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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Louis Althusser, Leo Strauss, and Democratic Leadership

  • Author(s): Tamulis, Bron Cohen
  • Advisor(s): Topper, Keith
  • et al.

In taking up the topic of political leadership, I seek to analyze the legacy of social science in light of the sobering political events of the twentieth century. This dissertation is a composite study of the work of two philosophers, and, specifically, what they endeavored to accomplish by thinking and writing on the subject of politics. I concentrated on the post-War landscape, and the philosophers Louis Althusser and Leo Strauss, in order to analyze the way in which the figure of Machiavelli appears and influences the ideas and practices of political leadership that both saw as viable means of intervening in the world. This project investigates the history of the discipline of political science, the politics of the Cold War, the post-Stalinist developments of the French Communist Party, and the emergence of the neoconservative movement in the United States. It analyzes a particular form of democratic leadership that emerged at this point in history, one that represents a turn toward a meta-discursive practice of leadership that aims to shift discussion by way of strategically chosen scientific and philosophical argument. This "theoretical turn," grounded in an encounter with Machiavelli, has come to define the way that scholarship situates itself in relation to discourse and politics. It is also a unique and historically-situated activity, one that engages with the problematic of the vanguard as it structured the discourse of political leadership in the early part of the 20th century. Since the 19th century, in particular with the career of Marx and Engels, intellectual action had been oriented toward directly influencing the world itself; the Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach is the most classic example of this idea that knowledge or philosophy can successfully guide politics or "change the world." The experiences of the twentieth century, so present to Althusser and Strauss, were to put a damper on the presumption that knowledge can create an enlightened society free of conflict and misery. This crisis made possible the theoretical turn in political leadership, a turn which we are still trying to navigate today.

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