Review of the City and Man

Seth Benardete, "Leo Strauss' The City and Man," Political Science Reviewer, Fall 1978.


Leo Strauss’ The City and Man seems at first to be a straightforward continuation of all his previous work: the articulation of the theological-political problem. Even the writers he examines here are the same as those who were most present to him from the start: Aristotle, Plato, and Thucydides are the names most frequently cited in the index to his Political Philosophy of Hobbes.  Continuity, how-ever, of theme and authorities can be deceptive. That Natural Right and History goes forward from the pre-Socratics to Burke, and The City and Man back from Aristotle through Plato to Thucydides, indicates some fundamental change in Strauss’ way of approaching the ancients. They are no longer the beginning from which, they are now the beginning to which he goes. Natural Right and History concluded with the issue of “individuality”; The City and Man ends with a question, quid sit dens.  It is, according to Strauss, the question of philosophy; but when he paraphrased Calvin to the same effect in his book on Spinoza he had not fully appreciated this fact (Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, p. 194). The recovery of this question constitutes the action of The City and Man. It makes the book more like Thucydides’ history than like either Aristotle’s Politics or Plato’s Republic. The search for the “common sense” understanding of the city that leads Strauss from the political science of Aristotle and the political philosophy of Plato to the history of Thucydides turns out to be equivalent to the most metaphysical of questions (cf. pp. 240-1).

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