Reading Leo Strauss by Steven B. Smith
Leo Strauss (1899-1973) led a quiet life. A Jewish refugee from Hitler’s Germany, he taught political philosophy first at the New School for Social Research in New York City and then, until his retirement, at the University of Chicago. Though he made a great impression on his students and provoked much controversy among his colleagues, Strauss never addressed the broader public and rarely commented on public policy. In his lifetime, he was not deemed newsworthy, nor did he seek to be so.
Not all scholars find tranquil graves, however, and lately Strauss has enjoyed an astounding notoriety. The New York Times, the Boston Globe, the New Yorker, and other leading publications at home and abroad have charted his alleged influence on key figures in the Bush administration. When the left-wing actor Tim Robbins staged an off-Broadway play about the war in Iraq, the villain whose portrait hovered over the stage was none other than Strauss. He is the supposed mastermind of what his critics understand by “neoconservatism”—critics, it must be said, who have seldom read any of his dense, erudite books.
About the Author
Clifford Orwin is professor of political science and director of the program in political philosophy and foreign affairs at the University of Toronto.