The Legacy of Leo Strauss Defended

Claremont Review of Books, Spring 1985.


Thomas Pangle declares that, in “The Legacy of Leo Strauss” (Claremont Review of Books, Fall 1984), I am “guilty of gross misinterpretation” of his “interpretation of Strauss and of the political philosophizing Strauss resuscitated.” Pangle quotes me, correctly, as writing that his (Pangle’s) “account of the noble and just things . . . is nothing but an account of the high in the light of the low.” But, he says, what he had written about Strauss and his legacy was almost exactly the opposite of what I had attributed to him. To prove this, he quotes a lengthy passage, from “near the beginning of [his] essay.” The substance of this passage supports his contention. It does represent a viewpoint opposite to the one that I had attributed to him, one which I had found, not near the beginning, nor near the end of his essay, but at its very center. The question then is, which of these conflicting and contradictory interpretations, both of which are to be found in the same essay, is the careful reader intended by the author to take as true or authoritative? Let me say at the outset that I was wholly aware of this problem—of how to read Pangle’s essay—and never for a moment assumed the truth of the interpretation I adopted as the correct one. After all, one of the main themes of Leo Strauss’s work was the discovery, not only that philosophic writings frequently abound in contradictions, but that these contradictions—contrary to appear­ances—are often, if not always, symptomatic of a noncontradictory intention. The greater writers are not the ones whose work is most free of contradictions. The greater writers are the ones whose contradictions are intentional, and who guide their more intelligent readers through the contradictions to their noncontradictory intention. I do not for a moment think that Professor Pangle is a great writer. He is, on the contrary, a lesser writer infatuated, if not intoxicated, with what he thinks he has learned about Socratic or Platonic rhetoric. In commenting on his text, I thought it best to expound his true argument, without going through the wearisome process of disen­tangling it from its sophistical cocoon, or from what Churchill would have called its “bodyguard of lies.” I displayed what I was confident was the anatomy of Professor Pangle’s argument, without a priori distinguishing it from its fig leaves.

Claremont Review of Books