This entire issue of PPS is devoted to a symposium of essays on Melzer's book edited by Peter Minowitz. The other authors are Francis Fukuyama, Norma Thompson, Catherine Zuckert, Michael Zuckert, Michael Frazer, Adrian Blau, Douglas Burnham, Miguel Vatter, Roslyn Weiss, Grant Havers, and Peter Augustine Lawler. The next issue of PPS will have four or five new articles on the book and Melzer's response to the entire symposium. (If you have access to any good academic library, you should be able to download PPS.)
My main idea is that Melzer's book points to a contradiction in Leo Strauss's account of esoteric writing. On the one hand, Strauss seems to agree with the pre-modern view that esoteric writing is necessary and desirable because of the natural conflict between the philosophic life of the few and the moral, religious, or political life of the many. On the other hand, Strauss seems to agree with the modern view that in a liberal or open society, there is no natural conflict between the philosophic life and the practical life, and therefore esoteric writing is unnecessary and undesirable.
None of the other authors in the PPS symposium explicitly recognize this contradiction. But some of them do implicitly point to it. Some of them say that Strauss agrees with the pre-modern view of the philosophic life as the only naturally good life, as a life for a few human beings that must conflict with the practical life of the many, and therefore esoteric writing is necessary and desirable to keep these opposing lives from harming one another. And yet some of these authors also say that Strauss endorses modern liberal democracy in establishing open societies in which esoteric writing is no longer necessary or desirable, because complete freedom of thought and speech does not weaken the social order of a liberal society.
So far, I have not seen anyone who can clear up this apparent contradiction in Strauss's writing. Nor have I seen anyone who can plausibly deny that modern liberalism really has succeeded in creating a largely open society with no need for esoteric writing. In such a society, the philosophic life is not the only naturally good life restricted to a few, but it is rather one of the natural goods of life that is open to all human beings. On this point, I agree with Lawler, who writes:
"As St. Augustine says, action and contemplation are for all of us. Even Socrates should have practiced the virtues of generosity and charity and parental responsibility, and all of us should have some time--because we're all given the inward inclination--to contemplate the truth about who each of us is and what we're born to do. This line of thinking is the way both to restore the dignity of liberal education and to recover the truthful foundation of the rights we all cherish. The bottom line: I don't think we should practice esoteric writing, and I don't think it ever faithfully or unambiguously served the truth. Truths that Melzer presents as once esoteric and now inauthentic commonplaces among sophisticates (e.g., that love is an illusion and suffering is meaningless) turn out not to be true, deep down, after all" (203).
Lawler has responded to this post on his "Postmodern Conservative" blog.