From anti-liberal to untimely liberal: Leo Strauss' two critiques of liberalism

Philosophy and Social Criticism 36 (2):157-181 (2010)


Leo Strauss’ ubiquitous presence in recent US foreign policy debates demands a thorough analysis of his critique of liberalism. I identify and explain a previously unnoticed transformation in that critique. Strauss’ Weimar critique of liberalism was philosophical and political; like Carl Schmitt, he sought philosophical grounds to replace liberalism with an authoritarian political system. However, post-emigration Strauss abandoned this political agenda, exclusively pursuing a philosophical critique that exposed modern liberalism’s purported weaknesses in order to strengthen its core. I accentuate this change by reading Strauss’ postwar lecture, ‘The Three Waves of Modernity’, as an implicit response to and reconstruction of Schmitt’s ‘Neutralizations and Depoliticizations’ essay. Strauss’ changing relationship to political theology and political philosophy was central to his transformation: while a philosophically grounded political theology undergirded his early disdain for liberalism, Strauss later abandoned political theology for a quasi-theological faith in political philosophy that motivated his more moderate, philosophical critique

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