Review: Norton’s Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire

Ed note: Like the many, many other reviews I’ve been posting here lately, this one was written for a now defunct live journal account.

Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire
Anne Norton

Though the neocon movement seems more and more like a thing of history, this is a nice quick and easy read that is wonderfully catty about Straussian’s in the academy and includes an excellent line about how Norton doesn’t want to hear about the glories of war from slope shouldered men with soft hands sitting in the academic lounge at the University of Chicago.


Norton has far more time for Strauss himself than she does for his followers. She does an excellent job of pointing out the absurdity of many of the Straussian’s work, citing for one example, Allan Bloom, the author of The Closing of the American Mind.

In Closing of the American Mind, Bloom argues with the growing inclusion of those less gifted (or rich, or, by extension, not white) into the colleges of the nation, America was losing its intellectual rigor. Basically, its been down hill since the G.I. Bill and a liberal education is not what it once was. As Norton points out, in making this argument, Bloom counted on those liberal in power to behave like, well, liberals, and not mention that as a Jew and a gay man, he really had no place in the academy that he was championing. There is a genius here in knowing your enemy will not make use of your personal life to point out the contradictions in your thinking, but there is also an obvious self-hatred that is both sad and disturbing.

Norton’s bit on the more overtly political Straussian’s (i.e. Wolfowitz) isn’t nearly as interesting. The book to read for that side of the story is the Rise of the Vulcans by Jim Mann.

Review: Mann’s Rise of the Vulcans

Rise Of The Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet
James Mann

The best book on the personalities that made up the first Bush term, and believe me, I have read a bunch of them. All the Woodward books and other beltway books of the season come and go, but Mann’s book I think will be seen as the best contemporary accounting of the personalities from the first terms( Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Ashcroft, Powell, Armitage, Wolfowitz, etc, etc) that you’re going to find. This is obvious a book that is highly critical of all the figures in that presidency, but not the propagandistic way other books are. Mann is harsh, but fair and does an especially good job of explaining what the hell neoconservatives actually is and the really nasty hatred between the Cheney people and the Powell people. Even after however many years, this is still essential reading for political junkies.

Recommended for the enthusiast.