You may be taken aback by the first part of my title, but do not be. Wool, after all, is that which warms us. In the Ice Age, pulling wool over the eyes was tantamount to survival. That sense lingers in the phrase “pull the wool over your eyes”—or their eyes, as we say, referring to those who need our protection. Not just protection from cold weather but from cold truths.
The second part of my title designates this as a memoir—a Straussian memoir, to be precise. Hence, I begin with a recondite question: “What is what?” Or rather, “What is the what?” That question, which appears to be a mere epigram, captures the profound emptiness of what nowadays masquerades as philosophy. When Threnos first asked this question, in that half-ironic form, he bore witness to why he is one of the most penetrating, albeit most obscure, of the ancients.
Threnos understood the what as a prefigurement of political philosophy. He understood himself to be refuting the most fabled of the skeptics, who denied the peremptoriness of the good and who denigrated political philosophy, which makes the good possible. Threnos comes after Plato and in some ways transcends him.
In Threnos’ passion for the life of the mind there was a sturdy and workmanlike confidence in reason properly understood. By “the what,” Threnos...