Cliff Orwins review of Steven Smiths book on Leo Strauss is worth reading, as, apparently, is the book. In Orwins estimation (which I regard as quite reliable, if not authoritative), Smith deals ably with the grand themes of Strauss work, above all, the relationship between reason and revelation. If there is a shortcoming, it is in Smiths effort to offer up Strauss as a critic of the Iraq war:
The climax of Smith’s attempt to rescue Strauss from his critics, especially those who consider him the progenitor of neoconservatism, lies in a final discussion offering a critique of the war in Iraq delivered in the name of Strauss himself. The discussion focuses on the Bush administration’s definition of its goal as the elimination of political evil. By contrast, Smith emphasizes, Strauss always considered evil a permanent aspect of the human situation, and just as he stood against liberal illusions on this score, he would have objected no less strenuously to the illusions of present-day neoconservatives.
About the effort to pigeonhole Strauss as a neoconservative, Smith is undoubtedly right. But, to deal with last things first, his own effort to recruit Strauss to the anti-war cause is every bit as dubious. It is also an open question whether the current architects of American foreign policy have really been seized by the naive expectation of ending evil—as opposed merely to recognizing the need to fight it. Of one thing we can be sure: in politics, Strauss always insisted on calling things by their proper names. It is difficult to imagine that he would have objected to labeling 9/11 an act of evil; that is merely to call a spade a spade.
Still, as Smith is well aware, there is something futile in speculating about Strauss’s views on this or that policy. Far more important is the task of coming to terms with his thought. In this regard, Smith’s book is an excellent introduction, and can be read with profit by those already familiar with Strauss as well as by those coming to him for the first time.
Read the review and buy the book.
Hat tip: Bruce Sanborn.