Skip to comments.A Review of Paul Gottfried’s, 'Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America'
Posted on 11/03/2013 11:51:01 AM PST by Kaslin
Many events have conspired over the last several years that have induced in self-avowed conservatives and traditional Republican voters the gnawing suspicion that in spite of what politicians and media personalities would have them believe, the conservative movementtheir movementhasnt been particularly conservative.
Their suspicion is sound.
In reality, the conservative movement is the neoconservative movement.
This is the verdict at which ever increasing numbers of self-avowed conservatives are arriving. However, had they been reading Paul Gottfried, they would have reached it long ago.
Friend of such conservative luminaries as Bill Buckley, Russell Kirk, and Pat Buchanan, Gottfried is a first-class scholar who has spent much of his illustrious career studying and writing on the American conservative movement (as well as other ideological movementslike Marxism and multiculturalismboth here and abroad). In spite of its intellectual heftiness, his most recent bookLeo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in Americais must reading for the serious minded interested in learning just what neoconservatism is all about.
Though he is a critic of both Strauss and neoconservatism, Gottfrieds analysis is as sober as it is respectful. He defends Strauss against the familiar objection that the latter was a cunning Machiavellian. At the same time, Gottfried is quick to note both that Strausss thought has indeed been appropriated in the service of a neoconservative agenda and that Strauss was no conservative.
The eighteenth century Parliamentarian Edmund Burke is widely credited with being the father of modern conservatism. In his relentless critique of the French Revolution, Burke contrasted the abstractness and universalism of the natural rights of the revolutionaries with the concreteness and particularity of conservatisms tradition-centered approach to the moral life.
Strauss charged Burke (and the legions of conservative thinkers that he inspired) with promoting relativism. In fact, he blamed them for paving the way to relativism. In contrast, Strauss emphatically affirmed natural rightsthe very natural rights, for example, in the name of which neoconservatives demand a robust foreign policy of intervening in lands that are devoid of liberal democratic values.
Strauss and his disciples are known for their special method of reading ancient philosophical works. Every classic text bears a surface meaning, Strauss claimed. But its true meaning is hidden between the lines, so to speak. As Gottfried informs us, it is this peculiar way of reading texts that supplies the link between Straussians and neoconservative foreign policy, for whether it is Plato or Locke, the secret meaning of the works of the great philosophers is thought to reveal their fondness for none other than liberal democracy!
Gottfried writes: Strauss and his students seem to be reading their own liberal, secularist values into those whom they praise as philosophers. The subjects of Strauss and his students, however long ago they lived, invariably seem to replicate the cultural mindsets of their interpreters.
And this is the problem. Gottfried correctly observes that Straussians engage in what Michael Oakeshott once characterized as retrospective politics.
It is for me inconceivable, he remarks, that anyone would be sufficiently attracted to Strausss hermeneutic, particularly as pursued by his disciples, unless that person is also drawn to certain political systems. Straussians, Gottfried concludes, have been able to misrepresent as philosophical inquiries what are often homilies about American liberal democracy.
These homilies about American liberal democracy have dovetailed seamlessly with the purposes of neoconservatives. Yet, as Gottfried notes from the outset, Straussians benefit as much from neoconservatives as vice versa: their relationship is symbiotic, as he says. The nexus between the two camps is so tight that it may be impossible to dissociate them in any significant way. He observes that while neoconservatives draw their rhetoric and heroic models from Straussian discourse, Straussians in turn have benefited from the neoconservative ascendancy by gaining access to neoconservative-controlled government resources and foundation money and by obtaining positions as government advisors.
Gottfried adds that it is hard to think of any critical political issue that has divided the two groups.
Everyone, but particularly conservatives, would be well rewarded to read Gottfrieds analysis. Not only is its author well versed in his subject, but during this time of rancorous quarreling between self-sworn conservatives, Gottfried provides us with a model of civility.
When you hear some “conservative” lecturing us to “grow up” and accept TSA groping, NSA spying, etc, you are listening to a Straussian.
Gottfried is on the right side. But I find his writing really boring. Hard to imagine a whole book ...
He is quite good as a lecturer.
Bolshevism and Democratic Socialism
Stalinism, National Socialism and Fascism
Modern Democracy and War
Unimagined Power: The Presidency in the History of Political Philosophy
The Therapeutic Welfare State
Fascism, Anti-Fascism, and the Welfare State
Liberal Internationalism: From the Founding of the Council on Foreign Relations to the Neoconservative Ascendancy
Hard to say. How do you translate the views of someone whose most important experiences happened in early 20th century Germany into 21st century American terms? Certainly, Leo Strauss wasn't a typical mid-20th century American liberal, and he was even more different from later generations of American liberals.
Straussians, Gottfried concludes, have been able to misrepresent as philosophical inquiries what are often homilies about American liberal democracy.
"West Coast" Straussians, maybe. "East Coasters" have a bleaker view of the world.
Not only is its author well versed in his subject, but during this time of rancorous quarreling between self-sworn conservatives, Gottfried provides us with a model of civility.
Something new for him?
As Gottfried used to defend the late antisemite, Joe Sobran, I hardly find him gentlemanly.
Sobran went through major changes in his life. He also ended up pretty embittered. I don't know if everybody who put in a good word for him was approving what he became, or sad about his decline and regretful about his lost promise.
His "decline" being objecting to the neocon takeover of the conservative movement. What a Nazi! /sarc
Go back and read what Sobran was writing in exile ten years ago and compare it to the pabulum that was being spewed by the WEEKLY STANDARD and remnants of NR back then. Then ask yourself who had really "declined".
Gottfied's rage was wholly justified.
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