Leo Strauss, Man Of Peace?

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 21 2015 @ 7:45pm

That’s the argument of Robert Howse’s recent book, which portrays the controversial philosopher as something of a liberal internationalist rather than the progenitor of warmongering neoconservatism. Samuel Goldman isn’t so sure; he claims Howse should have included “a detailed consideration of the role of Zionism in Strauss’s thought about violence”:

In his intellectual autobiography, Strauss describes his earliest political decision as a commitment to “simple, straightforward political Zionism” at the age of 17.

Throughout the 1920s, he was active in the Revisionist movement led by Vladimir Jabotinsky. In the 1930s, Strauss endorsed the “the principles of the Right, fascist, authoritarian, imperialist principles…” as the only basis for defense of Germany’s Jews. In the 1940s, he offered a moral defense of the British Empire partly because of the mercy it offered to the vanquished—including the Jews settled in Palestine. In the 1950s and 1960s, Strauss lectured and wrote extensively on Jewish themes, rarely failing to voice his admiration and gratitude for the foundation of the State of Israel.

These facts are barely mentioned in Leo Strauss: Man of Peace. In fact, the only explicit reference to the State of Israel that I have found comes in the conclusion, when Howse mentions Strauss’s 1957 letter to National Review defending Israel from accusations of racism. As part of his polemic against the neoconservative appropriation of Strauss, Howse assures readers that, “This was an act of loyalty to the Jewish people, not to the political right.”

Howse may be correct about Strauss’s intentions. But Strauss’s personal relationship to the American conservative movement is not the most important issue. Strauss’s lifelong commitment to Zionism tells us something important about his views on political violence. In this decisive case, he endorsed the politics of national self-assertion that Howse contends he had rejected by end of his career.