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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He’s Back…

Insufferable gasbag “Marcus Brutus” is once again plaguing NewsReal with his presence.  Just like before, he’s whining about “slander” against the object of his most-unhealthy affection, Ron & Rand Paul, and just like before, his hubris is making him look like the lying buffoon, not me.

A Special Message to My Special Friend Marcus

I made a new friend recently!  He goes by the screen name “Marcus Brutus,” and attended my school, Hillsdale College, some time ago.  Unfortunately, thanks to our disagreements about Ron Paul and the War on Terror, we didn’t exactly hit it off.

“Marcus” wants me to know that he fared much better academically than he supposes I did: “I’ll ask [Hillsdale President] Dr. [Larry P.] Arnn at the next fundraiser if you’ve had a chance to examine that desk of his yetmy name is on plaques at Hillsdale, and yours isn’t.” He doesn’t think I have much “intellectual cultivation,” or that I’d make it “as a secretary for any office in any level of the federalist society in [his] chapter.”  Why, my heart positively shatters! (I don’t presume to be some great scholar, and I confess that I haven’t a single plaque to my name, but in my defense, I’m not exactly dead weight.)

His intellect, by contrast, is highly cultivated, and it’s very, very important for him that his readers know just how much, via seemingly-endless references to Scripture, English history, ancient Athens, and such.  Since graduating, he professes to have had quite the accomplished career—Marine Corps, Iraq, application to the bar, even some time spent in Israel.

Unfortunately, I don’t think “Marcus’s” way of going about things is doing him any favors.  In the spirit of friendship, allow me to humbly offer my fellow Hillsdalian some helpful advice.

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In Defense of Hillsdale

As usual, there are a handful of criticisms of my Reporter editorial about free speech, most of them not worth addressing—the usual assortment of illogic & dishonesty (FDL54935—one of the liars referenced in my editorial—is a conservative?  Yeah, right).  One, however, warrants a response, as this isn’t the first time it’s reared its ugly head, and it won’t be the last:

DotingDad: “I wonder: when does he have time to do his schoolwork, since he is constantly writing these long-winded letters to the editor? Maybe Hillsdale is just about right-wing indoctrination, and as long as you subscribe to that, you’ll pass all your courses.”

Yes, Hillsdale College is a conservative-leaning school, but it’s also an honest one.  Its mission is to provide students with a solid grounding in the foundations of Western civilization—Greco-Roman philosophy, Judeo-Christian morality, the political ideas of the English Enlightenment and the American Founding, and classical free-market economics.  To be sure, genuine study of these things generally leads to ideas more in line with American conservatism than with progressivism.  However, that’s a sign not of how biased Hillsdale is, but of what a radical departure progressivism was from pre-20th-century thought, as well as how factually inaccurate much of mainstream education is.

Most public schools are presented as impartial institutions with no aim beyond offering students a well-rounded knowledge base and preparing them for adulthood.  Ideology is disseminated—sometimes overtly, sometimes by stealth—to an unsuspecting, often-apolitical audience, their parents forced to support the school with their tax dollars, the teachers state-approved authority figures in the lives of impressionable minors.

Hillsdale, however, is honest about its mission.  The school’s emphasis on classical thought (which, as anybody actually familiar with the professors and the classes can guarantee, is a far cry from RNC propaganda) is out in the open; anybody considering Hillsdale is free to apply or not with full knowledge of its mission.

At most colleges, you can barely swing a dead cat without hitting some washed-up Marxist or an ex-Black Panther, and odds are he’d have tenure.  K-12 public education has more than a little propagandizing of its own to answer for, too.  Rest assured, if DotingDad is really that concerned about education, he’s barking up the wrong tree.