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Leo Strauss, Max Weber, and the Scientific Study of Politics

Can politics be studied scientifically, and if so, how? Assuming it is impossible to justify values by human reason alone, social science has come to consider an unreflective relativism the only viable basis, not only for its own operations, but for liberal societies more generally. Although the experience of the sixties has made social scientists more sensitive to the importance of values, it has not led to a fundamental reexamination of value relativism, which remains the basis of contemporary social science. Almost three decades after Leo Strauss’s death, Nasser Behnegar offers the first sustained exposition of what Strauss was best known for: his radical critique of contemporary social science, and particularly of political science.

Behnegar’s impressive book argues that Strauss was not against the scientific study of politics, but he did reject the idea that it could be built upon political science’s unexamined assumption of the distinction between facts and values. Max Weber was, for Strauss, the most profound exponent of values relativism in social science, and Behnegar’s explication artfully illuminates Strauss’s critique of Weber’s belief in the ultimate insolubility of all value conflicts.

Strauss’s polemic against contemporary political science was meant to make clear the contradiction between its claim of value-free premises and its commitment to democratic principles. As Behnegar ultimately shows, values—the ethical component lacking in a contemporary social science—are essential to Strauss’s project of constructing a genuinely scientific study of politics.

216 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2002

Philosophy: Philosophy of Society

Political Science: Political and Social Theory


"In no small part as a result of his acute grasp of Strauss’s being a philosopher, Behnegar has the honor of having authored the single best book on Strauss."-Weekly Standard

The Weekly Standard

"Strauss’s criticisms of Weber are among the most powerful and challenging that have been made. . . . Behnegar has provided a very detailed exposition of Strauss’s main criticisms of both Weber and the state of social science."–Peter Lassman, Max Weber Studies

Peter Lassman | Max Weber Studies

“It is easy to come upon sweeping denunciations of Strauss, but difficult to find any serious engagement with what he actually wrote. This dearth of textual criticism has now been partially remedied by Boston College political scientist Nasser Behnegar . . . . Behnegar proves himself familiar with Strauss’s entire corpus, from his early studies on Spinoza, Maimonides, and Hobbes to his later essays, some published only posthumously. . . . Throughout his book, Behnegar manifests great doggedness and genuine openness of mind. These traits, also evident in Strauss himself, enable Behnegar to get inside the latter’s universe of discourse, and to prove that Strauss was not an enemy but ‘a friend, perhaps an indispensable friend’ of political science. . . . Behnegar beautifully manages the difficult task of being sympathetic both to Weber’s work and to Strauss’s dissection of his work. . . . He has written a book Strauss would have saluted, for he never fiddles and he knows that Rome burns.”–Werner J. Danhauser, The Public Interest

Werner J. Danhauser | The Public Interest

“[This] is the best book-length study of Strauss to date, because like Strauss, Behnegar has a naïve concern for discovering a scientific (theoretical) perspective on politics, whether ancient or modern.”

Rafael Major | Perspectives on Political Science

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations
Part I
Chapter 1: Political Science in the Age of Relativism
Chapter 2: Political Philosophy in the Age of Relativism
Part II
Chapter 3: The Fact-Value Distinction and Nihilism
Chapter 4: The Fact-Value Distinction and Social Science as a Theoretical Pursuit
Chapter 5: The Problem of Social Science
Part III
Chapter 6: Strauss’s Polemic Against the New Political Science
Chapter 7: The New Political Science
Chapter 8: The Revolt Against the Old Political Science
Chapter 9: The New Political Science and Liberal Democracy
Concluding Remarks
Works Cited

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