« Mr Dooley, as perceptive as ever. | Main | Guest Posts »

01 February 2008


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Ok, this going to be my only post on this subject. I am not going to get caught up in a battle with the host, and, or, the author of this thread. He has mastered the subject. His reactions are visceral on it. I do not wish to engage him frontally....and especially on his turf, under his rules of engagement. However, some comments must not pass absent dissent I want to note that this sentence, written by Mr Smith: ". But I am suggesting a nation has to be extremely careful about invading another culture, especially when it is done with a total lack of respect and a haughty kind of condescension.", is, in my opinion, a gross, simplistic, and dangerously, seductive, self-pitying, sentence. That is not to say that it is not widely, and fervently believed. Nor, is it to say, that there are not grains of---mustard seed size--truth in it. There are always, at minimum, two sides to every conflict. My purpose here is go on record as stating that not everyone buys the sentiments, and 'facts', expressed in the sentence.

Cloned Poster

I wish you would post in better typepad and have paragraph breaks.

Sidney O. Smith III has made very valid points above, but reading them was a task.

W. Patrick Lang


I am in Jordan today, was in Jerusalem yesterday. pl


I do not edit guest posts. I am too busy for that. pl


I will leave it to Sidney to defend himself, but it does amuse me that Northern people often react to Southerners' defense of themselves by saying they are "visceral, simplistic, dangerous" etc.

The belief seems to be that Southerners do not have the right to defend themselves or their culture. pl

Sidney O. Smith III

You are not going to believe this…or maybe you will…but Col. Lang’s novel has lead me to a re-examination of Sherman’s March Through Georgia and, more particularly, the reasons why neoconservatives venerate this military tactic. I actually wrote a short essay on it and was going to post it, but I wasn’t sure if it would format properly, since Col. Lang is overseas. But I will do so soon and the results may surprise you or, then again, maybe not.

I urge you to check again, but the sentence and words that offended you the most in this thread apply, in my opinion, to the Iraqi invasion. Just as importantly, the present thread was written on the following underlying premise: the only way to overcome racism is to look within and nowhere else. The inner transformation, which often requires sacrifice, is more important than outer appearances. If I may so say, Shelby Steele has made some brilliant insights along those lines. But I think one of the tragedies of the American Civil War was that it allowed some --certainly not all -- people from outside the South (and of different ethnic groups) to project their own racism or racial insecurities onto Southerners instead of taking the steps necessary to free one’s self from racism. So, among other things, you have the ironic situation of people outside the South living in total segregation while talking about the “race” problem in the South. This applies most particularly to some --again not all -- who consider themselves “liberal” and, in many cases, of the academic community. It has in my opinion, damaged our nation irreparably and led to inauthentic race relations and sectarian strife.

As I have spent much of my life in “liberal” cities of the United States, I have tried the technique used in this thread a zillion times and I find it of probative value. I am in no way talking about you (Jonst) -- your words were in no way an angry response and actually insightful -- but when a person reacts violently to this premise, I think it increases odds that this particular person has not gone through an inner examination and he or she should probably spend some time looking around at the segregated projects of their own part of the country -- Roxbury, Compton, or etc. This idea I mention seemed particularly relevant to me when I lived in liberal Los Angeles during the Rodney King race riots. It actually was humorous in a tragic way because the liberal friends I know in LA who had made a habit of bashing the South ended up buying guns and ammo during the riots and claimed they were going to blow the hell out of any gangsta’ who came into their neighborhood. I understood the angst but I just sat back and observed as much as I could, and for the record, I’ve never witnessed such rioting in the South.

My recollection is that certain parts of the 1964 Civil Rights act only apply to Southern States. The refusal to not apply the Civil Rights act in its entirely to all 50 states of the union suggests the same dynamic -- dare I say hubris -- that I just described. And based on MLK’s observations of Chicago, the legislation should apply to all States of our nation or not at all, in my opinion.


A provocative view of the collateral damage done around the world by the U of Chicago Economics Dept. these past few decades can be found in Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

Sidney O. Smith III

Minnesotachuck (creator of The Strident Centrist?)
Thank you for the reference to Klein’s book. I had heard of it but had not read any reviews until I came across your reference and decided to check it out at amzn. But your reference appears important, as Klein’s thesis may relate to the consensus view of the Straussians. So I am going to put in on the “to read” list.
By the way, I assume you are from Minnesota. You live in beautiful State and the word around here is that St. Paul is a fantastic city.

Agnes Deigh

This is all very provocative, but several comments made in the midst of this paragraph are very interesting -- yet I am doubtful.

Regarding Allan Bloom and the Straussians. Is there evidence that they are indeed all about fascism and militant ethnic nationalism, as you say?

I would say that they are not. I think we must consult Mr. Strauss' works -- if not Mr. Bloom's, as well -- to find evidence for this sort of charge. A careful review of Strauss' works leads one, in fact, to the opposite conclusion, regarding both the virtues of liberal democracy, as well as its hospitality to philosophers.

The charge of esotericism -- or sleight of hand, as you say -- relates to this point. The art of writing between the lines has everything to do with the regime in which one lives -- that is to say, what is the degree of freedom of thought accorded to philosophers? (Strauss begins with Socrates.) There is no need for sleight-of-hand, or esotericism, if one lives in a regime that is tolerant of philosophy, or even indifferent to it. There is no threat to the philosopher for teaching about the things in the sky and under the earth, as the old charge against Socrates put it (as well as inventing new deities).

And Bloom himself had nothing good to say about fascism. Why, further, is "The Closing Of The American Mind" about Mr. Bloom, as you say? It is an indictment of American education's failure to address the hardest questions raised by political philosophy. These questions invariably relate to tyranny, as is treated through the body of Plato's works.

I think these are important questions. Strauss' works are extended briefs against the temptations of tyranny, both in the soul of the private man and in the city writ large...in raising them again, he is drawing our attention to the perennial topics in human life, and -- I would argue -- he falls consistenly on the side of Socrates, not the incipient fascists of his time, who appear throughout Plato's dialogues in many guises...

Sidney O. Smith III

“Agnes Deigh” (fascinating homonym)

Thank you for the comments and insights. My analysis is based,in part, upon the following assumptions:

1. The neoconservatives, by their own admission and as implied in your comment, believe in the noble lie in part because they have convinced themselves that they have access to certain esoteric knowledge that the rest of us do not possess. As a result, they believe they are entitled to deceive and lie to the masses. More than that, their approach enables them to project, either consciously or unconsciously, their own desires into any classical work and then to the world at large.

Subsequently, the key to determine the intent of the neoconservatives is to determine what motivates their action. To make this point, I am tempted to use a word often associated with Ludwig Von Mises -- “praxeology” -- but I don’t consider myself Rothbardian in the least. Nevertheless, the search must focus on the source of the neconservatives' actions as well as the actions themselves, not the symbolic masks behind which they hide.

Because deception is their modus operandi, what they say or write is only probative not for its veracity but to determine why it is used as a mask to hide their “praxeology”. This most certainly includes the work of Bloom. Bloom actions in the academic world -- including partaking in the attacks on a gentle soul such as Prof. Rossiter who was branded a traitor -- I believe are more probative as to his ultimate intent and desires than his academic writings.

So what is the source of the actions? At this point, I believe that neoconservatives, more than anything else, support Jabotinsky’s approach to Zionism more than the approach given to us by the likes of, say, Martin Buber. This assumption is based upon a growing body of scholarship of which I am sure you are aware. And it was Jabotinsky who wrote: "There is no justice, no law, and no God in heaven, only a single law which decides and supercedes all---- [Jewish] settlement [of the land]." He also supported the transfer of the Palestinians, which some are now describing as ethnic cleansing.

Now, in my own inquiry, I would gladly re-evaluate this assumption if neoconservatives openly and publicly reject Jabotinsky’s approach to Zionism. Additionally, I would reconsider this assumption if certain American Jewish writers, particularly Philip Weiss, came forward and suddenly wrote that he had been wrong in the past and now fully supports the neoconservative view. Yes, this means I implicity find Weiss very credible, in part because he is paying such a sacrifice to express his beliefs.

But at least at this point of the inquiry, all there actions are consistent with the Jabotinsky approach and how it has evolved since 67.

2. I am sure you are aware of the 1998 essay by Schmitt and Shulsky titled, “Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence (By which we do not mean Nous)”. Have you read Habakkuk‘s analysis of the S and S paper? David Habakkuk, in my view, has already answered all the questions you raise. If you can refute his conclusions, then I will glady take another look at some of my underlying assumptions.

Here’s a link to Habakkuk’s analysis of the S and S paper:


You can read some general comments about Habakkuk’s paper here with futher cites:


3. My comments, which I hope expresse at some level a sense of urgency, are also based upon the following assumption. The neoconservatives would support an Israeli strike upon Iran, despite the findings of the 07 NIE. My evidence for this assumption, among others things, is the Wurmser option. And such an Israeli strike on Iran would endanger US military in Iraq as well as increase the possibility that Shia militia could severely disrupt or sever the Baghdad to Basra supply line. This would lead to an increase in US casualties as well as destroy whatever successes the US has achieved by following our own military tradition and not that of Jabotinsky.


You did a fine job Sidney.

Sidney O. Smith III

Thanks. I always read with interest your comments at this website as well as at “No Quarter” and I want to let you know that your insights, as much as anyone’s, have made me look at Hillary Clinton in a different light. I enjoy your writing style plus I trust your political instincts. Here’s why: From what I can glean, you are an extraordinary musician in the blues world, so you have seen the heart and soul of a different part of American culture. Your talent has given you an unique perspective and one much appreciated. Anyone who tours with the one and only Etta James knows what is going on, so thank you for your contributions!

David Habakkuk

Agnes Deigh, Sidney Smith.

On Strauss, there are two very good pieces by Scott Horton. One published back in 2006, is entitled 'The Letter' -- the subheadline reads:

'Was Leo Strauss democracy's best friend? In a letter written at the time of his emigration, Strauss describes his political principles - Fascist, Authoritarian, Imperialist.' The key passage of the letter, written not long after Hitler came to power, runs, in Horton's translation, as follows:

'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.'

(See http://balkin.blogspot.com/2006/07/letter_16.html.)

The second, published in January last year discusses the attempt by the leading Straussian Harvey Mansfield to explain away the letter in question, in a review of the study of Leo Strauss and the Politics of Exile published last year by Eugene Sheppard, which discusses the same letter, and is highly useful on the German background to Strauss's thinking.

(See http://www.harpers.org/archive/2008/01/hbc-90002212.)

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.

Strauss, Horton writes, 'rejects the fundamental liberal idea that wide-open, uncensored public disagreement is a creative force, mobilizing decentralized knowledge and bringing it to bear on issues of public importance … For Strauss, knowledge belongs to a few -- we know ahead of time who can and who cannot contribute something serious to a discussion.' Strauss, Horton also suggests, believed that 'liberalism was unable to defend itself; that it must be defended, if at all, by non-liberals, willing to go outside the rules.'

A great deal in one's evaluation of the Straussians, I suggest, hangs on the question of whether one accepts their self-image and self-portrayal as having some privileged grasp of the brutal realities of politics -- in particular international politics -- which is believed not to be possessed by liberals. Rather often, in the twentieth century, claims by intellectuals to have this kind of privileged wisdom did not turn out too well. Do we have grounds to think that such claims are more cogent, coming from Strauss and his followers?

I like to recall one of those liberals whom, in 1933, Strauss thought not fitted to contribute to a serious argument on the nature of Hitler's tyranny. At the end of the previous year, there had been published one of the great anti-appeasement polemics of the time - the study Germany Puts the Clock Back by the great American liberal journalist Edgar Ansel Mowrer. Fortunately, over the years that followed, many other liberals came round to Mowrer's view. When 1940 the Gestapo assembled their handbook for the invasion of Britain, listing their opponents, one of the figures they singled out was the liberal journalist and historian R.C.K. Ensor -- whom they described as 'one of the toughest opponents of national socialism in Britain'. I do not think that people like Mowrer or Ensor needed lessons in how to combat tyranny from someone who had been fully complicit in some of the intellectual currents which brought Europe to destruction, and also destroyed European Jewry.

A fascinating thing about Saul Bellow's roman-à-clef about Allan Bloom is that one sees exactly the same kind of arrogant and ignorant dogmatism as is displayed in Strauss's 1933 letter. So 'Ravelstein' -- Bloom -- explains that 'the war aims of the Kaiser in 1914 were no different from those of the Kaiser in 1914.' In fact the relationship between Nazi and Wilhelmine foreign policy aims is an immensely complicated subject -- and someone who makes this kind of simplistic categorical judgement rules himself out of any serious debate about the nature of Hitler's tyranny.

A similar silly-clever oversimplification is the suggestion by 'Ravelstein' that the influence of the Bloomsbury Group was pernicious, as 'the spies later recruited in Britain by the GPU or the NKVD were nurtured by Bloomsbury.' There were people far closer to Bloomsbury than Anthony Blunt or Guy Burgess who are of rather more moment in intelligence history. At Bletchley Park, Lytton Strachey's elder brother Oliver handled the unit dealing with the hand signals of the Abwehr, and Dilwyn Knox -- boyhood lover of J.M. Keynes -- handled the machine codes, cracking the Abwehr machine code in December 1941. Their work provided the basis of the great deception operations which meant that the invasions of Sicily and Normandy caught the Germans completely unprepared, because they had been duped into believing the Allies would strike elsewhere.

We were fortunate in having some military intelligence specialists who saw the value of bringing in the liberal intellectuals, to compensate for the immense inferiority of the British Army against the Wehrmacht, one of the most formidable instruments of war in the history of the world. One of those who did so, Kenneth Strong, who became Eisenhower's G2, used to complain that people simply would not grasp that you needed three British battalions to equal one German. If in the end we won, a major reason was the total intelligence dominance which was largely the result of the mobilisation of the liberal intelligentsia in Britain and the United States, and precisely that belief in open debate for which the Straussians have such contempt.

And indeed, what may have been the great missed opportunity to end the war much earlier ended was identified as a result of the painstaking research operation done by the liberal historian Hugh Trevor-Roper and the liberal philosopher Stuart Hampshire on the basis of the work of Strachey and Knox. What Trevor-Roper saw clearly -- as Strauss did not in 1933 and Bloom apparently could not decades later -- was the fundamental gulf between the Prussian conservatives of the General Staff and the millenarian 'Caesarism' of the Nazis. Trevor-Roper courted an ignominous sacking in his efforts to get Churchill to respond to the overtures which were being made by the head of German military intelligence, Admiral Canaris. Unfortunately Churchill, great man that he was, was no more capable than Strauss or Bloom of grasping this fundamental ideological faultline. What may have been one of the best opportunities to end the war -- and of course the Holocaust -- and prevent the coming of Soviet power into Central Europe had been created by precisely those qualities of liberal intellectuals that the Straussians so despise. It was simply never explored.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

August 2020

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31          
Blog powered by Typepad