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Neoconservatism, Straussianism, and "can freedom and excellence can coexist?"

Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_Strauss

Update (2005-12-01-1113): Joel's site has disappeared. It was here The most relevant thing I remember from his page was about the Philosophy of Leo Strauss. So I link to the wikipedia page on Strauss above. Below are the most relevant quotes from that page, followed by an excerpt from Joel's old page. Also, here's Wikipedia on US neocons. Oh, the quotes at the bottom of the Georgia Guidestones page were brought to mind by this, and also San Manuel Bueno, Martir by Unamuno {San Manuel Bueno, martir (Saint Manuel the Good, Martyr) (1930)--a brief novella that synthesizes all of Unamuno's thought. The novel centres on a heroic priest who has lost his faith in immortality, yet says nothing of his doubts to his parishioners, not wanting to disturb their faith.} Returning to Strauss:

With regards then to Strauss' approach to philosophical texts, his most famous teaching was the distinction between esoteric and exoteric readings. Strauss maintained that philosophers very often concealed their true thoughts beneath a surface (or exoteric) teaching. Careful study would reveal the true or esoteric teaching. Primarily, philosophers did this to protect their own lives, and to guard against the detrimental effects of philosophy upon people who cannot understand it fully.

Strauss thought that an esoteric text was the proper type for philosophic learning. Rather than simply outline the philosophers thoughts, the esoteric text forces the reader to do their own thinking and learning.

Strauss noted that thinkers of the first rank, going back to Plato, had raised the problem of whether good and effective politicians could be completely truthful and still achieve the necessary ends of their society. By implication, Strauss asks his readers to consider whether "noble lies" (Plato) have any role at all to play in uniting and guiding the cities of man. Are certain, unprovable "myths" taught by wise leaders needed to give most people meaning and purpose and to ensure a stable society? Or can society flourish on a foundation of those "deadly truths" (Nietzsche) limited to what we can know absolutely?

Through his writings, Strauss constantly raised the question of how, and to what extent, freedom and excellence can coexist. Without deciding this issue, Strauss refused to make do with any simplistic or one-sided resolutions of the Socratic question, What is the good for the city and man?

There exists a controversy surrounding Strauss's interpretation of the existing philosophical canon. Strauss believed that the writings of many philosophers contained both an exoteric (public) and esoteric (private or hidden) teaching. For instance, in Natural Right and History he contrasts the views of Locke both from a traditional perspective wherein the idea of Natural Law within a Christian theological ground is presumed, and another more radical view contrary to this usual interpretation. To support his contention he mentions Lessing's commentary on Leibniz, and Schleiermacher's Platonic studies. But, according to Strauss, generally this kind of exoteric/esoteric dichotomy became unused by the time of Kant.

Strauss had similar views on the writings of the Jewish philosopher Maimonides (Moses son of Maimon). Maimonides stated that he had controversial esoteric views which were hidden from the masses. Strauss wrote an influential essay illustrating the way to read Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed, allowing a reader to find his esoteric, true views.

Straussianism is difficult to characterize, as it is a loose group of scholars who analyze texts in the same manner and keep the same questions in mind while doing so. Strauss is widely recognized for his rediscovery of a political manner of writing employed by philosophers. The most focused upon aspect of this, especially for non-Straussians, is that philosophers lied and wrote coded messages in order to protect themselves from attack by the political communities they lived in.

Perhaps a more Straussian interpretation of Strauss' politicization of philosophy would be that Strauss rediscovered ancient political philosophy, which starts with the question of how people should live, and therefore has a sort of logical priority within philosophy itself (which is a way of living). What's more, to the extent that philosophers wrote deceptively, it was perhaps more often in order to help educate readers, who might often be young or unable to follow an argument correctly. The original philosophers could adjust their speech to each listener, but writing made philosophy dangerous. Socrates wrote nothing of his own philosophy, but was famously implicated with corrupting the young men of Athens, especially Alcibiades.

My excerpts from Joel's old neocon page:

A shadowy group calling itself "neo-conservative" has seized power in the USA. You need to know who these people are, what they think, and what it means for the USA and the world.

The neo-cons have stolen the American democracy. This was no accident. They think that only they and a few of their very closest friends are fit to run the world. Others may serve. The masses will be fed the pabulum of religion and television to keep them quiet.

These folks are agnostics. They're also major supporters of standardized, organized religion, because they think that religion is a useful tool to keep the masses from misbehaving.

Lying is part of their philosophy of government. Truth is to be told only when it is the most convenient option.

We will simply show these folks up for what they are. That should be all that's required to ensure their downfall.

Added by colin #442 on 2005-04-18. Last modified 2005-12-01 20:50. F0 License: Attribution
Location: World, United States
Topics: governance, philosophy, policy development, politics

Colin Leath <>    

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