On a Certain Critique of “Straussianism”

Nathan Tarcov, "On a Certain Critique of 'Straussianism,'" The Review of Politics, Vol. 53, No. 1 (Winter 1991).


This article examines a certain critique of what I will take the liberty of calling “Straussianism,” a critique which raises questions I believe are worth discussing, especially by all those interested in the work of Leo Strauss. This particular critique appeared in a re- view of a book on Platonic political philosophy, a review by a young scholar who had published only a couple of articles on classical political philosophy himself.

This reviewer aptly characterizes the author as one who, “thoroughly dissatisfied with modern philosophy in all its forms, and un- willing to take refuge in Thomism … turns back to classical philosophy, to the teaching of Plato and Aristotle, as the true teaching” (p. 326). According to this perceptive critic, the author considered the quarrel of the ancients and the moderns “definitely settled in favor of the classics. After having disposed of this fundamental question, which as such is a theoretical question, he can pursue a practical or political intention on the foundation of the classical teaching.” The skeptical reviewer insists, however, that “the teaching of the classics can have no immediate practical effect, because present-day society is not a polis” (p. 332). He cautions that “Since there are essential differences between modern society and the society envisaged by the classics, the classical teaching cannot be immediately applicable to modern society, but has to be made applicable to it, that is, must be modernized or distorted” (p. 333). He therefore rejects the author’s assumption “that we can find in the classical teaching the solution to our modern problem …. [that] the classics must be presumed to supply us with an analysis, diagnosis and therapy of the modern disease” (pp. 334-35).