Leo Strauss and the Recovery of the Theologico-Political Problem - Intercollegiate Studies Institute: Think. Live Free.

Leo Strauss and the Recovery of the Theologico-Political Problem

Scholarly and journalistic interest in Leo Strauss has increased
in recent years. But as the attention Strauss has garnered
reminds us, being a person of interest is at best a mixed blessing.
Much of this attention has flowed from the ill-informed and
incredible belief that Strauss is somehow responsible for masterminding
the Bush administration’s approach to foreign policy and
its use of military force in the Middle East. If it were not for the
dishonor these kinds of frenzied machinations heap upon Strauss’s
life and his own thought, such portrayals would be laughable.

Fortunately, the past several years have also witnessed the
publication of a number of serious books that seek to engage
Strauss critically as a thinker in his own right.1 Several of these
works, most notably Heinrich Meier’s Leo Strauss and the
Theologico-Political Problem and Daniel Tanguay’s detailed and
impressive Leo Strauss: An Intellectual Biography, provide the
important service of placing front and center what Strauss himself
thought to be at the center of his own thought: the question of God
and politics. Strauss repeatedly emphasized that “the question
quid sit deus” is “coeval with philosophy.”2 Paradoxically, Strauss
at the same time went out of his way to emphasize that the classical
political philosophers did “not frequently pronounce” this “allimportant
question.”3 Unlike their modern counterparts, the
classical political philosophers tended to approach the question
cautiously, raising it only indirectly through dialectical inquires
into the “roots” of the city’s alleged authoritative divine law.
Strauss, in other words, appreciated that the question quid sit
deus is as much a moral and political question as it is theological
or philosophical one. As he succinctly put it, “The fundamental
question, therefore, is whether men can acquire knowledge of the
good without which they cannot guide their lives individually or
collectively by the unaided effort of their natural powers, or
whether they are dependent for that knowledge on Divine Revelation.
No alternative is more fundamental than this: human
guidance or divine guidance.”4 It is not surprising then that
Strauss identified the theologico-political problem as the
overarching theme of his studies.5

Strauss did not formulate his understanding of the nature and
scope of the theologico-political problem all at once. Rather, it
took form gradually and was deepened by his sustained investigations
into the ways in which that problem was articulated and
debated by modern, medieval, and classical political philosophers.
Spinoza’s Critique of Religion (1930) contains Strauss’s
first sustained treatment of the theologico-political problem.
That work examined the role that Spinoza’s bold treatment of the
essential relation of philosophy, religion, and politics played in
modernity’s original argument in favor of liberal democracy.6
Looking back at his argument in that work some thirty-two years
later, Strauss concluded that he “understood Spinoza too literally
because I did not read him literally enough.”7 In part because
Strauss had yet to discover esoteric writing and thus to think
through the various implications of that “peculiar technique of
writing,”8 he had not broken free from the characteristically late
modern “premise, sanctioned by powerful prejudice, that a return
to premodern philosophy” or for that matter to traditional
biblical faith is impossible.9

The premise that ostensibly precluded any return to premodern
thought had its roots in and was “expressed . . . in its simplest and
strongest form, in Descartes’ resolve to doubt everything in order
to free himself once and for all from all prejudice.”10 Allegedly
“erected on foundations” that were “absolutely certain,” modern
rationalism asserted that it “no longer left any place for doubt.”11
It claimed to be able to liberate reason and mankind from the
realm of opinion and darkness that resulted from man’s prescientific
adherence to the moral and doctrinal tenets of biblical faith.12
Spinoza himself proclaimed in the preface to the Theologico
Political Treatise that his overarching aim in that work was to
overcome the “obstacle to others who would philosophize more
freely if this one thing did not stand in their way: they deem that
reason has to serve as handmaiden to theology.”13 Because it did
not dialectically question but rather radically doubted the claims
of common opinion, modern rationalism, in contrast to premodern
or Socratic philosophy, dared to conceive of “philosophy . . . as [a]
completed system.”14 According to its proponents, the possession
of such a system and the inevitability of consequent scientific
progress would show that modern rationalism, not the God of the
Bible, was the true benefactor of man.

From the beginning, Strauss understood modern rationalism
to be “caused, or at least facilitated, by anti-theological ire.”15 In
his view, modern philosophy was essentially Epicurean in its
intention. However whereas ancient Epicureanism sought to
liberate individual men of “good natures” from the tyranny of the
gods and religion, modern Epicureanism expressly sought to free
men and political societies from revealed religion and its fearful
and tyrannical invocation of what Hobbes rather bluntly called
“powers invisible.”16 Beginning with Machiavelli, early modern
philosophers labored to bring into existence a new form of
rationalism and republicanism. To this end, they advanced rationalistic
critiques of biblical faith and formulated arguments that
were designed to show that modern reason could provide the true
grounds of civil society. As Strauss pointed out, “political atheism
is a distinctively modern phenomenon.”17

But Strauss gradually came to see that the purported solution
that modern rationalism offered in place of “theology” was
equally opposed to the claims of Socratic philosophy. To begin
with, like biblical faith, Socratic philosophy emphasized the
indispensability and non-constructed nature of morality in general
and justice in particular. Moreover, each affirmed that
morality must be tethered to a transcendent order that supplements
and grounds morality. Lastly and most importantly for
Strauss, both the Bible and Socratic philosophy, in their own
ways, claim that man is incapable of comprehending the whole.
Modern rationalism’s attack on biblical faith was therefore equally
an attack on the foundations of Socratic philosophy.18 To the
extent that it was successful in discrediting the grounds of biblical
faith, it was also successful in discrediting the foundations—and
therewith the very possibility—of Socratic philosophy.

Strauss consequently began to see that the only way in which
an authentic “return” to orthodoxy, and by extension to Socratic
philosophy, could be justified was to show that, contrary to its
claims, modern philosophy had not proven that “the world and
human life are perfectly intelligible without the assumption of a
mysterious God.”19 At the very least, this argument required one
to show that modern rationalism and science were not in possession
of a complete and coherent philosophic system. Put somewhat
differently, Strauss recognized that a return to the shared
ground of either orthodoxy or Socratic philosophy was truly
impossible only if modern philosophy had in fact succeeded in its
effort to formulate “a philosophic system [in which] man has to
show himself theoretically and practically as the master of the
world and the master of life; the merely given world must be
replaced by the world created by man theoretically and practically.”
20 Absent a systematic—i.e., a complete rationalistic account
of the universe—modern rationalism’s alleged victory over
orthodoxy was unwarranted on its own terms.

Strauss understood Spinoza to be the modern philosopher
who made the grandest attempt to articulate a philosophical
system that would definitively disprove the notion of revelation
and therewith the existence of the biblical God. Yet his attempt to
formulate “a clear and distinct account of everything,” Strauss
concluded, ultimately rested on premises that remained “fundamentally
hypothetical.”21 The “cognitive status” of the philosophic
system he constructed remained in the decisive respect no
different from the theoretical grounds of the orthodox position it
originally set out to overcome. Strauss understood each to be
grounded in “an act of the will.”22 Despite its efforts first to argue
and later to “mock” orthodoxy out of existence, modern rationalism
and modern science could not “legitimately deny the possibility
of revelation.”23 Strauss concluded from this that the modern
“antagonism” between Spinoza and Judaism, “between unbelief
and belief, is ultimately not theoretical but moral.”24

At the same time, Strauss also recognized that modern
rationalism “still had a highly consequential and positive result.”25
“The quarrel between Enlightenment and Orthodoxy made clearer
and better known that the presuppositions of Orthodoxy (the
reality of Creation, Miracles, and Revelation) are not known
(philosophically or historically) but are only believed and thus
lack the peculiarly obligatory character of the known.”26

Having shed light on the basic presuppositions of the life of
biblical faith, modern rationalism’s polemical attack and attempted
refutation of orthodoxy eventually paved the way—
through the progressive radicalization of the modern desire for
certainty in philosophers like Kant and Hegel—for the emergence
of what Strauss calls “the atheism from intellectual probity.”27
This form of atheism represented the ultimate consequence of
modern rationalism’s critique of revealed religion and biblical
faith. Unlike the early modern critique, it did not attempt polemically
to disprove the possibility of divine revelation.28 Rather, on
the grounds of “intellectual honesty,” it limited itself to assuming
that the proof of such things as miracles and God’s revelation
finally could not be scientifically established according to criteria
that would be acceptable to the “positive mind.”

Strauss, however, also rejected the argument from intellectual
probity. It represented neither the vindication of modern
rationalism nor that of Jewish orthodoxy, since it reduced the
cognitive grounds of every revealed religion indeed every particular
claim to truth finally to a matter of willful belief. That
reduction not only relativizes the claims made by any form of
orthodoxy but in grounding all claims to truth in the act of
“probity” or intellectual honesty it also finally proves “fatal to any
philosophy.”29 Strauss argued that when the founding premises of
modern rationalism were followed to their logical conclusions—
as they ultimately were in Nietzsche’s intransigent insistence on
the requirements of “probity” and his teaching on the “will to
power”—they resulted in the self-destruction of reason. Strauss’s
studies in the early modern attempts to resolve the theologicopolitical
problem led him to conclude that “‘irrationalism’ is only
a variety of modern rationalism.”30 In its dogged pursuit of
absolute certainty and ruthless efforts to overcome the very
grounds of biblical faith, modern rationalism sowed the theoretical
seeds for the self-destruction of reason and the eventual
emergence of radical historicism or nihilism. Put somewhat
differently, Strauss concluded that modern rationalism—and not
rationalism or Socratic philosophy per se—provided the moral
and intellectual foundations of the present-day “crisis of the
West.”

Strauss’s study of the early modern political philosophers led
him to discover that the modern Enlightenment had been preceded
by a medieval Enlightenment, what he in Philosophy and
Law provisionally called the “Enlightenment of Maimonides.”31
Unlike its modern counterpart, that Enlightenment was not
rooted in a fatally exaggerated conception of the limitless powers
of reason. Nor did it believe in the inevitability of moral, political,
and scientific progress. And yet it was simultaneously more daring
in its thought and more sober in its expectations than the modern
Enlightenment. Medieval rationalism neither dogmatically truncated
the scope of philosophic inquiry nor imprudently lost sight
of the fact that philosophy necessarily poses a “grave danger” to
the political order.32 Resting on “classical (Aristotelian and Platonic)
foundations,”33 it did not seek to re-create the whole of
social and political life along the lines of philosophic knowledge.
Over and against the modern Enlightenment’s insistence on the
public dissemination of knowledge, it emphasized the “duty to
keep rationally recognized truths secret from the unchosen many.”34

Contrary to many of his contemporaries who interpreted
medieval thought to be chiefly concerned with reconciling biblical
revelation with the now allegedly discredited natural science and
cosmology of Aristotle, Strauss recognized that that conventional
approach wittingly or unwittingly preceded from the prior assumption
that philosophy was a legitimate activity for the man of
biblical faith. Taking the thought of medieval Islamic and Jewish
thinkers on its own terms, he questioned the validity of that
assumption. Strauss thus viewed the subject of divine Law—a
revealed law that spoke directly to all aspects of man’s religious,
moral, and political life—to provide the necessary point of
departure for medieval rationalism.

Through its emphasis on the centrality of Law, medieval
rationalism represented “the first, and certainly the first adequate,
discussion . . . between the way of life based on faith and
obedience and a way of life based on free insight, on human
wisdom, alone.”35 Most immediately, that discussion required
philosophy to justify itself before the tribunal of an allencompassing,
perfect Law. Whereas modern rationalism took
the legitimacy, indeed the practical necessity, of philosophy for
granted, medieval Islamic and Jewish thinkers recognized that
faced with an authoritative divine Law philosophy necessarily had
to justify its own legitimacy.36 Medieval Jewish thinkers such as
Maimonides and Halevi—to say nothing of Islamic thinkers like
Al-farabi, Avicenna, and Averroes—”took it for granted being a
Jew and being a philosopher are mutually exclusive.”37 For this
reason, Strauss understood the “issue of traditional Judaism
versus philosophy [to be] identical with the issue of Jerusalem and
Athens.”38

Medieval Islam and Judaism typically viewed philosophy
differently than Christianity traditionally did. Religion for the
Christian, unlike the Jew or Muslim, is primarily “a faith formulated
in dogmas.”39 Given the nature of Christian revelation, the
religion eventually came to see philosophy as a legitimate science
that could be used to clarify and defend the revealed teachings of
the faith. The Jew and the Muslim, on the other hand, principally
encountered revelation and hence religion as a matter of Law,
that is, as a divinely revealed “code” that regulated all aspects of
human life, individually and collectively. The divine Law was
distinguished from human laws inasmuch as it aimed not merely
at the well-being of the body but “above all at the well-being of the
soul.”40 There was or appeared to be no need for philosophy in this
scheme and many saw it as unjustified in that light.

The precarious state of philosophy in Islam and Judaism,
however, was not altogether detrimental to philosophy, according
to Strauss. Christianity traditionally cast philosophy in the role of
theology’s handmaiden. Such an official arrangement required
philosophy to be under the watchful eye of ecclesial supervision.
Conversely, the suspicion with which philosophy was viewed in
medieval Islam and Judaism guaranteed it a greater degree of
“inner freedom.” Philosophy’s status “in the Islamic-Jewish world”
therefore resembled “its status in classical Greece.”41 For in
Strauss’s view, the “guiding idea upon which the Greeks and the
Jews agree is precisely the idea of the divine law as a single and
total law which is at the same time religious law, civil law, and
moral law.”42 Strauss in fact suggests that it finally was the
appearance of the “New Testament” that “brought about the
break with ancient thought” on this matter.43

The central role of Law in Judaism and Islam brought into
sharper focus for Strauss the importance of medieval rationalism’s
subtle treatment of prophecy. The philosophical understanding
of Law meant that the Jew or the Muslim necessarily had to
elucidate the nature of “prophecy out of the nature of man.”44
Practitioners of medieval rationalism such as Al-farabi, Avicenna,
Averroes, and Maimonides typically interpreted the prophet as a
man who was “perfect in philosophy” but who surpassed the man
who was merely a philosopher in the perfection of his imaginative
faculty.45 The true or perfect prophet is the “founder of the
perfect political community.”46 Prophecy and Law were here
viewed as emphatically political subjects, as themes that were
treated by these “philosophers” as a part of political science.47 But
Strauss came to see that medieval Islamic and Jewish thinkers
characteristically cast their treatment of Law and prophecy in a
decisively more Platonic than Aristotelian light. By so doing,
these thinkers reflected an awareness of the precarious position
that the philosopher necessarily occupies in a political community.48 Their situation was analogous to Socrates’ in Athens.49
Illustrative of this fact, as Strauss repeatedly emphasized—most
notably in the epigraph to his The Argument and Action of Plato’s
Laws, was Avicenna’s observation that “the treatment of prophecy
and the Divine law is contained in . . . the Laws.”50

Indeed, Plato’s Laws develops a line of inquiry that has no
exact parallel in Aristotle’s works. In that dialogue, Plato has the
Athenian stranger dialectically investigate the origins of human
and divine law as well as the origins of the revelation or prophecy
by which these laws are communicated to men. Strauss accordingly
understood the Laws to be Plato’s most pious and political
work.51 He also emphasized the intimate connection between the
Laws and the Apology: the former is the only Platonic work that
begins with the word “god,” the latter is the only dialogue that ends
with that word. Strauss saw thematic significance in this apparent
unremarkable fact. Indeed, he took it to help one understand why
“in the Laws the Athenian stranger devises a law against impiety
which would have been more favorable to Socrates than the
corresponding Athenian law.”52

Strauss did not think that the Platonizing approach that
medieval Jewish and Islamic thinkers took to the question of the
relation of religion, philosophy, and morality simply represented
a mere appeal to Platonic political philosophy to supply what was
outwardly lacking in Aristotle’s political works. Rather, it signified
their awareness of the inherent tension between the moral and
theoretical claims of philosophy and those of the Law as well as
their recognition of the dangers that threaten the philosopher
within a community ruled by divine Law. Simply put, the Platonic
character of medieval rationalism finally explained why a thinker
like Al-farabi chose to present “the whole of philosophy within a
political framework, or why his most comprehensive writings are
‘political books.'”53 By presenting their teaching on the nature and
way to human happiness “politically,” men like Al-farabi or
Maimonides neither unnecessarily disturbed the settled opinions
of their respective religious and political communities nor unnecessarily
drew unwanted attention to themselves.

Within medieval Islamic and Jewish thought, the prophetfounder-
legislator was seen as a man skilled in philosophy and the
royal art.54 Given his political role, the prophet had to speak in a
way that was less exact than the speech employed by the man who
was simply a philosopher. To this end, he invoked images and
locutions when speaking about God that were intended to sway
the souls of the nonphilosophic citizenry to uphold the moral,
religious, and political demands of the Law. Such a legal form of
persuasion was used in the first place to moderate and educate
citizens’ passions and thereby to secure the grounds of moral and
political life.55 At the same time, the Law did more than secure the
necessary conditions of the social order; it also sought to protect
and to educate the potential philosophers living within the religious
community. According to Al-farabi and Maimonides, the Law
spoke differently to different men. To the vast majority of men, the
Law promulgated a morally and politically useful code of conduct
that should serve as the basis of any decent human society. But to
a select few, it articulated the requisite moral claims that the
philosopher must adhere to within a religious society which, if left
on its own, was naturally hostile to philosophy.56

The practitioners of Islamic and Jewish rationalism thus
rightly recognized that philosophy presupposes social life. Moreover,
this realization led them to seek to have a humanizing effect
on social and political life by shedding light on and expanding the
political community’s imperfect understanding of the demands of
justice and morality. Yet, in different ways, they also subtly
pointed out that “the philosopher has no attachment to society:
his soul is elsewhere.”57 His ultimate attachment is to an activity
that is “essentially private and trans-political: philosophy.”58
Accordingly, the rules that govern his conduct do not extend past
“the minimum moral requirements of living together.”59

Strauss jarringly concluded that in its rawest form medieval
rationalism held that the philosophers live as it were on the fringes
of the religious community, viewing morality and moral virtue not
as ends in themselves, but simply as “means to an end, the ultimate
end being contemplation.”60 For thinkers like Maimonides, “moThe
Recovery of the Theologico-Political Problem 57
rality, as distinguished from the divine law, is not of capital
importance.”61 The philosopher and the adherent to the Law agreed
on the indispensability of morality within human social and political
life, but they did so for fundamentally different reasons. Al-farabi,
Maimonides and the philosopher in the Kuzari, ultimately viewed
morality as instrumental to the transpolitical ends of philosophy.
Conversely, the adherent to the Law has “a passionate interest in
genuine morality.”62 Viewed from this perspective, the “moral man
as such” is seen to be “the potential believer.”63

As Strauss understood it, medieval Jewish and Islamic philosophers
had internalized Plato’s lesson about the need for
philosophy to combine “the way of Socrates with the way of
Thrasymachus.” Esoteric writing provided just such a way. It
allowed an author to engage in the kind of intransigent questioning
that is appropriate when addressing other philosophers. At the
same time, it communicated in a manner that was “more and less
exacting than the former,” and therefore appropriate for the
philosopher’s “dealings with the vulgar.”64 By speaking in this way,
the philosopher could show the requisite care for both the
political community and the community or sect of actual or
potential philosophers.

The practitioners of medieval rationalism therefore in the
decisive respect did not—nor did they claim to—solve the
theologico-political problem. On the contrary, Strauss believed
that they showed how one could live a life of Socratic inquiry
within a political community that took its bearings from an
allegedly all-encompassing Divine Law. Strauss undoubtedly
appreciated their salutary if cautious respect for the moral and
religious teachings that form the indispensable foundations of any
decent political society. At the same time, Strauss admired their
unflinching Platonic affirmation of the ultimate superiority of the
“life of contemplation” to the life of religious faith and moral
virtue.65 For both these reasons, the medieval Enlightenment of
Islamic and Jewish rationalism stood in sharp contrast to the
modern Enlightenment.66

But what is it about the life of Socratic inquiry that puts it so
at odds with the demands of both the life of faith and the life of
moral and political virtue, according to Strauss? According to a
tradition dating back to Cicero, Socrates is said to have been the
first person to call philosophy down from heaven and force it to
make investigations into the human things. By so doing, he
became the founder of political philosophy.67 But as Strauss
periodically observes, Xenophon and Plato, not to mention
Aristophanes, hint that Socrates was not always a political philosopher.
Prior to his “second sailing,” Socrates, like all the early
philosophers, initially was preoccupied with the divine and heavenly
things, a preoccupation that, according to Xenophon and
Plato, Socrates never simply abandoned.68 Socrates’ turn to the
human things marked a new way of studying the whole.

In contrast to what can paradoxically be called his earlier, pre-
Socratic approach, his new method of philosophizing attempted
to discover “what each of the beings is.”69 It appreciated that “to
be” means to be “something” and that most fundamentally this
means to be different from “something else.” Socrates accordingly
began to inquire into the various heterogeneous parts of the
whole. This “new approach to the understanding of all things,”
according to Strauss, had the two-fold benefit of not reducing the
human things to the divine things as well as hopefully uncovering
the unity “that is revealed in the manifest articulation of the
completed whole.”70 The change in orientation can be seen most
clearly in what Socrates now took as his point of departure.
Whereas pre-Socratic philosophers routinely began by investigating
what is first in itself, Socrates’ turn to the human things
marked philosophy’s move away from the world of theoretical
abstractions and its return to the world of common sense.

In keeping with his return to the common-sense perspective,
Socrates now began by examining the most reasonable, authoritative
opinions about the most important things. The diversity of
opinions gives rise to the recognition that one has to sift through
the variety of opinions in the hope that this will unearth the truth.
One becomes aware of the need to engage in “dialectics” or the
“art . . . of friendly dispute.” For opinions about things are only
partially true; they contain only “fragments of the truth.” Yet
precisely because the opinions are partly true, they must be taken
seriously. As Strauss repeatedly emphasizes, Socrates recognized
that the absence of the whole truth need not occasion universal
doubt, as the proponents of modern skepticism wrongly believed,
but rather points to the need for the dialectical ascent from
opinion to truth. Socratic dialectics accordingly is characterized
by the effort to transcend the combination of truth and falsehood
that is emblematic of opinion.

Socratic dialectics brought to light the actual grounds of
classical political philosophy’s teaching on natural right. It was
the original form of theologico-political investigation. Prior to the
discovery of natural right, “prephilosophic life is characterized by
the primeval identification of the good with the ancestral.”71 The
identification of the good with the ancestral is based on the view
that “the right way was established by gods or sons of gods or
pupils of gods: the right way must be a divine law.”72

In his effort to inquire into the moral and political claims of
the city’s divine law and to counter the powerful arguments
leveled against the citizen’s view of morality by classical hedonism,
Socrates became a phenomenologist of the human soul.
Socrates’ dialectical examination of the soul aimed to reveal its
inherent natural desires or essential “wants.” These “wants” do
not represent a mere collection of indistinguishable urges or
impulses. Rather they possess a “natural order” that reflects the
hierarchical “natural constitution” of the soul. As regards human
beings, their natural constitution finds its distinctiveness in the
ability to speak and reason.

Socrates understood that to live well, to live in accordance
with their nature, human beings have to live within society. For
“man is by nature a social being.”73 Human rationality, the ability
to speak and to communicate with others, makes human beings
social in the most radical way imaginable. Every human act, every
act involving reason and speech, is directed toward another and
is therefore in some sense a social act. Following this line of
thought, Strauss goes so far as to say that “humanity itself is
sociality” and observes that human sociality has natural goods
attached to it such as “love, affection, friendship, and pity.”74
Socratic philosophy accordingly discovers that it is sociality, a
characteristic shared by human beings as human beings, which
supplies the basis for natural right “in the narrow or strict sense
of right.”75 This means that the rules that govern human social
relations at the very least must recognize that human beings are
not free to act in any way they see fit. While human reason
obviously allows for an elevated, increased form of freedom, it is
also “accompanied by a sacred awe, by a kind of divination that not
everything is permitted.”76 In the final analysis, nature imposes
discernable limits on man’s freedom that make life in society both
possible and elevated.

Socratic political philosophy consequently recognizes the
need for political rulers who are entrusted with a “serious concern
for the perfection of the community.”77 Such human beings
possess a greater degree of virtue than ordinary citizens and are
motivated by a deep appreciation of the demands of justice and
nobility. They are the guardians and the caretakers of the body
politic. Unlike modern social science, Socratic philosophy squarely
opposes “crypto-materialistic” accounts of statesmanship which
seek to explain political action on merely “hedonistic or utilitarian
grounds.” The actions of the true statesman are guided by a
genuine concern for the common good and cannot be reduced to
the mere calculation of self-interest. Viewed on its own terms,
political life seems to culminate in the observation that “the full
actualization of humanity would then seem to consist, not in some
sort of passive membership in civil society, but in the properly
directed activity of the statesman, the legislator, or the founder.”78

But as Strauss repeatedly emphasizes, Socrates ultimately did
not limit his analysis of human excellence simply to the moral and
political horizon. In so doing, Socrates subtly but radically
changed the terms on which the life of virtue was based and thus
raised formidable questions about the adequacy of the religious,
moral, and political horizon tout court. Socrates ultimately judged
the right ordering of the soul not on the basis of justice and
nobility but on the grounds of man’s perfection as a rational being.
As a result of this shift of emphasis, Socratic political philosophy
eventually replaces the prudent statesman with the wise philosopher
as the highest human type.

As Socrates made clear in the Republic, the question of who
should rule is to some extent identical to the question of the best
regime. That question necessarily requires one to recognize that
individual human beings have different natural capacities, most
notably and decisively in their capacity to reason. Only a few rare
souls are blessed with a first-rate intellect and the means to cultivate
it. Justice—and nature itself—would seem to demand that those
who are superior in wisdom rule those who are inferior in wisdom.
As a specialist in the soul, the philosopher knows best what is
needed for the perfection of each human being and therefore can
best judge what is due to each human being. As Plato’s Socrates
strikingly argues in the Republic, the regime according to nature,
the best regime, would require the rule of the wise.

Yet as Strauss further points out, although the rule of the wise
is theoretically the best of regimes, it is a practical impossibility.
As Strauss forcefully puts it,

The wise do not desire to rule; they must be compelled because
their whole life is devoted to the pursuit of something which is
absolutely higher in dignity than any human thing—the unchangeable
truth. . . . If striving for knowledge of the eternal
truth is the ultimate end of man, justice and moral virtue in
general can be fully legitimated only by the fact that they are
required for the sake of that ultimate end or that they are
conditions of the philosophic life. From this point of view the
man who is merely just or moral without being a philosopher
appears as a mutilated human being. It thus becomes a question
. . . whether what Aristotle calls moral virtue is not, in fact, vulgar
virtue . . . whether by transforming opinion about morality into
knowledge of morality, one does not transcend the dimension of
morality in the politically relevant sense of the term.79

The Socratic philosopher radically transcends the moral and
political opinions of the city and thus “the dimension of divine
codes altogether.”80 By appealing to and taking its bearings from
an essentially transpolitical good, the Socratic way of life reveals
the incompleteness of the moral-political horizon. More pointedly,
it argues that that horizon is incoherent; it falsely believes
that the just and noble things are desirable for their own sake.
Socratic philosophy, on the other hand, affirms that the moral life
is only capable of being rendered coherent when it is seen as being
ordered to and in the service of the transcendent ends of philosophy.
In contrast to the moral-political—not to mention religious—
horizon, the free life of Socratic inquiry “is not only
necessary but sufficient for producing happiness: philosophy
does not need to be supplemented by something else, or by
something that is thought to be higher in rank than philosophy, in
order to produce happiness.”81

The dual senses in which morality can be viewed are reflected
in Strauss’s two related yet distinct descriptions of political
philosophy. One takes politics as its subject and offers a philosophic
reflection on political life.82 Political philosophy in this
sense remains in genuine dialogue with civil society and attempts
to moderate it by informing human action with human wisdom. It
distinguishes between good and bad actions and articulates the
various virtues and vices as well as the political facts that are
constitutive of political life. Political philosophy here is marked
by Aristotelian sobriety and as a result discusses political life “on
its own terms . . . refus[ing] to be drawn into the dialectical
whirlpool that carries us far beyond justice in the ordinary sense
of the term toward the philosophic life.”83 In this presentation, the
political philosopher is the “umpire” who humanizes the political
order by mediating between the various political parties and
goods that inevitably come into conflict in political life.84

But Strauss also describes political philosophy as primarily
being a politic presentation of philosophy. Political philosophy
thus understood retains a greater distance from actual political
life. The political philosopher is still concerned with the human
things, but no longer as the umpire much less artisan of the
political community. His studies of the distinctively human things
are instrumental to his supra-political concerns. Political philosophy
here represents the politically responsible presentation of
philosophy “as quest for wisdom . . . the attempt to replace
opinions about the whole by knowledge of the whole.”85 The
political philosopher turns to the city’s authoritative opinions
because they provide him with the greatest access to the divine or
the eternal things, to the nature of the whole. The particularities
that come to light in political life serve as a means of access to the
universals. On the other hand, the turn to the human things allows
the political philosopher to point out the tensions inherent in the
moral-political horizon and thus to alert others with “good
natures” of the ultimate superiority of the philosophic life. In this
sense, a work of political philosophy is a “speech caused by love”
intended to benefit the “puppies” of the philosophic race.86

It is undoubtedly tempting to view these different descriptions
as finally offering two opposing accounts of political philosophy.
But if we look at what Strauss does and not merely at
what he says, one can argue that the relation between political
philosophy and political philosophy is more dialectical than would
appear at first glance. Strauss noted that Machiavelli’s explicit
teaching finally could not account for the public spiritedness that
animated Machiavelli as a political philosopher.87 A similar claim
can be made about Strauss. For while he published many works
that seem to have little connection to any immediately recognizable
political concern, Strauss also wrote many things whose
concern with moral and political matters cannot simply be
reduced to mere veiled pleas for the superiority of the philosophic
life. For Strauss, then, political philosophy arguably means
something more than either the philosophic reflection on politics
or the politic presentation of philosophy.88 In his practice,
political philosophy combined both of these elements in a way
whose theoretical coherence somehow denies any straightforward
presentation.89

Strauss’s most extended and comprehensive treatment of the
“conflict between” biblical faith and Socratic philosophy occurs
in his three-part essay “Progress or Return?”90 According to
Strauss, that conflict revolves around the question of what way of
life is most natural to man, about what way of life is best able to
bring about genuine human happiness or wholeness. Because it is
based on ultimately irreconcilable principles, it is therefore a
“necessary conflict.” It is a conflict between the two great
“alternatives” for the human soul over the true grounds of “the
right way of life” for human beings.91

The antagonism between the biblical and the Socratic way of
life does not rule out a prior “implicit” agreement, an important
agreement that unites both parties in their “opposition” to the
reductionist “elements of modernity.”92 The Bible and Socratic
philosophy agree “regarding the importance of morality, regarding
the content of morality, and regarding its ultimate insufficiency.”
93 The antagonism between the two has to do with the “X”
that each sees as completing and grounding morality. Socratic
philosophy views “autonomous understanding” as this “X,” whereas
the Bible claims that morality is supplemented by man’s “obedient
love” of God. Confronted with the mystery of the whole, the
Socratic life begins in wonder. In a state “above fear and trembling
as well as above hope,” the Socratic philosopher seeks to come to
know the whole through his own efforts.94 On the other hand, the
biblical way of life begins in the fear of the Lord. The man of
biblical faith lives in a state of “fear and trembling as well as in
hope” and therefore rejects the proud and vain notion that man
can know the whole or can find adequate guidance apart from
God’s revelation.95

Strauss repeatedly emphasizes that the God of the Bible is not
like the gods of ancient Greece. Contrary to the gods of Greek
poetry, the Biblical God is a personal God who creates the world
and exercises providence over His creation. Moreover, unlike the
impersonal necessity recognized by classical philosophy, the God
of the bible has an absolute concern with man.96 The “one
particular divine law” revealed by this God is believed to be the
only divine Law precisely because, in contrast to the gods of the
poets, the biblical God is said to be “omnipotent, not controlled
and not controllable.”97 The implication of this omnipotence,
according to Strauss, is that the “absolutely free” God of the Bible
is unknowable apart from His act of self-revelation.98 Inasmuch
as the biblical God and the way of life that He ordains for man
represents “the one thing needful,” the life of biblical faith
overcomes the problem posed by an absolutely free, omnipotent,
personal God through the establishment of the covenant. The
biblical notion of the covenant, established by God and resting on
man’s faith in His promise, responds directly to the problem of the
one true God singling out “one particular, and therefore contingent,
law of one particular, contingent tribe.”99

The inscrutability and omnipotence of the biblical God means
that man is in the end totally dependent on divine revelation for
knowledge of the one thing needful. In Strauss’s reading, the
author of Genesis insists that man is not created to be a theoretical
or contemplative being; in fact, it forbids his efforts at “free
inquiry.” For Strauss, this fact is “fundamental” to the life of
biblical faith, in both its Jewish and Christian presentations.100
Man is meant to live righteously in loving childlike obedience to
God. Only if it begins in God’s revelation and is dedicated to His
service is the pursuit of knowledge “necessary” and thus “good.”
Without that dedication, the pursuit of theoretical knowledge
represents a “rebellion,” a proud calling into question of the

authority and completeness of God’s revelation. “Man was given
understanding in order to understand God’s commands.”101 Understanding
is thus not something man can or should arrive at on
his own. Nor is it something pursued for its own sake. On the
contrary, God gives man understanding so that he can be freely
obedient to God’s revealed commands.

The Socratic way of life, in turn, is animated by an erotic
desire for knowledge about the whole.102 Incapable of coming into
possession of complete wisdom, Socratic philosophy remains
aware “that the problems are always more evident than the
solutions.”103 Lacking complete knowledge of the whole, man
necessarily remains ignorant of the most important things and
thus lacks definitive knowledge of how he should live. Faced with
such ignorance, the life of philosophic inquiry is a reasonable and
justifiable response. Through such investigations, the Socratic
philosopher attempts to gain some, albeit partial and therefore
incomplete, knowledge of the whole and therewith knowledge
about the right way of life. The elusive character of the whole,
according to Strauss, provides the first—indeed the final—
justification of the philosophic way of life.

But what is the Socratic philosopher’s response when confronted
with the Bible’s claim to the authoritative and comprehensive
account of the whole? Despite his many remarks about
the distinctive challenge Biblical revelation poses to philosophy,
Strauss nonetheless thinks that the philosopher’s response is
essentially the same as the one that Socrates gave to Athens’ theos
nomos. The difference between the gods of the poets and the God
of the bible—a difference that Strauss often outwardly stressed
and clarified—is finally a difference of degree, not kind.104
Confronted with an allegedly authoritative divine revelation, the
Socratic philosopher can say that revelation is “nothing but a
factum brutum, and in addition an uncertain one.”105 The Socratic
philosopher necessarily “suspends judgment.”106 He is and always
remains a philosophic agnostic.

The philosopher that Strauss describes is not primarily concerned
with the content of any particular divine revelation. To
him the substantial differences between the various revealed
religions are finally of secondary importance. What ultimately
matters is that they all have their “roots” in man’s obedience to
divine Law. Biblical revelation in general and Christian revelation
in particular does not, in other words, change or alter
Socratic philosophy’s original formulation of the theologicopolitical
problem. This helps explain why Strauss pays so little
attention to Christianity’s claim about the integrity and intelligibility
of the created natural order or why, despite his admittance
of the fact, he does not emphasize Christianity’s teaching on the
transpolitical end of man. Rather, what is essential for Strauss is
the phenomenon of divine revelation. According to Strauss,
revelation remains an unproven “possibility,” a hypothetical
whose cognitive status Plato satisfactorily showed, before the
emergence of biblical revelation, was ultimately rooted in belief
and in certain of the soul’s longings. Implicit in Strauss’s position
is the breathtaking claim that Socratic philosophy, or at least
Plato’s presentation of it, revealed all of the possibilities that are
open to man within the natural world.107 Socratic philosophy is
not able to refute the possibility of revelation but it is able to show
that the arguments in favor of divine revelation are circular and
not rationally compelling since they are grounded in faith.

Strauss occasionally suggests that Socratic philosophy’s inability
to disprove the very possibility of revelation means that
philosophy would seem to be “based on faith.”108 Such claims
could suggest that Strauss finally accepted the partially Nietzschean
inspired argument for atheism from intellectual probity. But that
conclusion would be incorrect. Strauss’s statements about philosophy
resting on an “unevident, arbitrary, or blind decision” all
occur when he addresses the relation of reason and revelation
from the perspective of contemporary social science or philosophy.
109 Within the framework of “present-day philosophizing,”
every choice is viewed as a commitment, as a groundless act of
will. That framework reductively views biblical faith and philosophy
only formally, as two equally arbitrary and thus equally
defensible (or indefensible) sets of propositions.

Conversely, Socratic philosophy proceeds from the recognition
that the right way of life cannot be positively established, that
is, irrefutably demonstrated, apart from the possession of a
demonstrable metaphysics that renders the whole fully intelligible.
Absent that completed metaphysics, which for Strauss is
not possessed by either modern philosophy or biblical revelation,
“the quest for knowledge of the most import things” is seen to be
the “most important thing for us.”110 Socratic or zetetic philosophy
is therefore presently possible even though modern science
has seemed to discredit the various ancient cosmologies including
Aristotle’s. In short, given the permanently elusive character
of the whole, philosophy is “evidently the right way of life.”111 A
final justification of the philosophic life that Strauss cited was
Socrates’ consistent claim that he found “his happiness in acquiring
the highest possible degree of clarity which he can acquire.”112
The Socratic way of life is the most natural life for man since it,
Strauss maintains, best satisfies man’s natural, that is, erotic
desire for happiness.113

Strauss’s account of the lives of Biblical faith and Socratic
philosophy is in many respects similar to the views he attributed
to medieval Islamic and Jewish philosophers like Al-farabi and
Maimonides. Like them, Strauss affirms that political life necessarily
relies upon a religiously based morality that the Platonic
philosopher must outwardly respect and seek to humanize. What
is more, he also affirms a deep and ultimately unbridgeable chasm
to exist between the biblical and the Socratic ways of life. Lastly,
Strauss also finally privileges the life of unfettered Socratic
inquiry to the life of lawful obedience to a personal God.

At the same time, one cannot help but notice that Strauss
chooses to make explicit what Al-farabi and Maimonides chose to
veil, namely, the “fundamental tension” between the lives of faith
and philosophy. In the concluding paragraph of “Progress or
Return?” Strauss explicitly gives one reason as to why he would
do this. By bringing to the fore the conflict between biblical faith
and philosophy, Strauss claims to expose the enduring “vitality of
Western civilization.” While initially disconcerting, the recognition
of the conflict between the two “roots” of Western civilization
is also “reassuring and comforting.” For that recognition
carries with it the further realization that there is no inherent
reason why Western civilization should give up on itself. The
exposure of the conflict that forms the nerve of the West is thus
in some sense a high-minded political act, a prudent calling of
attention to the fact that Western civilization has within itself the
means to overcome late modernity’s disenchantment with the
world.

Strauss also intimates that by exposing this conflict one
glimpses the nerve of “Western intellectual history, Western
spirituality.” That exposure paves the way for late modern human
beings to transcend the intellectual and spiritual limitations of
their age. It also allows them to see that philosophy, in its original
Socratic sense, remains possible. At the least, by making the
conflict that lies at the heart of the theologico-political problem
explicit, Strauss contributes to a recovery of what he elsewhere
described as “a nonhistoricist understanding of nonhistoricist
philosophy.”114

Marc D. Guerra
Ave Maria University

NOTES

  1. See, for example, Thomas L. Pangle, Leo Strauss: An
    Introduction to His Thought and Intellectual Legacy (Baltimore,
    MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006); Catherine H. Zuckert
    and Michael Zuckert, The Truth about Leo Strauss: Political
    Philosophy and American Democracy (Chicago: University of
    Chicago Press, 2006); Stephen B. Smith, Reading Leo Strauss:
    Politics, Philosophy, and Judaism (Chicago, University of Chicago
    Press, 2006); Heinrich Meier, Leo Strauss and the Theologico-
    Political Problem (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006);
    Daniel Tanguay, Leo Strauss: An Intellectual Biography, trans.
    Christopher Nadon (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).
  2. Leo Strauss, The City and Man (Chicago: University of
    Chicago Press, 1964), 241.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago: University
    of Chicago Press, 1953), 74.
  5. Leo Strauss, “Preface to Hobbes Politische Wissenschaft” in
    Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy 8 (January), 3.
  6. Leo Strauss, Spinoza’s Critique of Religion (Chicago: University
    of Chicago Press, 1997). Strauss states in the “Preface to
    the English Translation” to this book that his work was written by
    “a young Jew born and raised in Germany who found himself in the
    grip of the theologico-political predicament” (1).
  7. Leo Strauss, “Preface to the English Translation,” Spinoza’s
    Critique of Religion (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997),
    31.
  8. Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing, (Chicago:
    University of Chicago Press, 1988), 24.
  9. Strauss, “Preface to the English Translation,” 31.
  10. Strauss, Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, 181.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid., 172–82.
  13. Benedict Spinoza, The Theologico-Political Treatise, trans.
    Martin D. Yaffe (Newburyport, MA: Focus Publishing, 2004),
    xxiii.
  14. Ibid. See also Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, 178–82;
    Natural Right and History, 198; Leo Strauss Philosophy and Law,
    trans. Fred Baumann (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society,
    1987),113–14, note 12.
  15. Leo Strauss, What Is Political Philosophy? And Other
    Studies (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1988), 44.
  16. See, for example, Leo Strauss, “The Three Waves of
    Modernity” in An Introduction to Political Philosophy: Ten Essays
    by Leo Strauss, ed. Hilail Gildin (Detroit: Wayne State University
    Press, 1989), 81–98. For an insightful introduction to this development
    in modern Epicureanism, see chapter five of James
    Nichols’s Epicurean Political Philosophy (Ithaca: Cornel University
    Press, 1972).
  17. Strauss, Natural Right and History, 169.
  18. See Strauss, “The Three Waves of Modernity,” 83–85;
    Natural Right and History, 139; What Is Political Philosophy?, 34–
    35. See also Machiavelli, The Prince, Chapter 15; Hobbes, De
    Cive, Epistle Dedicatory; Descartes, Discourse on Method, Part I.
    7–8; Bacon, Advancement in Learning, Book 2.
  19. Strauss, Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, 29. (Emphasis
    added.)
  20. Strauss, “Preface to the English Translation,” 29.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Strauss, Philosophy and Law, 11.
  26. Ibid., 12.
  27. Strauss, “Preface to the English Translation,” 30.
  28. See Strauss, Philosophy and Law, 18.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Strauss, Philosophy and Law, 111, note 1.
  31. Ibid., 19.
  32. Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing, 21.
  33. Strauss, “Preface to the English Translation,” 31.
  34. Strauss, Philosophy and Law, 82.
  35. Leo Strauss, “How to Begin to Study Medieval Philosophy,”
    The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism: An Introduction
    to the Thought of Leo Strauss, ed. Thomas L. Pangle (Chicago:
    University of Chicago Press, 1989), 214.
  36. See, for example, Strauss, Persecution and the Art of
    Writing, 19–20; “How to Begin to Study Medieval Philosophy,”
    217; Leo Strauss, “How to Begin to Study The Guide of the
    Perplexed,” Liberalism Ancient and Modern (Ithaca: Cornell University
    Press, 1989), 147–48.
  37. Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing, 19.
  38. Ibid., 20.
  39. Strauss, “How to Begin to Study Medieval Philosophy,”
    221.
  40. Leo Strauss, “Some Remarks on the Political Science of
    Maimonides and Farabi,” trans. Robert Bartlett Interpretation,
    18, no. 1. (Fall 1990), 20–21.
  41. Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing, 21.
  42. Strauss, “Some Remarks on the Political Science of
    Maimonides and Farabi,” 5.
  43. Ibid., 4. Strauss qualifies this remark with a “perhaps.” He
    goes on to state that this break was “certainly” brought about—
    undoubtedly in different ways and to different degrees—by both
    “the Reformation and modern philosophy.”
  44. Strauss, Philosophy and Law, 83.
  45. See, for example, Maimonides’ description of Moses, the
    prophet par excellence, in The Guide of the Perplexed, II. 40.
  46. Strauss, “How to Begin to Study Medieval Philosophy,”
    224.
  47. Ibid.
  48. Strauss notes that while this view takes center stage in
    medieval Islamic and Jewish rationalism, it “appears in the
    Christian Middle Ages only at their fringes,” and even here only
    indirectly in thinkers such as Marsilius of Padua (“How to Begin
    to Study Medieval Philosophy,” 224). See also Strauss, Persecution
    and the Art of Writing, 95–97, 136; Leo Strauss, “Marsilius
    of Padua,” Liberalism Ancient and Modern, 185–202.
  49. See, for example, Averroes’ Decisive Treatise and The
    Incoherence of the Incoherence.
  50. Leo Strauss, The Argument and Action of Plato’s Laws
    (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975) 1. See Avicenna,
    “On the Division of the Rational Sciences,” in Medieval Political
    Philosophy: A Sourcebook, ed. Ralph Lerner and Muhsin Mahdi
    (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991) 97.
  51. Leo Strauss, The Argument and Action of Plato’s Laws, 1–
    2.
  52. Ibid., 2. Indeed, through the establishment of the Nocturnal
    Council, the philosophers in the regime described in the Laws
    indirectly exercise a kind of rule that is similar to the overt form
    of rule that the philosophers exercise in the Republic‘s “city in
    speech.” Partly for this reason, Aristotle notes that the regime in
    the Laws gradual turns around again to the regime in the
    Republic. See Aristotle, Politics, 1265a 1–4.
  53. Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing, 18.
  54. See, for example, Alfarabi, Political Regime, 49–50;
    Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, I. 63, II. 35, 39, 40.
  55. See “The Law of Reason in the Kuzari” in Persecution and
    the Art of Writing, 112–18.
  56. Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing, 17.
  57. Ibid., 139.
  58. Ibid., 21.
  59. Ibid., 139. Strauss notes in the introduction to Persecution
    and the Art of Writing that Al–farabi insists that “conformity with
    the opinions of the religious community in which one is brought
    up, is a necessary qualification for the future philosopher” (17).
    It is worth noting that for all of his boldness, Descartes makes a
    nearly identical claim in the moral provisions he lays out in his
    Discourse on Method.
  60. Ibid. Strauss repeats this line almost verbatim twice in his
    commentary on the Kuzari, a work which contains some of his
    most jarring statements about the relation of religion, morality,
    and philosophy in medieval rationalism. The first time Strauss
    makes this remark he observes that “from the philosopher’s point
    of view, goodness of character and goodness of action is essentially
    not more than a means towards, or a by product of, the life
    of contemplation” (Persecution and the Art of Writing), 114.
    (Italics added.)
  61. Strauss, “Some Remarks on the Political Science of
    Maimonides and Farabi,” 12.
  62. Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing, 140.
  63. Ibid.
  64. Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing, 16.
  65. Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing, 114.
  66. Strauss, Philosophy and Law, 82–83.
  67. See Cicero, Tuscan Disputations, V. 10.
  68. See, for example, Xenophon, Memorabilia, IV. 7.5.
  69. Strauss, Natural Right and History, 122.
  70. Strauss, Natural Right and History, 122–23. Whereas
    Strauss here speaks openly of the merits of Socrates’ new method
    of philosophizing, elsewhere he is less sanguine about its ability
    fully to elucidate the nature of the whole. Strauss in fact goes so
    far as to say that the kind of knowledge that comes from knowledge
    of the parts “is not knowledge of the whole. It seems that
    knowledge of the whole would have to combine somehow political
    knowledge in the highest sense with knowledge of homogeneity.
    And this knowledge is not at our disposal. Men are therefore
    constantly tempted to force the issue by imposing unity on the
    phenomena, by absolutizing either homogeneity or knowledge of
    ends. Philosophy is characterized by the gentle, if firm, refusal to
    succumb to either charm” (What Is Political Philosophy?, 39–40).
  71. Ibid., 83.
  72. Ibid., 84.
  73. Ibid., 129.
  74. Ibid.
  75. Ibid.
  76. Ibid., 130. Strauss also speaks of the importance of sacred
    restraints in his “Restatement on Xenophon’s Hiero.” Strauss
    there states that Hobbes, Hegel, and Kojéve are able to construct
    their accounts of human life only by denying the existence of such
    sacred restraints. See What Is Political Philosophy?, 111.
  77. Strauss, Natural Right and History, 133.
  78. Ibid.
  79. Ibid., 151–52. Shadia Drury points to this statement as
    alleged proof of Strauss’s Epicureanism. See Drury, The Political
    Ideas of Leo Strauss (New York: St. Martin’s Press 1988), 105;
    “Leo Strauss’s Classic Natural Right Teaching,” Political Theory,
    15.3 (August 1987) 308. Harry V. Jaffa counters Drury’s charge
    by noting that Strauss taught that both the biblical and the Greek
    philosophic traditions acknowledge that morality needs to be
    perfected by something higher, piety or faith for the former and
    wisdom for the latter. Jaffa rightly concludes that “morality cut
    off from transcendence sinks into Kantian absurdity” (“Dear
    Professor Drury,” Political Theory, 15.3 [August 1987] 321).
    Though Jaffa’s argument prov

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