Friday, June 13, 2003

SPEAKING OF WONDERFUL PHILOSOPHERS: Thanks in part to my influence (reassurance that, in fact, this blog isn't quite good for NOTHING), my co-blogger and correspondent Tristero has a lovely post up about his sometimes teacher, that famous and hilarious philosophical personality, Sidney Morgenbesser (who, incidentally, was I believe close to Williams through their close mutual friend Berlin). The post is a wonderful portrait of another true philosopher -- someone genuinely and ardently in love with the quest for truth and wisdom. It's also, being about Morgenbesser, quite funny. Read it.

SAD NEWS: Sir Bernard Arthur Owen Williams has died, aged 73, in his hotel room in Rome. There is a good obit in the Guardian.
I believe that Williams was, at his death (which occured this past Tuesday), one of the greatest moral philosophers in the world, and will I think be remembered as one of the most important moral philosophers of the late 20th century. His work combined the sharpness and rigour of the best Anglo-American philosophy --at which Williams, with his quick, agile, incisive mind excelled --with an attention to history (both of philosophy, and generally) and art, as well as a deep engagement with the Ancient Greek world and Nietzsche in particular, which are all too rare among analytic philosophers.
Some of the criticisms that can be made of analytic philosophy can, to be sure, be made of Williams' work as well. Critics suggested that there was more quickness than fastness -- that Williams was good at philosophical reparte, but didn't leave much of substance in the way of positive argument. Yet, because he was a sceptic --and a sceptic of a particular sort, at once sardonic, matter of fact, honest, unsparing, caring, critical, pessimistic, and cheerful as only a disillusioned, but still determined, humanist can be -- the fact that he didn't build systems, that his work remained often critical, usually suggestive, often thrillingly clarifying yet also troubling and thought-provoking -- is both to be expected, and to be applauded -- or at least appreciated. As the Guardian notes, Williams was an intellectual iconoclast -- even to the point of being an iconoclast of iconoclasm, who went after the new sacred cows of post modernism as much as the shibboleths of moral absolutism. Iconoclasts are often unpopular, and the natural reaction is to try to dismiss them. But they are usually salutary, and always necessary, and very often right. For we human beings, questers after truth, are also builders of idols, worshippers of self-blinding icons. Those who smash the icons make us feel challenged, even threatened, suddenly exposed without our prejudices and assumptions to protect us. But such exposure is necessary, however painful, if we care at all about the truth, and about honesty -- if, to paraphrase Williams' close friend Isaiah Berlin, we want to live and think and act openly, in the light, and not blindly, in the dark.
Allowing us to do this is the job of philosophy; and, that being so, Williams was a true, important, and valuable philosopher. His voice and mind will be much missed by the philosophical world, and I join them in mourning him; his company will be much missed by those who knew and loved him, and to them my heart goes out.
UPDATE: Jacob Levy posts on Williams at Volokh; Chris Bertram at his blog; Tom Runnacles pays a handsome, touching tribute to his one-time tutor (lucky Tom!). Meanwhile, the NYTimes has a good obit (which seems largely cannibalized from the Guardian), the Telegraph a better one, with a fuller treatment of Williams' ideas and a less vivid picture of his personality.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

HOPE, PERSUASION, AND POLITICS: A very belated response to Archidamus' post on Michael Walzer. Archidamus criticizes Walzer for relying on hope and myth, rather than dealing with reality. But this strikes me as a serious misreading of what Walzer is saying in the passages Archidamus quotes. In the first passage, I read Walzer as saying that we need to try to prevent the war on terror from becoming a war on Islam. In order to do so, we need to try to convince the majority of the Islamic world that our quarrel isn't with them, and that they should cooperate with us. By seeking to do this, by appealing to moderates within the Islamic world, we can try both to avoid a descent into anti-Moslem bigotry in our own culture, and further alienation/polarization of the majority of Moslems. This does involve trying to convince people to accept a certain view of themselves and of reality, by presenting it as the truth -- and this does seem to me uncomfortably close to the sort of neo-pragmatist 'redescription' advocated by Rorty, which often does seem to me to be a bit overly hopeful. But it also seems to me to just be good diplomacy.
In the other passages quoted, Walzer is talking more about trying to re-define Israel -- that is, convincing Israelis to reconceive of their country, to give up the myth of a greater Israel and instead adopt the ideal of a 'little Israel'. Walzer's also talking about the need to both symbolically, and actually, disown, and crush, the settler movement. It's true that Walzer is focussing on the dimension of rhetoric, an appeal to values and self-definition -- but to focus on these things is far from simply relying on hope (it's also, interestingly, rather close, in my view, to what David of OxBlog is trying to argue in his doctoral thesis -- that rhetoric matters in international relations, because once people adopt a certain rhetoric, their own promises and statements can be used to pressure them to follow through -- at least, that's how I've understood David to be saying when he's tried to describe his work to me through the haze of Laphroaig.) And it seems to me that in Israel, where politics is so often driven by myth and symbolism, Walzer's recommendations are, in fact, eminently practical.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

OF BRITS, THE BEEB, AND BIAS: Christopher Hitchens has a great, typically ferocious, online column on the ideological prejudices -- and uncomfortable penchant for picking on Paul 'Vulfervitz' -- exhibited by British journalists (link courtesy of reader RS); Anne Applebaum reports some particularly egregious, and at once quite irritating and quite funny, misperceptions and hyperboles about America held by many Brits (Bush's USA as analog to Stalin's USSR? I thought we'd buried such risible moral equivalences with the Berlin Wall). (Link courtesy of OxBlog)Her column does worry me a bit, though; she blames much of the absurdly overblown new anti-Americanism in Britain on US expats in London (and, presumably, elsewhere in the UK) who also distrust, revile, and badmouth Bush.
Oh, I see. So now I'M the problem. Humph.
Seriously, though, I think one should distinguish between disliking and distrusting Bush (which I think is fair enough -- after all, he's done a number of bad, offensive, ham-handed things, and he's misled people -- dislike and mistrust seem natural, appropriate responses to me), and over-stating the failings of American society and government to absurd, unreal proportions. Again, as with the case of anti-semitism, we need to be careful to distinguish anti-Americanism, which is a hysterical prejudice that thrives on fantasy rather than reality, from responsible and realistic criticism of America, which is all too often all too necessary.
That said, if I had spent enough time dealing with the BBC, I'd also probably be quick to cry anti-Americanism.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

ON DEALING THE ANTI-SEMITE CARD, II: Ok, now to the point I was trying to get to in the previous post. Eric Tam has suggested that labeling people anti-semites is 'the latest right wing undergrad fashion' and 'all the rage'. I take it from his general tone that he objects to this trend.
Now, this raises a point that troubles me. On the one hand, I, too, am uncomfortable with the swiftness and confidence with which many people throw about the anti-semite charge – and especially with the use of this charge to attack and seek to stigmatise critics of Israel (or, lately, US foreign policy). At the same time, I’ve been known to make the accusation myself – though I hope not without evidence or qualifications and acknowledgment that it’s awfully hard to tell whether someone is really anti-Semitic or not, and that the charge is a serious one which should be handled with care. And I think that, sometimes, the charge is justified, and is important to make – though again, it should be made with care, should be supported by solid evidence, and should be accompanied by qualifications.
But what I really want to look at here is a symmetry between the pro-Israel Right and the pro-civil rights Left.
Last week I attended a talk by the great civil rights activist Julian Bond (now a professor of history at UVA and director of the board of the NAACP). Bond, who’s something of a hero of mine, gave a rousing defence of affirmative action – a policy which, despite many misgivings about, and much dissatisfaction with, the way that it is often implemented, I support. So, I generally found Bond’s words inspiring. But one thing did bother me quite a bit. Bond argued that affirmative action remains necessary because there remains much prejudice against, and many serious obstacles and disadvantages facing, African-Americans. So far, so good. But he also suggested that opponents of affirmative action were motivated by a desire to deny and cover-up these disadvantages – and thus to keep African-Americans down. He seemed to suggest, in short, that opposing affirmative action was tied to racism – that those who oppose affirmative action either are racist themselves, or have been taken in by racists who’ve convinced them that racism is no longer a problem.
I have a real problem with this.
But it was yet another example of the ease, and indeed enthusiasm, with which many proponents of civil rights (and, still more, many practitioners of ‘identity politics’) on the Left hurl about the racism charge.
Again, as with those who cry anti-Semitism against vociferous critics of Israel, they’re not necessarily wrong; and I’ve been known to join them when I think their charges justified. There undoubtedly exists a good deal of racism, often cleverly disguised behind reasonable-sounding – and, indeed, sometimes intrinsically reasonable – arguments, just as anti-Semitism often lies behind criticisms of Israel and its supporters which are, in fact, well-founded. And, when someone does seem to be motivated by racism, or to appeal to racist prejudices to advance his or her own agenda, he or she should be called on it.
At the same time, there are many people who are critical of affirmative action, critical of other policies intended to help African-Americans, critical of African-American (and other group) identify politics, and the racial demagoguery to which they all too often give rise, who are not racist at all – who, indeed, object to all of these things precisely because they think such policies, politics, and rhetoric are themselves racist, or foster and sustain racial resentments and tensions. I think that these criticisms are sometimes valid, and sometimes not – just as I think criticisms of Israel are sometimes valid, and sometimes not; but I also think that, even when not valid, they are often sincere, and based on a commitment to principles which I share.
What I’m trying to say, I think, is that we should be very careful in making accusations of either racism of anti-semitism against those with whom we disagree about policies that affect African-Americans or Jews; but we should also acknowledge that racism and anti-Semitism remain real, powerful forces, and that not all accusations about them are ill-founded, or hysterical, or to be dismissed out of hand.
I also find it problematic that many of those who engage in making one set of charges, object vehemently to the other – and object vehemently to people who disagree with them objecting vehemently to their own making of charges. I mean, think about it: how often have we seen or heard people shout racism, and then turn around and criticize others for shouting anti-semitism? How many people can we name who shout anti-semitism, and then complain strenuously when other people shout racism?
I don’t think that this reflects hypocrisy. I do think it reflects an unfortunate cultural trend of our day – the romance of victimhood, the appeal of adopting the role of victim – and the jealous guarding of that role against others. And I do think that it reflects a certain self-righteousness, a failure to enter into the experiences and feelings of others, or to step back and regard one’s own responses critically, and as others might. I think that anyone who has ever made accusations of anti-semitism or racism against people because of the political stances they’ve taken – or who has merely imputed such motivations to them silently – should exercise caution and entertain self-doubts in making such charges – and in condemning others for resorting to similar charges.

ON DEALING THE ANTI-SEMITE CARD: My former classmate Eric Tam has criticized my correspondent and friend Eliana Johnson for her allegations that Yale Prof. Mazin Qumsiyeh is an anti-semite. (Neither permalink is working, alas, but Eric's blog can be found here -- the post in question is the last one for Wednesday June 4 -- and Eliana's can be found here.
I find myself somewhat bothered both by Eliana's original post, and still more by Eric's response. First, Eliana's original post: she does explicitly level the charge of anti-Semitism at Qumsiyeh, without then wholly demonstrate. What she does demonstrate is that Qumsiyeh is vociferously, and somewhat paranoically, anti-Israel and anti-Zionist, and believes that US foreign policy is being directed by a Zionist junta. This, of course, amounts to yet another 'Jewish cabal provoking the war' theory. But, again, we need to be careful: there are many people who are anti-Israel -- some quite rightly, some hysterically so -- who are not anti-Semitic - they have no ill-feelings for Jews as a individuals or as a people, and would be opposed to violence or discrimination against Jews qua Jews, but they do regard Israel as an unjust, criminal state, and it's supporters in the US as sinister and malign in their influence.
Now, as Eric DOESN'T note, Eliana's charges seem to be supported by later developments. For Qumsiyeh subsequently -- as Eliana notes in a later post, and details here (yes, dear reader, I know, it's in FrontPage magazine. This does not necessarily mean that it isn't true. Really.) -- sent out an e-mail to the Yale Coalition for Peace, naming names of all thos Yale students who, he charged, were members of a 'Pro-war' 'Straussian' 'cabal'. The list comprised the names of 64 Yale students -- all Jewish. The students were, in fact, members of Yale Friends of Israel, many of whom were, in fact, anti-war.
Qumsiyeh's list seems to have been a mistake -- he seems to have accidentally compared two copies of the Yale Friends of Israel e-mail list, thinking that he was comparing a copy of that list with a copy of the Yale College Students for Democracy list. Still, the fact that he was seeking to demonstrate the connection between support for the war and support for Israel, to the extent of convincing himself that two identical lists represented a conspiracy rather than an error -- and that he attributed to all those he named beliefs that they did not, in fact, either hold or show any evidence of holding (the allegation that all those on the list subscribed to the Straussian 'theology'. Strauss did write on religion, by the way, but he wasn't a theologian, and his beliefs don't constitute a theology), combined with his frequent attacks, not just on Israeli policies, but on Israel itself and it's right to exist at all, and frequent allegations of pro-Israel conspiracies among prominent American Jews -- does look pretty bad. I wouldn't want to stake my life or my reputation on the claim that he's anti-semitic, but his charges do seem to go well beyond valid criticisms of Israel or the US, and to reflect an inordinate suspicion of all friends of Israel -- and perhaps all Jews.
But, back to Eric's response. I guess the first thing that bothers me about it is that Eric's a grad student, and thus a TA, in Poli Sci at Yale, and Eliana is an undergrad there. Now, I think that TAs should, of course, be allowed to express their disagreement with, and criticism of, the undergraduates they teach or might teach; and, in any event, Eliana is a generous spirit and tough cookie, who's unlikely to be intimidated or become resentful against Eric; and I'm sure that, if Eric ever found Eliana in his section, he would behave towards her with perfect professionalism -- so it shouldn't be too much of a problem if Eliana should ever wind up in Eric's section. I do feel, though, that Eric might've adopted a more thoughtful, and less snide, tone in criticising a possible future student of his.
This points to a larger problem with this whole scholar-blogger enterprise -- and something which I've found troubling in recent months about debates within the academy over the war on Iraq, and other aspects of US policy. It seems to me that the already deeply politicized American academy has become even more politicized, and that many academics have increasingly seen fit to comment on political issues -- and, still more, to monitor and attack one another's comments -- with increasing heat. And I do fear that this ideological back-and-forth, represented by both Eliana's attack on Qumsiyeh and Eric's criticism of that attack, is damaging the standards of civility and mutual respect which are so vital to the purposes and health of the academy. This isn't to say that such mutual criticism, and even, on occasion, condemnation, are unhealthy or inappropriate -- I don't believe that at all. But I do think we all have to be very careful about the tone we adopt, the accusations that we make, the words that we use, and how far we give in to our own feelings of indignation.
This was originally going to be a post about charging people with anti-semitism, but I've wandered far afield; so, rather than make this long post even longer, I think I'll turn to that issue in a separate post.

ENDING ON A HIGH NOTE: Much of my blogging seems to be devoted to criticism or lament. Which can be fun; but grows as tiresome for me, eventually, as it probably is for my readers from the start. It's always nice to be able to praise and recommend. So, before I slump off to bed at this ungodly hour, let me conclude the blogging-day by directing you, dear reader, to this profile of Bryan Magee -- philosopher, politician, broadcaster, music critic, novelist and poet; a fascinating, talented, delightful (and also quite stubborn and opinionated) man -- and one whom I'm very glad and proud to be able to say I know and am on friendly terms with.
And so, to bed.
UPDATE: The (London) Times also has a piece on Magee; it is, not surprisingly, far more sensationalistic, focussing on his account of his horrendous, unloving mother, and giving little sense of Magee's later accomplishments. Which is yet another incident illustrating why, for all it's ideological slant, I still find the Guardian a better paper than the Times -- and deplore what Rupert Murdoch and his army of darkness have wrought. (There, you see -- back to the criticism and lament)

GETTING TO THE BOTTOM OF THINGS: Finally! After many fumbling attempts to link Leo Strauss to the policy of the current administration – and a few more successful demonstrations of the influence of the strategic thinker Albert Wohlstetter on policy makers in or close to the Bush White House (the Wohlstetter story – being actually somewhat substantive, and having some basis in fact – of course never went as far as the fantastical Strauss one), the media has finally uncovered the true intellectual roots of Bush’s war on Saddam.
Leon Trotsky.
(This revelation brought to you by Jeet Heer, who also covered the Strauss angle.)
Now, first of all, there’s the inconsistency of these accounts. Strauss and Wohlstetter inhabited completely different intellectual worlds (though both, like Wolfowitz, had early training in maths. Oh my god! Neo-conservatism is just a big MATHEMATICIANS CONSPIRACY!!! You heard it here first, folks.) But Trotsky – how the heck do you get Trotsky and Strauss and Wohlstetter into the same boat (unless by telling them that they’ll be sent in it to blow up Stalin. Hmn. Actually, if you substitute Saddam for Stalin, that analogy sort of works. Huh.) Now, it may be that many Trotskyites, Straussians, and Wohlstetter disciples all supported the war on Iraq. However, the really important thing to note is that the major Trot parties were opposed to the war (to the extent of even making common cause with the Stalinists of ANSWER. Leave it to George Bush to overcome the gap created by a well-aimed ice-pick to the scull. He really is a great peace-maker, isn’t he?) So, contra what Heer claims, the Trotskyists haven’t ended up being advocates of US expansionism – a few ex-Trots have, while most actual Trots have opposed it (my one consolation on reading this is knowing that now a whole bunch of Trotskyites have some sense of how the Straussians have felt. Though, actually, they’re probably more upset by the charge.)
Ok, second main problem: the evidence is flimsy. Not just flimsy – but McCarthyesque. The case is based on the fact that several ‘liberal hawks’ – Paul Berman, Christopher Hitchens, Kanan Makiya – were at one point Trotskyites – or, even, in Berman’s case, were just influenced by thinkers who were influenced by Trotsky (can’t you just see Heer in the HUAC chair, calling up Paul Berman? ‘Mr. Berman, I have evidence that back in 1969 you attended dinner with a group of members of the ISO – admit it! And I notice you own copies of most of CLR James’ books. You’re a no-good Commie Red!)
Now, first of all, merely knowing about Trotskyism and engaging in discussion with Trotskyites is a far cry from being a Trotskyite – though Heer seems to think Trotskyism is a sort of easily communicable intellectual disease – once exposed to it, you’re contaminated (hence the laughable roping in of Wolfowitz – the indispensable member of every cabal – as being a part of all this because he ‘knows all that stuff, … He's definitely aware’ (this from Stephen Schwartz, who was indeed a Trotskyist and continues to evince some affection for the old revolutionary hysteric, despite having moved rather far to the Right. Though Schwartz also adds that Wolfowitz was never a part of Trotskyism – but that’s not enough to keep Heer from speaking of Wolfie and Lev being ‘roped together’).
Second, most of these people are at most EX-Trotskyites. Hitchens seems to still feel a bit of nostalgia for old Lev Davidovitch, though his current intellectual/ideological heroes seem to be Rosa Luxembourg and George Orwell (both opponents of Stalinism, again, but neither a Trotskyite). Makiya and Berman are now staunchly Left-Liberal, far removed from Trotsky’s vision of total Communist revolution. As for Schwartz, well, he’s a believing convert to Islam – while Trotsky was a militant atheist. That’s kinda an important difference, even if Schwartz doesn’t seem all that bothered by it.
Heer correctly notes the Trotskyite dedication to internationalism and idealistic desire to remake the world – and it’s true that if you take Trotskyite talk about the spread of Communism/socialism and replace the last terms with ‘democracy’, you’ve pretty much gotten the neo-con and liberal-hawk agendas. But, well, changing from the word ‘Communism’ to the word ‘democracy’ is, um, kind of significant. And there are plenty of other earlier thinkers who rather into the idea of spreading democracy around the world (Jefferson anyone?).
So, this is another pretty flimsy argument which, from an intriguing fact – yep, a lot of smart, ardent political ideologues were attracted to Trotskyism when young, and have more recently favoured liberating Iraq from Ba’athism – a journalist eager for a story has spun some sort of large, dramatic, portentous trend.
Well, I can’t really complain. It gives me something to write about.
Still, I do find all of these intellectual exposes irritating, and highly dubious. Largely because they’re shoddy and contrived, but also because they tend to focus attention away from the real people who are responsible for US policy, and their real motivations – Bush, Powell, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice. And related to this focus of attention away from the truly central figures, there’s the uncomfortable Jewish factor. Who’s always named in these intellectual cabal stories? Wolfowitz. Look at the list of people named in this one – Berman, Schwartz. Hitchens, who’s half Jewish, and Makiya, who isn’t at all but teaches at Brandeis (which is getting close …)
So, can we please have an end to these stories about how dead thinker X is behind the war with Iraq?
Or, if journalists must keep finding dead thinkers to credit Bush’s policies to, could they please, please, for a change, just for once, find a thinker to pick on who isn’t a Jew?
(NB: This is not to say that such speculation is motivated by anti-semitism. Merely that it would be nice if journalists, who seem to have a certain imaginative talent, could be inventive enough to propose a conspiracy theory which didn’t reinforce the prejudices of anti-semites by crediting US policy to cabals of Jewish eggheads)
UPDATE: Reader RS points out that Heer isn't original -- the Trotsky charge was made (with a rather more assertive emphasis on the Jewish angle) by Michael Lind in the New Statesman (well, if it appeared in the NS, it CAN'T be anti-semitic! [careful there! And see the posts about making charges of anti-semitism, above -- ed.]). Lind's article is discussed, and lambasted, by Robert Lieber in this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education

Monday, June 09, 2003

SHIRKING DUTY: I still haven't formulated a coherent response to Habermas's essay on European identity and foreign policy; but happily Chris Bertram has done a very good job of it, with which I think I agree; so, for the time being at least, I'm content to just direct all interested readers to his excellent post on the subject.

OH, SH*T: Seems to now be some doubt as to whether or not coalition forces got 'Chemical Ali'.
I hope that these reports -- as yet pretty nebulous -- prove unfounded. Having Saddam and his disgusting progeny likely roaming around free, along with Osama bin Laden, is bad enough; but Chemical Ali as well ... sheesh.

SURPRISE: Another post on Leo Strauss -- who would've thought. At some point I really should just restrain myself and let this story die with dignity (bit late for that, I think ...) But I can't resist, and should omit, mentioning a really good piece on Strauss by Bret Stephens in the Jerusalem Post (via Andrew Sullivan via Oxblog). Stephens quotes one of my favourite Strauss passages:
"there exists a very dangerous tendency to identify the good man with the good sport, the cooperative fellow, the 'regular guy,' i.e., an overemphasis on a certain part of a social virtue and a corresponding neglect of those virtues which mature, if they do not flourish, in privacy, not to say in solitude: by educating people to cooperate with each other in a friendly spirit one does not yet educate nonconformists, people who are prepared to stand alone, to fight alone.... Democracy has not yet found a defense against the creeping conformism and the ever-increasing invasion of privacy which it fosters."
Oooh. Sinister stuff indeed. I can really see how such passages would give off the idea that Strauss was a 'Jewish Nazi' who churned out a cadre of students bent on imperialist world domination. Stephens also puts nicely what some of us find attractive about Strauss:
'Strauss was not so much a Platonist as he was a Socratic. In other words, he was not chiefly interested in a doctrine, but in a premise, a method and a purpose. The premise was the philosopher's knowledge of his own ignorance. The method was a dialogical form of investigation which moved forward by sincere, not sophistical, questions.'
Of course, he then adds 'the purpose was to discover what is "right by nature" -- that is, the things that are permanently, not provisionally, true.' Which is something that some of us also have problems with. But such misgivings are cause for consideration and debate -- not conspiracy-mongering, or contemptuous and dogmatic dismissals from on high. Stpehens also outlines Strauss's critiques of relativism and historicism -- important to consider for anyone trying to make moral sense of the world, even if many (myself included) find them less conclusive than Stephens does; and his critique of behaviourism, less vital now that behaviourism has waned as a dominant theory, though to my mind among Strauss's most effective -- and valid -- contributions to intellectual life.
All in all, Stephens' piece is probably the most substantive and faithful account of Strauss's thought on the web, at least that I've seen. If you want to indulge in gossip and fantasy, there are plenty of articles out there for you; but if you want to get a good idea of what Strauss was actually on about, and why he's had the imapct he has, Stephens' piece should now be your port of call.
ADDENDUM: Micah Schwartzman (whom I had the pleasure of meeting the other week) has a good compendum of links to blogging and journalism about Strauss (to which I'm unable to link -- blogger!). Micah suggests that someone put together a short-list of useful, quality writings on Strauss, and suggests, for starters, Charles Larmore's critical, serious, and incisive article (The New Republic (July 3, 1989); reprinted in Larmore, The Morals of Modernity
The best, though by no means easiest, way to encounter Strauss is through his own writings: I think it's best to start out with An Introduction to Political Philosophy, and then go on to Natural Right and History for his account and critique of modernity, and Persecution and the Art of Writing for the fullest explanation of his methodology. Those interested in further exploring his thoughts on the Ancients can then check out The City and Man and On Tyranny.
However, life is short, Strauss is hard, and most of us need some help grappling with him. Strauss's students have, of course, been eager to help: see especially the following
Allan Bloom, "Leo Strauss: September 20, 1899 - October 18, 1973.." Political Theory 2 (1974): 373-92.
Kenneth Deutsch, ed. ed. The Crisis of Liberal Democracy: A Straussian Perspective
Victor Gourevitch, "Philosophy and Politics." Review of Metaphysics 22 (1968): 58-84, 281-328.
Gregory Bruce Smith, "The Post-modern Leo Strauss ?." History of European Ideas 19 (1-3), 191-197 (July 1994).
Nathan Tarcov, "Philosophy and History: Tradition and Interpretation in the Work of Leo Strauss." Polity 16 (1983-84): 5-29
Catherine Zuckert, Postmodern Platos: Nietzsche, Heidegger, Gadamer, Strauss, Derrida. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1996
I also recommend, with special pleasure and extreme partiality, the following articles by my friend and teacher, Steven B. Smith:
"Leo Strauss: Between Athens and Jerusalem." Review of Politics 53, no.1 (Winter 1991): 75-99; "Destruktion or Recovery? Leo Strauss' Critique of Heidegger." Review of Metaphysics 51 (2), 345-377 (December 1997); and "Leo Strauss's Platonic Liberalism" Political Theory 28 no 6 787-809.
There is also a sympathetic engagement with Strauss's critique of historicism in Gadamer's Truth and Method, which I haven't read, but hope to soon.
As far as reasonably balanced appraisals go, in addition to Larmore, Robert Pippin's "The Modern World of Leo Strauss." Political Theory 20, no. 3 (August 1992): 448-72.
is worth checking out. On the negative side, Myles Burnyeat's somewhat nasty and overly hostile, but nevertheless damaging, critique, 'Sphinx Without a Secret' New York Review of Books 32, no. 9 (30 May 1985): 30-36 is important; the criticisms of Stephen Holmes and the industrious, egregious Shadia Drury lean heavily on Burnyeat, but to my mind are less effective for being overdone (for a good critique of Holmes' account of anti-liberalism, with particular emphasis on his mis-reading of Strauss, see Peter Berkowitz's 'Liberal Zealotry'. A vigorous attack on Strauss's methodology can be found in J.G.A. Pocock, "Prophet and Inquisitor, or, A Church Built Upon Bayonets Cannot Stand: A Comment on Mansfield's 'Strauss's Machiavelli." Political Theory 3 (1975): 385--401; against Pocock, see Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr. "Strauss' Machiavelli" and "Reply to Pocock." ' Political Theory 3 (1975): 372-84, 402-5.
The best study of Strauss's influence is probably NOT Drury's Leo Strauss and the American Right, but Robert Devigne's Recasting Conservatism: Oakeshott, Strauss and the Response to Postmodernism. There's also the comprehensive, and at times ever-so-slightly cultish-seeming, Leo Strauss, The Straussians, and the Study of the American Regime
There. That should keep anyone who wants to pursue these matters plenty busy for now.

WHAT A HOEGAARDEN AND LEMON WILL GET YOU: Aw. David at Oxblog likes me -- he really likes me! And this humble blog. Many thanks, Dave. (And thanks for sharing your chips at the Turf last Thursday. They were very good.)
In other local news, Josh Chafetz goes punting; while he appears to have had a near run-in with a motor-boat, he doesn't say anything about getting his pole stuck in the riverbed and not being able to lift it again without the help of a taciturn by compassionate German post-doc. I haven't gone back on the river since.
Speaking of those loveable chaps over at OxBlog, Patrick has added a response to my response to his comparative study of the personal adds in the NYRB and LRB (I understand that, in the proud tradition of Francis Fukuyama and Fareed Zakaria, Patrick is planning to expand this seminal [ahem!] article into a book, to which we all look forward) (Ok, not really). Patrick writes that I write (ok, this is getting TOO self-referential even for me ...) that 'the downside of advertising in the LRB is that you might end up with someone in the Balliol MCR....' This is of course not what I wrote, but it's a fair concern.
Ah well. We can't all be so fortunate as to wind up paired off with members of the Merton or Magdalen MCRs. As for Trinity, well ...

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