Strauss, Leo

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Strauss, Leo

Leo Strauss, 1899–1973, American philosopher, b. Hesse, Germany. Strauss fled the Nazis and in 1938 came to the United States, where he taught at the New School in New York City (1938–48) and the Univ. of Chicago (1949–68). He is known for his often controversial interpretations of political philosophers, including Xenophon, Plato, Maimonides, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and the framers of America's Constitution. He also wrote an influential critique of modern political philosophy, i.e., philosophy since Machiavelli, arguing that it suffers from an inability to make value judgments about political regimes, even about obviously odious ones. As a model for how political philosophy should proceed, Strauss held up the work of the Ancients, i.e., Xenephon and Plato. He defended the antihistoricist position that it is possible for a person to grasp the thought of philosophers of different eras on their own terms, i.e., unencumbered by presuppositions inherent in his own historical context. An influential teacher and philosopher, Strauss has been seen by some as the philosophical father of modern political neoconservatism, a theory that has been widely repudiated. Strauss's works include Natural Right and History (1952), Thoughts on Machiavelli (1958), and The City and Man (1964).

See S. B. Drury, The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss (1987); S. B. Smith, Reading Leo Strauss: Politics, Philosophy, Judaism (2007); H. V. Jaffa et al., Crisis of the Strauss Divided: Essays on Leo Strauss and Straussianism, East and West (2012); L. Lampert, The Enduring Importance of Leo Strauss (2013).

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