Leo Strauss died in October 1973, at the age of seventy-four. His name is known chiefly to two groups of scholars whose interests do not normally converge, political scientists and specialists in medieval Jewish thought. For political scientists he was the man, who challenged what “everyone” knew was the first requirement of science—that it should be, in Max Weber's language, wertfrei, value-free. A scientist—an astrophysicist, say—does not ask whether the things or processes or relationships he studies are good or bad, noble or base, desirable or undesirable. A social scientist is a scientist. He has a choice: on the one hand, objectivity, freedom from or neutrality about values, science; on the other, subjectivity, value preferences, not science. When, inevitably, the scientist thinks of good and bad, he thinks of them not as a scientist but as a human being, or citizen.

To the scientific study of politics Strauss opposed the philosophical study of politics. He had no objection to empirical political science—the study of voting preferences, for instance, and similar humble but useful inquiries. It was against social or political science understood as value-free that he waged battle. He held that what the social or political scientist studies is so entangled with good and bad, better and worse, that value-freeness is impossible. All social scientists deal with values, only some social scientists know they do and others do not know, or say they do not know. Since the ancients taught this, and since the moderns have obscured or denied it, the beginning of wisdom—not the end, the beginning—is to take the ancients seriously again, to entertain the possibility that they were not defeated once and for all in the 17th-century war of the moderns against the ancients. Strauss did not persuade anything like a majority of his profession, but his followers include a number of impressive people. For them, it was he who restored political philosophy from death to life. Beyond that, for them he was a great political philosopher in his own right. Among themselves his followers rank him if not quite so high as Plato and Aristotle, then at least as high as Locke or Burke.

Strauss was also a Jewish scholar. “Jewish scholar” is ambiguous. It can mean a Jew who is a scholar in non-Jewish things or a scholar in Jewish things. Strauss was both, to a unique degree. Only the most eminent Jewish scholars, in the second sense, are fellows of the American Academy for Jewish Research. He was a fellow, because of his work on Judah Halevi, Maimonides, and Spinoza. In the world of scholarship as a whole, he was better known for his work on Gentile thinkers, from Socrates to Weber.

The books he wrote as books are Spinoza's Critique of Religion; The Political Philosophy of Hobbes; On Tyranny: An Interpretation of Xenophon's Hiero; Thoughts on Machiavelli; and Socrates and Aristophanes. The books that consist of more or less separate studies are Persecution and the Art of Writing; Natural Right and History; What Is Political Philosophy?; Liberalism Ancient, and Modern; and The City and Man. Philosophic und Gesetz (“Philosophy and Law”) has not yet been translated.

With Aristotle, Strauss taught that to understand the political one must start neither from the depths nor from the heights but from the surface. Since he himself was a political philosopher, let us take his advice and start from his surface.

At the University of Chicago, where he taught political philosophy for many years, Strauss's title was Robert Maynard Hutchins Distinguished Professor. Yet his disciples called him Mr. Strauss. We may infer that in his citizen's capacity he thought himself and wished to be thought a gentleman rather than a specialist or member of a guild, and that in his thinker's capacity he thought himself and wished to be thought a philo-sophos—the form is his—a seeker after wisdom, rather than a professor of (political) philosophy. Of Hermann Cohen he wrote that Cohen was by force of spirit the most impressive professor of philosophy in Germany. That is respectful, and we know that in fact Strauss had enough respect for Cohen to do him the honor of taking serious issue with his thinking about Spinoza and to write the introduction to the translation of Cohen's book about Judaism and ethics. But he called Ernst Cassirer, no less, a philosophy professor rather than a philosopher, and he said that the relation between philosopher and professor of philosophy is like the relation between artist and member of an art department. A German Jew, he was lacking in the German and German Jewish appetite for the title of Herr Geheimrat or Herr Professor or Herr Doktor. What was good for Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle was good enough for him.


The first thing anyone who has heard of Strauss is likely to think he knows about him is that Strauss believed that the authors he studied and wrote about—among them Plato and Lucretius and Judah Halevi and Maimonides and Marsilius of Padua and Spinoza and Locke—wrote esoterically, with secret meanings and intentions at odds with what they evidently said and what the authorities told us they said. There was a time when this idea was resisted and ridiculed, but today it is hardly disputed that on the main point Strauss was right, and that certain texts were written to be read, as it were, between the lines.

Strauss describes the process in Persecution and the Art of Writing:

We can easily imagine that a historian living in a totalitarian country, a generally respected and unsuspected member of the only party in existence, might be led by his investigations to doubt the soundness of the government-sponsored interpretation of the history of religion. Nobody would prevent him from publishing a passionate attack on what he would call the liberal view. He would of course have to state the liberal view before attacking it; he would make that statement in the quiet, unspectacular, and somewhat boring manner which would seem to be but natural; he would use many technical terms, give many quotations, and attach undue importance to insignificant details; he would seem to forget the holy war of mankind in the petty squabbles of pedants. Only when he reached the core of the argument would he write three or four sentences in that terse and lively style which is apt to arrest the attention of young men who love to think. That central passage would state the case of the adversaries more clearly, compellingly, and mercilessly than it had ever been stated in the heyday of liberalism, for he would silently drop all the foolish excrescences of the liberal creed which were allowed to grow up during the time when liberalism had succeeded and therefore was approaching dormancy. His reasonable young reader would for the first time catch a glimpse of the forbidden fruit. The attack, the bulk of the work, would consist of virulent expansions of the most virulent utterances in the holy book or books of the ruling party. The intelligent young man, who being young, had until then been somehow attracted by those immoderate utterances, would now be merely disgusted and, after having tasted the forbidden fruit, even bored by them. Reading the book for the second and third time, he would detect in the very arrangement of the quotations from the authoritative books significant additions to those few terse statements which occur in the center of the rather short first part.

Strauss tells us to watch how an esoteric writer uses and arranges quotations. Though he may not exactly have been an esoteric writer himself, it pays to watch him. To his paper, “Maimonides's Statement on Political Science,” in What Is Political Philosophy?, he prefixes a quotation from “Cicero De divinatione I”:

Sed quid ego Graecorum? Nescio quo modo me magis nostra delectant. [But why have I been so occupied with the things of the Greeks? Somehow our own things give me greater pleasure.]

This is missing from the study as it appeared first, in the 1953 Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, which is strange. After “Maimonides” in the title, and in emphatic contrast to “the things of the Greeks,” “our own things” must mean Jewish things. It is almost as if Strauss were saying that having dealt with Greek thought all his life he was belatedly turning his attention to Jewish thought. But he wrote about the Greeks last: first he wrote about medieval Jewish and Moslem thinkers, then about the early moderns, and last about the Greeks. What is more, in that study Strauss goes on to show that Maimonides's statement on political science is itself Greek. I decided to look into the quotation from Cicero.

Strauss had not made that easy: if the esoteric were easy it could hardly be esoteric. As it took me some time to discover, the quotation is from De divinatione I, xxvi, 55, where I further discovered that ego, “I,” is not the author, Marcus Tullius Cicero, but his brother and foil Quintus. Against the philosophical Cicero, Quintus upholds dreams and portents. The “things of the Greeks” are incidents from Greek history that he uses as argument for divination, “our own things” incidents from Roman history that he would rather use.

Strauss may be hinting at something like this: Our own things, the Jewish things, give us pleasure because we are Jews, but they are not philosophical things. “Divination” is related to “divine.” Jewish things, Jewish books, are concerned with the divine. The divine is not philosophical, philosophy knows nothing of the divine.

Like Maimonides, Strauss was a Jew and a philosopher. Like Maimonides, he held that “Jew” and “philosopher” exclude each other. A Jew must believe in revelation, a philosopher cannot. More than Strauss—and more nobly, Strauss would have been the first to say—Maimonides sacrificed the philosopher in himself to the Jew.

On the other hand, Strauss was as different as can be from the academic non-Jewish Jew, so common on both sides of the Atlantic. He stopped well short of sacrificing the Jew in himself to the philosopher—perhaps because he had perceived that Maimonides's sacrifice, of the philosopher to the Jew, was less than a whole burnt offering.


Strauss is also known as the enemy of historicism and of the denial of natural right. There is no better introduction to these matters than a story told by Hans Jonas, a friend of Strauss's from their youth in Germany. Jonas begins his “Contemporary Problems in Ethics from a Jewish Perspective” (Journal of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, January 1968) as follows:

To illustrate the plight of ethics in contemporary philosophy, let me open this paper with a personal reminiscence. When in 1945 I reentered vanquished Germany as a member of the Jewish Brigade in the British army, I had to decide on whom of my former teachers in philosophy I could in good conscience visit, and whom not. It turned out that the “no” fell on my main teacher, perhaps the most original and profound, certainly one of the most influential among the philosophers of this century, who by the criteria which then had to govern my choice had failed the human test of the time; whereas the “yes” included the much lesser figure of a rather narrow traditionalist of Kantian persuasion, who meant little to me philosophically but of whose record in those dark years I heard admirable things. When I did visit him and congratulated him on the courage of his principled stand, he said a memorable thing: “Jonas,” he said, “I tell you this: Without Kant's teaching I couldn't have done it.” Here was a limited man, but sustained in an honorable course of action by the moral force of an outmoded philosophy; and there was the giant of contemporary thought—not hindered, some even say helped, by his philosophy in joining the cause of evil. The point is that this was more than a private failing, just as the other's better bearing was, by his own avowal, more than a private virtue. The tragedy was that the truly 20th-century thinker of the two, he whose word had stirred the youth of a whole generation after the First World War, had not offered in his philosophy a reason for setting conduct in the noble tradition stemming from Socrates and Plato and ending, perhaps, in Kant.

Heidegger was that giant of contemporary thought. Strauss agreed that he was a giant. Heidegger was also pro-Nazi, and Strauss hated the Nazis not like a philosopher but like the simplest Jew. After the war Strauss ignored Heidegger's overtures and forbade his students to have anything to do with the giant.

In Natural Right and History Strauss's critique of Max Weber's value-free social science is of special interest to the social scientist. For the citizen, what Strauss suggests in the introduction is more striking: that few teachers of political science and American government agree with the central proposition of the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” For the Declaration, all hinges on the Creator. How many of us believe in a Creator? A passionate desire for equality, and to some degree for liberty also, remains with us, but it is without a reasoned basis. Suppose that tomorrow the dominant passion is for despotism. Having debarred ourselves from invoking a Creator, what shall we then invoke for liberty and equality and against despotism? Once we deny the Declaration's Creator and “the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God,” we have nothing left.

Strauss shows that wickedness must ensue from denying natural right. Heidegger's denial led to wickedness, and so did the denial of Hans Kelsen, the most illustrious 20th-century authority on the philosophy of law. In Natural Right Kelsen is quoted from his 1925 Algemeine Staatslehre, where he expresses impatience with the naive and presumptuous upholders of natural right, who could not see what was so clear to him, that despotism is as legitimate a form of government as any other. (In a blandly lethal footnote, Strauss records that a quarter of a century later Kelsen had not changed his mind about the naiveté and presumption of natural-right thinking. This being so, Strauss asks, what possible reason could Kelsen have had for omitting that passage from the English-language translation, General Theory of Law and State [1949]?) Nevertheless, Strauss does not say he has proved that natural right, because desirable, is also real.


The third thing “everybody” knows about Strauss is that he was conservative. What is conservative? Is it laissez-faire libertarian? Strauss had studied Bible and Maimonides, Plato and Aristotle. In none of these did he find it written that the owner of a coal mine may not be forbidden to employ a pregnant woman to haul laden wagons underground. He despised that kind of conservatism, and its theorists—mostly economists of a certain school.

The guiding instinct of Strauss's conservatism, linked to temperament, family, history, and theory, was this: If it is not necessary to change, then it is necessary not to change. Why should he have thought that change is good? In an unpublished but widely circulated Hillel lecture, he recalled that as a boy he saw his parents and the other Jews of their community taking care of Jewish refugees from Russian pogroms passing through Germany on their way to America. He never thought very highly of Kaiser Wilhelm's character or intellect, but at least he could say for Wilhelm's Germany that it was a Rechtsstaat, a state ruled by law: in the Kaiser's empire, un-like the Czar's, pogroms were not tolerated. Yet not even the Russian change has been good. After all these years it appears that bad as the Czars' Russia was for Jews, for philosophers and poets, and for the people, the Leninists' Russia has been much worse. As to Germany, Strauss had rather less regard for Weimar than for the Kaiser. Weimar doomed itself, in his view, by being too irresolute and cowardly to wield the sword of the law against its enemies, who had openly sworn to destroy it.

Preferring stability to change is Aristotelian. In the Politics 1268b and 1269a, starting from the question whether it is advisable to erect a statue in honor of a political reformer, Aristotle has to ask whether it is better or worse for a polis to change the ancestral laws. We have made technological and scientific progress since the days of our grandfathers. Why should there not also be political progress? Our ancestors were the same, ordinary, even foolish human beings that we are: there is nothing divine about what they have bequeathed to us. As a matter of fact, they were more primitive than we, closer to the savage state.

Having said all this, Aristotle does not conclude that the laws should be changed. The crafts and sciences are one thing, the law another. Custom and long usage are the foundation of the law. To change laws is to risk weakening veneration of the law. The Declaration of Independence, a declaration of revolution, does not disagree. Asserting “the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it [sc. ‘any Form of Government’], and to institute new Government . . . most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness,” the Declaration immediately concedes that “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient Causes.” The Founding Fathers did not dispute the ancients' teaching—that while prudence is not a theoretical virtue it is a practical, or political, virtue.

The ancients thought that the best regime one could reasonably expect, in practice, was an aristocracy. (It was not the best in theory. That was the improbable one in which the philosophers were kings.) For us, now, with education pretty nearly universal, Strauss held that the best regime one can reasonably expect is liberal or constitutional democracy.

Strauss affirms classical conservatism, the doubt about progress. Yet he lets us understand that conservatism is not the last word. Conservatives are not subversive, by definition. Neither are philosophers. Philosophy, however, is subversive, at odds with the loyal citizen's absorption in the polis. Then it must be that philosophers are un-subversive only actively.

It is widely accepted that a belief in natural law is conservative, and that that is why the liberal 19th century abandoned the belief. Strauss shows that it was conservatives who abandoned natural law, in reaction against 18th-century revolutionary appeals to it—the Declaration of Independence, the Declaration of the Rights of Man. To natural law, conservatives opposed history: the rights of Englishmen; the laws, customs, and traditions of the Germans. Out of the conservative opposition to natural law arose the Historical School. And out of that opposition arose, by way of the Historical School's development or degeneration into historicism, Heidegger and Kelsen, who, each in his own way, ratified nihilism. Conservatism, un-subversive by definition, could be subversive in fact.

A conservative reveres the tradition and continuity of his country. What he overlooks is that every country was founded, and that every founding was by force and fraud: Romulus and Remus; William the Conqueror (or his Saxon predecessors); the American Revolution. Every continuity begins in discontinuity.


Strauss denies, or at least doubts, what we take for granted: that the moderns (Machiavelli, Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, and so on) have superseded the ancients (Plato and Aristotle, mostly) and that that is good. He does not say that the ancients can be reinstated as if the revolution of the moderns had not happened. Modern science, which was originally part of modern philosophy, makes it unlikely that there can be a simple return to ancient philosophy, or philosophies. But a line leads from the abandonment of classical thought to the contemporary political scientists' reserve about the Declaration of Independence. A line leads from Machiavelli to historicism and its dissolution into nihilism or fanaticism, two sides of the same coin; to the greatest philosopher of our time supporting Nazism; to our most illustrious jurisprudent chiding the folly, presumption, and naiveté of those who would refuse legitimacy to despotism.

In 1974 Strauss may be more favorably received than in 1954. At least from Philosophie und Gesetz (1935), he was always skeptical of the fundamental modern project (as he called it), first set forth by Bacon: the conquest of nature for the relief of man's estate. To the ancients, theory is separate from and higher than practice. To the moderns, theory is for practice, science is for technology. In the last quarter of the 20th century the conquest of nature is less axiomatically desirable than Strauss could have imagined when he began to question the fundamental modern project. Perhaps the victory of Bacon the practical over Aristotle the theoretical should have been a shade less total? Perhaps there is something to be said for classical sobriety and limited expectation? (Did anyone tell Strauss about Toynbee's chic arraignment of the Bible for aggression against nature?)


There are many excellent teachers. They have students. Strauss had disciples. His disciples are known as Straussians. Straussians of the first generation are those who studied with him, and their students are the second generation. By now there may well be a third generation. Aristotelians are adherents of Aristotelianism, Thomists of Thomism, Marxists of Marxism, Freudians of Freudianism. Straussians call themselves Straussians, but they deny that there is a Straussism. One can see what they mean. Although close to a doctrine, Strauss's teaching is less palpable than those isms, less sturdy, less unequivocal as to theory and more renunciatory as to practice. Perhaps the Straussians are constituted not so much by a unifying doctrine as by the direct personal influence of an extraordinary man? That does not account for the second and third generations.

Whether of the first, second, or third generation, a Straussian is or was a young man or woman who loves to think, a reasonable young reader, an intelligent young man or woman. Such a person can respond to Strauss's yes-and-no, no-and-yes, giving and then taking away, taking away and then restoring. For some, the Straussian austerity can be exhilarating. It can be understood as an invitation to join those privileged few who, having ascended from the cave, gaze upon the sun with unhooded eyes, while yet mindful of those others below, in the dark. With grave agreement Strauss quotes Albo, 250 years removed from Maimonides, who calls his master the great eagle that delights to soar upward, ever closer to the sun.

Straussism also helps Straussians to do good work, which they could not do otherwise. As an example, because I have consulted it recently, I offer Allan Bloom and Harry Jaffa's Shakespeare's Politics, especially the chapter on the “Merchant of Venice.” Not many political scientists are Straussian, but of only the dozen or so articles in the latest issue of the American Political Science Review I have seen (March 1974), three, and those not the least interesting, are by Straussians—young, to judge by their rank of assistant professor, and therefore unlikely to have studied under Strauss himself.

In the first Straussian generation there is a fairly high proportion of Jews. The reasons for this are unclear. Of course, by all accounts Strauss was a great teacher. Like his Greek and Jewish masters, “gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche.” But there must also have been a political or ideological attraction. Unlike other Jewish students, were the Straussians already conservative, or on the way to becoming conservative? Or did conservatism follow discipleship? There were Left Hegelians. There have been no Left Straussians.

Young and old, Jew and Gentile, all agree that Strauss's being a Jew was at the center of his thought and feeling. At the University of Chicago his lectures at the Hillel Foundation were events. In a university that prided itself on intellectual distinction, he was widely regarded as most distinguished; and this formidable Jew evoked respect for Jewish tradition and existence—not least among the Jews, teachers and students alike. On the whole, Jewish Straussians are still respectful, but still distantly. In general they think religion to be a good thing—politically, of course, and for others: Strauss says that liberal education used to be for gentlemen and religious education for the masses. The philosopher's education began where the gentleman's left off.

If the Jewish Straussians were really serious, if they really thought that what a philosopher says and how he says it and how he appears to the non-philosophical make or should make a difference, would not more of them go to the synagogue? Strauss had stopped going to the synagogue. From his own point of view, should he have? More exactly, should he not have resumed going when he became a master, with disciples? Should he not have offered up a little of that sacrifice—of the philosopher to the Jew in him—that he valued so highly in Maimonides? For the greatest philosopher a noble lie, though inferior to a noble truth, was yet noble.

Strauss was not a believing Jew, but the only religion he could take seriously was Judaism. He himself said that while Judaism—the revelation—cannot refute philosophy, neither can philosophy refute Judaism. Philosophy, which rejects faith, is therefore itself a kind of faith. If for him the alternative to philosophy always remained Judaism, that was primarily because he had been brought up in a religious Jewish home. For the children and grandchildren of detached Jewish Straussians, the alternative to philosophy would not be Judaism. For them the alternative would necessarily be Christianity—perhaps by a detour through Eastern religions. Strauss had no difficulty in choosing between Judaism and Christianity, and he wanted the fruitful tension between Judaism/Jerusalem and philosophy/Athens to endure. (His definitive formulation of this, “Jerusalem and Athens,” was published in these pages, June 1967.) If this Athenian had lived a more Jerusalemite life, he would have set an even stronger Jewish example than he did. That would not have been inconsistent, or unprincipled. He began to study Maimonides when young and never stopped, to the day of his death. He held that Maimonides was deeper than Spinoza.


What did he achieve, how significant was he? History, as they say, will give the answer. Xenophon's achievement and significance have always been seen as rather limited, but if Strauss's reinterpretation prevails they will be seen differently. One thing is indisputable, that Strauss combined to a preeminent degree the qualities that Talmud scholarship knows as those of the baqi and of the harif—the first, of copious, wide, deep, and exact knowledge; the second, of sharp and subtle analytical prowess. I have counted more than thirty authors that he treats at some length, from antiquity to the 20th century—and such authors! (And always read in their own languages—in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, Italian, English, French, and his native German.) He may have been the most learned man of our time in the great writings that it is worth being learned in, of poets and historians as well as philosophers; and to his learning were joined acuteness, penetration, intuition, zest, and a certain serious playfulness.

In St. John's College, Annapolis, where Strauss was scholar in residence, a young man spoke in memoriam:

Once, when our conversation ended with Mr. Strauss counseling me to make good use of my youth by studying, I asked for . . . the subjects worthy of the most study. . . . Mr. Strauss suggested a curriculum built around the study of four books. True to form, he named only three of them—Aristotle's Ethics, Aquinas's Treatise on Law, and Kant's Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals. . . .

What the wise man says to each who may have it in him to become a seeker after wisdom depends on the particular constitution and needs of each soul. Strauss's enumeration of the books is true to form. His choice is enigmatic. Why Aristotle when Strauss loved Plato more, and which of the books on ethics? Aquinas because the young man is a Christian, or of a Christian family? Why Kant, when Strauss probably agreed with his friend Jonas that Kant's philosophy is outmoded?

What is the mysterious unnamed book? Hardly the Bible. Something by Machiavelli, I suggest, perhaps the Discourses. Strauss professes to be shocked by Machiavelli's shamelessness, but it is Strauss who reminds us that shamelessness is a moral or practical vice, not an intellectual or theoretical one. He even reminds us that shamelessness, like impiety, is absent from Aristotle's list of the moral vices.

Strauss tells us that the classical political philosophers teach about the governance of an established polis, while Machiavelli teaches about the founding of a city or a dynasty. A founder is superior to an inheritor. But who is a founder? Moses was a founder. Long before him, the first pharaoh was a founder. How about the Egyptian who expelled the alien Hyksos rulers and reestablished—refounded—a native Egyptian pharaohnate? Was he not in his way as much a founder as the pharaoh who founded the first dynasty? For Machiavelli, just as the ruler who has founded a city or a dynasty is superior to other rulers, so must the thinker who has founded the doctrine about the founding of cities and dynasties be superior to other thinkers. Machiavelli was a founder—of modern political thought. I am persuaded that Strauss regarded himself, and was confident that future generations would regard him, as a refounder: the thinker who expelled (who undermined the taken-for-granted superiority of) the alien, intrusive teaching that had conquered political thought, and who restored, partly, the authentic, classical teaching or teachings. Could Strauss have been a secret Machiavellian? In any event, by the Machiavellian equation he can regard himself as not inferior to Machiavelli, the founder of the modern teaching. By the same equation he may even regard himself as not altogether inferior to Socrates—Socrates!—the founder of the classical teachings.


It is fitting to conclude by reverting to Strauss the Jew, the German Jew. In Philosophie und Gesetz he takes credit for telling Franz Rosenzweig the story about Hermann Cohen that Rosenzweig made famous: how Cohen once explained his God-idea to an Orthodox Jew; how the Jew then asked, And what about bore' 'olam, the Creator of the world?; and how Cohen's only answer was to weep. Strauss was a friend of Gershom Scholem and Ernst Simon, who went up from Germany to Jerusalem fifty years ago (and are among the few contemporaries, along with Harry Austryn Wolfson, he cites in his footnotes). One difference between him and them was that his family was Orthodox, unassimilated, small-town provincial. This may help to explain why, unlike Rosenzweig and even some German Jewish Marxists, he was never impressed or attracted by Christianity.

In being as Jewish as he was, and as conservative, Strauss was wholly distinct from those we think of when we think of Weimar culture or the intellectual migration: no chapter is devoted to him in the books about these. Of high degree in the culture and the migration was the Institut für Sozialforschung, the so-called Frankfurt School, which included such luminaries as Franz Neumann, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer. Martin Jay, the author of the Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, tells us (“Anti-Semitism and the Weimar Left,” Midstream, January 1974) that the members of this brilliant and admired school, and especially the inner circle, mostly “came from Jewish backgrounds.” Even after the war these brilliant men continued to deny the intensity, and almost the existence, of pre-war German anti-Semitism! Anyway, they knew that anti-Semitism was not especially important, a symptom of something about capitalism; or else that it was a capitalistic device. Always they insisted that their Jewish backgrounds had nothing to do with their politics, or their school, or their dialectical imagination. In short, they used their brilliance to blind themselves to the most obvious facts.

To those who are moved by the exhortation, “change the world” does not mean “change the world for the worse.” A Marxism that is not optimistic about the unity of theory and practice is a contradiction in terms. Yet toward the end, while Adorno had not renounced Marxist theory, he had renounced optimism about Marxist practice. His death was hastened by a Marxist woman student's lewd, jeering, cruel, public humiliation of the old Marxist philosopher and teacher, in his lecture hall.

Strauss, a Socratic, was not an optimist even as to theory. His health had long been frail. When he died, he was still learning and still teaching, encompassed by a more than filial reverence and care. “Honor is the portion of the wise” (Proverbs 3:35).

For a Greek Jew, or a Jewish Greek, something from Aristotle (Nichomachean Ethics 1100b-1101a) may be an equally suitable epitaph:

. . . no one of the blessed could become wretched. For he will never do hateful or base things . . . since, in our opinion, the truly good and wise man bears all vicissitudes in a fitting manner . . . ever acting most nobly. . . .

+ A A -
You may also like
Share via
Copy link