(More excerpts here from Manent’s new book of interviews, Le Regard Politique – i.e., Seeing Things Politically )

When I met Aron I was carried away with admiration for him . . . Aron desired less than any man to exercise influence over people or to dominate a young man [such as I was].. By instinct, by nature, no less than by reason, he could only live in freedom – his own freedom and that of others.  . . . Before teaching me by his books, Aron educated me first, I would say especially, be his very person, by his way of holding himself in the world and exercising his humanity in the world.  By his very being he allowed us to understand that only a long education of the intellect and of judgment allows a person to find his bearings with some confidence in political life.  In this way he freed us from the disdain for politics that comes so naturally to intellectuals, even or especially those that are, as we say, politicized . . . . He showed that in politics as in other matters, there is something to be known . . .

Aron was, I would say, the perfect gentleman who experienced no need for transcendence.  Humanity’s immanent rule was sufficient for him.  And maybe he was right; maybe that is what wisdom is.  But for my part I felt an impatient desire for the “measure,” to speak Plato’s language, for the transcendent measure . . .   Aron understood very quickly that I wanted to follow a path along which he could not guide me.  He suggested I read Leo Strauss . . .  I have always appreciated that and I still admire him for this, because I believe one must be very generous in order to lead a young man with whom one enjoys a friendly and trusting relationship, a close intellectual relationship, towards an author, a colleague in a sense, whom one knows will become a dominant influence for this young man.  Aron led me to Strauss knowing that to go toward Strauss meant to distance myself from him . . . Aron gave each person what seemed best for that person without concern for his proper influence . . .

As far as one can make such judgments in one’s own case, I would say that Leo Strauss had the greatest influence on me . . .   Confronting the great orchestra of modern philosophy, Strauss represents a discordant voice, a voice at first almost inaudible, very sober and reticent.  Compared to the rolling thunder of a symphonic orchestra, I might say his voice is the harsh and virile monody of a Dorian flute.  But once you are bitten by this music of Strauss, you are had. 

(To be continued.)

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Articles by Ralph Hancock

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