Peter Minowitz, the author of the meticulous and fascinating STRAUSSOPHOBIA: DEFENDING LEO STRAUSS AND STRAUSSIANS AGAINST SHADIA DRURY AND OTHER ACCUSERS, seems to have some way of alerting himself whenever his cool title is mentioned on the web. I heard from him very soon after I listed “Straussophobia” as a very questionable phobia. Peters does wonderfully well in defending Leo against the charges of being meddlesome, corrupting the youth, and making the unjust speech seem more attractive than the just one. He shows very convincingly that his most prominent accusers are motivated by misguided and vain moralistic indignation far more than any grasp of what Strauss actually wrote. The book is mainly about malicious stupidity, with some acknowledgment that Strauss may have left himself too vulnerable to that kind of demagogic anger. Peter’s is also a lawyer’s argument, and there’s always something to be said [as Socrates himself makes clear in THE APOLOGY] for the other side.

One of Peter’s complaints is that Strauss’s critics confuse him with Nietzsche. Peter asks:

Did Strauss think he inhabited the era of the “last man” in which no one had “any ideas and aspirations” and everyone was “well fed, well clothed, and well housed,” and “well-medicated by ordinary physicians and by psychiatrists”? There is no reason to suppose that Strauss joined Nietzsche in overestimating “the tameness of modern Western man”; nor did Strauss use all “the power of passionate and fascinating speech” that he possessed to make his readers “loathe, not only socialism and communism, but conservatism, nationalism, and democracy as well.” [The quotes, of course, are Strauss’s descriptions of Nietzsche’s views. Citations omitted.]

I think Peter is right to emphasize that difference. Certainly Strauss wrote in such a way as to not undermine and even inspire devotion to being an ordinary American conservative democrat. BUT: We have to add some Straussians have written as if the “last man” is here. Bloom in THE CLOSING OF THE AMERICAN MIND describes sophisticated American students as being unmoved by love and death, moved only by music that imitates the mechanical rutting of animals, and having souls which are flat or unanimated by distinctively human eros. And some Straussians, such as Leon Kass, seem to me to concerned about the coming of THE BRAVE NEW WORLD, precisely because they underestimate the natural resistance of human beings to being tamed or to becoming content. I, for one, doubt that the future of human freedom and dignity is in our hands.

So questions for discussion: Is Nietzsche right about the “last man”? Or are some Straussians too charmed—more than Strauss himself perhaps—by his “historicism”?

Articles by Peter Lawler


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