Thursday, May 27, 2004

FIrst Meeting

We met for the first time to begin our project on Thursday, May 27, 2004, in Nanjing in the New Era Hotel, while attending the International Symposium on Culture, Politics, and the Humanities.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Original Call for Papers to Nanjing

Originally, this came from b2, hoping to build political critical links; it has been honored more in the breach. to read draft click on Comment.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Strauss Proposal

Strauss Proposal
Joe Buttigieg and I worked at this proposal for a weekend after long preliminary discussions and exchange of readings. I think it contains some new directions in content and suggests ways to work in the future. PAB

Proposal for a Special Issue of b2 on Straussism

In this issue we propose to test how far the present political and ideological configurations of the US can be understood in terms of what we call “Strauss-ism.” We do not contend that the work of Leo Strauss by itself describes or prescribes the current arrangement. Nor do we intend to restrict our study to those individuals—in and out of power—who are publicly described as Straussians.  Rather, we would like to identify, describe, and explain the current configuration by referring to Leo Strauss because his thinking seems now to have prefigured (and in some cases informed) the social relations and ruling ideology in the dominant right-wing politics and culture of the present moment.  Therefore, interpretation of these relations and ideology, in light of Strauss’ thinking, not only clarifies these relations but also foreshadows the likely outcome of the continuing reactionary domination of US culture and politics by the major forces and political vectors we discuss in this collection.  These include Christian fundamentalism, the rhetoric of anti-elitist populism, destruction of institutional legitimacy, anti-liberalism, anti-modernity, maximalist unilateralism, and nationalistic provincialism. 

Already in 1997, Shadia Drury in Leo Strauss and the American Right had provided a useful account of American neo-conservatism as a Straussian legacy.  Since the beginning of the Bush regime, which brought a number of Strauss’ followers to governmental power, the media and intellectuals have given increasing attention to Strauss’ ideas and influence.  We do not intend to add another text to this discussion or to provide a Straussian key to the Bush regime’s policies. We are not in the business of adding academic explications to the Strauss industry.  As critical intellectuals interested in the literary political future of the US and the world it dominates, we have attempted to understand what we believe is the unique reaction that is current US culture and politics.  To that end, we have noticed that a careful reading of Strauss provides us with a means to understand the current arrangement in a way that in turn illuminates the implications of Straussian ideas.  In other words, we have a double vision and a hermeneutic stance: we see Strauss and the current reaction in corresponding illumination of each other and we take it that such illumination allows what is to this day the best grasp of the reaction that controls US power and life.  We do not say that Strauss prescribes the current arrangement because, in fact, the current relations help us grasp the horrors of Straussian ideas more clearly than any merely philosophical academic treatment possibly could.  In turn, however, once the vectors of Straussian ideas appear, the horrendous consequences of current arrangements, properly now understood as Straussian stand out with terrifying clarity, demanding analysis and opposition. 

The most striking way in which Straussism and the American regime under George Bush appear as literal ‘reactions’ is anti-liberalism and anti-modernity.  These elements permeate political strategies and policies that manipulate and cynically take advantage of social forces and social relations to roll back the freedom and rights provided by classical liberal democracy.  One manifestation of this cynicism is the seeming improbable alliance between secular neoconservative intellectuals and ultra-conservative religious movements (mostly from the South).  Improbable as this might seem this alliance actually is easy to understand when one takes into account Straussian ideas both vis-à-vis the functional value of religion in governing and elites’ control of the masses.  We intend to collect essays treating the various troubling elements of current US life and politics that will similarly explicate their functions and structures in Straussian terms while elaborating a comprehensive concrete concept of Straussian desires and aspirations to roll-back modernity and liberalism. 

Since the time of the Reagan administrations the neoconservatives and their allies constructed an elaborate network of institutions that would facilitate the strategic planning among various existing and emerging social forces to maximize their likely access to electoral, political, and cultural power to the exclusion of all competitors.  In Straussian terms elites with a complete and clear sense of the obligations of power set upon a reactionary course to disable liberal institutions and de-authorize all competing discourses of politics and value that might mobilize democratic forces in US society.  This means, of course, that reactionary elites will rule ahistorically, without democratic accountability, cynically, and—as Strauss admits—deceptively in order to reverse the intellectual effects of modernization since the time of Machiavelli.  That is to say that since the Reagan administration neoconservatives have planned a policy of back to a future that existed (if at all) only before the Enlightenment and before Vico. 

We are engaged in this not to carry out a debate but to point to the real political dangers that follow upon both the Straussian vision and the neoconservative coalition’s control of power.  We do this because we see an intellectual betrayal on the part of the neoconservatives who erode all forms of autonomous inquiry and because we are alarmed by the speed with which democracy and liberalism are being reversed.  In light of these concerns, we intend to identify, describe, and critique the anthropology of neoconservatism in light of its Straussian prefiguration especially since Straussian ideas stand not only against the human but in favor of privileged elites’ exclusive (and exclusionary) access to timeless and eternal knowledge that provides them with the authority for governing by domination and duplicity. 

Topics for Essays

(we have begun to solicit essays from these contributors)


1)      Introduction by Buttigieg

2)      The role of Christian Fundamentalism within  a Straussian World View  -- The degradation of Scientific Knowledge in keeping with Straussian emphasis on rational method that does not require historical knowledge - DAN

a)      Straussian production of discourses and knowledges as instruments for rule and domination 

i)       Creation of think-tanks etc. -

b)     The corruption of the autonomy of knowledge 

c)      False knowledge by politicized institutions

i)       Suppression of disinterested scientific knowledge, e.g., on Global Warming

ii)     Instrumentalization of knowledge for domination along the lines of Straussian notions of elite rule by deception and ignorance and manipulation

3)      Anti-democractic, anti-liberal politics and political theory,

4)      On Bloom and the inequality of Education  --

a)      End of public education

b)     End of the democratic utopian belief in education

c)      De-democratization of the universities in keeping with Straussian suspicions of democracy

5)      South—here we rely on Michael Lind’s analysis of the Straussian alliance with Southern, Confederate forces to produce a political culture that is anti-liberal and anti-democratic --

6)      Anti-modernity,

7)      Straussian and neoconservative anthropology: what is the human in Straussism?  The Anthropos may not be / is not at the center, so what is?  What is the role of the human in relation to what is the center and what follows from this, that is, what politics follow from this?   on Strauss and the Universal via Spinoza

8)      Foreign Policy: 

(a)   Depending on pre-modern concept of State

(b)   Dominion rather than hegemony

9)      Law:  how would US law change if one were to embrace Strauss’ privileging of natural law? 

10)  Intellectuals:  do Straussian notions of intellectuals illuminate the nature and function of intellectuals within the current reaction?  NB that prominent Straussians invest heavily in intellectual work as a means of producing authoritative ideology and acquiring power. 

a)      Maximalism:  describe how the current reaction is maximalist and why?  Explain how it illuminates Straussian notions of power and governance while Strauss’ ideas demand maximalist politics. Consider the nihilist tendencies of the Straussian in that if the reaction cannot control an area it will destroy it. 


Saturday, May 15, 2004


Edward W. Said. Humanism and Democratic Criticism. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

Shadia B. Drury. Leo Strauss and the American Right.
February, 1999 - ISBN: 0312217838; Price: $23.18

Deciding on right directions

In different ways, each of us seems to agree that our historical moment requires substantial rethinking of critical modes and procedures, tuning them to new political intellectual realities.