Volume 50, 2008
Social and Political Philosophy
Political (or) Philosophy? A Critical Account of Leo Strauss’s Response to the Crisis of Modernity
Leo Strauss has generally been regarded as an historian of ideas, albeit a very unusual one. He wrote many very momentous commentaries on the major figures in the history of political thought; yet Strauss’ main intellectual quest was to take himself back in the history, to classical antiquity and to the fountainhead of political philosophy, Plato. In this paper, however, I am mostly interested in the philosophical nature of Strauss’s basic dissatisfaction with modernity and with the adequacy of his criticisms. I shall focus attention on his well-known book On Tyranny, his claim that the politics in the modern age is inescapably defined by a tyrannical rule and his criticisms that the contemporary political science is unable to diagnose the symptoms of this present-day disease, and finally his attempt to revive political philosophy in its original sense. In addressing these issues, this paper raises a fundamental criticism: Strauss’s approach jeopardizes political philosophy-i.e. his very inquiry-by ultimately putting philosophy against politics, and politics against philosophy. I will begin with a few remarks about what Strauss understood as the problem of modernity. Then I will introduce the question of tyranny which stands as the key notion for grasping not only Strauss’s criticism of contemporary politics but also as the treatment for it. Finally, the discussion of On Tyranny, I hope, will shed light on Strauss’s conception of political philosophy and will open the stage for a critical discussion of his views.