Philosophy

Review: Smith, Reading Leo Strauss

September 26, 2006
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Review: Smith, Reading Leo Strauss

The purported links between the political philosophy of Leo Strauss and the neoconservative ideology of the Bush Adminstration has dramatically increased interest in Strauss’s work. Yet, as Steven B. Smith argues in his recent book, Reading Leo Strauss: Politics, Philosophy, Judaism, this association has done as much to obscure as expose the essence of his thought. Writing in the Times Higher Education Supplement, reviewer John Dunn has given his candid approval of Smith’s book for its timely project to dispel such popular misconceptions about the life and work of this fascinating thinker. From the review: It is interesting to consider how far any thinker is responsible for the ways in which others interpret him; and Strauss himself was often too maddeningly evasive in the ways in which he chose to express himself to escape all responsibility for being widely misunderstood. But whatever he meant to commend, it can scarcely have been the political touch of George Bush with the world beyond the borders of the US. By now, Strauss’s teachings have been transmitted through several different academic generations and offered, among many others, to numerous complete idiots and some moderately evil people. They have also traveled far beyond the US, . . .

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9/11: Past and Future

September 8, 2006
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9/11: Past and Future

An excerpt from 9/11: The Culture of Commemoration by David Simpson. The event we call 9/11 has a past that we can rediscover, a present that we must monitor, and a future we can project. Many of us who were addressing even the most circumscribed of publics—our students or fellow academics—felt the urge, in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001, to make a statement, to testify, to register a response, to initiate some sort of commemoration. Many of those responses took the form of grief, sorrow, shock, and above all, self-recrimination at the appearance of carrying on as before. The rhetoric veered wildly between sympathy and self-importance—as if it were a moral duty that each of us should speak—but what was notable was the need to register awareness of some sort. Many people all across America, not only those who knew one of the dead or knew someone who knew someone, reported feelings of acute personal anxiety and radical insecurity, but there was never a point at which this response could be analyzed as prior to or outside of its mediation by television and by political manipulation. With the passage of time it may come to appear that 9/11 . . .

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Time Interrupted

September 6, 2006
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Time Interrupted

An excerpt from 9/11: The Culture of Commemoration by David Simpson. The whole play of history and power is disrupted by this event, but so, too, are the conditions of analysis. You have to take your time. —Jean Baudrillard, The Spirit of Terrorism and Requiem for the Twin Towers Has the world changed since 9/11? If it has, then in what ways? If it has not changed, then who has an interest in claiming that it has? Whose world are we talking about? Acts of commemoration are particularly sensitive occasions for assessing the balance of change and continuity within the culture at large. They often declare their adherence to time-honored and even universally human rituals and needs, but nothing is more amenable to political and commercial manipulation than funerals, monuments, epitaphs, and obituaries. Outpourings of communal or national grief are proposed as spontaneous but are frequently stage-managed: Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train made carefully scheduled and choreographed stops on its protracted twelve-day passage from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Illinois, in the sad spring of 1865. . . .

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Review: Castronova, Synthetic Worlds

August 3, 2006
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Review: Castronova, Synthetic Worlds

If you’re reading this then you’re probably already aware of how much digital technology has insinuated itself into our daily routines. But just how much could we, or should we, devote to our online lives? The weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal recently ran a review of two books about the increasing popularity of “virtual realities” including our own Edward Castronova’s Synthetic Worlds: Mr. Castronova’s Synthetic Worlds argues that virtual reality is a thriving place with millions of inhabitants world-wide. And it bears close watching… Synthetic Worlds explains the trend, obvious to anyone who has dipped into the online subculture over time, that virtual worlds are populated differently now than they used to be: they began as the province of nerds and outcasts but are now approaching the mainstream—as reflected in recent media reports and the increasing share of quotes in such coverage drawn from the housewife and married-dad demographics. Read an interview with the author, or check out his blog. . . .

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Review: Smith, Reading Leo Strauss

July 31, 2006
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Review: Smith, Reading Leo Strauss

In the July 21, 2006, issue of the New York weekly Forward, Allan Nadler finds Steven B. Smith’s Reading Leo Strauss: Politics, Philosophy, Judaism a “book rich with delightful details” about Strauss’s life and thought; details which, Nadler argues, complicate the intensifying perception of Strauss as a figurehead for “a particularly nasty version of neoconservatism.” A short quote from Nadler’s review follows: A professor of political science at Yale and the author two previous books on Spinoza, Smith focuses on what Strauss called the “theologico-politico problem”—that is to say, the centuries-old unresolved conflict between the dictates of human reason and the doctrines of divine revelation.…In demonstrating the complexity of Strauss’s thinking, Smith succeeds admirably in rescuing the philosopher from what he calls “the hostile takeover” of the neoconservatives, particularly by disociating himself from President Bush’s simplistic view of the world. As such, this clear and lucid presentation represents an important corrective to the contemporary distortion of Strauss’s legacy—and not a minute too soon. We also have an excerpt from Smith’s book. . . .

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Review: Smith, Reading Leo Strauss

July 26, 2006
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Review: Smith, Reading Leo Strauss

In the July 31, 2006, issue of The New Republic, Damon Linker reviews two books about Leo Strauss, including Steven B. Smith’s Reading Leo Strauss: Politics, Philosophy, Judaism. A short quote from the lengthy analysis: “Smith’s book is a response to Strauss’s critics, and it far surpasses previous efforts in clarity, rigor, and judiciousness. Smith is not an acolyte propagating the true faith; he is an admirer who wishes to persuade his readers of Strauss’s intellectual importance. This balance between sympathy and critical distance, lamentably rare in studies of Strauss, contributes to making this book our best introduction to the complex and challenging ideas of this divisive figure.” We have an excerpt from Smith’s book. (TNR also reviews a book by Heinrich Meier. We have published two previous books by Meier.) . . .

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Review: McCloskey, The Bourgeois Virtues

July 22, 2006
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Review: McCloskey, The Bourgeois Virtues

Today’s Wall Street Journal features a review by Matt Ridley of Deirdre McCloskey’s The Bourgeois Virtues The book is, says Ridley, “an exhaustive philosophical treatise on virtue ethics, and a very fine one, too. Ms. McCloskey is spectacularly well read. She can pull an apposite quotation not only from her heroes, such as Adam Smith and Thomas Aquinas, but also from Thucydides and Machiavelli, or from the anthropologist Ruth Bendict and the contemporary philosopher Alistair MacIntyre, or (for that matter) from the movies ‘Groundhog Day’ and ‘Shane.’ What is more, she writes with wonderful ease. . . . The book radiates intelligence and insight and will illuminate my thinking for years to come.” Read an excerpt from the book. . . .

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Press release: Bartsch, The Mirror of the Self

July 12, 2006
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Press release: Bartsch, The Mirror of the Self

Lustful Stoics, moral hypocrisy, divided selves—on Shadi Bartsch’s sexy and philosophical journey through classical notions of selfhood, we encounter all of these, plus much more. Exploring the links among vision, sexuality, and self-knowledge in the ancient world, Bartsch argues here that this unexpected ménage á trois has much to teach us about how the ancients understood what it meant to be a person. Read the press release. . . .

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Edward Rothstein on Smith and Strauss

July 10, 2006
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Edward Rothstein on Smith and Strauss

In his “Connections” column in today’s New York Times, Edward Rothstein contributes to the current debate over the meaning and influence of Leo Strauss. Rothstein singles out Steven B. Smith’s book Reading Leo Strauss: Politics, Philosophy, Judaism. Smith, says Rothstein, “makes it clear just how thoroughly Strauss has been misunderstood.” Strauss, says Rothstein, was “trying to synthesize the worlds of the ancient and the modern. … What the ancients remind us is that humanity is not infinitely perfectible, that the ideal world is not ruled by reason alone, that cultural and historical variation does not mean that anything goes, that notions of egalitarianism do not guarantee virtue.” We have an excerpt from Smith’s book. . . .

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Chicago interviews McCloskey

June 30, 2006
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Chicago interviews McCloskey

Chicago Magazine‘s June issue features a candid interview with Deirdre N. McCloskey, author of The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce. Q: During the last decade you have tackled a major personal change—your gender reassignment—and a major professional undertaking, the writing of Bourgeois Virtues, a sweeping defense of capitalism. Which did you find most challenging? A: I’ve been working on the book for 12 years. Finishing it was very satisfying. But the biggest challenge was the gender change. Of course, there was opposition to both. I had to go out on thin ice in both cases. Read the entire interview. Read an excerpt from The Bourgeois Virtues; we also have an excerpt from McCloskey’s memoir, Crossing. . . .

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