The Enduring Importance of Leo Strauss

The Enduring Importance of Leo Strauss

Laurence Lampert

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780226039480

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

This book argues that the enduring importance of Leo Strauss lies in his recovery of the exoteric art of writing. That art was universally practiced by the greatest thinkers in Western philosophy and poetry prior to the modern Enlightenment. The book begins with Strauss’s own account of his recovery of exotericism (also called esotericism) in private letters he wrote to Jacob Klein in 1938-39. The candor of those letters makes them singular in a body of work marked by its own forms of caution or exotericism. The book then treats an essay of great importance in which Strauss not only showed how the Medieval philosopher Halevi practiced exotericism but also indicated why Strauss himself adopted exotericism. In four chapters dealing with “The Socratic Enlightenment” the book discusses first Strauss’s single-handed recovery of Xenophon from modern ridicule and neglect, focusing on Socrates’ theological-political program as Xenophon presented it. The chapter on Plato shows why Plato’s dialogues were always central to Strauss’s understanding of philosophy. A chapter on Seth Benardete’s book on Homer’s Odyssey shows that philosophy and political philosophy can, as Strauss suspected, be traced back to Homer. The final three chapters treat essays by Strauss on the modern Enlightenment in which he criticizes it and demotes it relative to the ancient and medieval Enlightenment. Here the book argues against Strauss’s evaluation and shows why Nietzsche’s attempt to advance the modern Enlightenment is wiser, morally superior, and truer to the history of exotericism.