Leo Strauss (1899-1973) Jewish-American political philosopher

Leo Strauss (1899-1973) was a German-born Jewish-American political philosopher. He is often referred to as the “father” of neoconservative philosophy. In 1921, he received his Ph.D. from the University of Hamburg under the guidance of Ernst Cassirer. He also took classes at Freiburg, where he was taught by Martin Heidegger and Edmund Husserl.

He was involved in the German Zionist movement and engaged intellectually with a number of its leading figures, including Gershom Scholem and Franz Rosenzweig. He left Germany in 1932 to go to the US on a Rockefeller Partnership, but since the ascent of Nazism decided not to get back to Germany at the cooperation’s decision. Instead, he went to Paris and Cambridge before deciding, in the end, to move to the United States in 1937. He finally achieved a tenured position at the University of Chicago, where he really made his mark with several books that offered both a rereading of the history of philosophy from Plato to Nietzsche and a coherent political doctrine. He had previously lived in a precarious manner for several years on short-term contracts at a number of universities. It was the last viewpoint (built up by the first) that was to demonstrate the most persuasive. According to Perry Anderson’s sharp critique in Spectrum (2005), Strauss’s primary themes were that a just order must be founded on the demands of natural rights and that nature is inherently unequal.

The best political regime, he reasoned, is one that takes human inequality into account and is led by a select elite. It is not difficult to see why this appeals to neo-conservatives. Strauss tends to be better remembered for who his students were, rather than for specific books or ideas: his students included Allan Bloom, Paul Wolfowitz (a key figure in George W. Bush’s administration), and Susan Sontag. He is also cited as an important influence by Francis Fukuyama.

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