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The Standard Reader

John McCain's "Worth the Fighting For" and Behnegar on Leo Strauss.

Dec 23, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 15
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BOOKS IN BRIEF

Worth the Fighting For: A Memoir
by John McCain, with Mark Salter
Random House, 396 pp., $25.95

AS A RECOVERING McCainiac, I hesitated to pick up the new John McCain-Mark Salter volume. Their previous effort, McCain's war memoir, "Faith of My Fathers," was so good that I expected "Worth the Fighting For" to be a disappointment.

It's not. It's true that this book isn't as compelling as "Faith of My Fathers." But it's a gripping story, well told, and one that serves as an accessible and lively introduction to the last quarter century of American politics (obviously from a particular vantage point). It strikes me as a perfect holiday gift for politically interested college students and young people.

As a 1972 Scoop Jackson-for-president volunteer when I was in college (I was nothing less than vice president of Harvard-Radcliffe Students for Scoop, which had all of ten members, and of which Alan Keyes was president), I particularly enjoyed McCain's discussion of Jackson. McCain got to know Jackson well when McCain served as a Navy liaison officer to the Senate in the late 1970s. According to McCain, Jackson "was and remains for me the model of what an American statesman should be." McCain pays moving tribute to Jackson's courage and his decency, to his "hardheaded idealism," and to his "magnificent" efforts on behalf of the "good cause" of American strength in the service of liberty.

There's much more that's interesting and worthwhile in this book. Perhaps I'm not a recovering McCainiac, after all.

--William Kristol

Leo Strauss, Max Weber and the Scientific Study of Politics
by Nasser Behnegar
University of Chicago Press, 216 pp., $30

NASSER BEHNEGAR has produced, with "Leo Strauss, Max Weber and the Scientific Study of Politics," a Socratic introduction to the political science of Strauss. By examining Strauss's critiques of Weber's distinction between "facts and values" and the relativistic political science to which Weber helped give rise, Behnegar shows how Strauss provided intellectual resources to get beyond contemporary opinions--the ones that obstruct our recovery of a political science that understands its primary task to be the right guidance of political life. In so doing, Behnegar shows Strauss to be a friend, albeit not an uncritical one, of liberal democracy.

Unlike most who have written on Strauss, friend and enemy alike, Behnegar is not a partisan. He is less interested in whose "side" Strauss was on or where Strauss ultimately came down on "issues" than in what Strauss thought and how he thought about it.

Particularly helpful in this regard is Behnegar's illuminating treatment of an endlessly discussed and typically misunderstood passage. In it, Strauss shows that Weber was led to formulate the fact-value distinction because he believed that the seemingly irresolvable conflict between divine revelation and human reason made impossible "a thoroughly sincere life"--and thus there was reason for despair. Given that Strauss thought that sincerity was at best a quality of dubious worth, scholars should henceforth refrain from their practice of ascribing the view Strauss discerned in Weber to Strauss himself.

Behnegar recognizes that as a philosopher Strauss is above all intent upon grasping, rather than preaching solutions to, the permanent problems: "Only by understanding this attitude, which determined Strauss's entire being, can we understand why a friend of philosophy would state the objections to it with such clarity that many have wondered whether he affirmed philosophy," "Leo Strauss, Max Weber and the Scientific Study of Politics" declares.

In no small part as a result of his acute grasp of Strauss's being a philosopher, Behnegar has the honor of having authored the single best book on Strauss.

--Steve Lenzner