Tweeting Leo Strauss: the Homosocial & the Homoerotic

Socrates and Alcibiades by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1816)
Socrates and Alcibiades by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg (1816)


I did a series of tweets about Leo Strauss, homosociality and homoeroticism. Because people expressed interest in seeing them in one place, I’ve reprinted them (in slightly edited form) below:

1. Trigger warning. I’m starting a twitter-essay on the sexual politics of Leo Strauss.

2. Impossible to fully understand the Strauss without grasping that his pedagogy existed in the zone between the homosocial & the homoerotic.

3. The model for the student/teacher relationship in Strauss is of course in the ancients: Socrates and Alcibiades.

4. Exchange between teacher & student: teacher (older man) offers wisdom, student in return offers pleasure of company with beautiful youth.

5. Greek homosexuality, as Foucault rightly taught us, had different social dynamic than modern one. Mentoring relationship was key.

6. Friendship, in the Straussian model, is the key philosophic relationship, much more than any family relationship.

7. For philosophy to occur, the young must leave their family and seek the company of the philosopher. See opening of Plato’s Republic.

8. The family is the enemy of philosophy. Must be tolerated for prudential reasons but real relationship is friends/philosophers.

9. The philosopher is the mid-wife to friendship. The friends formed in the seminar will go on to be allies in political life, some as teachers, some as statesmen.

10. To a startling degree Strauss replicated this platonic model in midcentury America.

11. Almost all of Strauss’s most devote students were men. These men formed intense friendships with each other.

12. Did sex occur? Not always or even often but still, it was a homosocial milieu that verged on the homoerotic.

13. Strauss’ teaching about esoteric fit nicely with a cover sexual politics. Esoteric = the closet. Exoteric = being outed.

14. Let’s get a bunch of young guys together, get them reading the Greeks, tell them their friendships are more important than family. See what happens.

15. The scandal of Allan Bloom was that although he was closeted, there were enough rumors to compromise the whole enterprise.

16. Consider the fractured friendship between Allan Bloom and Harry Jaffa.

17. Bloom and Jaffa collaborated on a book called Shakespeare’s Politics, dedicated “to Leo Strauss our teacher”

18. Bloom and Jaffa had a falling out circa 1970s. Jaffa started writing essays denouncing Bloom for not being anti-sodomy.

19. Jaffa was (is!) a homophobe but a complicated one.

20. Read Jaffa’s long dedication to his book Condition of Freedom (1975) here.

21. Excerpt from Jaffa’s dedication: “Billy Pedersen was one of my students at Claremont Men’s College. We had formed a friendship of the kind that young men and older ones sometimes do form when they are fellow hobbyists or fellow enthusiasts of a sport (bicycling in our case). Many mornings saw the two of us, before dawn, wheeling eastward through the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

When the pace slackened, and when the ride was over, we talked constantly of a wide variety of subjects, most of them political…. Billy Pedersen was a scholar, an athlete, an officer, and a gentleman. He was one of those “golden lads” of whom A. E. Housman wrote, who went to war, not gaily, but without a doubt that freedom and duty spoke with a single voice.”

22. It’s interesting to “read between the lines” of that Jaffa dedication. What is unsaid is also important.

23. To repeat: the homosocial overlaps with the homoerotic but is not identical with it. Not all desires are acted on.

24. Indeed for someone like Jaffa it could be that Bloom debased Platonic love by acting on it. The truest love is just wistful sighing.

25. Bloom endangered the Straussian enterprise by making the esoteric exoteric, by opening the door of the philosophic closet.

26. My old essay on the Classics and the Closet relevant for thinking of Strauss & homosocial/homoerotic axis:

27. Harry Jaffa 1. broke with his closeted gay friend Allan Bloom 2. fulminated against “sodomy” 3. had intense friendship with male student

28. Hey, @willwilkinson is working on a novel that will flesh out my Leo Strauss tweets: See here:

29. As @willwilkinson notes, it’s great that Jaffa’s beloved student was named “Billy Pedersen”

30. “Billy Pedersen”: no novelist could get away with a name like that.

31. Straussian Harvey Mansfield was very close to Bloom. Years after Bloom’s death said he thinks about him every day.

32. Mansfield also testified gay rights in Colorado case in early 1990s, saying anti-gay position could be defended on philosophic grounds.

33. Straussian position sometimes seems to be: we can’t have open gay rights, that’ll destroy pleasures of our private homoerotic club

34. There’s a Werner Dannhauser essay on the erotics of education that seems relevant to all this. Can’t find it now

35. Dannhauser’s argument was that it’s teachers duty to make knowledge sexy. There’s an erotics to education.

36. Alan Keyes is a huge homophobe. In 1970s when Allan Bloom went to Paris, Keyes followed him there.

37. One of Bloom’s students became a Catholic priest. As priest he kept a photo of bloom in his office, only image he’d allow himself.

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