Leo Strauss

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Leo Strauss, a "refugee from Nazi Germany who arrived in the United States in 1937, was trained in the history of political philosophy, and became one of the foremost conservative émigré scholars." He taught at the University of Chicago. [1]

"He was widely known for his argument that the works of ancient philosophers contain deliberately concealed esoteric meanings whose truths can be comprehended only by a very few, and would be misunderstood by the masses. This has come to be known as the 'hidden meaning' thesis," Seymour M. Hersh wrote May 12, 2003, in The New Yorker. Similar arguments have been made by Hakim Bey regarding Chinese writings associated with Tongs.

Versus Democracy

According to a 2003 analysis by Jim Lobe for the Inter Press Service, Strauss believed the world to be a place where policy advisers may have to deceive their own publics and even their rulers in order to protect their countries.

Shadia B. Drury of the University of Calgary, author of 1999's Leo Strauss and the American Right [ISBN 0312217838], says "Strauss was neither a liberal nor a democrat... Perpetual deception of the citizens by those in power is critical (in Strauss's view) because they need to be led, and they need strong rulers to tell them what's good for them. .. The Weimar Republic (in Germany) was his model of liberal democracy for which he had huge contempt," added Drury. Liberalism in Weimar, in Strauss's view, led ultimately to the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews. [2]

According to Drury, Strauss like Plato taught that within societies, "some are fit to lead, and others to be led". But, unlike Plato, who believed that leaders had to be people with such high moral standards that they could resist the temptations of power, Strauss thought that "those who are fit to rule are those who realise there is no morality and that there is only one natural right, the right of the superior to rule over the inferior". [3]

For Strauss, "religion is the glue that holds society together", said Drury, who added that Irving Kristol, among other neo-conservatives, has argued that separating church and state was the biggest mistake made by the founders of the U.S. republic. [4]

"Secular society in their view is the worst possible thing", because it leads to individualism, liberalism and relativism, precisely those traits that might encourage dissent, which in turn could dangerously weaken society's ability to cope with external threats. "You want a crowd that you can manipulate like putty," according to Drury. [5]

Influence on U.S. foreign policy

Abram N. Shulsky received his doctorate under Strauss in 1972. Shulsky's area of expertise was Soviet disinformation techniques. "The Straussian movement has many other adherents in and around the George W. Bush Administration. They include William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, and Stephen A. Cambone, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, who is particularly close to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld," according to Hersh. "Strauss's influence on foreign policy decision making (he never wrote explicitly about the subject himself) is usually discussed in terms of his tendency to view the world as a place where isolated liberal democracies live in constant danger from hostile elements abroad, and face threats that must be confronted vigorously and with strong leadership."

Intelligence and Duplicity

"How Strauss's views might be applied to the intelligence-gathering procedure is less immediately obvious. Shulsky explored that question in a 1999 essay, written with Gary Schmitt, entitled 'Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence (By Which We Do Not Mean Nous)'--in Greek philosophy the term nous denotes the highest form of rationality," Hersh wrote.

Schmitt's essay was published in Kenneth L. Deutsch and John A. Murley, editors, "Leo Strauss, the Straussians, and the American Regime", Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1999. Paper. ISBN 0847686922.

"In the essay, Shulsky and Schmitt write that Strauss's 'gentleness, his ability to concentrate on detail, his consequent success in looking below the surface and reading between the lines, and his seeming unworldliness . . . may even be said to resemble, however faintly, the George Smiley of John le Carré's novels," Hersh said.

"Echoing one of Strauss's major themes, Shulsky and Schmitt criticize America's intelligence community for its failure to appreciate the duplicitous nature of the regimes it deals with, its susceptibility to social-science notions of proof, and its inability to cope with deliberate concealment," Hersh wrote.

Politics and deception

"Strauss's idea of hidden meaning, Shulsky and Schmitt added, 'alerts one to the possibility that political life may be closely linked to deception. Indeed, it suggests that deception is the norm in political life, and the hope, to say nothing of the expectation, of establishing a politics that can dispense with it is the exception.' In other words, what leaders say, is not what they do - and Niccolò Machiavelli was probably right to emphasize fear over being loved," Hersh wrote.

Robert B. Pippin, "the chairman of the Committee on Social Thought at Chicago and a critic of Strauss, says that 'Strauss believed that good statesmen have powers of judgment and must rely on an inner circle. The person who whispers in the ear of the King is more important than the King. If you have that talent, what you do or say in public cannot be held accountable in the same way," Hersh wrote.

Integrity versus diplomacy

Another Strauss critic, Stephen Holmes, the Walter E. Meyer Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, "put the Straussian's position this way: 'They believe that your enemy is deceiving you, and you have to pretend to agree, but secretly you follow your own views,'" Hersh wrote. "Holmes added, 'The whole story is complicated by Strauss's idea--actually Plato's--that philosophers need to tell noble lies not only to the people at large but also to powerful politicians.'"

See Stephen Holmes, "The Anatomy of Antiliberalism," Harvard University Press (Reprint 1996), Paper, ISBN 0674031857.


One of Strauss's staunchest defenders, Joseph Cropsey, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Chicago, "about the use of Strauss's views in the area of policymaking," told Hersh "that common sense alone suggested that a certain amount of deception is essential in government. 'That people in government have to be discreet in what they say publicly is so obvious--'If I tell you the truth I can't but help the enemy.' But there is nothing in Strauss's work, he added, that 'favors preëmptive action. What it favors is prudence and sound judgement."

Regarding the U.S. invasion of Iraq, "[s]ome former intelligence officials believe that Shulsky and his superiors were captives of their own convictions, and were merely deceiving themselves. Vincent Cannistraro, the former chief of counter-terrorism operations and analysis at the C.I.A., worked with Shulsky at a Washington think tank after his retirement. He said, 'Abe is very gentle and slow to anger, with a sense of irony. But his politics were typical for his group--the Straussian view'," Hersh reported.

Influence on Office of Special Plans

According to his May 15, 2003, article Judeo-Christian Decadence. At the Fount of Power, Al Cronkrite writes regarding the Office of Special Plans:

"At the root of this effective manipulation of power is the teaching of a man named Leo Strauss (1899-1973). Leo Strauss was a brilliant German Jew who after studying in Europe on a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation, became a highly paid professor at the University of Chicago. According to Robert Locke, who studied under Professor Strauss, he was an atheist and the purveyor of an esoteric philosophy which was critical of liberalism but supported Machiavellian deception and a ruling elite.

"Robert Locke lists among Strauss's students or those influenced by his students: Justice Clarence Thomas; Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork; Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Dundes Wolfowitz; former Assistant Secretary of State Alan Keyes; former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett; Weekly Standard editor and former J. Danforth Quayle Chief of Staff William Kristol; Allan Bloom, former New York Post editorials editor John Podhoretz; and former National Endowment for the Humanities Deputy Chairman John T. Agresto."

Published Works

  • Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey, editors. "History of Political Philosophy". 3d edition. University of Chicago Press. 1963, 1972, 1987. ISBN 0226777103.
  • Leo Strauss,. "Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy". With a Foreword by Joseph Cropsey. With an Introduction by Thomas L. Pangle. University of Chicago Press. 1983. Paper. ISBN 0226777006.

Related SourceWatch Resources

External links

Shadia Drury




  • Robert B. Pippin, "The Modern World of Leo Strauss," Political Theory, vol.20, no.3 (1992).


  • Stephen Holmes, "Truths for Philosophers Alone?", Times Literary Supplement, 1-7 December 1989; reprinted in Stephen Holmes, "The Anatomy of Antiliberalism" (1996).


  • Gregory Bruce Smith, "Leo Strauss and the Straussians: An Anti-democratic Cult?", PS: Political Science & Politics Vol. 30 No. 2 (June 1997).