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What ought to take primacy when carrying out research and interpreting seminal books: the text itself, or the context?

A known critic of historicism and contextualism, Leo Strauss published his seminal essay, ‘What is Political Philosophy?’ in 1957 in the Journal of Politics and introduced a problem with the field: Modern academic obsessions over positivism and historicism had rendered proper political philosophy obsolete because it eliminated the metaphysical, inquisitive essence that was at its core. The rest of his essay elaborated on the history of this problem and his interpretation of it before arriving at his solution, rooted in Classical philosophy. Strauss’ concern, however, has its traces in his earlier historical scholarship. Before formulating his thoughts and expressing them as he did in his essay, Strauss wrote a book called Natural Right and History in 1953 where he analysed the historical arguments about natural right with a similar suspicion towards historicism. In his book, Strauss noted the dangers of the modern historical approach with respect to the topic of natural right. A large portion of Strauss’ book is concerned with the perceived errors of contemporary methodology, and his reasons always orbit his central idea that a mass of historical minutiae eclipsed what he considered to be the sun of intellectual and philosophical inquiry—that is, the universal truths about man, human nature, and human existence.

The very people whom Strauss, not a historian himself but a political philosopher and card-carrying Classicist, criticized have been some of his sharpest critics. Within the Cambridge School of intellectual history, for example, historians consider Strauss’ emphasis on ‘eternal’ and ‘traditional’ ‘true standards’ a continuation of the illusion of ‘the canon,’ masqueraded as the so-called ‘Great Books.’[1] They criticize the follower of Strauss for adopting a sola scriptura attitude towards this canon that disregards historical context and ultimately attributes excess importance to text under the false assumption that it contains some form of timeless philosophical truth. Admittedly, the historian’s push-back against Strauss’ methodology is justified since studying a text on its own ignores a variety of external social, political, and economic factors that might have compelled authors to produce their text in the first place. These ‘great books,’ nonetheless, have shaped social thought and development over the ages, and so there is an undeniable relationship between history and political thought that neither the historian nor the political philosopher can ignore, much less deny.

It is highly improbable indeed, with these closely neighbouring fields, that the historian or the political philosopher carries out his work without ever finding himself unconsciously trespassing on the other’s territory. Strauss believed that the logical consequence of historicism was the development and implementation of erred political philosophy, and that this was not just a problem for academia but also a problem for society at large because it acted inimically to the right social order. Strauss’ predicament—the methodological problem of historicism for the field of political philosophy—then, is perfectly understandable when considering that he was writing for the sake of his field, (political philosophy) but inevitably found himself at odds with historians. These debates between fields are intellectually salutary, of course. Still, they raise an unavoidable question of academic credibility: What ought to take primacy when carrying out research and interpreting seminal books: the text itself, or the context?

The way that Strauss answered this question can be traced back to one of his earlier works that, ironically, turned into a discussion of political philosophy even though it began with the intention of being a historical work. Strauss’ book Natural Right and History demonstrates how he treats the author of a historical work, in this case Edmund Burke, as an intellectual equal with whom the engages politically and philosophically by debating his ideas. This paper intends to demonstrate how Strauss’ training as a classicist and political philosopher caused him to use Burke’s writings to corroborate the importance of tracing intellectual and historical questions back to their origin in metaphysics, thus upholding philosophy and Truth as the more important elements in academic research over historical context. This analysis of Strauss’ treatment of Burke’s writings on natural right will also help to expound on the implications of Strauss’ text-based methodology for political philosophy

It is helpful to begin by exploring why Strauss viewed history, political philosophy, and natural right as being so necessarily entwined with one another that it resulted in his writing a book on the topic. One of Strauss’ propositions in ‘What is Political Philosophy’ is that political philosophy cannot be neutral, for it requires that man form opinions and take sides. Political philosophy for Strauss always required a strong grounding on philosophy because it concerns itself with the ‘right’ or the ‘proper’ political order, therefore it is not possible to determine what ‘right’ and ‘proper’ is without delving into ethics.[2] Interested as he was in the political facet of philosophy, Strauss maintained that political philosophy is only a branch of philosophy of which the philosophical element is more important because it is the only element that allows the political philosopher to replace opinion with knowledge about ‘the nature of political things.’[3] Such a task requires that one answer, or at least contemplate, philosophical questions about the nature of things since the cognitive status of political knowledge often incorporates both theoretical and practical knowledge.[4]

Knowledge, however, is an assertion of thought that pushes opinion to a high (if not absolute) degree of confidence. According to Strauss, this objectivity, anathema to historians, put political philosophy at odds with the field of history. Strauss explained that ‘historicism’ as a methodology and school of thought emerged in opposition to the nature of political philosophy that forced students to form near-objective claims.[5] As an advent of the nineteenth century, the historical school focused on history outside of the political realm and academically professed the view that philosophy of any kind was merely the product of and response to a ‘historical world,’ a ‘culture,’ or a ‘civilization.’[6] But historicism did not come about unwarranted or without reason. It was historically tied to a contemporary philosophical debate taking place at the time: Prior to the nineteenth century, debates within philosophy eventually catalysed the rise of historicism as a new methodology. Strauss believed that philosophy had been corrupted in modern centuries by becoming ‘thoroughly politicized,’ mainly in the seventeenth century, which opened the doors for historical research rooted in positivism.[7]

Historicism removed any form of moral truth claims from the study of natural right, it thus invalidated the political philosopher’s claim to intellectual inquiry on the topic.[8] Still, even in his own writing, Strauss used the conjunction ‘or’ between ‘natural right’ and ‘modern political philosophy,’ implying that he considered both terms to be closely linked, if not interchangeable.[9] In the case of natural right, Strauss believed that its ‘essential condition’ was tied to philosophy regardless of the historical period in which it was studied because it was, more profoundly, a philosophical inquiry that explored ‘notions of right and wrong.’[10] That Strauss amalgamated natural right and modern political philosophy when historicism attempted to sever them explains why he viewed the advent of historicism as an obstruction to philosophical inquiry, resulting in ‘a crisis of philosophy.’[11] It is no coincidence, then, that Strauss’ analysis of historical events in his later scholarship tends always to become larger criticisms of contemporary methodology in political philosophy.

Strauss began his book by taking a subject as universally accepted as natural right, and stated that, strictly historically-speaking, no such right could exist because it could not be tied down to a specific point in time. Still, it had been argued time and time again by various thinkers that natural right was universally discernible by human reason.[12] This paradox led Strauss to claim that for a rejection of natural right to be sound and significant, it required a basis that went beyond historical evidence: It needed to be rooted in philosophy and connected with history as its proof.[13] Because of history’s tendency to ignore principles for the sake of being tied down to a period, Strauss offered political philosophy as the better, alternative field through which to study natural right. Political philosophy, rooted in metaphysics, begins with the contention that there are a variety of notions of right, which was the better way to reject the idea that natural right exists.[14] Strauss accepted that much of nineteenth and twentieth century thought was coated with ‘historical consciousness,’ but argued that political philosophy needed to ‘be grounded on truths,’ which meant that it needed to ‘avoid extreme historicism.’[15]

To continue his foray into the paradox between natural right and historicism, Strauss mentioned how Conventionalism was closely tied to historicism. Conventionalism presupposed that the most important distinction was between nature (i.e., what is visible in nature, like society) and convention (i.e., ideas rooted on an external reality) and that nature was treated with ‘incomparably higher dignity.’[16] This concept came back later in ‘What is Political Philosophy?’ under two different, but similar, terms when Strauss blamed social science positivism for claiming that there was a fundamental difference between facts (nature) and values (convention), and that only factual judgments were preferred.[17]

Strauss wrote, ‘one cannot know anything about a war going on at a given time without having some notion, however dim and hazy, of war as such and its place within human life as such’: Man, in other words, needed to possess notions (or conventions) about the events that faced him in life before engaging in historical studies of trivial facts.[18] But the most dangerous political implication of conventionalism was that abstract concepts like ‘right’ and ‘justice’ in society now had no basis in nature, and that their basis was, instead, groundless, whimsically dependent on ‘arbitrary decisions of communities’ that focused on producing ‘peace’ but not ‘truth.’[19] The subsequent wave of historicism went one step beyond conventionalism by rejecting the idea ‘that nature is of any higher dignity than any works of man.’[20] Man was then left with a choice, either to ‘conceive of man and his works, his varying notions of justice included’ as being equally natural to ‘all other real things,’ or to conceive of ‘the realm of nature’ and ‘the realm of freedom or history’ as dualistically incompatible, where man would necessarily exalt his realm above nature.[21]

The distinction between nature and convention, between what is physical and what is theoretical, was fundamental for Strauss’ understanding of natural right and for his  interpretation of Burke. Strauss elaborated on the problem between what he called ‘social fiat’—that is, the product of convention—and true philosophy.[22] He wrote, ‘opinion is essentially variable,’ which meant that proper philosophizing required that man ‘ascend’ from what becomes ‘public dogma’ to ‘private knowledge.’[23] Man needed to ‘leave the cave’ of the public sphere because Strauss deemed the public sphere as ‘inadequate’ to answer questions regarding ‘all-comprehensive truth’ or ‘the eternal order’ since it only validated phenomena based on social fiat or convention rather than on its ‘intrinsic truth.’[24] Still, Strauss was more sympathetic to conventionalism than to historicism because conventionalism at least was a philosophy that attempted to grasp the  eternal, while historicism was unable to grasp anything eternal because it affirmed that all thought was historical.[25] Historicism and philosophy, therefore, were incompatible.

From this discussion, the reader can already gather that Strauss’ problem was a deeply methodological one, concerned with the decreasing interest in the inherent truths of philosophical inquiry over the practical applicability of historical research. Strauss used the issue of natural right to demonstrate how historicist critique of it was based not on historical evidence, ironically enough, but on a philosophical critique of the ‘possibility or knowability of natural right.’[26] Historicists attempted, much to their chagrin, to separate themselves from political philosophy by claiming their camp as the one rooted in practice, but Strauss was keen to point out a contradiction: Historicism ‘depreciated universal principles in favour of historical principles’ through an approach that focused more on the ‘concrete’ and ‘particular’ elements of mankind to ‘arrive at principles that would be as objective as those of the older, pre-historicist political philosophy’ but not as ‘abstract.’[27] In order to address natural right, Strauss argued that historicism became a form of positivism that rejected theology and metaphysics, but that in its own convention was just as assertive.[28] Historicism was just as philosophically dogmatic in theory, though it was more factually historical in practice. Strauss reached the apex of his critique of historicism when he wrote that natural right could not exist if human thought, ‘in spite of its essential incompleteness,’ could not even attempt to solve ‘the principles of justice in a universally valid manner.’[29] In other words, it was hypocritical to defend an abstract concept such as natural right by using historical evidence if historicists could not cede that man needed to have a metaphysical notion of justice in order to invent the idea of a ‘natural right’ in the first place.

With this context of Strauss’ problem with historicism, his interpretation of Burke’s use of natural right can now be properly analysed. In Natural Right and History, Strauss’ handling of Burke is under a chapter called ‘The Crisis of Modern Natural Right’. The chapter’s title indicates that Strauss believed that Burke contributed to a crisis of political philosophy and philosophy at large. Indeed, Strauss began his chapter on Burke by immediately introducing Burke’s tendency to favor practical knowledge. He claimed that Burke wrote ‘most forcefully’ and ‘most clearly’ only after the outbreak of the French Revolution because the ‘eminently practical bent’ of Burke’s thought meant that he only waited until ‘practice’—that is, what was physically going on around him—necessitated his intellectual intervention.[30] Strauss spent most of his chapter on Burke focusing on his emphasis on practice and practical knowledge. He paraphrased Burke’s famous thought that civil society was a ‘contract’ and ‘partnership,’ and that the purpose of civil society was to protect man’s right to pursue his own happiness.[31] Burke added that true happiness, however, could only be found ‘by virtue,’ which required restraints and ‘subjection’ to government and law.[32] Strauss interpreted these remarks to mean that Burke deemed man’s state of nature insufficient for living a ‘civilized’ life, and that a civilized life was the priority and ultimate aim of society.[33]

So far, so good: Strauss agreed with Burke that man cannot act ‘without a moral tie’ since mankind is never really ‘in a state of total independence of each other.’[34] The foundation of government for Burke, accordingly, was based on a conformity to our duties and not imaginary rights of men. The problem for Strauss, however, was that in reaching such a conclusion, Burke was implicitly affirming that society was not a contract after all, but rather a conformity to duty.[35] Strauss analyzed that, philosophically, Burke was not making sense in his views regarding the origin of government because, on the one hand, man is attempting to conform to external duties and reject his internal impulses; on the other hand, if our duty is to ourselves, then it is not to a contract.

But are the two mutually exclusive? Strauss suggested that a contract created from an understanding of man’s metaphysical obligations to himself would still be a contract based on imaginary rights. The problem with natural right during the French Revolution, then, was not as Burke understood it; as a problem with men who philosophize too much and derive their principles from theory over practical experience. The problem was a philosophical misunderstanding of the proper ends of government and their relation to man’s natural rights, were it conceded that natural rights exist through an initial philosophical discussion about them.

Burke’s mistake was using history too much as a defense against natural right, which led him, perhaps unknowingly, to succumb to historicism. That this became Burke’s fate was, for Strauss, a consequence of his second important critique of Burke’s thought: his extreme emphasis on experience. Although Burke affirmed the existence of natural rights, he denied that natural right by itself could tell much about the legitimacy of a given constitution. According to Burke, a constitution was legitimate in a given society when it was most suitable for the provision of human wants and for the promotion of virtue, therefore its suitability should not be determined by natural right but by experience.[36] Strauss, however, was wary of Burke’s insistence on experience. Although Burke did not reject the view that all authority had its ultimate origin in the people, he was hesitant to accept that these ideas on natural right and government were derived from ‘ultimate truths’ or ‘half-truths,’ and, even if they were, he denied that they were politically relevant.[37] Strauss quoted Burke’s statement that ‘if civil society be the offspring of convention, that convention must be its law.’[38] In other words, for all practical purposes, the convention, the original compact, or the established constitution, was the highest authority—not the higher truths from which those conventions are derived.

It was clearly a problem for Strauss that Burke believed that constitutions derived their authority ‘less from the original convention or from its origin than from its beneficent working through many generations or from its fruits,’ and that the ‘habits’ that stemmed from convention were ‘infinitely more important than the original act itself.’[39] Burke was, essentially, rejecting the validity of philosophy in the field of political philosophy. To make matters worse, Burke was pointing to historical details in the form of ‘experience’ as the proper way of analyzing what was politically viable for society, paving the way for the historicism that arose not long after the French Revolution. It is for this reason that Strauss opened his book with the following statement that has been paraphrased before, but is worth quoting in his words now so as to see what he believed the true problem between philosophy and history to be:

If the rejection of natural right in the name of history is to have any significance, it must have a basis other than historical evidence. Its basis must be a philosophic critique of the possibility, of the knowability, of natural right—a critique somehow connected with history.[40]

By fighting history with history, Burke was only able to find a criticism of natural right as valid as the justification of it by the French Revolutionaries. To accept or reject natural right was still subject to the whims of a ‘social fiat.’ To reject natural right, Strauss argued, Burke needed to use a stronger basis; that of philosophy—where all intellectual debates originate.

Strauss saw an incoherence in measuring the good of an act by its practical outcome rather than by the intellectual integrity of its philosophical origin because it attributed the qualities of that good act to everything other than the reason for the act itself. Strauss’ two criticisms of Burke, his overemphasis of natural right and of experience, brings us to the main debate that summarizes Strauss’ problem with Burke: the relationship between theory and practice. The main issue that Burke saw with the French Revolution regarded what Strauss called its ‘fundamental change from a practical to theoretical approach.’[41] Because the French Revolution was the first ‘philosophic revolution’ that was initiated by ‘men of letters, philosophers, and thoroughbred metaphysicians,’ Strauss wrote that Burke was pushed to ‘restore’ the importance of practice in order to reverse the ‘intrusion of speculation or of theory into the field of politics.’[42]

Strauss’ strongest criticism regarding Burke’s writings against the French Revolution was that although Burke was initially raising awareness about the essential limitations of theory, he took it too far and outwardly rejected theory by stating that it could mislead practice.[43] Strauss argued that Burke missed the mark in his analysis of the French Revolution when he attributed the fatal mistakes of the revolutionaries ‘less to passion than to the intrusion of the spirit of theory into the field of politics.’[44] Burke’s attempt to salvage the field of politics from pervasive theorization led him to call for ‘historical jurisprudence’ over ‘metaphysical jurisprudence,’ which Strauss considered a faux-pas on his part that involuntarily but inevitably opened the field to historicism.[45] Strauss criticized Burke’s emphasis on historical jurisprudence because, he argued, it was a self-defeating enterprise: If ‘new situations sometimes arise in reaction to the very rules which uncontradicted previous experience pronounced to be universally valid,’ then ‘it follows from this that history is only of very limited value.’[46] The practical wisdom that history supposedly carried could only be concerned with particulars. Even complete knowledge of all particulars, Strauss believed, would never measure up to philosophic inquiries about universal truth.

At the heart of the matter Strauss’s concern is with the debate of theory and practice. True as it may be that the Revolution had a practical influence on Burke by snapping him out of the idealistic and progressive follies that contemporary liberals were acting upon, Strauss introduced a more philosophical—or theoretical—influence on Burke: The French Revolution was the physical manifestation of an old metaphysical debate that Burke had studied at length in his first and most theoretical work, A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, published in 1757. Strauss suggested that this work demonstrated philosophically, not politically, where Burke went wrong with his metaphysical conceptions of theory and practice, which explained why his criticism of the French Revolution ended up flawed later on in his political philosophy. To prove this point, Strauss implemented his text-only theory to analyze Burke’s first work on aesthetics, by simply reading Burke’s perspective and judging it by the merit and logic of its own argument only. This part of Natural Right and History, where Strauss introduced Burke’s Philosophical Inquiry, is an example of Strauss implementing his own methodology to ultimately dispute Burke’s ideas, political philosopher against political philosopher.

Strauss began his debate with Burke by mentioning that, in his Inquiry, Burke denied that there is a connection between beauty and perfection. Burke did not believe that external forms or abstract ideals in the Platonist tradition influenced the visible and sensible beauty of an object. Strauss took Burke’s view to mean that ‘intellectual beauty’ had no relationship with physical beauty.[47] After analyzing Burke’s metaphysics, Strauss then used his own inductive reasoning to conclude that ‘emancipation of sensible beauty’ from its ‘traditionally assumed directedness toward intellectual beauty’ had a political and social parallel that corresponded to ‘a certain emancipation of sentiment and instinct from reason.’[48] It is important to notice that, ultimately, Strauss was grappling with Burke as a thinker, treating him almost as an interlocutor with whom he was debating a philosophical problem—such is his methodology.

Strauss’s interpretation of Burke prioritized theory because his views on the importance (and preeminence) of philosophy over all other forms of inquiry led him to read Burke for the content of his text. Had Strauss prioritized practice, he might have worried less about Burke’s argument as it stood on its own, and instead concerned himself more with why and how Burke argued the way in which he did, opening the door to varied historic research about his time and influences. But that was not Strauss’ method. At the end of the day, how and why a particular thinker thought the way he did was only secondary, supplementary information that should not detract from the outcome of the text. Strauss took Burke at face value and read his later political works in light of his early writings on metaphysics, insinuating that there was an interconnectedness between Burke’s metaphysics and his politics.

Given Burke’s rejection of theory, Strauss was skeptical of Burke’s translation of his views in metaphysics into the more public platform of politics. Burke’s approach in his later writings was always ‘to restore a genuinely political’—that is, practical—approach to contrast the emphasis on speculatism, which Strauss defined as the view that practice always needs to be supplied by ‘theory, or philosophy, or science.’[49] Because Burke’s political writings had been influenced by his views on metaphysics, so Strauss believed, his emphasis on practice turned into an outright rejection of theory that, philosophically, pushed him too far towards British Sensualism and in stark opposition to Classical philosophy.[50]

Burke’s political antidote for speculatism was a fallacy and a category mistake that confused the properties of metaphysical truth with its practical outcomes. It was possible that ‘[W]hat is metaphysically true’ could be ‘politically false,’ because philosophy and politics have different ends: Theory always aimed towards a certain ‘simplicity,’ ‘uniformity,’ or ‘exactness’ that ‘practical wisdom necessarily lacks’ because politics ‘always has to do with exceptions, modifications…or mixtures.’[51] So, while practice and practical wisdom are concerned with particulars, which are subject to change, theory is concerned with universal values that are not subject to change. For Strauss, man needed to have a strong and solidified understanding of theory and its truths before adapting to the imminent modifications that come with political life. But Strauss’ reading of Burke led him to interpret Burke as arguing that man ought to form his views about the truths of theory only after seeing how they play out in the modulations of politics.

It has already been mentioned that Strauss assessed Burke based solely on the integrity of his thought. That Strauss placed so much emphasis on the text itself is explained by his Classical view of philosophy that prioritized ideas as the way to arrive at truth. In debating with Burke, Strauss set himself as the thinker representing Classical philosophy, and he judged Burke’s writings based on how well he was able to hold his theories to that Classical ideal. Near the end of Strauss’ chapter on Burke, Strauss took his debate one step further to discuss the political implications of Burke’s views and compared them with the political implications of his own, Classical, views. Because Burke decided to emphasize practice other theory, his contribution to the debate regarding theory and practice fell short of Aristotle’s since it was not based on ‘a clear conviction of the ultimate superiority of theory or of the theoretical life.’[52] One must question why for Strauss the veracity of a thinker’s writings was based on their agreement with Classical philosophy. It would appear that Strauss waited a couple of years before explicitly addressing the former question, and his most plausible answer is found in the solution to the crisis of political philosophy that he presented in his essay, ‘What is Political Philosophy?’.

In ‘The Classical Solution,’ Strauss explained that, historically speaking, Classical philosophy emerged in a time when ‘there was not yet in existence a tradition of political philosophy,’ which meant that it was perfectly acceptable for philosophers to include both theory and practice comprehensively in their analyses.[53] The progression of the years, however, meant that man had more trivial events to work with, and that fact resulted in the invention of history. Man, accordingly, became gradually estranged from the primary issues of human existence. As a consequence, political philosophy became more and more theoretical since it was no longer orthodox to combine theory and practice. The progression also made subsequent philosophies disregard that original mission of moving from opinion to knowledge—from ‘the here and now’ to ‘what is always and eternal’—and instead ground its ‘abstractness’ by tying it down to ‘the concrete.’[54]

In the end, Strauss’ philosophical problem with Burke turned political since Burke’s writings influenced political thought more than they did philosophy. Burke disagreed with classical philosophy in regard to the genesis of the sound social order because he disagreed with them in regard to the character of the sound social order: Burke’s emphasis on practice led him to conclude that a political order should never be planned or formally designed because it would, he argued, inevitably infringe upon people’s personal liberty.[55] The priority for Burke, then, was individuality, not the State, which a follower of a Classical school of political philosophy would consider a selfish decision that put man before the polity. Strauss concluded his chapter on Burke by writing that ‘the quarrel between the ancients and the moderns concerns eventually, and perhaps even from the beginning, the status of individuality.’[56] The status of individuality was Strauss’ point of rupture with Burke because it demonstrated how differences in theory manifested themselves in practice in the form of political disagreements about the role of the state.

Strauss’ interpretation of Burke, rooted in political philosophy with an overtly Classical bent, demonstrated how Strauss interacted with thinkers throughout history, making History secondary because he chose to prioritize their thoughts instead. The text mattered because ideas mattered most to Strauss. The historian’s criticism of Strauss’ emphasis on seminal texts and of his text-based methodology has been set aside in this paper to demonstrate how for the political philosopher, who is meant to grapple with ideas and form opinions, texts must take primacy over other forms and sources of information.

Reading Strauss while bearing in mind that he was a political philosopher shows how Strauss’ historical writings can be read as arguments in favour of theory, revealing at the core of his essays a desire to affirm the validity of metaphysical truth before historical fact. Historicism, for Strauss, was no excuse for poor reasoning—only the explanation for it. Proper philosophy once taught men how to think, but over the years, with the advent of ‘History,’ it had become watered down and had consequently weakened man’s ability to think coherently and uniformly since it emphasized dismantling all events in human history for contextual dissection. Because of the relationship between theory and practice, Strauss believed that the ‘crisis’ of philosophy had inevitably seeped its way into political theory and political life. In Natural Right and History, Strauss noticed how sprouts of the problems of modern liberalism could be traced back to Burke because of the fact that his faulty line of thinking led him to raise the individual over the State. Strauss’ own methodology when reading Burke, then, involved handling Burke as a thinker, engaging primarily with his ideas; doing so was his reaffirmation of truth-seeking as the guiding principle for intellectual and historical inquiry. It was his way to combat historicism and salvage the mission of political philosophy.

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1 Cf. Quentin Skinner, ‘Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas’, History and Theory Journal, 8 (1969), 12.12.

2 Leo Strauss, ‘What is Political Philosophy?’, Journal of Politics, 19 (1957) p. 345.

3 Strauss, ‘What is Political Philosophy?’, p. 344.

4 Ibid., p. 345.

5 Strauss, Natural Right and History, (Chicago, 1953) p. 14-17.

6 Ibid., p. 12.

7 Ibid., p. 34.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Strauss, Natural Right, p. 10.

11 Ibid., p. 34.

12 Ibid., p. 9.

13 Ibid., p. 10.

14 Ibid., p. 10.

15 Ibid., pp. 10-15.

16 Ibid., p. 11.

17 Strauss, ‘What is Political Philosophy?’, p. 347.

18 Ibid., p. 345.

19 Strauss, Natural Right, p. 11.

20 Ibid., p. 11.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid.

23 Ibid., p. 12.

24 Ibid.

25 Strauss, Natural Right, p.12.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid., p. 16

28 Ibid., pp. 16-17. See also ‘What is Political Philosophy?’ p. 354, where he reaffirms this point.

29 Ibid., p. 24.

30 Strauss, Natural Right, p. 295.

31 Ibid., 295-296.

32 Ibid., p. 296.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid., p. 297.

35 Ibid.

36 Strauss, Natural Right, p. 298.

37 Ibid., p. 299.

38 Ibid.

39 Ibid.

40 Strauss, Natural Right, p. 10.

41 Ibid., p. 300.

42 Ibid., pp. 301-303.

43 Ibid., p. 304.

44 Strauss, Natural Right, p. 304.

45 Ibid., p. 316.

46 Ibid., pp. 305-306.

47 Strauss, Natural Right, p. 312.

48 Ibid., pp. 312-313.

49 Ibid., p. 304.

50 Strauss, Natural Right, p. 312.

51 Ibid., pp. 307-310.

52 Ibid., p. 312.

53 Strauss, ‘What is Political Philosophy?’, p. 356.

54 Ibid., p. 356.

55 Strauss, Natural Right, p. 322-323.

56 Ibid.

Works Cited:

Skinner, Quentin, ‘Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas’, History and Theory Journal, 8 (1969), pp. 3-53.

Strauss, Leo, Natural Right and History, (Chicago, 1953).

Strauss, Leo, Persecution and the Art of Writing, (Chicago, 1988).

Strauss, Leo, ‘What is Political Philosophy?’, The Journal of Politics, 19 (1957) pp. 343-368.

Editor’s Note: The featured image is “A Discussion” (c. 1890-1895) by Louis Moeller (1855-1930), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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Published: Dec 3, 2018
Nayeli Riano
Nayeli Riano is completing her master’s degree in Intellectual History at the University of St. Andrews. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied English and French Studies. A freelance writer, poet, and essayist, her work has been featured on National Review Online, The American Conservative, and the websites of the National Association of Scholars and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.
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