Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 June 2021
Leo Strauss’s Natural Right and History (1953) marked an important stage in his evolution into America’s Carl Schmitt. In its final chapter, he made the contentious claim that Burke, despite his readiness to invoke a universal natural law, was a historicist, in the sense that he regarded human rights, for instance, as the product of historical circumstances and not as deriving from abstract, universal principle. He was like Hegel in his preference for what is over what ought to be – a charge first made by Lord Acton that survives to the present day. In Strauss’s account, Burke unwittingly contributed to the erosion of the classical/Christian belief in a universal moral law and to the establishment in its place of the modern belief in the cultural relativity of values.
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