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Whenever Strauss “responded as a conservative” it was only to the extent that classical liberalism had “deteriorated into what we came to call ‘post-modernism.’” In other words, for Rosen, Strauss is only a “conservative” in contrast to the degenerated form of liberalism now known as “postmodernism.”The difficulty here is that Strauss expressed his general agreement with American conservatism as early as 1956, i.e.well before the postmodern wave migrated out from the haunts of existential “artists” on the continent to the broader sphere of the Anglo-American public and political world.Leo Strauss and Reinhold Niebuhr represent two giants of twentieth century political philosophy.
Are conservatives somehow potential “extremists” or are they simply tough “moderates” standing “athwart” the tide of liberal irresponsibility?
Carson Holloway insists that “Contrary to popular belief, Leo Strauss was not a conservative, let alone a neoconservative.” He attempts to solve the question of Strauss’s politics by establishing a distinction between political philosophy and political thought.
But as perfect men I regard those who are able to mingle and fuse political capacity with philosophy. We must apply our best endeavours, therefore, both to perform public duties and to hold fast to philosophy as far as opportunity permits. Why complain, as if a man’s debt to his inferiors were not at least equal to his debt to his superiors?
Such men, I take it, are masters of the two greatest goods there are: as statesmen, a life of public usefulness, and a tranquil existence of untroubled serenity in the pursuit of philosophy . The good botanist will find flowers between the street pavements, and any man filled with an idea or a purpose will find examples and illustrations and coadjutors wherever he goes . If men were equals, the waters would not move; but the difference of level which makes Niagara a cataract, makes eloquence, indignation, poetry, in him who finds there is much to communicate. they would be in favor of it.” Mencken’s “liberals,” seem to interpret liberty to mean in “the liberty to envy, hate and loot the man who has it.” Thus Mencken took the view that the life of civil freedom is unlikely to survive the politics of democracy.
That which ranks as “political thought” in Holloway’s eyes cannot transcend the realm of opinion because its primary purpose is “to preserve the American regime and its traditional institutions and morality.” If as Holloway insists conservatism ranks only “as a kind of political thought” then by definition Strauss had no strong interest in it.
Political philosophy however, in which Strauss was “primarily interested” seeks to “question the presuppositions upon which these things are based.” Given his premise of a disconnection between political thought and political philosophy, Holloway concludes not so much that Strauss was not a conservative but more specifically he was simply “ being a conservative.” Addressing Holloway’s distinction we might ask whether or not Strauss might be capable of pursuing both “political philosophy” and “political thought” at one and the same time.They must have failed to appreciate that the streak of “Menckenism” in Strauss had become toxic to the classes dominant in the academic-intellectual world in the intervening time. Above Conservatism, or, the Non-Partisanship of Political Philosophy According to Heinrich Meier, Leo Strauss “writes in direct confrontation with philosophy’s oblivion of politics and of itself in the twentieth century” (emphasis added).Meier continues, “(Strauss) does not place those treatises at the service of a political project in the narrower sense.” In fact, Strauss’s treatises, pursue exactly the opposite tendency of the masterpieces of the radical Enlightenment.Speaking in historical terms the idea of “postmodernism” is more specifically linked to the decades immediately pursuant to Strauss’s passing unless it somehow is defined as indistinguishable from the American positivistic social science of the 1950’s.Is “conservatism” somehow connected to “extremism” while liberalism is not?They tend to see Strauss as having emphasized the philosophical way of life in a fundamentally non-partisan or a-political way that bears no direct connections to any policy choices or competitive political or ideological oppositions.Thus there is no reason why his reception should differ fundamentally from that received by Mencken albeit much more narrowly confined within the academic-think tank world.However Strauss’s modest remarks to do with the way in which a burgeoning egalitarianism might generate a “virtue deficit” have not been received in a “Lippmanian” spirit. Indeed, they have been sufficient to set the fox free in the intellectual/academic hen house in a manner Mencken and Lippmann would be unable to imagine.Did not Strauss arrive at certain moments when he thought the time might be propitious for connecting certain contemporary political opinions to the cause of political philosophy?No doubt Strauss was far above being a garden variety American liberal. But was he equally far “above” being some kind of an American “conservative” however unorthodox?Such is the shock and horror engendered by some of Strauss’s observations that they can all but paralyze the intellectual egg-laying industry.Strauss has frequently been attacked as an “elitist” or even a “proto-fascist” for suggesting that contemporary liberal democracy has a “crisis” on its hands when it comes to civic and intellectual virtue.