Left and Right

Remembering Leo Strauss

One of the neocons’ intellectual godfathers. Know your enemy.

By Grant Haver

The political theorist Leo Strauss (1899-1973) is perhaps an unlikely subject for Chronicles’ “Remembering the Right” series. Although no one can deny the extensive influence of his ideas on the conservative (and later, neoconservative) movement in America during the Cold War and beyond, Strauss usually gave the impression that he was not a conservative in any substantive sense. On the few occasions that he wrote about conservatism, he dismissed it either as a doctrine rendered obsolete by modernity or as one riddled with modernist assumptions.
Nevertheless, Strauss has certainly had famous admirers on the right. Willmoore Kendall called Strauss the greatest teacher since Machiavelli and compared his works to “scripture” for conservatives. Frank S. Meyer praised both Strauss and Eric Voegelin for reviving the philosophical tradition of classical rationalism, which taught that reason is a higher and more reliable authority than mere tradition. Russell Kirk once wrote that “Strauss and his school form the most vigorous and promising group of political thinkers in our America, reasserting the true doctrine of the natural law, transcending behaviorism and positivism, helping us to escape from the clutch of ideology.” This praise notwithstanding, what are we to make of Strauss’s status as a conservative if he did not do his work for the purpose of extending comfort to conservatives?

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