Machan's Musings - Saddam Hussein Learned from Richard Rorty

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Submitted by removed on Tue, 2005-12-06 20:33

Machan's Musings - Saddam Hussein Learned from Richard Rorty

Tibor R. Machan

In his very instructive book Natural Right and History the justly famous classical political scientist Leo Strauss—sometimes credited with (or blamed for) neo-conservatism—makes the point that without firm standards of right versus wrong, all that can count in the determination of right and wrong is who is being earnest—whose is “a resolute or deadly serious decision.” Here is how he put the point:

If there is no standard higher than the ideal of our society, we are utterly unable to take a critical distance from that idea. But the mere fact that we can raise the question of the worth of the idea of our society shows that there is something in man that is not altogether in slavery to his society, and therefore that we are able, and hence obliged, to look for a standard with reference to which we can judge the ideals of our own as well as of any other society. That standard cannot be found in the needs of the various societies, for the societies and their parts have many needs that conflict with one another; the problem if priorities arises. This problem cannot be solved in a rational manner if we do not have a standard with reference to which we can distinguish between genuine needs and fancied needs and discern the hierarchy of the various types of genuine needs. The problem posed by the conflicting needs of society cannot be solved if we do not possess knowledge of natural right.

These lines by Strauss were written in the 1950s but they could easily have been addressed to the position advocated by Richard Rorty, who does believe that “there is no standard higher than the ideal of our society,” thus no way to compare the standards of one society to another. As Rorty put the point, “Non-meta-physicians [which by his account includes Rorty and all wise persons] cannot say that [e.g.,] democratic institutions reflect a moral reality and that tyrannical regimes do not reflect one, that tyrannies get something wrong that democratic societies get right.”
OK, now fast forward to the trial of Saddam Hussein going on in Iraq just now. The defendant has been charged with innumerable heinous crimes, including genocide, but he protests not that he is innocent but that those sitting on the bench do not have the authority to judge him. As he shouted the other day, "I will not return, I will not come to an unjust court! Go to Hell!"
Indeed, if there is no justice beyond what one’s own society views believes, Hussein has no reason to acknowledge that the court now embarking to stand in judgment of him can dispense justice. The only justice he will accept is the only justice our relativists philosophers accept, namely, the justice of one’s own society, of one’s own community. There is no higher justice.
This, in part, is the logical implication of the irrational tolerance that has been advocated by multicultural modern liberals, thinkers who do not acknowledge any common standard by which human beings and their conduct can be evaluated or judged. No, only relative standards exists, the standards or ideals of one’s society which, in practice, can mean simply one’s very own standards or ideals (needs, desires, wishes, hopes, fantasies). And by this very widely promulgated position—in many universities by major moral and political thinkers in our time—Saddam Hussein has no reason to accept any standard other than his own. Accordingly, he is justified in dismissing the court in which he is being tried, a court that is not of his own choosing.
Some people have the idea that philosophical opinions are but part of a clever game, of various sophistic verbal acrobatics. As the late David L. Norton put it in his unique, dissident book, Personal Destinies (1976), “philosophy bakes no bread.” They believe philosophy need not be taken seriously at all—we can fantasize about parallel universes, multicultural justice, logic without reality and reality without logic. All of this is fair game since in our imagination we can find some legitimate room for such speculations. And what else is there in the world but speculation? All of what we take to be true, such thinkers maintain, is but our own subjective truths with no claim to any universality, with no reference to some common reality, especially when it comes to matters of morality and politics.
Mr. Hussein has learned his contemporary philosophical lessons—at least those of some of our most prominent philosophers—very well. He would easily get his PhD in the field.

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I think Shadia Drury got it

removed's picture

I think Shadia Drury got it wrong becasue for Strauss these types are symbolic of our human capacities and his point was to alert us to be guided by reason, not the emotions, not by our needs (represented by the lower two people). For Strauss Plato's Republic is but a model, never a blueprint.
As best as I know, Rand never bothered with Strauss & Co., but I cannot be certain.

More on Strauss

Pete L's picture

Dr. Machan,

Thanks for sharing your Strauss talk, I was always curious to hear what you had to say on the matter. Quick question - did Rand ever come across the ideas of Leo Strauss, and if so did she ever comment on them? I'm guessing she would have intellectually taken him to task if so. I would loved to watch the two of them debate, no doubt.

There is one thing I would like to add on Straussian ideas: I reckon you must be familiar with Shadia Drury, a Canadian professor. She has written books about Strauss and his followers long before any of them came to power under George W. Bush. She is of course a Straussian critic, and she seems to come from the Left end of the spectrum. Nevertheless she is very well versed in Struass and his ideas. Here is a clip from one of her interviews where she summarizes Strauss's view of the three general types of individuals in society:

There are indeed three types of men: the wise, the gentlemen, and the vulgar. The wise are the lovers of the harsh, unadulterated truth. They are capable of looking into the abyss without fear and trembling. They recognise neither God nor moral imperatives. They are devoted above all else to their own pursuit of the “higher” pleasures, which amount to consorting with their “puppies” or young initiates.

The second type, the gentlemen, are lovers of honour and glory. They are the most ingratiating towards the conventions of their society – that is, the illusions of the cave. They are true believers in God, honour, and moral imperatives. They are ready and willing to embark on acts of great courage and self-sacrifice at a moment’s notice.

The third type, the vulgar many, are lovers of wealth and pleasure. They are selfish, slothful, and indolent. They can be inspired to rise above their brutish existence only by fear of impending death or catastrophe.

Like Plato, Strauss believed that the supreme political ideal is the rule of the wise. But the rule of the wise is unattainable in the real world. Now, according to the conventional wisdom, Plato realised this, and settled for the rule of law. But Strauss did not endorse this solution entirely. Nor did he think that it was Plato’s real solution – Strauss pointed to the “nocturnal council” in Plato’s Laws to illustrate his point.

The real Platonic solution as understood by Strauss is the covert rule of the wise (see Strauss’s – The Argument and the Action of Plato’s Laws). This covert rule is facilitated by the overwhelming stupidity of the gentlemen. The more gullible and unperceptive they are, the easier it is for the wise to control and manipulate them. Supposedly, Xenophon makes that clear to us.

For Strauss, the rule of the wise is not about classic conservative values like order, stability, justice, or respect for authority. The rule of the wise is intended as an antidote to modernity. Modernity is the age in which the vulgar many have triumphed. It is the age in which they have come closest to having exactly what their hearts desire – wealth, pleasure, and endless entertainment. But in getting just what they desire, they have unwittingly been reduced to beasts.

Nowhere is this state of affairs more advanced than in America. And the global reach of American culture threatens to trivialise life and turn it into entertainment. This was as terrifying a spectre for Strauss as it was for Alexandre Kojève and Carl Schmitt.

The whole wise-gentlemen-vulgar trichotomy gives me the creeps, yet from a practical standpoint, I can see its potential utility for politcal power seekers. By this logic, we could say that Wolfowitz and the neocon intellectuals are the 'wise' (Cheney would probably fit in there too), Bush is the prototypical gentleman, and the Hollywood liberals are the vulgar. Interesting way of looking at things...

Anyhow, one of the main reasons this topic is of interest to me is that the overwhelming majority of self-described Objectivists today are virtually indistinguishable from neoconservatives in their foreign policy views today. In the wake of 9-11, this is understandable, but I'm a bit concerned that many Objectivists haven't taken the time to really understand neoconservatism and the neoconservative agenda, and consequently don't realize with whom they're throwing their hats in the ring. I just wish they'd try to differentiate themselves more than I've seen.

Leo Strauss and neoconservatives

Mark Humphrey's picture

Dr. Machan, thank you for posting your article explaining the connection between the thinking of Leo Strauss, philosophical nihilism, and the rise of the warfare state. It makes for fascinating reading.

Although I have read no more than a little philosophy, I am struck by the modern romanticizing of contradictions and "enigma". It is as though professional philosophers really are not interested in grasping and explaining how the world works. They'd rather wax eloquent about the supposedly inescapable intellectual quandries faced by true intellectuals, who "know" that answers simply don't exist. It's easy to jump to false conclusions when one really doesn't know much about a subject, but I wonder if many philosophers are not simply political operators with an intellectual bent. Much like midevil churchmen, they like to romanticize contradictions because doing so justifies their desire for power.

I also wonder if the neo-conservative movement is driven to war making partly because of their sympathy for the regulatory tax-and-spend State. On one hand, they want to preserve the Welfare State in most of its contemporary manifestations; on the other hand, they realize that their authoritarian regime cannot be preserved without some measure of economic freedom. So, for example, to preserve environentalism and its prohibition on oil exploration, and to preserve the tax and regulatory burden imposed on oil and energy entrepreneuers, neo-conservatives are forced to seek control over events in the biggest oil producing region in the world, the Middle East. Saddam Hussein posed no military threat to the United States. However, he might have achieved the status of regional power in the Middle East, which would have threatened the agenda of the neo-conservatives to "run things" over there to assure the uninterrupted flow of oil to the US. (Of course, oil producers need oil buyers, so going to war to protect our "access to foreign oil" is pretty stupid.)

Leo Strauss, Neo-Conservative? (Talk given at TOC 2005)

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Leo Strauss, Neo-Conservative?

Tibor R. Machan

When Leo Strauss was near death, I called him in Annapolis, MD, where he had his last teaching post at St. Johns College. I said that I appreciated all he taught me. He thanked me and that is the only conversation we ever had.
Yet, Strauss was an important teacher to me, mainly by means of his major book, Natural Right and History. I had known of Strauss and the Straussian school from when I entered Claremont Men’s (now McKenna) College in the fall of 1962 since several of his students and friends taught there—Harry V. Jaffa, Martin Diamond, and Werner Dannhauser. And later, when I was a grad student at NYU in 1965-66, Dannhauser was an editor at Commentary Magazine and he and I used to have drinks now and then and talk about politics and philosophy. Interestingly, Dannhauser was a liberal democrat!
But it wasn’t until I began my studies at U C Santa Barbara in the Fall of 1966 that I decided to read Strauss himself. His philosophical focus was the ancients versus the moderns, with definite partiality to the former. Unlike analytic philosophers, who prided themselves on a narrow focus (scrutinizing such topics as what “like” or “about” means), Strauss seemed to me to appreciate the systematic approach that I associated with ancient philosophers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and, of course, with Rand.
In this discussion I will first consider what Strauss’s contribution to philosophy and, especially, political science comes to. Then I will explain Strauss’s own views, insofar as they can be identified. (There is a specific reason why there is a problem here.) I will go on to consider how, if at all, Leo Strauss relates to neo-conservatives.
From the start of my awareness of his work it was quite clear to me that Strauss was philosophically enigmatic. It turned out he actually championed a way of doing philosophy that didn’t come right out with the sort of claims just anyone who speaks the language could understand. Or, putting it more precisely, he held that the most important philosophers didn’t speak simply but were, instead, deliberately duplicitous in what they said.
This idea is not itself all that mysterious. Most people who are somewhat familiar with Plato’s dialogues know of the idea of “the Big Lie.” A somewhat reasonable version of this idea—as distinct from the plainly unreasonable one that requires governments to deceive the public—is that philosophers who are enmeshed in rather complicated and at times disturbing truths need to withhold what they know from the general public and give support, instead, to various conventions people need in order to get on with their mundane lives. Just suppose that it is evident, after the most exasperating philosophical work, that there is no God, or free will, or that the bulk of the laws in one’s country are bunk. This may not be something ready for public consumption—most ordinary men and women are busy with their daily affairs to be able to take time out and digest fully such disturbing discoveries. Then there is the even more plain idea that in many societies the rulers don’t wish it be broadcast that they lack legitimacy, that their rule is unjustified. So for simple self-protection and professional safety, philosophers need to speak enigmatically.
These two reasons are discussed in Strauss’s Persecution and the Art of Writing. The book certainly put readers on guard about reaching assured conclusions about what Strauss himself thought about things. Strauss’s writings, especially about the great philosophers—his meticulous and controversial reading of Plato’s various dialogues—left one pretty much in the dark about just what Strauss believed, although there were other works where his themes about the relationship between the dual traditions of Judeo-Christianity and Athenian secular philosophy did appear to come through loud and clear (if not entirely dependably).
So what then was Strauss’s main achievement with his approach to philosophical scholarships? What I came away with from reading Strauss was, first and foremost, that studying the ancient thinkers was imperative in order to get a clue as to what philosophy is all about. No facile reading of Plato or Aristotle (or even Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza, or Locke) would suffice, nor would reading the more popular, even prominent academic, interpreters of these thinkers do. For example, Strauss would not encourage one to read Plato the way Gregory Vlastos did, focusing on this or that argument, here and there in a dialogue. Instead, Plato needs to be read as having a grand agenda, with the dialogues as whole pieces, dramas with an overall point. Karl Popper, who took on Plato and Strauss for holding to a fixed human nature, would not be a good guide to Plato either by this account.
Strauss reminds one of Aristotle’s teaching that no one under 40 can begin to do philosophy. After reading the interpretative essay in Bloom’s translation of Plato’s Republic, I wrote to Bloom to inquire about the following paradox: If he was right about the meaning of the book, I and many others aspiring to do philosophical work should just stick to street cleaning. Yet if nonetheless we could understand that this is part of what the Republic means, does that not undermine the claim? Bloom’s reply, handwritten, was a longish letter agreeing with the paradoxical nature of the situation but offering no resolution. “A man like Crito would be absurd if he tried to be like Socrates,” wrote Bloom. True, “he profits from being near that great man, and this is the best for him. But he is less of a man, less happy, clearly secondary. My common sense tells me that this is so, and that there is no way of changing it....It is obviously up to all of us to act according to the good. But to do so we must know it. But to know it we must have knowledge of it, which means we must be philosophers, which is impossible for us. Thus we can’t be moral simply. That again seems an intolerable teaching, but it was that of Plato and Aristotle.” This seemed quite puzzling and even incredible, but I realized that it was up to me to come to grips with the issue anyway.
In time, after I studied Strauss further and, especially, once I read his Introduction to On tyranny, an Interpretation of Xenophon's Hiero, I concluded that Strauss’s views about philosophy were even more perplexing than I had gleaned them to be earlier. They came to the following:
The philosopher is essentially someone embarking on a search which it is unreasonable to think one can ever complete. Just as Socrates is reported to have thought that the only thing he knows is that he knows nothing, the philosopher—the really true one (if such a one may be found)—cannot honestly conclude anything for sure. Despite Allan Bloom’s rhetorical flourishes in The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students, no one can honestly know basic, absolute and fundamental truths. Not that relativism is coherent, of course. What is most honest is to claim nothing.
Some Straussians, like Harry Neumann, actually became nihilists. As RKL writes in an article posted on the World Wide Web (, “I'm prepared to accept what my friend Professor Scot Zentner has said on many occasions, that Professor Harry Neumann is the first honest Straussian (Neumann, for the record, openly and quite cogently promulgates atheism/nihilism! Read Liberalism, if you can find a copy….).”
Let me pause here for a comment. Given the idealistic conception of knowledge that Plato appears to have promulgated, this view is not surprising. If one models human knowledge on the impossible dream of final, perfect, timeless forms drawn from a formal science such as geometry, one will come to conclude that knowledge is indeed impossible, as are values—ergo, nihilism and cynicism. Add to this the admitted nearly other-worldly importance Strauss associated with the great philosophers and the depth of profundity of philosophy he seems to have insisted upon—evident in recent times only in, say, Martin Heidegger’s work which Strauss, despite being an exiled Jew from pre WWII Germany, admired—and it all seems to have led him to a kind of elitism we do, in fact, associate with Plato in our conventional interpretations of his thought. Socrates in this picture comes off as beyond reason, beyond any standards of good and evil, right and wrong. (This is a bit too reminiscent of Randian novelist Kay Nolte Smith’s lead character in Elegy for a Soprano and of Rand’s own personal legacy.)
Yet, Strauss did not explicitly advance views that smacked much of political elitism. Not that he was praising of the modern era of political thought. He even lumped together Hobbes and Locke on the basis of their similar fundamental philosophy—metaphysics, epistemology. He appeared, also, to think of the natural rights tradition is misguided for taking freedom to be so vital and neglecting virtue.
However, Strauss also argued that the best bet for philosophers—who must at all cost stick together, form a friendship across the ages, which is perhaps the highest, albeit rather fruitless, way of life—is to promote and defend a version of classical liberalism.
Naturally the philosopher has no taste for politics, that pedestrian, vulgar part of life. But, just as Socrates was dragged into politics by his pupils, since they knew that the city needed philosophy so as to have some connection with justice, so the community of philosophers must address philosophy—it must be politic about philosophy, prudent and protective of it. (In his famous discussion, What is Political Philosophy? Strauss offers what amounts to most of us an idiosyncratic conception of this discipline. It is not concerned with being philosophical about politics but with how to be political about philosophy—how to engage in it best while living in the various imperfect regimes in which we all must live.)
The philosophers lives most effectively—which is to say, freely—in the classical liberal polity. Strauss, in a rare passage offering his own ideas, identified the good life for man as:
simply the life in which the requirements of man’s natural inclinations are fulfilled in the proper order to the highest possible degree, the life of a man who is awake to the highest possible degree, the life of a man in whose soul nothing lies waste.
He also stated that: “political freedom and especially that political freedom that justifies itself by the pursuit of human excellence... requires the highest degree of vigilance.” And finally he held: “There is no adequate solution to the problem of virtue or happiness on the political or social plane.”
If we put these three ideas together—which, it seems to me, do give expression to Strauss’ own views—we will arrive at Objectivist libertarianism. This libertarianism is, put plainly, the view that the task of politics is to protect the right to individual liberty, nothing more or less, and the task of virtue, human excellence or happiness, is a task that only the individual on his own can strive to fulfill either alone or in personal and voluntary association with others, never by force or coercion.
OK, now let us turn to neo-conservatism. This is a school of social-political thought associated with scholars and public policy writers such as Irving Kristol, Daniel Bell, Normal Podhoretz, Midge Decter, Gertrude Himmelfarb, to start with. Later, neo-conservatism became closely linked with such foreign policy thinkers as Paul Wolfowitz.
The first group was characterized as neo-conservative because it’s different from the traditional American conservatives such as William F. Buckley, Russell Kirk, Clinton Rossitter and others whose position about public affairs derives, ultimately, from the thought of Edmund Burke. What makes all these conservatives is their belief in deciding on political and public policy issues based on tried and true teachings that have been handed down through the ages. American conservatives, however, were unique in being faced with a radical political viewpoint by the Founders, who were influenced not so much be classical conservatives such as Burke but by classical liberals such as Locke.
Now the neo-conservatives had been, prior to their conversion during the mid and late 60s and early 70s, thinkers of the left. They were, it is safe to say, social democrats but not out and out Marxists or similar radical socialists. Still, they believed in a top down political economy. Perhaps the best work that justified their version of statism is Bell’s The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism.
The best indication of how neo-conservatives thought about politics is Irving Kristol’s book, Two Cheers for Capitalism. While Kristol & Co., began to see the wisdom of leaving a great deal of economic matters to the workings of the free market, they never gave up the idea of a strong central government, especially where foreign policy matters were concerned. This was, in part, because of their conviction that the Soviet Union was indeed an evil empire, so the government of a free society needs to be powerful.
But there is more. Neo-conservatives have never had much sympathy for the modern version of classical liberalism, libertarianism (despite the fact that Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia, the first major academic work that gave philosophical credence to this school of political thought was published by the neo-conservative house, Basic Books). They had disdain for what they took to be the naiveté of the libertarian idea that government must be strictly limited to the protection of individual rights. They also believed that too many aspects of society needed leadership, so they supported the paternalist aspects of the much more than minimal state.
Now I am not a full time student of neo-conservatism, so some of what I will conclude here, specifically about why these folks support an aggressive foreign policy by the United States of America, amounts to speculation. Not a guess, but more of an educated guess. And here is also where some of what Leo Strauss and his student’s believe comes into play, at least to some extent.
Neo-Conservatives do hold the view that American is the best bet for the world—its institutional set-up is a very useful combination of modern elements having to do with the sovereignty of individuals and the older idea of a substantial role for government. And this is a very promising idea that needs to be widely promulgated. Indeed, without its promulgation there can arise and persist major threats to the countries that do embrace it, such as the United States of America. In short, unless the semi-free society is strong and not only ready to defend itself but also willing to go on the offensive in support of its system abroad, it will perish. Either you are willing to export liberal democracy or it will be crushed by all kind of barbaric global groups.
Now let us return to Strauss. Recall his prudential endorsement of classical liberalism as the best bet for philosophy. (Just exactly why philosophy ought to be cherished is not made clear by Strauss & Co., and their implicit or explicit nihilism calls the merit of the idea into serious question.) Strauss’s embrace of classical liberalism—or at least a watered down version of it, as per liberal democracy—did appear to influence neo-conservatives. They too believe, some of them because they were taught it by Strauss & Co., that their most important values are best advanced and preserved in a relatively free society, provided such a society is strong, wields power wisely both at home and abroad.
This conviction, that humanity’s best bet is a semi-free society that vigorously promotes its institution across the globe, is very likely the legacy Strauss left to the neo-conservatives. And it is probably what puts neo-conservatives on the side of George W. Bush’s variety of modern conservatives—the “compassionate” statist type. A very apt expression of how this view has held sway in America since the Monroe Doctrine, reinforced by the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and then expanded, in light of the recent annihilation of functional borders around the Western Hemisphere, by the administration of George W. Bush throughout the globe. As Bush put it in his 2005 Inaugural Address, “From the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the maker of heaven and earth.” Ergo? As Tom Wolfe put the point, “it is America’s destiny and duty to bring that salvation to all mankind.”
The main difference in the neo-conservative vision is that is that neo-conservatives see religion in largely sociological terms, as distinct from the like of Bush who are, it seems, fully faith based in their outlook. The former, however, aren’t, as a rule, religious or faithful.
Strauss himself struggled with the problem of what to make of the two important traditions in the West, those of Athens and Jerusalem. He clearly preferred the thinking that comes from Athens but he could not deny the significance of the influence and thus importance of Jerusalem, namely, Judeo-Christianity.
Certainly, no self-respecting neo-conservatives would ally themselves with George W. Bush’s conservative base, the religious right or evangelical Christians. Most neo-conservatives are actually Jewish in their cultural-ethnic origins and too sophisticated to accept notions such as being born again.
Yet, here too, there is some accommodation. Neo-conservatives have from the start insisted on the civilizing role of religion. This may be associated with Strauss’s own view that the vulgar need Big Lies, a la a certain reading of Plato. The precepts of morality and other civilizing forces cannot be expected to come to most people by way of personal philosophical engagement. Certain myths are necessary to sustain these for the bulk of us.
Thus, the Straussean teachings do accord with how things have turned out on the domestic and international political fronts: Vigorous defense of a version of liberal democracy; substantial support for certain elements of the free society and market, mainly regarding freedom of thought, religion and the press; and an aggressive position toward any global forces that threaten any of this. The nature of this position may be appreciated from the fact that neo-conservatives, like Normal Podhoretz, had been very critical of Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy, accusing it fostering “detente” and “Caterism without Carter.” The difference may be appreciated from the following comments from columnist Alan Bock:
The most important difference between Reagan and the neo-conservatives is that Regan was both temperamentally and politically an optimist, convinced that freedom would eventually triumph. The neo-conservatives impulse—read the more substantive stuff—is deeply pessimistic, Hobbesian, seeking perils everywhere and turning to an ever-enlarged state apparatus to protect the clueless citizens.
This then is my assessment of the relationship between Leo Strauss & Co., neo-conservatism, and current US geopolitics.

Still some reservations about Strauss...

Pete L's picture

Dr. Machan,

I am currently reading Natural Right & History, and have read other articles about Straussian theory. I'm still trying to get my arms around it, but I have a sense of the implications of his ideas. Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't Strauss ultimately believe that there are no objective standards of right & wrong, and that's why society needs a non-rational basis of moral absolutes (belief in God, for example)?

My understanding is that he thought philosophy was a very noble pursuit, but that it should be reserved for only an elite few to even ponder because it calls into question the non-rational foundation that society is built on (religion, cultural identity etc). Strauss believed that only an elite few ("the wise") in society are fit to know this truth, as it would otherwise lead to nihilism in the mediocre minds of the masses, thereby weakening the fabric that ultimately holds society together.

Strauss thought that any philosopher worthy of the name should have texts that feature both an 'exoteric' meaning to the masses, as well as an 'esoteric' meaning that would be understood by 'the wise'. He feels that this is how Plato and other ancients operated, and that it's important to understand their texts through the exoteric/esoteric filter.

I question whether Strauss even believes what he's writing in the passage that you cited in the article.


Mark Humphrey's picture

Professor Machan's central point that the attempt by Post Moderns to destroy the philosophical foundations of ethics leads to nihilism is right on target. As he explains, if no objective standard of moral good can be shown to exist, as Post Moderns contend, then standards of right and wrong would be no more than cultural artifacts---inapplicable outside of one's cultural context. Fortunately, objective moral standards can be proven to exist and the Multiculturalists are hopelessly lost at sea.

I often come away with the impression that doctrines such as Multiculturalism are nothing more than elaborate rationalizations spun for the purpose of bamboozling the gullible into aceding to or supporting the political goals of self-appointed philosopher kings. For example, the doctrine of psychological determinism never gets applied even-handedly: it's always the political mascots of the New Elite whose bad behavior is sanctioned and coddled by this view. No self-respecting Left-wing ideologue would be caught dead suggesting that the skipper of the ill-fated Exxon Valdez was a victim of his alchholism, or that the oil spill was really a product of the stress of his growing up under an alchoholic and abusive father, which afflicted the skipper with Attention Deficit Disorder, and so on.

Similarly, the notion that standards of justice do not cross social-cultural boundaries doesn't discourage Left-wing zealots from attempting to drag General Pinochet of Chili into the Spanish courts to stand trial for having overthrown the communist Allende in the Seventies.

Such glaring lack of consistency leads me to wonder if the many of the philosophers who churn out the elaborate bunk used to explain and justify today's dominant politics may be more cunning than wise.

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