The Corner

Muravchik’s Beatdown

The current issue of Commentary has the letters-to-the-editor in response to Josh Muravchik’s outstanding essay on the prevailing campaign of idiocy, asininity and slander towards “neocons” (real and perceived). Some of the letters seem to score real points until you read Muravchik’s response. Muravchik thoroughly, incisively and almost brutally smacks back all of the nonsense thrown at Neocons from lefty critics and supposedly objective journalists. In my opinion he only let’s one pitch get over the plate. Jacon Heilbrunn writes in an otherwise thoughtful and even-tempered letter that:

“Obviously, [Leo] Strauss does not provide a blueprint for neoconservatism. But it seems fair to say that while not all neoconservatives are Straussians, almost all Straussians are neoconservatives. All of which suggests that neoconservativism may be more complicated than some of its adversaries care to admit.

After addressing many of Heilbrunn’s other points Muravchik deals with this one by responding:

“As for Mr. Heilbrunn’s interesting claim that almost all Straussians are neoconservatives, I wonder how he knows.”

This was clearly an attempt at civil sarcasm toward a less than adversarial critic (who often writes for Commentary himself). But Muravchik is really giving Heilbrunn something of a free pass. Without getting far into the weeds on what constitutes a Straussian, to say that “most” Straussians are neocons would require a level of uniformity among both neocons and Straussians Heilbrunn cannot demonstrate. Bob Goldwin, Walter Berns, Harvey Mansfield, Martin Diamond, Harry Jaffa, Peter Schramm, Ken Masugi, the late Allan Bloom, to name just a few can fairly be described as Straussians. They can all also be described as conservatives. I can think of nothing that makes them particularly “neoconservative.” Indeed, if neoconservatives are supposed to be particulary devoted to foreign policy (another misconception in my book), I’d be at pains to figure out how these guys are neoconservative at all. And, as William Galston’s example might indicate, I’m not even sure Straussians are even necessarily conservative, let alone neoconservative.

In other words, when it comes to most Straussians, the conservative ones get called “neoconservative” simply because they fit a journalistic — i.e. not an analytical or conceptual — preconception.

If Mr. Heilbrunn would like to send me a note explaining what specifically makes Straussians neoconservatives, I would love to see it and post it here.


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