Strauss’ Natural Right and History

Richard Kennington, "Strauss' Natural Right and History," Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 35, No. 1 (Sep. 1981).


At the time Strauss published Natural Right and History (1953)  the state of the question of natural right was a mixture of oblivion and fitful restoration. Natural right had disappeared from the center of discussion in political philosophy for well over a century. No philosopher of the first rank had written a treatise on, or advocated the necessity of, natural right since the time of German idealism or perhaps since Rousseau. Kant more than any other had emptied “natural right” of meaning by asserting that the moral law must be a law of
reason and not a law of nature. Naturrecht in the subtitle of Hegel’s great treatise on right did not mean right derived from human nature or from nature as a norm or standard: right was to be sought in the  conjunction of the rational and the historical. By the middle of the last century there arose a virtually unanimous agreement between the conservative right and the radical left: the question of right had to be decided on the plane of “history” and not by reference to “nature.” The attack on natural right in its explicit form had begun with the critique of modern natural right by the great conservatives of “the historical school.” It was completed by Nietzsche and Heidegger who traced the “nihilism” of the age to the continuing power of the belief in trans-historical or “eternal” truths, e.g., to the belief in natural right.