Even more importantly, says Ryn, Catholics recognize in Straussians figures who share their own “alienation” about living in a predominantly Protestant country. [. . .] Straussians provide a narrative about the American founding that make ethnic Catholics feel secure about their Americanness.
Paul Gottfried on Leo Strauss, Allan Bloom, and their Catholic dupes:
Ryn raises the question of why Straussian doctrines have caught on among self-described conservatives. His answers here do not surprise me, since for many years the two of us discussed this puzzling matter and reached similar conclusions.
Conservatism Inc. has been so totally infiltrated from the Left that those ideas that used to define the Left—abstract universalism, the rejection of ethnic differences, the moral imperative to extend equality to all human relations—has spread to the official Right. The political debate in America now centers on Leftist propositions. Accordingly, someone like Bloom, who could barely conceal his animus against what remains of a traditional Western world based on what Ryn rightly calls a “classical and Christian” heritage, could be featured in the late 1980s as an American patriot and cultural traditionalist.
When Bloom declaimed against the hippies and potheads in his tracts, Christian America rose to his defense as a man of the Right. Never mind that Bloom was a flagrant homosexual and possibly a pederast—an erotic predilection that first comes out in print in the novel Ravelstein (1999), written by Saul Bellow, a close friend of Bloom. Personally, I am still hard pressed to find anything in Bloom’s defense of America that sounds even vaguely “Right Wing.”
Ryn also observes that Catholic intellectuals gravitate toward Straussian teachings, a fact that I dwell on in my book with greater thoroughness.
It is clear that real Straussians, as opposed to Catholic wannabe Straussians, are blatantly contemptuous of revealed religion, particularly Christianity, and work persistently to wash out any religiosity from those political philosophers they profess to admire. By the time these plastic surgeons finish with Plato, or any other thinker whom they claim to be able to interpret with an unmediated view of the past (Straussians do not recognize historical distance), they’ve turned their subjects into far different beings from what they likely were. As I quip in my book, Straussian subjects—including the ancient Greeks–are usually made to look like Jewish agnostics living in New York or Chicago and attending synagogue services once a year.
But the Catholic goyim love the Straussians because they yap on about “morals” and “civic virtue.” They even occasionally, while blatantly ignoring the facts, try to identify Strauss and his disciples with medieval scholastic thought.
Even more importantly, says Ryn, Catholics recognize in Straussians figures who share their own “alienation” about living in a predominantly Protestant country. As Canadian philosophy professor Grant Havers documents in a forthcoming book about the studied avoidance by Straussian interpreters of America’s Protestant heritage, Straussians provide a narrative about the American founding that make ethnic Catholics feel secure about their Americanness.
According to the Straussians, America was founded on secular, materialist and democratic principles, but in no way on Protestant ones. Thus, if the Straussians try to de-Christianize and de-ethnicize America, they also conveniently cover up the Protestant aspects of a specifically American tradition.
Catholic Straussians (of whom there are many in Conservatism, Inc.) feel safe living in a “propositional nation” and “global democracy” in which they don’t feel threatened by the real American Protestant (and/or Northern European) American past, extending back to the colonial period. It’s more convenient to jettison such associations for the vision of a constantly changing hybrid society that is held together by universal, egalitarian propositions.
Ryn is quite good on these points. But (alas) he falls down on the job when it comes to naming the most obvious recruits to the Straussian persuasion. He hints at identifying them, but may have recoiled from the implications of being extremely candid. As a Jew, I shall do it for him.
Straussianism is unthinkable without the rise of American Jewry to journalistic and academic importance. The “alienation” from the gentile historic and cultural heritage that Ryn is analyzing applies with particular relevance to Jews; and the construction of a Straussian ideology, like Cultural Marxism, may be unthinkable without the critical Jewish contribution. Moreover, the puff pieces about the Straussians’ deep intellectuality that have periodically appeared in the NYT, Washington Post, National Review, Wall Street Journal and Weekly Standard fully reflect the rise to prominence achieved by the group that typically produce the panegyrics to Straussian wisdom as well as Straussian doctrines.
Ryn notes the common ground between the author of The Closing of the American Mind and, according to Ryn’s description, a radical leftist Harvard professor of literature Stephen Greenblatt, who apparently specializes in deconstructing great literature by emphasizing its socioeconomic context. Both seemed equally intent on divesting America of its ethnic and religious roots. But there is a difference between the two—the Jewishness of whom should be taken as a critical given.
Whereas Greenblatt tries to reduce the achievements of Western culture to accidental products of historical developments, Bloom and his kindred spirits have been more ingenious. They have created their own narrative about the American and Western traditions, which is a glaringly truncated, hypermodern version of both, and they have sold these interpretations to the cognitively disadvantaged or hopelessly gullible as some kind of “conservatism.”