I’ll give this four stars, though I really intend to give it only three and a half . The book is pretty good and it is useful. I have a special need for it, since I am surrounded in the Academy – or at least, in MY academy…, where I often feel like the “last gasp of the Enlightenment” myself… with people who are inspired (if that’s the word) by thinkers like Strauss and Kojève…, ideas that I, quite frankly, despise. I’ve not read Kojève at first hand and so cannot comment, but Strauss is a writer that I *have* had to read and one that has not one redeeming feature, in my opinion. (Needless to say, what he writes has NOTHING to do, from a scholarly point of view, with Plato… or with ANY of the philosophers he writes about.)
It’s not only that their politics are repulsive – Strauss, in my opinion, is unquestionably a fascist of some sort – but that the very categories in which they present their analyses are of little value. Their language is all wrong. Marx is useful, for example, even when he’s off the wall…; but Strauss is useless, even when he’s right.
This particular book is good, as I’ve said; but not nearly as good – nor as rigorously analytical – as her Strauss book (The Politics of Leo Strauss). That one is really masterful. If it’s a tedious read, it’s only because Strauss himself is tedious, and the book sticks closely to an analysis of Strauss. But it repays careful studies… in multiples.
This one, by contrast, reads almost like a collection of set pieces written at different times, with the Kojève piece being the longest and the anchor of the collection…. The other pieces deal with Bataille, Foucault, Strauss, Bloom, and Fukuyama. It is all quite familiar stuff, and these pieces are themselves somewhat fragmentary, not systematic or complete – undertaken entirely from the point of view of her departure: Kojève’s analysis of the end of history. Moreover, and what is worse, she cannot restrain herself from offering asides – some amounting to little more than snark. Success has gone to her head… .
She also takes a big risk here – and I have to question the wisdom of it – of interpreting Kojève almost *entirely* in the light of his premises, and then arguing that: as his conclusions do not (in her opinion) follow from those premises, they can safely be ignored. The Kojève she presents is thus the antithesis of the Kojève that Kojève himself often presents (as Drury admits). This is a methodologically dubious position to maintain.
On the other hand, I am quite sympathetic to her general position on these figures. These are writers who put me in mind of a single phrase: intellectual onanism. An image which I can’t get out of my head whenever I think of Leo Strauss is this one of Wolfowitz….
Anyway, I personally get little from reading these types of writers. At least Drury makes the unpalatable more or less palatable. Hence..., the extra (just barely deserved) star.