The Corner

More Straussian Folly

That the administration is guided by Leo Strauss is now one of those things that significant sections of the press take as a given. Here’s Jonathan Kaplan in The Hill: “Each presidency has its intellectual darlings. Keynesian economists dominated the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations; Reagan sought out economists Milton Friedman and Martin Feldstein; and Clinton sought out such civic-minded professors as Harvard’s Robert Putnam (author of Bowling Alone) and Henry Louis ‘Skip’ Gates Jr. The Bush White House, however, is partial to followers of the late Leo Strauss, a political philosopher at the University of Chicago who is Putnam’s alter ego, said Harvey Mansfield, a Harvard philosopher who follows Strauss’s philosophy.”

I think Mansfield is having fun, speaking between the lines, with Kaplan. “The clearest proof of Straussian thought in the Bush lexicon is the use of the words ‘regime’ and ‘regime change,’ said Mansfield. ‘Those are big words, a concept you get in Plato and Aristotle … use the word in that meaning that getting rid of Saddam … [means] getting rid of all accompaniments to his regime and gives you the ability to introduce a democratic way of life, a wholesale change,’ Mansfield added” (ellipses and brackets in original). Three observations here: 1) Lots and lots and lots of non-Straussians use the words “regime” and “change,” sometimes in combination; 2) I would wager that there are more people in the Bush administration who are familiar with the works of Friedman that there are who are familiar with Strauss; and 3) It was charitable of Kaplan to pass over the topic of the first Bush administration’s favored intellectuals in silence.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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