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Leo Strauss and Anglo-American Democracy

A Conservative Critique

Grant N Havers

Publication Year: 2013

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.

Published by: Northern Illinois University Press

Front Matter

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pp. iii-v

Contents

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p. vii-vii

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Preface

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pp. ix-xi

It has been over twenty-five years since I read my first book by Leo Strauss. At the time, I was enrolled in a graduate seminar course in the Social and Political Thought Program at York University in 1987, which focused on the complex relation between the Bible and philosophy. One of the course texts was Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise. Brayton Polka, the ...

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Introduction

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pp. 3-12

It has been forty years since the death of Leo Strauss, yet there is little evidence that the debate over his legacy shows any sign of abatement. A prolific scholar who managed to inspire a whole new approach to political philosophy when he taught in the United States from the late 1930s until his death in 1973, he is in retrospect perhaps an unlikely choice for ...

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1 - Saving Anglo-Americans from Themselves

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pp. 13-32

“In defending modern civilisation against German nihilism, the English are defending the eternal principles of civilisation.”1 Leo Strauss delivered these stirring words in a lecture at the New School for Social Research in February 1941, when it was far from obvious that Britain, standing alone against Hitler, would win (or even survive) this deadly struggle. Yet the ...

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2 - Athens in Anglo-America

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pp. 33-64

It is well known that Leo Strauss portrayed himself as a political philosopher who sought the “recovery” of classical political philosophy. This recovery was essential in order to shore up the legitimacy of liberal democracy, which, although triumphant over fascism in World War II, was still threatened by communism in the Cold War. The urgency of this recovery, ...

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3 - Leo Strauss,from Left to Right

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pp. 65-97

During a conference dedicated to the ideas of Leo Strauss and Hannah Arendt in 1991, Harvey Mansfield praised Arendt for persuading the Left to abandon its traditional animosity toward the American Revolution. Mansfield, a distinguished Straussian political scientist at Harvard University, remarked that “it is because of her that the Left in America no longer ...

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4 - Churchill, the Anglo-American Greek?

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pp. 98-121

In his lecture “What Can We Learn from Political Theory?” which he delivered at the New School for Social Research in 1942, Strauss praised Winston Churchill for defending Western civilization in accord with the timeless teachings of political philosophy. These teachings were not, Strauss made clear, based on biblical morality; they were in fact the ideas of Greek ...

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5 - The Anglo-AmericanStruggle with Strauss

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pp. 122-152

The impact of Leo Strauss’s ideas has been mainly although not exclusively felt in the Anglo-American world. In order to understand the various reasons behind this phenomenon, it is instructive to examine political philosophers who were influenced by his ideas. The Canadian conservative George Grant (1918–1988) and the American conservative Willmoore ...

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6 - Leo Strauss and theUniqueness of the West

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pp. 153-168

In the introduction to The City and Man, Strauss explains why the recovery of political philosophy in the context of the Cold War is so important. The “crisis of the West,” which is ultimately a battle of ideas, cannot be addressed by the authority of religion alone. “It is not sufficient for everyone to obey and to listen to the Divine Message of the City of Righteousness, ...

Notes

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pp. 169-217

Bibliography

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pp. 219-238

Index

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pp. 239-245


E-ISBN-13: 9781609090944
Print-ISBN-13: 9780875804781

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2013

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Subject Headings

  • Strauss, Leo.
  • Political science -- Philosophy.
  • Conservatism -- Philosophy.
  • Political science -- United States -- History.
  • Political science -- Great Britain -- History.
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