I typed out the blockquoted passage from Natural Right and History, contemplating future possible uses, but I now see that, if you take a hunk of it and Google it, you'll turn up a bunch of places where it's available in whole or more or part.

Strauss mentions Locke's statements on Christ's apparent willingness to dissemble for the sake of political expediency in Natural Right and History (pp. 207-8). In The Reasonableness of Christianity, Locke tried to cast Plato and Socrates as allies. Neither Strauss nor Locke but rather the Athenian assembly were the ones who found Socrates guilty of teaching the young to disrespect the gods. It's Locke, not in this case primarily Strauss, who observes that Plato took cognizance of Socrates' fate and adjusted his own political-philosophic practice accordingly. The thinker's rationale for doing so is twofold, his own survival and the survival of his teaching. As for Locke himself, in addition to the ancient events, he would have had the dangers and difficulties encountered by Hobbes and by many lesser names in view.

The quotations in the following passage from Natural Right and History are all Locke's words:

When speaking of Jesus' "caution" or "reservedness" or his "concealing himself," [Locke] says that Jesus used "words too doubtful to be laid hold on against him" or words "obscure and doubtful, and less liable to be made use of against him," and that he tried "to keep himself out of the reach of any accusation, that might appear just or weighty to the Roman deputy." Jesus "perplexed his meaning," "his circumstances being such, that without such a prudent carriage and reservedness, he could not have gone through with the work which he came to do.... He so involved his sense, that it was not easy to understand him." If he had acted differently, both the Jewish and the Roman authorities would "have taken away his life; at least they would have... hindered the work he was about." In addition, if he had not been cautious, he would have created "manifest danger of tumult and sedition"; there would have been "room to fear that [his preaching the truth] should cause... disturbance in civil societies, and the governments of the world." We see, then, that, according to Locke, cautious speech is legitimate if unqualified frankness would hinder a noble work one is trying to achieve or expose one to persecution or endanger the public peace; and legitimate caution is perfectly compatible with going with the herd in one's outward professions or with using ambiguous language or with so involving one's sense that one cannot be easily understood.

The use that Strauss makes of this argument isn't to read wholly bizarre or completely hidden ideas into Locke's works, as though applying a chemical that reveals the secret instructions in invisible ink, or performing a seance, but simply to understand Locke - or Al-Farabi, or Machiavelli, or Plato, or anyone else writing under censorship or other real constraints - more comprehensively and in context.

You could say, "I really don't know how Strauss actually develops his arguments, so I'll just withhold judgment." Instead, you're engaging in the kind of conduct you like to ridicule when it's some "progressive" on treasury policy or on some other subject which you acknowledge an interest in getting right. Your first and overriding commitment is to your prejudices, to be held immune from anyone else's non-conforming thoughts, whether Strauss's, my own, or anyone else's. I'm not sure there's more to be said on the subject at this point.

The allusion to Virgil is also interesting, since its "Roman thought" is a passage from the Aeneid that can be translated in various ways, but, especially in conjunction with the reference Cicero, suggests a specific but complex idea regarding the purposes of authority at all, not some simple-minded statement of worship of power or some such.

You yourself are frequently to be found on Twitter making an argument effectively identical to Strauss', or Schmitt's, or CIcero's (Strauss refers to reading Cicero, that great forerunner of rule-of-law liberalism) against lily-livered "progressives" and on behalf of President Obama and his exercise of his imperium, in the form of military command lawfully beyond the law, in relation to the drone campaign.

Yes - the Stalinists and the Nazis were the "negative parties" who participated in the bourgeois parliamentary system under the more or less open intention to subvert, destroy, and replace it. The pattern has frequently recurred around the world, whenever a candidate or party seeks to exploit and widen whatever gap between actual popular will and whatever mere forms of democratic rule. There's an an aroma of it in attacks on Obama from the right and on the Republicans from the left. In point of fact, much Tea Party and hard right critique is "negative" toward the existing American regime, not just toward the Obama government, in this sense.

The comparison to 2001 is simply to point out a parallel critique. The anti-Neocons express dismay over Strauss's suspected insufficient appreciation for democracy, as expressed in the '30s, when their critique of the vulnerabilities of liberal democracy in relation to America is even more deprecatory.

"Perfect" is not, as the familiar saying reminds us, the same as "good." Nor is it "full" or "fully human" or necessarily humane. And the "stern master barking out orders" is not the the ideal writer guided by the reason that knows how to persuade and how to forbid. The stern master barking out orders would be an example of someone who in most cases manifestly lacks that knowledge. The "how" is subservient to reason, or as Strauss puts it just before the quoted sentence, to "so-called lexicographical necessity," not to some individual "master," whether the writer himself or some yearned-for master. The sternness - or gravity and aloofness - is a function of the subject matter, which would presumably be something of the highest significance, not a function of the willfulness or personality of the writer. For Machiavelli, for instance, the matter was the founding of "new modes and orders" of government and social-political life, which Machiavelli called the most difficult of all possible tasks.

As for the question of esoteric writing, how do you form an opinion on "all that secret meaning crap" and "doctrine of the elect few and their esoteric knowledge" if you are not familiar with Strauss's work? Why do you need to express such a strong opinion about something you apparently know little about? SInce you have no interest in Strauss, I won't try to outline the argument for you. I'll just point out two things: 1) Writers like al-Farabi, Locke, or Machiavelli discuss and give great prominence to examples of important writers or philosophers or other greatly admired individuals dissembling, often for reasons of personal safety; Locke goes so far as to explain, at some length, that Jesus Christ Himself systematically concealed his true opinions out of political necessity (and for the Very Best Reasons, of course). 2)The "elect few" capable of piecing together and doing something with the esoteric teaching were not very "elect" except by virtue of intellectual capacity. They would be the ones "with ears to hear," not the ones in a position to chop off tongues. In every other way they were very often quite vulnerable or potentially vulnerable to political-religious powers. The demagogue and the tyrant do not figure favorably at all in Strauss's work, and it's part of his questioning of liberal democracy or modern mass democracy - the whole age of politics after Machiavelli - that it seems often, perhaps necessarily, to lose the ability to distinguish successfully between tyranny and authority, or between philosophy and polemic.

Good for you for withdrawing the calumny, but I'm not sure that the new version is precisely accurate. I think what's supported by the record available to us - the full record - is that he was skeptical about liberal democracy in Germany surviving the threats to it. Was his skepticism unjustified? He was hostile to the Communists - do you blame him? Wilhelmine Germany with its intellectual freedoms and its treatment of secularized Jews especially in higher education and the arts must have seemed like a paradise compared to what was on the horizon, but it could not be restored, and had also proven inadequate.

I don't blame him for going through an ambitious intellectual's version of the five stages of grief over a very dark and doom-laden predicament, casting about for answers, and even seizing (in his mind) on "wrong" ones.

Both Horton pieces rely overly much on the frankly rather eccentric and self-contradictory work of Alan Gilbert. The Information Clearinghouse piece depends on the much-discussed, and shall we say controversial, Shadia Drury. On the other hand, there were some thoughtful and interesting comments in the Balkin discussion thread - like this rather even-handed one: http://balkin.blogspot.com/2006/07/letter_16.html?showComment=1153162320000#c115316232787814066

Horton's translation is amateurish, as Horton himself acknowledges, so getting the precise sense of Strauss' call to deconstruct the Nazis via "the principles of the Right" is difficult, and I don't really have the time right now to translate the notorious letter myself, especially for someone who professes a lack of interest in Strauss's work and relies on an aesthetic or subjective reaction in combination with second- or third-hand, politically compromised opinions.

To cut to the chase, the frequently encountered theme of the Noble Lie as Strauss's gift to the Neocons is just about as insensately stupid, in my considered opinion, as the notion that the Muslims via taqiyya invented deception and dissimulation as tactics of war. As I noted in my longer piece on Strauss - https://ckmacleod.com/2012/06/09/the-mediocracy-vs-leo-strauss/ - the would-be defenders of the pristine honor of liberal democracy take their stand on the argument that simplistic and commonplace notions derived from the works of a long-deceased writer on the ancient and medieval classics diverted the politics and fate of the world's leading liberal democracy, leading to catastrophe. What could be a stronger argument on in favor of Strauss's less then perfect confidence in the form of government, than that it, through its apparently quite easily manipulable masses of voters, could be so easily subverted by a cabal of nasty clowns?

In a way, a similar or parallel thing happened in Germany. Strauss, like the older and famous non-Jewish Heidegger and Schmitt, correctly detected the vulnerability of Weimar democracy, and struggled to locate a practical alternative. Schmitt virtually begged Hindenburg to invoke the Article of the Weimar Constitution allowing the democratically legitimate government to employ the armed forces against the threats posed by the so-called "negative parties" of the right and left. What happened instead is well-documented. Needless to say Weimar 1933 was as liberal democracies go in a much more vulnerable condition than Washington DC 2001 - and the War on Terror and the Financial Crisis fall rather short of WW2, the Holocaust, and the destruction of the nation. Strauss, as a Jew, did not have Schmitt's and Heidegger's options. If he had, he might very well have chosen to stay, and to "work from the inside." It's not just easy to say but historical fallacy in its most self-serving form to assume that, if we had been in their position, we would have made the "right" choice. It may be even more pretentious to think that our choices would have mattered very much.

Whatever the 34-year-old Strauss thought about the right and what the the right meant or should have meant in a better world, the predominating theme in his work is something that our very busy blogging intellectuals cannot seem to cope with: that there may be valid human lives and ideals that don't reduce to internet flame wars or to the pseudo-discussion of politics and economics that take up political campaigns in a liberal democracy. I think the one thing that Strauss would not have done that the likes of Kristol made careers out of doing was to put his political philosophical project at the center of ongoing controversies. One of his most clearly enunciated and forcefully argued positions was that the philosopher should enter the political arena only for the purpose of securing as great and safe a distance from it as possible.

As for the Iraq War, a close reader of Thucydides and uncompromising critic of the Athenians at Melos should be considered a likely skeptic of democratic imperialism. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melian_dialogue

Being harmful or not is not the same thing as having an idea worth discussing, but we can set that aside.

On the basis of testimony for Irving Kristol, according to a writer for a libertarian magazine, we learn that Strauss, or rather the Straussians, or rather certain neoconservatives among the Straussians, reached the novel conclusion that religion was politically important in America. Poor Leo strove all those years, translating from the Latin, Greek, and Arabic late into the night, so that unnamed neocons could attend church or synagogue for the sake of appearances.


Kristol's claims notwithstanding, the number of influential or theoretically influential students of Strauss or of students of his students has never been demonstrated to be remarkable. Anyway, it's another very poor substitute for actually thinking things through to hold a first- or second-rate thinker responsible for the particular uses to which some fifth- or fourth-raters or a passel of 'em put some notion of his notions.

But I'd still like to know why you feel justified in calling Strauss a "supporter of the Nazis."

ne'er thot u cared what was said o Strauss and the rest...

...my impression is that rootless is not entirely ignorant of phil or or his, at all, but that he's perhaps not much less susceptible to the dangers of non-entire ignorance than the rest of us.

1. What basis do you have for the claim that Strauss "supported the Nazis"? The stray and self-demeaning comment regarding Strauss and the "national revolution" from Hannah Arendt, who had her own compromises to live down? The opinions of one or another professional Straussophobe?

2. The "godfather of the neocons" material is mainly trite conspiracism pushed by amateurs, opportunists, and lunatics. Its main impetus in the popular press came from writers who likely never read more than a word of Strauss's, and who appear to have been spoon-fed by LaRouchites. What the neocons actually are and represent is another question. Making the investigation worth the effort would first require locating or building a neocon argument that could be taken seriously. If they are merely "nasty clowns," then why are they even worth discussing? I don't mean that question merely rhetorically. Why do the neocons matter, and why is whatever they're supposed to have derived from Strauss connected to it?

3. There is no speech act and no act of judgment, including either of your comments here, or my responses, that does not imply a "pretension... to superior judgment and reason." The accusation is an empty substitute for criticism - can't even be called a criticism since it denies the possibility or possible point of criticism.

4. If only Heidegger's actions of 1933 and after could be ascribed merely to a personal error or pathology, then history would be much easier to cope with.

5. In that single sentence from a much longer paragraph from a major work, Strauss is not "fantasizing" about "The Master," he's laying a predicate for an argument about Machiavelli, and, obviously, or I would think obviously, referring to the kind of writing that, whether you consider it a valid enterprise or not, has during diverse epochs been executed in light of purposes other than those defined purely by the fashion, commercial requirements, or politics of the moment. For better or worse, if we hope to understand a writer who might, or might not, still be read with profit centuries after he wrote, it may not be sufficient to apply methods more appropriate to blog posts and other diversions that no one will remember the next day.

The comment on Strauss qualifies as random subjective assertion, and for that matter so does Reich's observation. We could apply such descriptions to just about anyone, anywhere, at any time, under an intention to insult without actually engaging on the level of ideas.

Anti-intellectualism is also a typically fascistic stance, and there's never a shortage of it, especially among intellectuals.

You may underestimate the capacities, including the negative capability, of philosophical discourse, on the one hand, and make unjustified presumptions regarding the intentions and self-understandings of its practitioners on the other. Anyway, why so aggressive regarding a form or genre that, if it has to be assessed aesthetically, can be taken as minimalist or beautifully austere, aware of the virtues of silence and simplicity? Does the "transcendent" writing actually "contain" the "philosophical truths," or does it refer us to them somehow without ever containing them? If they are "philosophical truths," then doesn't that imply access to them via philosophy, even if only after the fact? Otherwise you're claiming a non-knowledge knowledge of a knowledge that isn't knowledge, or a knowing that doesn't know what it knows or even that it knows, and never realizes something actually known or knowable. Isn't it simpler just to admit that knowledge can be attained in different ways and on different levels, but is no more or less knowledge as such? Philosophy means loves of knowledge and, for Strauss following the ancients, implies knowledge of one's ignorance first of all - similar to the Vedic maxim, "Who thinks he knows, knows nothing; who knows he knows nothing, knows."

Writing is not music or painting. Philosophical writing may employ art or an art, but has or seeks to define a different purpose, or maybe a different way of approach overlapping purposes. That writing should more resemble music or painting, merely because musical or painterly qualities are more pleasant, seems an obviously vulgar demand - like a kind of studio producer's suggestion on the philosopher's set - a demand for kitsch in place of a writing that pursues its own end without wasting our time, a demand that writing yield to fashion. The aesthetics of the perfect speech would derive from its derogation of aesthetics: Adding artificially musical or painterly decorations to it would be like putting little bells and tassels on a sculpture to make sure the babies and... developmentally delayed... also "get something out of it." Or like switching to a happy ending because it tests better with preview audiences.

I think you're just being playful here regarding the "tightness" of Strauss's writing and its "vulgarity," by which you seem to mean it corresponds to some vulgar definition of "conservative." He does not claim to write the perfect writing, though he puts himself under its influence. He does not claim to be any kind of stylist, and he's not writing in his mother tongue. He occasionally confesses that he considers his and our powers to be much weaker than those of the truly excellent writers of antiquity. He does produce a very identifiable style, however, including a way of writing, and thinking in prose, that manages to make complex ideas clear without turning them into oversimplifications, or on the other hand without making them more complicated than they need to be. The bells and tassels make thinking more difficult when they are not merely needless distractions or completely irrelevant.

What's also Strauss-typical is that he's silent at specifically this point about the perfect speech making use of silences.

Strauss wasn't saying anything about the usefulness or validity of "imperfect speech." He was characterizing something presumably quite rare, though it explains something about his own style.

I singled out the one sentence, literally a sentence of sentences, about the best sentences, because of what it is. The context is a characterization of Machiavelli's writing, which, according to Strauss, controversially, is pervaded with Machiavelli's peculiar and even world-historical complex intentions and schemes, and is a somewhat literary-philosophical version of the kind of scheming he's famous for urging upon others, especially ambitious others. I need to re-read the passage, but I took from it that Strauss saw Machiavelli's writing as aiming for such perfection, if also in part by manipulating countless seeming contradictions and literary inaccuracies fully consciously. The sentence of sentences is followed by a short discussion of translations of Machiavelli that try to improve upon and correct his style according to the rules of "vulgar rhetoric."

The sentence of sentences, about sentences, including its Strauss-typical "pulled-up short" ending, helps explain much about Strauss's own approach to writing, and also about attacks on it by people who agree more with those translators about what makes good writing.