I’m sometimes accused of having created a vast secret corpus of sinister ideas that I keep carefully hidden away from the millions of words I’ve published.
I’ve always wondered: When exactly would I have had the time to do this? And do I really seem like the kind of writer who would cunningly keep his best ideas unexpressed, especially when there is a big “Publish” button staring me in the face and all I have to do is click on it?
On the other hand, what about the giants of the past who had the brainpower to pull off something as complicated as this? The political scholar Leo Strauss (1899-1973) and many of his neoconservative acolytes have long argued that greats such as Plato and Aristotle had both inoffensive doctrines for the public and “esoteric” teachings for their inner circles.
Straussianism was all the rage a decade ago, when the neoconservatives were flying high and feeling their oats. For example, back in 2003 at the peak of neocon self-regard before their war in Iraq went so definitively wrong, William Kristol and Steven Lenzner trumpeted in The Public Interest
Strauss set himself a remarkable task: the revival of Western reading, and therefore, of philosophizing. Strauss claimed that he had rediscovered a forgotten kind of writing, and that for almost two centuries the proper manner of reading the greatest works of the past had apparently disappeared. If Strauss in fact rediscovered the art of writing, then he made possible the revival of Western letters. If Strauss’s work is sound, he made it possible for us today to appreciate great books in the spirit and manner in which they were written. And the almost universal vehemence with which his rediscovery was initially denounced and ridiculed by the scholarly world demonstrated just how completely this art had been lost.
And if this art of talking out of both sides of your mouth was good enough for Plato and Aristotle … Strauss’s secret decoder ring technique thus encouraged “the wise” (the neocons) to guide “the gentlemen” (well-born gentiles of sound instinct but very little brain, such as George W. Bush) in manipulating “the vulgar” (you and me) into foreign policy adventures whose underlying purposes could not be presently disclosed.