Leo Strauss

The Neoconservative Persuasion: Selected Essays, 1942-2009 By Irving Kristol (Basic Books, 390 pp., $29.95) Daniel Bell, now of blessed memory, used to enjoy recounting a piece of lore from the 1930s, back when New York was said to be the most interesting part of the Soviet Union. It was about the travails of a young member of the Revolutionary Workers League named Karl Mienov. When Mienov’s doctrinal differences with that small party became too great to bear, he split and formed his own cell, the Marxist Workers League. His party even launched a theoretical organ, called Spark.



Whatever the satisfactions of the liberal view of the world, simplicity is not among them. I do not mean that liberalism has a corner on complexity: there has been altogether too much liberal vanity of that sort. I refer, rather, to the liberal picture of existence. The picture is not of the one but of the many. Liberalism is a grand retort to the dream of oneness, which was a beautiful philosophical fantasy with sordid political consequences. From Parmenides to Marx—mystics and materialists have both propounded such a vision—the monist temptation flourished.


Reading Strauss in Beijing

A few years ago, when I was still teaching at the University of Chicago, I had my first Chinese graduate students, a couple of earnest Beijingers who had come to the Committee on Social Thought hoping to bump into the ghost of Leo Strauss, the German-Jewish political philosopher who established his career at the university. Given the mute deference they were accustomed to giving their professors, it was hard to make out just what these young men were looking for, in Chicago or Strauss. They attended courses and worked diligently, but otherwise kept to themselves.


I haven’t yet read all the way through Freedom, the new novel by Jonathan Franzen. But like every sentient person in the United States, I’ve read a good deal about it, and I’ve been especially intrigued by the way reviewers have characterized Franzen’s attempt to write the political history of the George W. Bush years.


And maybe you don't know. It's about justice and punishment. Or, more aptly, about the self-preservation of society and commutative justice. The argument comes from Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History, pp. 160-161.  This is an invitation to a debate.

I've pondered for years what to say about the Bush administration's use of torture in the years after 9/11. So far I've remained quiet about the issue because I'm so uneasy about it -- not just about what the United States has done, but also about the reactions of nearly everyone who has commented on it. On one side, the right mocks those concerned with our actions in that insufferably smug, proudly parochial tone that has marked nearly all conservative commentary about foreign affairs for the past seven years.


Ross Douthat needs no help from me in taking on the illiberal dogma of so many contemporary atheists. But this post reminded me of a favorite passage from (yes, it's true) Leo Strauss on the true (and perhaps ineradicable) foundations of religious belief. God's revealing himself to man, his addressing man, is not merely known through traditions going back to the remote past and is therefore now 'merely believed' but is genuinely known through present experience which every human being can have if he does not refuse himself to it.


Choosing Life

Memoirs By Hans Jonas Edited by Christian Wiese Translated by Krishna Winston (Brandeis University Press, 320 pp., $35)   The Life and Thought of Hans Jonas: Jewish Dimensions By Christian Wiese (Brandeis University Press, 292 pp., $50)   I. Hans Jonas was a philosopher, not a prophet, but his teachings speak as powerfully to our age of global warming, global markets, and Manichaean geopolitics as they did to the century of world wars in which he developed them.


The Remnant

In the last years of his life, William F. Buckley Jr., who died on February 27 at the age of 82, broke with many of his fellow conservatives by pronouncing the Iraq war a failure and calling for an end to the embargo on Cuba. He even expressed doubt as to whether George W. Bush is really a conservative—and he asked the same about neoconservatives. To Buckley's liberal admirers, these sentiments suggested that the godfather of the Right had, like Barry Goldwater, crept toward the center in his old age.


The Pleasures of Reaction

They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons By Jacob Heilbrunn (Doubleday, 320 pp., $26) Can I get a show of hands?