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William Altman’s voluminous study of German Jewish political theorist Leo Strauss (1899-1973) does not break any new ground in trying to link its subject to the far Right. The author’s theme has been amply treated in multiple monographs and in feature articles in the New Yorker, New York Times, The New Republic, Le Monde, and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. But Altman’s brief will probably not receive the frenzied attention that has been lavished on such earlier critics of the “right-wing Strauss” as Shadia Drury, Anne Norton, and Nick Xenos. His bulky book may be largely unintelligible to most people who try to get into it.

Although Altman wisely refrains from calling his subject a “Jewish Nazi,” the author finds that Strauss’s interpretations point in an ominously anti-Jewish direction. While other German Jews were fleeing the Nazis, Strauss, we are told, was sojourning in Paris, where he received a Rockefeller grant to do research in 1932. He was not notably alarmed about Hitler’s accession to power because his thinking and that of the Nazi tyrant allegedly overlapped. Indeed, all of Strauss’s work, starting with his doctoral thesis on the German Protestant critic of rationalism F.H. Jacobi, is thought to provide evidence of his far-right mindset.

In the past, such assaults on Strauss have not gone unchallenged. They have evoked responses from Strauss’s well-placed disciples, who typically complain about professional isolation from such places of exile as Harvard, the University of Chicago, and Yale. The most widely read of these defenses is by two of Strauss’s former students at the University of Chicago, Michael and Catherine Zuckert. In The Truth About Leo Strauss, the Zuckerts devote 300 pages to demonstrating that their mentor’s way of reading texts was intellectually serious and that Strauss was never an enemy of American democracy.

According to the Zuckerts, Strauss held the pro-American and pro-English views that were characteristic of German Jewish exiles. Strauss fled from the Nazis in the 1930s and after stays in France and England landed up in the U.S., where he launched a meteoric academic career. A scholar of classical texts who did well in his adopted land, Strauss was always effusively grateful to the American government and to Anglo-American democratic institutions, a sentiment expressed emphatically in his public addresses and in the lecture hall.

As another disciple, Steven Smith, stresses in his book on the master, Strauss held what were essentially Cold War liberal views in American politics. He was friendly to the concept of the democratic welfare state but was also strongly opposed to the Soviet Union and the Communists generally. Strauss took this position not out of fascist sympathies but because he thought the Soviets threatened American democracy and were hostile to the Jewish state of Israel.

It is possible to read Strauss’s voluminous works in English and German, ranging over such figures as Plato, Hobbes, Machiavelli, Thucydides, Nietzsche, Locke, and Maimonides, without reaching conclusions that are different from Smith’s. Strauss’s disciples, almost all of whom have subsequently instructed the neoconservatives, are not misrepresenting their teacher or their teacher’s teacher—in the case of those who studied with Allan Bloom, Harvey Mansfield, Thomas Pangle, Michael Zuckert, or other celebrated epigones of Strauss—when they view him as being politically like themselves.

But Altman understands that there are other ways to read Strauss, for example by pointing to isolated statements about the pitfalls of democracy or to his generally favorable assessment in 1932 of a key piece of writing by the German authoritarian conservative Carl Schmitt. These texts supposedly establish that Strauss was anything but a democrat. Note there is little in this general indictment that has not been tried out before. It is only the tortuousness of Altman’s exposition that makes his work stand apart.

Unfortunately, his exposé rests on very shaky foundations. Steve Smith correctly notes that Strauss was attracted to Schmitt’s critique of liberalism, as expressed in Schmitt’s Concept of the Political, because Strauss was reacting against German Jewish assimilationists. When Strauss famously complained that Schmitt had not gone far enough “beyond the horizons of liberalism” as a critic of modernity, he was not registering support for European fascism. Rather he was giving voice to his ardent Zionist commitment.

Zionists were not typically German nationalists. Most of them in the interwar period, Strauss included, intended to leave Europe and settle in Palestine. Altman is correct that the Revisionist wing of the Zionist movement, to which Strauss in Germany belonged, talked, like the German Right, about creating a Volksgemeinschaft, or national community. But this appeal to a specifically Jewish ethnic community does not indicate that Strauss supported the German far Right.

It is almost impossible to make sense of Altman when he argues that even if Strauss as a “committed young Zionist … acknowledge[d] no loyalty to the Reich [the Second Empire] . … Strauss was nevertheless born and raised in Germany and was unquestionably a German before he made that decision.” Here we are speaking not about the accident of birth or the use of a particular language. The question is one of self-identification, and before we can conclude that Strauss welcomed the German far Right as soul mates, one would have to show that he was at least a nationalistic German.

It takes some doing to read into Strauss’s call for Jewish solidarity what Altman finds there. Unlike another German Jew, the historian Joachim Schoeps, who did declare for an explicitly German far Right, Strauss repudiated his Germanness before Hitler arrived on the scene. If occasionally he considered Hitler’s rise to power in the German context as inevitable, that did not signify support for Nazism or even for more traditional German nationalism. Here Strauss’s apologists have demonstrated the obvious.


Among the weirdest interpretations of Strauss’s texts intended to prove his fascist, and indeed anti-Semitic, sentiments is one in which Altman stresses Strauss’s emphasis on God’s act of creation ex nihilo as proof of right-wing mischief. Altman agrees with the Jewish socialist Michael Walzer, who places theological and political emphasis on the exodus from Egypt. Both value this account as an archetypal legend of social liberation. By not sharing this predilection, Strauss was supposedly devaluing the Old Testament and expressing at least implicit contempt for the Jewish, as opposed to the Greek, heritage.

Note that ancient pagan scholars and later the excommunicated Jew Spinoza questioned the idea of Creation from nothing. But Strauss here was not expressing contempt for Jewish or Christian traditions. He was following medieval and ancient Jewish exegetical practice by treating Creation as the most significant miracle in the Pentateuch. Although the Jewish Left may disagree, Strauss was not being anti-Jewish by failing to embrace its liberation narrative with sufficient fervor. Equally problematic, Altman makes an unsuccessful attempt to treat any statement of religious skepticism by Strauss—and there were many—as evidence that he was deploring the “Judaization of the world.” Why can’t religious skeptics be just that?

Altman’s textual proofs don’t prove what they’re supposed to. Altman makes much of the fact that Strauss devoted an essay, “Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism,” to the German antidemocratic philosopher Heidegger. In that article Strauss characterized this father of existential thought as “the most brilliant thinker” he’d ever encountered. The same essay praises Nietzsche and speaks slightingly about the moral vision of democracy, Kantian ethics, and other things that Strauss as a liberal democrat should have admired.

Of course, Strauss was telling the unvarnished truth about Heidegger’s philosophical brilliance. He also notices his subject’s unacknowledged dependence on the Old Testament account of God the Creator for his understanding of the Ground of Being. And though in this essay Strauss examines what may appear to be the seamy side of democratic cultures, these remarks by no means typify Strauss’s expressed opinion about democracy. Why should we assume that his true political view can be found in his interpretation of Heidegger but not in his far more numerous favorable references to liberal democracy?

On May 19, 1933, Strauss wrote a letter from Paris to a longtime correspondent, the intellectual historian Karl Löwith, in which he mocked the “rights of man” and went on to praise Roman-style authoritarianism. In this letter, Strauss undoubtedly disparaged the global democratic doctrines today represented by his disciples. But this too should be understood contextually. After Hitler’s accession to power, Mussolini was widely regarded as the major adversary to Hitler on the continent. This continued to be the established view, even among Jewish exiles from Hitler (or half-Jewish ones like Löwith), until the late 1930s, when Mussolini threw in his lot with Nazi Germany.

Strauss’s comments about rooting for Roman authoritarians show the mindset of those fleeing from the Nazis, refugees who believed that the democracies were not going to help them. By the time Strauss arrived in England the next year, however, he was singing the praises of Churchill, the would-be German-slayer.

One has to wonder why Straussians provide fulsome endorsements for works that treat Strauss as little better than a running dog of the Third Reich. Last year Zuckert penned a flattering blurb for a denunciation of the “fascist” Strauss produced by two Randians, C. Bradley Thompson and Yaron Brook. After being told for years that Strauss was a nice liberal democrat, his defenders are talking up Strauss’s most slanderous and perhaps least plausible detractors.

Even more baffling, the Straussians as a group have never had the time of day for Strauss’s methodological critics on the Right. They have never condescended to answer Claes Ryn, Barry Shain, Kenneth McIntyre, Grant Havers, and other critics identified with the traditional Right who have questioned their hermeneutic. Such scholars have focused on the erratic or nonexistent treatment of historical contexts among Straussians and assaulted their claims to be able to grasp what Strauss called “secret meanings.” All such critics have argued that these claims to reveal secret intentions are arbitrary and tell more about what the interpreter believes than about the author to whom the intention is ascribed. But Straussians have consistently ignored such critics and in some cases have gone out of their way to thwart them professionally. Why then do they show a warm spot for those who unfairly cast aspersions on their teacher?

Although these questions have relevance for understanding the Straussians as a force in American politics, and particularly in academic politics, they seem less critical for assessing the reaction to Altman’s work. Most Straussians, except for Peter Minowitz and a quasi-Straussian German Evangelical theologian now working at Boston University, Michael Zank, have not paid any attention to Altman. Why bother with diatribes that will not impact public discussion?

For those who may find his title baffling, one should note that Altman borrowed it from the main figure in Plato’s Laws, the Eleatic Stranger. This is a text that Strauss and his disciples have examined in considerable detail. Altman’s “stranger” is not an ancient philosopher from Southern Italy, but a 20th-century outsider, namely Strauss, who presumed to observe the world through suspiciously Teutonic lenses. His quintessential foreignness is supposedly confirmed by the fact that even after years in the U.S. he continued to speak with a “strong German accent.”

The other stranger we are supposed to have in mind is the one found in a movie taking place in a New Hampshire town and dating from 1946. This flick features Edward G. Robinson and is about a Nazi war criminal who has disguised his true identity. Let’s not make our hints too obvious!

Altman does to Strauss what Strauss did to other dead white males, reading esoteric projects into texts that one could reasonably read altogether differently. Observing how Altman engages in this practice, it seems that he has produced a well-deserved parody on the “German stranger.” He ends by listing those figures that he as a self-described Jewish leftist has placed on his personal honor roll. But by this point—on page 528, we have not even reached the selected bibliography—the reader’s interest may have waned.

Paul Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Fascism, Leo Strauss 
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  1. Jack Ross says:

    Having only become aware of this work in reading the review, there may be a lot of weird liberal nonsense as Gottfried describes, but at the very least it seems to me the central premise is right for the wrong reasons. Altman may have been dancing around this (as Walzer certainly would), but what is identified as Strauss’ “German authoritarianism” or “early Nazi sympathies” is nothing more less than his Zionism.

    It makes perfect sense when we consider the case of Joachim Prinz, who in 1934 wrote a pamphlet that welcomed Hitler’s rise as “the death of liberalism” – and, naturally, went on to become a celebrated American “liberal”. The fascinating thing which it sounds like Altman may have some useful insights on is how the classical Zionism of this era, which initially had such a natural ally in Mussolini, suddenly embraced the rhetoric of “democracy” and began to lionize Churchill, with all the implications of this turn.

  2. Jack is correct about the fascist influence on the Revisionist Zionist movement with which Strauss identified himself in his youth and probably afterwards. But this movement did not celebrate anything German, and therefore Altman’s attempt to depict Strauss as sympathetic to the German far right does not hold water. Indeed the Revisionist fought against the Germans in World War One, on the English side, and in the interwar period, Jabotinski, an Italianophile, championed Mussolini, in his anti-German phase. The Revisionists also aimed at resettling German and other Jews in the Near East, as quickly as they could. The glorification of Churchill came naturally to the rightwing Zionists. They were his allies in the Great War, and in the 1930s, Churchill and the Revisionists embraced the idea of an anti-German alliance including fascist Italy.

  3. Kent says:

    Anne Norton’s book on Strauss is not without its virtues. It’s wittily written, and it rightly recommends the great Ralph Lerner & Muhsin Mahdi reader, ‘Medieval Political Philosophy: A Sourcebook’ (Cornell).

  4. Lawdog says:

    The economical explanation is that Strauss paralleled and/or imitated the racial and other political trends of his times. For a Zionist there is no contradiction as between borrowing from fascists and glorifying Churchill, taking employment successively with the Rockefellers and Harold Laski, delving into existentialism or assaying communism in Palestine. These are all beside the larger point: Zion, and whatever assures its survival, health and prosperity at a given moment.

    The secret doctrine business is old news to any student of intellectual history or even comparative literature, and his take on it a great bore, though valuable as a warning as to what to look out for when reading him or dealing with his disciples.

    He never claimed originality, by his own account a scholar, not a big T thinker. 500 pages on him is wasted pulp.

  5. I have never read Strauss nor do I intend to. I would only say that even German rightwing thought was different from Hitlerism and its central European nationalistic fantasies. Not all German rightist were Hitlerites even though they did noithing against his regime til 1944. Hitler’s major supporters included the formerly Socialist and Communist working class.

    Whatever affinities between Zionism and Fascism existed were between desperate Zionists and the better aspects of Fascism. Yes, Fascism had some good aspects. Hitler was less a Fascist than a Social Darwinian leftist.

  6. Very enjoyable article. Born in 1944, I’m too young to have experienced first hand the political facets of the 1930’s and 40’s. While it may be apt to characterize Nazi’s as “far right” according to usage of the term in that era, it seems to me that, in modern times, it’s more descriptive to determine any position on the left/right spectrum in terms of personal liberty. Hence “far left” would indicate communism, while “far right” would be anarchy. ~Ed

  7. Is the American Conservative being coerced to support Zionism and Israel?

    For the non-Disney version of Israel, download Alabaster’s Archive, Jewish Tribal Review, Jews Not Zionists, “A Jewish Defector Warns America,” by Benjamin H. Freedman and “Ten Questions to the Zionists,” by Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandl. Also check out false flag terrorism.

  8. I’m delighted to see my friend Norman Ravitch is still kicking around (probably somewhere on the West Coast). Not surprisingly, I agree with his remarks, especially about the peculiar mixture of ideas that went into Nazism. Ernst Nolte’s attempt to depict Nazism as a garden variety form of fascism is plain wrong. The Nazis were much worse than most other fascists; and they did combine in a peculiarly vicious and explosive form, as Norman points out , social Darwinism with Stalinist (leftist) collectivist characteristics. The Nazis were the most revolutionary practitioners of the national revolution.

  9. MAR says:

    Excellent piece.

    As many others have noted, Strauss’s reading of “natural right” back into ancient texts is really just a wallpapering over ancient texts with Enlightenment ideas. Hardly seems right-wing.

    While many of Strauss’s students were left-wing (e.g. Bloom, despite what NRO says), even the more “conservative” Straussians like Leon Kass are really philosophical liberals — as Kass champions the pro-life movement as an extension of the civil rights movement and is always eager to prove his egalitarian bona fides against evil transgressors (like fascists and Darwinists).

  10. Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website

    Was Strauss “good for America?” Nothing I’ve seen shows this.

    Strauss opposed the Soviet Union, according to Gottfried, because it “threatened American democracy and were hostile to the Jewish state of Israel.”

    Actually, it only became hostile to Israel after Stalin discovered that many of his “revolutionary comrades” (who also happened to be jewish) were more concerned with the newly formed Israel than with the revolution. In any case, so what? Why should we care?

    Strauss had contempt for the average person, and thus for American freedom. Like all statist, his fascist sympathies were simply the opposite bookend for the communist sympathies preferred by his partners in the Hegelian dialectic.

    Strauss may have expressed appreciation for American democracy, which could be shaped and manipulated, but his worked showed endless contempt for what really matters: American liberty.


  11. Fred Morgan says: • Website


    I think Strauss was first interested in defending socratic Philosophy as a way of life. Politics come second. That’s why his political opinions were ambiguous, even on democracy. The big problem about Strauss is about political and moral virtue : if, as Plato (and Heidegger) thought, political life is no science but a poor reflect of philosophical life (a life dedicaced to vita contemplativa and theoretical virtue), then the only pratical purpose of the philosopher is to accept the less oppressive regime for philosophical life (and only for philosophical life). The young Strauss perhaps thought that the roman aspect of national socialism would let him pursue his theoretical activities (as M Heidegger and C Schmitt thought). He was wrong, and the reconsideration of practical aristotelician reason he did after this episode is perhaps a way he found to correct his mistake. (Sorry for my broken english)

  12. CDK says:

    Great article.

    As far as Strauss’s “reading into” ancient texts things that are not there, I’d say that’s a danger any interpreter runs. Strauss modified or corrected his readings repeatedly, sometimes in the same essay or book; he gives the appearance of someone always moving towards the author’s ultimate intention without quite getting there. So of course he could be wrong, even on his own terms; which is one reason why he was notorious for re-reading books sixty and seventy times over the course of his life.

    Of course, it was the esotericism thesis that got him into trouble, though, unlike many of his students, he was usually quite conservative in relying on it to justify an interpretation. In a response to a critique by the French scholar Belaval, Strauss stated that he would be satisfied if scholars merely entertained the suspicion that rhetorical dissimulation might be at work in some philosophers’ political or theological writings–that one should not infer the presence esoteric writing unless it was more “precise” to do otherwise. Strauss was hardly the first person to argue such, and testimonia from a wide variety of ancient and modern writers can be found in support of this practice. As in all things, however, the trick is in the application: what such dissimulation is meant to conceal, how it works, how it does not prevent communication between an author and his favored audience, how not to “see” dissimulation where there is none, etc.–these questions cannot be answered in advance by hermeneutics of any type, “Straussian” or not. Only the textual evidence in a particular case is helpful here.

  13. l. zambo says: • Website

    Can Prof. Gottfried come up with one passage from Strauss’s published writings in which he has a good thing to say about the US? I don’t believe it exists. Prof. Gottfried say “Strauss was always effusively grateful to the American government and to Anglo-American democratic institutions, a sentiment expressed emphatically in his public addresses and in the lecture hall,” but Gottfried conspicuously leaves out Strauss’s published writings, what would carry the most weight. I think Prof. Gottfried has fallen for the reports of Strauss’s students, who tend to ascribe sentiments to Strauss that he never shared. If you read Strauss’s letters, he tends to be critical of the US and positive towards the UK, but I’ve never found a word in Strauss’s writings or letters that expresses any gratitude to the US or American democratic institutions, leaving aside the UK.

  14. I am anti-intellectual so i’ll leave the bookish theory’s to the ‘isolated scholars in ivory towers’. I do know that Fascism is a Catholic phenomenon. Perhaps a better term is authoritarian?

  15. Fascism a Catholic phenomenon? Yes and no. There were Dutch, German, Latvian, Swedish, Rumanian fascists, non-Catholic all. I will grant you something. As Catholics sought under the influence of Catholic Social thought a third way between Socialism and Capitalism they found Fascism in many cases. Certainly more than a majority of Italians thought “Mussolini a sempre ragione” but Italians were very poor allies of other Fascist regimes and certainly of Hitler.

  16. R J Stove says: • Website

    I haven’t seen the Altman book and, on the evidence of Professor Gottfried’s comments, I don’t intend to chase it up. Yet it would be good to know if Altman places sufficient weight – or any weight – on the truly bizarre intensity of Strauss’s Churchillophilia (which rather puts the skids, surely, under any attempt to demonize him as some sort of crypto-National-Socialist?).

    It was, after all, Strauss who hailed Churchill’s Marlborough – that dubious if entertaining attempt at ancestor-worship – not only as “an inexhaustible mine of political wisdom and understanding, which should be required reading for every student of political science,” but in the same sentence, as “[t]he greatest historical work written in our century.” Greater, we are forced to presume, than anything by Solzhenitsyn, Robert Conquest, Sir Lewis Namier, Pieter Geyl, Golo Mann, Henri Pirenne, Marc Bloch, Benedetto Croce, Renzo De Felice, J. Vicens Vives, or any other 20th-century figure whom mere mortals might dare to rate above Churchill in terms of historiographical significance or simple truth-telling. Since I discovered this lunatic verdict by Strauss, I have suffered from a complete failure to take seriously his philosophical ruminations.

  17. JR says:

    RJ Stove:

    One Strauss and Churchill, Altman gave an argument about this a while back in an article titled “Leo Strauss on German Nihilism”. An excerpt:

    “It is also the only time that Strauss makes his audience’s sympathies explicit: they admire Churchill. Strauss tells them that he does too. But he tells them this by claiming that Germany’s youthful nihilists would have supported Churchill, and in the same anti-Communist context Strauss had used earlier (antipathy to “the communist world revolution”) to make those nihilists appear less vulgar and more honorable than the Nazis. As his earlier indirect reference to another of Churchill’s speeches suggested (see page 590 above), Strauss’s Churchill is conflated with Nietzsche: he is an anti-Communist leader who speaks of self-sacrifice. In other words, Strauss praises Churchill from the perspective of “German Nihilism”: he is silent about Churchill’s defense of “the open society” or “the eternal principles of civilization.” Strauss strategically presents himself as a supporter of England in the lecture’s conclusion. But… It is not qua liberal democracy but as analogue to Virgil’s Imperial Rome that Britain deserves to crush Hitler”.

  18. A really terrific book on Strauss and his early, Zionist days is Eugene Sheppard’s “Leo Strauss and the Politics of Exile: The Making of a Political Philosopher.” Anyone interested in Strauss’s difficult relationship with the Zionists, as well as neglected aspects of his early life (he tried to dodge the draft!), should check out this small masterpiece.

  19. CDK says:

    @RJ Stove

    Strauss’s primarily understands history in the context of its significance for political philosophy or the quest for the “best regime”; classical political history, understood essentially as an account of the speeches and deeds of statesmen in war, is the kind most adequate for this purpose. Churchill’s Marlborough fits this description well, the author of which having three eminent qualifications lacked by the others Mr. Stove mentions: 1) he actually was a brilliant statesman in war and knew whereof he spoke; 2) his was a beautiful and eloquent rhetoric tried in the crucible of many years of public debate unconfined to academic fora; and 3) being Marlborough’s descendant he was especially concerned to understand what wisdom he could gain for his own political conduct from an ancestor. That this last qualification is deemed some kind of irrational “ancestor worship” says more about your arrogance than Churchill’s, in that you apparently pretend that our ancestors are useful only as fodder for our ridicule but not gratitude or instruction.

  20. […] Jack Ross has raised an interesting point regarding my attempt to exonerate Leo Strauss from the charge of being a Nazi sympathizer. According to Jack, Strauss’s demonstrated affinity for right-wing Zionism, and his stated admiration for that movement’s godfather, Zeev Jabotinsky, would suggest an attraction to the interwar European Right. Therefore the charge that Strauss was at least sympathetic to some of the ideas set forth by the Nazis, and certainly by other, less murderous fascist movements is essentially correct. Nor should we allow Strauss’s later glorification of Churchill and Anglo-American democracy to divert us from recognizing his earlier and perhaps more persistent right-wing mindset. Presumably the same mindset is still at work when Strauss’s disciples praise Israeli military ventures and try to push the U.S. into armed confrontations in the Middle East. […]

  21. R J Stove says: • Website

    This is Professor Gottfried’s thread, not mine (and of course Professor Gottfried is not answerable for my views, even if he and I seem to be at one on the Strauss issue). But I suspect that CDK – of whom I am afraid otherwise know nothing – is, in his comments, imputing to me things that I never said and have never imagined even wanting to say.

    My hostile reference to Churchill’s “ancestor-worship” was precisely that: a hostile reference ancestor-worship, this worship being a form of idolatry, and as pernicious as any other idolatry. Therefore it is a very different thing from mere filial piety, to which motive neither I nor any other critic of the modern (largely Beltway-based) Churchill cult would raise an a priori objection.

    It has long been known – and has often been admitted by all but the most besotted Churchillians – that Churchill wrote Marlborough partly through the honorable impulse of needing to make money at a low point in his political career; partly through hopes of obtaining scholarly cred; and partly through the desire to settle the hash of Macaulay et al. To achieve the last-named end, he had no compunction about minimizing the sheer opportunism of Marlborough’s doings in the 1680s, and, as a consequence, engaging on at least one occasion in outright lying. I am afraid I really do mean lying, not artistically understandable distortion, not Macaulay-style blatant partisanship, and not carelessness (though the latter was also involved, given that Churchill’s source on this occasion was a politically motivated letter written 60 years after the event by Marlborough’s formidable widow).

    Fortunately, even if Strauss and his defenders have managed to remain dreamily unaware of this example, others have been less squeamish. See Sir Charles Petrie’s The Jacobite Rebellion for a discussion of it. While much of the material in this work dates from the 1930s, the copy of this book with which I am personally familiar appeared in 1958, when Churchill was still very much active, and thus was in a position to sue Petrie (winning, no doubt, huge British-style damages) if the latter’s imputation of conscious dishonesty had been false. Sir Winston did nothing of the sort.

    Whether CDK’s contention that Churchill was a “brilliant statesman in war” will survive an analysis of the Dardanelles, the Black and Tan campaign, Chanak, Mesopotamia, the wartime eulogies to Stalin, etc., the complaint during the politically motivated 1943 Bengal famine that Gandhi “wasn’t dead yet,” etc., etc., others must decide. Yet as for the “beautiful and eloquent rhetoric” to which CDK refers, I presume that all readers of this site are by now familiar with David Reynolds’s 2004 treatise In Command of History, which reveals the alarmingly large role of ghostwriting involved in the historical works which appeared under Churchill’s name, notably the WW2 chronicle. Ghostwriting and, oh yes, plagiarism. Rear-Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison was so angry at how his own writings had been filched by the Churchill Bureau that he threatened legal action.

    Is there nothing Churchill could have done which would not be championed by Strauss and other latter-day Churchill apologists as evidence of statemanship? I know of nothing, except perhaps if he could be shown to have carried out child-molestation.

  22. Are you people nuts. From the fall of France to the invasion of Russia England stood alone. And that was because of Churchill. Do you people really think it would have been better if Hitler had won the war, really?

  23. CDK says:

    @ Mr. Stove

    Isn’t “ancestor worship” is just “filial piety” in the pejorative sense? I have trouble imagining how someone could be guilty of the former but not the latter, or why filial piety does not describe Churchill’s activity just as well.

    Perhaps you could clear something else up for me: you enclose “brilliant statesman in war” in scare quotes, which leads me to conclude that (a) you do not believe that there are such beings as brilliant statesmen in war, or b) you do not believe Churchill particularly merits the designation. Which is it? For if it is just Churchill who is unworthy, then surely you could mention other historical figures in positions similar to Churchill’s who are both guiltless of the kinds of political sins and crimes you mention and could claim comparable political achievements. On the other hand, if (a) is closer to your thought, then obviously one can choose only between foolish statesmen or the lesser of the several tyrants. Strauss himself, deeply acquainted with the failure of Weimar democracy to counter the nihilistic lunacy of the Nazis, might have been of opinion (a) at one time—that is, until in his exile in Britain he discovered Churchill. Churchill’s foresight in predicting Hitler’s true intentions would have, if listened to, lessened the chances of that genocidal tyrant’s success. His courage, prudence, and inspiration of the British people ensured the survival of the last free country in Europe at a time when American intervention and Russian resistance were anything but guaranteed.

    How Strauss should be excoriated for not being acquainted with the details of Churchill’s plagiarism or—gasp—ghostwriting is a mystery to me, particularly since the one source you cite was not published until thirty years after his death. In any case, Strauss was talking not about Churchill’s account of the second world war but Marlborough, which you state contains lying and a minimization of low motives. Fair enough: I have no reason to disbelieve you, but then again the same might be true of Thucydides, Plutarch, or Herodotus, all of whom should nevertheless be described as great historians of profound interest to political philosophers like Rousseau, Hobbes, and Hegel. Coming from this tradition, Strauss took these men seriously regardless of evidence of plagiarism, interpolation, misuse of sources, pecuniary motives, etc. because, frankly, such facts were less important than figuring out what he could learn from them about the best way to live, as well as the kind of regimes in which the best life could be lived. The statesmen described therein were not usually Christian saints, and indeed a few of them were pederasts, though that is not why we study Alcibiades, Nicias, Cicero, etc.

  24. Anonymous • Disclaimer says: • Website

    In case anyone might be interested in another kind of critique, please see the above link.

    Thank you.

  25. byrresheim says: • Website

    @ CDK

    The United State’s Intervention and Russias Resistance were anything but guaranteed?

    There is that small matter of the British and French declaring war on Germany, but not on Russia, when those two jointly attack Poland. There are a few other well known, but not-publicised-in-children’s-history-books facts about the critical phase before Hitler’s declaration of war against the United States.

    In no way would I dare to diminish Churchill’s lasting achievement: starting a world war to save Poland from Hitler only to feed the same Poland nonchalantly to Stalin not four years later, en passant ending the British Empire for all practical reasons.

    Wilhelm II must have turned green from envy in his grave. Or smiled smugly. Who knows.

  26. Gabe says:

    It’s not the Eleatic Stranger that you mean to refer to here, my good Sir; it’s the Athenian…

  27. Gabe has put his finger on an important point: since the Athenian Stranger is introduced on p. 17, it is evident that Professor Gottfried did not actually bother to read the book he chose to review.

  28. jordan says:

    Mr. Altman:

    Your comment suggests a lack of interpretive restraint on your part. Like you, I found Mr. Gottfried’s review of your book to be superficial and unpersuasive, but there it is hardly “evident” that he has not read it. To be sure, he may have read it carelessly or uncomprehendingly, and those qualities may make him ill-suited to reviewing it, but simply mistaking the “Eleatic” for the “Athenian” stranger by no means proves that Gottfried did not read the book. It may suggest that his reading of the book, or his recollection of Plato, is amateurish, or it may reflect a honest mistake. But leaping to the conclusion that you have on the basis of such a scanty piece of “evidence” does not inspire confidence in your ability to give a clear-headed or fair-minded interpretation of other authors with whom you disagree (e.g., Strauss). I say this as someone who has been intrigued by some of your articles on Strauss, and was considering buying the book for that reason. Mr. Gottfried’s review did not influence my decision, since it was indeed manifestly inadequate (in particular, it failed to engage in the substance of any specific points in the book, and made some unsubstantiated and questionable assertions, as a comment by l. zambo’s above points out). But your response has influenced my decision, for the reasons that I have just stated. The importance of p. 17 is also obscure to me (isn’t the Athenian Stranger already introduced in the title, i.e., Gottfried should not have made the mistake he did even if hadn’t read your book as you allege – this suggests that his mistake was indeed just amateurish or absent-minded, rather than the act of deceit which you have chosen to “interpret” it as.)

  29. Thanks very much for your temperate comment, Jordan; I stand convicted of an intemperate response to Prof. Gottfried. He clearly made an effort to read the book and he makes no secret of the fact that he found it a difficult book to read.

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