Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Leo Strauss Acquitted

The first time I ever heard of Leo Strauss was in the early 90s in a Yale undergraduate seminar called "Political-Theological Writings." Our professor, a political theorist, was working on Spinoza and was rumored to be something called a "Straussian."

As the 90s went on and I turned to the study of medieval Jewish philosophy, I read a good bit of Strauss and some scholarship on Strauss's take on Jewish thought.

As the 2000s began, I started hearing about "Straussians" again. But these "Straussians"--neoconservative Bush administration officials and hangers-on--didn't sound much like the Leo Strauss I had read or like my Yale professor talking about Spinoza.

Two years ago, Anne Norton published Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire to try to explain (and to explain away) the connection between Strauss and the neo-con "Straussians." Now comes my old professor, Steven Smith, in Reading Leo Strauss, also arguing against drawing a connection between Strauss's work as a political theorist and intellectual historian and some of his students' (or rather, "grandstudents"?) politics. Robert Alter has a nice summary in last weekend's New York Times Book Review.

One more thing: I am not a Straussian although a Straussian might think I was one if he or she were to note the title of this blog and this line from Smith's introduction: "When asked what he taught, it is said, Strauss often replied 'old books.'" Hmm...

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