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Strauss Read from France

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2009


Leo Strauss has long had a “scholarly” presence among French orientalists and medievalists, thanks to his fundamentally important works on the falasifa and Maimonides, two of which were published in France in the 1930's. To French political “thinkers,” caught as they were for so long, like Laocoon, in the serpentine toils of Stalinism, Maoism and other variants of “Marxism,” including its decadently ironic postmodern negations, Strauss seems to have been a largely unknown name. Some interpreters of the history of modern political philosophy have, of course, taken note of his analyses of Machiavelli, for example, and the French translation of Natural Right and History was in fact first published in 1954.

Research Article
Copyright © University of Notre Dame 1991

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1. In addition to Natural Right and History and On Tyranny (1954)Google Scholar the following works by Strauss have been published in French translation: Pensées sur Machiavel (1982)Google Scholar; La Cité et l'homme (1987)Google Scholar; Maimonide (1988)Google Scholar; and La Persécution et l'art d'écrire (1989)Google Scholar. The most complete synthesis of Strauss's works and their interpreters is provided by an American expatriate Marshall, Terence, “Leo Strauss, la philosophic et la science politique,” Revue francaise de science politique 35 (1985): 605638 and 801839CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Ferry, Luc, Philosophic politique 1. Le Droit: la nouvelle querelle des Anciens et les Modernes (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1984) [Google ScholarEnglish translation, Political Philosophy, vol. 1 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), Part One], ties together the Heideggerian and the Straussian critiques of modernity.Google Scholar

2 Revue de métaphysique et de morale 94 (No. 3, 1989).Google Scholar

3 Gueroult, M., Dianoématique.l: Histoire de l'histoire de la philosophie (Paris, 1984), p. 14. One will note that “systems,” for Guerouit, are curiously apolitical. Thus, Spinoza's Ethics can be read without reference to the Theological-Political Treatise.Google Scholar

4 See The Rebirth of Classical Political Philosophy (hereafter= RCPP), ed. Pangle, Thomas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), p. 209Google Scholar. Other works by Strauss are abbreviated according to the scheme adopted in Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy (hereafter= SPPP), ed. Pangle, T. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), p. 27, unless otherwise indicated.Google Scholar

5 Philosophy and Law (hereafter=PL), transBaumann, F. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1987), p. 3.Google Scholar

6 SPPP, p. 226; p. 211.Google Scholar

7 Thomas Hobbes et l'oeuvre de la raison (Paris, 1974).Google Scholar

8 Medelssohn, M., Gesammelte Schriften. Jubiläumsausgabe, III, 2 (Stuttgart-Bad Canstatt: F. Frommann, 1974), p. lxvGoogle Scholar. Strauss's long introduction (xii-cx) demands close scrutiny. His editorial work on Mendelssohn leads him to Lessing and the Atheismusstreit and thence to Spinoza. The subject of his dissertation (1921) was Jacobi.

As far as I know, no one has commented on Strauss's interpretations of Mendelssohn.

9 Hobbes's Thucydides, ed. Schlatter, R. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1975), p. 18.Google Scholar

10 “Discourse upon Gondibert,” in Literary Criticism of 17th Century Englad, ed. Taylor, E. W. (New York: Knopf, 1967), p. 284.Google Scholar

11 Le philosophe et la cité. Recherches sur les rapports entre morale et politique dans la pensee d'Aristote (Paris, 1982).Google Scholar

12 Natural Right and History (hereafter=NRH) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), pp. 156 and 120.Google Scholar

13 SPPP, pp. 139–40.Google Scholar

14 NRH, p. 32Google Scholar; and Persecution and the Art of Writing (hereafter=PAW) (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1952), p. 47.Google Scholar

15 CM, p. 49Google Scholar; and NRH, p. 157Google Scholar. (Cf. Waerdt, P. A. Vander, “Kingship and Philosophy in Aristotle's Best Regime,” Phronesis 30 [1985]: 249–75.)CrossRefGoogle Scholar

16 PL, p. 53.Google Scholar

17 PAW, p. 127 n. 103a.Google Scholar

18 NRH, p. 81.Google Scholar

19 SPPP, p. 149Google Scholar; RCPP, p. 4041Google Scholar; PL, p. 121 n.88.Google Scholar

20 Brague, Rémi, in the essay discussed below, and in “Leo Strauss et Maimonide,” in Maimonides and Philosophy, ed. Pines, S. and Yovel, Y. (Dordrecht; Boston: M. Nijhoff Publishers, 1986), pp. 246–68, at pp. 258–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar, makes fruitful suggestions about the alliance between Nietzsche and Strauss. Drury, Shadia B., The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Chap. 9 presses some surprise in the face of this alliance or affinity. I have dealt with the question in “Hokmah Yenavit Reflections on Strauss, Leo, Philosophie und Gesetz” delivered at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 07 1990 (forthcoming).Google Scholar

21 Ironically, Brague's essay is translated from English; the English version will appear in A. Udoff, ed., On Leo Strauss: Toward a Critical Engagement (forthcoming).

22 Razi's text is available to English-language readers in a free translation by Arberry, A. J., “Rhazes on the Philosophic Life,” The Asiatic Review (1949): 703713. Brague is strangely silent about Averroes's The Decisive Treatise, which is the focus of chapter two of Philosophy and Law.Google Scholar

23 The grounds of Brague's point are unclear. Both Judaism and Islam arise from divine speeches and divine texts. It belongs to both traditions to claim that those texts are, after a fashion, eternal.

24 Plato, Farabi's,” in Essays on Medieval Jewish and Islamic Philosophy, ed. Hyman, A. (New York: Ktav Publishing House, 1977), p. –Quelques remarques sur la science politique de Maimonide et de FarabiGoogle ScholarStrauss, L., Maimonide, ed. Brague, R., pp. 147–48.Google Scholar

25 NRH, p. 74.Google Scholar

26 See Kellner, Menachem, “Rabbi Isaac Bar Sheshet's Responsum Concerning the Study of Greek Philosophy,” Tradition 15 (19751976): 110–18Google Scholar. Cf. on hokhmat yenavit. Septimus, JB., Hispano-Jewish Culture in Transition (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982), pp. 8586; 157–58Google Scholar; and Harvey, Steven, Falaquera's Epistle of the Debate: An Introduction to Jewish Philosophy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 39 n. 71.Google Scholar

27 See Hengel, Martin, Judaism and Hellenism, trans. Bouden, J. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1974), I: 76Google Scholar; and the fundamental article by Lieberman, Saul, “The Alleged Ban on Greek Wisdom,” in his Hellenism in Jewish Palestine (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1962), pp. 100114.Google Scholar

28 Cited in Mahdi, M., “Man and His Universe in Medieval Arabic Philosophy,” in L'Hommeet son univers au mqyen age, T. I. (Louvain–La-Neuve, 1986), p. 112.Google Scholar

29 Cited in Gutas, Dimitri, Avicenna and the Aristotelian Tradition (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1988), p. 231.Google Scholar

30 For the text, and commentary, see Idel, Moshe, “Sitre Arayot in Maimonides' Thought,” in Pines and Yovel, Maimonides and Philosophy, pp. 7991.Google Scholar

31 PAW, p. 51.Google Scholar

32 However, Maimonides himself entertained doubts whether adherence to scripture secures the community. In Guide I: 31 he adds to Alexander of Aphrocisias' three reasons for disagreement about things a fourth, vis. habituation to a sacred text. Cf. Pines, S., “The Limitations of Human Knowledge According to Al-Farabi, Ibn Bajja, and Maimonides,” in Studies in Medieval Jewish History and Literature, ed, Twersky, I., vol. 1 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979), pp. 100104.Google Scholar

33 See Mahdi, M., “Alfarabi Against Philoponusjournal of Near Eastern Studies 26 (1967): 233–60, at p. 257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

34 Biale, David, Power and Powerlessness in Jewish History (New York: Schocken Books, 1987), p. 219 n. 51.Google Scholar Cf. also Kellner, Menachem, Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), esp. pp. 1065Google Scholar. For Islamic counterparts, see, in addition to the essential study by Paul Kraus, cited by Brague, Kraemer, Joel, “Heresy Versus the State in Medieval Islam” in Studies injudaica, Karaitica and Islamica, ed. Brunswick, S. R. (Ramat Gan, Israel: Bar-Ilan University Press, 1982), pp. 167–80Google Scholar; and Lewis, Bernard, Islam in History (New York, 1973), pp. 217–36Google Scholar

35 AP, p. 31Google Scholar. Cf. Rosen, S., Hermeneutics as Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 87140.Google Scholar