Memorial Speech for Leo Strauss

Memorial Speech for Leo Strauss, New School for Social Research, 1974. Reprinted in The Archaeology of the Soul, 2012.


Leo Strauss was a philosopher. He hid this fact as much as he showed it by being a transhistorical historian of philosophy. He was more historically accurate than the “historians of ideas” for the sake of recovering the human horizon whose articulation is indispensable for our ascending to the natural horizon. He realized that a special effort had to be made by us in order to attain to the distinction, which is at the heart of philosophy, between those things which are first for us and those things which are first by nature. His was an ascent from the cave beneath the cave to the cave for the sake of ascending from the cave. ‘Archaeology’ was the only path still open to any possible ‘physiology.’ Strauss thus attempted to rediscover in a wholly original way the sense of the Socratic enterprise itself, which had argued on behalf of common sense against the madness of the pre-Socratics only to ground common sense on a basis inaccessible to common sense. Strauss was not the first to attempt such a rediscovery; but he was certainly faced with greater obstacles, of an apparently solid and philosophical sort, than anyone before him. And yet he did hold a peculiar advantage over those thinkers who in the last hundred years or so have acknowledged that the ancients were more than clever children, and that their thought deserved rethinking. He approached the ancients without the blinkers of modern classical scholarship — a sign of this was his rediscovery of Xenophon the philosopher — for he knew that such scholarship had taken from the start the side of the moderns. For him neither Greek poetry nor Greek philosophy was essentially Greek. He was guided throughout by a thought much older than modernity. Averroism saw the political-theological issue as the philosophical issue, since the problem of the human good is grounded in the city, and the problem of being in god. Political philosophy was therefore the eccentric core of philosophy, and the problem of Socrates the problem of philosophy itself.”