strauss exile

Eugene Sheppard, “Leo Strauss and the Politics of Exile: the Making of a Political Philosopher” (2006) – Having come to political maturity in the Bush years, Strauss is indelibly associated with the neocons and the Iraq War in my mind. Sheppard acknowledges that link but tries to draw focus away from late-stage neocon-cult-leader Chicago Strauss and towards the young exile Strauss, and does a reasonable job of presenting why an intellectual historian might be interested. The picture that emerges of pre-Chicago Leo Strauss is of someone whose many overlapping identities and concerns — Jew, German, philosopher, conservative, exile — fostered a subtle and complex approach to problems of political philosophy, one that later ossified into the various strains of cultish Straussianism of his Chicago disciples. In particular, the idea that the philosopher walks an individual, never-completed path towards the good life (and that communities do the same towards the right regime) was conditioned by Strauss’s experience in exile- an experience of terror and unfreedom but also one conducive to deep thought on the meaning of politics, something he read back into political philosophers of yore. This vision didn’t loan itself to the sort of easy answers ideologues — including his eventual followers — look for. Sheppard illuminates a number of angles on this early Strauss, including his complicated relationships with Gershom Scholem and Carl Schmitt. I’m far from a Straussian — his esotericism strikes me as tendentious and I’m of the opinion everyone can and should learn to rule the state and their own lives — but his interpretative method is an interesting game, at least. ****’


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