From The New York Times:
Some time in the 1920s, the Conservative statesman F. E. Smith — Lord Birkenhead — gave a copy of the “Nicomachean Ethics” to his close friend Winston Churchill. He did so saying there were those who thought this was the greatest book of all time. Churchill returned it some weeks later, saying it was all very interesting, but he had already thought most of it out for himself. But it is the very genius of Aristotle — as it is of every great teacher — to make you think he is uncovering your own thought in his. In Churchill’s case, it is also probable that the classical tradition informed more of his upbringing, at home and at school, than he realized. In 1946, in a letter to the philosopher Karl Löwith, Leo Strauss mentioned how difficult it had been for him to understand Aristotle’s account of magnanimity, greatness of soul, in Book 4 of the “Ethics.” The difficulty was resolved when he came to realize that Churchill was a perfect example of that virtue. So Churchill helped Leo Strauss understand Aristotle! That is perfectly consistent with Aristotle’s telling us it does not matter whether one describes a virtue or someone characterized by that virtue. Where the “Ethics” stands among the greatest of all great books perhaps no one can say. That Aristotle’s text, which explores the basis of the best way of human life, belongs on any list of such books is indisputable.
In his great essay “On Classical Political Philosophy,” Strauss emphasizes the continuity between pre-philosophic political speech and its refinement by classical political philosophy. It is part of the order of nature (and of nature’s God) that pre-philosophic speech supply the matter, and philosophic speech the form, of perfected political speech, much as the chisel of the sculptor uncovers the form of the statue within the block of marble. Before the “Ethics” men knew that courage was a virtue, and that it meant overcoming fear in the face of danger. Aristotle says nothing different from this, but he also distinguishes true virtue from its specious simulacra. The false appearance of courage may result, for instance, from overconfidence in one’s skill or strength, or from one’s failure to recognize the skill or strength of his opponents. The accurate assessment of one’s own superiority of strength or skill, which means one really has no reason to fear an approaching conflict, is another false appearance of courage. A false courage may also result from a passion that blinds someone to the reality of the danger he faces. In short, the appearance of courage may be mistaken for actual courage whenever the rational component of virtue is lacking.