Strauss wonders about the relevance of
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [..... .... ] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights....."Strauss thinks that to many people this is no longer so evident. This means that they no longer believe in any natural right, implying that laws could change any which way, for instance establishing that torture was ok, arrest without court order ok, keeping people in jail for many years even without any trial, all ok.
Leo Strauss: Natural Right and History
According to Strauss,
"To reject natural right is tantamount to saying that all right is positive right, and this means that what is right is determined exclusively by the legislators and the courts of the various countries." -- (or by the president of some country who successfully claims some right with few people objecting. Imagine!)Define: "Positive right" means rights which are in force here and now, as against rights which are part of a tradition. a political program, a religion, a contract.
The next sentence could be the reason why Strauss got debited with the view that the philosopher has to hide his opinions from the many.
"Men cannot live, that is, they cannot live together, if opinions are not stabilized by social fiat. Opinion thus becomes authoritative opinion or public dogma or Weltanschauung.[..... .... ] Philosophizing means, then, to ascend from public dogma to essentially private knowledge."
However, the many do not read, and so the philosopher has to hide his views precisely from those whose job it is to create and manage public opinion, his colleagues, students or employers and friends. Yes, friends.
Leo Strauss: Jerusalem and Athens: Some Introductory Reflections
This is the easiest and the best to read, judged by how much you can retain or take home, but you have to skip, skip, SKIP whenever he becomes unintelligible or repetitive. He says so himself! --
He sees the Biblical account of the Creation and other parts of the Bible the way a geographer sees a coordinate system.
"Confronted by the incompatible claims of Jerusalem and Athens, we are open to both and willing to listen to each. ”Strauss uses "Athens" for thought based on reason and "Jerusalem" for thought that takes direction from divine law.
He omits Rome, perhaps because he thought that Rome owed itself partly to Greece, partly to Jerusalem, and because Rome has been the talk rather exhaustively all along the last 2000 years.
"Yet since we say that we wish to hear first and then to act or to decide, we have already decided in favor of Athens against Jerusalem."
"This, indeed, seems to be the necessary position for all of us who cannot be Orthodox and therefore must accept the principle of the historical-critical study of the Bible." --
"Being a philosopher, that is, hating "the lie in the soul" more than anything else[.....],
Maybe "the lie in the soul" is not Strauss' own brilliant formula, but I am not sure it is taken from Plato.
"Man has to live with his knowledge of good and evil and with the sufferings inflicted on him because of that knowledge or its acquisition. Human goodness or badness presupposes that knowledge."
Leo Strauss: Thoughts on Machiavelli
Strauss on the moral problem in Machiavelli
"Perhaps it was the unresolved conflict between faith and skepticism which has prevented Western thought from ever coming to rest."
The idea of an "unresolved conflict" is based on a quote from J.W. Goethe who was himself an atheist: "Das eigentliche, einzige und tiefste Thema der Welt- und Menschengeschichte ..... bleibt der Konflikt des Unglaubens und Glaubens."
>>> translated: "The conflict between faith and skepticism is the real and deepest subject of human and world history."
"Besides, this conflict might explain a kind of thought which is philosophic indeed but no longer Greek -- modern philosophy."
"The indispensable condition of "scientific" analysis is then moral obtuseness. That obtuseness is not identical with depravity, but it is bound to strengthen the forces of depravity."This refers to some sciences that claim to be value-free or objective. Seeing that, how can anyone ever have thought that Strauss was a Machiavellian?
"............ one can safely trace such obtuseness to the absence of certain intellectual virtues."
"If we surrender to the drift of the sentence, ......"He used this same "drift" idea in his interpretation of The Fall in Genesis 3, where he concludes that there wasn't any rebellion against God's command concerning the forbidden tree. The two people simply "drifted" into "sin".
Strauss on Machiavelli's predecessor
"Machiavelli is the only thinker whose name commonly stands for politics guided by expediency.
Machiavelli made it publicly defensible."
"Machiavelli knew of his predecessors. One of them was Hobbes who thought that the doctrine of Socrates was a dream rather than a science. Hobbes meant to build on ground that was "admittedly lower, but more solid."Strauss repeats and quotes this "admittedly lower, but more solid" off and on in different contexts. He doesn't like the idea at all.
"For Hobbes, the moral law is part of the right of self-preservation, and so the fundamental moral fact is a right, not a duty."
"This new spirit became the spirit of the modern era, including our own age.3.2
This is why, in trying to understand modern philosophy, we come across Machiavelli."
Strauss's most celebrated line:
The problem inherent in the surface of things, and only in the surface of things, is the heart of things.
Of course you will ask what exactly this means. I don't think it can be stated even more exactly, though I know it takes time to sink in. I saw it first approximately in May 2013.
You will say that you do not "h a v e" this kind of time. Notice that this use of "have" is figurative.
Time depends on the agenda.
I have not yet seen why some accused him of supporting the notion that the many need to be told lies.
However, I did see that he is accused of having helped create the Spanish property bubble. :-)
Below: The US produces the real estate bubble guided by the philosophy of Leo Strauss.
Added November 12, 2013
It is necessary to suppose that those who said he was a Bush Iraq war monger had not themselves read any Strauss at all. This in turn would mean that the level of academic reliability in the US is very low.
However, there are lots of good reviews.
And of course there is the Stanford encyclopedia at http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/strauss-leo/