Saturday, February 18, 2023

Are the Straussian Fascists Showing that Will Altman Was Right About Leo Strauss?

I have written about Bronze Age Pervert's Bronze Age Mindset (here and here).  So I was interested in the recent essay by Blake Smith identifying Bronze Age Pervert as Costin Alamariu, who wrote a doctoral dissertation--The Problem of Tyranny and Philosophy in Plato and Nietzsche--under the supervision of Steven Smith, a Straussian political theorist at Yale University.  Blake Smith shows how Alamariu's dissertation explains the Straussian philosophic grounding for Bronze Age Mindset.

This connection of Alamariu's Nietzschean fascism to Strauss fits a remarkable pattern of Straussian influence with other contemporary exponents of Nietzschean fascism that I have considered on this blog.  Richard Spencer studied under Michael Gillespie at Duke University.  Michael Millerman studied under Clifford Orwin at the University of Toronto, although Orwin resigned from his dissertation committee after some newspaper stories publicized Millerman's fascist political philosophy.  Alamariu, Spencer, and Millerman were all shaped in their thinking by Leo Strauss's interpretation of Nietzsche's fascism as the best illiberal alternative to liberal democracy.

This seems to confirm what William Altman was arguing ten years ago--in a series of three books on Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Strauss--that Strauss was the secret theoretician of National Socialism.  Altman presented his "German trilogy" of books as following a tripartite structure suggested by Strauss in his "Three Waves of Modernity."  According to Strauss, the First Wave of modernity came with Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Locke; the Second Wave came with Rousseau, Kant, and Hegel; and the Third Wave came with Nietzsche and Heidegger.  If each wave comes through a sequence of three thinkers, who is the third thinker of the Third Wave?  Surely, Altman suggested, it must be Strauss himself.  And if the Third Wave leads to fascism, as Strauss indicated, then this would point to Strauss as the thinker who most fully worked out the theory of fascism or Nazism as the anti-liberal solution to the crisis of liberal democracy.

As I have indicated in my posts on Altman, I have found him to be an insightful commentator on Strauss.  But I do disagree with him on two points.  First, I think he overstates his Strauss-as-a-Jewish-Nazi thesis.  In fact, he implicitly concedes some of the weaknesses in this thesis.  He recognizes that Strauss regarded Hitler as a fool.  He also recognizes that there is no evidence that Strauss ever developed any positive program for moving towards a National Socialist society.

Still, I am persuaded that Altman has shown that Strauss is open to the criticism that he was not emphatic enough in defending liberal democracy against the ideas of Nietzsche, Schmitt, and Heidegger.  Strauss never really offered a thorough refutation of these ideas, and instead he showed some attraction to them--most clearly in his lectures on "German Nihilism" and the "Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism."  Significantly, these lectures were not published until after Strauss's death.

My second point of disagreement is that unlike Altman and Strauss, I see Nietzsche in his middle period (Human, All Too Human, Dawn, and the first four books of The Gay Science) as providing an alternative--based on his Darwinian liberalism--to the positions he took in his early and late writings.  Nietzsche's Darwinian writings do not suffer from the contradictions that Altman rightly sees in his other writings.  Nor do the Darwinian writings provide any encouragement to the Nazis who appropriated ideas from the other writings.  Nietzsche's Darwinian aristocratic liberalism is intellectually, morally, and politically superior to his Dionysian aristocratic radicalism.  Strauss and the Straussians fail to see this as the Nietzschean way to defend liberalism against its illiberal critics.


Les Brunswick said...

Strauss was not a fascist. He lacked the intensely violent, tribalistic temperament and emotional drives that are at the heart of that philosophy. His ideal life was rather one of calm intellectual study.

But Strauss could not be a real defender of liberalism. That is because liberalism rests on assumptions about various basic intellectual areas such as psychology, history, and metaphysics, that he rejected. Basically he started out as a Nietzschean and accepted its philosophical assumptions, but it didn't fit him, but he also could not honestly support liberalism, so he invented a third option that was neither liberalism nor fascism, but still retaining many of Nietzsche's assumptions.

However, not surprisingly some people who do have a more fascist personality have picked up on his Strauss's Nietzachean ideas and use them to promote fascism.

Larry Arnhart said...

I agree with what you say here.

Your last sentence points to Strauss's big mistake: he wrote in a way that encouraged some young men with Alcibiadean/Calliclean temperaments to turn his Nietzschean ideas into fascism. Strauss should have avoided this mistake because he saw how Nietzsche made the same mistake: Nietzsche made it too easy for the Nazis to appropriate the ideas of Nietzsche's early and late writings (but not the middle writings!).

Les Brunswick said...

I agree, Strauss should have done that. I am thinking that maybe he didn't at least partly because his thoughtful lecture style attracted only students with a similar temperament, and he didn't think out how his writings could eventually picked up by people with different temperaments and motivations.

W. Bond said...

East Coast, West Coast, Midwestern, Bronze Age Weirdos?
How curious the multitudes: from staunch defenders of the Classic Liberalism of the Founding and Lincoln like Jaffa, to Nietzschean atheistic fascists, to many others?
His theme of “the crisis of the West” would seem to be that of the dual nihilistic dead end cul-de-sacs of positivism and historicism, with the “solution” of returning to Socrates/Plato/Aristotle via the medievals to better understand if there was a wrong turn in Albuquerque, so to speak. This doesn’t sound like the third thinker in the third wave, but perhaps it is only the surface teaching?
Among other things, you have also argued that Strauss’ esoteric teaching is that Lucretius teaches the “most terrible truth.”
Interesting, perhaps, to note parenthetically, that in Chapter 3 of NRH Strauss suggests that philosophic classical hedonism predates Socrates & is even consistent with a certain understanding of virtue (p 110). This seems to suggest, leaving aside his ancient/modern paradigm, that the modern scientific project may have its roots, in some way, in philosophy itself or in the philosophy that predates the Socratic turn (and continued in parallel, as evidenced by Epicurus & Lucretius themselves). Is Strauss, then, a closet Epicurean, or does he reject it as untrue, or as somehow inadequate for living (or something like that)? What is the most meaningful practical difference in understanding virtue in Socrates/Plato/Aristotle vs Lucretius – cosmic teleology? For example, do you consider Darwinian Natural Right to be more Epicurean than Aristotlean?

Last, a simple thought on his phrase about the tension and interplay between Athens and Jerusalem being the “secret vitality of the West:” Since Jerusalem comes to the West through Christianity, or in the medieval formulation, Rome as the universal state prepared the way for the universal religion, for the revelation to the Jews to become the revelation to the world, does not this imply that the “secret vitality of the West” has been Christianity and its (often uneasy) accommodation of philosophy/science? In which case, in this formulation, our current time suffers from the imbalance of philosophy/science without Christianity taken seriously? In his history of Western thought, it is Rome and Christianity that Strauss least discusses, the most obvious and glaring omission. Taking this curious absence of comment in the most Straussian of ways (and assuming vitality is good thing!), perhaps, in addition to all of the above – liberal, fascist, Epicurean, Nietzschean -- perhaps Strauss was also a secret Christian?

Of course, if Christianity is not true, but this just describes a prior vitality, one might conclude that Strauss is indeed Nietzschean, in his lament for a lost religion, with a central chapter on the depressing Epicurean truth? However, if this is so, why the undeniably relentless non-antiquarian drive to re-read Socrates/Plato/Aristotle?

Les Brunswick said...

W. Bond, my view here is that Strauss was basically a religiously-oriented person, but he wanted to think of himself as a philosopher. He attempted to carry this out by treating the classical Greek philosophers as God's prophets, and the Greek city-state as God's society. And in order to so interpret the Greek philosophers, he had to resort to esoteric reading.

W. Bond said...


An original interpretation, for sure!

A more straightforward way to ask my question, above, might be something like:

How seriously does Strauss take his own claim that Socrates' turn to the human things represents 1) an epistemologic approach that anticipates later modern philosophic impasses -- impasses latent in the beginning of philosophy/science itself and 2) a necessary approach towards studying the whole (i.e. being[s]).

If indeed seriously, then this would suggest he thinks he discovered something in Socrates (and Plato [and Aristotle?]) that has been overlooked, or forgotten, but anticipated modern challenges in philosophy. Leaving aside the substance of that claim, the very fact that this is the claim regarding the centrality of Socrates would seem, in the end, rather the opposite of Nietzsche, no?