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Leo Strauss

Leo Strauss 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 as if it was or should be something other than a variety of conflicting attitudes and ideas. He wrote of the West as "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. As he saw it, that these philosophers failed to accomplish much with their points of view is ancient times is not relevant. They at least left the people of today with guide posts in the making of that great world that yet might be. 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." note61   He looked down upon the intellect of common people and claimed that one thing needed toward moral purpose is a loving relationships with God, surrender to God's call to love Him "with all one's soul and with all one's might."

Additional Reading

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

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