Upon my recent review of Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America, some readers expressed some choice words for the book’s author, Paul Gottfried.
Though his is a critical appraisal, Gottfried’s treatment of his subjects is unfailingly respectful. No one who has read his book can doubt my assurance that both the substance and tone of Gottfried’s analysis epitomize the ideal of agreeable disagreement.
As for those who have not read it, however, matters are clearly otherwise.
Gottfried is consumed by “anger,” some commentators wrote. Others indicted him for “defending” the “anti-Semite,” the late Joe Sobran.
That Gottfried’s critics here are doubtless people of the right, self-avowed “conservatives,” is a tragic commentary on the times. More specifically, it is a tragic commentary on just how successful the left has been in commandeering our culture, for the insults that now bombard Gottfried are textbook exhibitions of precisely the sort of ad hominem attack that the left has always wielded to terminate debate while destroying—professionally, politically, and socially, destroying—its opponents.
It is bad enough that Gottfried’s detractors readily substitute insult for argument. Far worse, however, is that in addition to being anti-intellectual in character, his critics’ insults are baseless.
The most casual perusal of any of Gottfried’s books immediately exposes the suggestion that their author is blinded by rage for the self-evident nonsense that it is.
As for the attempt to discredit Gottfried by linking him with the “anti-Semite” Joe Sobran, more can be said.
The saga of the fortunes and misfortunes of Joe Sobran is a story for another day. For now suffice it to say that if Gottfried is somehow disreputable for having befriended or “defended” Sobran, then so too are Bill Buckley and Ann Coulter disreputable for doing the same. This long-time National Review writer was both a friend and protégé of Buckley. It is true that he and Buckley had a parting of the ways at one juncture, but not long before Buckley’s death, he and Sobran had reconciled. When the latter died three years back, Coulter eulogized Sobran in one of her columns, referring to him as her “friend” and the world’s “greatest writer.”
Moreover, considering that Gottfried is a Jew whose family was forced to flee the Nazis, attempts to somehow associate him with “anti-Semitism” are, at best, laughable; at worst, they are offensive.
Ultimately, though, neither Gottfried’s background nor that of Sobran is of any relevance to Gottfried’s argument.
And this is the point.
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.