|Born||September 20, 1899|
|Died||October 18, 1973 74) (aged|
|Alma mater|| University of Marburg |
University of Hamburg
University of Freiburg
|The ends of politics and philosophy as irreducible to one another|
The unresolvable tension between reason and revelation
Criticism of moral relativism, historicism, and nihilism
The distinction between esoteric and exoteric writing
Leo Strauss ( // ; German: [ˈleːo ˈʃtʁaʊs] ; September 20, 1899 – October 18, 1973) was a German-American political philosopher and classicist who specialized in classical political philosophy. Born in Germany to Jewish parents, Strauss later emigrated from Germany to the United States. He spent much of his career as a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, where he taught several generations of students and published fifteen books.
Political philosophy, also known as political theory, is the study of topics such as politics, liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of laws by authority: what they are, if they are needed, what makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect, what form it should take, what the law is, and what duties citizens owe to a legitimate government, if any, and when it may be legitimately overthrown, if ever.
Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north, and the Alps, Lake Constance and the High Rhine to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to the west.
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois. Founded in 1890, the school is located on a 217-acre campus in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, near Lake Michigan. The University of Chicago holds top-ten positions in various national and international rankings.
Trained in the neo-Kantian tradition with Ernst Cassirer and immersed in the work of the phenomenologists Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, Strauss later focused his research on the Greek texts of Plato and Aristotle, retracing their interpretation through medieval Islamic and Jewish philosophy and encouraging the application of those ideas to contemporary political theory.
Ernst Alfred Cassirer was a German philosopher. Trained within the Neo-Kantian Marburg School, he initially followed his mentor Hermann Cohen in attempting to supply an idealistic philosophy of science.
Phenomenology is the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness. As a philosophical movement it was founded in the early years of the 20th century by Edmund Husserl and was later expanded upon by a circle of his followers at the universities of Göttingen and Munich in Germany. It then spread to France, the United States, and elsewhere, often in contexts far removed from Husserl's early work.
Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl was a German philosopher who established the school of phenomenology. In his early work, he elaborated critiques of historicism and of psychologism in logic based on analyses of intentionality. In his mature work, he sought to develop a systematic foundational science based on the so-called phenomenological reduction. Arguing that transcendental consciousness sets the limits of all possible knowledge, Husserl redefined phenomenology as a transcendental-idealist philosophy. Husserl's thought profoundly influenced the landscape of 20th-century philosophy, and he remains a notable figure in contemporary philosophy and beyond.
Strauss was born on September 20, 1899 in the small town of Kirchhain in Hesse-Nassau, a province of the Kingdom of Prussia (part of the German Empire), to Hugo Strauss and Jennie Strauss, née David. According to Allan Bloom's 1974 obituary in Political Theory, Strauss "was raised as an Orthodox Jew", but the family does not appear to have completely embraced Orthodox practice.Strauss himself noted that he came from a "conservative, even orthodox Jewish home", but one which knew little about Judaism except strict adherence to ceremonial laws. His father and uncle operated a farm supply and livestock business that they inherited from their father, Meyer (1835–1919), a leading member of the local Jewish community.
Kirchhain is a town in Marburg-Biedenkopf district in Hesse, Germany.
The Province of Hesse-Nassau was a province of the Kingdom of Prussia from 1868 to 1918, then a province of the Free State of Prussia until 1944.
The Kingdom of Prussia was a German kingdom that constituted the state of Prussia between 1701 and 1918. It was the driving force behind the unification of Germany in 1871 and was the leading state of the German Empire until its dissolution in 1918. Although it took its name from the region called Prussia, it was based in the Margraviate of Brandenburg, where its capital was Berlin.
After attending the Kirchhain Volksschule and the Protestant Rektoratsschule, Leo Strauss was enrolled at the Gymnasium Philippinum (affiliated with the University of Marburg) in nearby Marburg (from which Johannes Althusius and Carl J. Friedrich also graduated) in 1912, graduating in 1917. He boarded with the Marburg cantor Strauss (no relation); the Cantor's residence served as a meeting place for followers of the neo-Kantian philosopher Hermann Cohen. Strauss served in the German army during World War I from July 5, 1917 to December 1918.
Gymnasium Philippinum or Philippinum High School is an almost 500-year-old secondary school in Marburg, Hesse, Germany.
The Philipps University of Marburg was founded in 1527 by Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse, which makes it one of Germany's oldest universities and the oldest Protestant university in the world. It is now a public university of the state of Hesse, without religious affiliation. The University of Marburg has about 25,000 students and 7,500 employees and is located in Marburg, a town of 72,000 inhabitants, with university buildings dotted in or around the town centre. About 12 per cent of the students are international, the highest percentage in Hesse. It offers an International summer university programme and offers student exchanges through the Erasmus programme.
Marburg is a university town in the German federal state (Bundesland) of Hesse, capital of the Marburg-Biedenkopf district (Landkreis). The town area spreads along the valley of the river Lahn and has a population of approximately 72,000.
Strauss subsequently enrolled in the University of Hamburg, where he received his doctorate in 1921; his thesis, On the Problem of Knowledge in the Philosophical Doctrine of F. H. Jacobi (Das Erkenntnisproblem in der philosophischen Lehre Fr. H. Jacobis), was supervised by Ernst Cassirer. He also attended courses at the Universities of Freiburg and Marburg, including some taught by Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. Strauss joined a Jewish fraternity and worked for the German Zionist movement, which introduced him to various German Jewish intellectuals, such as Norbert Elias, Leo Löwenthal, Hannah Arendt and Walter Benjamin. Walter Benjamin was and remained an admirer of Strauss and of his work throughout his life.
The University of Hamburg is a comprehensive university in Hamburg, Germany. It was founded on 28 March 1919, having grown out of the previous General lecture system and the Colonial Institute of Hamburg as well as the Akademic Gymnasium. In spite of its relatively short history, six Nobel Prize Winners and serials of scholars are affiliated to the university. The University of Hamburg is the biggest research and education institution in Northern Germany and one of the most extensive universities in Germany. The main campus is located in the central district of Rotherbaum, with affiliated institutes and research centres spread around the city state.
A doctorate or doctor's degree or doctoral degree, is an academic degree awarded by universities, derived from the ancient formalism licentia docendi. In most countries, it is a research degree that qualifies the holder to teach at university level in the degree's field, or to work in a specific profession. There are a variety of names for doctoral degrees; the most common is the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), which is awarded in many different fields, ranging from the humanities to scientific disciplines.
A thesis or dissertation is a document submitted in support of candidature for an academic degree or professional qualification presenting the author's research and findings. In some contexts, the word "thesis" or a cognate is used for part of a bachelor's or master's course, while "dissertation" is normally applied to a doctorate, while in other contexts, the reverse is true. The term graduate thesis is sometimes used to refer to both master's theses and doctoral dissertations.
Strauss' closest friend was Jacob Klein but he also was intellectually engaged with Karl Löwith, Julius Guttman, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Franz Rosenzweig (to whom Strauss dedicated his first book), Gershom Scholem, Alexander Altmann, and the Arabist Paul Kraus, who married Strauss' sister Bettina (Strauss and his wife later adopted their child when both parents died in the Middle East). With several of these friends, Strauss carried on vigorous epistolary exchanges later in life, many of which are published in the Gesammelte Schriften (Collected Writings), some in translation from the German. Strauss had also been engaged in a discourse with Carl Schmitt. However, after Strauss left Germany, he broke off the discourse when Schmitt failed to respond to his letters.
Jacob Klein was a Russian-American philosopher and interpreter of Plato, who worked extensively on the nature and historical origin of modern symbolic mathematics.
Karl Löwith was a German philosopher in the phenomenological tradition. He was a student of Husserl and Heidegger. Löwith was one of the most prolific German philosophers of the twentieth century; the bibliography of his works comprising more than 300 titles. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. His main influences include Heidegger, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Kierkegaard. His writing after WWII can be read in the same vein as other Christian philosophers and theologians of the 20th century. Often called responses to "crisis", Christian intellectuals of this era, such as Karl Barth (protestant), Florovksy (Orthodox), and Erich Przywara, attempted to articulate an understanding of Christian faith in response to the challenges of scientism, secularism, and skepticism.
Hans-Georg Gadamer was a German philosopher of the continental tradition, best known for his 1960 magnum opusTruth and Method on hermeneutics. He was a Protestant Christian.
In 1931, Strauss sought his post-doctoral habilitation with the theologian Paul Tillich, but was turned down. After receiving a Rockefeller Fellowship in 1932, Strauss left his position at the Higher Institute for Jewish Studies in Berlin for Paris. He returned to Germany only once, for a few short days twenty years later. In Paris he married Marie (Miriam) Bernsohn, a widow with a young child, whom he had known previously in Germany. He adopted his wife's son, Thomas, and later his sister's child; he and Miriam had no biological children of their own. At his death he was survived by Thomas, daughter Jenny Strauss Clay, and three grandchildren. Strauss became a lifelong friend of Alexandre Kojève and was on friendly terms with Raymond Aron, Alexandre Koyré, and Étienne Gilson. Because of the Nazis' rise to power, he chose not to return to his native country. Strauss found shelter, after some vicissitudes, in England, where in 1935 he gained temporary employment at University of Cambridge, with the help of his in-law, David Daube, who was affiliated with Gonville and Caius College. While in England, he became a close friend of R. H. Tawney, and was on less friendly terms with Isaiah Berlin.
Unable to find permanent employment in England, Strauss moved in 1937 to the United States, under the patronage of Harold Laski, who made introductions and helped him obtain a brief lectureship. After a short stint as Research Fellow in the Department of History at Columbia University, Strauss secured a position at The New School, where, between 1938 and 1948, he worked the political science faculty and also took on adjunct jobs.In 1939, he served for a short term as a visiting professor at Hamilton College. He became a U.S. citizen in 1944, and in 1949 he became a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, holding the Robert Maynard Hutchins Distinguished Service Professorship until he left in 1969.
In 1953, Strauss coined the phrase "reductio ad Hitlerum".
In 1954 he met Löwith and Gadamer in Heidelberg and delivered a public speech on Socrates. He had received a call for a temporary lectureship in Hamburg in 1965 (which he declined for health reasons) and received and accepted an honorary doctorate from Hamburg University and the Bundesverdienstkreuz (German Order of Merit) via the German representative in Chicago. In 1969 Strauss moved to Claremont McKenna College (formerly Claremont Men's College) in California for a year, and then to St. John's College, Annapolis in 1970, where he was the Scott Buchanan Distinguished Scholar in Residence until his death from pneumonia in 1973.
For Strauss, politics and philosophy were necessarily intertwined. He regarded the trial and death of Socrates as the moment when political philosophy came into existence. Strauss considered one of the most important moments in the history of philosophy Socrates' argument that philosophers could not study nature without considering their own human nature,which, in the words of Aristotle, is that of "a political animal." However, he also held that the ends of politics and philosophy were inherently irreconcilable and irreducible to one another.
Strauss distinguished "scholars" from "great thinkers", identifying himself as a scholar. He wrote that most self-described philosophers are in actuality scholars, cautious and methodical. Great thinkers, in contrast, boldly and creatively address big problems. Scholars deal with these problems only indirectly by reasoning about the great thinkers' differences.
In Natural Right and History Strauss begins with a critique of Max Weber's epistemology, briefly engages the relativism of Martin Heidegger (who goes unnamed), and continues with a discussion of the evolution of natural rights via an analysis of the thought of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. He concludes by critiquing Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Edmund Burke. At the heart of the book are excerpts from Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero. Much of his philosophy is a reaction to the works of Heidegger. Indeed, Strauss wrote that Heidegger's thinking must be understood and confronted before any complete formulation of modern political theory is possible, and this entails that political thought has to engage with issues of ontology and the history of metaphysics.
Strauss wrote that Friedrich Nietzsche was the first philosopher to properly understand historicism, an idea grounded in a general acceptance of Hegelian philosophy of history. Heidegger, in Strauss' view, sanitized and politicized Nietzsche, whereas Nietzsche believed "our own principles, including the belief in progress, will become as unconvincing and alien as all earlier principles (essences) had shown themselves to be" and "the only way out seems to be ... that one voluntarily choose life-giving delusion instead of deadly truth, that one fabricate a myth".Heidegger believed that the tragic nihilism of Nietzsche was a "myth" guided by a defective Western conception of Being that Heidegger traced to Plato. In his published correspondence with Alexandre Kojève, Strauss wrote that Hegel was correct when he postulated that an end of history implies an end to philosophy as understood by classical political philosophy.
In the late 1930s, Strauss called for the first time for a reconsideration of the "distinction between exoteric (or public) and esoteric (or secret) teaching".In 1952 he published Persecution and the Art of Writing , arguing that serious writers write esoterically, that is, with multiple or layered meanings, often disguised within irony or paradox, obscure references, even deliberate self-contradiction. Esoteric writing serves several purposes: protecting the philosopher from the retribution of the regime, and protecting the regime from the corrosion of philosophy; it attracts the right kind of reader and repels the wrong kind; and ferreting out the interior message is in itself an exercise of philosophic reasoning. Taking his bearings from his study of Maimonides and Al Farabi, and pointing further back to Plato's discussion of writing as contained in the Phaedrus , Strauss proposed that the classical and medieval art of esoteric writing is the proper medium for philosophic learning: rather than displaying philosophers' thoughts superficially, classical and medieval philosophical texts guide their readers in thinking and learning independently of imparted knowledge. Thus, Strauss agrees with the Socrates of the Phaedrus, where the Greek indicates that, insofar as writing does not respond when questioned, good writing provokes questions in the reader—questions that orient the reader towards an understanding of problems the author thought about with utmost seriousness.
Strauss's hermeneutical argument—rearticulated throughout his subsequent writings (most notably in The City and Man )—is that, prior to the 19th century, Western scholars commonly understood that philosophical writing is not at home in any polity, no matter how liberal. Insofar as it questions conventional wisdom at its roots, philosophy must guard itself especially against those readers who believe themselves authoritative, wise, and liberal defenders of the status quo. In questioning established opinions, or in investigating the principles of morality, philosophers of old found it necessary to convey their messages in an oblique manner. Their "art of writing" was the art of esoteric communication. This was especially apparent in medieval times, when heterodox political thinkers wrote under the threat of the Inquisition or comparably obtuse tribunals.
Strauss's argument is not that the medieval writers he studies reserved one exoteric meaning for the many (hoi polloi) and an esoteric, hidden one for the few (hoi aristoi), but that, through rhetorical stratagems including self-contradiction and hyperboles, these writers succeeded in conveying their proper meaning at the tacit heart of their writings—a heart or message irreducible to "the letter" or historical dimension of texts.
Explicitly following Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's lead, Strauss indicates that medieval political philosophers, no less than their ancient counterparts, carefully adapted their wording to the dominant moral views of their time, lest their writings be condemned as heretical or unjust, not by "the many" (who did not read), but by those "few" whom the many regarded as the most righteous guardians of morality. It was precisely these righteous personalities who would be most inclined to persecute/ostracize anyone who was in the business of exposing the noble or great lie upon which the authority of the few over the many stands or falls.
According to his critics, especially Shadia Drury, Strauss wrongly assumes a distinction between an "exoteric" or salutary and an "esoteric" or "true" aspect of the philosophy of pre-modern political philosophers. Furthermore, Strauss is often accused of having himself written esoterically. The accusation would seem to rest upon the belief that in modern-era liberal societies and, especially in the United States, philosophers are not free to voice their philosophical views in public without being accused of impropriety.
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According to Strauss, modern social science is flawed because it assumes the fact–value distinction, a concept which Strauss found dubious. He traced its roots in Enlightenment philosophy to Max Weber, a thinker whom Strauss described as a "serious and noble mind." Weber wanted to separate values from science but, according to Strauss, was really a derivative thinker, deeply influenced by Nietzsche's relativism.Strauss treated politics as something that could not be studied from afar. A political scientist examining politics with a value-free scientific eye, for Strauss, was self-deluded. Positivism, the heir to both Auguste Comte and Max Weber in the quest to make purportedly value-free judgments, failed to justify its own existence, which would require a value judgment.
While modern-era liberalism had stressed the pursuit of individual liberty as its highest goal, Strauss felt that there should be a greater interest in the problem of human excellence and political virtue. Through his writings, Strauss constantly raised the question of how, and to what extent, freedom and excellence can coexist. Strauss refused to make do with any simplistic or one-sided resolutions of the Socratic question: What is the good for the city and man?
Two significant political-philosophical dialogues Strauss had with living thinkers were those he held with Carl Schmitt and Alexandre Kojève. Schmitt, who would later become, for a short time, the chief jurist of Nazi Germany, was one of the first important German academics to review Strauss's early work positively. Schmitt's positive reference for, and approval of, Strauss's work on Hobbes was instrumental in winning Strauss the scholarship funding that allowed him to leave Germany.
Strauss's critique and clarifications of The Concept of the Political led Schmitt to make significant emendations in its second edition. Writing to Schmitt in 1932, Strauss summarised Schmitt's political theology that "because man is by nature evil, he therefore needs dominion. But dominion can be established, that is, men can be unified only in a unity against—against other men. Every association of men is necessarily a separation from other men ... the political thus understood is not the constitutive principle of the state, of order, but a condition of the state."
Strauss, however, directly opposed Schmitt's position. For Strauss, Schmitt and his return to Thomas Hobbes helpfully clarified the nature of our political existence and our modern self-understanding. Schmitt's position was therefore symptomatic of the modern-era liberal self-understanding. Strauss believed that such an analysis, as in Hobbes's time, served as a useful "preparatory action", revealing our contemporary orientation towards the eternal problems of politics (social existence). However, Strauss believed that Schmitt's reification of our modern self-understanding of the problem of politics into a political theology was not an adequate solution. Strauss instead advocated a return to a broader classical understanding of human nature and a tentative return to political philosophy, in the tradition of the ancient philosophers.
With Kojève, Strauss had a close and lifelong philosophical friendship. They had first met as students in Berlin. The two thinkers shared a boundless philosophical respect for each other. Kojève would later write that, without befriending Strauss, "I never would have known ... what philosophy is".The political-philosophical dispute between Kojève and Strauss centred on the role that philosophy should and can be allowed to play in politics.
Kojève, a senior civil servant in the French government, was instrumental in the creation of the European Economic Community. He argued that philosophers should have an active role in shaping political events. Strauss, on the contrary, believed that philosophers should play a role in politics only to the extent that they can ensure that philosophy, which he saw as mankind's highest activity, can be free from political intervention.
Strauss taught that liberalism in its modern form (which is oriented toward universal freedom as opposed to "ancient liberalism" which is oriented toward human excellence), contained within it an intrinsic tendency towards extreme relativism, which in turn led to two types of nihilism:
The first was a "brutal" nihilism, expressed in Nazi and Bolshevik regimes. In On Tyranny, he wrote that these ideologies, both descendants of Enlightenment thought, tried to destroy all traditions, history, ethics, and moral standards and replace them by force under which nature and mankind are subjugated and conquered.The second type—the "gentle" nihilism expressed in Western liberal democracies—was a kind of value-free aimlessness and a hedonistic "permissive egalitarianism", which he saw as permeating the fabric of contemporary American society.
In the belief that 20th century relativism, scientism, historicism, and nihilism were all implicated in the deterioration of modern society and philosophy, Strauss sought to uncover the philosophical pathways that had led to this situation. The resultant study led him to advocate a tentative return to classical political philosophy as a starting point for judging political action.
According to Strauss, The Republic by Plato is not "a blueprint for regime reform" (a play on words from Karl Popper's Open Society and Its Enemies , which attacks The Republic for being just that). Strauss quotes Cicero: "The Republic does not bring to light the best possible regime but rather the nature of political things—the nature of the city."
Strauss argued that the city-in-speech was unnatural, precisely because "it is rendered possible by the abstraction from eros".Though skeptical of "progress", Strauss was equally skeptical about political agendas of "return"—that is, going backward instead of forward.
In fact, he was consistently suspicious of anything claiming to be a solution to an old political or philosophical problem. He spoke of the danger in trying finally to resolve the debate between rationalism and traditionalism in politics. In particular, along with many in the pre-World War II German Right, he feared people trying to force a world state to come into being in the future, thinking that it would inevitably become a tyranny. Hence he kept his distance from the totalitarianisms of his century, the right-wing fascists and the left-wing communists.
Strauss actively rejected Karl Popper's views as illogical. He agreed with a letter of response to his request of Eric Voegelin to look into the issue. In the response, Voegelin wrote that studying Popper's views was a waste of precious time, and "an annoyance". Specifically about Open Society and Its Enemies and Popper's understanding of Plato's The Republic, after giving some examples, Voegelin wrote:
Popper is philosophically so uncultured, so fully a primitive ideological brawler, that he is not able even approximately to reproduce correctly the contents of one page of Plato. Reading is of no use to him; he is too lacking in knowledge to understand what the author says.
Strauss proceeded to show this letter to Kurt Riezler, who used his influence in order to oppose Popper's appointment at the University of Chicago.
Strauss constantly stressed the importance of two dichotomies in political philosophy, namely Athens and Jerusalem (reason and revelation) and Ancient versus Modern. The "Ancients" were the Socratic philosophers and their intellectual heirs; the "Moderns" start with Niccolò Machiavelli. The contrast between Ancients and Moderns was understood to be related to the unresolvable tension between Reason and Revelation. The Socratics, reacting to the first Greek philosophers, brought philosophy back to earth, and hence back to the marketplace, making it more political.
The Moderns reacted to the dominance of revelation in medieval society by promoting the possibilities of Reason. They objected to Aquinas's merger of natural right and natural theology, for it made natural right vulnerable to sideshow theological disputes.Thomas Hobbes, under the influence of Francis Bacon, re-oriented political thought to what was most solid but also most low in man—his physical hopes and fears—setting a precedent for John Locke and the later economic approach to political thought, as in David Hume and Adam Smith.
As a youth, Strauss belonged to the German Zionist youth group, along with his friends Gershom Scholem and Walter Benjamin. Both were admirers of Strauss and would continue to be throughout their lives.When he was 17, as he said, he was "converted" to political Zionism as a follower of Vladimir Jabotinsky. He wrote several essays pertaining to its controversies but left these activities behind by his early twenties.
While Strauss maintained a sympathetic interest in Zionism, he later came to refer to Zionism as "problematic" and became disillusioned with some of its aims.
He taught at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem during the 1954–55 academic year. In his letter to a National Review editor, Strauss asked why Israel had been called a racist state by one of their writers. He argued that the author did not provide enough proof for his argument. He ended his essay with the following statement:
Political Zionism is problematic for obvious reasons. But I can never forget what it achieved as a moral force in an era of complete dissolution. It helped to stem the tide of "progressive" leveling of venerable, ancestral differences; it fulfilled a conservative function.
Although Strauss espoused the utility of religious belief, there is some question about his views on its truth.In some quarters the opinion has been that, whatever his views on the utility of religion, he was personally an atheist. Strauss, however, was openly disdainful of atheism, as he made apparent in his writings on Max Weber. He especially disapproved of contemporary dogmatic disbelief, which he considered intemperate and irrational and felt that one should either be "the philosopher open to the challenge of theology or the theologian open to the challenge of philosophy." One interpretation is that Strauss, in the interplay of Jerusalem and Athens, or revelation and reason, sought, as did Thomas Aquinas, to hold revelation to the rigours of reason, but where Aquinas saw an amicable interplay, Strauss saw two impregnable fortresses. Werner Dannhauser, in analyzing Strauss' letters, writes, "It will not do to simply think of Strauss as a godless, a secular, a lukewarm Jew." As one commenter, Edward Feser, put it:
Strauss was not himself an orthodox believer, neither was he a convinced atheist. Since whether or not to accept a purported divine revelation is itself one of the "permanent" questions, orthodoxy must always remain an option equally as defensible as unbelief.
Feser's statement invites the suspicion that Strauss may have been an unconvinced atheist, or that he welcomed religion as merely (practically) useful, rather than as true. The supposition that Strauss was an unconvinced atheist is not necessarily incompatible with Dannhauser's tentative claim that Strauss was an atheist behind closed doors. Hilail Gildin responded to Dannhauser's reading in "Déjà Jew All Over Again: Dannhauser on Leo Strauss and Atheism," an article published in Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy. Gildin exposed inconsistencies between Strauss's writings and Dannhauser's claims; he also questioned the inherent consistency of Dannhauser's admittedly tentative evaluation of Strauss's understanding of divinity and religion.
At the end of his The City and Man, Strauss invites his reader to "be open to the full impact of the all-important question which is coeval with philosophy although the philosophers do not frequently pronounce it—the question quid sit deus ["What is God?"]" (p. 241). As a philosopher, Strauss would be interested in knowing the nature of divinity, instead of trying to dispute the very being of divinity. But Strauss did not remain "neutral" to the question about the "quid" of divinity. Already in his Natural Right and History, he defended a Socratic (Platonic, Ciceronian, Aristotelian) reading of divinity, distinguishing it from a materialistic, conventionalist, Epicurean reading. Here, the question of "religion" (what is religion?) is inseparable from the question of the nature of civil society, and thus of civil right, or right having authoritative representation, or right capable of defending itself (Latin: Jus). Atheism, whether convinced (overt) or unconvinced (tacit), is integral to the conventionalist reading of civil authority, and thereby of religion in its originally civil valence, a reading against which Strauss argues throughout his volume. Thus Strauss's own arguments contradict the thesis imputed to him posthumously by scholars such as S. Drury who profess that Strauss approached religion as an instrument devoid of inherent purpose or meaning.
Strauss's works were read and admired by thinkers as diverse as Gershom Scholem, Walter Benjamin,Jacques Lacan, Hans-Georg Gadamer and Alexandre Kojève. Benjamin had become acquainted with Strauss as a student in Berlin, and expressed admiration for Strauss throughout his life. Gadamer stated that he 'largely agreed' with Strauss's interpretations.
Some critics of Strauss have accused him of being elitist, illiberalist and anti-democratic. Shadia Drury, in Leo Strauss and the American Right (1999), claimed that Strauss inculcated an elitist strain in American political leaders linked to imperialist militarism, neoconservatism and Christian fundamentalism. Drury argues that Strauss teaches that "perpetual deception of the citizens by those in power is critical because they need to be led, and they need strong rulers to tell them what's good for them." Nicholas Xenos similarly argues that Strauss was "an anti-democrat in a fundamental sense, a true reactionary." As Xenos says, "Strauss was somebody who wanted to go back to a previous, pre-liberal, pre-bourgeois era of blood and guts, of imperial domination, of authoritarian rule, of pure fascism."
Strauss has also been criticized by some conservatives. According to Claes G. Ryn, Strauss's anti-historicist thinking creates an artificial contrast between moral universality and "the conventional," "the ancestral," and "the historical." Strauss, Ryn argues, wrongly and reductively assumes that respect for tradition must undermine reason and universality. Contrary to Strauss's criticism of Edmund Burke, the historical sense may in fact be indispensable to an adequate apprehension of universality. Strauss's abstract, ahistorical conception of natural right actually distorts genuine universality, Ryn contends. Strauss does not consider the possibility that real universality becomes known to human beings in concretized, particular form. Strauss and the Straussians have paradoxically taught philosophically unsuspecting American conservatives, not least Roman Catholic intellectuals, to reject tradition in favor of ahistorical theorizing, a bias that flies in the face of the central Christian notion of the Incarnation, which represents a synthesis of the universal and the historical. According to Ryn, the propagation of a purely abstract idea of universality has contributed to the neoconservative advocacy of allegedly universal American principles, which neoconservatives see as justification for American intervention around the world—bringing the blessings of the "West" to the benighted "rest". Strauss's anti-historical thinking connects him and his followers with the French Jacobins, who also regarded tradition as incompatible with virtue and rationality.What Ryn calls the "new Jacobinism" of the "neoconservative" philosophy is, writes Paul Edward Gottfried, also the rhetoric of Saint-Just and Trotsky, which the philosophically impoverished American Right has taken over with mindless alacrity. Republican operators and think tanks apparently believe they can carry the electorate by appealing to yesterday's leftist clichés.
Journalists such as Seymour Hersh have opined that Strauss endorsed noble lies, "myths used by political leaders seeking to maintain a cohesive society."In The City and Man, Strauss discusses the myths outlined in Plato's Republic that are required for all governments. These include a belief that the state's land belongs to it even though it may have been acquired illegitimately and that citizenship is rooted in something more than the accidents of birth.
In his 2009 book, Straussophobia, Peter Minowitz provides a detailed critique of Drury, Xenos, and other critics of Strauss whom he accuses of "bigotry and buffoonery."In his 2006 book review of Reading Leo Strauss, by Steven B. Smith, Robert Alter writes that Smith "persuasively sets the record straight on Strauss's political views and on what his writing is really about." Smith rejects the link between Strauss and neoconservative thought, arguing that Strauss was never personally active in politics, never endorsed imperialism, and questioned the utility of political philosophy for the practice of politics. In particular, Strauss argued that Plato's myth of the philosopher king should be read as a reductio ad absurdum, and that philosophers should understand politics, not in order to influence policy but to ensure philosophy's autonomy from politics. Additionally, Mark Lilla has argued that the attribution to Strauss of neoconservative views contradicts a careful reading of Strauss' actual texts, in particular On Tyranny. Lilla summarizes Strauss as follows:
Philosophy must always be aware of the dangers of tyranny, as a threat to both political decency and the philosophical life. It must understand enough about politics to defend its own autonomy, without falling into the error of thinking that philosophy can shape the political world according to its own lights.
Finally, responding to charges that Strauss's teachings fostered the neoconservative foreign policy of the George W. Bush administration, such as "unrealistic hopes for the spread of liberal democracy through military conquest," Professor Nathan Tarcov, director of the Leo Strauss Center at the University of Chicago, in an article published in The American Interest, asserts that Strauss as a political philosopher was essentially non-political. After an exegesis of the very limited practical political views to be gleaned from Strauss's writings, Tarcov concludes that "Strauss can remind us of the permanent problems, but we have only ourselves to blame for our faulty solutions to the problems of today."Likewise Strauss's daughter, Jenny Strauss Clay, in a New York Times article defended Strauss against the charge that he was the "mastermind behind the neoconservative ideologues who control United States foreign policy." "He was a conservative," she says, "insofar as he did not think change is necessarily change for the better." Since contemporary academia "leaned to the left," with its "unquestioned faith in progress and science combined with a queasiness regarding any kind of moral judgment," Strauss stood outside of the academic consensus. Had academia leaned to the right, he would have questioned it, too—and on certain occasions did question the tenets of the right.
Straussianism is the name given "to denote the research methods, common concepts, theoretical presuppositions, central questions, and pedagogic style characteristic of the large number of conservatives who have been influenced by the thought and teaching of Leo Strauss."While it "is particularly influential among university professors of historical political theory ... it also sometimes serves as a common intellectual framework more generally among conservative activists, think tank professionals, and public intellectuals." Within the discipline of political theory the method calls for its practitioners to use "a 'close reading' of the 'Great Books' of political thought; they strive to understand a thinker 'as he understood himself'; they are unconcerned with questions about the historical context of, or historical influences on, a given author" and strive to be open to the idea that they may find something timelessly true in a great book. The approach "resembles in important ways the old New Criticism in literary studies."
There is some controversy in the approach over what distinguishes a great book from lesser works. Great books are held to be written by authors/philosophers "of such sovereign critical self-knowledge and intellectual power that they can in no way be reduced to the general thought of their time and place,"with other works "understood as epiphenomenal to the original insights of a thinker of the first rank." This approach is seen as a counter "to the historicist presuppositions of the mid-twentieth century, which read the history of political thought in a progressivist way, with past philosophies forever cut off from us in a superseded past." Straussianism puts forward the possibility that past thinkers may have "hold of the truth—and that more recent thinkers are therefore wrong."
Harvey Mansfield has argued that there is no such thing as "Straussianism" yet there are Straussians and a school of Straussians. Mansfield describes the school as "open to the whole of philosophy" and without any definite doctrines that one has to believe to belong to it.
Almost the entirety of Strauss's writings has been translated into Chinese; and there even is a school of Straussians in China, the most prominent being Liu Xiaofeng (Renmin University). "Chinese Straussians" (who often are also fascinated by Carl Schmitt) represent a remarkable example of the hybridization of Western political theory in a non-Western context. As the editors of a recent volume write, "the reception of Schmitt and Strauss in the Chinese-speaking world (and especially in the People's Republic of China) not only says much about how Schmitt and Strauss can be read today, but also provides important clues about the deeper contradictions of Western modernity and the dilemmas of non-liberal societies in our increasingly contentious world."
Students who studied under Strauss, or attended his lecture courses at the University of Chicago, include George Anastaplo, Hadley Arkes, Seth Benardete, Allan Bloom, Werner Dannhauser, Murray Dry, Charles Butterworth, William Galston, Victor Gourevitch, Harry V. Jaffa,Roger Masters, Clifford Orwin, Thomas Pangle, Stanley Rosen, Abram Shulsky (Director of the Office of Special Plans), Susan Sontag, Warren Winiarski, and Paul Wolfowitz (who attended two lecture courses by Strauss on Plato and Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws at the University of Chicago). Harvey C. Mansfield, Steven B. Smith and Steven Berg, though never students of Strauss, are "Straussians" (as some followers of Strauss identify themselves). Richard Rorty described Strauss as a particular influence in his early studies at the University of Chicago, where Rorty studied a "classical curriculum" under Strauss.
excerpt entitled "Why Strauss, Why Now?"
... a book containing much that is appreciably esoteric to any reader stated in a manner either so elusive or so challenging as to cause him to give up trying to understand it.
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Allan David Bloom was an American philosopher, classicist, and academician. He studied under David Grene, Leo Strauss, Richard McKeon, and Alexandre Kojève. He subsequently taught at Cornell University, the University of Toronto, Tel Aviv University, Yale University, École Normale Supérieure of Paris, and the University of Chicago. Bloom championed the idea of Great Books education and became famous for his criticism of contemporary American higher education, with his views being expressed in his bestselling 1987 book, The Closing of the American Mind. Characterized as a conservative in the popular media, Bloom denied that he was a conservative, and asserted that what he sought to defend was the "theoretical life". Saul Bellow wrote Ravelstein, a roman à clef based on Bloom, his friend and colleague at the University of Chicago.
Ancient Greek philosophy arose in the 6th century BC and continued throughout the Hellenistic period and the period in which Greece and most Greek-inhabited lands were part of the Roman Empire. Philosophy was used to make sense out of the world in a non-religious way. It dealt with a wide variety of subjects, including astronomy, mathematics, political philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, ontology, logic, biology, rhetoric and aesthetics.
Carl Schmitt was a conservative German jurist, political theorist, and prominent member of the Nazi Party. Schmitt wrote extensively about the effective wielding of political power. His work has been a major influence on subsequent political theory, legal theory, continental philosophy and political theology, and remains both influential and controversial due to his close association and juridical-political allegiance with Nazism. He is known as the "crown jurist of the Third Reich".
Alexandre Kojève was a Russian-born French philosopher and statesman whose philosophical seminars had an immense influence on 20th-century French philosophy, particularly via his integration of Hegelian concepts into twentieth-century continental philosophy. As a statesman in the French government, he was instrumental in the formation of the European Union. Kojève was a close friend of, and was in lifelong philosophical dialogue with, Leo Strauss.
Obscurantism is the practice of deliberately presenting information in an imprecise and recondite manner, often designed to forestall further inquiry and understanding. There are two historical and intellectual denotations of Obscurantism: (1) the deliberate restriction of knowledge—opposition to disseminating knowledge; and, (2) deliberate obscurity—an abstruse style characterized by deliberate vagueness.
Gerhard Scholem who, after his immigration from Germany to Israel, changed his name to Gershom Scholem, was a German-born Israeli philosopher and historian. He is widely regarded as the founder of the modern, academic study of Kabbalah, becoming the first Professor of Jewish Mysticism at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His close friends included Walter Benjamin and Leo Strauss, and selected letters from his correspondence with those philosophers have been published.
Platonism, rendered as a proper noun, is the philosophy of Plato or the name of other philosophical systems considered closely derived from it. In narrower usage, platonism, rendered as a common noun, refers to the philosophy that affirms the existence of abstract objects, which are asserted to "exist" in a "third realm" distinct both from the sensible external world and from the internal world of consciousness, and is the opposite of nominalism. Lower case "platonists" need not accept any of the doctrines of Plato.
Shadia B. Drury is a Canadian academic and political commentator of Egyptian Coptic origin. She is Canada Research Chair in Social Justice at the University of Regina, in Regina, the provincial capital of Saskatchewan, Canada. In 2005, she was elected to fellowship in the Royal Society of Canada. She is a columnist for Free Inquiry magazine.
Laurence Lampert is a Canadian philosopher and a leading scholar in the field of Nietzsche studies. He is also well known for his interpretation of the German-American political philosopher, Leo Strauss.
Thomas Lee Pangle, is an American political scientist. He holds the Joe R. Long Chair in Democratic Studies in the Department of Government and is Co-Director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for Core Texts and Ideas at the University of Texas at Austin. He has also taught at the University of Toronto and Yale University. He is a student of Leo Strauss.
Stanley Rosen was Borden Parker Bowne Professor of Philosophy and Professor Emeritus at Boston University. His research and teaching focused on the fundamental questions of philosophy and on the most important figures of its history, from Plato to Heidegger.
Joseph Cropsey was an American political philosopher and emeritus professor of political science at the University of Chicago, where he was also associate director of the John M. Olin Center for Inquiry into the Theory and Practice of Democracy.
Clifford Orwin is a Canadian professor of ancient, modern, contemporary and Jewish political thought. He is also a prominent writer on contemporary politics and culture.
Eugene Webb is Professor Emeritus in the University of Washington Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies. Webb holds a Ph.D., in Comparative Literature from Columbia University (1965), an M.A. in English Literature from Columbia University (1962) and also a B.A., in Philosophy from the University of California, Los Angeles (1960). Webb was a member of the faculties of both the Comparative Literature Department and the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, where he served as Associate Director and chaired programs in both Comparative Religion and European Studies (1994). Webb was also the founder of those two programs: Comparative Religion in 1974, and European Studies in 1994. He retired from the University of Washington in 2000, where he now has the title Professor Emeritus of International Studies. Webb has two books on the novels and plays of Samuel Beckett, and has authored the books The Dark Dove: The Sacred and Secular in Modern Literature (1975), Eric Voegelin, Philosopher of History (1981), Philosophers of Consciousness (1988) and The Self Between: From Freud to the New Social Psychology of France (1993), all published by the University of Washington Press. His book World View and Mind: Religious Thought and Psychological Development was published by the University of Missouri Press in 2009, and his In Search of the Triune God: The Christian Paths of East and West was published by the same press in 2014. Webb translated and wrote the introduction to Jean-Michel Oughourlian's, The Puppet of Desire: The Psychology of Hysteria, Possession, and Hypnosis,. He also translated a second book by Oughourlian, The Genesis of Desire, published by Michigan State University Press in 2010.
Rémi Brague is a French historian of philosophy, specializing in the Arabic, Jewish, and Christian thought of the Middle Ages. He is professor emeritus of Arabic and religious philosophy at the Sorbonne, and Romano Guardini chair of philosophy (emeritus) at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.
Liu Xiaofeng is a contemporary Chinese scholar and a professor at Renmin University of China. He has been considered the prototypical example of what is called a cultural Christian, meaning a believer who may lack a specific church identification or affiliation, and was, along with He Guanghu, one of the main forerunners of the academic field of Sino-Christian Theology. However, in recent years, his interest has shifted from studies in Christian theology to the political theories of Leo Strauss.
Michael Peter Davis is an American philosopher and educator. He is a professor of philosophy at Sarah Lawrence College.
Richard L. Velkley is an American philosopher and Celia Scott Weatherhead Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Tulane University. Velkley is known for his expertise on Kant, Rousseau, and post-Kantian philosophy. He is a former associate editor of The Review of Metaphysics (1997-2006) and a former president of the Metaphysical Society of America (2017-18).
Joshua S. Parens is an American philosopher and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Dallas. He is the dean of Braniff Graduate School of Liberal Arts. Parens is known for his expertise on Islamic and Jewish medieval philosophy.
Catherine H. Zuckert is an American political philosopher and Reeves Dreux Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame.