So our Jean sent me the touchingly personal remarks she gave in introducing the Festschrift for Catherine and Michael Zuckert. She concluded with what might be an unresolved issue for Midwestern Straussianism, one that’s highly relevant for our discussions of the American idea of liberty AND America as the end of History:

Since this is a celebration of the Zuckerts’ impressive achievements, I will close by asking Michael to elaborate on one question prompted by reading his work: In The Truth about Leo Strauss, you conclude: “Diamond’s version of Midwest Straussianism is perhaps incomplete in failing to address the issues raised by Strauss’s ‘wave theory.’ Admitting that modernity, at least in the version of early modernity ensconced in the American order is good in the ways Diamond suggests, what about Strauss’s (and Bloom’s) conviction that these orders are exceedingly vulnerable to waves of thought such as were embedded in sixties radicalism or postmodernism? That is a challenge that, we believe, the Midwest Straussians have yet to meet.” To this, I add, what about progressivism? Aside from Beard, doesn’t progressivism, with its hopes for a transformation of human nature, tap into precisely the same utopian hopes of the 60s radicals? Has the foremost spokesman for the Midwest Straussians come up with a more compelling response?

I gather Michael responded that he’s still working on this issue.

I’ve already said I have issues with taking Strauss’ “three waves” too literally as empirical social/political science, as distinguished critics such as Allan Bloom and Pat Deneen do. The inevitability thesis that wavism often seems to be can easily be mistaken for historicism. I also think, of course, that wavism neglects the irreducible Christian contribution to development of the modern idea of the person (or individual), a contribution of which Strauss is aware (and doesn’t alike). Kojeve is also aware of it, of course.

From the point of view of authentic wavism, I think, the instability of Locke comes from his theoretical proto-historicism, as someone who celebrates human ingenuity or creativity and claims that nature gives us almost worthless materialism. Locke is close to saying that man makes himself—or constructs his personal identity—over time.

From THE END OF HISTORY view, the three waves in America are the working out the details of the end of History.

You have the establishment of THE IDEA of the freedom and equality of every human person in the Constitution/Declaration, but in an insufficiently relational way.

You have the PROGRESSIVE effort to make the personal more relational. But the strong tendency was to go too far in the other direction, subsuming the person into the flow of History. But progressivism in that strong sense is over.

Now you have the current NONFOUNDATIONAL affirmation of human rights, which mean the relational autonomy of every human person (as Justice Kennedy explains). NONFOUNDATIONAL doesn’t really mean wholly arbitrary. It’s a rejection of the various FOUNDATIONS as having slaughtered persons based on ideologies that History has authoritatively discredited. The FREE or NONBIOLOGICAL and DIGNIFIED person has become the bottom line in what Kojeve calls the UHS.

So THE THREE WAVES in America don’t really culminate in Heideggerian/Nietzschean nihilism. We think those guys were responsible for bad things being done to free persons. Our Heidegger has been sanitized by Rorty into a laidback respecter of persons. And our lame flirtation with Nietzsche is over. We certainly don’t think our autonomous persons are last men and women.

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Articles by Peter Lawler


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