Natural Right and Philosophy

Stewart Umphrey, "Natural Right and Philosophy," The Review of Politics, Vol. 53, No. 1 (Winter 1991).


“The problem inherent in the surface of things, and only in the surface of things, is the heart of things.” So wrote Leo Strauss in his Thoughts on Machiavelli.’ The sentence may seem to be a passing remark, and yet it states his main hermeneutical principle. On the one hand it articulates the abiding hypothesis that what is first for us, the very looks of things, is somehow first in itself. On the other hand it guides his commentaries on great books, ancient as well as modern. What if we let this principle guide our commentaries on Strauss’s own books? Then the heart of Natural Right and History, for example, is arguably the disproportion between what first appears to be his teaching about natural right and what first appears to be his skepticism about the knowability of natural right.