Strauss’s pedagogical method

Strauss’s pedagogical method was famous for its simplicity and directness.  A student would be asked to read a passage from the work being discussed; Strauss would make a comment or two, noting contradictions or discrepancies with earlier passages; a student might then raise a question, which would lead Strauss to digress, taking it to a much higher level and illustrating with with often earthy examples.  (He was particularly fond of examples from a newspaper advice column of the time, “Dear Abby.”)  Then on to the next passage.

That is from Mark Lilla’s new book The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction.  There is also this bit from the book:

Michel Houellebecq is not angry.  He does not have a program, and he is not shaking his fist at the nation’s traitors…He appears genuinely to believe that France has, regrettably and irretrievably, lost its sense of self, but not because of feminism or immigration or the European Union or globalization.  Those are just symptoms of a crisis that was set off two centuries ago when Europeans made a wager on history: that the more they extended human freedom, the happier they would be.  For him, that wager has been lost.  And so the continent is adrift and susceptible to a much older temptation, to submit to those claiming to speak for God.  Who remains as remote and as silent as ever.

I enjoy such books.  But in earlier times I preferred Ann Landers to Dear Abby.


'He was particularly fond of examples from a newspaper advice column of the time, “Dear Abby.”'

Strauss as feminist critic - truly a man worthy of the highest accolades.

"the more they extended human freedom, the happier they would be": was that really the proposition? It seems naive. Was it perhaps the more they extended human freedom, the more autonomous they would be? It's not quite tautologous, I think, but perhaps it's just as wrong. I don't think that the mass-produced academic leftie is autonomous, nor the hick who believes in the inerrancy of the Bible, nor the TV addicts in the 'burbs.

Mind you, at least the extension of liberty lets those who want to be autonomous to be so, and, you could argue, gives everyone else a choice of what sort of conformity they espouse.

Free to pursue any perversion or pleasure, but not free to do the basic functions of a responsible human being. Compliance is not freedom.

Essentially you end up with a bunch of enervated children incapable of even discerning their own self interest.

"Essentially you end up with a bunch of enervated children incapable of even discerning their own self interest."
Translating from Newspeak to English: "They won't do what I want them to do. Yelling at them is not working. Throwing a tantrum is not working either."

Your dictionary seems to be off. First time using it going FROM Newspeak?

First time I cared to deal with Newspeak at all. The same way "you have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon", Newspeak usually is better seen in all the glory of its crazyness left untranslated. It always loses something in translation.

I don’t think that the mass-produced academic leftie is autonomous, nor the hick who believes in the inerrancy of the Bible, nor the TV addicts in the ‘burbs.

They're less 'autonomous' than their ancestors because they lack trade skills (which farmers commonly have, at least in a rough and ready way). Of the three on your list, the most likely to have them is the 'hick'.

There are a lot of examples of this. I deal with many different types of people. Anecdotally, what the rural redneck feels in his bones about the common law and property rights will absolutely baffle Middle Easterners and Han Chinese with Ph.D.'s.

Locally in the Washington area, Ann Landers was in the (morning) Post and Dear Abby was in the (evening) Star. I don't know what the situation was in Chicago in those days, but possibly Dear Abby was the only one available in the newspaper(s) that Strauss read. It's easy to forget how little choice there was in such things in the days before the Internet.

Of all the advice columnists, Miss Manners has always been my favorite. She does more than Socially Acceptable Maneuvers, like the name suggests, she also would present third ways and require people be honest and courageous.

Aye. My favorite observation of hers was that the problem with authenticity is that people who knew quite well what was going on and were willing to say nothing are then forced to declare themselves.

Ahh, the impertinence of noticing.

You can find recordings of his lectures (Thucydides, Nietzsche, political philosophy, etc) online.

> You can find recordings of his lectures (Thucydides, Nietzsche, political philosophy, etc) online.

Yes they are quite interesting though not surprisingly the material overlaps with his books and essays to a large extent.

Of course if a college student of 2016 were to try to listen to one of these lectures, he/she will either doze off or run away for a safe space.

As usual, the attempt to link the groups you dislike with unlike groups that they dislike. Neocons and Conservatives with Maoists and Muslims, etc. And of course, treating radical Muslims as being just as fringe and Western Maoists. Whatever the insights, the whole is likely to be unreliable from the beginning. It would be like beginning a discussion of climate change by citing claims that race does not exist as prior evidence.

"Strauss’s pedagogical method" = same old Hegelian Triad dialectic (thesis/antithesis/synthesis)

...move along, nothing new here at all...

Some practitioners of Hegelian tactics decided that some Bernaysian applications were in order. If one selects the appropriate thesis and defines the antithesis just so, then synthesis falls out according to plan Never mind that it violates various precepts, as the short news cycle and attention span allow the faux synthesis to gain traction.

Now, apply that in weapons-grade form via some three letter agency minds and you begin to see the benefits.

Not quite. "Syntheses effect miracles" was his dismissive riposte to Kojève.

But in earlier times I preferred Ann Landers to Dear Abby.

If you read Esther Friedman Lederer's Current Biography entry from 1957, you discover that her view of married life was quite contemporary ("she has no respect for women who cannot make their marriages work"). Her viewpoint was always precisely contemporary. It's bad for business to have fixed principles.

She quit speaking to her twin sister in 1956 and communicated not at all for a decade. They reconciled later but had another falling out some time after 1986 and were not on speaking terms when her sister began a long descent into senility. She also never bothered to tell her niece, nephews, or her lucid sister that she had multiple myeloma, so they were all rather poleaxed when she died in 2002. She didn't have a funeral because (as reported by her daughter) she fancied that people make too much of a fuss over the dead (too much being a 40 minute service).

She landed that gig at the Sun-Times in an interesting series of accidents. She called the paper offering to assist the original writer of the "Ann Landers" column because thought she could do a better job. Quite unexpectedly, the original writer abruptly died days later, so she applied and got the job.

The woman who thought she could do a better job had one kid. The four Friedman sisters produced five children between them and the twins employed as advice columnists had husbands who earned well enough to keep financial concerns at bay. Jeanne Phillips is a banal writer but a reasonably civil woman in the public sphere and her brother was a capable businessman. Margo Lederer is a 4x married woman with a history of slutting it up and vicious public attacks on her aunt and her cousin. The oldest cousin, a restaurateur in Sioux City, seems to have been the one member of the family who could stay on speaking terms with the rest of them.

The cobbler's children sometimes go without shoes.

Those are just symptoms of a crisis that was set off two centuries ago

Always a set up for elegant nonsense.

Indeed. And it's worth noting that Houellebecq isn't as elegantly nonsensical as this in the novels I've read. He seems to suspect that beneath a lot of noxious post-60s social trends lies the hatred of the old, something which may be rooted in our universal condition (sex and death) but which prior systems of social production kept a lid on until the technological and economic upheaval of the trente glorieuses diminished (and not entirely without material reason) respect for the wisdom and authority of the elders.

Lilla's argument sounds tedious. From the book description, I feel like it merits a "tu quoque." Calling people "shipwrecked" is not exactly saying "I, on the other hand, am a suave, fair-minded, classical liberal whom you should all emulate and follow." His criticism therefore has no bite. And does he really expect other adults to believe that the problems that certainly appear to be endemic and legion are going to be solved by the same old same old? I would like to see cool heads prevail, but coolness of the head is obviously not the sole criterion to apply. Or he doesn't believe that urgent problems really require urgent responses?

He performed a public service a few years back by dismantling (in the pages of The New York Review of Books) Corey Robin's entire research programme. Dr. Lilla has his annoying tics, but he shines on occasion as well.

I think it is a stretch to say that Houellebecq is not angry. He sounds very angry in his books. It is also a big stretch to identify a unitary European project of expanding human freedom – what about Napoleon, Nazis, Bismarck. I don’t think he objects to human freedom; he objects to coercion of certain groups, white males like himself, in the name of greater privileges for other groups. Whose freedom? That same question is being asked today. And the danger is not to turn to people who speak for God, but for people who speak as God – Hitler, Cheney, Trump, and others.

Ann Landers was much more into explanations than Dear Abby, who was more aphoristic. (In the imprecise yiddish of my Northeastern urban Catholic youth, Landers was the kibitzer, Abby was the yenta). Ok, lets try again. Imagine Marcia and Jan from the Brady Bunch in a newer life, this time as twins, but with some vague retained memories of their past life as being ///(first twin) (Marcia) the more obviously popular older sister (dear abby) but the less blond twin /// & ///(second twin) (Jan) - the more blond twin - the more obviously thoughtful and empathetic younger sister (ann landers)./// That being said, while I appreciate Art Deco's detailed and useful biographic comments, I do not find those comments helpful in reaching a decision to agree that Ann Landers should be preferred to Dear Abby - I have lived long enough to know that the sort of woman who gives her husband a fake name like "Lars" (because it is vaguely unimpressive), while maintaining that she has an admirable marriage, is not likely to be a woman who has had the fully lived Christian or Jewish life on this earth that one has so long prayerfully hoped that one's own children would have (in my case, the children in question won't, they just won't, but God loves them and things will turn out well nevertheless, I trust). On the other hand, one is gratified to think that, if one's daughter were like Ann Landers, she too would have good-heartedly let on that she was, in a sense, a failure like the rest of us. Sorry if this comment is not as clear as it could be - but to sum up, in my youth, I preferred Landers (the one with the husband allegedly named Lars) - because I then preferred nuanced honesty (even if wrong, in retrospect) in those more (or less) energetic days - but today I might be more of a Dear Abby fan, because after all these years honesty, nuanced or not, has become so very very difficult, and so hard to live with. Deo volente, vinceremus.

Houellebecq, he's angry. Every time I moved to a new country I felt sometimes like his descriptions. But, the problem was me, the one who doesn't fit to the new place. I've met happy Japanese in Germany, fulfilled Germans in Honduras and surprisingly joyful Swiss in Peru. So, I'm not sure if Houellebecq writes about France or about himself. Perhaps he need to pull a Paul Gauguin / Ray Lopez move in his life.

France is fine,a couple days ago I was a in talk from a engineer from Total. Easy oil has been pumped, difficult oil can be extracted by Shell, Total and just a few more. Famous intellectuals look down at technical people for being focused only on their work. Technical people lacks "context" and "political education". It's funny to be one of the dumb technical people and being happier than wit intellectuals.

About the audio of Strauss's classes -- it's all available at this site:

There are hundreds of hours from courses dealing with virtually every major thinker in the history of political philosophy. Transcripts are available for some, pending for others. This is a phenomenal resource.

Pick any course and you will get the full dose of Struass's "pedagogical method." Lilla's comment is true as far as it goes, but it's much more impressive than he lets on. He was very thoughtful in dealing with students' questions, and very down-to-earth, but Dear Abby references were not all that common.

Anyone with the slightest interest in Strauss's thought should give it a listen.

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