Monday, October 18, 2004

Strauss & Deconstructionism:

Thanks to Ed Brayton for mentioning my most recent post on DiLorenzo and Flynn on Strauss. In the comment section, Sandefur offers some much needed perspective on lumping Strauss in with deconstructionists, Foucault and Derrida:

Rowe is awfully charitable to DiLorenzo. I think he's nothing more than a crackpot, so I refuse to discuss him.

However, I am really suspicious of the claim that Strauss has any connection whatsoever to the likes of Foucault or Derrida. Strauss, it is true, was heavily influenced by Nietzsche, and therefore perhaps resembles Foucault and Derrida in that Nietzsche's work is seminal to post-modernism generally. But this is rather like the similarity that, say, John C. Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln have, because both were heavily influenced by Thomas Jefferson. Sure, Strauss "deconstructs," but his endeavor is otherwise completely different, and just about everyone "deconstructs" in some manner.

I think the esoteric/exoteric notion in Strauss--which reaches its nadir with numerology--is truly worthless. Perhaps in some cases there are writers who wrote in these secret ways, but even if so, a reader is as likely as not to read into something what he wants, as he is to find an author's secret meaning, so even if Strauss' interpretive method is right, it is useless.

But to say that "What matters [for Strauss] is not so much what the author says but what the reader wants the author to say" is at least uncharitable. The Straussians do not believe that objective meanings are nonexistent, or that a work means whatever a reader wants it to mean or whatever society declares it to mean. Quite the opposite--they believe there is an objective meaning to a text which may have been overlooked, and they try to find what that objective meaning is by cleaning off the patina, as it were. Although I think their methods is ultimately worthless, their goal is an objective one. That is competely different, I think, than Foucault or Derrida, arguing that a work has no inherent meaning, and that attaining an objective understanding freed from the infection of social "power" structures is ultimately impossible or unattainable. For them, there is no one right way to understand something--we're led to believe that as a tool of exploitation. I don't think Strauss would share that notion at all. But I admit I am quite an amateur when it comes to Strauss, and I might be completely wrong about this.

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