Monday, March 19, 2018

Tyler Cowen: "a Straussian reading"

Leo Strauss - a role model for our age

Marginal Revolution (the Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok website) has a thing about 'Straussian Reading'. A commentator explains:
"It's Leo Strauss. He means, there's a hidden meaning in the text, that you may need some background information on the author and subject to understand it. This section on Strauss' biography on Wikipedia summarizes the point:
'In 1952 he [Strauss] published Persecution and the Art of Writing, arguing that serious writers write esoterically, that is, with multiple or layered meanings, often disguised within irony or paradox, obscure references, even deliberate self-contradiction.

Esoteric writing serves several purposes: protecting the philosopher from the retribution of the regime, and protecting the regime from the corrosion of philosophy; it attracts the right kind of reader and repels the wrong kind; and ferreting out the interior message is in itself an exercise of philosophical reasoning.'
Cowen frequently uses the term in that sense.

From an example in your search. The Straussian interpretation of Taylor Swift using TS as a brand in China could mean she's referencing Tienanmen Square - attempting to signal tacit support for pro-Democracy groups in China.

Just like in that example, Straussian reading means putting interpretations at risk for lots of false positives (except when the author suggests such interpretations may be appropriate)."

Why do I mention this here? Not only because it's a useful concept (tactic?) but also because one senses that public hysteria is becoming more intense.

Cowen frequently speaks admiringly of the Straussian tactic, reflecting on the weak position of academics in the States when confronting the howling tide of righteous moralising: way too many blasphemous truths can no longer be said.

I suppose when Straussianism becomes universal, the Russians will prove to have an historic competitive edge.


I find Straussianism difficult myself. Moral outrage often encourages one to just set the record straight. There is also a suggestion of cowardice in excessive indirection. I notice some writers cope by using rather technical language which the arbiters of the good fail to understand.

I resolve to up my level of intelligence and write with more obliquity, trusting you to read the white lines as well as the text.

1 comment:

  1. I remember a science fiction story in which Alien high-intelligences communicated in a language with about 12 levels of meaning per sentence (or communication): they tended to "look down" on others e.g. Humans who could only manage at most 3 levels of meaning per sentence...

    So I assume that we are now to expect all future blog posts to be filled with layers of meaning and depth ....


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