Reprinted by The Claremont Institute, January 13, 2015. In Kenneth L. Deutsch and John A. Murley, Leo Strauss, the Straussians, and the American Regime (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999).
It is almost routine in the scholarship of greatness, whether philosophic or political, to discover fathomless complexity in its subjects. Certainly this has been true about Lincoln. Yet in the case of Lincoln, as in that of many others, the difficulty has been more in the mind of the observer rather than in the subject. Scholars who do not to believe in “an abstract truth applicable to all men and all time” either do not believe that Lincoln believed it, or think of him as unsophisticated. In either case, they embark on a quest for hidden motives because they cannot see the ones that lie plainly on the surface.
The recent torrent of literature about Strauss is not unlike that about Lincoln. No one would deny Strauss’s complexity. Yet great minds are often, if not always, as great in their simplicities as in their complexities. Lincoln’s statesmanship can always be explained in its relationship to “a central idea from which all its minor thoughts radiate.” Strauss revealed himself perhaps more directly than anywhere else in his eulogy of Churchill.