I was a teenaged Straussian

No, not really. But when I was a freshman in college in 1975, the Poli Sci 101 course that I took was Straussian and neo-conservative to its core. Kenyon College’s political science department was (and still was three years ago, as this story in the conservative journal Human Events confirms) an “oasis” of Straussian and conservative theory. One of the things they taught us was that all political and philosophical texts (including foundational American documents) have esoteric dimensions that were deliberately hidden from unsophisticated readers–Allen Bloom’s annotated translation of Plato’s Republic, for example, purported to reveal a host of hidden meanings.

As it happens, hermeneutics is a prototypically Jewish practice. Kabbalists recognize four levels of meaning in Biblical texts–Pashat (simple), a text’s literal surface; Remez (hints), suggestions (mostly through paradoxes and double-meanings) that something lies deeper; Drash (search), allegorical, symbolic, or analogic interpretations; and finally Sod (hidden), the deepest, most mystical level of meaning. The Masons borrowed the idea of exoteric and esoteric texts from Kabbalah; needless to say, Conspiracy Theorists are as suspicious of Masons as they are of Jews.

A number of the architects of the Iraq war turned out to be students (or students of students) of Leo Strauss. Many of them (not all of them, but enough that it was noticeable) were Jewish. Leftists rightfully attacked them for the disastrous consequences of their militarism, but it was impossible not to hear at least a hint of Anti-Semitism in some of their denunciations. Extreme rightists were less circumspect. But how could they not be? I mean, the whole phenomenon was an Anti-Semite’s dream. Here was a real-life, flesh-and-blood cabal of influential Jews, academically trained in the art of dissimulation and coded discourse, enacting what seemed to be a well-thought-out, long-held plan to hijack American foreign policy. It could have been ripped right out of the pages of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion:

the art of directing masses and individuals by means of cleverly manipulated theory and verbiage, by regulations of life in common and all sorts of other quirks, in all which the GOYIM understand nothing, belongs likewise to the specialists of our administrative brain. Reared on analysis, observation, on delicacies of fine calculation, in this species of skill we have no rivals, any more than we have either in the drawing up of plans of political actions and solidarity. In this respect the Jesuits alone might have compared with us, but we have contrived to discredit them in the eyes of the unthinking mob as an overt organization, while we ourselves all the while have kept our secret organization in the shade.

I never drank the Straussian Kool Aid, but in some ways I feel like it was offered to me, and by teachers that I respected. Maybe that’s why I’m bothered by the left’s blanket demonization of Strauss. Strauss was a serious thinker–and you’d be hard put to find a justification for the Iraq War in any of his books or papers. Not that I deny that there’s a creepily culty quality to the ism that his name is attached to today, which never quite made it into the mainstream of American academia and suffered a major backlash in the radical ’60s and ’70s. Some of those guys–Perle? Wolfowitz? Feith? Libby?–must have had real chips on their shoulders. Anything that provides fodder to anti-Semites is unfortunate, but it’s hardly surprising that the most politically ambitious exponents of Straussianism would have found each other in Washington and formed a clique–College Republicans, Dartmouth Review editors, and students of Robert Bork do the same thing.


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