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Reconsidering "Leo Strauss and the 'Crazies in the Basement'"

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Message Donald Archer

In response to my recent op-ed commentary, "Leo Strauss And the 'Crazies in the Basement'," I received an email with a simple and fair request: "What's a good book on Strauss? One that enumerates his positions (like calling for perpetual war, etc.)?" The question was a wake-up call. For one, I could find no direct quote from Strauss 'calling for perpetual war.'

I got my information from secondary sources, not directly from the writings of Strauss himself. What I realized is something I've always known: information is easy to find; it's truth that's difficult.

The email came to me as a twofold epiphany: first, that such a question is at the bottom of a healthy democracy, and, second, that I might be guilty of the same dissemination of misinformation, however unwittingly, that I accuse those whose values I oppose.

In this technological, electronic world access to infinite information seems almost effortless. Getting material published electronically is relatively easy. This is the information age. But it can be the misinformation age as well---infinite misinformation is equally accessible and equally easy to publish.

Jumping to conclusions is easy, too.

What is more elusive than ever is how to find and discern the truth.

It is obvious that there are 'crazies in the basement,' and probably on the first floor, of the White House. The extent to which Strauss' teaching directly correlates to the manifestation of neoconservatism may be less clear. And whether knowledge of such a relationship is particularly helpful can be questioned.

In my original piece, I referred to the 'warped worldview of Leo Strauss' and listed a series of 'Straussian' principles that I was led to believe had come directly from his teaching. My impetus was a three-part BBC documentary on the threat from organized terrorism, 'The Power of Nightmares,' produced by Adam Curtis in 2004 and which I saw recently on a DVD. William Kristol discusses the influence of Leo Strauss in the film.

In hindsight, those principles may have more to do with how his lectures and writings have been interpreted by others than with Strauss' teaching itself. Some of his neoconservative students deny his teaching provided the intellectual framework and personal justification for their philosophy. Strauss' influence can be argued ad nauseam.

Focusing on the actions of our political leadership---whatever the roots of their worldview---is most important. 'Perpetual war' can exist without having to 'call for it.' Rhetoric can lie, but actions are generally less ambiguous.

What is clear is that many of our leaders have contempt for the democratic process. They are authoritarian and don't hesitate to impose their will by trickery, deception, or force. They bestow benefits on a privileged few and leave the less fortunate majority to fend for themselves. They identify those who oppose them as 'evil' or as the 'enemy,' and feel free to imprison them regardless of evidence. They condone torture. They perpetuate fear. They obviously believe that their ends justify any means.

Where they get their inspiration is a moot point.

The crux of the matter is whether we want this kind of political leadership, and these kinds of actions, or not. And whether we will be coerced by them.

I don't want to add to the confusion, or the misery.

Action speaks for itself; from now on I'll let Leo Strauss, as it were, speak for himself.

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Donald Archer is a painter, observer, and commentator living on California's Central Coast. His work may be seen at
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