Darwinian Larry, Me, and Esoteric Perspectives on Political Science

by Peter Augustine Lawler

As a way of introducing you to the fabulous issue and a half of Perspectives on Political Science devoted to issues concerning esoteric writing raised by Arthur Melzer’s Reading Between the Lines, I present Larry Arnhart’s very able introduction. Larry does me the service of presenting all the authors from the first half, adds his own commentary on an unresolved issue, and (most of all!) presents the takeaway quote from my article, saying that he agrees with it.

Peter Minowitz has done quite an exceptional job of not only recruiting all these leading experts but actually working with each of them to improve his or her contribution.

The second part of the symposium will feature an erudite and provocative contribution by Peter Thiel.

On the basis of my agreement with Darwinian Larry: I’m just guessing, but I think it’s because he and I have genuine confidence that the truth is life doesn’t stink. Or stinks for everyone but philosophers. Larry really believes that Darwin is right and nature is our home. And so he thinks all that transhumanist stuff is undesirable and almost certainly impossible. If we just live according to our social desires, we’ll be happy enough, at least usually.

I don’t think Darwin explains it all, although he certainly explains a lot. Nature is home to a point, but not our true(est) home. I don’t think our deepest desire is to understand the impersonal necessity that governs everything, including each of us. And I don’t think “personal logos” is an oxymoron. I do think the big issues revolve around the truth about love and suffering, and a premise of classical esotericism seems to have been an error about what the truth is.

To Larry’s unresolved issue: I don’t think Strauss agreed with the claim of many Enlightenment thinkers that the need for esoteric writing was fading away because the truth or wisdom would be readily available and basically uncontroversial. To correct Justice Kennedy: The progress of liberty in our country eradicates some blind spots and creates others. Strauss’s strategy of making a public issue about secret writing was a kind of desperation move to keep inconvenient truth alive, not to mention, as Melzer says, keep “the humanities” alive as a source of truth and not just a product of their times. In one sense, History in the Marxist/Heglian sense is dead; almost nobody regards him- or herself as “History fodder” — or for that matter “species fodder” or in any fundamental respect part of a whole greater than him- or herself. We’re all about the autonomy — all about me – these days.

But there’s still more loose and incipiently tyrannical writing about being on the right side of History and about denying the possibility of a point of view that stands above History in the service of the permanent truth about God or nature. Most students of Strauss think they’ve done their job when they find that point of view with “the philosopher.”  That, of course, is not good enough or maybe even beside the fundamental point. But it’s better than nothing.

Postmodern Conservative

Reflections on politics, culture, and education.