Cambridge University Press (CUP) is not generally in the habit of publishing monographs by extreme right-wingers hailing from obscure liberal arts colleges in rural Pennsylvania. What then explains its publication of Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America: A Critical Appraisal by Paul Edward Gottfried, the Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College?
The key must lie in the book’s subtitle, “A Critical Appraisal”. Leo Strauss has become a bête noire of the academic Left, being portrayed as the chief ideologue of the Iraq War, even though he died in 1973. For them Strauss is the evil genius behind the most sinister ideology of our age, neoconservatism, and the spiritual godfather to hate figures such as former US Deputy Defense Secretary and World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz.
Gottfried is also highly critical of Strauss and even more so of his followers, but comes at it from a very different angle. For the Left, Strauss is an ultra-elitist reactionary who rejected modernity, believing that the masses must be duped and harnessed through the construction of politically expedient myths. For Gottfried, Strauss is a dangerous believer in liberal internationalism and a modernist who rejects custom and tradition. It seems that for CUP any stick to beat Strauss will do.
For Gottfried, Strauss and contemporary neoconservatives are not sinister right-wingers but internationalist Jewish leftists. Although Jewish himself, Gottfried has an unambiguous hatred of what he terms Zionists, i.e. Jewish neoconservatives, and sees their influence and wealth as a cancer that is killing true American conservatism. Gottfried is in the habit of accusing his opponents of “Zionism” even when it has no apparent relevance to his attacks. Unusually for a Jewish intellectual, he is a great defender of two men not usually regarded as friends of Israel or the Jewish people: the isolationist former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan and the playboy columnist Taki.
Gottfried would regard himself as an anti-Zionist, anti-democratic, anti-populist, paleoconservative Hegelian elitist. Not many people of that persuasion appear in the CUP’s catalogue-but all is apparently forgiven if you have the right enemies.