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Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire

Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire

Anne Norton
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire
    Book Description:

    The teachings of political theorist Leo Strauss (1899-1973) have recently received new attention, as political observers have become aware of the influence Strauss's students have had in shaping conservative agendas of the Bush administration-including the war on Iraq. This provocative book examines Strauss's ideas and the ways in which they have been appropriated, or misappropriated, by senior policymakers.

    Anne Norton, a political theorist trained by some of Strauss's most famous students, is well equipped to write on Strauss and Straussians. She tells three interwoven narratives: the story of Leo Strauss, a Jewish German-born émigré, who carried European philosophy into a new world; the story of the philosophic lineage that came from Leo Strauss; and the story of how America has been made a moral battleground by the likes of Paul Wolfowitz, Leon Kass, Carnes Lord, and Irving Kristol-Straussian conservatives committed to an American imperialism they believe will usher in a new world order.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13032-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Prelude
    (pp. 1-4)

    From outside the circle of the Straussians, their influence appears like a triumphant freemasonry, a kabbalistic circle, a troop of intellectual Templars directing (largely from behind the scenes) an unsophisticated and parochial Court. From within, the influence of the Straussians reads differently: as the ascendance of virtue, the reward of patience, the presence of a generous philosophy in politics, the triumph of the tough-minded.

    Outside the academy, the questions raised in political theory seem to have been cultivated in an academic hothouse: fragile, ornamental, and unproductive, unsuited to the rough climate of the world outside. From within they seem like...

  6. 1 Who Is Leo Strauss? What Is a Straussian?
    (pp. 5-20)

    Leo Strauss was a political philosopher. He was born a Jew in Germany in 1899 and came to the United States as a refugee in 1938. Strauss found a place in what was called the University in Exile at the New School for Social Research. He later taught, for many years, at the University of Chicago. Before he came to the United States he had written on Spinoza, on Maimonides, and on Carl Schmitt’s bookThe Concept of the Political. He later wrote on Xenophon, Plato, al Farabi, Machiavelli, and Aristophanes. He was said to be a timid man, wary...

  7. 2 The Lion and the Ass
    (pp. 21-34)

    The academy is a curious place. Time moves more slowly and more swiftly there. Time moves more slowly because more time is visible. Professors know figures long dead more intimately than they know their neighbors or their families. They and their students read ruins, hieroglyphics, layered rocks, dark matter, and old books. They read the alien and the enemy. Christian saints illuminate the gospel by the light of the pagan Aristotle. Time is larger for them, and so it sometimes seems to move more slowly. But those who sit in the company of the dead, who read forgotten books, who...

  8. 3 Decline into the West
    (pp. 35-56)

    Leo Strauss entered the American academy from a particular place, in a particular time, and in particular company. Among the most important figures in this intellectual company are Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, and Carl Schmitt. Arendt and Strauss were of the same place and time, and in many respects (though this will astonish and appall their more zealous adherents) the same intellectual tastes. They emerged from the same intellectual environment. They were German Jews, educated in the German universities of the 1920s and 1930s. The German academy had betrayed them, yet they were very much of it.

    For Strauss, for...

  9. 4 Closing the American Mind
    (pp. 57-74)

    Allan Bloom experienced Cornell as a profound defeat, but he made it the occasion for a later victory. He wrote a book, inspired by his tribulations at Cornell, calledThe Closing of the American Mind. The book was that rare thing in academic circles, a popular success and a publishing phenomenon. It climbed to the top of the bestseller lists in 1987 and remained there. In subsequent editions it went on to sell more than a million copies.

    Bloom’sClosing of the American Mindannounced the conservative position in the emergent cultural wars. Bloom’s polemic against undergraduate education, rock music,...

  10. 5 Getting the Natural Right
    (pp. 75-94)

    Natural Right and Historyis said to argue for a return to truth, to a standard common to all and grounded in nature. Perhaps that reading is correct. If so,Natural Right and Historypresents nature as the realm of self-evident truths. In most of his writings, Strauss is careful to present nature not as the realm of certainty, of “pure and whole knowledge,” but as the unexplored, uncharted territory of a “pure and whole questioning.” Nature was not the site of certainty, nature was the realm of the unknown, the inchoate, of that which might be known but wasn’t,...

  11. 6 Persecution and the Art of Writing
    (pp. 95-108)

    All Straussians are bound together by a certain regard for the text, by practices of reading, by a net of allusions and references, by stories and practices. The net binds others with them: Talmudic scholars and poststructuralists, theorists of many kinds. Some groups among the Straussians may be bound by other secrets, whether these are really secrets or not. Like the supposedly secret manuscript that Cropsey took from his file cabinet to hand to me, some of these supposed secrets may be in extensive circulation.

    No one, for example, should be surprised to learn that the students of Strauss hold...

  12. 7 Ancients and Moderns
    (pp. 109-126)

    Leo Strauss joined Carl Schmitt and Alexandre Kojève in their critiques of liberalism and liberal institutions. He shared their fear of world government. Strauss joined Hannah Arendt in her regard for the Greekpolis,in her fears for modernity, and in her conviction that philosophy, especially the philosophy of fifthcentury Athens, could invigorate not only modern philosophy but American democracy. Like most Europeans of a certain age, Strauss had contempt for mass culture, especially in its American form. He placed these critiques of modernity so vigorously before his students that some of the Straussians began to condemn the Moderns, and...

  13. 8 The Statesman
    (pp. 127-140)

    Political Straussians are great admirers of civil religion. They are pious practitioners as well, and have both secular saints and a series of rituals. The most conspicuous among those saints are Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln. Those Straussians holding positions of power and influence advance other exemplars of leadership, Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and General Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan among them. We need to ask which leaders they honor, and why they honor them, to see the forms of leadership they advocate for America.

    Winston Churchill is admired by many Americans as the leader of a determined British resistance...

  14. 9 On Tyranny
    (pp. 141-160)

    In the year 2001, in the wake of September 11, the United States government began a war that was not a war. The war was said to be against terror and terrorism. Terror and terrorism in Ireland, Sri Lanka, and Kashmir went untouched. The forces of the United States advanced on Afghanistan in pursuit of Osama bin Laden. They never found the man who had launched the attacks of 9/11, though they deposed the regime that had sheltered him. Later a larger force invaded and occupied Iraq, searching perhaps for a link to these attackers, perhaps for weapons of mass...

  15. 10 Conservatism Abandoned
    (pp. 161-180)

    Straussians are conservative. Why they are conservative remains something of a mystery. Strauss’s work on Plato or Xenophon or other figures in the canon does not lead inevitably to conservatism. That Strauss himself was a conservative should matter very little. Hegel recommended monarchy and is still read and admired in liberal democracies. Feminists make use of Nietzsche and Rousseau. Republicans admire the Southern Agrarians. Teachers do not clone, they teach. Great teachers will produce students very unlike themselves. As Nietzsche wrote,

    All who climb on their own way

    Carry my image, too, into the breaking day.

    Once upon a time,...

  16. 11 The Sicilian Expedition
    (pp. 181-200)

    In the years after World War II, America found itself not only “great among the nations,” as Teddy Roosevelt had hoped, but an imperial hegemon. America held death in its hand, or so Americans thought. The sole possession of nuclear weapons conferred a brief unchallenged primacy. There were those who thought that America should seize the moment of its ascendancy, suppress the communists by force of arms, and so secure the Free World. Those who read Thucydides as an admonition feared this enthusiastic imperial ambition. George Kennan was perhaps the most famous of those who held to this reading of...

  17. 12 Athens and Jerusalem
    (pp. 201-220)

    Strauss’s famous essay “Jerusalem and Athens: Some Preliminary Reflections” marks Athens and Jerusalem, reason and revelation, as the poles whose contending gravitational pulls defined the history of political philosophy, the two sources of wisdom, two sites of the virtuous life, always at odds, always pulling against each other. Athens was the site of the polis, the city of philosophy, the wild place of unleashed reason, the city of the agon, in love with the new, the birthplace of democracy. Jerusalem was the city of God, the city of the covenant. In this place, God spoke to the people, chose them,...

  18. 13 The School of Baghdad
    (pp. 221-228)

    We have faced death with Leo Strauss. Now we must face death in another place.

    The Platonic political philosophy that Strauss made his life’s work begins for him with al Farabi. Farabi, as Strauss called him, was the first of the Platonic political philosophers. Farabi teaches how to write in a time and place hostile to philosophy. In that hostile place, Farabi taught politics and philosophy to his students, and to Strauss.

    Strauss took Farabi as his teacher, but he was also kindred and compatriot. Farabi writes that though it is unlikely that all the attributes of the philosopher and...

  19. Index
    (pp. 229-235)