Paul Gottfried writes the magazine in response to last week’s blog post calling attention to the American Conservative article on Leo Strauss and his followers. While the latter piece was harsh by any standard, Gottfried thinks readers ought to see his original piece at The Montreal Review for a more nuanced critique of Straussianism. His evaluation (which opens fortuitously with a quote from our own Bill McClay) argues that:
Strauss and his students have identified philosophy with rationalism, which means that those who are considered to have been the best political thinkers shared the interpreter’s rationalist perspective. Tradition and religious experience are not seen as having contributed to the “philosophical” basis of political thought, although it seemed necessary for thinkers in past ages to pay homage to non-rational sources of authority. [ . . . ]
This may in fact be the most controversial side of Straussian hermeneutics, namely the claim to be able to divine what thinkers meant but were hesitant to declare. This brings us to the question of whether one is able to discover “authorial intention” in a way that most non-Straussian readers of political texts do not think can be done. And this problem is complicated by another factor, which is that Strauss and his students seem to be reading their own liberal, secularist values into those whom they praise as “philosophers.” Here one feels impelled to to ask: Were there no practitioners of secret writing who were sectarian Christians or devout Catholics living in Protestant countries or pious Protestants residing in Catholic ones? Why do all “philosophers” seem to replicate the cultural mindsets of their Straussian interpreters?
And perhaps most apropos to last week’s post, Gottfried notes in his essay that he does not disdain the man personally or even reject his intellectual tendencies entirely:
[Strauss] was a learned student of ancient languages and someone so conversant with so many political classics that one has to wonder where he found time to read as much as he did. As someone whose interests overlap, I feel deep admiration for what Strauss managed to master. Those who have refused to mention, let alone look at, my book because they think I have dishonored their cult figure would be astonished at how little their preconceived notions jibe with textual realities. Although I generally have low regard for his major disciples, my book includes praise for their master.
It’s a high-caliber piece, though Straussians will still find much in it to dispute. You can read the full article here .