Published Humanitas, Volume IX, No. 2, 1996

Leo Strauss e la destra americana, by Germana Paraboschi. Roma: Editori Riuniti, 1993. 162 pp. L.25,000.

Germana Paraboschi’s book serves three basic purposes. First, the book is an introduction to and explanation of the bewildering “panorama” of positions and threads of influence in American conservative thought. It is designed for Italian-speaking intellectuals who are unlikely to be familiar with more than the basics of American political thought. To accomplish this first aim, Paraboschi traces lines of historical descent in order to explain (or at least intelligibly describe) the changes in American conservative thought in the twentieth century. Second, Paraboschi seeks to organize and classify several contemporary trends in American conservative thought, as distinct from conservative politics, and to show how the view of “historical consciousness” held by a given thinker will influence his or her stance toward the current political divisions among American conservatives. This argument is made by closely analyzing the effects of Leo Strauss’s war on historicism in American political thought, and the varied criticisms of it. Finally, Paraboschi dedicates a considerable amount of energy to summarizing the work of Claes Ryn, whose “value-centered historicism” she sees as an alternative to Strauss’s reactionary aversion to history.

In chapter one, Paraboschi argues that the American Old Right had “two souls”—the “traditionalist” and the “libertarian.” Many of the traditionalists (Robert Nisbet and Russell Kirk are the cited examples) traced their origins to the thought of Burke on one side, and the Federalist Papers on the other. The “conservative libertarians” (and here she mentions no one by name, but distinguishes between conservative libertarians and the followers of Ayn Rand, whom she considers a classical liberal at heart) trace their roots through Locke, Jefferson and Mill. The “libertarian conservatives” have in common with the traditionalists a general aversion to government economic interventionism and the welfare state, and an admiration for the institution of private property and free enterprise, among other things. The basic difference between the “two souls” of the Old Right becomes apparent in the libertarian emphasis on a categorical individualism and in holding that freedom simply is individual freedom, whereas the traditionalists showed their communitarian (Burkean) leanings in their willingness to accept government intervention in the social arena, e.g., against victimless crimes.

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