Being Leo Strauss
Leave it up to the Straussian house organ, the Weekly Standard, to write about Leo Strauss without really saying too much about Leo Strauss. In the latest issue, Steven J. Lenzner reviews Heinrich Meier’s Leo Strauss and the Theologico-Political Problem. Meir, described as “a prominent interpreter of Rousseau,” apparently tackled Strauss after an exhausting dissection of “the political theologian” Carl Schmitt, who was a Nazi (no mention that here).
“Strauss showed that the underlying basis of Schmitt’s affirmation of the political was a profound dissatisfaction with liberalism—that is, with liberal universalism and its aspirations for boundless security and a life that seeks fulfillment in the ‘interesting and entertaining.’ Liberalism, according to Schmitt, was above all a rejection of the political, the characteristic distinction of which he held to be the division into ‘friends’ and ‘enemies.’ Such a life—lacking the passion and commitment that would lead one to die for a cause—seemed to Schmitt a rejection of all that was high and vital in man,” writes Lenzner.
Classical liberalism, as opposed to modern liberalism, can be defined as a tradition which holds liberty—freedom of thought, limited government, the rule of law, and the free exchange of ideas—as a primary political value (the word liberal comes from the Latin liber, or free). Schmitt rejected the idea of liberty and embraced dictatorial government and the German concept of Ausnahmezustand, or a state of emergency, and the disencumbering of the executive branch from all legal (and moral) restraint, as Hitler did with the Reichstag Fire Decree. For Schmitt, Ausnahmezustand (literally, state of exception) allowed the executive, as a dictatorial office not obliged to a Constitution, to engage in violence “under right,” thus transforming the state into a death machine (Schmitt would later condone the Night of the Long Knives as the “highest form of administrative justice”).
It only takes a cursory glance to see an ugly glimmer of this authoritarian philosophy at work in the Bush administration under the sway of the Straussian neocons—from Guantanamo Bay to the NSA snoop “scandal” and beyond (note: Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) accuse Bush in separate letters of illegally initiating “military action against Iran without congressional authorization” and plan to introduce a resolution in opposition).
Meier’s “complex exposition and arguments” give no inkling of the fascistic character of Carl Schmitt and his student Leo Strauss, at least not in Steven J. Lenzner’s review of his book. Instead, Meir apparently investigates, in Strauss’ words, “the relation between society and philosophy,” not the ultimate outcome of that philosophy (the effort to destroy classical liberalism and create a dictatorship). “In contrast to the widespread abuse of mining Strauss’s works for snippets that ostensibly show Strauss’s ‘agenda,’ Meier treats them as invitations to think about the most important problems; that is, to philosophize,” that is, to avoid the terrible totality of the Straussian philosophy with its underpinnings in the authoritarian theology of Machiavelli and Schmitt. Hardcore Straussians like to call this esotericism.
“The esoteric, or supposedly secret teaching which [Strauss] inculcated into [Thomas] Pangle, [Allan] Bloom, Werner Dannhauser, and many others, including, reportedly, Bloom’s protégé Paul Wolfowitz, was indeed pure Nietzsche,” writes Tony Papert. “From Nietzsche to Leo Strauss, only the names have been changed, as they say. To begin with, what Nietzsche called the ’superman,’ or the ‘next man,’ Strauss calls the ‘philosopher.’”
It is the supermen/philosophers who provide the herd with the religious, moral, and other beliefs they require, but which the supermen themselves know to be lies. Nietzsche said that his supermen were “atheistic priests,” and Strauss pretends that their lies are “noble lies.” But they do not do this out of benevolence, of course; charity and benevolence are mocked by Nietzsche and Strauss as unworthy of gods and godlike men. Rather, the “philosophers” use these falsehoods to shape society in the interest of these “philosophers” themselves.
Lenzner tells us “by serving as a timely and enticing summons to accept Strauss’s generosity, Meier’s work helps us begin to understand the greatness of Strauss as a philosopher. That is an achievement worthy of note and gratitude.” Strauss is all about Nietzschean relativism (the Nazis liked this about Nietzsche too—made it easier to kill millions of people) and Hegelian historicism—that is, the end of history and, as Nietzsche saw it, a return the Socratic-Platonic-Aristotelian philosophy (Strauss, however, sternly rejected the Socratic question: What is the good for the city and man?).
As Bush and his Straussian crew have repeatedly demonstrated, the executive has embraced antiquity, including Plato’s idea of “noble lies” as reformulated by Strauss and his students and their students. In the process, liberty is to be flushed down the tubes.
Now, as the idea of perpetual war gains momentum under a shock and awe campaign gearing up to decimate Iran (and destinations beyond), we are beginning to see the horrible price humanity will be required to pay for the post-Straussian ideal and Schmitt’s decree of endless “friends and enemies” and Thomas Hobbes’ bellum omnium contra omnes, “the war of all against all.”
And it sure ain’t pretty.
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