The Magazine

I Am Not a Straussian

At least, I don't think I am.

Feb 6, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 20 • By ROBERT KAGAN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

I learned from my father that the problem with Straussians was that they were ahistorical. They were consumed with the great thinkers and believed the great thinkers were engaged in a dialogue with one another across time. This made Straussians slight the historical circumstances in which great thinkers did their thinking. Indeed, my father, the historian, taught me to mistrust not only Straussians but also political philosophy in general, and I have pretty much done so--though, again, I have to admit it's partly because I find it hard to understand.

The irony was that my father, who never agreed with the Straussians, spent a good deal of time defending them from attack at the university. In the late 1970s, he tried to save Tom Pangle from getting chased out of Yale by the political science department, many of whose leading lights declared Pangle's views intolerable. (They didn't even know at the time that Straussianism would prove to be the main cause of the Iraq war three decades later--although they may have suspected it.) My dad tried to help not because he agreed with everything Pangle thought but on grounds of academic freedom.

That episode may explain why even my poor father sometimes gets called a Straussian. But I sometimes fear he is being tarred by his association with me, his Straussian son. Being a gentleman of the old school, he has never felt it necessary or appropriate to correct the record. But I thought I'd better, because this is a different world, one where factual errors whip around the Internet, and no one is ever kidding.

This article is first in a series. Next: "I am not a Trotskyist."

Robert Kagan is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund.