The Two Enlightenments

Stanley Rosen may be every anti-Straussian's favorite Straussian. Never mind that he denies his own paternity and affirms to his friends and critics: "I am not a Straussian." Like the postmodern anti-Platonists he describes in his collection of essays, Rosen draws heavily on the school of thought he claims to transcend. One problem among the Straussians, which I believe can be traced to Leo Strauss as the unwitting source, is that they associate antiquity too closely with present day American society. Some do it naively; others with an eye toward conferring an ancient pedigree on their own political agendas; but all Straussians indulge in the same vitium principale. They seek to project their own preferred values—which are secular and rationalist—onto long-dead thinkers. And they try to make this enterprise plausible by limiting their ancients to a handful of Greeks and by treating those Greeks as clever skeptics.

Thus Strauss and his disciples challenge the notion that Plato believed either in divinity or in eide akineta kai aidie (immovable, eternal ideas). Putting aside his references to the divine, they insist that as a philosopher Plato was also a religious skeptic, but like themselves obliged to feign fidelity to public orthodoxy. When all else fails, Straussians will also claim that their favorite authors wrote esoterically. Though at bottom rationalists like themselves,...

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