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The Spirit of Republicans or the Taste of Xenophon

7:20 AM, Jan 9, 2013 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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As an ignorant but unabashed admirer of Xenophon, I was struck by this email from a reader, and thought other readers would enjoy it as well:

After reading the recent polls about Chris Christie's approval ratings on The Weekly Standard website, I had to wonder: Is the current Republican problem a problem of not reading enough Xenophon?

Christie presumably hasn't read a word of Xenophon, but he has gone deep into the heart of modern day Persia and convinced public-union families, minorities, and women, by a 3 to 2 margin, that he, one of the most conservative governors in modern New Jersey's history, is doing an excellent job. That sounds like something only Xenophon could pull off. Hatch a brave and rational plan and convince a hostile group in the midst of a hostile land that you are the man for the job. It is a truly remarkable feat.

So I wonder, are Christie's recent negative comments about Republicans something like Xenophon's frequent sacrifices and invocations of the gods throughout the Anabasis? Might Republicans learn something from this? The vast majority of people are liberal today not because they have reasoned their way to that position, but because they believe in it as the average person used to believe in god. Authority—in schools, on TV and in print—tells them that the Republicans are evil. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that hating Republicans is the Last Man's god. (I believe it was Allan Bloom who said that "anti-bourgeois ire is the opiate of the last man..."). So Christie makes sacrifices, as he must, to that hateful god. He invokes that god. He publicly embraces that god.

This could be done by all Republicans in countless ways if only they could put on the spirit of Xenophon. Instead, Republicans prefer striking a pose to getting results, just as they refuse to make a distinction between sophistic posturing and Socratic irony. They do not understand that the gods will have what they will have, and that the task of a statesman is to make rational leadership seem not just right, but seemly to the priests and powers and prejudices that reason cannot change.

 

The Republicans don't have an ideas problem. They don't have a minorities problem, or an immigrants problem, or a women problem. They have a rhetoric and practical wisdom problem.  

Chris Christie may just be the way forward. Granted, he seems a far cry from an Athenian hero. He is more gruff and garish and gritty. But this is a democracy. His arguments are reasonable and detailed and convincing. To expect Xenophon’s beauty, in addition to his political acumen, would be asking too much.

I told the young author of this email that I'd like to publish it. He wrote, "It would be an honor." But, he continued—in the spirit of Xenophon?—"Though, while I would like to see my name on it, I am in law school and I think it more prudent to remain anonymous."

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