The teachings of political theorist Leo Strauss (18991973) have recently received new attention, as political observers have become aware of the influence Strauss’s students have had in shaping conservative agendas of the Bush administrationincluding the war on Iraq. This provocative book examines Strauss’s ideas and the ways in which they have been appropriated, or misappropriated, by senior policymakers.
Anne Norton, a political theorist trained by some of Strauss’s most famous students, is well equipped to write on Strauss and Straussians. She tells three interwoven narratives: the story of Leo Strauss, a Jewish German-born émigré, who carried European philosophy into a new world; the story of the philosophic lineage that came from Leo Strauss; and the story of how America has been made a moral battleground by the likes of Paul Wolfowitz, Leon Kass, Carnes Lord, and Irving KristolStraussian conservatives committed to an American imperialism they believe will usher in a new world order.
Many neoconservative intellectuals and Bush Administration officials claim Leo Strauss, the philosopher who fled Nazi Germany for the United States in the nineteen-thirties, as their political forebear. Norton studied at Chicago, the center of the Straussian academic universe, and the book has the flavor of an amusing tell-all. (When she moves to Brown and discovers Lacan, Foucault, and Derrida, one horrified Straussian says, “You have gone over to the dark side of the Force.”) Norton’s account is a sort of critical field guide to Straussians, taxonomizing their “variants and subspecies” and assessing the ways in which some of them have affected U.S. foreign policy. She points out that, whereas neoconservatives talk of clashes between Islam and the West, Strauss was a close reader of medieval Muslim political theory and decried Western intellectuals for their ignorance of the non-Western world: “The Straussians have set themselves to guard the gates Strauss opened.”