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Published online by Cambridge University Press: 15 February 2018
Strauss's “Maimonides’ Statement on Political Science” is among his shortest and strangest writings. Its shortness reflects the brevity of the work on which it is based, Maimonides's Treatise on the Art of Logic, especially chapter 14, its final, brief chapter. The strangeness of Strauss's piece derives from three factors: First, the original Arabic of the Logic had not yet been found when Strauss wrote his article. It was based instead on Hebrew translations and Arabic fragments— leading inevitably to conjectural readings. Second, Maimonides appears to argue that political science is not needed in his time! Third, Strauss's all-too-brief historical study seems initially to be out of place in a collection that includes such a substantive and provocative programmatic essay as “What Is Political Philosophy?,” supplemented by somewhat less comprehensive though equally programmatic essays such as “Political Philosophy and History,” “Classical Political Philosophy,” and “Restatement on Xenophon's Hiero.” In other words, the context in which Strauss chose to place the “Statement on Political Science” only intensifies the strangeness of the article itself.
Let us consider the first source of strangeness, the problematic texts at Strauss's disposal: at least two articles have been written commenting on the limitations of Strauss's article, both of which appeared after the publication of Arabic versions of the Logic not available to Strauss. When relevant, I touch on those articles, but I do not focus, as they have, on Strauss's occasional faulty conjectures. After all, Strauss devotes an entire paragraph, the second paragraph of the piece, to underlining how conjectural his inquiry is (156). Nevertheless, it is striking that Strauss would include in this collection a historical study filled with conjectures and some of his most “unscientific” speculations about numerology in the thought of Maimonides (see 165–68). A yawning chasm opens up between the kind of “data” considered in this historical study on Maimonides's political science and the kind considered in the contemporary, positivistic political science that Strauss discusses in “What Is Political Philosophy?” (17–26).
Why, the reader should wonder, does Strauss engage in such historical studies, which are foreign not only to contemporary social scientists but also to the very thinkers, such as Maimonides, that Strauss studies in these historical studies (also) on Alfarabi, Hobbes, and Locke (73–75)?