The Wise and the Vulgar: A Criticism of Leo Strauss
Strauss’s ideas may be perverse, but they are not frivolous. They deserve serious attention for several reasons, not least among them is the fact that they have proved to be overwhelmingly popular. The converts are attracted to Strauss because he offers them ready-made answers to all the difficult questions; and if they travel in the right circles, they need not fear ridicule, for their ‘philosophy kit’ will always save the day. But it is also possible to appreciate Strauss without being or becoming one of his converts. No matter how bizarre his commentaries on the Great Books might be, they are nevertheless full of valuable insights. They challenge those who are not in search of a philosophy kit to see for themselves. Besides, the commentaries are not so much interpretations, as dialogues with the text: dialogues that force the text and the reader to surrender to the Straussian logic. For those who refuse to surrender their critical intellect and submit to his seductive charms, Strauss is a challenge that is as intriguing as Nietzsche, Freud or Machiavelli. Like Nietzsche, he forces us to question the goodness of knowledge, he makes us wonder how or if we could give an account of our moral beliefs. Like Freud, he forces us to look into the dark depths of our psyches.
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