The subject of the German-born philosopher Leo Strauss (and the influence he had on his disciples, many of whom became either conservative political theorists or neoconservative policymakers and writers) is an intriguing one. So far, it has been treated rather superficially. Norton, a political theorist who studied with Straussians, has written a disorderly book, studded with anecdotes, narrative leaps, and a mix of gossip and erudite analysis, that left this reader exhausted, irritated, and more than a bit saddened by the opportunity lost. Norton knows how to hit a target-her critique of Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind, which "takes the language of anti-Semitism ... and turns it from the Jews to the Blacks," is excellent-but the first half of the book will interest only those titillated by academic chitchat. Her brief discussion of the criticisms of modernity offered by Strauss and his disciples, Hannah Arendt, and the Egyptian thinker Sayyid Qutb is provocative, as is her detour into the Straussian cult of Winston Churchill. In her chapters on the war on terrorism, she is right to stress that neoconservatism is "a radical departure from traditional conservatism," but she subsequently returns to digressions and thumbnail sketches. Intelligent asides do not amount to a satisfactory book.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.