16 of us wrote reviews of Arthur Melzer’s important book about esoteric writing, Philosophy Between the Lines, in the June and October issues of Perspectives on Political Science. Melzer has now written a 10,000-word response. Unfortunately, he did not engage with most of the reviews. His wording is curious:
In the space allotted me for rejoinder, it would clearly not be possible to reply to each of the essays individually, and it would be unbearably tedious if it were. Most of the essays, at any rate, stand in no particular need of reply.
I’m not sure about any of those three claims!
For what it’s worth, my review made the following points:
- Melzer misinterprets, or interprets partially, some evidence about esotericism, e.g. in Machiavelli and Rousseau;
- Melzer is not clear about whether contextualist/Cambridge-School interpretations are esoteric;
- Melzer works with a straw man when he discusses “strictly literal” readings, as opposed to esoteric ones;
- Melzer does not respond to the most important critiques of Strauss’s methodology.
Posted by Adrian Blau on November 19, 2015
I’m part of a symposium of reviews of Arthur Melzer’s important book about esoteric writing, Philosophy Between the Lines, in the journal Perspectives on Political Science (vol. 44 no. 3, 2015). This is a two-part symposium, with Melzer responding to the reviews in the second part, in the forthcoming issue. The first part of the symposium has contributions from a variety of authors:
- Francis Fukuyama drives a further wedge between Strauss and silly criticisms of his alleged effect on US foreign policy;
- Michael Frazer asks if some philosophers writing about esotericism actually did so esoterically;
- Adrian Blau challenges some of Melzer’s evidence as well as what appear to be false dichotomies between esoteric/non-esoteric and literal/non-literal readings of texts – click here for a summary of my views and a copy of my article;
- Douglas Burnham questions the idea of ‘historicism’ and asks how well Nietzsche fits this category;
- Rob Howse questions Melzer’s evidence about the relationship between persecution and esotericism;
- Miguel Vatter makes further distinctions between types and aims of esotericism;
- in separate pieces, Norma Thompson, Catherine/Michael Zuckert, Larry Arnhart, Roslyn Weiss, Grant Havers and Peter Augustine Lawler each develop different aspects of the account of ancient versus modern esotericism/society.
Posted by Adrian Blau on August 3, 2015
Here is a pre-publication version of my review of Arthur Melzer’s Philosophy Between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing (Chicago, 2014).
Melzer’s book is the best defence of Straussian esoteric interpretation yet written. It’s more plausible than anything Strauss wrote, in my view. But Melzer overinterprets or overlooks evidence, and does not provide support for some of Strauss’s most questionable esoteric techniques. He only addresses weak criticisms of Strauss, ignoring writers like John Pocock and George Klosko (and me), and he sometimes contrasts Straussian interpretations with caricatures of other approaches.
So, Straussians should not think that this book proves Strauss was right. Nor should critics of Strauss claim that no one wrote esoterically. In short, everyone interested in esoteric writing should read this book. Melzer’s online appendix is also a wonderful resource, collating comments about esoteric writing throughout history.
N.B. The final version of my review – with tiny corrections to be made – will appear in Perspectives on Political Science later this year. Melzer will respond in the same issue, or another issue.
UPDATE: here is an overview of the first part of the two-part symposium of Melzer’s book, and a link to the journal.
Posted by Adrian Blau on May 16, 2015