Agnes Deigh, Sidney Smith. On Strauss, there are two very good pieces by Scott Horton. One published back in 2006, is entitled ‘The Letter’ — the subheadline reads: ‘Was Leo Strauss democracy’s best friend? In a letter written at the time of his emigration, Strauss describes his political principles – Fascist, Authoritarian, Imperialist.’ The key passage of the letter, written not long after Hitler came to power, runs, in Horton’s translation, as follows: ‘the fact that the new right-wing Germany does not tolerate us says nothing against the principles of the right. To the contrary: only from the principles of the right, that is from fascist, authoritarian and imperial principles, is it possible with seemliness, that is, without resort to the ludicrous and despicable appeal to the droits imprescriptibles de l’homme to protest against the shabby abomination. I am reading Caesar’s Commentaries with deep understanding, and I think of Virgil’s Tu regere imperio… parcere subjectis et debellare superbos. There is no reason to crawl to the cross, neither to the cross of liberalism, as long as somewhere in the world there is a glimmer of the spark of the Roman thought. And even then: rather than any cross, I’ll take the ghetto.’ (See http://balkin.blogspot.com/2006/07/letter_16.html.) The second, published in January last year discusses the attempt by the leading Straussian Harvey Mansfield to explain away the letter in question, in a review of the study of Leo Strauss and the Politics of Exile published last year by Eugene Sheppard, which discusses the same letter, and is highly useful on the German background to Strauss’s thinking. (See http://www.harpers.org/archive/2008/01/hbc-90002212.) I am deeply sceptical about the notion that Strauss believed that the United States was the kind of society where there was no need for ‘esoteric writing’. I think the belief that philosophers are an elite, carriers of dangerous truths subversive to the social order, which can only be articulated to the fellow members of the elite in a kind of code, applied in his view to liberal societies, quite as much as others. The view is developed at length in among other places the two studies of Strauss by Shadia Drury — the essence of her views is set out in articles on her web page, at http://www.uregina.ca/arts/CRC/. Because he himself practised ‘esoteric writing’ it is, I think, almost insurmountably difficult to be categorically clear about the nature of the political commitments of the later Strauss. However, I think that Horton is right in suggesting that his repudiation of liberalism continued to be radical. Strauss, Horton writes, ‘rejects the fundamental liberal idea that wide-open, uncensored public disagreement is a creative force, mobilizing decentralized knowledge and bringing it to bear on issues of public importance … For Strauss, knowledge belongs to a few — we know ahead of time who can and who cannot contribute something serious to a discussion.’ Strauss, Horton also suggests, believed that ‘liberalism was unable to defend itself; that it must be defended, if at all, by non-liberals, willing to go outside the rules.’ A great deal in one’s evaluation of the Straussians, I suggest, hangs on the question of whether one accepts their self-image and self-portrayal as having some privileged grasp of the brutal realities of politics — in particular international politics — which is believed not to be possessed by liberals. Rather often, in the twentieth century, claims by intellectuals to have this kind of privileged wisdom did not turn out too well. Do we have grounds to think that such claims are more cogent, coming from Strauss and his followers? I like to recall one of those liberals whom, in 1933, Strauss thought not fitted to contribute to a serious argument on the nature of Hitler’s tyranny. At the end of the previous year, there had been published one of the great anti-appeasement polemics of the time – the study Germany Puts the Clock Back by the great American liberal journalist Edgar Ansel Mowrer. Fortunately, over the years that followed, many other liberals came round to Mowrer’s view. When 1940 the Gestapo assembled their handbook for the invasion of Britain, listing their opponents, one of the figures they singled out was the liberal journalist and historian R.C.K. Ensor — whom they described as ‘one of the toughest opponents of national socialism in Britain’. I do not think that people like Mowrer or Ensor needed lessons in how to combat tyranny from someone who had been fully complicit in some of the intellectual currents which brought Europe to destruction, and also destroyed European Jewry. A fascinating thing about Saul Bellow’s roman-à-clef about Allan Bloom is that one sees exactly the same kind of arrogant and ignorant dogmatism as is displayed in Strauss’s 1933 letter. So ‘Ravelstein’ — Bloom — explains that ‘the war aims of the Kaiser in 1914 were no different from those of the Kaiser in 1914.’ In fact the relationship between Nazi and Wilhelmine foreign policy aims is an immensely complicated subject — and someone who makes this kind of simplistic categorical judgement rules himself out of any serious debate about the nature of Hitler’s tyranny. A similar silly-clever oversimplification is the suggestion by ‘Ravelstein’ that the influence of the Bloomsbury Group was pernicious, as ‘the spies later recruited in Britain by the GPU or the NKVD were nurtured by Bloomsbury.’ There were people far closer to Bloomsbury than Anthony Blunt or Guy Burgess who are of rather more moment in intelligence history. At Bletchley Park, Lytton Strachey’s elder brother Oliver handled the unit dealing with the hand signals of the Abwehr, and Dilwyn Knox — boyhood lover of J.M. Keynes — handled the machine codes, cracking the Abwehr machine code in December 1941. Their work provided the basis of the great deception operations which meant that the invasions of Sicily and Normandy caught the Germans completely unprepared, because they had been duped into believing the Allies would strike elsewhere. We were fortunate in having some military intelligence specialists who saw the value of bringing in the liberal intellectuals, to compensate for the immense inferiority of the British Army against the Wehrmacht, one of the most formidable instruments of war in the history of the world. One of those who did so, Kenneth Strong, who became Eisenhower’s G2, used to complain that people simply would not grasp that you needed three British battalions to equal one German. If in the end we won, a major reason was the total intelligence dominance which was largely the result of the mobilisation of the liberal intelligentsia in Britain and the United States, and precisely that belief in open debate for which the Straussians have such contempt. And indeed, what may have been the great missed opportunity to end the war much earlier ended was identified as a result of the painstaking research operation done by the liberal historian Hugh Trevor-Roper and the liberal philosopher Stuart Hampshire on the basis of the work of Strachey and Knox. What Trevor-Roper saw clearly — as Strauss did not in 1933 and Bloom apparently could not decades later — was the fundamental gulf between the Prussian conservatives of the General Staff and the millenarian ‘Caesarism’ of the Nazis. Trevor-Roper courted an ignominous sacking in his efforts to get Churchill to respond to the overtures which were being made by the head of German military intelligence, Admiral Canaris. Unfortunately Churchill, great man that he was, was no more capable than Strauss or Bloom of grasping this fundamental ideological faultline. What may have been one of the best opportunities to end the war — and of course the Holocaust — and prevent the coming of Soviet power into Central Europe had been created by precisely those qualities of liberal intellectuals that the Straussians so despise. It was simply never explored.