The Spread of Leo Strauss's Thought and the Flowering of Classical Political Philosophy in Post-Socialist China

By Chen, Dandan | Intertexts, Spring-Fall 2015 | Go to article overview

The Spread of Leo Strauss's Thought and the Flowering of Classical Political Philosophy in Post-Socialist China


Chen, Dandan, Intertexts


Considered the most important theoretical source for the U.S. Neo-conservatism, Leo Strauss (1899-1973) was a political philosopher who received various treatments in the field of political science. The intellectual orientations of the Straussian school and dialogues between Leo Strauss and Carl Schmitt have aroused heated discussions. In a trans-linguistic context, debates about Strauss in Western scholarship have given rise to another intellectual trend, the so-called "Leo Strauss Fever," in post-Socialist China. I see this intellectual trend as part of a new cultural renaissance in twentieth-first century China that both responds to the spiritual dilemmas of the 1990s and launches a new intellectual enterprise--revisiting and combining Western and Chinese traditions to create a new type of Chinese learning.

This paper investigates how a group of Chinese scholars, perhaps best represented by Liu Xiaofeng and Gan Yang, take on the recalibration of Chinese and Western learning (especially classical political philosophy) by introducing Western political philosophy through the lens of Leo Strauss's thought. While searching for subjectivity in Chinese classicism, the Chinese Straussians also endeavor to establish a new ethicalpolitics based on energies that emerge from the combination of politics and ethics and from the rebirth of the spirit of Western and Chinese classics.

As I trace the efforts of these scholars, I will explore the following issues: How do they construct dialogue between the two traditions and what are major ideas with which they are concerned? How do they use one tradition to interpret the other? What new meanings do the Chinese and Western classics gain in post-socialist China, and do they gain or lose content in the process of translation? And finally, in what sense, does trans-linguistic hermeneutic practice reinterpret or even reinvent them? These questions will help us consider the fate of ancient classics in this post-revolutionary secular era.

Before discussing the Chinese reception of Straussian thought in the age of globalization, let me briefly summarize Leo Strauss's basic theoretical approaches and arguments and his position in the spectrum of contemporary political philosophy. A loyalist to the Classical tradition, Strauss criticizes a range of modern discourses and ideologies brought about by modernity; he is deeply skeptical of new disciplinary fracturing of intellectual work into discrete areas such as social science, modern philosophy, and modern science, which has destroyed the holistic spirit of classical political philosophy. (1) By reexamining the origins of modern political philosophy and remapping the development of natural right and natural law and the interaction between them, Strauss brings into sharp focus fundamental disagreements between the ancients and the moderns, and calls for the rebirth of the classical political philosophy. He differentiates true political philosophy from political science by claiming that the latter belongs to the field of science and is "frankly non-philosophic" (Strauss, "What Is Political Philosophy?" 14). He therefore argues, " 'scientific' political science is in fact incompatible with political philosophy" (14). He also insists that "political philosophy ought to be distinguished from political thought in general" (12) and emphasizes that the former is linked to a search for virtues, (2) and the most worthy way of life, as well as a commitment the good as the highest happiness. (3) Strauss thus criticizes both positivism and historicism because both try to exclude political and moral dimensions of life in society. (4) Although I cannot give a full account of Strauss's intellectual enterprise here, I would like to argue that there are three aspects that run through his writings: First is the return to the classical, meaning to look back to the questions and concerns of classical philosophy; the second is a search for the political, meaning an attempt to recover the original mission and power of a politics that can take root in political culture today; the third is an emphasis on the moral. …

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