Rescuing Plato

Leo Strauss
Behind the neo-con curtain
Norman Madarasz

Plato, Leo Strauss & Allan Bloom

Much ink has been spilt of late on the role played by philosopher Leo Strauss (d. 1973) on the education of a number of prominent neoconservative ideologues who now occupy key intelligence and advisory positions in the Bush administration.

It is ironic to see the mainstream press and culture be so willing to lodge causa continuity and blame on a foreign intellectual for homegrown extremism. The mainstream outlets are usually far more expressive in the garb worn to downplay any direct influence intellectuals might have on daily life.

More typical is the trail of recycling and simplification - features from which the American mainstream press no longer seems able to wean itself. Intellectual influence may not be easy to understand, but when the trace is blurred through sensationalism it merely dissipates into irrelevance.

In the English-speaking world, Seymour Hersh is credited with having ferreted out this distant connection between the neo-cons and Strauss in a May 5 article on high-level intelligence manufacturing, published in the New Yorker.

A day earlier the New York Times published an attack on Strauss's philosophy as it took aim against some of his students, such as Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense. The piece makes only a distant reference to the work done by two French journalists who had covered the subject for Le Monde. In these days of cowardly journalism, it would be far too normal to let credit not lie where it is due.

The fact remains that the most extensive study of the background to the neoconservative Project, their New American Century Project, was indeed published in France's Le Monde on April 15, 2003.

It has been pillaged with scarce credit given to its original authors. More important is what has been left out of its findings.

The piece not only examines the formative role of Leo Strauss on the Project, but also that of the late Albert Wohlstetter, strategy guru at the RAND Corporation and professor at the University of Chicago, and especially that of Allan Bloom, the late author of The Closing of the American Mind.

Like Wolfowitz, Bloom had studied under Leo Strauss. Among his own students was William Kristol. And the view Bloom espoused in his massive best-seller has had a profound impact on the way Americans now view the intellectual contributions of other countries and cultures - with the exception of Israel's.

That this key Le Monde article was not entirely published in translated form by the New York Times or the New Yorker raises perennial questions regarding American arrogance towards the cultural and journalistic productions of other countries.

Academia is thirsting through a translation drought of international social science research. The publishing moguls have shifted the market away from political economic criticism toward the child's fantasy world of Harry Potter incorporated, in which even adults are begging to enter.

Since postmodernism struck hard in the artistic realm, culturally attuned English-speakers seem to have become obsessed with end-points and limits, of the universe curving onto its own content, as if outside the English-language there is a desert from which only the void is to be uttered. Angst with the mother tongue has rung in concert with American expansionism.

[read more]