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Between Athens and Jerusalem

Philosophy, Prophecy, and Politics in Leo Strauss's Early Thought

David Janssens

Publication Year: 2008

Examines the early works of German-Jewish philosopher Leo Strauss (1899-1973). Praised as a major political thinker of the twentieth century and vilified as the putative godfather of contemporary neoconservatism, Leo Strauss (1899–1973) has been the object of heated controversy both in the United States and abroad. This book offers a more balanced appraisal by focusing on Strauss’s early writings. By means of a close and comprehensive study of these texts, David Janssens reconstructs the genesis of Strauss’s thought from its earliest beginnings until his emigration to the United States in 1937. He discusses the first stages in Strauss’s grappling with the “theological-political problem,” from his doctoral dissertation on Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi to his contributions to Zionist periodicals, from his groundbreaking study of Spinoza’s critique of religion to his research on Moses Mendelssohn, and from his rediscovery of medieval Jewish and Islamic philosophy to his research on Hobbes. Throughout, Janssens traces Strauss’s rediscovery of the Socratic way of life as a viable alternative to both modern philosophy and revealed religion.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Front Matter

Half Title Page

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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Dedication Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix

Leo Strauss’s Early Years Chronology of Major Events and Writings (1899–1937)

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pp. xi-xiii

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pp. 1-6

“The story of a life in which the only real events were thoughts is easily told.”1 With these words, Allan Bloom, author of The Closing of the American Mind, began an “in memoriam” for the man he regarded as his most important teacher: Leo Strauss. Of course, in a historical light, Bloom’s phrase appears to stretch the truth somewhat. ...


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1 “In the Grip of the Theological-Political Predicament”

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pp. 7-30

In many respects, 1965 marks a special occasion in the academic career of Leo Strauss. In that year, two of his earliest books are republished in translation. An American publisher brings out Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, the English translation of his first book, which had originally appeared in German in 1930. ...

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2 The Shadow of Spinoza

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pp. 31-76

Reviled as a godless heretic in his own time, Spinoza was rehabilitated in the eighteenth century by German philosophy, exalted by nineteenth-century Romanticism, and finally received into the philosophical pantheon in the twentieth century as one of modernity’s founders.1 ...

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3 The Second Cave

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pp. 77-108

In Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, Strauss concludes, “Even if all the reasoning adduced by Spinoza were compelling, nothing would have been proven. Only this much would have been proven: that on the basis of unbelieving science one could not but arrive at Spinoza’s results. ...

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4 The Order of Human Things

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pp. 109-148

In Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, Strauss presented Maimonides as a classic Aristotelian, the Jewish equivalent of Thomas Aquinas. When, two years later, he takes his leave of modern philosophy and turns to the recovery of the Socratic question, his view of Maimonides has altered dramatically. ...

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5 Socrates and the Leviathan

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pp. 149-172

Strauss’s review of Schmitt already provides some brief indications as to how he intends to approach his new object of research. As he notes in the conclusion, Hobbes, “living in an illiberal world, lays the foundation of liberalism” against the “illiberal” state of nature. ...

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6 Epilogue

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pp. 173-194

At the moment when Strauss uncovers what he regards as the rationality deficit in Hobbes’s foundation of liberalism, that same liberalism is all but defunct in Germany. In 1936, when the Hobbes book is published, Hitler’s National Socialist Party wins the Reichstag elections with a 99 percent landslide, ...

Back Matter


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pp. 195-240


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pp. 241-250


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pp. 251-258

E-ISBN-13: 9780791478707
E-ISBN-10: 079147870X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791473917
Print-ISBN-10: 0791473910

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2008