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[Editor's Note: The following is a draft of a dissertation proposal by Angel Jaramillo, PhD candidate in political theory at the New School for Social Research. I thank Mr. Jaramillo for allowing me to post his essay here. He welcomes comments to the following email address: angeljaramillo@hotmail.com. I would also like to take this opportunity to remind visitors that they are welcome to submit articles or essays to be considered for linking or providing space on our site.]

Leo Strauss: A life in the light of Martin Heidegger
Angel Jaramillo

This dissertation will be an intellectual portrait of the philosopher and historian of ideas Leo Strauss. As of today, no one has written an intellectual biography of the sage of Hess[1]. There are plenty of books and papers devoted to his philosophical work, his political ideas, and his debates with other intellectual figures. There are also collections of letters that Strauss exchanged with Alexander Kojeve, Eric Voegelin, Carl Schmitt, and other figures. However, no one has attempted to publish a comprehensive work concerning his life[2]. Specifically, this dissertation will respond to the question of what Leo Strauss’s political philosophy was actually about. I will suggest that, since very early and over the course of his life, Strauss tried to propose an alternative to Heidegger’s existentialist response not only to “the crisis of western civilization,”[3] but also to the problem of whether or not it is possible to determine the “best political order” (the question of how man ought to live)[4].

I.

Before discussing Strauss’s relationship with Heidegger’s philosophy, it is necessary to explain why a biographical approach can be said to have its proper place within current Straussian scholarship. My contention is that the biographical approach actually fits Strauss’s philosophical standards. Intellectual biography as a genre is a branch of the history of ideas, but it is also a way, if oblique, to grasp concepts and theories. By examining Strauss’s intellectual journey, I hope to understand his political theory and his influence in current political thought.

There has been a long-standing polemic as to whether Strauss’s political thought leaves room for a biographical approach as a way to grasp political ideas. One branch of Straussian scholarship assumes that any analysis of a political thinker ought to be only textual. According to this view, a non-textual examination robs the thought of its eternal validity by making it merely the product of a given set of historical situations. Those who support this notion believe that nothing significant can be found outside of a textual work. However, this viewpoint does not go unchallenged[5]. In contradistinction to the Straussian textual school, I will argue that not only does Strauss’s thought allow for contextual approach, it actually requires it. I offer two reasons:

1. Strauss is well known, inter alia, for having proposed that a philosopher must be understood in his own terms[6]. I suggest that Leo Strauss can be better understood if we attempt to understand him in his own terms. We do not do justice to Strauss by treating him in a non-straussian way. As paradoxical as it may be, Strauss understood himself in a contextual sense: in his autobiographical essay, Strauss presents himself as an author who “was a young Jew born and raised in Germany who found himself in the grip of the theological-political predicament”[7]. More importantly, he believed that any mistakes he made in his work should be explained in  light of his life: “I for one will have to say something about my life. But this is of interest even to me only as a starting point. Why then speak of one life at all? Because the considerations at which I arrived are not necessarily true or correct; my life may explain my pitfalls.” [8]

In his work, Leo Strauss was always interested in the social and historical conditions of a political thinker. In his essay “Persecution and the Art of Writing,” Strauss advances the notion of sociology of philosophy, in itself a branch of the sociology of knowledge, as the best way to understand the relationship between a philosopher and his social context[9]. Unlike the sociology of knowledge, the sociology of philosophy considers the possibility that philosophers as a group form a class by themselves. Leo Strauss himself attempted to apply the sociology of philosophy to the Jewish and Islamic philosophy of the Middle Ages. This dissertation will make use of the sociology of philosophy in analyzing the work and life of Leo Strauss[10].

II.

Leo Strauss heard Martin Heidegger first in Freiburg[11] and later in Marburg[12]. Strauss’s response to Heidegger’s philosophy was not explicit: instead of focusing directly on Heidegger’s philosophy, Strauss decided to deal with it implicitly[13]. Strauss’s disagreement with Heidegger can be found in his esoteric teaching as well as in his books, his published papers, his private correspondence, and the courses he thought during his lifetime as a professor.

There is no doubt that Strauss considered Heidegger the greatest modern philosopher[14]. However, his admiration for Heidegger’s philosophical profundity did not prevent him from realizing the metaphysical impasse and the hideous political consequences of Heidegger’s intellectual enterprise. For Strauss, Heidegger’s historicism entailed the impossibility of philosophy in the full sense of the term[15]. What I will try to do in this dissertation is to show how the work of Strauss developed in response to Heidegger’s theoretical challenges.

I hope to prove that Strauss’s theoretical enterprise might be better understood if we take into account the progression of his intellectual career. That is why, instead of analyzing Strauss’s critique of the aforementioned problems synchronically, I will discuss it diachronically, that is, as it developed over time. I am interested not only in Strauss’s objections to Heidegger’s positions, but above all in how Strauss kept himself in conversation with Heidegger over the course of his life[16]. The sage of Hesse shared Heidegger’s uneasiness with modernity, but drew different conclusions. As the main representative of what Strauss called “the third wave of modernity”, Heidegger’s radical historicism[17] was at once the ultimate manifestation of the crisis of the modern condition and an opportunity to overcome it. The consequences of Heidegger’s ontology were clear for Strauss: because of his radical historicism, Heidegger was able to uproot the tradition and open the possibility of a genuine recovery of classical philosophy. However, such a recovery, as attempted by Heidegger, put him at odds with modern liberal democracy. What Strauss saw about Heidegger was that the latter’s attempt to interpret Ancient Greek philosophy was so important for Heidegger’s purposes that a refutation of it would mean the total debunking of his project. The consequences of this assertion will be examined in the last two chapters of this dissertation. I will try to probe whether or not Strauss’s outright rejection of Heidegger’s existentialist historicism was made in the name of natural right. What is true is that this clash of philosophies was not only theoretical; it entailed above all political engagement on both parts. In the central part of this dissertation, I will argue that by criticizing Heidegger’s engagement with the Nazis, Strauss found himself engaged with the political principles of the American republic. Further, I will suggest that in order to understand Strauss’s support for the American republic, we must consider not only his textual work but also his contextual life[18].

As far as I know, no one has argued that the key to grasping Strauss’s philosophical endeavors lies in his life-long quarrel with Heidegger’s existentialist outlook. And yet, after 1935, there may be not a single book by Strauss that does not tackle Heideggerian ideas.

III.

The dissertation will be divided into five chapters, the first of which will have two parts. In the first part, I will talk about Strauss’s education as a philosopher in Germany prior to his encounter with Heidegger. At first Strauss was influenced by both the German-Jewish Zionist youth movement[19] and the Neokantian thinkers. He found in the neokantianism of Hermann Cohen[20], the foundation for his ideas about the theological-political dilemma. Later on, however, Strauss himself would fall under the spell of Edmund Husserl. Husserl’s critique of Neokantianism provided Strauss with the theoretical basis that would allow him to face Heidegger’s ideas without naïvete[21]. His encounter with Husserl would reveal to him an unknown and fascinating world: classical political philosophy[22]. If neokantianism provided him with an introduction to “Jerusalem”, Husserl helped him to find “Athens”[23]. I will argue that the phenomenologist slogan to the Sachen selbst, championed by Husserl, was understood by Strauss as something that would help him to grasp classical political philosophy. In this part of the first chapter, I will follow Strauss’s life during the years of the Weimar Republic. In his last letter to Gershom Sholem, Leo Strauss wrote, his fingers trembling, that he had just finished “an essay on Jenseits von Gut und Böse, on the gods in Thucydides and on Xenophon´s Anabasis”[24]. At the end of his life, the sage of Hesse seemed to have maintained the same interests thoughout his  life: the theological-political problem, the relationship between Platonic rationalism and Revelation, Nietzsche’s political philosophy, and the clash of Natural Right and History. In this part, I will suggest that Leo Strauss’s main features and themes were present in an embryonic stage before his encounter with Heidegger[25]. The second part of the chapter will be an attempt to make sense of Strauss’s first encounter with Heidegger. My hypothesis will be that while keenly aware of Heidegger’s powerful philosophical thought, Strauss was, from the very beginning, interested in the philosophical truth or lack thereof of Heidegger’s existential historicism[26].

The second chapter will examine one of the least-known phases in Strauss’s intellectual biography: his European days in France[27] and England. This chapter will be divided into two parts. The first starts with the publication in 1930 of Die Religionskritik Spinozas als Grundlage seiner Bibelwissenschaft: Untersuchungen zu Spinozas Theologisch Politischen Traktat and ended with the publication of Hobbes politische Wissenschaft, which was his last work written originally in German[28]. Strauss is utterly devoted to the theological-political predicament in this period. At that point, such a predicament was widened into one that concerned not just the German Jew but modern man in general. In this part I will try to make sense of Strauss’s conclusions concerning the theological-political problem. In this connection, there are three schools of thought. The first argues that Strauss enthusiastically embraced the possibility of a return to Orthodox faith[29]. The second claims that he concluded that atheism was the best position in regards to the problem of the relationship between reason and revelation[30]. The third suggests that Strauss’s philosophy at this point was beyond atheism and orthodoxy[31]. Not only will I agree with the third position, but  I will also advance the idea that Strauss’s agnosticism was his response to Heidegger’s standpoint on the theological-political problem[32]. In the second part of this chapter, I will attempt to grasp what is considered the great shift in Strauss’s scholarship[33]: his discovery via Al Farabi and Maimonides[34] of the role played by Platonic political philosophy in medieval as well as modern thinking. Strauss sought in a renewed study of ancient Greek sources a way out of the modern predicament, that is to say, out of the “theological political problem”. What started as the Jewish quest for historical orientation in a specific new situation turned into the question of whether it is possible to recover the problem of the right life[35]. What will be discussed here is to what extent the genealogy of political philosophy replaced --as the central issue in Strauss’s early scholarship-- the problem of the relation between religion and politics. My contention will be that Strauss was able to keep in mind both quests over his lifetime and that, due to this, his attempt to recover ancient Greek philosophy led him to advance a different approach from that of Heidegger. Biographically speaking, this period ended in 1936 when Strauss crossed the Atlantic Ocean, dressed in a navy blue suit, with an oilskin manuscript under his arms, and stepped off from the Queen Mary to touch American soil for the first time.

The third chapter will cover Strauss’s works written between his arrival to America and his massive heart attack in 1956[36]. This chapter will be divided into three parts. The first will take as its starting point Strauss’s early impressions of the American political tradition. I will try to show why the conservative political tradition in the United States was akin to Strauss’s political philosophy. Although the solution adopted by Strauss, in the light of the specific circumstances of mid-twentieth century America, was to effect a rapprochement with American conservatism[37], he was keenly aware of the liberal heritage of this tradition in the United States[38]. Furthermore, I will argue that for Strauss the American polity (in either its liberal or conservative incarnation) was akin to political moderation (sophrosune), virtue advanced by the classical political thought. Even at this point of his life, Strauss had Heidegger’s ideas in mind. It is tempting to point out that what Strauss attempted was to counter Heidegger’s notion of “resoluteness” with the Aristotelian concept of moderation. If the former was said to have been a Nazi quality, the latter was supposed to be an American virtue. I will also discuss the unfolding of the political ideas of Leo Strauss concerning the American Republic. My contention will be that Strauss turned his eyes to the American political tradition because he was eagerly seeking an antidote to what he thought was the prime modern infirmity: the Nazi regime, which for him was akin to Heidegger’s existential historicism. The second part will deal with Leo Strauss’s direct attack on Heideggerian historicism as laid out in his essays collected in Natural Right and History[39]. Although this work dwells on both Heidegger´s historicism and Max Weber’s positivism, Strauss makes clear that the latter was actually an epiphenomenon of the former[40]. Strauss’s main goal in Natural Right and History is to show us how the three waves of modernity[41] have led us to a philosophical and political impasse, which was clearly expressed in Heidegger´s existential historicism. In this section, I will argue that for Strauss the American political founding and the kind of liberal republic that was created in the United States was the best alternative in the light of the modern condition. I will point out, however, that Strauss believed that the American political tradition could not solve the dilemmas of modernity. This conclusion paves the way for a new solution to be found in the Socratic tradition as opposed to the Heideggerian pre-Socratic tradition[42].

In the third part of this chapter, I will discuss at length Strauss’s debate with Alexander Kojeve regarding tyranny[43]. My contention will be that Strauss’s polemic with one of the most profound existentialists was also a debate with the foremost inheritor of Heidegger’s thought, Alexander Kojeve[44]. After World War II, Leo Strauss was interested in the problem of tyranny (which he defines as “absolute power without law”) and the relationship between the philosopher and the tyrant. Heidegger’s relationship with Nazism throughout World War II, left a strong impression on Strauss. Clearly, he decided to embark upon a meticulous study of Xenophon’s Hiero[45] as a bold rebuttal to Heidegger’s embarrassing association with the Nazis.

Strauss’s main purpose in writing On Tyranny was to show that tyranny in itself is a long-standing problem for humanity since its inception. At the beginning of his essay on Xenophon’s Hiero, Strauss points out that “Tyranny is a danger coeval with political life”[46]. The problem of tyranny in itself is more important than that of its incarnations at different stages of history. Any adequate condemnation of the tyrannical rule must show it to be unsatisfying in itself.

Kojeve’s rebuttal was not wanting. The classical project depended essentially on the autonomy and superiority of the philosophical life, a distinction between theory and praxis that the Hegelian-Heideggerian Kojeve rejects. The roots of Kojeve’s historical view of human action rely on his philosophical combination of Hegel and Heidegger. Kojeve asserts that Heidegger is the only philosopher since Hegel to have made any significant progress. He sees Heidegger as the heir to the anthropocentric philosophy of Hegel’s phenomenology. The advance that Heidegger makes over Hegel is his development of a dualistic ontology. Whereas Hegel sketched all the possibilities for monism, Heidegger opens the possibility of forging distinct ontological bases for Nature and Humanity. A rigorous dualism seems to Kojeve to leave open the possibility of anthropocentric philosophy in which human action will have no basis outside itself and in which history can be fully described in its own terms[47].

Instead of resorting to the values of classical political thought, Kojeve has found out that the project of modernity, in order to be fulfilled, calls for a final stage in which human beings will be recognized as equally valued. Strauss despised such a standard because it lowers the highest human standards[48]. For Strauss the conflict between philosophy and society is inevitable because society rests on a shared trust in shared beliefs, and philosophy questions every trust and authority. He sides with Plato against Kojeve’s Hegel in holding that philosophy cannot cease to be a quest and simply become wisdom.

The need to separate politics and philosophy is an old liberal claim. Since its inception, modern liberalism has sought to put a wall between the interests and ambitions of the powerful and the freedom of conscience of the individual. The theme of the inviolability of conscience has been a powerful contribution to the liberal creed. In Strauss’s On Tyranny the case for freedom of conscience and opinion is made convincingly. For Strauss it was of the utmost importance that the republic of letters keeps itself at distance from the Prince or the tyrant not only because philosophers would rather talk with their own peers, but also because they turn out to be the first line of defense against the arbitrariness of the rulers. In the end, Strauss believed that the classical project was akin to modern liberalism precisely in the sense that the two of them create an autonomous setting for the philosophical task[49].

The fourth chapter, which can be called the “Socratic Synthesis”, will be divided into two parts. In the first part I will attempt to determine why Strauss devoted his last years to the study of Xenophon, Plato, and Aristophanes[50]. I will point out that after having discussed the crisis of the modern condition, Strauss must have realized that he needed to undertake a serious and detailed study of Socrates in order to provide liberal democracy with a metaphysical and moral basis.  Strauss’s attempt to recover classical political thought could not be more anti-Heideggerian. Whereas Strauss turned to Socrates in order to “cure” liberal modernity of its diseases, Heidegger’s “archeological rediscovery” of Ancient Greek philosophy put him at odds with modern liberal democracy. In his opposition to modernity, Strauss follows in the foot of Rousseau. Like the author of The Social Contract, Strauss opposes modernity from the standpoint of classical antiquity. Unlike Nietzsche and Heidegger, Strauss takes his bearings by Socrates. More clearly, Strauss, like Rousseau, praises classical virtue and not archaic poetry. “To the extent that Nietzsche and Heidegger are disciples of Rousseau, they follow the author of the Reveries of a Solitary Promenade and not that of the Political Discourses”[51]. I will argue that Strauss attempted to overcome Heidegger not so much on the philosophical level as on the interpretative level. In other words, Heidegger’s phrase “griechisch gedacht” was so crucial to his interpretation of the world that a refutation of it could be more effective than a more direct approach, which would criticize, for example, Heidegger’s notion of Dasein[52]. Whereas Heidegger wanted to return to pre-Socratic wisdom in order to come to terms with the idea of being, Strauss wanted to see what philosophy originally meant and what the city was in classical political thinking. For Heidegger the truth lies somehow in Heraclitus´s and Parmenides´s mysterious aphorisms; for Leo Strauss the most notable incident in Ancient Greece was the execution of Socrates. In the end, I will argue, the main difference between Heidegger and Strauss lies in their discrepancy about the “problem of Socrates”.

In the second part, I will contend that Strauss was neither an enemy of modern democracy nor a political reactionary, but an original critic of the modern liberal order who nevertheless considered himself a friend of such an order. In his famous long critique of Isaiah Berlin[53], Strauss’s argument was not against the practice of political liberalism, rather it was an argument about how liberalism needs to understand itself. He argues that modern liberalism has not always understood its own achievements, and that any attempt to understand liberalism has to be free of liberal prejudices because it is an appreciation of what liberalism has achieved.[54]

The fifth chapter will try to make sense of Leo Strauss’s Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy[55], which he undertook just prior to his death in 1973. In this chapter, I will contend that upon reviving ancient rationalism and addressing “the problem of Socrates”, Strauss turned to the question of the Western philosophic tradition explicitly set in the context of Heideggerian existential historicism. I will argue that by dramatizing the life and death of Socrates, Strauss was able to show that the philosopher’s desire for wisdom (Eros) was the alternative to Heidegger’s visionary hope for the emergence of the new god[56]. Strauss showed in his last work how the problem of “Jerusalem and Athens” that he had analyzed since his days in the Weimar Republic was actually discussed at length in Plato’s dialogues. The re-evaluation of the theological-political problem led Strauss to revive the premodern understanding of the tension between philosophy and politics[57]. Strauss realized that in the twentieth century the roots of Western intellectual life were in danger of extinction. For that reason, he sought to mount a defensive action and show us the fundamental political and philosophical alternatives in their pure form.

IV.

The goal of this dissertation will be twofold: on the one hand, as has been outlined above, it will show how Leo Strauss’s political philosophy was developed largely as a response to Heidegger’s ideas. On the other hand, however, this dissertation will be an intellectual biography. As such, it will attempt to reveal certain aspects of Leo Strauss’s life that have not hitherto been known by the public. To undertake the project of writing about someone like Leo Strauss is challenging because he was a very private person who mainly led the quite life of a scholar in the United States. Most of the people who knew him have agreed that he devoted his life to the serious study of the permanent questions posed to us by the political philosophical tradition. Although this picture might contain more than one grain of truth, Strauss was also an exiled intellectual Jew. As such, he witnessed firsthand the events that led to the First[58] and Second World Wars[59]. Furthermore, he was in good terms with key intellectual players of these events. Despite his minute work on classical political thought, he was never detached from practical affairs, particularly from what can be called Grand Politics[60]. It is, therefore, very difficult not to believe that there were no interesting facts about the life of Leo Strauss[61]. More importantly, in this dissertation I will argue that the importance of Heidegger’s ideas in the development of Leo Strauss’s thought can be better understood in the light of his life. Since 1973, the year of Strauss’s death, a great deal of information about his work and life has been uncovered. In addition, biographies of important figures and Strauss’s friends have recently been published. It is perhaps time to gather all the information currently available and to undertake the writing of the story of one of the most influential and yet unknown philosophers of our age: Leo Strauss.

V.

To undertake this project I will use four sources of information:

Primary Sources

Consultation of personal archives and recently published letters

(1) In this dissertation I intend to rely mostly on primary sources. The most important archive concerning Leo Strauss can be found in the University of Chicago, where Strauss taught between 1948 and 1967. Currently, Joseph Cropsey is the literary executor of Strauss’s personal papers. The archive is not yet open to the public; however scholars are able to see the archive by permission of Strauss’s executor. I may be able to look at this archive because Mark Lilla[62] has offered to talk to Joseph Cropsey and the Director of the Committee on Social Thought, Nathan Tarcov, about this dissertation.

(2) As has been said earlier, currently the German scholar Heinrich Meier, from Carl Friedrich von Siemens Stiftung, is preparing the collected works of Leo Strauss, a great part of which are personal papers and letters. As of today, three volumes have been published. The third contains a great number of letters that had hitherto been unpublished. One can read for the first time the correspondence of Leo Strauss with Gerhard Krüger, Jacob Klein, Karl Löwith, and Gershom Scholem. In addition, there are already available part of Leo Strauss’s correspondence with Alexander Kojeve, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Carl Schmitt,[63] and Eric Voegelin[64].      

(3) As is well known, Leo Strauss was a member of the Graduate Faculty at the New School for Social Research between 1938 and 1948. At this institution, he met famous scholars and taught courses to students that later on became famous. Among them, was Seth Benardete, a leading scholar on classical Greek philosophy, who was one of the few people who actually understood Strauss as a man, a teacher, and a philosopher. The importance of Benardete for this dissertation rests on the fact that currently there is an effort to collect his papers in the Graduate Faculty at the New School University. Much valuable information regarding Strauss’s life may be available in Bernadette’s archive.

Interviews with friends and former students of Leo Strauss
Leo Strauss was a great teacher and a man who maintained long-term relationship with his friends, many of whom were important philosophers and thinkers in their own right. Although many of his friends and students have already passed away, some of them are still teaching in colleges and universities, writing for influential magazines and newspapers, or are retired. In the spirit of an investigative journalist, I will try to gather information, instrumental in understanding Leo Strauss, by interviewing some of his remaining friends and students.

Books and works published by Leo Strauss

Leo Strauss is the author of fifteen books, the first three in German and the rest in English. In these books, he interpreted a wide range of texts and authors and set about investigating the fundamental problems of political philosophy. Moreover, in many of these books Strauss provides the reader with information about his intellectual projects and philosophical quests. I hold that a careful reader will be surprised at how much valuable information about Strauss’s life can be found in his philosophical works. Leo Strauss was also the author of many articles and reviews that were published in the most important magazines and journals devoted to political philosophy. These could also be prime sources of information about both Heidegger’s ideas and Strauss’s life.

Secondary Sources

The enormous volume of secondary critical literature about Strauss’s political philosophy

Few political philosophers have been subject to such devotion by their students as Leo Strauss. Since his death, a great number of books and articles concerning his ideas have been published by Straussians. There are also critical studies by scholars who do not consider themselves  Straussians[65]. Despite the enormous amount of critical works about Strauss’s ideas, no work solely devoted to his intellectual biography exists. This dissertation will try to fill that void.



[1] Daniel Tanguay has entitled his new book in French, Leo Strauss une biographie intellectuelle. However, this is not an intellectual biography, for the author never discusses Leo Strauss’s life. Grasset, Paris, 2003.

[2] One of the problems that scholars have faced when dealing with Strauss’s life is that most of his private documents and letters are very difficult to see. Fortunately, the scholar Heinrich Meier from the Siemens Stiftung has started to publish Strauss’s collected works, which include a great number of letters that had hitherto been unavailable to scholars. In addition, Strauss’s recorded lectures in Chicago will probably soon be published by the University of Chicago.

[3] George Steiner may have given the clearest description of Heidegger’s understanding of this crisis: “To Heidegger, the history of Western civilization, seen from the crucial vantage points of metaphysics after Plato, and of science and technology after Aristotle and Descartes, is no more and no less than the story of how being came to be forgotten. The twentieth century is the culminating but perfectly logical product of this amnesia.” Martin Heidegger, Chicago, the University of Chicago Press, p. 38.

[4] Later on it will be shown that for Strauss, classical political philosophers intended to leave open the question of what is the best political regime.

[5] Most of Strauss’s students have devoted their work to a detailed discussion of the main works in the history of political philosophy. These works seldom touch on biographical issues. However, some scholars have talked about the need to take into consideration Strauss’s biography in order to understand his work. See: “Leo Strauss: the Philosopher as Weimar Jew”, David Biale, “The Philosophy as Weimar Jew”, Leo Strauss’s Thought: toward a critical engagement, Ed. Alan Udof, Lynne Rienner Publishers, London, pp. 31-40. There is also a Ph. D. Dissertation, which deals with the early years of Leo Strauss. See Eugene R. Sheppard, “Leo Strauss and the Politics of Exile” (Ph.D., dissertation, UCLA, 2001), written under the supervision of David Myers

[6] That we must understand a philosopher as he understood himself was a method that Leo Strauss took from Spinoza’s demand that we should read the Bible according to the Bible. “How to study Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise” in Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity, Leo Strauss, Ed. Kenneth Hart Green, New York SUNY, University Pr3ess, 1997, pp. 182-183.

[7] Leo Strauss, “Preface to the English translation”, Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1997, p. 1.

[8] In his discussion with Jacob Klein, which took place at Saint John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland on 30 January 1970, Leo Strauss gave the audience a brief account of his life. In it, he dwells on the importance of his life in order to understand his thought. In “A Giving of Accounts”, Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity, p. 459.

[9] Leo Strauss’s The Political Philosophy of Hobbes can actually be read as though it were an intellectual biography. The book is admittedly full of biographical details on Hobbes’s life in relation to his intellectual endeavors.

[10] For a brief description of what Strauss means by the sociology of philosophy. See Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1988, pp. 7-9.

[11] Originally, Leo Strauss had gone to Freiburg in order to hear Edmund Husserl, but instead he was completely charmed by Heidegger, Leo Strauss, Leo Strauss’s Thought: toward a critical engagement, Ed. Alan Udof

[12] It was in Marburg that Strauss met for the first time his friends Hans-George Gadamer and Karl Lowith. See Leo Strauss, The Early Writings (1921-1923), Ed. Michael Zank, New York, State University of New York Press, 2002, p. 7.

[13] Later on it will be shown how Leo Strauss thought that the debunking of Heidegger’s existential historicism would be succesful only on the interpretative level but not on the philosophical level

[14]

 “Gradually the breadth of the revolution of thought which Heidegger was preparing dawned upon me and my generation. We saw with our own eyes that there had been such phenomenon since Hegel”, “An Introduction to Heideggerian Existentialism” in Leo Strauss, The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism, Ed. Thomas L. Pangle, Chicago, Chicago University Press, p. 28

[15] Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p. 35

[16] “The matter of Strauss’s relationship to Heidegger’s thinking is one of the philosophical issues most in need of being raised in order to arrive at a proper understanding of Strauss’s thought. The dismissal of the one, for whatever reason, results in a fundamental dilution of the other”, See Alan Udoff, “On Leo Strauss: An Introductory Account”, Leo Strauss’s thought: toward a critical engagement, Lynne Rienner Publishers, London, p. 27

[17] In his essay devoted to Heidegger´s existentialism, Strauss talked about both the young author of Sein und Zeit and the later Heidegger of the Letters on Humanism in which he shifted from stressing the problem to Dassein to emphasizing the dilemma of Sein. My contention will be that Strauss was keenly aware of this shift and analyzed the two Heideggers.

[18] Not only did Strauss argue in favor of American democracy; he was charmed by its particular genius. Strauss’s influence on American studies could be described as the single most important phenomenon in American academia over the last 40 years. Gordon S. Wood described it as the largest academic movement in the twentieth century. However, no one has attempted to understand the interaction between Strauss’s life and his ideas regarding the American political system. Let us not forget that he became an American citizen as early as 1944. See Gordon S. Wood, “The Fundamentalists and the Constitution”, New York Review of Books, February 1988) pp. 33-40.

[19] I will argue that Strauss´s first works devoted to the theological-political problem were written in the light of what he believed was Heidegger´s atheist position: “Heidegger has no place for the creator God”, Leo Strauss, The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism, Ed. Thomas L. Pangle, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1989, p. 46.

[20] The young Strauss joined the Judischer Wanderbond Blaussweiss, an organization of Jewish youngsters who felt nothing but contempt for modernity, urban civilization, and materialism. See, Michael Brenner, the Renaissance of Jewish culture in Weimar Germany, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1996, p.230.

[21] Although Strauss was influenced by Cohen, they never met. Instead, Strauss studied with Ernst Cassirer, under whose supervision he wrote his Ph. D. dissertation on Jacoby’s philosophy. See Leo Strauss, The Early Writings, pp. 53-62.

[22] Husserl’s writings deal on, at least in two occasions, with a crucial problem to the tradition of political philosophy: “that of the relation of the philosopher to the context of practical and political lfe that his activity presupposes, or of the sources of philosophy and science in the prephilosophic and prescientific world”. See Richard Velkley, “Edmund Husserl”, in Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey (eds.), History of Political Philosophy, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1987, p. 874.

[24] In the Straussian imagination, Jerusalem and Athens are symbols: alternative archetypes of the modern man when facing the theological-political problem.

[25] Korrespondenz Leo Strauss--Gershom Scholem in Leo Strauss, Gessamelte Schriften Band 3, Hobbes´s politische Wissenschaft und zugerhörige Schriften-Briefe, Edited by Heinrich Meier, Stuttgart, 2001, p. 771.

[26] I will show how both Husserl’s phenomenology and the modern critique of religion were used by Strauss to make an early case against historicism. See the chapters on Leo Strauss in the new book by David N. Myers, Resisting History: historicism and its discontents in German-Jewish Thought, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2004, 253 pp.


[28] Strauss was in Paris (from October 1932 until December 1933) when Heidegger made his famous and infamous speech in Berlin and when on “January 30, 1933, President Hindenburg, acting in a perfectly constitutional manner, entrusted the chancellorship to Adolph Hitler”, William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1960, p. 187

[29] That Strauss’s work on Hobbes is part of his attempts to understand the theological-political problem was acknowledged by Strauss himself: “”Mein Studium von Hobbes begann im Zusammenhang einer Untersuschung uber die Anfänge der Bibel-Kritik im 17. Jahrhundert, namentlich über Spinozas Theologish-Politisches Traktat”, Leo Strauss, Gesammelte Schriften, p. VIII.

[30] This was the belief of Hans Weinberg, one of the main critics of Strauss during the twenties and thirties. See “Zionismus und Religion”, Der jüdische Student 22, nos. 1-2 (February 1925): 9. Karl Löwith, for example, understood Leo Strauss´s book Philosophy and Law as an endorsement of orthodoxy. This was, however, an identification that Strauss denied emphatically; in a letter to Löwith he said, “By the way, I am not an Orthodox Jew!” Letter to Löwith, 23 June 1935, in GS, 2:xxvi. 32. In Leo Strauss, The Early Writings (1921-1932), Ed. Michael Zank, State University of New York Press, New York, p. 47.

[31] Gershom Scholem describes Philosophy and Law in a letter to Walter Benjamin as an “unobscured testimonial to atheism as the most important Jewish solution”. 29 March 1935, cited in GS, 2:xxvii. In Leo Strauss, Ibid. This claim was also supported by the fact that in 1928 Strauss wrote a sympathetic review of Sigmund Freud’s The Future of an Illusion. See Der Judische Student 25, no. 4 August 1928, pp. 16-22.

[32] In the foreword of his book Philosophy and Law, Leo Strauss reiterates his understanding of the modern Jewish impasse by arguing that Orthodoxy and atheistic political Zionism are equally unacceptable alternatives, State University of New York Press, New York, pp. 21-39.

[33] Whether Heidegger was religious (as most scholars believe) or atheist (as Strauss believed) will be a matter of discussion in this chapter. For a Strauss discussion of Heidegger’s position (although Strauss does not mention him) regarding the theological-political problem see Philosophy and Law, Leo Strauss, passim.

[34] For Heinrich Meier this shift was actually a “turn” into something new, whereas for Kenneth Hart Green it was a “return” to something ancient. At any rate, there is a “consensus” among scholars that this shift in Straussian scholarship actually occurred in the early thirties.

[35] It was in his study of Maimonides that Leo Strauss discusses at length the existence of exoteric teaching in political thought. To be discussed in this dissertation is the extent to which Strauss’s own teaching was mainly exoteric. See Persecution and the Art of Writing, p. 73 onwards.

[36] The dissertation will also deal with Strauss’s long-term commitment to the state of Israel. I will try to follow Strauss’s relationship with Zionism from his Weimar Republic days all the way to the modern Israel in the 1970s. I will argue that there is a parallel between the ups and downs of the Zionist movement in general and Strauss’s phases of engagement and disengagement.

 

[38] This is the conclusion drawn by Stanley Rosen, Op. Cit, p. 137.

[39] I will argue that Strauss would probably have agreed with Louis Hartz´s characterization of the liberal tradition in America. See Louis Hartz The Liberal Tradition in America: An Interpretation of American Political Thought Since the Revolution, New York, Harcourt, Brace, and World, Inc., 1955.

[40] Natural Right and History may be the first work in which Strauss relies on The Declaration of Independence’s theory of natural rights in order to counter modern historicism. This book is actually based upon Strauss’s Walgreen Foundation Lectures in which he presented an analysis of the philosophy of natural right.

[41] In this section I will explain why Strauss regarded Max Weber as a derivative thinker who stands somewhere between Nietzsche and modern science but unable to resolve their tension.

[42] See also Leo Strauss, “The Three Waves of Modernity” in An Introduction to Political Philosophy: Ten essays by Leo Strauss, Ed. Hilail Gildin, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 1989, pp. 81-98.

 

[44] Leo Strauss and Alexander Kojeve were two important intellectual figures in the history of the XXth century. They met in Berlin in the 1920s when both of them were studying religious thought, and maintained a stimulating relationship over the course of their lives by resorting to an interesting and fruitful transatlantic epistolary exchange. There is a remarkable biography of Alexander Kojeve written by Dominique Auffret, Alexander Kojeve, La Philosophie, l’état, la fin de l’Histoire, Grasset, Paris, 1993. Most of the letters exchange between Strauss and Kojeve are published by Victor Gourevitch and Michael S. Roth and are collected in Leo Strauss, On Tyranny, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p. 22.

[45] There is no doubt that Kojeve was profoundly influenced from Heidegger. Indeed Kojeve´s Introduction to the Reading of Hegel maybe the best commentary of Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit. See Stanley Rosen’s review of Kojeve´s Essai d´un histoire raisonneé de la philosophie païene, in Man and World, Vol. 3, (1970)

[46] The occasion of the debate between Strauss and Kojeve is Strauss’s On Tyranny, which is a translation and commentary on Xenophon’s Hiero. The latter is a dialogue between a tyrant, Hiero, and a wise man, Simonides.

[47] “Heidegger became a Nazi in 1933. This was not due to a mere error of judgment on the part of a man who lived on great heights high above the low land of politics. Everyone who has read his first great book and did not overlook the wood for the trees could see the kinship in temper and direction between Heidegger’s thought and the Nazis. What was the practical, that is to say, serious meaning of the contempt for reasonableness and the praise of resoluteness except to encourage that extremist movement? When Heidegger was rector of the University of Freiburg in 1933, he delivered an official speech in which he identified himself with the movement which then swept Germany. Heidegger has not yet dared to mention that speech in the otherwise complete lists of his writings which appear from time to time on the book jackets of his recent publications. In 1953 he published a book, Introduction to Metaphysics, consisting of lectures given in 1935, in which he spoke of the greatness and dignity of the National Socialist movement” Leo Strauss, On Tyranny, p. 22

[48] Leo Strauss, Natural Rights and History, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1950, p. 254.

[49] “The classics thought that, owing to the weakness or dependence of human nature, universal happiness is impossible, and therefore they did not dream of a fulfillment of History and hence not of a meaning of History. They saw with their mind’s eye a society within which that happiness of which human nature is capable would be possible in the highest degree: that society is the best regime. However, because they saw how limited man’s power is, they held that the actualization of the best regime depends on chance. Modern man, dissatisfied with utopias and scorning them, has tried to find a guarantee for the actualization of the best social order. In order to succeed, or rather in order to be able to believe that he could succeed, he had to lower the goal of man. One form in which this was done was to replace moral virtue by universal recognition. The classical solution is utopian in the sense that its actualization is improbable. The modern solution is utopian in the sense that its actualization is impossible. The classical solution supplies a stable standard by which to judge of any actual order. The modern solution eventually destroys the very idea of standard that is independent of actual situations”. Leo Strauss, On Tyranny, pp. 210-211

[50] “It would not be difficult to show that the classical argument cannot be disposed of as easily as is now generally thought, and that liberal or constitutional democracy comes closer to what the classics demanded than any alternative that is viable in our age. In the last analysis, however, the classical argument derives its strength from the assumption that the wise do not desire to rule”, Leo Strauss, On Tyranny, p. 194

[51] I will agree with Allan Bloom that this phase in the development of Leo Strauss’s thought actually started with Thoughts on Machiavelli (for Strauss the Florentine was the real initiator of the radical break with the Platonic-Aristotelian political philosophy). The other five books to be examined are The City and Man (1964), Socrates and Aristophanes (1966), Xenophon´s Socratic Discourse (1970), Xenophon´s Socrates (1972), and The Argument and the Action of Plato´s Laws published posthumously in 1975). For Allan Bloom’s assessment of his teacher see: Giants and Dwarfs: Essays 1960-1990, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1990, pp. 235-255.

[52] Strauss attempted to refute the project of the later Heidegger instead of  the earlier Heidegger.

[53]
Stanley Rosen, Op. Cit., p. 46

[54] Leo Strauss, “Relativism”, the Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism, Ed. Thomas L. Pangle, pp. 13-26.

[56] Shortly before he died, Strauss was working in the collection of essays that would be part of his book Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy that was published posthumously in 1983.

[57] In his last work, Strauss also took issue with the Neo-Kantian Cohen and with Nietzsche. In this chapter, I will also talk about how Strauss revisited and refuted both thinkers.

[58] Originally, Leo Strauss wanted to write 17 chapters of his Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy. One of them was going to be on the Gorgias where he wanted to deal with the tension between philosophy and politics. Although he did no live to write that essay his other writings, as well as a transcript of a class he gave on the dialogue indicate what he would have probably touched on.

[59] Between 5 July 1917 to December 1918, Strauss was enlisted in the German army, serving as an interpreter in occupied Belgium.

[60] Many of Strauss’s relatives died because of the Nazi persecution of Jews in the WWII. Leo, on the other hand, was one of the few who survived the greatest ordeal of Jewish history.

[61] Leo Strauss was a minute reader of political history as can be proved by his long-life interest in Thucydides. He was an admirer of Winston Churchill about whom seemed to have read everything published. Among his friends were people knowledgeable about current affairs like Alexander Kojeve and Kurt Riezler. For getting a good sense of how much Strauss could have known about current affairs see his essay on Kurt Riezler, Leo Strauss, What is Political Philosophy and Other Studies, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1988, pp. 233-260.

[62] Just to have an idea of how charming and interesting a character Strauss would have been see the collection of interviews with Seth Benardete entitled Encounters and Reflections, Conversations with Seth Benardete, Ed. Ronna Burger, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 2002, Passim.

[63] Mark Lilla is a liberal thinker who is as Berlinian as much as a Straussian. Currently he teaches at the University of Chicago.

[64] Leo Strauss, On Tyranny, Chicago, University of Chicago Press. The second part of this book contains a great bulk of the correspondence that Strauss and Kojeve exchanged over the course of their friendship.

[65] See Faith and Political Philosophy, The Correspondence Between Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin 1934-1964, Ed. Peter Emberley and Barry Cooper, Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, 1993.