Clarence Thomas’s Straussian Moment: The Question of Slavery and the Founding


Corey Robin in Crooked Timber:

A question for the political theorists, intellectual historians, and maybe public law/con law experts. The question comes at the very end of this post. Forgive the build-up. And the potted history: I’m writing fast because I’m hard at work on this Clarence Thomas book and am briefly interrupting that work in order to get a reading list.

In the second half of the 1980s, Clarence Thomas is being groomed for a position on the Supreme Court, or senses that he’s being groomed. He’s the head of the EEOC in the Reagan Administration and decides to beef up on his reading in political theory, constitutional law, and American history. He hires two Straussians—Ken Masugi and John Marini—to his staff on the EEOC. Their assignment is to give him a reading list, which they do and which he reads, and to serve as tutors and conversation partners in all things intellectual, which also they do.

These are West Coast Straussians. Both Masugi and Marini hail from the Claremont orbit in California (Masugi was in the think tank, Marino was a student). Unlike the East Coast Straussians—the Blooms and Pangles, who champion a Nietzschean Strauss who’s overtly celebratory of the American Founding but is secretly critical of natural law, natural rights, and the Framers—these West Coast Straussians follow Harry Jaffa, arguing that the American Founding is the consummation of ancient virtue in a modern idiom.

But what’s also true of these West Coast Straussians is that they are intensely interested in race.

More here.