(BUCKLEY, RAND, KIRK, and STRAUSS – continued)
Leo Strauss (1899-1974) was a professor of political philosophy at the University of Chicago from 1949 to 1968 and remained a member of the faculty until 1973 (when he turned seventy-four). He has been described by William F. Buckley as "unquestionably one of the most influential teachers of his age." Strauss was one of those who believed that the thinkers of ancient times had a closer connection to truth than did modern thinkers. Antiquity's philosophers and playwrights were basically the same biologically as modern thinkers, and modern thinkers had more historical knowledge to draw from. But modern genius, according to Strauss, was corrupted.
Like Kirk, Strauss believed that Western Civilization was facing a great moral crisis. He wrote of the West "having become uncertain of its purpose." However much the West may have declined, he claimed, it would "go down in honor if it was certain of its purpose."
The purpose of Western Civilization, according to Strauss, was morality. To find the West's moral purpose, he believed, one had to study the "enduring works" of the great thinkers of the ancient past. Strauss was especially attracted to classical Greek political philosophy, and to Plato, preferring Plato over Aristotle. He favored people being Socratic like Plato and asking about the right way of life.
Strauss reduced human struggle to "one thing needful." Standing over the abyss is not terrifying, he claimed, if one is aware of the one thing needful. Strauss has been accused of being an atheist who believed in "noble lies." [note] He looked down upon the intellect of common people and claimed that one thing needful is a love relationship with God, a surrender to God's call to love Him "with all one's soul and with all one's might."
The American Conservative Movement: the philosophical founders, by John P West, Regnery Books, 1986
The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 [to around 1973], by George H. Nash, third edition, 2006
Copyright © 2000-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.