It’s Christmas eve, and like (almost) every year I decided to watch a Christmas classic. I settled on the 1994 remake of Miracle on 34th Street. The movie is as endearing and cheery as I remember it. What struck me most this time, however, was the overtly Straussian theme. Straussianism is the school of political philosophy based on the ideas of the late Leo Strauss, a University of Chicago professor and philosophical guide to many future neoconservatives.

In the interest of full disclosure, my understanding of Straussian thought comes from secondary sources. But it has two clear propositions: firstly, that liberalism–and its single-minded pursuit of individual liberty–leads to relativism, which then inevitably leads to tyranny; secondly, that polities require what Plato called “noble lies”–that is, binding mythologies, irrespective of fact or truth, to keep societies cohesive.

Miracle on 34th Street indicts the godless, secular, materialistic elite for their obsession with truth and their acrimonious disregard for society and the family. The movie centres on a court case before Judge Henry Harper, who must decide whether or not a man claiming to be Santa Claus is indeed Kris Kringle, and whether Santa Claus actually exists. The judge is at first swayed by a bribe from a cynical state prosecutor and his wealthy backer, the CEO of a large, corporate department store chain. Henry Harper is also unconvinced that he can support the existence of a fictitious being before a court of law, where evidence and fact reign supreme. But–spoiler alert!–in the end the judge rules in favour of Santa. He does so because a little girl, Susan Walker, presents him a Christmas card in which she placed a one dollar bill. She circled the phrase “In God We Trust.” The old judge tears up his previous judgment and announces that yes, indeed, there is a Santa Claus and that the man before him is Santa. He reasons that if the collective majority of the American people can permit their government to place its trust in God, for whom there is no evidence, then the state of New York can surely place its trust in the existence of Santa Claus. Judge Harper knew that believing in Santa Claus–even if he did not exist–was important to keep the children happy.

How very Straussian of him. The children, who represent the masses, must be fed noble lies to preserve the polity. God too is a noble lie that preserves faith in the polity and provides the moral constraint to allow for social stability.

Another thread in the plot–that of the marriage of Bryan Bedford and Dorey Walker, Susie’s mom–further unveils the Straussian ideals behind the movie. At the beginning, Dorey Walker is a jaded, successful, and single mother, who teaches her child not to believe in Santa Claus and rarely, if ever, attends church. But Bryan changes all that. When he is invited to Thanksgiving dinner at the Walker’s apartment, he insists on saying grace. He convinces Susie to believe in Santa again. And he proposes to Dorey and marries her in the end. Bryan represents the man who is comfortable living the noble lie, because he understands that true happiness rests on the bedrock of myth and family. It is the noble lie of the nuclear family and its faith in God and the myths of Protestant, Anglo-Saxon America that preserve it and ensure its survival.

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