Leo Strauss and the Possibility of Philosophy

Stanley Rosen, "Leo Strauss and the Possibility of Philosophy, The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 53, No. 3 (Mar. 2000).


To put this in another way, Strauss articulated a public teaching that was not necessarily in conflict with his private views on philosophy, but which served as an ambiguous surface to still more ambiguous depths. Strauss takes his bearings in part from Nietzsche’s analysis of the defects of late modernity, and still more fundamentally, from Heidegger’s attempt to return to the origin of western philosophy by a destruction of its history. But Strauss differs sharply with his two teachers on the nature and the destination of that destruction. He defends modern liberalism in a way that is both invigorated and obscured by a rhetoric derived from the ancients (and medievals). At a theoretical level, he seeks to return, not to the archaic Greeks (as Nietzsche does) or to the aboriginal moment just prior to the fateful beginning of the Greek epoch in the history of being (as Heidegger does), but to the pre theoretical dimension of Greek political
Correspondence experience and common sense. The vigor derived from the return to the common roots of political life, undistorted in the texts of Plato, Xenophon, and Aristotle by twenty-five hundred years of theoretical construction, is obscured if not in fact diminished by a stubborn theoretical problem. The pretheoretical experience to which Strauss returns is precisely the precondition of the emergence of Greek, and so western European, theory. If we think this through, the following dilemma arises. Either the truth of Greek pretheoretical experience is available in principle at any time, and so a return to the Greeks is superfluous; or else Strauss advocates the historicist thesis that our Greek heksis has predisposed us to search for the origin of philosophy in the pretheoretical understanding of the Greeks themselves.