Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. 1: Die Religionskritik Spinozas und zugehörige Schriften
Gesammelte Schriften, ol. 2: Philosophie und Gesetz— Frühe Schriften
Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. 3: Hobbes’ politische Wissenschaft und zugehörige Schriften—Briefe
Leo Strauss: The Early Writings (1921–1932)
Tussen Athene en Jeruzalem: Filosofie, profetie en politiek in het werk van Leo Strauss
Die Denkbewegung von Leo Strauss: Die Geschichte der Philosophie und die Intentionen des Philosophen
Das theologisch-politische Problem: Zum Thema von Leo Strauss
Leo Strauss: Une biographie intellectuelle
The year 2003 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Leo Strauss, the influential German-Jewish thinker who spent half his life teaching and writing in the United States. Three superb studies of Strauss’s thought were published last year in continental Europe, where his posthumous reputation has grown steadily in recent years. In Germany the first three volumes of his collected works have now appeared, revealing a young Strauss engaged in Zionist polemics and absorbed with what he called the “theological-political problem.” They also bring him closer to the world of his better-known European contemporaries like Gershom Scholem and Karl Löwith, with whom he maintained a lively correspondence. All this publishing activity has helped to establish Strauss as one of the great minds to have emerged from the rich culture of Weimar.
But that was not the Leo Strauss discussed and rumored about in the United States last year. In the lead-up to the recent Iraq war the attention of the press concentrated frantically on the neoconservative foreign policy establishment in Washington in hopes of finding its intellectual roots. As seems to happen whenever the mainstream press finally pays attention to conservative intellectuals, old pictures of the diminutive Strauss were extracted from the archives to accompany articles exposing him as the master thinker. Journalists who had never read him trawled his dense commentaries on ancient, medieval, and modern political thought looking for incriminating evidence. Finding none, they then suggested that Strauss never wrote what he thought, that his secret antidemocratic doctrines were passed on to adepts who subsequently infiltrated government. At the ideological fringes the term “cabal” was occasionally employed, in ignorance (one hopes) of its anti-Semitic connotations.
The nadir of this episode was reached when the demagogue Lyndon LaRouche published a hysterical pamphlet on the Strauss–neocon connection that also made the rounds on the Internet. I encountered LaRouche’s followers between classes one day on the campus of the University of Chicago, where Strauss once taught. They had a sound truck blaring an incomprehensible message into the quad, while acolytes passed out copies of the pamphlet, titled “Children of Satan.” A wild-eyed young woman pushed one into my hands, demanding, “You’re not a Straussian, are you?” Before I could respond she declared, “Leo Strauss was a fascist.”
Several of Strauss’s academic disciples responded in print to these bizarre charges, trying to explain that his writings were concerned with the fundamental issues of political life—justice, modernity, virtue, authority—not with partisan matters. They were joined by Strauss’s daughter, the classicist Jenny Strauss Clay, who in The New York Times expressed dismay that a simple scholar who “believed in and defended liberal democracy” and whose “heroes were Churchill and Lincoln” could be slandered in this way. “If only the truth had the power to make the misrepresentations of his achievement vanish like smoke and dust,” she wrote wistfully.
Yes, if only. But that is not likely to happen soon because Strauss’s achievement was a …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.