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Monday, June 09, 2003
I'm not going to blame Matt Y. for this entry, but the other two he links to make some pretty retarded claims saying that (gasp) Derrida is a Straussian!


By the way, am I the only one to have noticed the similarities between Leo Strauss and Jacques Derrida? Both believe in the importance of close readings of classic philosophical texts, both find hidden meanings in these texts which become available only after careful study by the cognoscenti, and both are interested in how surface or ordinary readings of a text are undermined and even reversed by these close readings. (And both have a problematic relationship to the Enlightenment, and a particular love for the classics.)


Indeed, Straussianism has long been one of the two pathologies of "political philosophy" as practiced in U.S. political science departments (the infection has not spread to the U.K. or Australasia); the other, of course, is "postmodernism." This "odd couple" actually has much in common, notwithstanding the unpostmodern commitment of Straussians to "the immutability of moral and social values" (as the Times put it). Straussians and postmodernists produce relatively little competent scholarship; the quality of argumentation (for or against "the immutability of moral and social values") is very low in both Straussian and postmodernist political theory; the political motivations of Straussians and postmodernists are usually transparent; and, perhaps most strikingly, Straussian and postmodernist political philosophy simply can't be found in major philosophy departments.

So let me get this straight: Derrida is like Strauss because he likes classical texts (are all Plato scholars Straussian?), he finds "hidden meaning" (are all practitioners of close reading Straussian?) and he thinks this hidden meaning is available only to the chosen few. Presumably my parentheticals have knocked off the first two, but as for the last: as Jason said, "I think they're projecting." I've never found Derrida to claim--and maybe I'm missing it--that only a select few can deconstruct, but at the very least that assertion is disproved by contemporary evidence (who doesn't "deconstruct" nowadays?). I know a lot of nerds dislike Derrida because he's too mainstream (I joke, I joke, I know he's not particularly intellectually rigorous) but it seems inaccurate to group him in with a pretty roundly hated conservative doctrine just because they're bitter that the cool pomo kids won't let them sit at their lunch table with the cute girls. I know, I know, you feel like you can't deconstruct because you're not hep to the lingo, but that's just social anxiety. Derrida is pretty inclusive.

As for #2, I'm a bit lost here. Seems to me that Straussianism is unique less because it's "one of the two pathologies" but because it's the only contemporary strain of political philosophy that has a name. I'd say that the major philosophical viewpoint taught in politics departments is liberalism ("in the classical sense," as I'm required to say here). They could actually use a wee bit more postmodernism. Perhaps he means "multiculturalism" instead of postmodernism? And surely he knows that those aren't even remotely the same thing? If there's a problem with postmodernism, it would be that it doesn't have a particular political viewpoint most of the time; when political views are expressed in postmodern criticism, it all too often sits outside the critical viewpoint and is just this annoying jab wedgeed in there to win brownie points. Postmodernism in and of itself is pretty anti-political, you ask me.

So yeah--leave Derrida alone. He didn't start the whole rimless-glasses thing, and he definitely doesn't believe in a Rhodesian secret society, thank you very much.

UPDATE: Honestly, as to #2, I have a paltry grasp of the ideological makeup of most politics departments, and I should have been a bit less shrill. (Although let me add: uh, Marxists?!) So maybe there are a lot of joint Straussian-Pomo departments in the country, but it seems unlikely to me. That said, who does qualify as a postmodern political philosopher? I can think of lots of feminists/multiculturalists, but not really any pomos. Wollin?

I guess a lot of my political theory could be described as "postmodern" in the sense that it does incorporate a decent bit of Foucault and other suspects who I wholly abuse for my own purposes, and the indeterminacy of policy-as-text is sort of a wayback assumption of a lot of my thinking, but generally I only get to the pomo arena by combining literary theorists with political theorists. Is Foucault a pomo political theorist, or is he just a cultural theorist-slash-historian?