Brett Williams's Reviews > Leo Strauss: An Introduction to His Thought and Intellectual Legacy

Leo Strauss by Thomas L. Pangle
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it was amazing

Leo Strauss (1899-1973, U of Chicago) was an articulate examiner of America’s Founding principles including their Enlightenment source; lover of Socratic thought; and among the first to expose Euro-American Postmodernism. Thomas Pangle (the author, UT Austin) was one of Strauss’s students, as was Allan Bloom (U of Chicago), Henry V. Jaffa, and others beginning to be heard on various topics of the Founding, Supreme Court, de Tocqueville, community and tradition in our individualistic era. Some on the Left, infuriated by Strauss’s analysis of what he called “the crisis of the West,” have set out to associate Strauss with Neo-Conservatism, i.e. linking Strauss to abuse and corruption of the Bush/Cheney administration. The “smoking gun” seems to be that Paul Wolfowitz took a class from Strauss, despite Wolfowitz claims not to be a Straussian. Some, like Shadia Drury (University of Regina) link Strauss to “imperialist militarism and Christian fundamentalism,” (Strauss was Jewish), claiming Straussian’s make up a “cult.” Thus reacting to what Pangle notes in the book as “the powerful undertow that can be quietly exercised by authentic philosophic reflection.” Pangle writes, a “febrile flurry of conspiracy theories” littered the academic Left just in time to save us, as Strauss’s “malignant and demonic influence reached out from the grave through mesmerized disciples.” Like Tertullian’s and Irenaeus’s insults leading to a two millennia search for the Gnostic Gospels, such attacks have done a great service to reveal what Strauss is about to a wider audience. Naturally, Pangle rides this wave by opening his book with this topic. He writes, “Strauss exemplifies Nietzsche’s observation that genuinely independent thinkers are never children of their times, they are subversive and rebellious. Their reflections are more than merely disturbing or thought provoking.”

Pangle attempts to summarize Strauss - occasionally, brevity and shorter sentences would help. Strauss, like Aristotle (as Pangle puts it) had a habit of seeking a fight. Not because he liked to fight, but because he loved the truth. We in the late modern West have lost our bearings, insists Strauss, and to such an abysmal extent that we are in the process of becoming bereft of even a capacity to pursue a quest for answers. While quite obvious today, it was an original realization in the time of Strauss. Pangle notes, “Under the influence of our prestigious intellectual authorities we no longer confidentially believe in rationally demonstrable, universal and permanent truth of principles we share and defend. Worse, we doubt the very possibility of any such principles… Our Western values are held only as a matter of historical accident… As a consequence we are a culture slipping into spiritual disintegration and bewilderment.” Our modern tyranny, notes Strauss, is an ideological one, “understanding itself as guided by comprehensive, normative-scientific, quasi-philosophical analysis of the human condition.” The struggle now is over orthodox interpretations of ideology while we busy ourselves with specialties learning “more and more about less and less.” (What a great line.) Morality is now scorned through an easy going belief that all points of view are equal (except traditional ones), coupled with a strident belief that arguments for superior or distinctive morality, way of life, or human type is elitist, bigoted, antidemocratic and immoral. This is what Strauss means by our “contemporary crisis of the West,” where he asks if any fundamental concept can be adhered to or, in terms of Constitutional law, enforced in a climate of historical and cultural relativism?

Pangle may seem a bit muddled when it comes to Strauss’s position on science in the study of man. But the reader should be mindful that Pangle and his sort cast a jaundiced view on science as it has been adopted by the “social studies.” Admittedly there is a measure of smugness even from authentic scientists when it comes to beliefs, traditions, etc. (see the balanced treatment of Michael Polanyi). However, to physical scientists it’s abundantly clear that “science” employed in sociology, cultural studies, feminist theory, etc. are far from anything we could distinguish. When commandeered by non-scientists in the humanities, science becomes a dangerous thing completely unrecognizable as anything other than agenda. But science proper can appear indicted by Pangle as though it willingly finds itself in such fields.

Pangle excels in areas frequented by his Constitutional expertise when he reports his Straussian emphasis on means over ends, as means express a moral choice to ends and are reflective of what is seen as central to humanity. If ends are all that matter, there’s no need for checks and balance or limits to power, one may get there any way they choose. All-in-all a splendid, brief, but meaty introduction to a national asset.
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Finished Reading
October 22, 2014 – Shelved

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