strauss’ legacy


Like all serious teachers, Strauss developed followers, and like all disciples these have split over the meaning of their teacher’s work. Was Strauss on the side of the ancients or the moderns? Was he a defender of biblical revelation or philosophical rationality? Was he, as he often said, a “friend of liberal democracy” or its most severe critic? What we are experiencing, to cite Harry V. Jaffa’s witty paraphrase of Lincoln, is nothing less than a “crisis of the Strauss divided.” Jaffa is almost single-handedly the creator of what has become known as West Coast Straussianism, so called because its epicenter is Claremont McKenna College in California. At the core of the West Coast doctrine is the study of the American regime, a topic to which Strauss devoted little explicit attention, but to which Jaffa and his followers have given primacy. The West Coasters have created a synthesis of Strauss’s defense of the classical doctrine of natural right — the view that there is a single immutable standard of justice — with the wisdom of the American founding fathers, supplemented by Lincoln and Churchill (recently names like Calvin Coolidge and Clarence Thomas have been added to the list). Contra Strauss, the West Coasters have developed their own theory of American exceptionalism, arguing that the framers uniquely combined features of classical prudence with biblical morality.

more from Steven B. Smith at the LA Times here.