This post by Scott Horton at Balkinization is not a fair reading of Strauss and Straussianism.
The post focuses on one of Strauss's private letters, reproduced in its entirety in Horton's post, which seems to reveal fascist tendencies that Strauss felt at one time. The offending passage is as follows:
There is in this case just one solution. We must repeat: we, "men of science," - as our predecessors in the Arab Middle Ages called themselves - non habemus locum manentem, sed quaerimus...(4) And, what concerns this matter: the fact that the new right-wing Germany does not tolerate us says nothing against the principles of the right. To the contrary: only from the principles of the right, that is from fascist, authoritarian and imperial principles, is it possible with seemliness, that is, without resort to the ludicrous and despicable appeal to the droits imprescriptibles de l'homme(5) to protest against the shabby abomination.
"Droits imprescriptibles de l'homme" refers, I am told, to the notion of "the rights of man" or natural rights liberalism. The letter is just one more piece of evidence that the Shadia Drury types will use to argue that Strauss was really a fascist, not a defender of liberal democracy.
But they are mistaken. From what I've read of Strauss, and of Bloom and the other Straussians, they are indeed defenders of liberal democracy (in a Churchillian sense -- not "flatterers" of the system).
Bloom's work in particular lets "out of the bag" (makes explicit) some teachings which Strauss previously only taught privately. And Ravelstein (where Leo Strauss is dubbed "Davarr," which is Hebrew for "Word"), Saul Bellow's novel on Bloom, is even more explicit regarding certain Straussian doctrines previously kept secret, for instance, where Bloom states "no true philosopher can believe in God." Strauss was never so publicly adamant about his atheism. Indeed, he taught that God's nonexistence could not be proven. Yet privately, he too was known to say things like "philosophers are paid to be atheists." And Strauss meant even philosophers like John Locke who on the surface claimed to believe in God.
So I am someone who a) is not a Straussian (I disagree with much of their social conservatism), and b) recognizes Strauss had private esoteric teachings which, if known, would turn off many admirers, especially those religious conservative "gentlemen" whom Strauss and company supported.
But that esoteric truth is not that liberal democracy is bad and fascism is good. Rather the esoteric Truth is as follows: God doesn't exist; rights aren't grounded in nature; indeed the entire natural law is a fiction. And Nietzsche and Heidegger were right as to the ultimate (nihilistic) nature of reality.
I'm not saying I believe this; rather this is the "secret" teaching of Strauss and his followers.
We can't stop there though. Strauss was still a defender of liberal democracy. And that's because he didn't believe this secret Truth was a "pearl" as Shadia Drury put it; it was not a "good" Truth that would set men free; but rather a dangerous flame -- capable of producing the most horrible destruction and suffering -- to which only philosophers, not the masses could tend.
Strauss was not a fascist because he didn't believe political orders could be founded on such a nihilistic "Truth." Indeed, that fascism and Nazism resulted when liberal democracy was thrown out and the abyss was looked to for "new gods" to lead, demonstrated that liberal democracy was the only "solid" place where public orders could rest, even if such a system was "low" in the way it made productive use out of man's baser instincts.
Back to the letter. And the context should help us to understand why Strauss, post WWII, in America where his teachings had their impact, wasn't a fascist. The letter was written in 1933. Now, I'm no historical buff, but this was well before the extent of Nazi horror was fully realized.
Strauss no doubt was imbibed in Nietzsche and, to a lesser extent, Heidegger. One of the reasons why Strauss believed that you couldn't found political orders on Nietzchean nihilism is because a thinker as profound as Heidegger, Nietzsche's heir, ended up supporting the Nazis!
I do believe that Strauss himself, before WWII, flirted with fascism. That makes perfect sense. Strauss followed Heidegger. And Heidegger himself became a Nazi. But when all (WWII, the Holocaust) was said and done, Strauss was profoundly disturbed by Heidegger's support of Nazism (and no doubt his own flirtation with fascist principles which led to such horror).
And this -- the dangers of nihilism being consumed by the masses -- was what inspired Strauss to write Natural Right and History in the first place where he argued that the philosophical rejection that Truth can be found in either Reason or Revelation constituted a crisis in the West.
In this past post, I quoted part of Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind, which explains all of this. Here Bloom uses Heidegger's Nazism to demonstrate that the Truth of nihilism was not something that set men free, or was otherwise a sublime "treasure," but rather a dangerous fire.
I shall not comment on the Nazi period of the now de-Nazified Heidegger, other than to remark that the ever more open recognition that he was the most interesting thinker of our century, formerly chastely displaced in admiration for his various proxies, gives evidence that we are playing with fire. p. 154
On the same page Bloom notes that you cannot found political orders on Nietzsche's Truth, that nihilism will just as easily take one down the road to Nazism as to liberal democracy. "Once one plunges into the abyss, there is no assurance whatsoever that equality, democracy, or socialism will be found on the other side. At the very best, self-determination is indeterminate."