Strausskampf Continues

Paul Gottfried has a new article on LRC today about the Straussian (Jaffa-ite division) attacks on Claes Ryn, the latest installments of which come from Jaffa himself and William Voegeli. I think Professor Gottfried gives too much credit to the Claremontistas' protestations that they are, in fact, critical of the Iraq War. By and large, they're not. Here, for example, is one of the mini-Jaffas telling us about the "articulate blend of principle and prudence" that he thinks characterizes this defense of Bush's war to bring the blessings of democracy (and military occupation) to Iraq. It's true though that Charles Kesler has been circumspect about democratization — not the same thing as being against the war, of course.

Whether Strauss himself would have supported the invasion is impossible to say; I suspect he would have been reticent about it, whatever his views were. Strauss did not like to pontificate about particular policies very much — he kept mostly to the big picture. Allan Bloom, on the other hand, would, I'm quite sure, enthusiastically support it, especially the democratization / Americanization component. Paul Wolfowitz was one of his disciples, and some sense of the interest Bloom took in his former students within the Pentagon can be found early in Saul Bellow's novel Ravelstein. (The character of Professor Ravelstein is based on Bloom.) The New York Times has novel's first chapter on-line, which includes the passage I'm thinking of:

It was very pleasant to win Ravelstein's approval, and his students kept coming back to him—men now in their forties, some of whom had figured significantly in running the Gulf War, spoke to him by the hour. "These special relationships are important to me—top priority." It was as natural that Ravelstein should need to know what went on in Downing Street or the Kremlin as it had been for Virginia Woolf to read Keynes's private report on German reparations. Possibly Ravelstein's views or opinions sometimes worked their way into policy decisions, but that wasn't what mattered. What mattered was that he should remain in charge somehow of the ongoing political education of his old boys. In Paris too he had a following. People who had taken his courses at the École des Hautes Études, just back from a mission to Moscow, also rang him up.

As Anne Norton writes in Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire (which I highly recommend), "Bloom, far more than Strauss, has shaped the Straussians who govern in America. Bloom taught both the most powerful and the most vociferously ideological of the Straussians." That does not include the Claremont Institute folks, though — they descend from Jaffa, not Bloom. They're the "West Coast Straussians" and don't always see eye-to-eye with "East Coast Straussians" like Bloom. It's like Biggie and 2Pac.

There are further divisions among Straussians as well, just to complicate things more, and not all followers of Strauss are neoconservatives — there are a few left-Straussians and at least one Misesian-libertarian Straussian. There's an emerging Catholic Straussianism, too: "We're not yet famous enough to merit Ann Norton's or Shadia Drudry's critical attention," says Catholic Straussian Peter Lawler in his recent book Stuck With Virtue, "but watch out!" Watch out is right.
I'm as guilty as most anti-Straussians of blurring the distinctions between the various subcultures, but it's quite fair to say that there is a main stream of Straussian thought, of which East and West groups are tributaries, and that it's statist, belligerent, and neoconservative — if I may be a little redundant.

Daniel Larison has many outstanding entries on his blog about the Ryn-Jaffa controversy (here's the latest). He has aptly referred to the offerings from the Claremont side of the debate as "an avalanche of nonsense," in a post that links to the major entries. Joseph Baldacchino of the National Humanities Institute has a post in the comments section of my blog that provides insightful background on Professor Ryn and his thought. See also the special issue of Humanitas, published by NHI, on Strauss and featuring contributions from (.pdf links) Ryn, Gottfried, and Grant Havers. Another Humanitas piece, Randall Auxier's "Straussianism Descendant," serves as a good introduction.

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One thought on “Strausskampf Continues

  1. Randall Auxier June 2, 2009 / 3:54 pm

    Thanks for the plug on my article from Humanitas, but the REAL fun-with-Straussians piece I wrote is in South Park and Philosophy, ed. Richard Hanley (Open Court 2007), in a piece called “Chef, Socrates, and the Sage of Love.” Anyone who likes your blog is likely to bust a gut.

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