There is an interesting guest blog over on Boing Boing about Straussian thinking. Which quotes another piece by Robert Locke:
The key Straussian concept is the Straussian text, which is a piece of philosophical writing that is deliberately written so that the average reader will understand it as saying one ("exoteric") thing but the special few for whom it is intended will grasp its real ("esoteric") meaning. The reason for this is that philosophy is dangerous.
And it was this that prompted me to the blog, where I will say my piece into the void so that it may be lost forever and no longer bother me.
This touches one of my most raw nerves. It's an arrogant thing to believe, and if there is one thing that really pisses me off, it's arrogance.
As summarized in that quote, the concept of the Straussian text is based on a few key ideas:
1) People cannot be trusted to think for themselves.
2) You, the initiate, and I, the teacher, are some of the special few people who can grasp the esoteric meanings (and, of course, be trusted to think for ourselves and others).
3) The vast majority of philosophers agree with point 1 (and, of course, me).
More succinctly, "You and I know better than everyone else what is best for them."
Which is poppycock. The only rational basis for a moral system is that people should decide for themselves. They're going to decide things for themselves whether we want them to or not, and if we do not allow them to make those choices, at some point we must discuss how to coerce them, which leads, inevitably, to force. I don't believe that force is never called for, but I do believe it is the last resort, and starting from the basic position that people should not be allowed to think for themselves and act on those thoughts seems entirely backward. You start from a position of complete freedom for all, and only restrict those freedoms where the case can be made that restrictions on freedoms of some are necessary to prevent harm or other damage to the freedoms of others. Otherwise you always end with special pleading for the ruling class, because rulers by definition have more freedom than the ruled. Perhaps my real problem is with kings, and those who would justify them.
I digress. Item 2 on my list is base flattery. The philosophy calls on you to join an exclusive club, which automatically makes it more inviting. One should always be wary of suggestions that you are better or smarter than other people. The people making these suggestions are all too often trying to sell you something you don't need.
3, of course, is arrogance (again). The Straussian text assumes that the authors wanted to hide something in their books, for you, the specially chosen, to extract. There are philosophers who would think so, certainly, but I believe they are at best second-rate. Ideas can be dangerous, to the established social order, to peace of mind, but hiding them does us no great service. Better that ideas see the light of day, to be challenged, and that we may challenge ourselves with them.
Fine if you are ready for the challenge, you say, but what about all those other idiots? Back to point 1 again. The problem with philosophies based on taking away people's choice for their own good (or not), is that you have to decide who gets to do the deciding, and there is no way to do this. All systems of choosing rulers will, at some point, lead to corruption and abuse of power. It is true that people will sometimes make choices that lead to harm for themselves or others, but this is the price we pay and the risk we take for being able to make the same choices ourselves. I would rather have an imperfect but free society than a more efficient dictatorship. (Of course, in current societies I don't get that choice, but I lean towards the one which more closely resembles my ideal.)