I find it odd that Derb embraces the same critique that the Left makes against Straussians. At the same time, Cliff May’s explanation (how do you explain things to children) isn’t quite right either. At the heart of the Straussian idea of esotericism is the idea that philosophical inquiry is always subversive because all claims to justice have weaknesses or inadequacies and therefore the basis of all regimes is potentially unstable. A political philosopher in a decent regime would want to be careful not to undermine that regime’s decency through popular criticism of a regime’s weaknesses, in which case a worse regime will almost always follow. The same line of inquiry that seeks to illuminate the weaknesses of claims to justice will also counsel the necessity of prudence that justice itself requires.
The respect for religion arises not from its supposed utility, but because it might be simply true. If you read Strauss’s chapter on Max Weber or any of his several essays on theology and political philosophy (e.g. “Jerusalem and Athens”), you will see he is explicit that the open-minded political philosopher must admit the possibility that revelation might be simply true (i.e., philosophy cannot on its own terms refute the possibility of revelation). Kristol arguably manhandles this tension in a way that lends credence to the leftist view–a rare thing for Kristol. This holds a lesson for I.D., I think, in that evolution cannot be said to refute the idea of a Creator, as it does not get at the question of the initial origin of life. My own view is that the mistake of I.D. is that it seeks a non-miraculous explanation for miraculous phenomena–a contradiction of the very idea of revealed truth.