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Leo Strauss And The Conservative Movement In America Pdf

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Paul responds to my review here. Gottfried may be correct that Strauss is better understood—if he needs to be situated in the context of late 20th century politics at all—as a Cold War liberal. The deficiency with that approach, however, is that it fails to account for why Strauss and his disciples are more often seen to associate with the conservative movement than with the leading figures and institutions of liberalism. Strauss and Straussians have been a presence in National Review since the s.

Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America: A Critical Appraisal

He holds a Ph. This paper compares the political ideas of Stephen Harper and the controversial philosopher, Leo Strauss. No less important, however, is the assumption that it is precisely through the encounter with a deadly enemy that the nation-state can be returned to moral and political health. These views, I argue, help to explain an era in Canadian foreign policy that has been marked by strained relations with the UN and an abiding preoccupation with the threat of terrorism.

Printer-friendly full text. It is published here with permission in English. The claim has almost always taken on the tone of a conspiracy theory. Especially since the election of George W. Bush in , Strauss has been identified as the author of a grand neoconservative design to recast American values and foreign policy in a new and more aggressive mould. The American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq released a small wave of scholarship trying to show the influence of Strauss on key neoconservative figures within the Bush administration, a list which usually included Deputy Secretary of Defence, Paul Wolfowitz, and Defence Policy Board chair, Richard Perle Drolet ; Hirst ; Norton ; Xenos Harper has been cast by his accusers as the chief Canadian operative in this Straussian network, charged with opening up its northern front.

The claim that Harper is the product of Straussian indoctrination has been met with fitting scepticism by journalists Peter Foster and Robert Sibley , both of whom point to the flimsy circumstantial evidence behind the charge.

To begin with, none of the academics who make up the alleged cabal explicitly identify themselves as disciples of Strauss. And although Flanagan at one time had close contact with Harper before a messy parting of ways , there is little to suggest that the School has exercised undue influence on the Prime Minister. For Strauss, such a vision could only be achieved by abandoning the conviction that there is an unchanging hierarchy of goods or ends according to which one way of life can be judged to be higher or better than another.

When human beings give up the search for such a standard, he warned, they give up their humanity. These dire warnings against world government have had a defining influence on neoconservative foreign policy in the views of some experts Drolet ; Hirst ; Kristol ; Norton ; Xenos Bush regime. Strauss gives a more complete philosophical expression to this position and reveals both its foundational assumptions and its wider implications.

A month later, Harper provided an unambiguous statement as to why Canada should have participated in the mission. Speaking to a crowd at a Friends of America rally, Harper exclaimed:. Thank you for saying to our friends in the United States of America, you are our ally, our neighbour, and our best friend in the whole wide world. And when your brave men and women give their lives for freedom and democracy we are not neutral. The anxiety that the UN is overreaching its multilateral origins and striving to establish itself as a political order that supervenes national sovereignty has roots that reach beyond the restless psyche of the current regime in Ottawa.

In September , Harper surprised many pundits not only by delivering a speech at the opening of the UN General Assembly, but one that focused largely on the financial responsibility of richer nations towards poorer ones Harper a. On his first visit in , Harper delivered a withering reproach to the UN for failing to bring security to Afghanistan and other destabilized nations around the world.

Harper made his second visit to the General Assembly in , when he was seeking a prestigious seat for Canada on the Security Council. Despite throwing millions of dollars and a great deal of diplomatic resources at this latter gambit, the bid, not surprisingly, was rejected. For the next two years, the Prime Minister travelled to New York during the opening session of the General Assembly but snubbed the event. Instead, he sent his foreign affairs minister, John Baird, who in delivered what struck many as a strident attack on the UN.

Perhaps more seriously, it showed little resolve to respond to human rights abuses or security threats with decisive action. Instead, multilateral institutions exist and derive legitimacy from the independent decisions of sovereign states.

What the Harper government seems to fear is not just that the present-day UN somehow threatens the authority of the nation-state, but that the UN is establishing itself as an independent locus of supranational political authority. Both Kristol and Drolet trace this neoconservative preoccupation with the universalizing impulses of such organizations back to a common philosophical source, Leo Strauss.

He believed that a glimpse of what such a regime would look like could be seen in the brutal totalitarian systems of communist Russia and China. Strauss saw the potential for such a tyranny not just in the brutal regimes of the Marxist east; the danger was also alive in the democratic west.

But Strauss saw the potential for such a tyranny not just in the brutal regimes of the Marxist east; the danger was also alive in the democratic west. If the west had abjured the brutal means of eastern Marxism, many in our society still believed in the utopian ends it pursued.

In the view of the classic thinkers, Strauss argued, the partial and uncertain character of our fundamental opinions about the good ensured that there would always be violent disagreement over the most important matters.

They did not, therefore, contemplate the possibility of a universal and homogeneous state. Strauss claimed that in our time, the classical understanding of political society had been all but eclipsed by the perspective of the modern social sciences.

The same relativism, according to Strauss, had been taken over by a broad section of modern liberal society, and it underpinned the liberal belief that very different societies with very different sets of beliefs could peaceably co-exist: societies could commit themselves to pursuing their given ends or values, while accepting that others will also pursue their own different values.

Relativists, according to Strauss, maintained that values do not have a rational basis, and therefore cannot provide the ground of agreement upon which a universal society could be built. One saw this unfounded assumption, for instance, behind the more realist appeal to the UN as a universal federation that brings together powers who perhaps share nothing in common but their desire to protect their own selfish interests by avoiding war. Every sufficiently developed society would eventually see the ultimate desirability of a commodious and peaceful existence , viii.

Strauss tells us these liberal hopes for a truly universal UN were belied by the grave geopolitical reality that quickly took shape after the war. But with the end of the war, the Soviet Union began to reveal a much more brutal side. Many liberals seemed to understand this lesson and were willing to stand up and defend their values against the communist threat , At the same time, Strauss believed that postwar liberalism, insofar as it had absorbed the premises of value relativism, was burdened by an internal weakness that made some liberals vulnerable to idealistic, but vain hopes of reconciliation.

For the liberal relativist, the cold war standoff was at bottom a clash of two irreconcilable values—Marxism versus liberalism—neither of which could be shown to be objectively superior. This view of affairs disposed some liberals to trust in the UN as a source of supposedly neutral arbitration. Douglas Murray , in his work Neoconservatism: Why We Need It which cites Strauss broadly issues the following pronouncement against the international organization:. There is the belief that western liberal support for the UN is a symptom of a widespread relativism; the assertion that this same relativism puts dictators and democrats on the same moral plane, thereby compromising the true interests of the latter; and finally, the antique and very Straussian warning against tyranny.

Some strikingly similar anti-UN sentiments have also been expressed north of the US border by Stephen Harper and his party. Harper believed that the moral decline of liberalism could be traced in part to the end of the Cold War. Here, too, his analysis ran very close to that of many Straussians, who have described the collapse of the Soviet Union as a moment of crisis for liberal democracy. Modern liberalism, as Strauss never tired of pointing out, rested on relativistic assumptions that could not possibly provide for an adequate theoretical defense of its own most cherished principles.

What had saved liberals from lapsing into philosophical doubt about those ungrounded principles was the Cold War—the existential necessity of showing an unblinking resolve in the face of an equally resolute ideological enemy.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, however, the very circumstances that had shielded liberalism from self-doubt disappeared. Harper acknowledged that for most of the twentieth century, liberals in Canada had been willing to stand and fight against the obvious evil of communism.

To be sure, these groups offered very different grounds for their positions: liberalism claimed to be informed by a principally economic point of view, while conservatism was based on an appeal to tradition and a suspicion of the deleterious effects that an overly intrusive government could have on morality.

But the liberals in question, it is important to note, were not necessarily those same people who made up the Liberal Party of Canada. As a concrete example of such a liberal-conservative coalition, Harper mentioned only the Progressive-Conservative government of Brian Mulroney.

The formula, Harper remarked, was wildly successful. The near-total victory of the Reagan-Thatcher revolution, however, was very much a pyrrhic one. A victim of its own success, the movement ironically dealt a crippling blow to the cause of conservatism.

The real crisis confronting conservatives after the Cold War, according to Harper, was not economic in nature, but moral.

What impressed him most about Thatcher and Reagan was their unwavering purpose and principle in the realm of foreign policy. For Harper, the great danger for the post-Cold War conservative movement was that in the absence of a great moral struggle there would be a temptation to move in the direction of a strictly economic conservatism.

In other words, Harper feared that conservatism would increasingly be reduced to an expression of classical liberal economics stripped of any concern with traditional morality.

This will come as a surprise to some commentators who have insisted that the Prime Minister is, at bottom, a follower of the libertarian economist and philosopher Friedrich Hayek.

Although he was confident that many economic conservatives shared the same moral goals as social conservatives, he worried that the narrowly liberal economic doctrines that they professed did not provide a robust defense of those goals. In particular, he worried that they were helpless to prevent the creeping influence of the liberal left.

Here another illuminating parallel can be drawn with the thought of Strauss. Strauss argued that liberalism, as it was originally conceived, regarded self-preservation as a right not just in a positive legal sense, but in a moral sense.

Ironically, the success of liberal governments in securing this right helped to render it less urgent and immediate. The liberal state, working in cooperation with modern science, was able to turn more toward satisfying an ever-expanding list of secondary needs and desires, which had the effect of further cushioning citizens from that most basic moral concern with self-preservation.

Whereas in earlier times the Canadian state had cultivated a society ready to defend itself and its allies, it had in recent decades become an overarching bureaucratic order that ministered to the proliferating desires of an increasingly soft and selfish and public. Harper traced the origins of this unfortunate transformation of the Canadian polity to the influence of one Liberal leader in particular: Pierre Trudeau.

In the s, at the height of the Cold War, the party was led by Louis St. Laurent, a determined anti-communist for whom even Harper could confess admiration. Laurent, however, seems to be the last leader in the Liberal lineage capable of winning any respect from the Harper government. Lester Pearson, St. Under Trudeau, the nation increasingly came to be seen as something that existed to serve the selfish desires of the individual, rather than as a higher good requiring personal sacrifice.

Indeed duties, originally rooted in the moral responsibilities that tradition assigned to members of a particular society, were increasingly attacked in the name of rights b. Instead it became something remote and impersonal, an enormous and morally neutral administrative order that existed to shield one from the need for sacrifice of any kind. This sort of attachment to the Canadian state represented a relationship of convenience, rather than one of true loyalty.

Harper felt that Trudeau had left behind a Canada that was losing touch with its most important democratic values. Trudeau himself had exhibited what Harper described in one speech as a shameful indifference toward our democratic traditions: for instance, cavorting with Mao in China and failing to denounce the Soviet suppression of the Polish Solidarity movement. By this he did not mean simply to point out that everything worthy in our society existed because of those willing to risk their lives for it.

He was saying something more: namely, that only those willing to risk their lives for our society truly recognized what was worthy about it. Harper, like Strauss, saw the Cold War as an existential threat that affirmed the most basic moral commitments of Canadians. But with the final triumph of the West over communism, Harper claimed that many Canadians forgot why their country was worth fighting for in the first place. In his early reading of Hobbes, Strauss identified closeness to the experience of death as the indispensable existential underpinning to liberal society.

For Hobbes, the right to self-preservation—the right upon which all other rights and freedoms were founded—was itself based on a more fundamental and primal awareness: the fear of violent death Strauss , Only when we face the terrifying prospect of violent death, perhaps most especially at the hands of a barbarian enemy who is monstrously heedless of this fear , do we truly recognize self-preservation as a moral good. The ideal of a peaceful and prosperous world order, was for Strauss, incompatible with the moral awareness which served as the very foundation stone of our society.

The danger lay less in the fact that such a society would be unprepared to fight for what it believes in than in the fact that it would believe in nothing Norton Strauss felt that the West had not yet lost touch with that primal moral awareness that issues from the fear of violent death.

Leo Strauss and American Conservative Thought and Politics

Neoconservatism is a political movement born in the United States during the s among liberal hawks who became disenchanted with the increasingly pacifist foreign policy of the Democratic Party and with the growing New Left and counterculture of the s , particularly the Vietnam protests. Some also began to question their liberal beliefs regarding domestic policies such as the Great Society. Neoconservatives typically advocate the promotion of democracy and interventionism in international affairs , including peace through strength by means of military force , and are known for espousing disdain for communism and political radicalism. Prominent neoconservatives in the George W. While not identifying as neoconservatives, senior officials Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld listened closely to neoconservative advisers regarding foreign policy, especially the defense of Israel and the promotion of American influence in the Middle East. Many of its adherents became politically influential during the Republican presidential administrations of the s, s, s and s, peaking in influence during the administration of George W.

It dispels myths promulgated by both friends and foes and persuasively traces the conflicting paths that American thinkers indebted to Strauss have taken. Their judgments are balanced yet sharp, exceptionally well informed, and persuasive. Smith, University of Pennsylvania. They have taken one of the most willfully misunderstood and unfairly vilified philosophers of modern times and treated him to the lucid scrutiny of dispassionate analysis. Most of what you hear about Leo Strauss—his work, his supposedly malign political influence—is the product of misguided political animus. The Zuckerts set the record straight with graceful aplomb.

George L. Mosse, Thoughts on Machiavelli. By Leo Strauss. Glencoe, Ill. Most users should sign in with their email address. If you originally registered with a username please use that to sign in.

The Truth about Leo Strauss

He spent much of his career as a professor of political science at the University of Chicago , where he taught several generations of students and published fifteen books. Trained in the neo-Kantian tradition with Ernst Cassirer and immersed in the work of the phenomenologists Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger , Strauss established his fame with path-breaking books on Spinoza and Hobbes , then with articles on Maimonides and Farabi. In the late s his research focused on the rediscovery of esoteric writing, thereby a new illumination of Plato and Aristotle , retracing their interpretation through medieval Islamic and Jewish philosophy , and encouraging the application of those ideas to contemporary political theory. According to Allan Bloom 's obituary in Political Theory , Strauss "was raised as an Orthodox Jew ", but the family does not appear to have completely embraced Orthodox practice.

Thomas L. The life of Leo Strauss — , the subject of Paul Edward Gottfried's stimulating new book, is soon told. Raised a Jew in Germany, Strauss studied philosophy under luminaries such as Ernst Cassirer, published a precocious book on Baruch Spinoza, and hoped to synthesize rationalistic Judaism and mainstream German culture. He found, once the Nazis seized power, that the synthesis could not be done.

He holds a Ph. This paper compares the political ideas of Stephen Harper and the controversial philosopher, Leo Strauss. No less important, however, is the assumption that it is precisely through the encounter with a deadly enemy that the nation-state can be returned to moral and political health.

Strauss addresses American conservatism most explicitly and extensively in his preface to Liberalism, Ancient and Modern. He notes that liberalism and conservatism have a common basis in liberal democracy and therefore share an antagonism to Communism. The chapter then studies the possible implications of his thought for American conservative thought and politics.

3 Comments

Mebeachpohom 10.06.2021 at 00:16

The topic of American conservatism is especially timely—and perhaps volatile.

Diakhybcompsan1971 11.06.2021 at 15:23

Contents · Frontmatter pp i-iv · Access PDF Export citation.

Thomas P. 16.06.2021 at 13:09

In the last few years, numerous books and articles have appeared that seek to vindicate in the face of attack the German Jewish political thinker Leo Strauss.

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