasp the “whole” or what is always the fundamental questions remain more obvious than the answers. And so, as Pascal says (and Strauss repeatedly quotes), we know too much to be skeptics and too little to be dogmatists. But Plato also knew that human beings couldn’t live well without final answers. It may turn out that we do have one final answer—the way of life of the philosopher. But the finality of that answer seems to depend on the philosopher’s freedom from time or History or changes occasioned by what men do (or perhaps what God does).

Surely it turns out that even the praise of the way of life of the philosopher—the essence of Platonism—is based on an insight suspended in between skepticism and dogmatism, one at best provisionally true. Still, it’s the finality most attractive to our age, the first age, as Nietzsche says, shaped by the thought that we don’t have “the truth.” It’s the truth most appropriate to men and women who are all too aware that they, at best, live suspended between skepticism and dogmatism—most of us (even or especially the non-Straussians) in this room.

Ours is a time when it’s even appropriate to say more openly than ever to men who want to hear it that they are distinguished, by their openness, from those who can’t handle the truth that there’s no other solution but the way of life of the philosopher. Our is a time to display the words ESOTERIC and SECRET WRITING in neon letters. These are the times when it’s especially easy to think that to be human is to be a wonderer and wanderer, a seeker and a searcher, an inquirer and an investigator.

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Articles by Peter Lawler

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