Andrew Sullivan is like the Matt
Damon character in "Syriana"--decent, idealistic, smart, well-informed,
but nevertheless naive about how things really work--too credulous of
the the official cover story, too trusting of the guys in power to behave decently and according to their professed ideals. He's just a glass-half-full
kind of guy, I guess. In any event he has been giving some attention to Leo Strauss and the neocon Straussians. A lot of his defense of Strauss against his left-leaning detractors, in my opinion, is distorted by his Pollyannaish tendency to have blindspots with regard to the negative side of personalities he wants to admire.
To his credit, he has shown the ability to actually absorb evidence that contradicts his Pollyannaism and to change his mind. But there's still this naive quality that gives his writing in general a lightweight quality that makes it hard for me to take him seriously. And so I have found his defense of Leo Strauss really misses what is toxicly anti-democratic in his influence--he realizes there's a problem, but blames some of his followers for distorting his thought. But I would argue those apples don't fall far from the tree. They just take the nihilism that pervades Straussian thought to its politcal logical conclusion.
But, again, to Sullivan's credit he gave some serious space to an emailer who puts his finger precisely on the problem with Strauss and Straussians which is the doctrine of the "noble lie." He goes on to make the distinction between "gentlemen" Straussians and "Nietzschean" Straussians. Sullivan obviously approves the former but not the latter. Problem is that the latter are the ones who have the political power. Read the post in full, but the key quote is this one:
The Nietzscheans (for example, Bloom) take another path from the skeptical starting point. For them, there is one truth that IS certain: the distinction between those human beings who CAN endure the fact that there are no certain answers and those who CANNOT endure it. The Nietzschean Straussians that I knew as graduate students were utterly dismissive of the many ordinary human beings; they believed the scales had fallen from their own eyes and that they had been liberated from ordinary morality. Moderation is good only as a means or a mask, not good in itself. Yet at the same time, they understood Strauss's cautions about the limits of general Enlightenment and public reason. And so for them, the best regime was the American one, a regime that permits freedom of thought for the philosophers and, for the many, freedom for politics, for hard work, and (alas) for self-indulgence -- despite the risk of a plunge into consumerism and philistinism. Hence "The End of History and the Last Man" -- by a student of Bloom's. (Everyone forgets the last man part: it's not necessarily a happy ending.)
These Nietzscheanized Straussians that I observed truly believed in their superiority and in their right to influence politics and public affairs. Yes, as a student in his 20's mellows into his 40's and 50's, he will lose some of the Nietzschean hubris -- but perhaps not the conviction that the many need noble lies that he knows to be false. Not the conviction that he knows best, and can apply this knowledge universally. Hence Wolfowitz, the WMD feint in order to bring on war in Iraq, the plan to seed democracy throughout the Middle East and end all tyranny, the Rumsfeldian arrogance, etc. Disaster.
Sullivan's problem time and again lies in the way he fantasizes the world in light of his ideals rather than seeing the world as it is. It's one thing to argue philosophy on the level of principle; it's quite another to see how people use philosophy as a cover for their crimes.