Skidelsky on Strauss 

Skidelsky on Strauss

Thanks to Alterman: On the whole there is a lot of good in this essay. Strauss never had visions of improving the whole world; his emphasis was on having a place to study; modern democracy supplied that, and perhaps most deserved praise for doing so. Strauss probably judged liberal democracy, as he would any regime, by its results as much as by its claims of justice; and it's even possible that other historically-known regimes, if not regimes of today, have actually had stronger claims of justice. The neo-cons have departed from Strauss.

Apart from benefitting the students themselves, Strauss obviously hoped that having schools of true liberal education would actually benefit democracy. But again, was this really a side benefit, from his point of view? Did he even hope modern democrats would exaggerate how much they benefitted from these schools, so that they would support them or at least leave them alone?

"Liberal democracies," as the Straussians Kenneth Deutsch and Walter Soffer put it, "need to learn standards of excellence that exert an 'upward pull' against the demands of physical gratification."

Strauss's own response to this predicament was, as we have seen, to cultivate pockets of wisdom in the interstices of mass society, hoping that they would, over time, impart their "tone" to the republic as a whole.

Once again, did Strauss really have great hopes about what would happen over time?

Strauss in Natural Right and History, p. 143:

According to a view which today is rather common and which may be described as Marxist or crypto-Marxist, the classics preferred the rule of the urban patriciate because they themselves belonged to the urban patriciate or were hangers-on of the urban patriciate. We need not take issue with the contention that, in studying a political doctrine, we must consider the bias, and even the class bias, of its originator. It suffices to demand that the class to which the thinker in question belongs be correctly identified. In the common view the fact is overlooked that there is a class interest of the philosophers qua philosophers, and this oversight is ultimately due to the denial of the possibility of philosophy.... Now it is an experience of many centuries in greatly different natural and moral climates that there was one and only one class which was habitually sympathetic to philosophy, and not intermittently, like kings; and this was the urban patriciate. The common people had no sympathy for philosophy and philosophers.

Insofar as any students of Strauss think they are changing the world, and are spending their time on that rather than on Plato, it is difficult to believe, to be blunt, that they are his first-rate students. What some of them are is Ivy Leaguers or would-be Ivy Leaguers who have found the elite American universities (obviously, these days, not only the Ivy League) closed to them. Whether or not they are right-wingers in any meaningful sense, they are stigmatized as such, and prevented from getting elite university jobs. They cannot forget the old Ivy League vision, which may or may not have been Strauss's: "to cultivate pockets of wisdom in the interstices of mass society, hoping that they would, over time, impart their 'tone' to the republic as a whole." They are committed to liberal democracy as a fighting faith--and they would say the Ivy League used to be so committed. There may be only a loose verbal overlap with anything in Strauss. On the other hand, denizens of the elite universities may be the closest approximation today to "the urban patriciate"--willing to tolerate liberal education, willing to pay for such education for their children, even willing to believe that liberal education somehow makes the world a better place.

Of course real Ivy League professors today don't admit that they are elitists--this is one of the ways they have diligently dug themselves down below the cave of ignorance.

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