Community and Political Thought Today

By Peter Augustine Lawler; Dale McConkey | Go to book overview
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12
The Illiberal Leo Strauss

ROBB A. McDANIEL

The liberalism of Leo Strauss has always been questionable. While Strauss and his students have been strong supporters of the American regime against its rivals,

Strauss's thought appears foreign and forbidding, and his defense of the Constitution strikes much of academic liberalism as decidedly "antiliberal."1 Most disturbing to liberals, Strauss issues a rousing call to arms against modern egalitarian ideals. That Strauss left behind a faithful school of followers ready to defend classical aristocracy only adds to his perceived threat. Strauss announces his elitism in an apocalyptic rhetoric, one that focuses on the "crisis of the West" and highlights his divergences from modern liberalism. Resurrecting the classical Greeks, Strauss describes a hierarchical "natural" order in which "philosophers" and "gentlemen" rule over the "vulgar" democratic masses. Inequality is not only natural, it is radical: the differences between human types are not ones of degree but ones of kind. For Strauss, some human beings are simply more noble than others. The great gap between these human types produces essential conflicts, requiring that philosophers conceal their true beliefs. Of course, Strauss also musters a defense of liberal democracy, albeit on grounds far removed from the ideals of liberty and equality. While this alternative legitimation should raise questions, it more typically draws battle lines. Strauss's critics object to the implicit immorality of Strauss's disseminating "philosophers" and the arrogance of those Straussians who see themselves as belonging to that exclusive club.2 Strauss's rediscovery of "esoteric teaching" renders suspect his own political rhetoric. Naturally, Strauss's defenders protest that he is innocent and misunderstood.3

Generally missing from this debate is a systematic analysis of Strauss's anti

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