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.
Strauss was actively involved in the German Zionist movement and engaged intellectually with prominent figures such as Gershom Scholem and Franz Rosenzweig. However, due to the rise of Nazism, he left Germany in 1932 to reside in the United States under a Rockefeller Partnership. Although initially considering returning to Germany, he ultimately decided against it in light of the Nazis’ ascent to power. Instead, he spent time in Paris and Cambridge before finally settling in the United States in 1937. He secured a tenured position at the University of Chicago, where he gained recognition for his several books that offered a new interpretation of the history of philosophy from Plato to Nietzsche and developed a coherent political doctrine. Prior to this, he had endured a precarious existence, relying on short-term contracts at various universities.
Strauss’s most persuasive viewpoint, as highlighted by Perry Anderson’s critical assessment in Spectrum (2005), revolved around the idea that a just social order should be based on natural rights and an acknowledgment of inherent human inequality. According to his reasoning, the ideal political regime would consider these factors and be led by a select elite. It is this perspective that particularly resonated with neo-conservatives. While Strauss is often remembered for the notable individuals who were his students rather than for specific books or ideas, his teachings influenced a generation of scholars. Some of his well-known students include Allan Bloom, Paul Wolfowitz (a key figure in the administration of George W. Bush), and Susan Sontag. Additionally, Francis Fukuyama cites Strauss as an important influence in his own work.