From owner-philofhi@YORKU.CA Fri May 16 13:00:26 2003
Date: Fri, 16 May 2003 16:13:19 -0400
Sender: PHILosophy OF HIstory and theoretical history <PHILOFHI@YORKU.CA>
From: Eustace Frilingos <e.frilingos.1@ALUMNI.NYU.EDU>
Subject: Re: Leo Strauss—Part 1

From: “John Gueguen” <>
Sent: Tuesday, May 13, 2003 12:34 PM
Subject: Re: Leo Strauss

Leo Strauss

By John Gueguen, 13 May 2003


I take the liberty of attaching a lengthy memo which will provide extensive background for anyone wanting to investigate whether there may be substance to the allegations of Leo Strauss's complicity in the political work of contemporary “Straussians.”

In the years I studied with him at the Univ. of Chicago (1960–62), I found him to be a teacher of teachers solely dedicated to helping his students learn to read the great classical texts of political philosophy with discernment so as to benefit as much as possible from the wisdom he thought those texts contained concerning the human condition here and hereafter.

I never had any reason to question or doubt his sincerity in this endeavor. Of my fellows students, those I was able to remain in touch with all went on to university teaching and writing, some achieving some eminence. I know of none who became “Straussians” or followed political careers. The major polemic Mr. Strauss conducted (always in an ironic and highly civilized manner) throughout his career concerned those who denied the universality of truth which the great classical and medieval philosophers help us gain access to (that is the modern empiricists/positivists—or latter-day “sophists”).

I suspect that people referred to as “Straussians” were students of Mr. Strauss's students, and that he himself would be horrified to find his name associated with direct political activism. We political philosophers, like our mentor-in-chief (Socrates), consider the role of political philosophers to be the indirect one of forming minds and souls for significant lives in this world. How they do this has to remain a matter of their own personal responsibility. Who would think of “blaming” Socrates for the unpatriotic and even immoral life of his student, Alcibiades? Such is the risk that every teacher takes.

As to your question about Leo Strauss's philosophy of history: You might like to consult what I would consider the best introductory source for gaining knowledge of his thought, Hilail Gilden's anthology of his major essays: An Introduction to Political Philosophy: Ten Essays by Leo Strauss

(1989)—in particular, the essay “Natural Right and the Historical Approach.” Here is his critique of “historicism,” the element of modern positivism which denies universal truth-value in the events of history, considering them all as relative to their specific period. I suspect that Mr. Strauss regarded as historicists any philosophers of history he may have been in touch with. He would not have applied the term, philosopher of history, to himself.

I hope this is helpful.

John Gueguen
Professor Emeritus, Illlinois State Univ.


John Gueguen
January 6, 2001 (updated 2003)

1. The past decade has produced a ferment of critiques and defenses of Strauss in respect to several themes having to do with the general tenor of his work and of its particular aspects. I maintain a substantial file on this part of Strauss research, along with a larger collection of materials that extend back to my own study with him at Chicago in the early 1960s when I was pursuing the Ph.D. there.

2. This memo will consist primarily of a bibliographical review of the most interesting pieces I have collected that may have some relevance for this topic, at least to provide a sense of direction by indicating what has been done in recent years.

3. The leading critic of Strauss in N. America has been a sprightly young lady whom I met at a conference about a dozen years ago in Chicago—Shadia B. Drury, of the Univ. of Calgary. She came to the notice of colleagues with a substantial article in the journal, Political Theory (13/3, August 1985), “The Esoteric Philosophy of Leo Strauss” (pp. 510-535). It was followed two years later by a second article in the same journal (15/3, August 1987, pp. 299-315), “Leo Strauss’ Classic Natural Right Teaching.” This time the editors asked two prominent political philosophers to append their comments: “Dear Professor Drury” (by Harry V. Jaffa, one of Strauss' former students and major allies), pp. 316-25; “Politics against Philosophy: Strauss and Drury” (by Fred Dallmayer, who had been a critic of Strauss), pp. 326-37. Drury's severe critique was judged to be of sufficient potential to upset the standard perception of Strauss that it could not be ignored, even though it was by a relatively young and inexperienced author. She presents the case that Strauss was a dangerously deceptive ally of the modern philosophers he himself had spent his life criticizing because he elevated the philosopher above justice, thus making himself unaccountable.

The full-length critique Drury was working on at the time appeared at the end of 1987 as The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss (N.Y.: St. Martin's Press, 288 pp.). I quote from the publisher's notice: “This is the first book-length study. . .. In a portrait of the philosopher at odds with his general image, Drury maintains that Strauss has presented his thoughts wrapped in a veil of scholarship because he believes that the truth undermines religion and morality, and so is bound to wreak havoc on political society. . ..[She reveals] the extent to which Strauss' ideas are indebted to Nietzsche, Freud, and Machiavelli. . .and challenges many accepted beliefs about ‘the founder of a movement, a school of thought and even a cult.’..[and the] increasingly important influence [of the “Straussians”] on the present-day political thought. . ..”

This book generated many thoughtful reviews (mostly by Strauss' students and defenders), of which I have a collection. One says: “Drury means to convey that the reputation of Strauss as a natural right political philosopher with a high-minded approach to political life is simply false in all its essentials.” One reviewer admits that “as a philosopher, Strauss was moved by the sting of the awareness of lacking an adequate answer to the question of questions: Should I live theologically (morally-politically) or philosophically (serious questioning of the morality-piety informing my ‘cave’)?” The most substantial reviews include: Rev. Ernest Fortin A.A., “Between the Lines: Was Leo Strauss a Secret Enemy of Morality?”, Crisis (Dec. 1989), 19-26 (a vindication of Strauss which was rebutted by a letter in the March 1990 issue by a Drury supporter); and Marc Henrie, “The Ambiguities of Leo Strauss,” which reviews the Strauss “legacy” from his death in 1973 up to 1988.

Drury had a chance to rebut her critics in a review of Strauss' The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism: Essays and Lectures, ed. Thomas L. Pangle (Univ. of Chicago Press, 1989). It appeared in the same journal which carried her original critiques, Political Theory, 19/4 (Nov. 1991), 671-675.

4. Ironically, a sympathetic study of Strauss appeared in that same year (1987) edited by Kenneth L. Deutsch and Walter Soffer, The Crisis of Liberal Democracy: A Straussian Perspective (Albany: State Univ. of New York, 304 pp.)—“the first book devoted exclusively to. . .one of the most influential and controversial political thinkers of the twentieth century. This work includes essays which illustrate and evaluate Strauss' teaching on natural right and the tradition of political philosophy [which derives from the ancient classics], and demonstrate how Strauss' perspectives have influenced European and American liberal theory. . ..Essays critical of his work are included. . ..”

5. Before the Drury bombshell, the decade of the ‘80s produced a steady flow of mostly positive appraisals of Strauss and his work, but some critiques were also appearing. Here is a sampling: Paul Norton, “Leo Strauss: His Critique of Historicism,” Modern Age, 25/2 (Spring 1981), 143-154; Edward Andrew, “Descent to the Cave,” Review of Politics, 45/4 (October 1983) 510–35 (a negative reaction to Strauss' interpretation of Plato's Republic); Rev. James Schall SJ, “Leo Strauss on Prayer,” Catholicism in Crisis (July 1984) 46-47; Michael P. Jackson, Leo Strauss' Teaching: A Study of Thoughts on Machiavelli (doctoral dissertation under Fr. Schall at Georgetown, 1985); Walter J. Nicgorski, “Leo Strauss and Liberal Education,” Interpretation, 13/2 (May 1985), 233-250; Larry Peterman, “Approaching Leo Strauss: Some Comments on Thoughts on Machiavelli,” Political Science Reviewer, XVI (Fall 1986), 317-351; Michael Bordelon, “The Legacy of Leo Strauss,” Modern Age, (Winer 1986), 64-68; Dinesh D'Souza, “The Legacy of Leo Strauss: Is America the Good Society that the Ancient Philosophers Sought?”, Policy Review, 40 (Spring 1987), 36-43; Schlomo Pines, “On Leo Strauss,” Independent Journal of Philosophy, 5/6 (1988), 169-171.

Most notable was an exchange among Strauss' students and explicators in the Claremont Review of Books (spring, summer, winter 1985) involving Harry Jaffa, Thomas Pangle, and John Wettergreen, on the subject of Strauss' Platonism. The same issues carried a brief article by Emil Fackenheim on “Leo Strauss and Modern Judaism” and a long review by Walter Nicgorski of The God of Faith and Reason: Foundations of Christian Theology, by Robert Sokolowski (Notre Dame Press, 1982, 172 pp.), a book that examines the relationship between religion (especially Christianity) and politics “in the writings of Leo Strauss and the political philosophers who work under his influence.” This, I should think, would be an important source for you to examine.

6. In the past decade, the critical discussion about Strauss and his “school” has continued to grow. Drury returned to the debate in 1997 with Leo Strauss and the American Right (St. Martin's Press, 256 pp.), which has also been abundantly reviewed (more favorably, I think, than her earlier work). Here she looks mainly at Strauss' students who had an opportunity to put their thought into practice during the Reagan administration; she argues that they tried to follow Strauss' injunction that “if they truly loved America, they must save her from her fatal enchantment with [ideological] liberalism.”

7. I'll go through the main literature since the ‘90s in chronological order. It is a blend of continuing controversy and serious interpretive scholarship which examines Strauss' work as if no controversy were occurring about his underlying motivations. One notes an increasing tendency to compare Strauss with contemporary philosophers as a way of vindicating the authenticity of his scholarly intentions and accomplishments.

1990: Luc Ferry, Political Philosophy I: Rights—The New Quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns (Univ. of Chicago, 152 pp.), which focuses on Strauss' critique of modernity; Ronald Biener, “Hannah Arendt and Leo Strauss: The Uncommenced Dialogue,” Political Theory, 18/2 (May), 238-254; Christopher A. Colmo, “Reason and Revelation in the Thought of Leo Strauss,” Interpretation, 18/1 (Fall), 145-160, followed by a comment by David Lowenthal, pp. 161-162.

1991: Alan Udoff, ed., Leo Strauss' Thought: Toward a Critical Engagement (Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 300 pp.)—“provides the most comprehensive picture available of Strauss' philosophy and intellectual impact” in the view of ten of his former students, who closely examine his chief writings; Mark Blitz, “Strauss’ Laws [Plato],” Political Science Reviewer, XX, 186-222; a special issue of The Review of Politics, 53/1 (Winter) on Leo Strauss is a book in itself (245 pp.) which contains outstanding commentaries and critical evaluations by sixteen scholars of a variety of persuasions (including Father Schall on Strauss' treatment of St. Thomas Aquinas).

1992: Robert B. Pippin, “The Modern World of Leo Strauss,” Political Theory, 20/3 (August), 448-472; Steve Lenzner, “Preliminary Reflections on Strauss' Politics: Or, Strauss' Critique of the Ancients,” conference paper, Aug. 17, 40 pp.; Hilail Gildin, “The First Crisis of Modernity: Leo Strauss on the Thought of Rousseau,” Interpretation, 20/2 (Winter), 157-164.

1993: Stephen Holmes, The Anatomy of Antiliberalism (Harvard Univ. Press, 290 pp.), chap. 3: “Strauss: Truths for Philosophers Alone,” pp. 61-87. My reaction at the time: “The usefulness of this book is insight it provides into the hostility of intellectuals like Holmes and Drury to those who take seriously the existence and transcendence of God and His ways of working in the world and in history.”

1994: Marc Henrie, “Thomas Pangle and the Problems of a Straussian Founding,” Modern Age (Winter), 128-138; Robert Devigne, Recasting Conservatism: Oakeshott, Strauss, and the Response to Postmodernism (Yale Univ. Press, 268 pp.), which was well reviewed in the journals; Kenneth L. Deutsch and Walter Nicgorski, eds., Leo Strauss: Political Philosopher and Jewish Thinker (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 320 pp.), an expanded version of the 1991 special issue of The Review of Politics.

1995: Susan Orr, Jerusalem and Athens: Reason and Revelation in the Works of Leo Strauss (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 224 pp.), also well reviewed (the Crisis reviewer observes: “Strauss’ profoundly beautiful reading of the Torah gradually moves his secularized students to reconsider the way of life recommended by the Biblical God”); Heinrich Meier, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: The Hidden Dialogue (Univ. of Chicago, 120 pp.), which studies two scholars who took seriously the political implications of theology (in her review of this book, Drury observes: “The main thesis of [Schmitt's] Concept of the Political is that politics is an autonomous domain in which the supreme distinction is between friend and foe”); Peter Graf Kielmansegg et al., eds., Hannah Arendt and Leo Strauss (Cambridge Univ. Press, 208 pp.), which studies their views of American democracy between the two world wars; Kenneth Hart Green, Jew and Philosopher: The Return to Maimonides in the Jewish Thought of Leo Strauss (Albany: State Univ. of N.Y., 278 pp.), which is favorably reviewed in Crisis.

1996: Laurence Lampert, Leo Strauss and Nietzsche (Univ. of Chicago Press, 239 pp.)—a scholarly explication of Strauss' critique of Nietzsche, so as to demonstrate (among other things) that Drury is off base in claiming that he was a closet Nietzschean; widely and favorably reviewed in the journals as a path toward resolving the controversy over Strauss' intentions; he is held to have made use of his understanding of Plato to provide “the most comprehensive and profound study of Nietzsche”; Ted V. McAllister, Revolt against Modernity: Leo Strauss, Eric Voegelin, and the Search for a Post-Liberal Order (Univ. of Kansas, 304 pp.).

1997: Nasser Behnegar, “Leo Strauss' Confrontation with Max Weber: A Search for a Genuine Social Science,” Review of Politics, 59/1 (Winter), 97-125; Gregory Bruce Smith, “Leo Strauss and the Straussians: An Anti-Democratic Cult?” PS, June, pp. 180-189; and rejoinder by Regina F. Titunik, “Taking Exception,” PS, September, pp. 441-442—provides an excellent current appraisal of the controversy begun by Drury.

1998: Dana R. Villa, “The Philosopher versus the Citizen: Arendt, Strauss, and Socrates,” Political Theory, 26/2 (April), 147-172; Wilson Carey McWilliams, “Leo Strauss and the Dignity of American Political Thought,” Review of Politics, 60/2 (Spring), 231-246.

1999: Marc Guerra, “The Ambivalence of Classic Natural Right: Leo Strauss on Philosophy, Morality, and Statesmanship,” Perspectives on Political Science, 28/2 (Spring), 69-74; Clark A. Merrill, “Spelunking in the Unnatural Cave: Leo Strauss' Ambiguous Tribute to Max Weber,” Interpretation, 27/1 (Fall), 3-26; Kenneth L. Deutsch and John A. Murley, eds., Leo Strauss, The Straussians, and the Study of the American Regime (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 544 pp.)—perhaps the definite work up to this point in the effort of scholars to recover Strauss' reputation; 30 contributors, including many who had not taken part in the debate, also defend the classical tradition which Strauss tried to represent in the face of modern relativism, historicism, positivism.

2000: Clark A. Merrill, “Leo Strauss' Indictment of Christian Philosophy,” Review of Politics, 62/1 (Winter) 77-105; Morton Kaplan, “Saul Bellow, Allan Bloom, and Leo Strauss,” The World and I (August 2000) 11-13. Kaplan has been a caustic critic of Strauss since they were colleagues at Chicago in the 1960s.

2001: Seth Benardete, ed., Leo Strauss on Plato's Symposium (Univ. of Chicago Press, 2001),

2002: Michael S. Kochin, “Morality, Nature, and Esotericism in Leo Strauss's Persecution and the Art of Writing” (Review of Politics, 64/2 (Spr. 2002) 261⏻83.

8. Referring for a moment back to the McAllister book (1996) on Strauss and Voegelin, I must add a paragraph to suggest that a comparison of those two contemporaries (I studied with both of them and learned a great deal from both) seems to have a strong bearing on this topic. My file includes the following:

James M. Rhodes, “Philosophy, Revelation, and Political Theory: Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin,” The Journal of Politics, 49 (1987) 1036-1060. He was one of my classmates and still teaches at Marquette in Milwaukee; easily the leading scholar on this topic.

By 1990, there was considerable interest among political philosophers who esteemed both Strauss and Voegelin in learning of their relationship. This led to a symposium on “Reason and Faith in Strauss and Voegelin” at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Assn. in San Francisco that fall. I was present and have extensive notes of interventions by Gerhart Niemeyer, Jaffa, Stephen McKnight, James Wiser, and David Walsh. It is the first time that Voegelin and Strauss students got together to make a serious study of their relationship.

The Crisis of March, 1991, carried an article by Rev. Ernest L. Fortin A.A. on “Men of Letters: The Little-Known Correspondence between Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin,” pp. 33-36, which had only recently come to light. That correspondence (1934–1964) appeared in 1993 (Penn State Univ. Press, 394 pp.) as Faith and Political Philosophy, eds. Peter Emberley and Barry Cooper. The correspondence is accompanied by commentaries of 8 leading interpreters of Strauss and Voegelin. Among the reviews is my own, which appeared in Perspectives on Political Science, 23/4 (Fall 1994) 212. A richer commentary is by Rhodes: “Major Questions in the Strauss-Voegelin Correspondence,” which I have in manuscript (12 pp.)

9. I must bring this to a conclusion. To round out the materials in my files which may be relevant, there are a number of letters from scholars defending Strauss from his attackers; many eulogies and commentaries which appeared (by his students and colleagues) in the years following Strauss' death (1973–1978); and a number of papers by my students in seminars devoted to Strauss' thought at Illinois State Univ., mostly during the ‘80s (the most recent was in my concluding graduate seminar, spring '96). My most extensive such effort with students was an Independent Study project (1977) on “Leo Strauss' Contribution to Political Science,” which came too early to benefit from the extensive scholarship that followed.

10. On the basis of my Strauss studies, here is my own view of his appreciation of man's final end (in light of my own study and teaching of Strauss' work and of the literature it has generated, all in the context of my intellectual formation).

Surely every scholar is likely to have an “incomplete” understanding of the Last Things, but I think that Strauss managed to come about as close as any secular thinker of our times to a true appreciation of the wisdom on that topic which the classical tradition was able to attain. I think that he did accept the data of revelation (as his Jewish tradition understood it), although he wanted his own scholarship to proceed according to the norms of philosophical reason.

He was probably typical of his scholarly contemporaries (both Jews and Christians) in reserving religious matters to private life (about which he was very discrete). In his home he was an observant Jew, and he very likely had some “apostolic” motive in his work with students who tended toward modern agnosticism. But what dominated his scholarly intention was (like Voegelin) the need to draw upon the classical tradition of philosophy to reconstruct the life of the mind in the aftermath of modernity and its ideological ravages in the 20th-century totalitarian regimes.

Having said that, I believe the investigation of Strauss' contribution to such a topic as this one has considerable merit, especially now that there is great and growing interest in him and so many excellent sources to consult. Many scholars who could provide expert assistance are still living and working actively on cognate topics.