Strauss Derangement Syndrome?

There’s a discussion thread on Free Republic about one of my recent Paul-centric NewsReal posts, in which commenter Conimbricenses notes my background as a Hillsdale College student and concludes: “I bet he’s also one of Tom Krannawitter’s lapdogs…er…lapcats?”

First, some background: Thomas Krannawitter is a former Hillsdale political science professor, Claremont Institute fellow, and author of several books, most recently Vindicating Lincoln.  I have never taken one of his classes; hearing him speak briefly twice (once commemorating 9/11, another discussing the school’s DC internship program) and reading his latest book (which I thought was very good, though I would have liked more time spent on Lincoln’s exercise of executive power) are the full extent of my familiarity with him and his ideas.

Conimbricenses’s complaint sparks the following exchange:

EternalVigilance: And I’m sure you think it’s terrible that these kids would be influenced by someone who teaches respect for the Natural Law and adherence to the Constitution, right?

Conimbricenses: No. I think it’s terrible that kids are being misled about Natural Law and the Constitution by a pseudo-historian who has an amateur’s grasp of the subjects he purports to be teaching coupled with a near-religious affection for Straussian occultism.

Springfield Reformer: conimbricenses, would you kindly share with the rest of the class exactly what you think is wrong with the “Hillsdale” conception of natural law. That would, of course, require you to explain both their position and yours, and to render an academically sound proof that yours is the correct, “non-amateur,” version. And as the self-professed “professional” among us with respect to natural law theory, I fully expect your explanation to be completely free of ad hominem content. I wait with bated breath.

Conimbricenses: The “problem” with Hillsdale comes from the rapid growth of Straussian occultists there in recent decades. The current president, Larry Arnn, is a follower of this branch of thought and has regrettably populated the political science and philosophy faculties with many of his fellow travelers.

I call the Straussian variety they practice there “amateur” because it simply does not have what it takes to compete on a scholarly level at any place beyond the echo chamber of its own adherents. The stuff they peddle does poorly in the academic peer review process. It is justifiably shredded to pieces by scholars outside of the narrow Straussian occult whenever it pops its head over into the mainstream (witness this recent example, involving a very well known Straussian Hillsdale prof: http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/jala/31.1/winger.html ) It doesn’t perform well in other universities – even sympathetic conservative ones – outside of an exceedingly small list of completely Straussian departments that are known for promoting their own from inside (Hillsdale and Claremont being the two prime examples). And in the practical sense, it tends to breed the very worst types of “conservative” government – the George W. Bush-style big spending neoconservative naively idealist “democracy building” variety that ruined the conservative brand name in the 2000’s and gave us our present state of affairs with Obama.

This isn’t the first time Claremont/Krannawitter/Strauss-phobia has arisen in response to my criticism of the Pauls; legend in his own mind “Marcus Brutus’s” complaints touched similar lines—though he couldn’t be bothered to explain how, I was supposedly a “golden-souled Straussian,” concerned “not for the good and preservation of our free society domestically, but instead, the Straussian’s ‘national greatness.’”

Of all the Paulites’ arguments, this one is among the strangest.  First, if sympathy for “George W. Bush-style big spending” exists among the Hillsdale faculty, I’ve yet to encounter it in my three years here.  Second, I have been exposed to the work of Leo Strauss (in particular, On Tyranny) in exactly one class (Classical Political Philosophy); if Straussian ideas—especially “national greatness”—are somehow coloring the school’s broader political science education, neither “Marcus” nor Conimbricenses has done anything to explain how (and the link Conimbricenses provides doesn’t seem to workUPDATE: link works now; hopefully I’ll get a chance to look over the essay over the next couple days). Third, in what I have read of Strauss (though I’m admittedly no expert), I have not encountered any sort of “national greatness” doctrine.

Thomas G. West (I know, another eeevil Claremont-ite) has an interesting look at Strauss’s foreign policy views, and the extent to which they impact “neoconservative” thought, here, in which West argues that “although there is some common ground, Strauss’s overall approach is quite different from that of Kristol, Kagan, and other prominent neoconservatives in and out of the administration.”  Whatever the truth about Strauss may be, this particular line of attack seems to reveal more about Paulite mindset than it does the rest of us.

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3 thoughts on “Strauss Derangement Syndrome?

  1. Calvin: what’s a lapdog and /or lapcat?

    It seems to me that your current nemesis needs to reread the Constitution, then reread the Federalist papers, then think about how idiotic he sounds.

    I may sound elitist, but the Constitution is written in fairly simple language, and even a person as limited as Conimbricenses should be able to understand it. My guess is that he has been confused by the myriad of liberal judges on the Supremes who believe that they need to reinterpret it.

    I quote here form a student of Roman history:

    “…A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear. The traitor is the plague….

    Cicero’s 58BC speech in the Roman Senate

    Rather than find fault with Hillsdale and its staff/students, he needs to examine the current situation from the perspective of Cicero. The traitor amongst us is Obama. The “Senate” is all those in the current congress who do Obama’s bidding in the same manner that the politburo did Stalin’s or Germany did Hitler’s.

    Hillsdale is a “voice crying out in the wilderness?. Unfortunately the wilderness is the United States nowadays!

    Perhaps it is time for another Sulla…..

    Jerry

  2. That’s an interesting argument you’ve got running there. I would caution you on one thing though – the Straussian school of thought did not stop at Leo Strauss. It is rather a methodology that is carried out and diffused by hundreds of Strauss’s students. And their students. And so on.

    Your answer goes to great lengths to rebut the allegation that you/Hillsdale have a Straussian strain in your thought, based on the claim that you’ve only read one book by Strauss himself and that you never took a class with Krannawitter. Fair enough, right?

    Yet within sentences of that argument you admit your familiarity with Krannawitter’s latest book, speak of reading another well known Straussian (Thomas West), and seem to be projecting your own favorable opinion of a heavily Straussian think tank (the Claremont Institute, founded by one of Strauss’ best known students Harry Jaffa). In effect then you are conceding multiple strains of Straussian influence on your own beliefs while disavowing the same on account of a limited exposure to Strauss in a single class (which is still more than most political science students receive at other universities). Still, one book by Strauss alone is not much exposure. But Strauss plus West plus Krannawitter plus what seems to be a fondness of the Claremont Institute…they start to add up, presuming you do indeed have a favorable take on each.

    Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with being a Straussian. But you should be cognizant that Straussian philosophy appears to have shaped your thought more than you seem to realize.

    • I don’t deny that Strauss influences Hillsdale; simply that I haven’t seen much of it firsthand, and I’m not aware of what particular tenets of Straussian thought are supposedly exerting a nefarious influence on the topics in which these complaints arise.

      (And for the record: while Claremont is one of many center-right websites I occasionally visit, this particular essay was found via a Google search for Strauss & foreign policy. It made sense to me, so I linked it.)

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