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Strauss, Leo

STRAUSS, LEO

STRAUSS, LEO (1899–1973), philosopher and political scientist. Born in Germany, Strauss began his association with the Academy of Jewish Research in Berlin in 1925, and ended it with Hitler's rise to power. On arriving in the U.S. he taught at the New School for Social Research, New York, from 1938 to 1949, and then joined the University of Chicago, where he was professor of political science until 1968.

Strauss's scholarship encompasses the tradition of Western political philosophy. Of particular interest is his work on the reception and adaptation of Greek philosophy by medieval Jewish and Muslim writers. He sees the most profound and intransigent confrontation as that between Athens and Jerusalem, between philosophic doubt and faith. In examining that conflict he studies ancient and modern texts with a presumption of their vitality, seriousness, and thoughtful composition. His wish to understand past authors as they understood themselves – explicit even in his earliest books, Die Religionskritik Spinozas (1930; Spinoza's Critique of Religion, 1965), and Philosophie und Gesetz (1935) – led him to investigate carefully those philosophers' manner of writing. Strauss revived the distinction (familiar from antiquity until the 19th century) between exoteric and esoteric speech – public orthodoxy, be it political or religious, and private heterodoxy. Through studies of Maimonides, Halevi, and Spinoza in Persecution and the Art of Writing (1952), he explicates the art of "writing between the lines" by illustrating the art of reading between the lines. In teaching and writing, Strauss has used these arts to restate for contemporaries the insights and relevance of classical political philosophy against prevailing modes of thought, and has attempted to state a systematic political philosophy in defense of classical natural law. In doing so he has rendered problematic much that was noncontroversial, because unexamined, in modern political science.

The range of Strauss's general and Jewish scholarship is shown in his On Tyranny (1948, 1963); Natural Right and History (1953); Thoughts on Machiavelli (1958); What Is Political Philosophy? (1959); his introduction to Pines' translation of Maimonides' Guide (1963); Liberalism: Ancient and Modern (1968). His writings are listed in J. Cropsey, Ancients and Moderns (1964), 317–22.

bibliography:

Momigliano, in: Rivista Storica Italiana, 79 (1967), 1164–72.

[Ralph Lerner]

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