Vital Signs

The Enigmatic Professor Strauss, Part II

One can safely claim that Leo Strauss was an enigmatic man, since he prided himself on being enigmatic.  He raised the art of double-talk to the dignity of a requisite for any serious philosophizing: For him, it took stupidity or insignificance for a (self-proclaimed) philosopher to be able to afford to write or speak in a clear, straightforward way; a true philosophical truth, he believed, is a hidden truth.  Whatever the reason for this rather quixotic postulation, it has one merit: It warns us never to take Strauss’s words at face value.  Understanding him amounts to understanding not what he says, but what he doesn’t say—not his words, but what he hides behind his words.  Since obfuscation is of the essence, debunking is as well.  The exercise would seem futile (after all, if he doesn’t want to be understood, why not leave him alone?) but for the fact that, in the highest places of American society, Strauss’s name seems to be an open sesame for power and influence.  Strauss wrote with a purpose, but he obviously meant to address only a chosen audience able to read between the lines.

It could be argued that something at least is quite clear as well as provocative: Strauss is no friend to what he calls modernity; he seems to side clearly with the conservatives, fleeing modernity so far that only with classical Greek philosophy does he find his real bearings.  I don’t...

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