Straussian Analysis: What It Is, How It Works

Leo Strauss has a theory about how certain ancient and possibly some medieval to early modern philosophers might have had esoteric messages in their writing because they feared persecution (among other occasional reasons, that is just one big one). It’s not a general theory of interpreting people or supposed to be applied in every case. His book Persecution and the Art of Writing discusses the guidelines to tell when someone might have an esoteric message which rely on the context of features of the society an author is in and certain evidence in the text, the rest of their work. Some people like Tyler Cowen among others throw around the phrase ‘Straussian interpretation’ to mean the interpretation looking for an esoteric message in any work. They can do that, but don’t blame Strauss if people mention him with whatever silly interpretations they dig up without carefully applying the procedures he outlines. I don't really know how people use his ideas here so I can't comment on that.

To be clear, the meat of Strauss’s work is analyzing ancient Greek philosophical works cogently (and some modern ones, like Locke and Hobbes) and discussing the history of western philosophy, differences between ancient and modern ideas in philosophy like with regard to the concept of rights. The methodology of interpretation is only one part of his work that he wrote the book I mentioned to detail, and the specific matter of an esoteric interpretation isn't supposed to be universally applied.

He didn't make it up -- the strongest evidence in favor of such interpretations sometimes being true is that pre-modern philosophers were aware of the idea and discuss it. Not everyone is interested in such matters of course, and people intelligently disagree on specific interpretations of thinkers, works. But he is not a vacuous thinker at all. He is a clear writer so you can check yourself if you would like. I mention the book where his procedure of esoteric interpretation is outlined and defended. Tbh the popular reception and then casual use of a lot of these philosophers is pretty bad so I would try to refrain from judging people on that basis, except maybe for philosophers who themselves purposefully have a popular presence like Jordan Peterson.

I was going to talk about Heidegger, but paraphrasing his ideas to someone who thinks he is "worthless verbiage" without giving example or explanation seems futile. Thinkers out of context in a complicated intellectual debate in another language are easily very confusing without a lot of effort. The epistemic task of considering the cognitive value of such thinkers is admittedly difficult but erring on the side of humbleness (before making an effort to understand) seems reasonable. I assume, for example, that the people in very distant-from-application branches of math are doing something intelligible even though out of context it is certainly worthless to me.

Anyway I am not really even into Heidegger but have found a few of his ideas understandable and even interesting, possibly true when I looked into it with effort. They could be intelligible with effort, even true and still be subjectively worthless to you though. There's really no argument to be had there so I assume you were trying to make a more objective statement. The American philosopher Hubert Dreyfus applied some of his ideas to understand and predict the failure of the symbolic logic, 'manipulation of symbols' approach in the field of artificial intelligence. That is a surprisingly concrete successful application of Heidegger I could give as evidence of his intelligibility and usefulness to some people. Dreyfus has a less literary presentation, interpretation of Heidegger's ideas to an American audience and his A.I. book is readable if you are interested.

I don't have an opinion on Nick Land, but I do not see the value of lumping a bunch of people together like that (Heidegger, certain Catholics, Land, all the people he mentioned) in one judgement. I've read perfectly cogent and interesting essays by Land on his blog before. I guess I can go find an example if you really doubt that. I know he has more eccentric experimental literary stuff that he sometimes mixes in with his philosophy though. Like I said, I haven't read his main body of work so no real opinion on him generally, or in Fanged Noumena.

I just think Dirac was reading bad poetry btw