Saturday, October 25, 2003

INTERMISSION: We take time out from our discussion of Ted Honderich, philosophical defender of terrorist violence, to note the expulsion from the Labour Party of George Galloway, political opponent of the ouster of Saddam Hussein. After being accused of being both a paid agent of the Ba'ath government and a swindler, and after making statements that sounded an awful lot like incitements to violence against, and to insubordination by, British troops, Galloway has been told that he's no longer welcome in Labour's ranks.
Much of the British press, including the BBC, has, of course, taken Galloway's side in reporting the news, as Norm Geras documents.
I don't have much sympathy for Galloway, and I think the coverage Norm reports is so heavily skewed as to be, as he suggests, merely laughable -- sometimes the British left-leaning press reaches a point so far out there, one can't even feel indignant any longer.
But reading of Galloway's ouster does make me wonder: what ever happened with the charges against him? Galloway's fallen off my own radar over the past several months, and I don't know whether the more serious charges of accepting money from Saddam, or using money collected in the name of charity for Iraqi children to fuel his own lavish liftestyle, have been found to have any substance to them. (I do find the suggestion that the evidence against him unearthed in the wreckage of Iraq is a forged plant a bit un-convincing, though; if the Brits and Americans are going to plant evidence to frame Galloway, why wouldn't they plant evidence of WMD -- which it would seem they haven't, since there isn't any. Which is itself a problem. Indeed, that the discoveries in the Iraqi archives make Saddam Hussein, George Galloway, and the Bush administration all look bad, in their very different ways, is one of the more re-assuring, in a terrible way, developments of recent months; one's world-view isn't WHOLLY off-base, it seems).

Thursday, October 23, 2003

TERRORISM: CRIME FOR HUMANITY, OR CRIME AGAINST? That's the question presented by the work of Ted Honderich, emeritus professor of philosophy at University College London, very distinguished writer on determinism and other philosophical problems, natty dresser, and apologist for political violence. Honderich decides that some terrorism, at least, is in the name and service of humanity, and is therefore justified. Richard Wolin, in this extensively argued article (via Normblog), takes issue with Honderich, as does Oxfam (which refused Honderich's offer to donate the proceeds of his book After the Terror to them. Bravo, Oxfam! I'm proud to buy my sugar and the occasional suit from them), Human Rights Watch, and just about everyone with a grain of sense. (Ahem)
Now, that last may make it sound like I'm coming down against Honderich. As, on balance, I do (I mean, he comes out in favour of terrorism!). But, first of all, I have to qualify any criticisms of Honderich by noting that I've not read his book (though I have read some of his other defenses of political violence, a subject he's been writing on for over three decades), so the arguments I'm attributing to him and commenting on are all arguments recounted by others, and if they're misrepresenting his book, then my criticisms of him of course carry no weight. That's caveat one. Caveat two is that his views shouldn't be dismissed out of hand, but should be examined and argued against -- as Wolin does -- and these arguments in turn need to be scrutinized. Caveat three has to do with anti-semitism.
As readers of this blog, as well as of Crooked Timer, will know, Honderich's German publisher has withdrawn his book amidst great furor due to charges of anti-semitism from a German academic (the Wolin article has a full account of this). Wolin takes up the question of anti-semitism, and concludes it thus:
"Was Honderich's endorsement of Palestinian suicide bombing anti-Semitic? Technically, no. Yet it could easily be construed in that way. For ... suicide bombings constitute a highly freighted act of political symbolism. They deliver an unambiguous message: All Jews -- men, women, children -- are legitimate targets of political murder. Thereby the bombings flirt with a discourse of genocide whose historical resonances are all too familiar and disturbing."
That 'Technically, no.' is truthful and telling, and the question is I think best left there. Honderich's personal actions and declarations suggest that he is no anti-semite (ironically, he refused to travel to Germany for many years -- I don't know if he still does -- due to the Holocaust. Which is perfectly in character with his moral extremism.) Furthermore, what Wolin says about the symbolism of Palestinian suicide bombing isn't necessarily true, and I don't think Honderich would accept it. Suicide bombings against Israel, to Honderich at least (I won't speak for the minds of the suicide bombers), would represent, I imagine, no more than the view that all Israelis, NOT Jews, are targets of political murder. This does seem to be the conclusion suggested by Honderich's expressed views, as I've seen them portrayed and found them to be in what works of his I've read. It is not anti-semitic; it says nothing about Jews as such, it does not involve violence towards or hatred of all Jews. It is based on the belief that Israel's occupation of the West Bank, and other actions, is immoral, that all those who are in some way, in Honderich's view, implicated in this occupation are immoral, and that they may thus justly be killed, and that if killing them is politically advantageous to just goals -- the end of occupation, etc. -- it is morally justified and even good.
There are a lot of things in this reasoning that are faulty, a lot that are wrong, a lot that are monstrous even. But none of it is anti-semitic. And if Honderich, as Wolin and others claim, suggests that the WTC attacks might be at least partially justified, or justified under certain circumstances, these views are in no way restricted to Jews or Israelis, but are applied by Honderich to all those he thinks are wrongdoers and may justly be murdered.
So, no, Honderich isn't an anti-semite. We shouldn't call him an anti-semite. We don't need to. Anti-semitism isn't the worst or the only crime one can accuse someone of (something that some people sometimes seem to forget). Honderich's beliefs are quite bad enough and worthy of blame and condemnation without playing the anti-semitism card. Invoking anti-semitism in this case, like others, is crying wolf. And given that we know that there are plenty of wolves out there, and that they indeed control a goodly portion of the world, we ought to stop it when it's not accurate or needed. We should focus on criticizing Honderich's views for what they are, not calling him names which even he doesn't deserve and confusing the issue -- and thus giving him a valid defense to mount.
Whether Honderich's views really are wrong, and whether Wolin's criticisms really are sound -- two separate questions -- is something I hope to address in a follow-up post. Stay tuned. (The answers, so far as I can tell and as I see it right now, are yes, and largely but not wholly. But that may change.)

ICONOCLASM: WHAT'S WRONG WITH THAT? Jacob Levy has a typically thoughtful and altogether very good post up at Volokh, continuing a discussion there dealing with the appropriateness of mockery of religious symbols or doctrines. Go read it.
I think I agree with all that Jacob says. I'd only add one caveat, which is that while mockery is a perfectly fair way of criticising religious beliefs that one finds, well, ridiculous, or dubious, one's mockery should be intelligent and well-thought out, and not overly snide or nasty, or merely sophmoric. It should be directed at pointing to the absurdity of the beliefs themselves -- not at hurting people's feelings (though no doubt all such mockery will be offensive. But there's a difference between mockery that makes a point -- the example of Abraham smashing the idols that Jacob gives is a good one -- and mockery that is just mean-spirited and directed at nothing more than upsetting people.)
Of course, one should be ALLOWED to mock religious beliefs or sentiments in a stupid way. But people who engage in such mockery should also be criticized for being moronic by those who, even if they don't believe in the religious rituals or doctrines at issue, still care about promoting intelligent discourse upholding respect for persons.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

WWIBD?: I notice that I often tend to characterize myself and my views in terms of the influence of Isaiah Berlin -- which is only natural I suppose since I'm supposedly working on a doctoral thesis on the man (and in that 'supposdely' lies a shameful tale of procrastination and avoidance).
Now, this suggests two points. First, I really should emphasize that, while Berlin's ideas and manner of thinking have influenced me a good deal, I don't seriously think that my own views are representative of what Berlin would think or of the conclusions to which his ideas lead. So any invocation of Berlin really refers to the ways in which I think my own thinking has been influenced by Berlin, and not what I think Berlin himself would say or how his work should be interpreted (unless I'm making an explicit argument about how I think one should interpret his writings -- which is what I SHOULD be doing most of the time, in another forum)
Second, though: reading Berlin and trying to reconstruct his thought, I do sometimes wonder what he would make of the world today, what he would think about certain controversial policies, events, and personages, and what a 'Berlinian' position might be. So that's what I want to devote this post to speculating on -- and it is of course only speculation.
Now, one of the more prominent and convincing of the 'liberal hawks' is Michael Ignatieff, Berlin's very perceptive and admiring biographer, who over his decade of extensive and extended conversation with Berlin managed, I'd imagine, to pick up a good deal of Berlin's own outlook. At the same time, Berlin's emphasis on tragedy and uncertainty, as well as his well known tendency towards vacilation and ambivalence (which has so irritated that other liberal hawk, Chris Hitchens) would not have made him, I think, a very promising recruit to the neo-conservative, happy-warrior-for-democracy camp. Early on during the build-up to war or the war -- I forget which -- Berlin's editor (and my supervisor) Henry Hardy posted, on the Isaiah Berlin Virtual Library website, which he maintains, a quote from Berlin -- speaking to Ignatieff, I believe -- about the dangers and generally unpredictable and negative consequences of violent and radical action taken, with hope and self-righteous faith, in the name of truly good ideals and causes; sadly, the quote is no longer still up at the IBVL, so I can't quote it directly* (Hardy, incidentally, generally refrains -- whether as a matter of conscious policy or not I'm not sure -- from making any claims about Berlin's probably view on current events or making statements on them himself and invoking Berlin in support).
I think that Berlin's awareness of the conflicts between values and the uncertainty of all human action, combined with both his staunch anti-Communist liberalism and his opposition to, and awareness of the high price of, imperialist and paternalist policies, however benevolent, do cut both ways with respect to the Iraq question (as well as much else). As usual, I don't think one can derive a 'Berlinian position'; I think the effect -- and value -- of Berlin's thought is to make us aware of the claims, and the shortcomings and problems, of all the positions in question. But I do think that one aspect of Berlin's own, somewhat tortured, perspective on the events of his day suggest a comparable perspectives on events of ours.
WARNING: VIETNAM ANALOGY COMING. (David, I don't mean to compare the occupation of Iraq to Vietnam; I'm merely trying to suggest that Berlin's attitude towards the one works as well, and I think probably better, for the other.)
Berlin's attitude towards the Vietnam war was conflicted, and underwent change over time; it's also tended to be misrepresented by just about everyone who's written about it -- even Ignatieff's account (see his Isaiah Berlin: A Life, Metropolitan Books 1998, p. 255) presents Berlin as even more indecisive than he actually was.
Berlin knew, and shared the liberal anti-Communist ideals of, many of the architects and supporters of the Vietnam war, such as McGeorge Bundy and the journalist Joe Alsop; like them, he generally favoured the policy of 'containment', in the name of which they sought to justify the war. But, by the time he contributed a statement to the collection Authors Take Sides on Vietnam (edited by Cecil Woolf and John Bagguley; New York and London, 1967), Berlin had concluded that the war was a mistake, that the US shouldn't have committed itself to supporting and defending the South Vietnamese regime, and that the cost of the war was ultimately too high a price for both the people of Vietnam, and the US military. He therefore said that, if he had to come down on one side or the other, he would be against the war -- a fact that most who have refered to his statement somehow overlook.
However, Berlin did warn that the issue wasn't simple. He pointed out that the US, having become involved, now found itself with a responsibility to the people of South Vietnam. He warned that a precipitous withdrawal would be an abdication of such responsibility; it would be an abandonment of those who had come to rely on the US and in so doing had undergone much danger and suffering; and it would mean the takeover of South Vietnam by the communist forces of the North, who could be expected to persecute anti-Communist Vietnamese. In short, Berlin foresaw what did eventually happen, predicting something like the actual plight of the 'boat people.'
Now, I think that, so far, the US's occupation of Iraq, however badly handled, however costly, however much chaos and misery it's brought to the people of Iraq, is less obviously disastrous than the Vietnam war was, certainly by '67 or '68. So, I don't think that one should ultimately conclude that we should withdrawal, or that it was simply a mistake. But I do think that Berlin's caution about the costs of withdrawal apply, even more strongly, to the present situation. Again, we find ourselves in a very bad, though I think not AS bad, a situation, largely of our own making; again, we find ourselves with the lives and future of another people depending on our actions.
Ultimately I think that pulling out of Vietnam was better for the Vietnamese people as a whole than staying in would have been, and so was the best course in a very bad situation. At present, it doesn't seem to me that the same holds true for Iraq. And so I venture to suggest that a Berlinian position with regards to all this would be to acknowledge all of the problems with the war and occupation, and not seek to deny or dispute them or explain them away; but to also point out the need to stay there and do all we can to prevent things from becoming worse. As Berlin wrote, we can only do so much; but that we must do, against difficulties.
Anyway, that's what I think; and I like to think Berlin would have agreed. But whether he would or not, I can't say; and ultimately, it doesn't matter much. We should remain dedicated to Iraq, not out of any philosophical presuppositions, but because of the responsibility we've incured to Iraq's people. Seems to me you don't need a great, or even near-great, philosopher to tell you that.
*UPDATE: The quote refered to above is now back on the IB Virtual Library site, here. To save readers from scrolling down searching for it (though you might want to do so anyway -- some good stuff there), here it is:
[Y]ou must realise that if you use violent methods the result will almost invariably be totally different from what you intend. Why? Because too much is unknown – not because you are wrong. The abuses are abuses, the tyranny is a tyranny, it should be stopped, it can be stopped; but if the measures are too violent – that’s to say, if you believe in the possibility of a total or even three-quarters transformation of society by organised means, if need be by violence – you will find that you’ve heaved up forces of whose existence you were probably not aware, which will in some way frustrate your designs and produce something maybe better than there was before, but not what you wanted.

Monday, October 20, 2003

AND SPEAKING OF THE STRAUSSIAN CONSPIRACY FEEDING FRENZY: From James Atlas and the NY Times -- the reporter and paper that helped start it all -- an article on some of the liberal and socialist intellectuals who supported, or didn't oppose, the war -- Michahel Ignatieff, Michael Walzer, Christopher Hitchens, and Paul Berman.
The reporting seems fair enough; it's good to see that the two Michaels remain their sane selves, even if Ignatieff's comments are a bit more simplistic than I'd expect or like -- there's still a good deal to them. Berman's resolute anti-totalitarian Leftism remains as endearingly quixotic as ever. As for Hitchens, after being a contrarian for so long, he seems to be relishing being able to chain his cart to the course of events for a change. His statements seem one-sided to me (not a surprise), and over-exuberant. But after advocating humanitarian intervention in Bosnia and Rwanda and having to seethe on the sidelines as the US did nothing, perhaps he's entitled to revel in the novel experience, however dubious, of 'humanitarian occupation.'
Unfortunately, Atlas doesn't leave it there. He suggests that the support of these intellectuals for the war parallels that of the liberals-turned-neo-conservatives for Vietnam, and that they therefore are members of the same intellectual family as present day neo-cons such as Kagan and Kristol -- and indeed may best be called neo-cons themselves. Several points:
1) Of the 4 pro-war intellectuals he profiles, one, Michael Walzer, wasn't pro-war.
2) Though now noted mainly for their foreign policy stances, the neo-cons were always about more than that; they were also defined by their stance on domestic policy, mainly their critique of the welfare state. Of the four supposed neo-neocons, two, Berman and Walzer, continue to identify as socialists, I believe; I'm not sure about Hitchens; and Ignatieff I assume remains a centrist on domestic as well as foreign policy
3) Atlas fails to note that one of the original neo-cons he cites -- Dan Bell -- no longer considers himself a neo-con. The affinity between him and people like Walzer, Ignatieff and Berman I can buy; Irving Kristol is a harder case to make.
4) Speaking of which: aside from a shared anti-Communism and commitment to democracy (the former still at times a bit quirky on Hitchens' part), it doesn't seem to me that the four profiled inhabit the same intellectual geneology or position as those now called neo-cons. Ignatieff and Walzer, at least, inhabit a more skeptical, tragic, pluralistic world, one in which US power is viewed, not as necessarily evil, but as not necessarily good or without price either. (Ignatieff is the biographer and disciple of Isaiah Berlin, Walzer, as discussed here recently, an important pluralist and social-democratic philosopher in his own right; I don't know as much about what philosophical ppositions Berman and Hitchens currently occupy, though last I checked Hitchens' intellectual heroes were still Rosa Luxembourg and George Orwell, and Berman identified with the tradition of leftist anti-Communism and, to some extent, nouveaux philosophes such as Andre Glucksmann; this is a different mental world than that occupied by the neo-cons. Or at least I think so, since it's pretty much the mental world I occupy, and I find the ways of thinking of people like the Kristols and Kagan, while not incomprehensible or wholly unsympathetic, pretty foreign)
5) Liberals have always been divided over foreign policy, and there's a healthy tradition of liberals supporting humanitarian intervention and a resolute defense of democracy (contra Ann Coulter); one doesn't need to go neo-con to support freedom or human rights. In fact, some of us think that -- combined with a commitment to moderation and respect for process -- is what liberalism is all about.
6) Atlas offers the following attempt, I guess, at an aphorism: "A neoconservative, it might be postulated, is one who read and repudiated Marx; a conservative, one who read and embraced Hume, Locke and Hobbes" Now, first, let's say this is true. Of those he sites, I don't think Ignatieff was ever a Marxist, though he did have a somewhat Foucauldian phase at one point I believe. And I don't know if you can say that Hitchens has repudiated Marx (as opposed to Communism) -- or indeed Walzer, who's not a Marxist, but offers a surprisingly sympathetic and attractive reading of Marx in some of his work. So this would seem to undercut Atlas's own characterization of these men as neo-cons, if its true. However, I don't think it necessarily is. After all, most contemporary neo-cons are second generation neo-cons who never believed in Marx. As for the conservative reading list, last I checked Locke was a liberal, and Hume and Hobbes were disputable cases. And what happened to Burke? (Even if we're using conservative and liberal in the American senses of the words, Locke remains common property -- and there are even left-liberal attempts to draw on the insights of Hobbes (as Judith Shklar sometimes sought to do, and Stephen Holmes seems to me to be trying to do. And that emblematic liberal intellectual, Isaiah Berlin -- still despised, so far as I know, by Hitchens -- was, in some ways and for better or worse, one of the most Humean of twentieth century political thinkers)
So, I don't think the thesis of this article holds up very well.
Which is too bad, because if it had just dispensed with the thesis, which isn't really necessary, it'd be a pretty good piece on some very admirable and attractive voices -- voices whose sanity and decency all too often get drowned out in contemporary debates.
UPDATE: There have been other reactions to this piece from Michael Totten, Norm Geras (whose book on Rorty I've promised myself I'm going to read when I next have a chance to do so -- though I've no idea when that'll be), and Oliver Kamm, the latter two of whom kindly link to me. Michael Totten takes the opportunity to write about neo-conservatism more generally, using the same Irving Kristol article that I've analysed here before. He takes Kristol's characterization as fully representative of neo-conservatism -- which is, I think, a mistake, since, as I've suggested before, Kristol's account papers over some tensions and variations in neo-conservative thought and politics -- and explains why he isn't a neo-con, although he agrees with much of neo-con foreign policy. In so doing, he makes a similar point to one I made above, namely, that neo-conservatism, contra the impression given by many recent reports, isn't just a doctrine about foreign policy, and one can agree with the neo-cons on particular foreign policy positions and even principles (as I for one have sometimes done in the past, though I find myself doing so less and less), without being characterizable as a neo-con.
Oliver Kamm provides a more direct response to, and critique of, Atlas's article. Like Totten, he argues that one needn't have been a neo-con to support the war -- as he did -- though he focusses mainly on Michael Walzer, whose inclusion in this discussion is, as I've noted, a bit odd, since he didn't even support the war to begin with. He did, however, as Kamm notes, offer an extremely thoughtful, nuanced opposition to the war, as well as a telling critique of the passionately anti-war far-left, and his outlook and principles are certainly similar in many ways to those of Ignatieff and Berman (Hitchens shares the principles but not the temperament). I do think Kamm is unfair to say that Walzer was the ONLY opponent of the war to make such a good argument -- I know many who agreed with him and thought much the same as he did; but they, or we (I myself vacilated, as regular readers of this blog might have gathered, between Walzer's and Ignatieff's positions) were not, as a rule, as articulate or incisive as he; and their/our voices tended to be drowned out. This drowning-out was accomplished by the loud and strident voices of the more militant anti-war left, ranging from ANSWER to the Nation (with a few honorable exceptions, such as Eric Alterman and David Corn); but it ultimately, I think, served the purposes of proponents of the war, who were able to focus on the bad anti-war arguments and the unconvincing, easily-mocked voices, and ignore more substantive criticism and more nuanced alternatives. As in 2000 when Nader helped Bush squeak into the White House, the Left's political incompetence, self-righteousness and lack of self-control wound up strengthening the Right.
Kamm makes a similar point to the one above, though in greater detail, about the oddity of including Dan Bell on the list of neo-cons. He also notes that Paul Berman's anti-Bush rhetoric is a bit, um, strong. I think this is fair, but I also think that liberals and leftists who supported the war on Iraq and other of Bush's foreign policy initiatives, but who don't actually have to live in the US with the political culture that Bush has done so much to create and with his disastrous domestic programs, and who are surrounded by facile and knee-jerk anti-Bushism, tend to give Bush too much of a break. Certainly, whenever I'm away from the US long enough Bush starts to seem, not great, but not SO bad -- and then I return to the US and am reminded both of how much I loathe the man and his policies, and how much that loathing is deserved, and not restricted to me or, indeed, to liberals. I think Bush looks better from a geographical distance; and while Oliver Kamm certainly seems to be very well-informed about US politics -- perhaps better informed than I! -- I get the impression from his blog, which I haven't read as regularly in the past as I shall do in the future, that he views Bush through British eyes.
As for Oliver Kamm's suggestion that we call the position he and other liberal supporters of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein embrace 'militant democracy', this would certainly make my OxBlog buddies happy, and it certainly characterizes Berman and Hitchens' positions well. I myself -- and here I think I again find myself in the same boat as Walzer, and perhaps Ignatieff, though I'm not quite sure about the latter -- tend to be wary of the calling myself a militant anything. And I think that any militancy on behalf of democracy, human rights, etc., needs to be balanced by an awareness of the difficulty, complexity, and often inescapable tragedy of most things in human affairs, at least at a global level, and a consequent, due caution and moderation.
So put me down for a combination of militant democracy and tragic liberalism, then. But no neo-conservatism, please.
Oh, also, via Oliver Kamm, see this response to being branded neo-cons by Stephen Pollard , who in turn points to a response to the same charge from David Aaronovitch. Pollard welcomes the label, Aaronovitch doesn't; but both point out how silly the accusation -- made in the New Statesman in this case -- is. Pollard calls it bizarro.
Well, yes. But then again, the Congressional Democrats have just overwhelming voted to be stingy with much-needed foreign aid for humantarian aid and reconstruction for Iraq, for which the Bush administration has been pushing; and the Bushies have even floated the idea of an international body, underr the aegis of the WTO, administering the aid to Iraq. So that, in my view, the Dems are wrong and grossly irresponsible, and Bush and co. are right.
Now THAT'S bizarro.
UPDATE: I'm not the only one to dispute Atlas's account of the original 'neo-cons'; they do, as well. Dan Bell and Nathan Glazer -- two of the three original 'neo-cons' Atlas identifies -- have written to the NY Times pointing out that, contra Atlas, they both opposed the Vietnam war; Glazer asserts -- as I've been suggesting for some time now -- that the original movement known as neo-conservatism was very different from what's now called neo-conservatism; and Bell denies ever having been a neo-con at all. (Thanks to reader RS for alerting me to the letters).
Well, there you have it. Another fine bit of cultural/intellectual reportage by Mr. Atlas and the NY Times. Perhaps in future they should limit themselves to the practice of misrepresenting only those who, being in their graves, cannot answer back directly, as in the case of Leo Strauss. (Do I sound snarky there? Sorry. But I'm a bit bitter about people making assertion about thinkers I rather admire, without having a very accurate or sophisticated notion of what they're talking about, and presenting it to readers who won't necessarily know better as the authoritative truth.)

Sunday, October 19, 2003

MORE ON STRAUSS: At the usually excellent OpenDemocracy.com, Danny Postel has an interview with Strauss 'expert' Shadia Drury. In it Drury, who has indeed written two books as well as numerous articles about Strauss, repeats some of her hostile and, in my view, often tendentious and unfair interpretations of what Strauss believed and was up to; these are, of course, presented as an authoritative scholarly account of Strauss.
I note this because I do try to keep abrest of the bemusingly persistent and copious welter of discussions of Strauss on the web, and not because I think it merits great attention -- though it certainly merits greater attention than many of the comments about Strauss that have appeared over the past several months, which have often been as hostile but far less well-founded. Drury at least seems to have made the effort -- and it would seem to have been an unpleasant one for her, given how much animus to Strauss she displays -- to read Strausses work and think through her interpretation of it, which is more than can be said for many. Nevertheless, I do think that her tendency to read Strauss in light of the later political activities of some of his students, and to apply Strauss's own strange methods of reading to Strauss himself (which some may find to be poetic justice, but which don't necessarily provide an accurate reading), lead her to present an interesting but ultimately unconvincing -- and off-puttingly prosecutorial -- reading of Strauss. It is possible that Strauss really was a closet Nietzschean nihilist whose central message is the necessity and goodness of lying in politics. But that's not the impression that I get from having read Strauss, even though I've often done so critically and even somewhat suspiciously.
I do feel that these comments demand a closer examination of Drury's claims; but, frankly, I'm tired. I'm tired of having to deal with ideologically prejudiced, simplistic interpretations and, in some cases, misrepresentations of Strauss. I think there's a lot in Strauss that's strange, a lot that's dubious, a lot that's troubling. But I think that work such as Drury's -- to say nothing of the cursory and often inaccurate accounts of Strauss by journalists and the sometimes flippant, sometimes vulgar, too often ignorant attacks on Strauss by various commentators -- rather than contributing to a substantive wrestling with Strauss's work and ideas, which may end in meaningful criticism, or in admiration, or in both, leads to a dismisal of Strauss and therefore to ignorance of his ideas and failure to engage with them. And, what's worse, some of those who remain ignorant of Strauss's thought, rather than recognizing this, think they know all about Strauss, and that he's not worth bothering with, and that they know far better than he. This is intellectual laziness masquerading as intellectual knowingness, as well as moral superiority. As such, it is not edifying or respect-inducing. (These remarks do not, of course, refer to all writing online about Strauss; there have been a few attempts to criticize Strauss based on a serious engagement with what he actually says. But these constitute a pitifully small portion of the online literature about Strauss.)
And I'm by this point getting rather tired of saying all this over and over again, only to see the same caricatures reproduced as critical analysis and accurate reportage again and again. It seems like the caricaturing of Strauss is a hydra; as soon as one offers objections to one misrepresentation or attack, another, saying the same thing, as if no objections to them had ever been raised, sprouts up.
Anyone who wants to know about Strauss should read Strauss, or read the serious and sympathetic, though sometimes far from uncritical, literature on Strauss that's out there, and which I've cited before (afraid you'll have to scroll down most of the page to get to the right post; damned blogger). Anyone who doesn't want to do the work to find out and think through what Strauss really said and might have meant -- well, that's fine; he's not for everybody, and I, at least -- not being an acolyte -- think someone can have a perfectly fulfilling intellectual life without ever encountering Strauss (though I do think an encounter with Strauss will add enrichment). Just don't, please, think that you know about or understand Strauss based only on reading articles like this one; because I don't think you do, and I think you do a disservice to both yourself and to Strauss and the ideas he cared about, if you wrongly think that you do.
UPDATE: Over at Crooked Timber, Chris has a far briefer and more effective response to Drury than mine.
Chris is right to seize on Drury's rhetorical question 'How can an admirer of Plato and Nietzsche be a liberal democrat?' In addition to Chris's response, two other things might be said:
1) Admiration and agreement are two very different things; that Drury seems not to be able to conceive of this does not speak well for her intellectual sophistication (and is especially worrisome in someone who's a professional historian of political thought, where being able to balance admiration and criticism is always, I think, important -- unless one is to produce merely partisan polemics); and
2) The assumption underlying the question is easily called into doubt by evidence. J.S. Mill is generally regarded, despite his elitist moments, as a liberal democrat, and he was an admirer of Plato. The late Bernard Williams was also unquestionably a liberal democrat, and he was an admirer of Nietzsche. Now, it may be that it's possible to reconcile being a liberal democrat with admiring one of these thinkers, but not both; but I don't see why.

HEAR OH ISRAEL: Jeremy Reff, after an all too long (and, it would seem, all too tumultuous) break from blogging, is back; and the wait was well worth it. Jeremy has penned one of the most eloquent, rich, emotionally honest and intellectually lucid discussions of anti-semitism, of the reaction to anti-semitism by many American Jews, and of the reaction to both the anti-semitism and the reactions to it of one American Jew, that I have read in recent, heated days -- and that I have ever read. Jeremy refers to Leon Wieseltier, and his tone and thought processes -- passionate and dialectical, rhetorical yet disdaining the indulgences of rhetoric, filled with an intensly passionate devotion to thought -- is reminiscent of Wielstier's; yet it also has all the force of having been lived through and thought through and felt through -- of being entirely its author's alone. At the same time, Jeremy has managed, in his honesty and directness, in his mixture of self-interrogation and refusal to be put in the wrong or put in a box by others, to speak of thoughts and experiences which will be familiar to many others. He has certainly said much that I have felt and thought, and have struggled to say, and held back from saying, or not known how to say.
Jeremy writes, "How can one explain that the Jewish voice is paranoid locally, that we have hurt a good man, and caused him no little injury from a great fear unwarranted, and then also to explain that Jewish warnings are justified—that Haman still attempts our slaughter and our extermination and that we will continue to shout in every fucking agora until everyone is aware of it, until the chattering classes of Paris and New York dismiss their dainty ambivalence and open their eyes." Jeremy's question at the beginning is one of the few pieces of unnecessary and somewhat stagy rhetoric in the piece; what need to ask how one can explain something, when in asking one goes on to demonstrate exactly how we can explain it, and explain it well, with perfect calibration and clarity?
Check it out, right now. And if you read just one blog post today, or this weekend, or this week -- read this one. That's really all I can say to convey my respect for it.

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