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Leo Strauss on Political Philosophy

Responding to the Challenge of Positivism and Historicism

Edited by Catherine H. Zuckert

Leo Strauss on Political Philosophy

Responding to the Challenge of Positivism and Historicism

Edited by Catherine H. Zuckert
Leo Strauss is known primarily for reviving classical political philosophy through careful analyses of works by ancient thinkers. As with his published writings, Strauss’s seminars devoted to specific philosophers were notoriously dense, accessible only to graduate students and scholars with a good command of the subject. In 1965, however, Strauss offered an introductory course on political philosophy at the University of Chicago. Using a conversational style, he sought to make political philosophy, as well as his own ideas and methods, understandable to those with little background on the subject.
Leo Strauss on Political Philosophy brings together the lectures that comprise Strauss’s “Introduction to Political Philosophy.” Strauss begins by emphasizing the importance of political philosophy in determining the common good of society and critically examining the two most powerful contemporary challenges to the possibility of using political theory to learn about and develop the best political order: positivism and historicism. In seeking the common good, classical political philosophers like Plato and Aristotle did not distinguish between political philosophy and political science. Today, however, political philosophy must contend with the contemporary belief that it is impossible to know what the good society really is. Strauss emphasizes the need to study the history of political philosophy to see whether the changes in the understanding of nature and conceptions of justice that gradually led people to believe that it is not possible to determine what the best political society is are either necessary or valid. In doing so, he ranges across the entire history of political philosophy, providing a valuable, thematically coherent foundation, including explications of many canonical thinkers, such as Auguste Comte and Immanuel Kant, about whom Strauss did not write extensively in his published writings.

272 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2018

The Leo Strauss Transcript Series

Philosophy: Political Philosophy

Political Science: Political and Social Theory


"Essential. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty."


Table of Contents

Note on the Leo Strauss Transcript Project
Editor’s Introduction: Strauss’s Introduction to Political Philosophy
Editorial Headnote

Part One: The Obstacles to the Study of Political Philosophy Today

A.        Positivism
Chapter 1: Comte as the Founder of Positivism: The Three Stages of the History of Mankind
Chapter 2: Comte’s Positive Political Philosophy
Chapter 3: Positivism after Comte: Simmel
Chapter 4: Value-Free Social Science: Weber
Chapter 5: Strauss’s Responses to Contemporary Defenses of the Fact-Value Distinction

B.        Historicism
Chapter 6: Historicism as the More Serious Challenge to Political Philosophy
Chapter 7: R. G. Collingwood as an Example

Part Two: Why Studying the History of Political Philosophy Is Necessary Today
Chapter 8: On the Difference between the Ancients and the Moderns

Part Three: The Origins of Political Philosophy
Chapter 9: Physis and Nomos


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