Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Leo Strauss quoted on 3 of his Books


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." 
 "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. 
"Weltanschauung" is German for "world view"


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 you think he is 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, i.e. what is needed to begin to understand.

"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." -- 

Please notice that he says "seems" for he is not about to accept any such principle at all. He is  fighting against it.

"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 whether it is Plato´s.

"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." -- I think that is Strauss. --

Don't try to understand him by studying the "influences", his environment, his friends. Start by going with a question and then read and search via Google and patience how he deals with that particular question.
Added March 1.2017
"Plato's Lie In The Soul"
by Joshua J. Mark
I think that the examples given to explain the meaning of "the lie in the soul" are bad, but I have not given it time.  

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".

*** I only found out yesterday that this meaning of "drift" is not  Strauss's own ad hoc creation, but part of the English language.

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.
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 Strauss 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
Batnitzky, Leora, "Leo Strauss", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 



  1. What a photo! But it isn't arrogance. It is pride.

  2. The comment by "anonymous" refers to a photo of Obama that I have since taken out.