The Magazine

What Hath Strauss Wrought?

From the June 2, 2003 issue: Misreading a political philosopher.

Jun 2, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 37 • By PETER BERKOWITZ
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Strauss was no ordinary liberal democrat, but he was a staunch friend of liberal democracy. The urgency of defending liberal democracy by encouraging its virtues, combating its vices, and never losing sight of its enemies is the great political lesson that those of his students who became neoconservatives embraced. To be sure, Strauss seemed to prefer the classical Greek philosophy of Plato and Aristotle to modern political philosophy. He was a proud Jew and took the claims of religion with utmost seriousness while keeping his distance from organized religion. He dwelled at length on liberal democracy's undemocratic and illiberal tendencies, in part because he loved the truth and in part because he was devoted to America's well-being. He was the kind of friend who makes one better by constantly exhibiting, through example and argument, the look of excellence. Not always an easy sort of friend, but the sort of friend, you would think, whom true liberals in every time and place would appreciate.

Peter Berkowitz teaches at George Mason University School of Law and is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.