Saturday, June 26, 2004


Urged on by one of my correspondents, I spent a while last night reading about conservative philosopher Leo Strauss and his followers. I read accounts by various sorts of Straussians and anti-Straussians as a way of deciding if it seemed worthwhile to sit down and read the great man himself. He is said to be a difficult and ambiguous study so preliminary enquiry seemed needed. Two of the many accounts I read are here and here. Strauss disciples do seem to be rather prominent in the Bush administration and that does of course get the Left frothing at the mouth and trotting out their usual conspiracy theories. And for once there is a small germ of truth in what they say. Strauss was what would usually be called a "Gnostic" -- a purveyor of "hidden" knowledge or knowledge known only to initiates. Gnostics were very influential and widely followed in the ancient world both before and after the time of Christ. The best known Gnostic sects of the modern world are probably the Rosicrucians, the Scientologists and whatever is left of the old Freemasons.

I myself think that all Gnosticism is rubbish so will not be reading Strauss. The idea of any real and widely useful knowledge remaining secret for thousands of years is ludicrous. But I can see the appeal of Straussianism. Like all Gnostic sects it is both elitist and fraternal -- which is a pretty powerful combination. It both tells you that you are superior and that you have a band of similarly wise brothers on your side. No wonder it has attracted followers! I find its elitism particularly obnoxious. Elites as such are no problem for me. They exist. They become obnoxious when they see themselves as a natural ruling class who are licensed to lie, conceal, collude and deceive in order to bend "the masses" to their will -- "for their own good", of course. Yuk! Straussianism has too much in common with the Left for me. I will stick with libertarian conservatism. Many conservatives are pretty appalled at the big-government agenda of GWB and I have argued that GWB is in fact in some ways to the Left of Clinton. Maybe he really has been influenced by his Straussian advisors.

What primarily motivated Strauss was his concern that the "nihilism" or moral relativism preached by Leftist ideologues (and now accepted by many educated people) would eventually make civilization impossible. There are however many alternatives in philosophy to moral relativism and I think my version of ethical naturalism is only one of many accounts of morality which take into account the arguments for moral relativism but still show or purport to show that values and standards are important, non-arbitrary and persuasive.

The practical upshot of Straussian thought does seem to be reasonably conservative in that Strauss opposed both Communism and Nazism and supported Christianity and traditional values but his reasons for those conclusions seem to be peculiarily his own.


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