Straussians East and West cling to political teachings that Strauss made viable, but are no longer useful today. That’s not a reason to stop reading Strauss, because he pointed beyond outward teachings, perhaps more emphatically than any philosopher before him.
Our political situation is straightforwardly bad. Even if it is beyond saving, it would still be a good thing if reasonable men didn’t betray their fellows or capitulate to the mob in their hearts. Straussians do more of the latter than the former. For reasons I will discuss in this essay, Straussians remain far below the “philosopher” and have largely fallen prey to modern doxxies in an embarrassing way. Specifically, Straussians are antiracist and antireligion and this leads them to accept, in their own hearts (i.e., not esoterically as a mask) political decisions that degrade the universities and politics in general.
To put our current situation bluntly: whites and normal people are legal subordinates to racial minorities and “the disabled.” Our political class has decided to put an end to all forms of “discrimination”; they aren’t going to “work for it” by persuading the citizens (i.e., treating them like free people). “No more discrimination. No threats to the safety and happiness of the people will be permitted!” Strauss explicitly called that communism. Why do the Straussians fall prey to communism if their teacher and guide was opposed?
East Coast Straussianism
East Coast Straussians usually, in my experience, come to Strauss as liberals and do not substantially change. They have the fundaments of their earlier beliefs reinforced. I have even seen some become rabid leftist hyenas who still get hired by respected conservative Centers.
This happens because part of the philosophic teaching, the Platonic teaching especially, has to do with the source of virtue and vice. I discussed this in some detail in my introduction to Straussianism, where I talked about the excellent book by Professor Leibowitz.
This teaching can be summed up as “knowledge is virtue.” If knowledge is virtue, then the source of vice is not the “will,” but ignorance. I am not concerned with persuading you of this position in this essay. Really, if you are interested, read Leibowitz’s book. The upshot of the teaching is that people are in a sense “innocent” of their misdeeds. Everyone wants to do what is good, but those who do not do what is good act out of ignorance. If they knew better, they wouldn’t do the misdeed. The Apostle Paul wrote “I do what I hate” in opposition to this teaching.
A corollary of this teaching: men cannot obey commands they think are bad for them. It’s impossible. When people make “sacrifices” in obedience to a higher authority, they do so for some reason, expecting to avoid some evil (being a coward, for example) or obtain some good (praise). If men cannot obey some commands, even moral dictates, then it makes no sense to get angry at them when they are disobedient. What they need is education, not punishment. Punishment implies that they “should have known better,” but they couldn’t have known better, because if they did they would have acted differently.
This teaching can lead one to moral skepticism, and indeed such skepticism is the position of many East Coast Straussians, if not most. Take gay marriage as an example. They say, “well, a person’s inclinations in this way cannot be helped.” And they draw a liberal or skeptic’s conclusion from this: therefore the law should be changed. They will talk the same way even about cannibalism. But for some reason this generous spirit doesn’t, in my experience at least, reach to things like “racism” or “sexism”—i.e., the aristocratic view of politics and romance.
You can get an East Coast Straussian to attack BAP as vulgar and, in the same evening, say “Cannibalism is understandable.”
The East Coasters have their finger on something true, but so many of them lack the strength to see things through to their end. I do think “virtue is knowledge” and its corollaries are generally reasonable. But that doesn’t mean one cannot distinguish between good commands and bad commands and treat accordingly those who are unable to follow good commands. Just because someone is “innocent” insofar as they are just ignorant doesn’t mean their crazy ass wouldn’t be better off dead, or that citizens lack the right to clap them in chains and throw away the key. If East Coasters want to give a pass to cannibalism… why don’t they also give a pass to making examples out of ignorant men? I will tell you why: they believe skepticism requires toleration and maybe even affirmation because people need that.
Let’s say for the sake of argument that it is impossible to know the true religion. The East Coaster thinks this means he, as an honest and consistent man, ought to tolerate the religions of others. However, if it is impossible to know the true religion, why wouldn’t a government just choose the religion that suits it best since it’s as potentially true as any other? The East Coaster tolerates out of a sense of moral obligation. He brings a moral ought to the skeptical “there is no ought.”
This argument is not my argument. I think you can reasonably deduce that some things are preferable to others, that some character traits are better than others, etc. If people are simply unable live up to what is good… well, I hardly give myself a pass for my own failings and I don’t feel like being harried into constantly giving consideration to the “disabilities” of others as well. It’s tiring, okay? And when such “care and concern” for the failings of others is legally enforced, when they demand your respect for their failings with the force of law, well, then, it’s just insolence repackaged as justice.
In sum: the East Coast Straussians have a philosophic argument that shows the “innocence” of misdeeds and misinterpret innocence to mean “harmless” or even “equal.” This view leads them to excuse the insolence of others. Many good men have tenure and should rebuke all calls from the political commissars (Human Resources et alia) to grow more inclusive and “supportive.” If you don’t stick your neck out once in awhile…
East Coasters Malign Socrates in A Strange Way
East Coast Straussians tend to think that philosophy actually corrupts people. They think philosophy and politics are at odds, because philosophy teaches “amorality” whereas politics relies on certain prohibitions and honors.
I would contend that Socrates did not corrupt either Alcibiades or Critias, but that he made them better especially when they were around him. This is the explicit position of Plato and Xenophon. I know some snigger at the idea, but I think that’s because they think philosophy justifies base desires.
But besides the historical Socrates, there is a general question about whether or not philosophy is compatible with politics. East Coast Straussians tend to think the philosopher is a bad citizen. This is ridiculous. The philosopher is only ever a bad citizen in a bad regime, so to whatever extent a regime is bad to that extent a philosopher will be a bad citizen. Is it unselfish to be willing to fight with other men to acquire possessions? Is it unselfish to run risks so that you too can enjoy the fruits of citizenship? Is it anti-political to run the risks only so much as is necessary? Yes, I know, a political community might rely on a variety of unphilosophic speeches—“only doing the bare minimum is cowardly!”—but to whatever extent they do they are corrupted.
The best regime may not come into existence outside of speech, nevertheless every actual regime is measured by it. The philosopher is not at odds with this regime, he is integral to it.
Saying the philosopher is at odds with politics is like saying it is irrational to want leisure and all the good possessions available to men. I will admit that Socrates did, in some ways, play the woman to get his wealth. But get wealth he did, as well as a hot wife that he liked (who was perfect for the life of philosophy and therefore perfect simply), access to the most promising youths, and invitations to the best dinner parties in Athens.
Socrates was not stressed out or sad. He led a materially excellent life. I know a lot of East Coasters who are often very sad and deprive themselves of many good things. Sometimes they’ll even cope and talk about the pleasures of thought and how Socrates “lived in 10,000-fold poverty.” Please stop coping this way. None of that is true. You can’t think well if you eat garbage food, don’t have sex, and live in fear of political commissars and student wrath. How can you be philosophic and stressed or sad? Philosophy precludes such miseries. Yes, it might not even be your fault that you’re sad but that’s the rub isn’t it?
The conservative East Coasters
Real Christians like the emphasis Strauss put on the quarrel between the ancients and moderns because they dislike the atheistic vibe the moderns give off. They also interpret the ancient focus on “human nobility”… they view this focus as an affirmation of community and the family, as opposed to the modern focus on “the individual.”
However, these affinities lead to bad results. Elijah del Medigo is a good example, and my essay about his view of the Ancients and Moderns is a good supplement to the critique that follows.
Community, family, God, equality… these are the values of the conservative East Coaster. I want to excise equality from that list. I want to free their souls from that error.
“The modern focus on the individual is degrading. We are not meant to be atomized units of commercialization and consumption. We are political animals. We are meant to find our fulfillment in loving relationships. Modern philosophy is dehumanizing and therefore it can never … the left can never be truly humanitarian. The leftwing is totalitarian.”
This speech is misbegotten. The things you actually revere are incompatible with your moral commitments. You revere the family. Yet, the family is based on exclusion and “selfishness.” Do you think the Left hates the family because … why? The left hates the family because it is patriarchal and self-interested (putting “your own” first) or it doesn’t exist. You revere community. Yet, community is premised on the existence of a citizen class that undergoes great labors for great benefits. Do you think the Left hates the benefits because … why? The left hates the benefits of citizenship because those benefits always require the elevation of some men over others. These benefits require what is called exploitation and discrimination. You revere God. Yet, reverence for God is based on high standards of human conduct. Whoever claims obedience to God is easy and “for everyone” belittles the divine. The egalitarian is the true atheist. Do you think the Left hates God because all men are equal in the sight of God? The left hates God because the dogmas of Christianity obfuscate its potential egalitarian and leveling tendencies: belief in the Christ, concern for Baptism and Confirmation, the Apostle’s Creed, these are things people just believe are important and have nothing specifically to do with the equal treatment of all human beings. Dogmas set a people apart. Dogmas are a sign of God’s favor. Upholding the dogmas of Christianity against the enemies of Christ is Western and not everyone can be Christian or Western. Every hierarchy, including this one, is anathema to the leftist dispensation.
The degradations of modern life are not the result of technology or “individualism.” The degradations are the result of egalitarianism. Enlightenment liberalism produced world conquest, strong communities (which are always premised either on conquest or a strong holding-action), healthy families, and the spread of belief in Christ far beyond the bounds even the Apostle Paul achieved. It was not the modern philosophers who encouraged the world you see and loath. Rawls is not the heir of Locke. Not even Rousseau was as insane as that two-bit academic philosophaster.
Aristotle is not your refuge in this argument. Aristotle bluntly stated the justice of piracy. He advocated for “natural slavery.” He taught the effect of the environment on race. He taught patriarchy. Even if these are “exoteric positions” and he “esoterically” thought piracy was evil, slavery unjust, and all races equal… even if all this is true, he thought his public teaching about these things was salutary. But really… in what world is the “secret teaching,” the truly dangerous teaching, “all men are created equal”?
Aristotle emphasized the difficulty of virtue and its sweetness. He pushed for habituation and law. Try to square an emphasis on habituation with equal rights for everyone including a slave class. Do people magically acquire virtue the day after they cease being enslaved? Are you required to share power with people who have been poorly habituated? One of Aristotle’s actual esoteric teachings is the rarity of true friendship because friendship only occurs between good men. And the same goes for politics: true politics occurs between friends or men who are approximately good. Now try to square that sense of community, of community based on virtue, with egalitarian notions about the evils of slavery. Natural slaves cannot even have friends, according to Aristotle. How are they going to be good citizens?
But the Southerners were evil. America sinned.
The West Coast
I have already criticized the West Coast in my reply to Tom West. I will try here to cover some different ground, though the opening is similar.
West Coast Straussianism began with Harry Jaffa and is carried on today by his star students, Tom West and John Marini being the clear leaders in this regard. Jaffa produced a public teaching he thought would steel American citizens against the leveling tendencies of communism, while leading promising students to philosophy. Unfortunately it does the opposite.
I remember a debate I attended as a boy. The Creationist Dwayne Gish and some evolutionary biologist from the local university were debating Darwinism. I went to the debate because I was dragged by my childhood friend’s mother, who was an atheist so I don’t really know what that was about. In any event, I came away completely intoxicated with the idea that science proved the existence of God. The thing (science) I always assumed was the greatest danger to my beliefs turned out to be completely in my camp! I liken this youthful experience to what West Coast Straussians undergo when they hear loving equality means revering their ancestors and especially the founding generation. I thought, “you mean Christians are the real scientists!?” And they think, “you mean patriots are the real antiracists?!?!”
Well, I matured. And I will say here that neither Jaffa nor West take the antiracism morality seriously. They both distinguish between antislavery and antiracism. However… they permit the antiracism morality to linger and many of their students, even some of their brightest students, become thorough antiracists.
Keeping young men patriotic, and even making a few new patriots (I have seen it happen), doesn’t do much good when their patriotism continues to lead them down the path of communism. They aren’t even as conservative as Eisenhower. I once met a grad student who said the only statue he would defend would be Lincoln’s! And here is where I really have some problem with the public teaching of the West Coasters.
When that kid said he would only defend Lincoln’s statue another young conservative, one not trained in the Straussian school berated him. And this is what I think happens to a lot of West Coast Straussians: they go in patriotic, latch onto the “Equality Principle,” and proceed to misinterpret all the original reasons they had thought America is good and communism detestable. Imagine thinking your initial love of America and detestation of lefties was because “communism is actually more racist and discriminatory.” That turn of mind actually takes place in many West Coast students and it’s an injustice.
But let us put aside the effects of West Coast Straussianism and get down to brass tacks.
Criticism 1: anticommunism is incompatible with antiracism
Let there be several ways of getting at the definition of communism. First, communism is the attempt at ending all “discrimination” through force. Second, communism is the belief that virtue can be taught, easily, through a method. Third, communism is the attempt to acquire the benefits of esteem through force. Aristophanes mocked all this in his Assemblywomen. Strauss rejected communism in many places, but especially in his lecture Why We Remain Jews. There he refused even to use the word “discrimination” without putting scare-quotes around it.
Today we are under the boot of increasingly communist laws, even if we haven’t gone full-retard. The only way to combat these laws is to reject liberalism entirely or return to Jefferson and Madison’s understanding of liberalism. The latter can only happen in thought, considering the times and the quality of American citizens.
Jefferson understood equality to mean men had a number of equal rights, none of which amounted to a right to be included. These rights did not even, in Jefferson’s mind, demand the respect of others when those others were pressed by necessity. Southerner’s were bound by natural rights (equality) to free their slaves as soon as they were able to do so without impairing their own rights and liberties. And if ever they freed their slaves, they were under no obligation to include them in society or the political community unless they could do so, again, in a way commensurate with their own rights and liberties. Getting butthexxed by the North was not Jefferson’s idea of fulfilling the dream of the Declaration. He advocated colonizing the slave class or spreading it out very thinly over the vast expanse of America so as to disperse the burden of its political education. Neither of these things happened and we see the result in the streets today.
If you do not take Jefferson’s view, then America owes its former slaves and indeed everyone it has ever harmed in pursuit of its own independence and greatness. You cannot rest complacently with mere political (legal) equality, because the socio-economic gains of whites as a result of their ancestors is palpable. Yes, I know, you can talk all you want about “moral agency” (“we are all responsible for our actions and destiny”), but that is just a lack of imagination talking. Starting from the bottom is more difficult, and while people do still make it out… well, it remains more difficult and that matters! If things are easier for a class of people because of injustice then their enemies have a right to remonstrate against that “privilege.” America’s quest for its own independence and greatness made things easier for the citizen class and more difficult for many other classes of people. If you think that is necessarily unjust, then you are on your way to communism.
Lincoln-worship tends in that direction in young people today.
Criticism 2: philosophy is about the right of nature, not natural rights.
Strauss points this out in The City and Man. I do not have my book handy, but the upshot is that natural rights are a democratic stand-in for natural right. The right of nature can be summed up as good men have a right to pursue their advantage. This is a reckless teaching because you tempt everyone to think they have a right to pursue their advantage according to their subjective understanding of that. i.e., you tempt bad men to think they have a right to act as good men do, to claim the advantage for themselves that good men claim.
Only the good man’s subjective understanding is “objective,” i.e., according to nature and therefore good. Everyone else’s is distorted: their desires are irrational. Even if what they want is a good thing, they want it in the wrong way, etc. The modern philosophers were more fearful of bad men taking the privileges of the good men and so produced a more esoteric teaching than their ancient forebears.
Instead of saying good men have a right to pursue their advantage, the modern philosophers decided to legitimize only a few desires outright: life, liberty, and property. All men have a right to pursue these things. They don’t have a right to pursue dominion except as a matter of strict necessity (to avoid dying or becoming slaves).
Don’t let bare speech get in the way of your understanding here… think in terms of a sliding scale: to whatever extent you are good, to that extent you have a right to pursue your advantage.
The natural rights teaching falls apart of its own accord because it too must abide by the right of nature. (Nature is unavoidable.) Let’s use Locke as an example: every man has a right to life liberty and property, unless he is a certain level of bad, in which case you can imprison or even kill him. I know Locke deploys various maneuvers to avoid the obvious fact that only people approximately good have the right to pursue life, liberty, or property. For example, he tries to always refer to criminals as subhuman (noxious things, beasts, etc). Nevertheless, the point stands for Locke: you have to be “reasonable” to pursue life, liberty, and property. He just tries to maintain that all adult men are reasonable, because he was producing a teaching to influence natural democrats.
Hobbes deploys his own maneuver to escape the obvious: he says even the worst man has the right to try to save his life (he has a right to escape death row, or to flee battle and act the coward). But the right of nature is inescapable and Hobbes is forced to come to terms with it eventually: the vainglorious are rightfully restrained simply, i.e., he doesn’t merely say “the timid rightfully restrain the vainglorious” but that the vainglorious are just bad. In admitting this Hobbes gives way to the right of nature in the midst of his promotion of a very limited set of natural rights.
Maneuvers like these push back the demands of nature or reason a few steps. They invite the reader to question the author and keep the truth of nature out of harm’s reach. But producing salutary teachings about nature, teachings which take into account the peculiar weakness of the times, is not the only reason for “esoteric” writing. Look at Nietzsche: he very openly taught the most dangerous things about nature. But even he was forced into teaching contradictory things. The fact of the matter is that it is impossible to just “say” the truth because each man has his own weaknesses and confusions. Whatever you write requires correct interpretation. A writer with true talent acts as a sort of prophet, bringing the truth of nature into the hearts of his readers because he himself has been afflicted with their thoughts and concerns. The prophet or philosophic-writer is a timely man outside of time.
When the West Coast Straussians pretend that modern natural rights are universal and timeless guides to political life, they take the position of a specific teaching, a specific regime. The regime they support is invariably a democratic regime. Talented writers like Tom West try to show the elitism at the heart of that very democratic teaching, but … I think it is Nietzsche’s time because as I said in the previous section, Jefferson’s view of things ended at Appomattox. It needs to be said again and again: the writer of the Declaration and the drafter of the Constitution held political positions that were defeated with bullets. That the West Coasters laud the Declaration and Constitution, but refuse to give any credence or even teach the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions or Madison’s magisterial Report of 1800 is near incredible. I think they don’t do so because they recognize we cannot bring back the original founding consensus. The material (our citizens) is too corrupt and irrational.
To conclude this section: natural rights don’t make sense because men have to be good to some extent, i.e., humans as humans do not have rights. Not only is the teaching about natural rights not true simply, it is also deleterious today. Whites are legal subordinates to minorities! Teaching students that our founding generation was unjust rather than not ideal—and you necessarily teach this when you elevate Lincoln above Jefferson and Madison—prepares them (the students) to accept legal subordination as penance.
If the natural rights theory is not true simply, and if it is no longer politically salutary, then the West Coasters should stop teaching it.
Mount Rushmore Post-Script
I was just told today to watch Trump’s Mount Rushmore speech. “It’s as if someone gave a Claremonter (West Coaster) the stage. The entire speech runs along the lines you reject in this essay… and that speech will do a great deal of good!” You know, I accept this line of argument. I could nitpick a few things… like how the speech praises America’s “inclusive” history but also calls for the American government to put “Americans first.” There are many of these small inconsistencies that, I think, plague The American Mind. Nevertheless, the speech probably did much good. But I ask you, which parts of the speech did more good than others? I contend that the speech was strongest when Trump was praising American accomplishments (building things, going to space, ‘forging’ great men) and not when he was touting our antiracist and antislavery history. I contend that saying those things does little more than assuage the American conscience, whereas listing our accomplishments is actually inspiring.
In any event, a message that is good for the spectators at Trump’s rally should be substantially different than the message you deliver to your promising graduate students. That’s okay!
Conclusion: Straussianism is Good
Writing this essay will not get me much “clout” on twitter. Talking about Strauss appeals to, I think, fewer than 50 of my followers. I am not trying to score points. I am using the only public platform I have to argue with Straussians about what they teach and in many cases actually believe. I will always call myself a Straussian out of gratitude to Strauss and his students.
But dear friends, it is time to act and save your universities. Universities are supposed to be where the best congregate with the best to talk and have sex. I experienced open and free debate in college. It wasn’t so long ago that you could actually have arguments about issues that make people very angry and touchy. The place I went to college doesn’t even exist anymore. Colleges are everywhere capitulating to psychopaths and moral fanatics. Moral fanaticism is not about “tradition,” it is always and forever more closely tied to “egalitarianism.” The aristocrat is the philosopher’s natural ally, not the people who promote degeneracy and skepticism. Habituation and Law, being the backbone of Aristocracy, are regime-level qualities more closely allied to philosophy than moral skepticism. You have to stop the moral fanatics from destroying the elitist quality of university life… or at least stop attacking the anons who do speak up.
 If you say, “no, we teach the justice of the founding generation…” Look, you know you don’t teach that. You only teach that their ideal was perfectly just. West admits this frankly in many public discussions. He doesn’t believe it in his heart though, I don’t think. You can see basically my entire argument here esoterically taught in his book. At least that is my contention.