Analytic Political Philosophy
What were Leo Strauss’ main politically relevant ideas?
Strauss (1899–1973) was mainly a classical political theorist. He believed that an important connection between real-life politics and philosophy began with Socrates’ (460–399 B.C.E.) trial and conviction. He argued that, since Socrates, philosophers had hidden their meanings to escape political persecution. Strauss developed a theory of reading as a way for independent thinkers to uncover the true intentions behind necessarily obscure texts.
Strauss did not believe that the social science distinction between facts and values was fundamental. This distinction held that statements about what should be the case cannot be logically deduced from statements about what is the case. He held that politics could not be studied without prior values. Strauss thought that human excellence and political virtue had been neglected as a result of the importance placed on individual freedom in modern liberalism. Because liberalism as a doctrine led to relativism, it could be subject to two kinds of nihilism: a “brutal” nihilism, as in Nazi Germany or communist Russia, which erased existing foundations of society to enshrine new ideals; or a “gentle” nihilism that led to “permissive egalitarianism,” as in American culture.
Strauss apparently endorsed “noble lies” as a political means for correcting contemporary abuses, according to new political philosophy based on the esoteric readings of classical texts. (A “noble lie” is a lie told to people who will benefit from believing it.) However, he himself had no clear solutions to tensions between reason and religion, or modern versus ancient political philosophy.