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On a Certain Critique of “Straussianism”

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2009


This article examines a certain critique of what I will take the liberty of calling “Straussianism,” a critique which raises questions I believe are worth discussing, especially by all those interested in the work of Leo Strauss. This particular critique appeared in a review of a book on Platonic political philosophy, a review by a young scholar who had published only a couple of articles on classical political philosophy himself.

This reviewer aptly characterizes the author as one who, “thoroughly dissatisfied with modern philosophy in all its forms, and unwilling to take refuge in Thomism … turns back to classical philosophy, to the teaching of Plato and Aristotle, as the true teaching” (p. 326). According to this perceptive critic, the author considered the quarrel of the ancients and the moderns “definitely settled in favor of the classics. After having disposed of this fundamental question, which as such is a theoretical question, he can pursue a practical or political intention on the foundation of the classical teaching.”

Research Article
Copyright © University of Notre Dame 1991

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This article derives from a lecture prepared for a symposium of the Institute for the Study of Religion and Politics at Boston College directed by Ernest Fortin and Christopher Bruell, and it has profited from the responses of the symposium's directors and participants.

1. Cf. Strauss, Leo, The City and Man (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1964), pp. 1012.Google Scholar

2. Cf. Gunnell, John, “The Myth of the Tradition,” American Political Science Review 72 (03 1978): 127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

3. Cf. Strauss, Leo, An Introduction to Political Philosophy: Ten Essays by Leo Strauss, ed. Gildin, Hilail (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1989), p. 98.Google Scholar

4. Cf. Burnyeat, M. F., “Sphinx without a SecretNew York Review of Books (30 05 1985): 32.Google Scholar

5. Strauss, Leo, “On a New Interpretation of Plato's Political Philosophy,” Social Research 13 (09 1946): 326–67.Google Scholar

6. Social Research 6 (09 1939): 502–36.Google Scholar

7. Social Research 12 (02 1945): 98117.Google Scholar

8. Correspondence Concerning Modernity” trans. Klein, Susanne and Tucker, GeorgeEliott, Independent Journal of Philosophy 4 (1983): 105–19.Google Scholar

9. Ibid., p. 106.

10. The City and Man, p. 11.Google Scholar

11. Ibid.

12. Introduction to Political Philosophy, p. 98.Google Scholar

13. Cf. Strauss, Leo, Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), pp. 6061 n.22Google Scholar. On this issue see Hancock, Ralph C., Calvin and the Foundations ofModern Politics (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989), pp. 164–77, 185–94.Google Scholar

14. “Correspondence,” p. 106.Google Scholar

15. Ibid., p. 112.

16. Strauss, Leo, Thoughts on Machiavelli (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1958), p. 173Google Scholar and What Is Political Philosophy? (New York: Free Press, 1959), p. 45.Google Scholar Note the triple statement in the latter passage.

17. See Strauss, Leo, “Farabi's Plato” in Louis Ginzberg Jubilee Volume (New York: American Academy for Jewish Research, 1945), pp. 357–93.Google Scholar

18. See my Philosophy and History: Tradition and Interpretation in the Work of Leo Strauss,” Polity 16:1 (Fall 1983): 529, pp. 2029.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

19. Leo, Strauss, “On Collingwood's Philosophy of History,” Review of Metaphysics 5 (06 1952): 559–86, p. 583.Google Scholar

20. Strauss, , What Is Political Philosophy? pp. 6668, 71, 266Google Scholar; “On Collingwood's Philosophy of History” pp. 574–75.Google Scholar

21. Strauss, , “On Collingwood's Philosophy of History,” pp. 576, 585.Google Scholar

22. Ibid., pp. 582–84.

23. Strauss, , What Is Political Philosophy? pp. 5657, 77.Google Scholar

24. Strauss, Leo, Persecution and the Art of Writing (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1952), pp. 155–57.Google Scholar

25. What Is Political Philosophy? pp. 7273, 77Google Scholar; Natural Right and History, p. 26.Google Scholar

26. Natural Right and History, pp. 3233.Google Scholar

27. Persecution and the Art of Writing, p. 158.Google Scholar

28. What Is Pblitical Philosophy? p. 77Google Scholar; Persecution and the Art of Writing, pp. 155–56.Google Scholar

29. “Correspondence” pp. 106107, 109, 114.Google Scholar

30. Cf. What Is Political Philosophy? pp. 263–64.Google Scholar