April 12, 2008

Pagans are devout; Straussians not so much

While I often agree with what Grant Havers has to say, I must take exception to this recent article on neopaganism, especially with regard to his remarks on Leo Strauss.

While I am no neopagan (nor even a paleopagan) the pagan observation that post-Enlightenment Christianity (Protestantism and Catholicism) has become infected with egalitarianism or ?universal human rights? ideology remains valid. In fact, paleoconservatives have argued the same. But whereas neopagans have abandoned Christianity because of these liberal manifestations, paleoconservatives have tried to steer Christianity back towards its more traditional moorings. (Vide: Thomas Fleming?s Morality of Everyday Life)

Regarding Strauss, it is stretching it to say he shared significant characteristics with the neopagans. His life?s work involved the revisionist project of reading modern values into ancient texts, i.e. of wallpapering over the real West with liberal abstractions. The Greeks and Romans, very tribal and superstitious people, Strauss rewrites as classical liberals guided by ?natural right.? N.B. that for writers like Cicero the basis of morality was not some abstraction, but rather the concrete mos maiorum, the tradition of his ancestors. So, in their revisionist projects, the real enemy for the neocons is (as Claes G. Ryn has noted) ?the ancestral.?

Furthermore, Leo Strauss was either an atheist or an agnostic. And hostility towards Christianity alone does not a pagan make. Actual pagans were very religious people. Take a look at E.R. Dodds? The Greeks and the Irrational, or investigate some of the mystery cults of ancient Greece and Rome, or the religious practices of pagan Germanic and Nordic tribes. These people were “religious” in the traditional sense, in the sense of the Latin “religio” of a ?binding? in a tribal and local sense.

The typical MO of Strauss (and his followers) is to drag out the bogeyman of historicism/relativism and then invoke liberal universals (from ?natural right”) to combat these Quixotic threats. The perceived problem and solution places Strauss and the neocons, I believe, antithetical to any traditional understanding of paganism.

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