In this original new study, Grant Havers critically interprets Leo Strauss’s political philosophy from a conservative standpoint. Most mainstream readers of Strauss have either condemned him from the Left as an extreme right-wing opponent of liberal democracy or celebrated him from the Right as a traditional defender of Western civilization. Rejecting both of these portrayals, Havers shifts the debate beyond the conventional parameters of our age. He persuasively shows that Strauss was neither a man of the Far Right nor a conservative, but in fact a Cold War liberal with a strong secular bias who taught his followers to uphold Anglo-American democracy as the one true universal regime that can be embraced and practiced by all human beings regardless of time, place, or creed.
Strauss firmly rejects the traditional conservative view held by Edmund Burke and others about the leavening influence of Christian morality. Havers maintains that this inattention to Christianity, though historically unjustified, is crucial to Strauss and the Straussian portrayal Anglo-American democracy as a regime whose eternal ideals of liberty and constitutional government are in accord with the teachings of Plato and Aristotle, rather than the Gospels. In the process, Havers argues, Straussians end up rewriting history by falsely idealizing the ancient Greeks, who tolerated slavery and infanticide, as the forerunners of modern liberal democracy. Straussians also misrepresent heroes of the Anglo-American political tradition such as Abraham Lincoln and Sir Winston Churchill as heirs to the ancient Greek tradition of statecraft.
Havers suggests that the most troubling implication of this Straussianism is that it provides a rationale for the aggressive spread of democratic values on a global basis while ignoring the preconditions that make these values possible. Concepts such as the rule of law, constitutional government, Christian morality, and the separation of church and state are not easily transplanted beyond the historic confines of Anglo-American civilization, as recent wars to spread democracy in the Middle East and Central Asia have demonstrated.