Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Today I find myself brooding over something in my inbox from Lew Rockwell, a reflection by Paul Gottfried on the dubious and dangerous legacy of Leo Strauss, a figure highly respected in the conservative movement of my youth, but whose thought I as a student of philosophy could never seem to get a handle on.

I might say the same about my own Straussian professor, Martin S. Dworkin, who was never known as a conservative, though his open anti-Communism made him a persona non grata at Teachers College after his best friend Larry Cremin became president and his courses were given to Maxine Greene, the queen of political correctness who had chaired the selection committee. At Cremin's funeral the eulogist remarked that his deepest convictions were hidden from all who knew him. It would seem paradoxical to say the same of Martin, whose scornful opinions were expressed with brutal tactlessness, yet his unwillingness to engage in any real dialogue about ultimate questions argued a profound inability to expose the premises of his thought to the light of discussion.

My dialogue with Martin Dworkin continues in a poem I began soon after I heard of his death a decade or so ago, and may never finish, and in a review of The Closing of the American Mind, which I will almost certainly not finish, or at least publish.

Leo Strauss was (or claimed to be) a Platonist, but one who held that what we normally think of as Plato's philosophy is merely a Golden Lie to be told by the Guardians, or would-be Guardians, to keep civilization going, and the lower orders in their places. This is perhaps why the Allan Bloom's beloved Western Civilization is something that simply doesn't exist between the end of the Roman Empire (in the West) and the (so-called) Enlightenment.

Charles Sanders Peirce, the fountainhead of American philosophy, proved to my satisfaction, and to the satisfaction of minds more learned and acute than mine, that the nominalism which has dominated official philosophy in the West since the days of Occam is absolutely fatal to the practice of science, which is one of the glories of our civilization. Just before I was born Richard Weaver showed to my (eventual) satisfaction, that it is equally fatal to all grace, decency, and polity.

I owe a great deal to Weaver, and to his great book Ideas Have Consequences, which I read the summer after my first year at Earlham. Without his eloquent defense of Platonic and Scholastic realism, I might well have dismissed the pragmatic mainstream of American philosophy, which presupposes it, as casually as professional intellectuals, including self-described philosophers, habitually do.