The Legacy of Voegelin and Strauss

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The Need for Political Philosophy

A reflection on the legacy of Eric Voegelin and Leo Strauss must start from the following general questions: What is political philosophy? Why should the political scientist commit himself to it?

The “hard-nosed” practitioner may think such questions irrelevant, although he might be willing to go so far as to accept some political theory as long as it remains an ancillary subfield within a strict social science understanding of politics. This position was recently maintained by Andrew Rehfeld. In his view, all modes of political theorizing that do not live up to the basic methodological presumptions of “science”1should be expelled from the discipline. This so-called “empirical political science,” and the diatribe against political philosophy, evokes a sense of déjà-vu.

Years ago, the scholarly enterprise upon which Eric Voegelin and Leo Strauss embarked ran into the same self-contained and self-complacent “empirical” political science that was impervious to a critical examination of the intellectual foundations upon which the ideational and institutional givens of everyday politics are based.2 Nevertheless, in 1953, Voegelin believed he saw the emergence of just such a political theory, which:

“has assumed a wide variety of forms according to the variety of conditions that occasion the inquiry. It has at present the general character of movements from different starting points converging toward a common goal rather than of final achievement.”

In Voegelin’s view, Leo Strauss was one of those working toward this “common goal.”

In the following reflections on their quest for a theoretically grounded political philosophy, I am not going to offer one more detailed exploration of the theoretical positions of both thinkers and try to stake out the areas of agreement and disagreement between them. The initiated are well aware of the differences, and there is no need to repeat them in a summary fashion for those yet to become acquainted with them.

It suffices to advert to the nuanced judgment of Barry Cooper and his coeditor Peter Emberley, who published the Voegelin-Strauss correspondence, thus paving the way for any serious comparative study of these thinkers:

“Their apparent disagreement in terminology and details . . . can be seen as a difference in focus rather than of substance . . . . It would be inappropriate to build upon this difference in emphasis an interpretation of doctrinal divergence. Indeed, doctrinalization of thinking is precisely what each attempted to prevent. And this is, for us, the legacy that this correspondence leaves behind.”4

Insofar as the correspondence points to a “cooperative exegesis of political reality,”5it might deepen our understanding of this enterprise to glance at the larger intellectual context and to delineate the larger sphere of theoretical discourse in which Voegelin and Strauss took part–and, I should like to add, in which thinkers like Michael Oakeshott, Hannah Arendt, and Bertrand de Jouvenal also took part.

I do not intend to speak of identical theories. These thinkers differ widely in their respective approaches to human affairs due to their differing life experiences and intellectual backgrounds. But I would argue that they share a pluri-morphic modality of the understanding of politics that is based on the classical paradigm of a “peri ta anthropina philosophia.” They are engaged in a science of politics that addresses the questions of the modern human being in terms of the perennial issues of the human condition.

The “Modern” Critique of Modernity by Voegelin and Strauss

My approach implies that–at least in retrospect–we can discern the development of a multifaceted intellectual enterprise in the post-World War II period. I argue that the salient and common feature of this enterprise is the insight into what is substantial and important in human affairs. These thinkers share not just the principle of critically exploring the political phenomena of the West’s twentieth-century crisis; they also subject key elements of modernity to philosophical scrutiny. What comes into view here is a political science that transcends the intellectual limits of the prevalent modes of political, social, and philosophical theory.

In opposition to the conventional tenets of the discipline at that time and the positivism of its basic assumptions, these thinkers–including Hannah Arendt–expressly referred to their enterprise as “political philosophy.” Then (and now) political theory and political philosophy were thought of as mere subdivisions of political science. For this reason, from the very beginning, academic political science conferred upon these thinkers the status of intellectual extraterritoriality.

Ignoring the seminal works of Voegelin, Strauss or Arendt, the Anglophone political science establishment engaged in a heated discussion on the “decline of political theory” and proclaimed the “death of political philosophy” in the early fifties.6 David Easton diagnosed a flight from “scientific reason” as evidenced, among other things, by the turn to “traditionalism.”7Years later, John G. Gunnell still complained about “the intrusion of ideas promulgated by the German émigrés of the 1930s” being formed “in the context of German philosophy and the practical experience of totalitarianism.” In his opinion “many of these individuals represented a position and orientation that threatened some of the basic premises of American political science and political theory.”8

As already stated, Voegelin spoke of a movement toward a re-theoretization of political science, and this movement crystallized in the symbolic form of political philosophy. It started out as the reflective, that is to say, discursive response to the challenge of the crises that befell major parts of the world and that swept away much of what, up to that time, had been considered to be among the certainties of modern civilization. In the last analysis, it was a crisis that threatened to destroy our humanity.

But this response also opposed those who viewed the crisis as signaling the essence or fulfillment of modernity. After all, philosophers like Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre, the jurist Carl Schmitt, and the political scientist Harold Laski, just to name a few, had hoped and spoken for a historically perfected modernity, even at the expense of all ethical standards of civilization.

What in retrospect looks like a growing community of kindred minds, in fact began as a handful of individuals who had distanced themselves from the reigning intellectual climate of opinion in order to re-establish theoretically the true meaning of the human condition. In this sense, I maintain that political philosophy does not merely critically address the crises of modernity, but is a modern intellectual enterprise itself.

With reference to Vico’s New Science, Voegelin once remarked that “the term modernity has no absolute connotation.” It was his view that the dominant modern political ideas themselves may in fact have to be considered “old,” because they do not take the measure of the historico-political conditions of contemporary human existence. It is these conditions that a truly modern political science must be able to recognize.9

Thus, I contend that political philosophy articulates itself as a modern discourse. It reflects on modernity within modernity and therefore represents a self-reflecting modernity. Voegelin and Strauss do not revolt against modernity, as one sympathetic observer put it, but instead try to awaken modernity to cognitive self-illumination. For this reason, we may indeed speak of the “timeliness” of political philosophy.

Modern Political Philosophizing

At first glance, it might appear petty to point to the semantic evidence that “political philosophy”–considered to be a comprehensive science of politics, Aristotle’s architectonic master scienceis a modern notion. But Strauss reminds us that “terminology is of paramount importance . . . one is under the obligation to pay the utmost attention to any term which one reads, or which one uses in one’s presentation.”10

Voegelin similarly wrestled his entire scholarly life with the problem of finding the appropriate theoretical language. In the end, he formulated a quite radical position:

“The symbols of the past . . .  cannot be used unquestioned as analytical concepts in our present historical situation. They must be reexamined, and this reexamination extends to our common language of ‘philosophy,’ ‘being,’ ‘theology,’ ‘religion,’ ‘myth,’ ‘reason,’ ‘revelation’ and so forth; a considerable upheaval in the conventional use of these symbols is to be expected.”11

Voegelin did not complete this reexamination himself. Without commenting on it further here, I want to call attention to this important and still unresolved issue of modern political philosophizing.

Strauss relates political philosophy to the tradition rooted in “classical political philosophy.” He maintains that, originally, political science was identified with political philosophy and the writings of Plato and Aristotle; it is these writings that document the historical genesis of political science. This is a claim with which Voegelin could agree, and he would certainly not see it as a mere “historical statement.”

We all know that “philosophia politike” appears only once in the classical corpus;12most of antiquity spoke of practical science, or of practical philosophy devoted to the “political,” the “ethical,” and the “economic.”13 This tri-partition of practical philosophy marked Greek and Latin discourse and was transmitted by Boethius, Cassiodorus, and Isidore of Seville to the pre-Aristotelian tradition of the Middle Ages, as is evident in the famous Didascalicon of Hugo of St. Victor.14

According to Bertilloni, this tripartite division of practical philosophy was reduced to a purely formal scheme devoid of any theoretical content. Therefore, he characterizes this “philosophia practica” as “completely depolitized. It therefore acts without the tripartite system.”

Only in the course of the reception of Aristotle did this scheme of practical philosophy undergo a theoretical systematization in which the central traits of the original Aristotelian paradigm were restored:

“That is to say, the difference between the connections that define the position of the individual in each of the three parts of the philosophia practica, the logico-ontological primacy of the politica over the ethica and over the oeconomica and the orientation of the ends of these latter two toward the politica.”15

The Elements of Political Philosophy: St. Thomas and Al-Farabi

It should suffice here to point to the most exemplary case, that of St. Thomas Aquinas. In his commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics the practical sciences fall within the domain of “philosophia moralis,” which is divided into “monastica” (i.e. individual), “oeconomica,” and “politica”–the original theoretical meaning of the Aristotelian “episteme politike.” It entails the supreme end of human affairs and determines the ultimate end of human life.

As far as Aristotle is concerned, it is the most important and the truly architectonic science, and all other practical sciences are subordinated to political science.16 This restitution of the “scientia civilis sive politica” to its dignity as the most important (principalissima) of the practical sciences by St.Thomas and other scholastic commentators on Aristotle rarely uses the term “political philosophy.” Outside of this literature and in post-scholastic thought the term does not seem to appear during the Middle Ages.

This is in striking contrast to Islamic and (following suit) Judaic medieval thought: In Al-Farabi’s reconstruction of Plato and Aristotle, the term “political philosophy” figures prominently.17 His Enumeration of the Sciences and the Book of Religion link political science to “political philosophy.” To operate perfectly, the royal craft requires knowledge of that political science which is part of philosophy, as well as knowledge of theoretical philosophy which, according to the Enumeration of the Sciences, constitutes the rest of philosophy–it requires knowledge of all philosophy.

Without probing into the details of Al-Farabi’s semantics, it suffices to follow Mahdi’s expert judgment:

“This explicit extension of the domain of political science beyond Aristotelian ethics and politics to encompass a political cosmology and theology, a political psychology, and a political physiology was unheard of before Al-Farabi.”18

This understanding of political philosophy became the starting point for Strauss’s reconstruction of a modernized notion of political philosophy.

As far as I can see on the basis of the semantic evidence, the term “political philosophy” gained only occasional currency in continental Europe in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. This change took place in the course of the growth of interdisciplinary specializations. It referred to a branch of philosophy that addresses the sphere of politics proper, as distinguished from philosophy in general and the other specifically philosophical disciplines.

The Encyclopedie defines political philosophy as that part of philosophy “that teaches men to conduct themselves with caution, either as the head of state or the head of a family.”19 Antonio Rosmini, who published a Filosofia de la Politica (1837-39), provided an Italian example.20 Here again, “filosofia politica” was conceived to be a special science that explores the ultimate reasons of the art of governing and whose goal is the realization of the final end of a truly civic community.

The German and Anglophone Contexts

In contrast to these examples, the term “political philosophy” was unknown in nineteenth-century Germany. The traditional terms “praktische Philosophie” or “moralische-praktische Wissenschaft” or more contemporary terms like “Rechtsphilosophie,” “Staatsphilosophie,” “Staatswissenschaft, or “Staatslehre” were used instead.

In eighteenth century Britain, a sub-disciplinary concept of political philosophy was in use that carried over into nineteenth-century Anglophone scholarship.21Here a more comprehensive vision of “political philosophy” developed within the context of “the continuing vitality of the idea of political science.”22 More than anywhere else, “the pervasive common experience of a certain kind of classical education” was a “crucial element in accounting for the nature and appeal of a science of politics.” “The hypnotic, unshakeable spell cast by Aristotle’s Politics is . . . clearly readable on the face” of the literature that set out to create a science of politics.23

Thus, in 1843, Henry Broughan “produced a massive two-volume treatise on Political Philosophy covering everything from the fundamental principles of government, through a comparative account of existing forms, to the rights and duties of citizens and the functions of the states.”24 In the course of the academic institutionalization of the various conceptions of the political and social sciences, “political philosophy” appeared on the curricular agenda.

Examples may be found in the “moral science tripos” and the “history tripos” at Cambridge in the later nineteenth century, soon to be replaced by the term “political theory.”25 What remained, however, was a more or less canonized series of authoritative texts, extending from Plato and Aristotle to modern political thinkers, that went under the name of “history of political thought.”

We may sum up our findings concerning Anglophone intellectual discourse by saying that the notion of political philosophy was more common there than elsewhere, albeit marked by a rather unspecific meaning. It suffered under the weight of an increasingly restricted concept of politics that “ceased to be the comprehensive category under which all that pertained to men’s common life was to be assembled.”26

This short, and quite preliminary, excursion into the history of the concept tends to substantiate the previously formulated thesis that a comprehensive conceptualization of “political philosophy” as postulated by Strauss and Voegelin played no prominent role in Western intellectual discourse. But the rich symbolic complex of the Western understanding of the perennial issues of the human predicament was a living intellectual force in Strauss’s and Voegelin’s reconstruction of political science as a political philosophy that faces the challenges of the modern era.

Strauss’s Ancients

In his critique of the Cambridge School of Political Science (1924), Michael Oakeshott provided the crucial link between the sketch of the development of the concept in British academic literature and a coherent, epistemologically reasoned explication of the meaning of political philosophy. Oakeshott avers that “Political Science and Political Philosophy either mean the same thing or the term science has, in this connection, no valuable meaning at all.” The true view of political science defines it as “moral science” and it is “more properly named Political Philosophy than anything else.”27 A closer look at Oakeshott’s understanding of political philosophy confirms Eric S. Kos’s judgment that it is “not unlike Strauss’ Platonic understanding of political philosophy”28; and, I would add, it is not unlike Voegelin’s either.

Strauss and Voegelin came to Plato and Aristotle in their quest for a philosophical grounding of their differently connoted hermeneutic studies. In their early years, they both adhered to a German vocabulary, even though their paths toward an understanding of the philosophical nature of the political differed–this notwithstanding the biographical fact that each profoundly experienced the intellectual and cultural crisis at the onset of totalitarianism.

For Strauss, the starting point was the vexing question of the condition of modern Judaism, the Jewish question as he called it. In his scholarly Philosophie und Gesetz (1935) he concluded:

“The criticism of the present, the criticism of modern rationalism as the critique of modern sophistry is the necessary beginning, the constant escort, and the unmistakable characteristic of the search for truth which is possible in our time.”29

The reorientation implied in Strauss’s turn to pre-modern rationalism began with a reopening of the quarrel between the moderns and the ancients, viewed against the background of the “Jewish problem.”

Strauss discovered the potential for philosophy in the true sense of the word, i.e., Platonic philosophy, in medieval Jewish and Islamic philosophy. This insight was related to his reading of Maimonides, and following suit, Al-Farabi, who for Strauss became the supreme example of the “true Platonist.” As early as 1936 he called Al-Farabi the “outstanding mind who laid the foundation for the later developments and marked their boundaries insofar as he made the rejuvenation of the Platonic-Aristotelian philosophy–philosophy per se–his duty.”30 From this vantage point “political science” became identified with “la philosophie practique ou politique.”31

What Strauss intimated here was subsequently developed in his mature work: a political philosophy that was nourished on the spiritual and intellectual potential of classical, that is to say, Hellenic political philosophy as he had discussed it in a brief lecture on Maimonides and Cohen (1931). The truth of Socratic questioning dawned on him as he examined Cohen’s interpretation of Plato and Aristotle:

“To philosophize Socratically is to formulate the question . . . concerning the Good, i.e., what exactly is the Good? Raising the question of the Idea of the Good, that and that alone is Socratic philosophizing. . . . The Socratic question regarding the right way to live includes the question of the right way to live in community, or the right way to live together in pursuit of the true state. Socratic questioning is essentially political.”32

This theme is the ground base of Strauss’ political philosophy and his understanding of the “political philosopher.” The Straussian agenda, as noted above, was intrinsically tied to the Jewish question, since this is “the most manifest symbol of the human problem as a social and political problem.”33 He wrote: “I believe I can say without any exaggeration that since a very early time the main theme of my reflections has been what is called the Jewish Question.”

And he offered the following rare glimpse into the anamnetic depth of his philosophical existence. As a young boy in his father’s house, he met Russian refugees who had fled a pogrom. To Strauss, who lived peacefully in a safe and well-ordered social setting, a pogrom seemed something completely impossible: “Nevertheless this story . . . made a deep impression on me which I have not forgotten until the present day. It was an unforgettable moment. I sensed in that moment that it could happen here.”34 This is in accord with his disapproval of the assimilated Jew: “Why should we, who have a heroic past behind and within us, which is not second to any other group anywhere on earth, deny or forget that past?”35

Even though the utmost caution is called for here, in this connection I might be permitted to refer to Voegelin’s “anamnetic” experiments, the purpose of which is to “recall those experiences that have opened sources of excitement from which issue the urge for further philosophical reflection.”36 As far as I know, Strauss never published such a self-reflecting meditation aimed at recapturing formative experiences, but this story seems to point to one such experience. Be that as it may, the Jewish question put the political-theological predicament on his agenda of political philosophy, the irresolvable tension between the truth of philosophy and the truth of the Bible, which turned out to be the bone of contention in his encounter with Voegelin.

Voegelin, Weber, and the Problem of Disenchantment

The background to Voegelin’s thought, the young America-experienced Austrian academic, was formed in an intense intellectual exchange within a fairly closed community of scholars. His existential Weberianism reflected on the German predicament of living in a disenchanted world. In contrast to Western societies, German conditions compelled political theory to reflect on the ethical and metaphysical presuppositions of social science.

In Germany:

“[Souls] are not connected . . . by the kind of firm faith in community values that would protect the instruments of human action from paralysis by the intellect. Instead, each individual is thoroughly exposed to the insecurity that is bound to follow the destruction that includes even this final innermost and unquestionable certitude. Among us [Germans], each individual bears the responsibility for the maxims of his actions in the community. Only science serves self-reflection and the cognition of the factual contextual whole that our agency must intimate if it is to be responsible.”37

This scholarly effort requires an “existential philosopher” who “lets the beam of his spirit glide over the world; he lets its meaning shine forth as the means to illuminate his own existence and–if not in order to understand his own meaning in the world–then at least to recognize his place in it.”38 This passage from 1930 anticipates Voegelin’s understanding of the “meaning of science as a truthful account of the structure of reality, as the theoretical orientation of man in his world” that he articulated in the New Science of Politics.39

While still at work on the Weberian project of a comprehensive system of “Staatslehre” (theory of the state) based on the results of modern philosophy, Voegelin was confronted with the predicament of an insecure and spiritually unstable society succumbing to National Socialism. This event engendered his break with Weberianism and led to his theoretical reorientation. On the political level, he moved closer to Christian authoritarianism, since it alone stood for the defense of Austrian independence. On the philosophical plane, he studied Hellenic, Jewish-Arabic, and Christian ideas intensely, and fitted them into his fresh understanding of the meaning of the Aristotelian “theory” of politics:

“The question of what is the essence of science can be answered . . . only by a reference to man’s specific orientation to theoria, to contemplatio. In this we follow Aristotle’s opinion that theoria is the faculty of the theiotaton in a human being, [the presence] of the spirit. Thus, theory accomplished what Weber’s latitudinarian value-neutral science had to forgo: passing judgment. By means of its essential openness toward the world, theory can help us prevent the demonizing closure of a communal ‘world.’”

It directs our gaze to the diversity of co-existing communities and can thereby prevent us from raising the value of our own community into an absolute, it directs our gaze through the scaled order of being from nature to God and thereby keeps us from divinizing a lower realm of being.40

All Thinking About the State is Latent High Treason

In contrast to Weber’s position, Voegelin notes the conflict between scholarly contemplation and the world of power politics. The theorist’s withdrawal from social and political entanglements makes him the contemplative observer and analyst of the world of becoming, reflecting on its origins, causes, and forms, in order to reflect on its “where-from,” its “how,” and its “why.” Theory passes scientific and philosophical judgments on the realm of the political and thus challenges its self-assertiveness.

For this reason, in any political community, the contemplating theorist’s existence is precarious if he practices the vocation of the scholar: “All thinking about the state is latent high treason.”41 Writing under the precarious conditions of 1937 he observed:

“Every political community that has at the same time developed a scientific culture is faced with the problem of protecting its organization of loyalties from knowledge. There is no general rule for a solution. Nevertheless, one could say that sciences that do not deal with matters that are taboo, which is to say, with matters of importance to the organization of loyalties, in general have more space to maneuver . . . while the historical, political science, and social sciences always find themselves in a delicate situation.”42

With reference to Plato’s Second Letter, he concludes: “Wise men have therefore drawn the conclusion that many things should be said only within a small circle and certain things said to no one at all.”42 And again in a draft of the Introduction to his History of Political Ideas (1939) he reiterates: “We may safely assume that the most important results of political theory never have, and never will, become known except to the more or less happy few.”43

We find the same theme in Strauss in his distinction between the philosopher’s esoteric and exoteric teachings as he unveiled it in his research on medieval Jewish and Islamic thinkers. There he writes:

“[P]hilosophy and science must remain the preserve of a small minority, and philosophers or scientists must respect the opinions on which society rests. . . . [T]his state of things creates a tension between the requirements of social science (knowledge of the truth and teaching of the truth) and the requirements of society (wholehearted acceptance of the principles of society).”44

Esotericism and the Philosophical Life

There are three interrelated problems to the philosophical life that is devoted to self-reflexive contemplation. First, the above-discussed question of the socially conditioned personal situation of the thinker. Second, the meditative spirituality of the free and independent thought that advances experientially to the ends of existential illumination. These are the historically universal characteristics of persons engaged in the business of critical questioning.

The third aspect, however, refers to the particular modality of practicing the art of philosophizing as it emerges in the effort to understand modernity in terms of philosophical reflection. It is scholarship, but in terms of political philosophy. Its practitioners, like Strauss, Voegelin, or Oakeshott, examine hermeneutically the responses offered in the course of humanity’s search for truth in order to reconstruct a science of human existence in society and history that, as Voegelin phrased it, “presents itself with the claim of critical cognizance of order.”45

The “esoteric” part concerns the vocation of the scholar who works “in Freiheit und Einsamkeit” as defined by Humboldt. But there is no doubt that Voegelin’s and Strauss’s commitment to hermeneutic scholarship did in fact induce them to convey their knowledge and insights to the larger audience of those who were willing to share their insights. At a later date, Voegelin stated that it was the duty of the political philosopher to undertake a critical analysis of reality according to the state of science “for his own sake as a man and to make the results [of science] accessible to his fellowman.”46 Strauss was more restrictive: “the esoteric teaching discloses itself only to the very careful and well trained reader after long and concentrated study.”47

This is a caveat that brings to the fore the intellectual hardships of the true scholarly study of philosophy to which especially the young philosopher must submit. But there is more to it. Esotericism follows from the true meaning of philosophy, i.e., that we cannot be philosophers, we can only try to philosophize. Philosophizing is not an esoteric activity, but it takes the hermeneutic form of listening to the conversations between the great philosophers or, more generally, the great thinkers in the history of humankind.48

Playing on the Platonic allegory, Strauss consistently maintained that “today we are in a second, much deeper cave than the fortunate ignorant persons with which Socrates was concerned . . . . We need history first of all to reach the cave from which Socrates can lead us to the light.”49 Today the scholar prepares the way for philosophy and, we may assume, in making the young listen to the voices of the past, he addresses the larger audience of those who desire to leave the second cave.

Shared, Classical Heremeneutics

There is agreement between Strauss and Voegelin that the modern political philosopher is the scholar who opens us to the task of philosophical contemplation. In their notion of scholarship, [Hans George] Gadamer remarked, Voegelin and Strauss “remained attached to the German understanding of science.”50 Their scholarship is informed by the shared principles of modern hermeneutics that constitute German “Geisteswissenschaft.

In an age of intellectual and political crisis, whatever separated Strauss and Voegelin (taking their Heideggerian and Weberian prehistory, respectively, into account), they agreed on the philosophical importance of historical reflection in order to regain a sense of the fundamental issues of human existence. Voegelin spoke explicitly of the “Geisteswissenschaft of Politics” that–contrary to traditional hermeneutics–focuses on the political as the hallmark of human existence. Political philosophy turns to classic political science, not in order to dogmatically reanimate ideas of the past, but to restore political science to the dignity of the science of human existence in history and society.51

As Strauss wrote:

“An adequate understanding of the principles, as elaborated by the classics, may be the indispensable starting point for an adequate analysis . . . of present day society in its peculiar character, and for wise application, to be achieved by us, of these principles to our tasks.”52

In a letter to Strauss Voegelin joined his “critique of the attitude that believes that it understands a thinker better than the thinker understood himself,” and shared his “insistence that the object of historical analysis is to recreate the meaning intended by the author.”53

Strauss was convinced of the self-evidence of his hermeneutic approach and claimed a “textual immanentism” that understands the thought of the past exactly as it understood itself, prior to subsequent interpretation.54 Voegelin would assent to this position, but he would also insist that the meaning of the sources has to be explicated discursively in rational analysis and that these hermeneutic principles have to be applied within the wider interpretive frame of a discursive inquiry into the nature of man in his historical development.55

Insofar as the project of “political philosophy” is a hermeneutically based reconstruction of a political science of order, it seems reasonable to suggest that, in effect, Strauss converted his textual analyses into a comprehensive interpretation of the meaning of the historical course of Western thought and the ensuing cultural crisis of modernity, as did Voegelin in his critical History of Political Ideas in which he retraced the making of modern Gnosticism.56

A Parting of the Ways

Both thinkers express the horizon of the philosophical quest in similar terms but, under closer scrutiny, their views differ in some crucial aspects. To Strauss, philosophy is a striving for the eternal whole, for the knowledge of God, the world, and man–or rather the quest for knowledge of the nature of things: nature in its totality is “the whole.”57 This modality of questioning expresses the ultimate purpose of philosophizing. Discovered once in classical philosophy, it remains the last and decisive word in the matter, and its complex symbolism requires no further exegesis.

Voegelin conceives the “comprehensive reality of God, world and society” to be the primary experience of cosmic reality. It is the primordial community of being in relation to which humans understand and define their humanity in terms of experiences of transcendence. Thus, human beings articulate their own nature in a differentiating historical process that brings forth the ongoing unfolding of human self-understanding; in the world-historical phenomenon of axial time, it has gained global dimensions.

From this Voegelinian vantage point, the classical philosopher and the revelatory phenomenon of Israel and Christianity mark spiritual turning points in the process of man’s struggle to understand his humanity. For this reason, Voegelin originally placed his philosophical inquiry within the orbit of the historical development of human self-understanding that emerged in classical philosophy and Christianity. However, as Voegelin later argued, irrespective of the philosophical relevance of the Western manifestation of a genuine philosophy of order and history, the theorist must also acknowledge the geographical extent and the historical depth of the pluralist process of spiritual irruptions, all of which articulate the nature of the human being.

For Voegelin, the global nature of this process raised the question of whether societies outside the Western evocation of the idea of a universal humankind, that is “the non-Mediterranean Africa, and Europe, the Far East and the Americas,” could be excluded from the universality of the human search for humanity and order.58 Voegelin introduced the philosophical term “universal humanity” in order to denote this pluri-morphic articulation of humanity.

Philosophical Questioning: A Constant in History

Strauss wanted to restrict the philosophical questioning for the transcendent “whole” to the classics; Voegelin conceived the question as a constant in history. It expressed itself in equivalent experiences and symbolizations engendered by the primary tensional structure of existence in the in-between of perfection and imperfection, truth and untruth, life and death, and order and disorder.

Voegelin’s later reorientation toward the ecumenic vision of universal humanity took place after Strauss’s death. Nevertheless, it is clear why Strauss harbored deep doubts about Voegelin’s notion of a philosophical science of order. While they agreed that, to the extent that science concerns itself with the human world, it must be a philosophical science, they disagreed on what constitutes the substance and form of this science, and on how it was to be reconstituted in the face of the contemporary crisis.

Voegelin’s form of hermeneutics was determined by the interplay between the cognitive exploration of historical phenomena, based on the one hand on the advancement of the historical and social disciplines that are revealed in the multiple modes of human self-explication, and, on the other, on the reflective analysis of human existence with the intention of deciphering “empirically the patterns of meaning as they reveal themselves in the self-interpretation of persons and societies in history.”59

For Strauss, this interpretive approach in terms of a philosophy of order and history smacked of historicism, for the truth of classical philosophy is principally “ahistorical.” Thus, he insisted on the uniqueness of the classical search for the truth of the whole: it alone can lay claim to being “universally human.” In Strauss’s view, Voegelin systematically blurred the distinction between reason and revelation by describing them as expressions of equivalent experiences of transcendence. According to Strauss, the faith upon which Judaism and Christianity are based differs from knowledge in that faith does not represent a universal truth.

Faith and Philosophy

Throughout his life, Strauss recurred to the irresolvable conflict between philosophical knowledge and biblical faith: “No justifiable purpose is served by obscuring this contradiction, by the postulating of the tertium from there.”60 Strauss would only grant:

“that both Socrates and the prophets are concerned with justice or righteousness, with the perfectly just society which, as such, would be free of all evils. To this extent Socrates’ figuring out the best social order and the prophet’s vision of the messianic age are in agreement. But prophets predict the coming of a messianic age, while Socrates merely holds that the perfect society is possible [per Strauss].”61

Strauss does not grant that these symbolisms, Greek thought and biblical faith, merged into the constituent symbolism of European society. To do so would be to harmonize two opposite visions of order and thus create the tertium postulated by Voegelin in his “new science of politics.” Where Voegelin attempted to fuse the theory of politics with the theory of history and thus synthesize the realms of philosophy and revelation, Strauss confined philosophical knowledge to the classical mode of questioning and pitted it against revelation.

Strauss’ Critique of Voegelin

A closer look at Strauss’s understanding of biblical faith reveals that he defines revelation in terms of a self-contained compact body of texts. “Faith in revelation necessarily issues in preaching or proclaiming the message of revelation and therefore ultimately in a teaching.”62 Strauss never subjected this canonized corpus of writings to a historically informed critical analysis: in other words he accepted the dogma of biblical orthodoxy. For this reason, he assumed that Voegelin accepted Christian dogma:

In case you did this we would easily come to an understanding. Because my distinction between revelation and human knowledge to which you object is in harmony with Catholic teaching. But I do not believe that you accept the Catholic teaching. Here a considerable difficulty could result, from your getting rid of the principle of tradition . . . but Catholicism is most consistent in this respect.63

This misunderstanding is significant.

Strauss’s Unwarranted Assumption

First, Strauss did (and probably could) not know that Voegelin had never been a practicing Christian, just as Strauss had never been a practicing Jew. Second, Strauss’s criticism of Voegelin’s theoretical position raises a problem that had troubled others, too. Strauss denied that one could speak of the “religious foundations of classical philosophy.” Reading the New Science (Voegelin’s most “Christian” book), he complained that Voegelin prioritized revelatory knowledge at the expense of true philosophical knowledge. He believed that in doing so, Voegelin based his New Science of Politics on revelation, and thus turned from political philosophy to political theology, something to be expected of a believer in Christian dogma.

Voegelin attempted to dispel these suspicions concerning the theological and metaphysical “premises” of his study. More clearly than in his letters to Strauss, he explained to Thomas Cook that political science is faced with the fact that experiences of transcendence are constituent elements in social order:

“The question whether anybody is an agnostic, or religiously inclined, or whether he is both at the same time . . . has, in my opinion, nothing to [do] whatsoever with theoretical issues . . . . A theory of politics, therefore, must take cognizance of these facts and interpret them on their own terms . . . . As a critical scientist I have to accept these facts of order, whatever my personal opinion about them should be.”64

At first sight, the theological-political problem (a Straussian concept) seems to figure prominently in some way in the work of all political philosophers, but certainly more so in the thinking of Strauss and Voegelin. But again the difference is striking. With Voegelin, there never was a personal argument with his Christian upbringing or the teaching of the church. The problem that went under the term of “revelation” was always dealt with in terms of the anthropological evidence of human spirituality.

In contrast, Strauss’s scholarly work was bound up from the beginning with the claims of “revelation” as articulated in Jewish orthodoxy and with his own personal doubts, his lack of faith. Krüger has suggested that the young scholar could not believe (glauben), “and [had] to search for a possibility to live without faith (Glauben).”65 To Strauss, this meant that one has to choose either the ancient, the Socratic-Platonic possibility, or the modern possibility, the Enlightenment; this choice conditions the nature of one’s response to existence in the “second cave.”

Revelation and Philosophy as Mutually Exclusive Codes of Life

The solution for Strauss was to return to the Socratic-Platonic philosophy that is to be recognized as the only authentic philosophy because it allows for a life without faith. Krüger’s critical response illuminates the Straussian problem: “It is philosophically wrong, to start from the question of one’s own life and faith . . . . You orient yourself–albeit negatively–by the revelatory religion (Offenbarungsreligion).”66 Viewed from this vantage point, an atheistic understanding of Socratic-Platonic philosophy was a necessary step, since it first liberated one from the “factual domination of Christ over the post-ancient humankind” in the form of an “a-Christian philosophy.”67

Second, it laid bare the genuine meaning of revelatory religion grounded on the orthodox reading of the Bible and demonstrated that philosophy (more precisely: political philosophy) and revelation represent two mutually exclusive codes of life and thought. According to Strauss, they are not mere historical paradigms of the human quest for truth and the right life, but are also in themselves legitimated by the fact that neither can refute the other. In effect, these theses preserve the identity of the Christian, the Muslim, and, last but not least, the Jew. Philosophy, however, transcends this antagonism of codes in that it lives up to the task of “explaining” revelation, as Heinrich Meier, in his nuanced interpretation of “Reason and Revelation,” has at least tentatively shown.

Here Strauss pondered “‘the task of the philosopher’ [and] what a philosophical explanation would have to achieve,” and thus underscored the weight that he accords the explanation of faith and revelation within the confrontation between philosophy and revelation. If the explanation were sufficient philosophy would demonstrate its superiority not only in the demonstrations of its limits of what is possible. Philosophy would prove at the same time to be the judge of the articulation of revelation in human reality.68

This tentative “explanation” is briefly alluded to in a passage in which Strauss explained to Voegelin “that the theioi nomoi is the common ground of the Bible and philosophy–humanly speaking.” And he added: “it is the problem of the multitude of theioi nomoi that leads to the diametrically opposed solutions of the Bible on the one hand and philosophy on the other.”69

Discerning the Universal Character of Spiritual Irruptions

In principle, this “political” recourse to the evolution of revelation and philosophy was not too far from Voegelin’s notion of the “pneumatic” and “noetic” spiritual breakthrough, and the attendant vision of human order and community in Athens and Israel. “It need not be denied to the philosopher,” Meier interpreted Strauss, “to understand what is at stake when the prophet asserts for himself the experience of the call” as Moses, Paul, or Mohammad have done: “Even this experience . . . he can integrate in the comprehensive movement of reflection in which he takes up what he is not, what is opposed to him and is able to call him into question.”70

However, this begs the question of why Strauss argued against Voegelin’s position that the task of the philosopher-scholar is, on the one hand, to penetrate to the common ground of Moses, Paul and Mohammad, and on the other, to Plato and Aristotle; and this within a theoretical and historical reflection on the whole range of ordering experiences that are symbolized in varying models of “paradigmatic humanity.” In this way modern political philosophy would be able to discern the “universal-human” character of the manifold spiritual irruptions and move beyond “the tradition-sanctioned distinction between faith and knowledge.”71

Strauss and Voegelin on Plato’s Cave

Ultimately the problem of “belief ” and “unbelief ” appeared to have been pivotal to Strauss’s hermeneutic argument with Voegelin about the “religiousness” of Platonic philosophizing, and more fundamentally to the interrelation of experiences of transcendence and philosophy. In this regard, the differences in Voegelin’s and Strauss’s readings of the Parable of the Cave are important.

To Voegelin, it describes the turning around, caused by the vision of the Agathon forming the soul through an experience of transcendence, and thus opening it to the ground of truth and knowledge. Whenever Strauss refers to the Parable, he refrains from a closer analysis and merely remarks that “it is only through the perception of the good on the part of the properly equipped human beings that the good city can come into being and subsist for a while.”72

Where Voegelin envisions a breakthrough to transcendence, Strauss contents himself with the philosopher’s apperception of the “truth of the whole” and restricts the Platonic and Aristotelian “theology” to the political realm of the city and the necessary function of the gods to safeguard the laws of the community.73 In this he has been guided by Al-Farabi and Maimonides, who insisted on the bifurcation of the prophet and the philosopher, of faith and reason, and thus confirmed Strauss in his a-theistic interpretation of Platonic political philosophy, and in particular of the Socratic question.

In an early inquiry into Xenophon, Strauss came to the conclusion that:

“it would be an overstatement to say that philosophy was compatible with Athens: Socrates was executed for not believing in the gods of Athens, in the gods of the city. By considering and reconsidering this fact, we grasp the ultimate reason why political life and philosophy even if compatible for all practicable purposes, are incompatible in the last analysis: political life, if taken seriously, means belief in the gods of the city, and philosophy is the denial of the gods of the city.”74

The question “quid sit deus” was never far from Strauss’s mind and, in the search for an answer that his hermeneutics denied him, he untiringly returned to Plato’s Socrates and to the Socrates of Aristophanes and of Xenophon.75

Voegelin moved beyond the dichotomy of reason and revelation and centered the inquiry of the political philosopher on the existential predicament of human existence that is marked by the experience of order and disorder.

“There are No Gods, But We Must Believe in Them”

As it emerged in Voegelin’s later studies, the crucial point was that the human being deals with a variety of symbolizations that are evoked by experiences of transcendence and translated into modalities of political agency. It is these that structure the process of history in its global breadth and temporal depth. From his point of view, Voegelin could grant the societal function of normative representations like the gods of the city or any other community in history–civil theologies or religions that sustain the existence of political culture.

So Voegelin admits the dictum “‘there are no gods, but we must believe in them.’ . . . . [T]he gods are the symbols by which transcendence is articulated.”76 But symbolisms may become opaque and void of meaning in the process of the historically open quest for truth. Thus: “The historical scene becomes littered with dead gods.”77 

Thomas L. Pangle quotes from Voegelin’s The Ecumenic Age: “[T]here is no ‘time’ in which ‘history’ happens–there is only history, that mysteriously fecund ‘ground of being’ that exhibits a single ‘constancy,’” that “of a process that leaves a trail of equivalent symbols in time and space.” Pangle concludes: “The nature of the hoped for restoration of the existential tension articulated by mythic symbolism is therefore far from clear. Will it necessarily be Christian? Quid sit deus?78

Indeed, the process of human self-reflection and self-actualization reveals the ongoing and open-ended struggle for the logos of human order that is the substance of political philosophy. Perhaps Strauss would have appreciated, or at least tolerated, Voegelin’s explicit insistence that reflection on the drama of the human condition in time and space takes place within the confines of a philosophy of the political:

The philosopher is not a prophet. The truth as pronounced by the prophet is as valid for him as for any other man; but when the philosopher himself pronounces on the truth of existence, he is not permitted to use the symbols of Revelation, or, for that matter, of Myth. He is in the realm of reason; and in the noetic domain the drama of history is not enacted by the dramatis personae of a Jeremiah.79

The Contemplative Life and the City

What Strauss called esoteric insights into the trans-political quest for truth ties in with the fundamental understanding of the contemplative life that transcends the dimension of political life. Voegelin also considered the contemplative life and the life of political action to be mutually dependent manifestations of human nature. Their co-existence is of necessity marked by tension and conflict. A human community cannot exist without the practical achievement of community-formation, but if the community were to suppress the theoretical mode of life, it would also destroy the potential of substantive reason.

Strauss’s classicism discussed the same problem in terms of the conflict between philosophy and the City. He pointed out that the works of the classical political philosophers are “an attempt to supply a political justification for philosophy by showing that the well-being of the political community depends decisively on the study of philosophy.”80 But political philosophy is in principle ambivalent toward the powers that be since it demands a critical distance to societal power-games. Notwithstanding this reservation, Voegelin and Strauss–both émigrés who were well received in the United States–acknowledged the mental and historical constituents of civility in Western democracy.

For the purpose of political education in post-World War II Germany, Strauss applauded Voegelin’s exposition of the idea of civil government, its theory, and its constitutional practice.81 The views of Strauss and Voegelin basically converge in this respect: on the one hand the philosopher-scholar acts as a critical and creative authority, and as the guardian who transmits the standards and principles of order to society by means of persuasion and education; on the other hand he is devoted to the existential search for truth as it is revealed in man’s quest for humanity. This search transcends the contingencies of the life-world and reaches out to the whole of human experience, with the intention of bringing it within the purview of discursive understanding, but without forcing it into the straitjacket of a closed system, or into the service of civil theology.

The Political Scientist as Guardian of Civilization

The foregoing considerations on the legacy of Voegelin and Strauss illustrate the essential meaning of “political philosophy” as a modern response to the perennial issues of the human predicament. Why should a political scientist commit himself to political philosophy?

Because its theoretical reflection comes to grips with the challenge to apperceive and to understand the political as it has emerged in modernity. Voegelin and Strauss are paradigmatic figures of political philosophy whose specific agendas may differ, but who both argue from a vision of humanity that has the potential to master the crisis and to rebuild a civil, and therefore a truly human, order for the time being. They never envisioned a blueprint, or a utopia for eternity. Political scientists, of whatever persuasion, should be able to understand the importance and dignity of this task.

In this respect, political scientists, aware of the ever-present predicament of human order in history, may act as the guardians of civilization. For this reason, Strauss’s and Voegelin’s works should not be piously repeated, but the spirit of the works should serve as the source of inspiration for new and keener intellectual explorations of the political.



1. Andrew Rehfeld, “Offensive Political Theory,” Perspectives on Politics, June 2010, 8(2): 465–86. See also Martyn P. Thomson, “Political Theory in the USA: Some Reflections,” Politisches Denken, Jahrbuch 2010, Gerhart von Volker et al., eds. (Berlin: Duncker und Humblot, 2010), 107–125.

2. See Jürgen Gebhardt, “The Vocation of the Scholar,” International and Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Eric Voegelin, Stephen A. Mcknight and G. L. Price, eds. (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1997), 10–34; Jürgen Gebhardt, “Leo Strauss: The Quest For Truth in Times of Perplexity,” Hannah Arendt and Leo Strauss, P. Graf Kielmannsegg et al., eds. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 81–104.

3. Eric Voegelin, “The Oxford Political Philosophers,” Published Essays, 1953–1965, Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 11, Ellis Sandoz, ed. (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2000), 15–46, 27.

4. Peter Emberley and Barry Cooper, “Introduction,” Faith and Political Philosophy: The Correspondence Between Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin, 1934–1964, P. Emberley and B. Cooper, eds. (University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 1993), xxv.

5. Ibid., xi.

6. Alfred Cobban, “The Decline of Political Theory,” Political Science Quarterly, 
September 1953: 335; Petri Koikkalainen, “Peter Laslett and the Contested Concept of Political Philosophy,” History of Political Thought 20(2), Summer 2009: 336–59.

7. David Easton, The Political System (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1953), 17.

8. John G. Gunnell, Between Philosophy and Politics: The Alienation of Political Theory (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1986), 13–14.

9. Eric Voegelin, Revolution and the New Science, History of Political Ideas VI, Collected Works, vol. 24, Barry Cooper, ed. (Columbia, MO: University of 
Missouri Press, 1998), 146.

10. Leo Strauss, “How to Begin to Study Medieval Philosophy,” The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 
207–226, 220.

11. Eric Voegelin, What is History? and Other Late Unpublished Writings, Collected Works vol. 28, Thomas Hollweck and Paul Caringella, eds. (Columbia, MO: 
University of Missouri Press, 1990), 230.

12. Aristotle, Politics 1282b20.

13. E.g., Diogenes Laertius, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, R. D. 
Hicks, trans., Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950), vol. I, V,28, 474. As far as I can see, to date there is no comprehensive study of the semantic concept of “political philosophy.”

14. Cf. F. Bertilloni, “Les schemes de la philosophia practica anterieurs a 1265: Leur vocabulaire concernant la Politique et leur role dans la reception de la Politique d’Aristotle,” L’Elaboration du Vocabulaire Philosophique au Moyen Age, J. Hamesse and C. Steel, eds. (Turhout: Brepols Publishers, 2000), 171–202, 176–81; Hugo of St. Victor, Didascalicon II, 19.

15. “C’est–a-dire la difference entre les liens qui definissent la situation de l’individu en chacun des trios parties de la philosophia practica, le primat logico-ontologique de la politica sur l’ethica et sur l’oeconomica et l’orientation des fins de ces dernieres vers la politica” (Bolletini, “Philosophia practica,” 183). Translated by editors.

16. Corpus Thomisticum, Sententia libri Ethicorum, liber I, lectio 2, 1–3; see Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (South Bend: Dumb Ox Books, 1993), 9–10.

17. Al-Farabi, The Political Writings, Charles Butterworth, ed. (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001), 78 and passim.

18. Mahdi Muhsin, Al-Farabi and the Foundation of Islamic Political Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 120, 122.

19. M. Diderot and M. D’Alembert, Encyclopedie, Nouvelle Edition, vol. 26 (Geneva: Pellet, 1778), 553. Translated by editors.

20. Recent edition: Antonio Rosmini, Filosofia della Politica, Sergio Cotta, ed. (Milan: Rusconi, 1985).

21. William Paley, Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy (London: R. Faulder, 1785).

22. Stefan Collini, Donald Winch, John Burrow, The Noble Science of Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 11.

23. Ibid., 375–76.

24. Ibid., 57.

25. Ibid., 347–50.

26. Ibid., 374.

27. Michael Oakeshott, What Is History? and Other Essays, Luke O’Sullivan, ed. (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2004), 50, 56; compare Oakeshott’s exposition of political philosophy in Michael Oakeshott, Religion, Politics and the Moral Life, Timothy Fuller, ed. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993), 226–27.

28. Eric S. Kos, Michael Oakeshott, the Ancient Greeks & the Philosophical Study of Politics (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2007), 131.

29. Leo Strauss, Philosophie und Gesetz–Frühe Schriften, Gesammelte Schiften, band 2, ed., Heinrich Maier (Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler, 1997), 9–10.

30. Leo Strauss, “Eine vermißte Schrift Farabis,” Gesammelte Schriften, band 2, 176.

31. Leo Strauss, “Quelque remarques sur la science politique de Maimonide et de Farabi,” Gesammelte Schriften, Band 2, 132–33. See his marginalia referring to the Platonic and Aristotelian division of practical science (“Farabi’s Plato,” Louis Ginzberg: Jubilee Volume on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday, (New York, The American Academy for Jewish research, 1945), 357–93); Leo Strauss, “How Farabi Read Plato’s Laws,” What Is Political Philosophy? (Glencoe, IL: Free Press 
of Glencoe, 1959), 134–54.

32. Leo Strauss, “Cohen und Maimuni,” Gesammelte Schiften, band 2, 411–12.

33. Leo Strauss, Spinoza’s Critique of Religion (New York: Schocken Books, 1965), 6.

34. Leo Strauss, “Why We Remain Jews: Can Jewish Faith and History Still Speak to 
Us?” in Leo Strauss: Political Philosopher and Jewish Thinker, Kenneth Deutsch and Walter Nicgorski eds. (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1994), 44.

35. Leo Strauss, “Progress or Return,” The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism, Thomas L. Pangle, ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 232.

36. Eric Voegelin, Anamnesis: On The Theory of History and Politics, Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 6, David Walsh, ed. (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2002), 84.

37 Eric Voegelin, “Max Weber,” Published Essays, 1929–1933, Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 8, Thomas Heilke and John von Heyking, eds. (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2003), 133–34.

38 Ibid., 133–34.

39 Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, in Modernity Without Restraint: The Political Religions; The New Science of Politics; and Science, Politics, and Gnosticism, Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 5, Manfred Henningsen, ed. (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2000), 91.

40 Eric Voegelin, “Popular Education, Science, and Politics,” Published Essays, 1934–1939, Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 9, Thomas W. Heilke, ed. (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press 2001), 90.

41 Eric Voegelin, unpublished fragment on Max Weber (ca. 1936), quoted in Jürgen Gebhardt, “Introduction,” Selected Correspondence 1924–1949, Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 29, Jürgen Gebhardt, ed. (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2009), 30–31.

42 Eric Voegelin, “Was dürfen die Menschen wissen?” (1937) (“What May People be Allowed to Know?”), Published Essays, 1934–1939, Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 9, 119.

43 Eric Voegelin, “Introduction to the ‘History of Political Ideas,” Hellenism, Rome, and Early Christianity, History of Political Ideas I, Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 19, Athanasios Moulakis, ed. (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1997), Appendix A, 233. See Voegelin’s response to Max Mintz’s critique of this position (Selected Correspondence 1924–1949), 244–45.

44 Leo Strauss, “On a Forgotten Kind of Writing,” What is Political Philosophy? (Glencoe, IL: The Free Press of Glencoe, 1959), 222.

45 Voegelin, Anamnesis, 342.

46 Eric Voegelin, Israel and Revelation, Order and History I, Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 14, Maurice P. Hogan, ed. (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri 
Press, 2001), 24.

47 Strauss, “Forgotten Kind of Writing,” 222.

48 Leo Strauss, “What is Liberal Education?”, Liberalism: Ancient and Modern (New 
York: Basic Books, 1968), 7.

49 Leo Strauss, “Besprechung von Julius Ebbinghaus, Über die Fortschritte der 
Metaphysik” (1931), Gesammelte Schiften, band 2, 437–39, 439.

50 Hans-Georg Gadamer, “Philosophizing in Opposition: Strauss and Voegelin on 
Communication and Science,” Faith and Political Philosophy, 249–59, 249.

51 Eric Voegelin, New Science of Politics, 89.

52 Leo Strauss, “Political Philosophy and the Crisis of Our Time,” The Postbehavioral Era: Perspectives on Politics, G.J. Graham and G.W. Carey, eds. (New York: Davis McKay Company, 1972), 217–242, 229.

53 Voegelin to Strauss, March 12, 1949, Selected Correspondence, 1924–1949, Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 29, 609.

54 See Norbert Altwicker, “Vorwort” in Leo Strauss, Die Religionskritik Spinozas als Grundlage seiner Bibelwissenschaft (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1981), x–xi.

55 Voegelin to Heilman, August 22, 1956, Selected Correspondence 1950–1984, Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 30, Thomas Hollweck, ed. (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2007), 293.

56 Unfortunately there is still no theoretically and methodologically informed study of the modern hermeneutic scholarship of Voegelin, Strauss, and of Arendt and Oakeshott.

57 Leo Strauss, “What is Political Philosophy?” What is Political Philosophy?, 11.

58 Eric Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, Order and History IV, Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 17, Michael Franz, ed. (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri 
Press, 2000), 376.

59. Eric Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, Order and History IV, 106.

60. Strauss to Voegelin, March 25, 1951, Faith and Political Philosophy, 78.

61. Leo Strauss, “Jerusalem and Athens–Some Preliminary Reflections,” Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1983), 171.

62. Leo Strauss, “Reason and Revelation,” in Heinrich Meier, Leo Strauss and the Theologico-Political Problem (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 
141–180, 141, see 148–149.

63. Strauss to Voegelin, June 4, 1951, Faith and Political Philosophy, 89.

64. Voegelin to Cook, December 30, 1953, Selected Correspondence 1950–1984, 

65. Strauss to Krüger, December 27, 1932, Hobbes’ politische Wissenschaft und zuge- hörige Schriften–Briefe, Gesammelte Schriften, band 3, Heinrich Maier, ed. 
(Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler, 2008), 414,420.

66. Krüger to Strauss, December 29, 1932 Gesammelte Schriften, band 3, 424.

67. Strauss to Krüger, draft of a letter, December 27, 1932, Gesammelte Schriften, 
band 3, 415, 416.

68. Meier, Strauss and the Theologico-Political Problem, 32.

69. Strauss to Voegelin, February 25, 1951, Faith and Political Philosophy, 78.

70. Meier, Strauss and the Theologico-Political Problem, 43.

71. Strauss to Voegelin, June 4, 1951, Faith and Political Philosophy, 89.

72. Leo Strauss, The City of Man (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1964), 119.

73.  Leo Strauss, The Argument and the Action of Plato’s Laws (Chicago: University of 
Chicago Press, 1975), 156, 182–183.

74. Leo Strauss, “The Spirit of Sparta or the Taste of Xenophon,” Social Research, 6, 
1939: 502–536, 532.

75. Leo Strauss, Socrates and Aristophanes, (New York: Basic Books, 1966); Leo 
Strauss, Xenophon’s Socratic Discourse (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 1998); Leo Strauss, Xenophon’s Socrates (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 1998).

76. Voegelin to Robert Heilman, December 30, 1958, Selected Correspondence, 1950–1984, 371.

77. Eric Voegelin, In Search of Order, Order and History V, Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 18, Ellis Sandoz, ed. (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2000), 84.

78. Thomas L. Pangle, “Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin on the Meaning of Modernity,” Paper Prepared for delivery at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, September 2–5, 2010, 3.

79. Voegelin, What is History? and Other Late Unpublished Writings, Collected Works vol. 28, 50. An interesting case of misreading the theoretical intentions of either thinker is John J. Ranieri, Disturbing Revelation: Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin and the Bible (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2009). In Ranieri’s view their critique of biblical teaching is unconvincing because it is conducted “from the perspective of classical political philosophy” and, so Rainieri argues, it is conducted on the “basis of a highly idealized abstraction . . . in the sense of a set of ideas lacking institutional embodiment in the present” (231). Whatever that may mean.

80. Leo Strauss, “On Classical Political Philosophy,” What is Political Philosophy?, 93.

81. Eric Voegelin, “Democracy in the New Europe,” Published Essays, 1953–1965, Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 11, 65. See Strauss to Voegelin, February 11, 1960, Faith and Political Philosophy, 103–104: “I do not have to tell you why it would be very good if it were made accessible to American political scientists.” See also Catherine and Michael Zuckert, The Truth about Leo Strauss: Political Philosophy and American Democracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 78–79 and passim.


Also available are “”Legends of the Calgary School” and “Barry Cooper’s remarks” as well as our review of the book.

This excerpt is from Hunting and Weaving: Empirical Political Philosophy (St. Augustine’s Press, 2013)

Jürgen Gebhardt

Written by

Jürgen Gebhardt is a Board Member of VoegelinView and Emeritus Professor at the Insitute for Political Science at the University of Erlangen-Nürenberg. He is the author and editor of several books, including Political Cultures and the Culture of Politics: A Transatlantic Perspective (Universitaetsverlag Winter, 2010).