fragments of an attempted writing.

swat, take one.

You might be doing something right when the smuggard drone who writes:
Just because someone is pro-life doesn’t mean they reject a robust social structure to provide assistance to these women. But that has to be balanced with the fact that the state shouldn’t be in the business of subsidizing out-of-wedlock births, and so when speaking about addressing these matters, a lot of other instruments have to come into play. The death penalty for any man who seduces a woman might be a good start. [emphasis mine, and no surprise there, as our enlightened one seems to have been struggling with Oedipal tensions for some time.  Revolutionary violent rhetoric = dangerous; kill absentee father rhetoric = OK.]
then goes on to assert:

...for those who are participating [in the Occupy movement] in the name of some “revolution” or, worse, using website and blogs to revel in the carnage they have created — as if being a blogging blowhard who decorates their site with “revolutionary imagery” and issues forth morally idiotic rhetoric contributes to “the movement” — there is a pathology infecting their worldview which is not only detestable, but disturbing.
and from the thread of the same post:
I find that a lot of the blog coverage of the “Occupy” movement, particularly by so-called “Marxists,” “anarchists,” and other “revolutionaries,” are packed to the brim with moral idiocy. 
Well, of course.  No doubt he reads a great many Marxist, anarchist, and "revolutionary" blogs.

Any rhetorical exchange with our reactionary gnat, whether actual or monologued (as is increasingly the case with him), results in his opponents getting Strauss'd.  Take for instance this diatribe from the same thread as above:

To the best of my knowledge (which, I confess, is incomplete), most of the “Occupy” crowd or even its self-apointed “spokespersons,” haven’t offered up a credible critique of “the 1%” beyond restating, over and over, the empirical fact that they control a supermajority of the wealth in the United States. Serious analysis of why there are massive wealth disparities (along with other imagined and real problems) isn’t necessarily beyond the “Occupy” movement, but it hasn’t taken center stage either. Maybe it doesn’t have to. Perhaps empirical facts which carry with them an intuitive sense of being “unfair” is enough to motivate those with either: A) Nothing better to do; B) Concrete economic problems of their own; or some combination/nuance of either (or both) to rally together for some ill-defined cause. But beyond engaging in public fornication, littering some parks, and dabbling in a bit of property damage here n’ there, I’m not sure the “Occupy” movement has done much of anything. I suspect most people are aware that there are massive wealth disparities in the U.S. and that this disparity has only increased over the last several decades. However, few people understand “why” (or are on board with enough of the literature to come up with some plausible hypotheses as to “why”). Too much of the Leftist “critique” hinges on the childish notion that there is some cabal out there which holds all of the chips and isn’t letting go. When you present them with evidence that the top 1-2% of wealth holders in this country do not constitute a static lot, they throw fits and, after a great deal of rhetoric, basically claim that the data is fudged (without offering up contrary data). Such is the way of ideologists.
I still tend to hold, with some serious caveats, to the view that state intervention and regulation is a stronger contributing force to the current composition of wealth distribution and corporatism in this country than the (semi-mytic) “free market.” An unregulated market is not going to solve all of the country’s woes, but the libertarians — whether the sort you see hanging around the Cato Institute or on the fringes of “localist” movements — have at least offered a plausible academic argument why rolling back state intervention in the market will reduce the power “big business” (loosely defined) wields in the country while opening up new opportunities for entrepreneurs (including “small businesses”). Unfortunately, when it comes to breaking up “state monopolies” and “regulated cartels,” too much emphasis is placed on labor unions and agriculture (both of which function that way today). It takes the eye off of other balls, ranging from, say, the international airline industry (which today functions as a massive cartel that cuts across borders) to energy production to finance. However, the unions don’t do themselves any favors, particularly when they use their concentrated lobbying power in concert with private industry to rig the game in their favor (e.g., automotive bailouts). 
It's interesting to read the elitism here at the same time as I am reading Corey Robin's The Reactionary Mind. I think our reactionary gnat may be the perfect expression of Robin's thesis, right down to his being a non-Spanish speaking Hispanic who prides himself for his enlightened conservative views held in an academic environment that he finds hostile to them. There is something downright conradian about it all, and Robin handles competently this sort of phenomenon.

Confessions of incomplete knowledge have never been an impediment to this guy.  Why even bother confessing?

O my!  The average protester in a movement which has now involved hundreds of thousands in the U.S. and millions worldwide does not employ a sophisticated critique of economic and political realities sufficient to be deemed "credible" by our libertarian young lawyer who likes to quote Epstein and whose canon includes Strauss, Voegelin, and Schmitt!  Say it ain't so!  I suppose there should never be any mass protest in the mind of our reactionary gnat.  But then I wonder what he thinks of the fairly large pro-life protests in Washington, DC each January 23rd.  Most protesters there say very simplistic things about conception, life, babies in the womb, etc.  Few have ever looked at the arguments made in Roe vs. Wade, few could articulate the differences in approach between U.S. and most European abortion policies, few have ever touched let alone read a copy of Human Life Review, few are aware of the leftist pro-choice arguments against Roe vs. Wade, and I wonder how many of them know that Margaret Sanger was against abortion, as was Planned Parenthood when Sanger was in charge of it?

To be sure, the conservative adoption of leftist methods, such as mass political protests, does seem to go against certain conservative principles, such as the rule of an elite - I think Robin does a good job of explaining the interplay between elitism and populism in the conservative movement - but I could also see how a conservative fan of Schmitt and Voegelin might detest any mass protest, so who knows in this case?   Though our reactionary gnat has in the past expressed sympathies with the tea-party movement, so it seems that he is not completely hostile to mass actions, though perhaps he views the tea party mass actions as justified because they are paid for and promoted by an economic elite.

Whatever his views on mass protest, it would seem apparent that our reactionary gnat thinks that people should be content to remain within their station and do as they are told by an elite.  Perhaps because if they arise in mass protest there will be the "danger" of revolutionary rhetoric, there will be disruptive actions which could lead to further disruptive actions, there will be inchoate expressions of "the cause," there will be articulations which are not credible in the light of academics, and while these protests will likely be nothing more than an annoying waste of time and resources, if they do result in anything that result will likely effect the "wrong" targets and achieve counterproductive ends.  Fine and well then.

Every rhetorical turn with the gnat seems to go like this one - "When you present them with evidence that the top 1-2% of wealth holders in this country do not constitute a static lot, they throw fits and, after a great deal of rhetoric, basically claim that the data is fudged (without offering up contrary data)."  Really.  I wonder when gnat had this exchange and with whom.  I was in an exchange with him regarding this very issue once, but that must not be the one he is talking about here.  In my exchange with him on this issue, the "data" involved flat assertions made by Epstein based on a study that was of no more academic caliber than the sort of thing that Krugman and Wolff use all the time.  And I didn't deny that of course people go in and out of the 1% in terms of income.  People retire.  People get one time inheritances.  People get occasional golden parachutes.  I have never heard any intellectual among the Occupiers or those in sympathy with them argue that the 1% constitute a static group.  Of course the 1% is seen as an imprecise target on the part of Occupiers, hell, look at the very popular site in which 1%ers proclaim support of the 99%er movement.  Look at the number of Occupiers who talk about the wealth concentration of the top 0.1% and pass around articles like this one.  Further, among a growing number of Occupiers one hears rhetoric that the real divide is more accurately found somewhere around 80%.  But any popular movement is going to have to find images and language that works broadly and efficiently and the 99% moniker works about as well and about as accurately as the political designations pro-life, pro-choice, less government, no new taxes, states' rights, pro-slavery, abolitionist, anti-war, and so forth.  All of these terms are vague, all of them involve an oversimplification, a momentary overlooking of various contradictions and complexities for the sake of political causes and organization and brevity when discussing politics or agitating for or against something.

I've never heard anyone suggest that data which shows that people go in and out of the 1% is flawed because it suggests people go in and out of the 1%.  The obvious question is where the people going in and out of the 1% are coming from.  Who gets those inheritances, those golden parachutes, those stock market windfalls, those huge CEO bonuses?  Is access to the 1% easier or harder for someone with an IQ of 140 coming from a lower middle class background or someone with an IQ of 140 coming from poverty or someone with an IQ of 140 coming from the top 10% (I note IQs here not because I believe any given measure of IQ represents an efficiently workable social designation but only for the sake of argument)?  How many people who, any given year, get into the 1%, came from families that had previously had 1% years?  How many had previously been in the top 5%, the top 10%, how many grew up in families that were in the top 5% and top 10%?  The gnat's assertion here is meant to suggest that there is fluidity in the 1% and thus access to it that is relative to some egalitarian standard - at least perhaps egalitarian in the meritocratic sense or the market sense of having succeeded fairly in the market.

I have a distant relative who grew up working class and now makes shitloads of money on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.  He's a top 3%er and he got access to this income because he was a jock in a fraternity for athletes in college and several buddies of his from there - all good looking, tall guys used to being surrounded by women and the air of success - got brought in to a particular firm.  I'd be surprised if my relative has an IQ of higher than 105 or so.  He is, however, an example of somebody who went from a bottom 50% background to the top 3%.  Robin in his book deals with the fact that the elite in modernity has always made use of fresh blood and fresh faces, and he notes how the occasional outsider being elevated into the elite often helps emphasize the eliteness of the elite - one of the factors in play is that it is often the new face that is the most militant about protecting the elite's interests and advancing the whole notion of the rule of the elite (think Disraeli, etc.) and the fact they they deserve to rule and their subjects deserve to be ruled.  What centralized elite does is not dynamic to some degree?  Hell, after Stalin took over he assassinated the former Bolshevik leaders and created an all new elite group of rulers in Russia, but no conservative I know suggests that this dynamic change in the elite in Russia meant that there was not a real elite with real power.  Cabals are often transient institutions.  Look at mafia organizations.  Their leadership and membership often change frequently, for obvious reasons (death, imprisonment, etc.), yet the social function of the cabal and its power often remains relatively consistent over periods of time.

My wife has some friends who grew up in lower middle class homes in rural WI.  In the conversation I had with them upon our first meeting, the male of the couple explained to me that he was majoring in computer science in order to make vast wealth because he believed that Christians who were able had a responsibility to make as much money as possible because we were entering a time in which something akin to slavery (his word) was going to re-assert itself as social phenomena and basically the world would be divided between a 10% of masters and a 90% of slaves and we needed to have as many Christian masters as possible.  His view, and the fact that he thought he could be among the masters (which he now is, he just returned to WI after a decade and a half away, returning a multi-millionaire), suggests that a static vs. dynamic 1% or 10% is not really the issue.  The question is the relationship between the elite and their, to use a gnat's terms, social subordinates.  The question is what social, political, and economic power the non-elite have in public institutions and in their workplaces, schools, civic groups, families, etc.

These observations are not particular to me, I suspect most Occupiers who have ever been presented with "data" about a dynamic 1% will tell you something along these lines.  But the point isn't about actual convictions or actual observations, it's just about our reactionary gnat's use of imaginary conversations to advance his repetition of a grossly populist, and trinketly elitist caricature of Occupiers (yours truly shares some of his experiences with Occupiers here).  In the second paragraph above the gnat does his routine song and dance - he makes assertions about the economy which insist upon libertarian theses.  He insists that these are plausible and academic without ever referencing academic studies or making an argument as to how they are actually plausible, and then he contrasts this "plausible and academic" libertarian insight with the caricature of leftist populisms.  This from the guy who presents PBS interviews and papers from Epstein - all of which thus far have involved Epstein doing little to nothing more than repeating libertarian talking points - as if the points raised by Epstein have not been repeatedly responded to by Krugman, Wolff, and a number of other economists, who also have data supporting their positions.  It's not that I have a problem with Epstein's third tier level of economic analysis being presented publicly, it's just that it's ridiculous posturing to poise this against more imprecise and overtly populist expressions from the other side.  One might as well present Krugman against Sarah Palin and suggest - "see, our side wins."  Of course this gnat has a fondness for saying that he just "has yet to encounter any serious analysis from" the perspective of x  position he disagrees with.  And of course he never will.

Years ago I was sitting in the office of my mentor when a guy who just graduated from Boston College came in.  This BC grad had done a degree in political science under some Straussians.  BC grad's dad was on the faculty of the same institution as my mentor.  My mentor had just become involved in an organization that this BC grad was entering.  So BC grad goes right up to my mentor, a rather accomplished anthropologist, and the first words out of his mouth were "I just want you to know that I know that your social science ideology is bullshit."  In several later conversations with BC grad I came to appreciate the astounding pomposity of the young man, the unrivaled parochial nature of his many intellectual disdains, and the unmatched confidence the man had in dismissing others for making the exact same intellectual moves he did.  Every time I read gnat, who of course is too good and intellectually pure to even admit that he is a Straussian, I am reminded of that first encounter I ever had with a Straussian.  They are all the same prior to age 45, and of course the only interesting ones were/are gay.  They like to appeal to the scholarly discipline of prior ages in a pedantic manner, they have a fetish for European intellectual standards prior to WWII which is romantic, they read just enough material from outside their accepted canons to appear to be engaging contemporary thought even though their readings are so manifestly hack jobs couched in an outline of analysis (the form of critical analysis if you will) so as to appear serious (how so much like the work of those they detest), and they get most agitated when encountering social and intellectual phenomenon which occurs outside of the realm of influence or would-be influence of themselves or their Straussian cohorts.

And this is what, I suspect, really bothers gnat with regard to the Occupy movement and the myriad of intellectual discussions it has wrought, by people from a wide array of perspectives, in the U.S., Canada, Europe, the whole world.  Gnat doesn't have anything to do with it, he has no association with it at all or anything remotely close to it (his attempts at times to pull out his familiarity with leftist activism by pointing out his past as a member of a students-against-sweatshops group at a college in the middle of Michigan notwithstanding).  Nor do those very few other minds in gnat's intellectual playground who he happens to trust.  He has no intellectual point of entry that is viable for him.  He can only bitch and whine like that audio clip of (was it?) Voegelin going after the "radical" female student at a lecture at U of Chicago, or like grumpy old Solzhenitsyn furious that the U.S. was not putting down Vietnam War protesters.   All the while, as usual, gnat reveals to those who have spent serious time at Occupations and among Occupiers that he hasn't a damn clue what he is talking about.  True to form.

40 comments:

  1. Okay so all this tedium aside, getting Strauss'd will now be worked into every conversation I have this week...

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  2. God bless the Urban Dictionary.

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  3. Wow, you mean he still blogs? I suppose I knew that, since I go to his site once in a while to see if any good trad gossip is blowing in the wind.

    Just a two-bit adjunct academic with a huge chip on his shoulder, if you ask me.

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  4. Very funny. My impression is that said subject does have a rather sheltered, very regulated, life, ( I can imagine his daily routine- perhaps a rosary or recited prayers from book, daily Mass, ( where's breakfast?), commute to work, nice office, many interesting intellectual legal problems,lunch at nice restaurant with clients,more intellectual problems,commute back home, dinner, conversation with wife and children that he "has", blog, maybe or read latest du jour text, then blog. All in all very regulated, controlled, safe. I bet he has nice suits with nice ties, all fit to form).

    I'm being "mean", of course, but I do get that whiff of privilege from his observations, rather like those from a "liberal", ( liberal because he does make observations unlike his confreres who disdain even observing ), member of the Ancien Regime.

    P.S. I do take exception re; the Hispanic remark. I'm "Hispanic" through adoption, don't speak a word of Spanish, ( French somewhat), though, of course, I do understand some. My half-sisters, ( Franco-Hispanic- Mexican-American), don't speak Spanish either. However, I don't disassociate from the culture. How can I? I suppose said person above is "Hispanic" the way upper-class Cubans in Florida are.

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  5. Said lawyer went from law school to his position teaching at a law school, hence I don't think he has ever had clients. And I'm told he is quite to be distinguished from one of the other lawyers who comments on his site under the name 'Cabbage' because our law school faculty lawyer doesn't wear $2000 outfits. But all that said, yeah, I am so tired of the "I reek of petit-bourgeois stench but yet I protest at the thought of being associated with decadent consumption and upper middle class privilege" even if the person came up from a working class background. I knew this millionaire lady some years ago (I used to have sex with her niece) who used to always let you know when she was going to WalMart, if you know what I mean. But as I've said, every Strauss fan I've ever encountered has evoked elitism and a blue blood snobbishness, even when they haven't been blue bloods. You should read Robin's book, I think you would enjoy it.

    Yeah the non Spanish speaking thing was a cheap shot. Then again, the guy speaks with such authority regarding issues concerning poverty, but at every turn reveals he does not know a damn thing about poverty in America or anywhere else. It's all cartoonish through and through. He's a person who has probably spent most of his life on the fringes. He grew up in one of the midst of Calvinist central MI as a half-Mexican half-Polish dude. That had to hurt. In law school he is the iconoclast - a brown skinned guy who is conservative around all of those fashionably liberal whites. In Orthodoxy he was the oddball to end all oddballs - a guy with a Mexican last name who had grown up Eastern Rite Catholic and converted to Orthodoxy - so different from all other converts and it definitely had an appeal to it ethos wise. He's bright as a whip, no doubt was a good law student, and is well read, especially in those names that appeal to other higher tier and cultured conservative intellectuals - a fringe demographic if ever there were one. One would be tempted to say that part of his curious relation to conservatism is that he will always be a bit one-foot-in, one-foot-out because his life and circumstances will always leave him somewhat an outsider. Then again, I could totally see him fitting in at the petit-bourgeois mecca of conservative Catholicism that is his Sunday parish and, let's face it, there is a wide and growing community of Catholic conservative lawyer intellectuals in this country, and being a Mexican who doesn't speak Spanish but who can read a fair amount of Church Slavonic when taking breaks from reading Carl Schmitt and Eric Voegelin will completely endear you to that set. I think he and the Catholicism that he has encountered in those circles are a perfect fit, and it is no surprise that he is so elated about it - for the first time in his life, perhaps, he wholeheartedly belongs and is in no way an outsider. Good for him.

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  6. Regarding Straussianism and elitism, the whole project is pretty explicitly about elitism. You have the philosophical elite that understands the meaning of texts, and then you have everyone else. It seems that this view is very much derived from socio-political elitism, rather than just implicitly leading to such an attitude in its adherents. Remi Brague has argued (to me persuasively) that this comes from Strauss having internalized the medieval Islamic understanding of society as being inherently divided into elites (khass) and the masses ('amm).

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  7. The Marxist Potato cometh.

    If it wasn't for the 26 extra hits and an e-mail someone sent, I wouldn't have noticed this. *whew*

    There are so many factual errors here, I don't even know where to begin. We've been over so much of this stuff before, I don't feel a major compulsion at this point to rehash it. I find it a bit odd that you opened this post highlighting a line that was obviously comedic. My source for it, amusingly enough, is an observation from Rousseau which was quoted by Allan Bloom. (So yes, you can start back on your "Strauss" kick.) I'm fairly positive I've used it before on your blog, but whatever. Given the entire nature of this post, I think it's pretty fair to say you've discarded any attempt at fairmindedness in the hopes of landing a few cheap shots. I'm sorry to report you missed.

    Anyway, I thought I might provide a few factual corrections of what I consider to be some of the more silly mistakes in this post. It's up to you whether or not they change your "interpretation" (or whatever you want to call it).

    First, I don't speak Spanish because I don't have any use for it. I do (or did) know enough to get by living in Costa Rica for a summer when I was 25. My reading comprehension is "ok," but again, I don't have any use for it. (I can say the same thing about German, which I actually studied formally -- though I'm not sure why my linguistic skills are at all relevant.)

    Second, I don't follow your knock on old "Cabbage" at all. He works at a small litigation firm doing stuff that's quite beyond my competence. Neither of us wear $2,000 suits, though "Cabbage" does wear nicer suits than I (which isn't saying much). I also gained 10lbs. this year, so I don't think I should wear any "fit to form" suits until my diet pays off. Losing all of those Orthodox fasting days has been a real bitch.

    Third, my daily routine (for the next two months) -- if it must be the subject of speculation -- includes waking up at 5:30a, going to Mass (you got me), coming back home, taking my son to school, and trying to finish a book while watching my two other kids so my wife can run errands in peace. Then at 3:30p, I pick up my son from school, come home, try to get more work done, put the kids to bed, and then spend the evening reading or chatting with my wife. When I'm distracted, I write blog posts. This will obviously change when I go back to teaching three courses in the spring. I do like my office, though; the view is nice.

    Fourth, I was unaware that my parish is a "petit-bourgeois mecca of conservative Catholicism." Maybe it is, but I wouldn't know, nor do I care. Are the other three I go to ones as well? If so, do you have a list of more "hardcore" parishes I might attend?

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  8. Fifth, I am not and never have been a "Straussian." As you well know, Owen, I have written a great deal about why the "Straussian" label is almost meaningless (hence why I always place it in quotes) and I tend to read Strauss "apolitically." Granted, his pre-emigre writings reveal a cultural conservative and a Zionist, but I am unconvinced that trickled into Strauss' later work. But I suppose if I was a "Straussian," I'd probably say this as my "noble lie" in order to throw folks like you off our trail (or something).

    Sixth, you know full well I read more than Strauss, Schmitt, and Voegelin. I don't even know why it's relevant that I read them except the fact that they can (and do) serve as bogeyman for certain folks on the Left (though some on the Left seem obsessed with making Schmitt their own). Schmitt is an obvious conservative in the "classical European" sense of the term; Voegelin is much more difficult to pin down. But why burst your bubble on this one? I wouldn't expect you to, you know, read any of them or anything.

    Anyhow, thanks for the hits, have a super duper Thanksgiving, gobble-gobble, etc. Keep up the "good fight," the "revolution," or whatever it is you are on to this week. Let me know when you go back to the Baptists after the Catholic thing doesn't take or when you revert to being an eccentric conservative or whatever. I can't keep track of your fly-by-night posturing -- I have a 1% income bracket to try and break into.

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  9. Strauss'd again! I love it!

    Anyone here wager a guess as to how many Straussians deny being Straussians?

    I may just have to sell off my Voegelin now, for show. I do love to posture.

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  10. I'll stipulate to being a "Straussian" if you can first define what a "Straussian" is and then explain how that definition can capture figures as intellectually disparate as Seth Benardete and Harry Jaffa. Because whatever definition that happens to be is probably one I would have to agree with (e.g., "A Straussian is someone who has read Leo Strauss.")

    Before you sell off your Voegelin, let me encourage you to read it. Also, what is this clip you speak of? I'm unaware of it.

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  11. Samn,

    Where did Brague write that?

    I don't whether or not Strauss was an elitist. I will say that the status of "esotericism" in his thought remains a subject of much debate amongst his students (and their students), not to mention amongst the growing body of Strauss readers who -- like me! -- never took a single course from any alleged "Straussian" (but maybe they just never told us that they were "Straussians" or something). Even if that debate could be put to bed, it wouldn't answer whether or not his students ever really bought into it. Most seem to treat the "esotericism" doctrine as a matter-of-fact observation which reminds readers that they ought to take care when reading any text by a great thinker. I don't think it's really all that shocking that thinkers in earlier times were careful about what they wrote or even acted a bit coy now n' again. Heck, people still do it all the time -- regardless of whether or not they really "need to."

    I tend to read the later Strauss as a "creative thinker" who, it would seem, imputed some of his own ideas on thinkers from the past. Some of the more recent scholarship on Strauss also goes in this direction, particularly the ongoing project of trying to find deeper intellectual ties between him and Heidegger. I couldn't say how fruitful this stuff will prove to be in the end, but it's a bit more interesting than the shopworn efforts to "prove" that some journal article Strauss wrote in 1971 caused the Iraq War.

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  12. Also, a further correction, the Marxist writes:

    "In my exchange with him on this issue, the 'data' involved flat assertions made by Epstein based on a study that was of no more academic caliber than the sort of thing that Krugman and Wolff use all the time."

    I don't recall this debate or one which featured Epstein making this claim (though he probably has made it before). I vaguely recall one involving Thomas Sowell making this claim. I believe this is it:

    http://venuleius.wordpress.com/2011/08/26/envy/#comments

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  13. Well, thanks for the info.

    A perfesser, eh? Well, "those who can't...teach", eh?

    Interesting background. A "hapa", nowadays much more common than ever with interesting results.

    A perfesser, teaching those who will be courtiers and servants, ( law is a service industry of course), to the elite. Very good.

    Does "finish a book" mean writing one?

    Don't know much about Schmitt, Strauss, and Voegelin, ( did read Voegelin on Gnosticism- interesting but I preferred Jonas). I think they're probably good reads but, somehow, so parochial that they'll be footnotes in the future.

    I'm really sympathetic to both you guy'ses attitudes. After all, you're both not quite "there" in any social class so your choices are to be defenders or attackers of said social system.

    But I think Owen's got the pulse on something Gabe doesn't- the social order is vanishing, the wealth is changing-it's an ongoing process that began after WWII with the collapse of colonialism. All this was well known by the coterie that surrounded St. Ronnie and thus began, once again, the great divergences and dichotomies so beloved of those who think McKinley the finest of U.S. presidents.
    I find it fascinating that social/health measures begin their split between affluent and poor at this time, ( see obesity rates, for instance).

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  14. Ven,

    "Athènes, Jérusalem, La Mecque. L'interprétation « musulmane » de la philosophie grecque chez Leo Strauss" in Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale 94.3 (1989), pp. 309-336

    "Athens, Jerusalem, Mecca: Leo Strauss's "Muslim" Understanding of Greek Philosophy" in Poetics Today 19.2 (1998), pp. 235-259

    Incidentally, I think this article is absolutely key to understanding how Brague's own "Voie Romaine" project relates both to Islam and to Strauss. Eventually I plan on putting something in writing about that.

    Brague of course thinks that Strauss was kind-of-sort-of onto something with his way of reading, within certain limits, and so he also frequently plays the "I'm not a Straussian but..." game. I think it's a little silly to claim that Strauss' esotericism is simply an admonition to read texts with care. He has a very specific model of how he understands philosophers to write (extrapolated from his understanding of how Maimonides wrote) that frequently leads to some truly epic feats of eisegesis, aided by a refusal to employ even the most basic tools of common sense and philology.

    My own personal definition of Straussianism is the willingness to take Strauss seriously. As ideologically diverse the set of people who do so might be, it's still a fairly limited pool of people.

    (The disclaimer here being that I only presume to have the ability to deal with Strauss and Straussian treatments of ancient and medieval writers.)

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  15. Ev,

    If it makes you feel any better, I've done some consulting work on the side.

    I never said the social order wasn't vanishing. I never said there weren't concrete problems. I have no interest in the status quo and believe you me, if the "Occupy" crowd had its way (or, at least, the Chicago "Occupy" crowd's 12-point agenda), I'd be better off from a financial standpoint. Either way, my "light" antipathy toward the "Occupy" movement isn't all that different than my "light" antipathy toward the "Tea Party" movement. Maybe it's a matter of taste, but whatever.

    You've lurked around my blog long enough to know my views on the "legal profession," so I won't repeat them here. If you've forgotten, you can do a quick search and find out. I wrote two lengthy posts on the topic several months ago.

    Finish a book means I've been writing one. Trust me, the topic is about as exciting as watching paint dry -- Samn! does far more interesting academic work than I.

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  16. Samn!,

    I'm skeptical that there are a lot of "Straussians" who took the "esotericsm" insight to the "next level" or even dabbled in it to the degree Strauss did. With respect to the medieval Jewish and Islamic philosophers, none of the main "Straussians" who write on them -- Ralph Lerner, Charles Butterworth, Mushin Mahdi -- ever did what Strauss did. Whether that's because they privately disagreed with Strauss or didn't find the results fruitful is unknown to me. But if you read Lerner's monograph on Maimonides, it is far less "exotic" than anything Strauss wrote.

    Most of Strauss' students invested their energies in one of two places: Athens or America. A great deal in the latter camp dropped Strauss' "esoteric" reading of Locke and of the former, most of their interpretations are, again, not as "exotic" as what Strauss had on offer. Benardete is one exception, but Benardete's philological chops were far superior to Strauss's. I would define Benardete's readings as "challenging" and "eccentric" more than "esoteric" or "elitist." Also, there's a running theme in Benardete's work which cuts against the reception of Greek thought in modernity (from, say, Hegel on through Heidegger). You can think of these guys as nutballs, but I think that's probably the worst of their offenses.

    Though this is a side point, to the best of my knowledge none of the "Straussians" who ever made their way into politics or social commentary ever wrote anything academic. (Susan Orr is the only exception because she published her own eccentric dissertation which identifies Strauss as an "esoteric" theist whose works point toward Jerusalem and away from Athens.)

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  17. Ven,

    I'd disagree with you about Muhsin Mahdi in particular, since he seems to have bought very much into Strauss' penchant for reading all sorts of philosophical texts as "political" when in their original context they're anything but--- this is well illustrated by his selections for the "Political Philosophy in Islam" section of the Medieval Political Philosophy, where arguably at most one of the ten selections could be considered to be remotely political in intent (and I would even dispute that case-- for me, aside from the 'mirrors for princes' genre, Islamic political philosophy only begins with Ibn Khaldoun). When he wasn't engaged in that kind of silliness, Mahdi did make a lot of valuable contributions, though, while Butterworth's Straussian penchant for trying to read texts "on their own terms" that is, arrogantly, ahistorically, anti-philologically, and eisegetically, renders the bulk of his scholarship at best tragicomic, and at worst a sick joke. That said, some of the most entertaining book reviews you'll ever read are those of his books-- for a while there was almost a mini-industry in writing scathing review articles every time he published a book.
    In general, the field of Arabic philosophy was set back at least a couple decades by Strauss' foolishness, though I think his followers' influence is on the wane there.

    The centrality of Strauss' epic misreading of al-Farabi to his thought in general has been commented on by others besides Brague (who keys in on the centrality while missing how bad a misreading it is). The most Teutonically detailed work on this is Georges Tamer's Islamische Philosophie und die Krise der Moderne: das Verhältnis von Leo Strauss zu Alfarabi, Avicenna und Averroes (Brill, 2001). A short lecture that Tamer gave that summarizes some of his thought about this can be found here:
    http://www.aub.edu.lb/fas/ampl/Documents/files/Leo%20Strauss/Tamer,_20TheInfluenceOfIslamiPhilosophyOnLeoStrauss.pdf The talk is also interesting just for how it points out the Judaeo-Islamic nature of Strauss' political thought, and thus implicitly its incompatibility with Christianity...

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  18. I'll go back and re-read the Mahdi. The problem with interpreting "Straussians" is that there is a double character to "political philosophy": on the one hand it means devising the right political order absolutely; on the other it means making philosophy "palatable" or "safe" for the political community. It is this latter meaning which is bound up with the concept of esotericism in Strauss and others. If philosophy ran the risk of calling into question the constituting nomos of the political community, then it had to be placed into a form which made it acceptable to that community. This is one reason Strauss latched on to the various attempts by Islamic and Jewish philosophers to "prove" that the divine Law justified philosophy. He thought this was exoteric writing at work since "real philosophers," of course, know that the divine law is al bosh, etc.

    Strauss isn't compatible with Christianity. I can't recall who, but someone once did a study where he found that Strauss never used the phrase "Christian philosophy" as proof that Strauss didn't believe such a thing existed. Moreover, Strauss clearly disapproved of people like Aquinas trying to blend reason and revelation. Strauss believed or, at least, seemed to believe that a true philosopher could never accept revelation, which obviously DQs the medievals.

    I'll take your word on Butterworth's scholarship. I actually don't think I have read anything of his. I am familiar with some of his translations, though.

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  19. Nice discussion on Strauss etc; somewhat like looking at comparative flatulences.

    Sorry...but what does this have to do with the real situation going on?

    Strauss,Lerner, Butterworth and Mahdi are all fine entertainments, perhaps even essential entertaintments but they're not exactly germane to the crisis at hand.

    Sociopaths have grasped the reins of power, somewhat, no, like a Phillip K. Dick novel.

    Any countermoves? No? I thought not.

    Dick was far more prescient than I thought.

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  20. I am waiting for a philosopher king to ascend the throne and solve our problems. As such, I find Strauss particularly germane to this conversation.

    What "real situation" are you referring to? The collapse of the eurozone? I'm keeping my eyes on it, but I'm sure the Germans will save the day -- de facto war reparations and all of that. They'll get their guns back soon enough, though.

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  21. 'What "real situation" are you referring to? The collapse of the eurozone?'

    Oh, please. You mean you don't know what's going on around you? I mean, really around you?

    I've been away from the U.S. for five years and I know more about the social/economic crisis facing Americans than you?

    Granted, I worked in social services in California, in an affluent, very affluent county, providing health insurance and other aid for those living right next door to 1%er inhabitants but that was five years ago.

    Don't tell me that you, with your privileged opportunities to see things, haven't noticed what's going on?

    It ain't the "eurozone crisis" that's going to bite you in the ass, it's the conditions right next to you. Open your eyes, open your ears.

    Man, the thickness of people.

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  22. Joking?

    Well, I could pull the serious bit, but given the situation that's not gonna fly.

    Given the situation, do you think there really could be a philosopher king? He'd have to be a combo of Uncle Ronnie, Billy Bob, and Ol' Abe or George....Milty ain't it and neither is Obama.

    T'aint no time to be joking.

    Your blog may not be much as readership goes, ( who knows-you do), but you might, as well as Owen, be fragments of sanity, ( well, some sanity, given the way things are), in a rather strange world.

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  23. I get about 10 times more hits than I ought and I'm still trying to figure out why.

    But I'm not convinced that the sky is falling -- at least not yet. Maybe I'm one of those who has to get hit in the head with a star first. I remember the post-9/11 rhetoric well and how "everything was going to change," but for most of us, it didn't. We may have entered a depression, but it wasn't "great" in the 1929 sense. Moreover, today is the launch of "Black Friday." When there stops being a "Black Friday," I'll assume something is different.

    Maybe this is, for some, a too sanguine view of the world, but so be it. I'll die a naive soul, I suppose.

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  24. I suppose being Strauss'd is not nearly as bad as being Strass-Kahn'd!

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  25. Owen,

    It's been a while since I commented, but I've been reading Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin for a class and they seem sort of relevant to this post. I feel fairly safe assuming you hate Carlyle as an elitist and have no sympathy for his thought, but what about John Ruskin?

    I mean I can think of several critiques you might have of a lot of his thought but what about Unto This Last? Anyone else is welcome to share thoughts, its funny to see a lot of the same people commentating, you draw a loyal crowd Owen. =)

    Also, I like your Happy Thanksgiving picture.

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  26. Sava,

    It's not that I have no sympathy for Carlyle's thought, it's that I have no use for it and when I look about for people who do have a use for it, I'm not inclined to find a use for it. Elitism is only one of many problems in Carlyle. When talking elitisms, the elitism in Carlyle and the elitism among the Strauss cult are two different animals.

    As for Ruskin - go read this book - William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary by E.P. Thompson. What is asserted and alluded to with regard to Ruskin there is the view of Ruskin that I find most helpful.

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  27. Among the many quotes in my life that I have regrettably misplaced was this delightful quote I read years ago concerning intellectuals being wooed to the Catholic Church in the late 19th century. I'm pretty sure the quote was by Charles Hodge but it may have been Philip Schaff - anyway it was an American Calvinist. I can’t do the passage justice, but in this quote the writer laments that Catholicism, in evangelism to English speaking intellectuals anyway, was so often presented in a rather tailor made version specific to the intellectual climate of the given would-be convert. And the writer further lamented that whenever someone, such as the writer himself, tried to argue something solid of Catholicism, and say, "look, this is essential to it all, if you are going to accept Catholicism, you are going to have to accept this" [insert plainly stated dogmatic point or point of praxis] and so forth, the Catholic evangelist (in my recollection the writer refers to the typical evangelist specifically as a Jesuit) working on the intellectual would-be convert in question would respond "no, he's got it nearly all wrong, look at x, y, and z that shows it isn't that simple" and then he would present Catholicism in light of emphases that contrasted whatever our writer (Hodge or whomever it was) had said - if almost to do nothing more than discredit the writer's criticisms of Catholicism in order to evoke more or the would-be convert's trust toward Catholicism and the Jesuit evangelist in question. The writer in question lamented how frustrating it was trying to argue in such a context, when Catholicism was treated as so malleable and so easily customized. It wasn’t an argument against complexity and nuance – the writer accounted for that – it was instead an expression of disgust toward what was believed to be a rather flamboyant ingenuity on the part of the Jesuit evangelists – their rhetoric would embrace any route necessary to “prove” that they were not what their detractors made of them.

    I’m reminded of that quote upon reading the exchanges between Venny and Samn! here and elsewhere.

    I’m not taking a Shadia B. Drury line against Strauss and Straussians. I’m not accusing Venny of being a neoconservative. I’m accusing him of being a Straussian on the very basis that Samn! here gives as the typical measure of Straussianism. Note what I say in the post – one of the key components of Straussianism is a particular bitching posture, and a particular manner of rejecting everything in scholarship I don’t like along lines that are idiosyncratic enough to broadly categorize as Straussian. The Straussian need not accept everything from Struass, the Straussian may be a social conservative and/or may like to engage in homosexual trysts with men half his age. The Straussian may be a neo-con, a paleo-con, or a liberal, in that great tradition of elitist liberals. Whether or not Mark Lilla is a Straussian (and I’m inclined to think his elitism is of a competing school, but then again…), it makes perfect sense that an elitist jackass given to his own idiosyncratic rejections of vast swaths of modern scholarship with a cartoonish presentation of his own views on modern scholarship as vastly superior to anyone else’s would devote time to Strauss. There must be a magnetism there.

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  28. - cont'd -


    It would be useful, if one really wanted to parse this whole “debate” to have access to everything Venny has ever written regarding Strauss, on all of his former blogs in addition to the material on his current blog. What would be of interest would not be the changes in view as changes in view, but rather the impression I think these texts in comprehensive view would give with regard to the malleability of Strauss in Venny’s hands. Strauss is whatever Venny needs him to be at the moment. I remember a Vennian Strauss that was very much related to Venny’s early interests in polysci and the formation of his thoughts regarding political thought, but that was on a prior blog. This latest bit of “all I really needed him for was as an elixir to the horrid treatment of ancient texts in the hands of the dreaded academics I was subject to” strikes me as one of the more minimalist versions of Strauss to come from Ven, which isn’t to say that it is inconsistent with prior pixel Strausses coming from his hand. I read that bit and I thought “really? You needed Strauss for that?” Of all the places to go. And that Venny is a conservative is just happenstance, of course. That Venny is very much attracted to critiques of the academy and contemporary intellectual life that pretty much exactly match the caricature of Straussianism is circumstantial. I mean, it can be shown he has substantial disagreements with Strauss, and at this time ranks Voegelin above Strauss, and so on and so forth, so it’s all good. It’s like there is a autism like didacticism at work sometimes – fuck social relations, I want “objective” economic realities is the sort of posture that would naturally just not see such things as intellectual milieus and cults which include both the stringent cliques and those who more loosely follow the cult ---- it’s all shrugged off as the sort of thing ideologues use to categorize in place of argument. Whatever.
    One need not take a Drury line against Strauss to recognize the Straussian disease. To recognize that there is no need for Strauss outside of the cultivation of elitism. Couldn’t we say that what is solid in Bernadette could have been achieved without Strauss or any particular Straussian “line of thought” or intellectual avenue? Strauss isn’t a school of thought per se, though surely a majority of Straussians can be shown to be inclined toward certain methodological similarities, no - Strauss is more a style, an intellectual posture, a cult of elitist orientation. And among conservatives in particular, Strauss is one tool among several used to help cultivate the requisite elitism among its intellectuals. This isn’t to say that there are not liberal elitists or god knows how many other general categories of intellectual elitism. But elitism has a certain particular function within conservatism, if Robin is right (and I think he is), to not understand the correlation between conservatism and its peculiar elitism is to not understand conservatism or our time.

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  29. - cont'd -


    Venny routinely denies “being” a whole host of things. There is always the protest that he is actually an agnostic on this or that – such as the time he “defended” the recent dramatic increases in executive compensation by telling us he wasn’t qualified to assert what execs did or the value of their work, but he was inclined to think it might be quite valuable, or somesuch. Or the time he defended (or rather, sorry, “couldn’t find a problem with”) the incarcerations of dissenters in WWI, including those who simply advocated in informal settings that people not enlist in the military – all put in the most shrugged “well, who am I to say otherwise” sort of terms. At various times he plays his hand with more assertive statements, and when doing so reveals his default positions, as when he speaks matter-of-factly about the impossibility of maintaining entitlement programs because of costs, or when in a conversation about something from Epstein he repeats matter-of-factly some rather mundane big tent libertarian talking point. But, of course, when it comes to positive affirmation, Venny won’t let us associate him with any political or economic sect. The thing about Robin’s analysis that is so pertinent here is that Robin shows that the particular doctrines of conservatism change and wane and morph over time – what remains consistent is the elitism, as Robin defines it. I’ve agreed to stop posting about Venny. But when I post in the future regarding Robin’s thesis, y’all will know some of the folks I think personify Robin’s analysis.

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  30. - cont'd -


    As for Strauss – I’ve read perhaps 200 pages in my life, in several different monographs that I never finished. I think once I read an essay or two by Strauss that Venny or some other admirer linked to. I’ve read perhaps twice as many pages in works about Strauss. I’ve read a lot more Voegelin, who has always been of more interest to me, 3 full Voegelin titles (All from Order and History) that I’ve read through, another 4 or 5 I’ve read portions of, and I’ve read perhaps ten titles concerning Voegelin. But hey, how many Marxists ever touch the two, and why should they? I have absolutely no use for Strauss whatsoever. The only purpose I could see in reading him or reading about him would be to refute the Straussians, and I will leave that to others, all the while considering it a side project that has to be handled delicately – one doesn’t want to make too much out of refuting Strauss because the last thing Straussians need is more attention and more encouragement in their thinking that they are an intellectually substantial phenomenon. Voegelin is another writer some conservative intellectuals love who begs the question “so what?” On any number of “issues”, take freedom for instance, there is in the literature a cacophony of opinions with regard to what Voegelin actually believed. It seems what is ultimately important is not to even be ballpark with regard to what Voegelin believed about freedom but to accept his antagonism toward “world-centered” ideologies. When you get past the jargon, I can’t seen much in Voegelin’s gripes against, say, Marxism, that it at all original or profound. It’s not as if there have not been a plethora of versions of “Don't immanentize the eschaton!” among writers which conservative intellectuals like. It’s not as if there hasn’t been a kazillion Marxist, post-Marxist, neo-Marxist, and heterodox Marxist intellectuals who have responded to the “Marxism is the attempt to create heaven on earth within history” criticisms in various and sundry ways. That Voegelin doesn’t much engage these Marxist responses to such criticisms leaves me with little interest in Voegelin as a critic of Marxism. Whatever his intentions, his work (with regard to criticisms of modern political philosophies) seems to have little more purpose than a preach to the choir sort of thing. The Marxism Voegelin seems to be attacking is the most cartoonish form of Marxism imaginable – I think even an Althusser could run circles around such a caricature, let alone Marxists of other schools who are keen on attacking any notion of the vanguard as messianic elite, and so forth. Voegelin’s anti-ideology rhetoric strikes me as convenient and arbitrarily applied. I think he is so highly regarded by some conservative intellectuals because his neologisms and peculiar jargon and working assumption that the reader has read a hell of a lot appeals to conservative elitist postures – it’s all airs and a way of showing off. But, you know, what it really comes down to for me is that Voegelin was friends with Hayek. I’ve been reading a lot about Hayek of late, the person, not just the ideas, and seen a few videos of Hayek being interviewed. My sense of him was the same as when I watched that PBS clip of Epstein – only a complete asshole could in any way be attracted to this man and his thought.

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  31. I detest the word limit feature of this thing, so pardon my choppy-as-hell response. I think it’d be useful to grab some representative quotes and go from there:

    “Note what I say in the post – one of the key components of Straussianism is a particular bitching posture, and a particular manner of rejecting everything in scholarship I don’t like along lines that are idiosyncratic enough to broadly categorize as Straussian.”

    Oh, well, if it’s that easy, then I am surely not a “Straussian” since I don’t reject scholarship which doesn’t fit within your very broad “Straussian” category (which still strikes me as very foggy; so does Samn’s). What I find so odd about your argument is that I know you know this, but it serves your posturing—for the purposes of this post, at least—to posit that I am tethered to Strauss and that broad, yet paradoxically narrow, faction known as “Straussians” who, according to you, are less identifiable by a shared intellectual or ideological affinity and more by the fact that you think they’re elitist assholes. You won’t be surprised to learn that I don’t feel particular scathed by your analysis.

    “What would be of interest would not be the changes in view as changes in view, but rather the impression I think these texts in comprehensive view would give with regard to the malleability of Strauss in Venny’s hands.”

    This is really wanting, particularly since those same blogs would reveal the distance I have kept from Strauss’ more “extravagant” claims and the fact I have, over time, refined just where I come down in agreement (or disagreement) with the various interpretations of Strauss which are available. Since these blog posts you reference cover a span of no less than seven years, during which time I moved from my mid-20s to my early 30s, I would like to believe I am afforded some latitude with respect to changing my mind. Though I have devoted considerably less space to him, one could say the same thing about Alexander Schmemann—a thinker who I detested until (here’s a shocker) I started reading your assessments (which, in turn, prompted me to expand my vision a bit). I am sure there are a dozen other examples of this, but that one comes quickly to mind. Anyway, back on point…

    I don’t understand what your “point” is concerning this alleged fissure between my “use” of Strauss. At around the ripe old age of 20 (I can remember the class and the semester), I became interested in political thought and, from there, proceeded to read—in a very haphazard manner—as many of those nifty blue-covered Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought as I could afford at the time. I would consider my reading of these books to be quite immature and haphazard, mainly because I was instructed—like many students still are—to regard these as antiques or historical curiosities. Strauss (and his students) didn’t do that and it was refreshing. As I noted on my blog, I came to Strauss via a polemical piece in Harpers, not because I read about him in the Secret Elitist Conservative Newsletter I subscribed to at the time. (And at the time I first read Strauss, I would have identified myself as a liberal anyway.) You failed to mention that I also relied, for a time, on Strauss’ critique of the modern critique of religion as I was finding my way back to the Church (which, as we all know, resulted in a seven-year layover in Orthodoxy). In retrospect, it was a naïve reliance, particularly since I don’t believe Strauss actually supports the views I took at the time, but you live and learn.

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  32. “To recognize that there is no need for Strauss outside of the cultivation of elitism.”

    At some point one has to say that this is entirely your hang-up. As best as I can tell, you have had far more interaction with “Straussians” than I have or maybe I just don’t know them when I see them (or maybe I’m just lying in order to protect our secrets). What I find ironic in all of this is that you have no compunction about relying on anecdote, caricature, and hyperbole when it comes to Strauss (or your idea of “Strauss”) and my alleged “Straussianism” even though you frequently lament that others (myself included) do the same with respect to your sacred cows. Cute. And while you may have armed yourself with a new book to lightly (and I do mean lightly) reference when you’re on one of your polemical kicks and don’t want to bother showing why anyone you don’t happen to agree with (say, Strauss, Voegelin, or little old me) is wrong (just that you detest their existence (or something)), I’m at a loss for seeing where this goes.

    “Venny routinely denies “being” a whole host of things.”

    Naw, I just deny being the “whole host of things” you need/want me to be for the purposes of going off on one of your ill-reasoned tangents. You can associate me with whatever you want, but that doesn’t mean I am going to agree with you. If you want to say I am being disingenuous or that I’m blind or I’m engaging in some form of “Straussianism,” that’s cool. I once thought (wrongly) that there was some value in taking your assessments and thinking about whether or not they “fit in” with my thinking, but I also used to do that on the assumption that we were on good terms and that you weren’t just writing for the purposes of engaging in a dick-measuring contest (which, statistically speaking, you’d lose anyway since you are 100% white, short, and overweight—see, two can play at this game). Now, of course, none of that means you aren’t right, but even if you are right, I’m not sure it means much of anything except that you and I aren’t going to be vacationing together anytime soon. If all of this effort has been expended because you want me to be clear that you don’t want to be my friend, I assure you: a simple e-mail would have sufficed. And if it’s supposed to mean something more, namely that I am an “asshole,” then pardon me if I again burst your bubble by telling you that I was notified of that fact for the first time in high school. And the person who told me (a football player who didn’t like the fact I was imitating his speech patterns when asking a sarcastic question in class) didn’t have to pour out thousands of words concerning the tenor of my thought to do so.

    But lest you accuse me of moving from “asshole” to “piece of shit” because I won’t engage your criticisms, I don’t remember where I ever defended dramatic increases in executive compensation, though I have mentioned some of the plausible (I know you hate that word) accounts of why it has increased. (I hope I don’t have to explain the difference between positive and normative analysis to you.) As for the WWI incarcerations, I think that discussion was on your old blog, yes? Again, I don’t recall the particulars, but it strikes me as odd that I would have defended the practice; it seems to me that I, again, would have tried to explain, based on what I have read (which you can claim isn’t the “right stuff,” I guess), why such incarcerations occurred. (Again, there’s a positive/normative distinction to be made here.) If I did try to defend it, though, I was probably wrong. I have been guilty in the past for taking contrarian positions for the hell of it.

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  33. I don’t know where your Epstein claim is coming from, though I will “confess” that I have read a lot of Richard Epstein over the years and there are aspects of his work which I find helpful (particularly with respect to common law subjects like torts). But Epstein is another example of someone I had a certain affinity for, based on some early reading I did, and then came to disagree with more and more as I made my way through what amounts to an outstandingly broad body of work. So, I might very well say that I agree with Epstein that a strict liability system would have likely done a better job averting a disaster like the BP oil spill than government oversight (“likely” is not “absolutely”) and that Roman law is an excellent springboard for thinking through the first principles of private law, but I certainly part company with him on most social matters, including (amongst other things) his stretched critiques of labor legislation and unions (which, it now seems to me, are predicated upon some serious historical misreading). One thing about Epstein—which I guess relates to you—is that you once blasted Epstein’s views on child labor legislation, which prompted me to “follow the trail” so-to-speak. In the end, I changed my mind: Epstein was wrong and “you” (or, I should say, the sources your argument eventually led me to read) did that. I know, I know. I’m going to get kicked out of my cabal for telling you that, but I’ll just tell them it was a “noble lie.”

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  34. But lest you accuse me of moving from “asshole” to “piece of shit” because I won’t engage your criticisms

    Uhm, dude, you just did, and you can't not, because you are addicted to Straussing. But I knew that so, bait and all... Honestly, I think I get some sort of sick amusement out of being Strauss'd.

    Sometimes I think Venny confuses "elitist" with "conspiratorial" or somesuch.

    At some point one has to say that this is entirely your hang-up. It seems to me that this thread shows that it is not entirely my hang up. Perhaps my life has been singularly odd in this respect, but Samn!'s views on Strauss and Straussians, while he comes at them from his own areas of expertise, are such that I have encountered before. I would have thought Strauss dismissing parties not completely uncommon. Just as there are Samns! who have unfortunately had to waste time reading the man and reading about him, there are those of us who have encountered Samns! and decided, "absolutely no point in reading further, it's just an intellectual tool of an elitist cult."

    I wasn't trying to introduce new material with the asshole inference, I know you know you are an asshole, I was just expressing my perplexedness regarding how anyone could in any way line up with, defend, sort of defend, enjoy others being bothered by, or anything of the sort when it comes to Epstein or Hayek, who are such cartoons and Dickensian in their capacity to revolt the, I don't know, normal humans. Hell, for a guy who likes to use the caricature of the tenured professor who is "at least making money" by propounding his Marxism, one would think you might not be too quick to associate yourself in any way with the other side of that coin. Then again, no, one would think that.

    since I don’t reject scholarship which doesn’t fit within your very broad “Straussian” category

    Uh, yeah. I suppose I will have to allow the thought that there is some other reader out there who has read you for 5+ years and knows the stereotype of the Straussian. That thought vindicates me....

    Glad you changed your mind on child labor. Just in time to not be in league with Newt.

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  35. Oh, and as for dicks, it's not the length that counts most, but the width.

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  36. "Oh, and as for dicks, it's not the length that counts most, but the width."

    Finally, a man who will go to bat for having a chode. I have seen it all.

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  37. Hey Owen,

    One last question that I think will only require a very brief answer unless you want to color it. When speaking of interpretations of persons and ideas as being more or less helpful for your aims/understanding, what ideal, or aim, is it that you ultimately appeal to?

    My understanding of you, which probably isn't great, would lead me to guess it would involve Communism and Christianity with the former being the most helpful for realizing the latter. But what say you?

    And WTF? Mark Lilla is discussed in your blog somewhere? Can you point me in that direction, I have absolutely no engagement with his thought or him personally, but a couple of my friends have taken/are taking several classes with him and fear him as a god.

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  38. Sava,

    Lilla was discussed on occasion on my old blog. As that blog is essentially gone, I can't link to it. Lilla wrote what I felt, at the time, was the most devastating critique of Derrida I had ever read, and I spent a few years reading whatever I saw from Lilla, including his book on Vico and his book on new French thought. I have not read his book on Religion, in part because I have read such devastating critiques of it which moved the book further and further down my list of things to read. My view of Lilla now is that he is a brilliant man who is perhaps a near perfect specimen of a certain sort of intellectual arrogance. Does he tend toward the pathologies of liberalism as a whole? Sure. But that said, because of his brilliance, I still read his essays when I come across them, 5 or 6 times a year maybe. And I take them with a huge grain of salt. Venny has thoughts on Lilla too. You might want to discuss the man with him.

    As of yet, I make no attempt to reconcile communism and Christianity. I am not particularly drawn toward those attempts at reconciliation which I have seen. At this time, I remain agnostic on the matter. I have enjoyed the work of Roland Boer I have been able to read at the library -- his blog Stalin's Moustache is on my blog roll. But his revisionist take on Calvin is such I can't quite bite on, Calvin hater as I am and have so long been. But if anybody can tell you about just about every attempt ever to reconcile communism and Christianity, and about the relationships between communism and Christianity, Boer would be your man.

    Aims/Ideals. Eh, I don't know. I used to think I was a Marxist Kuhnian at the core, but now I think I'm more a Kuhnian Marxist, as Kuhn needs to be corrected by Hegel - in the sense that Steve Taylor puts it - of Kuhn rendering the history of science "self-conscious" something which Kuhn writes as if he has no awareness of. I've been reading more and more of Dunayevskaya and C.L.R. James, thanks to Arturo, and I think that freedom is more important to me than it once was. I think that the social construct hierarchies should pretty much always be treated as either a brutality or a farce or both, no matter whose hierarchy we're talking about. I think that the process of kenosis in time and space has developed to the point that God is now some sick toddler in a favela in São Paulo who transsexual mother buys her cocoa leaves from the market to quell God's stomach pains. And the devil, of course, is a slum tourist ( http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/09/travel/09heads.html?ref=travel&pagewanted=all ). On one of his many tours he goes to São Paulo, and happens to see God as a three year old girl who looks like she will almost certainly die soon. The Devil feels sorry for God, and also feels his life somehow vindicated by being a witness to such human and divine misery. The Devil nods to the child, the child just stares back.

    What is my aim? What it has always been, to live a human life.

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  39. Sava and Owen...what about Gustavo Gutierrez or Dorothy Day? I know you have seen these...perhaps, they are too non-violent?

    I suppose there are many other minor figures, many who have themselves or their movements slowed by the Church. I do remember reading that one guy, a priest in the early 20th c., only distributed communion to those willing to participate in the revolution...its probably on wiki somewhere.

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