Habakkuk On Leo Strauss

For anyone interested in the history of the neoconservative movement, David Habbakkuk’s series of posts at Sic Semper Tyrannis are a facinating resource. His latest piece looks at the legacy of philosopher Leo Strauss:

I am deeply sceptical about the notion that Strauss
believed that the United States was the kind of society where there was
no need for ‘esoteric writing’. I think the belief that philosophers
are an elite, carriers of dangerous truths subversive to the social
order, which can only be articulated to the fellow members of the elite
in a kind of code, applied in his view to liberal societies, quite as
much as others. The view is developed at length in among other places
the two studies of Strauss by Shadia Drury — the essence of her views
is set out in articles on her web page, at
http://www.uregina.ca/arts/CRC/. Because he himself practised ‘esoteric
writing’ it is, I think, almost insurmountably difficult to be
categorically clear about the nature of the political commitments of
the later Strauss. However, I think that Horton is right in suggesting
that his repudiation of liberalism continued to be radical.






One response to “Habakkuk On Leo Strauss”

  1. David Habakkuk avatar
    David Habakkuk

    Tom Griffin,
    Thanks for your kind words about my posts on Sic Semper Tyrannis.
    To any of your readers who want to make sense of the roots of neoconservatism, I would very strongly recommend two posts by Scott Horton as another useful resource.
    Central to these is the clear evidence that Leo Strauss did not see Hitler’s seizure of power as reason to think twice about his fascist convictions provided by a letter he wrote in May 1933. An excerpt:
    ‘the fact that the new right-wing Germany does not tolerate us says nothing against the principles of the right. To the contrary: only from the principles of the right, that is from fascist, authoritarian and imperial principles, is it possible with seemliness, that is, without resort to the ludicrous and despicable appeal to the droits imprescriptibles de l’homme to protest against the shabby abomination. I am reading Caesar’s Commentaries with deep understanding, and I think of Virgil’s Tu regere imperio… parcere subjectis et debellare superbos. There is no reason to crawl to the cross, neither to the cross of liberalism, as long as somewhere in the world there is a glimmer of the spark of the Roman thought. And even then: rather than any cross, I’ll take the ghetto.’
    The Virgil quote is from the apologia for the ‘Caesarism’ of Julius and Augustus Caesar in the Aeneid. Horton translates it in a footnote, which I should have included in my post.
    ‘Romans, be this thy care – these thine arts -/… to spare the humbled and/ to wear down the proud!’ Virgil, Aeneid, lib. 6, line 851.’
    In this quotation, Horton notes, Strauss ‘characteristically elides the most famous portion of this passage, which relates to the obligation to ”uphold the law of peace.”’ The passage, Horton also notes, was often quoted by Carl Schmitt — the leading jurist of Nazi Germany.
    In my view, anyone who in May 1933 thought European fascist movements were likely to ‘spare the humbled’ was somewhat on the naïve side. One might however say that the fascism in Germany did ‘wear down the proud’: a fair proportion of those conservative Germans who attempted to stop Hitler ended up strung up on meathooks, following the abortive plot of 20 July 1944.
    I also think that someone who in May 1933 was so concerned about making a ‘protest’ with ‘seemliness’ — rather than fighting fascism — was a pompous ass!
    My own feeling is that many in Britain still do not have much sense of how quite how silly, as well as sinister, some of the influences in the background of the foreign policy of the Bush Administration — on which we have signed up as pillion passenger — actually are.
    The Horton posts are at: http://balkin.blogspot.com/2006/07/letter_16.html, and http://www.harpers.org/archive/2008/01/hbc-90002212.

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