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Natural Right and History (Walgreen Foundation Lectures) Reissue Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226776941
ISBN-10: 0226776948
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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

The problem of natural right is one of the most controversial and significant issues in contemporary political and social philosophy. Leo Strauss, eminent author of The Political Philosophy of Hobbes, examines the current status of this problem and shows that the reasons which have led to a rejection of natural right are not valid.

About the Author

Leo Strauss (1899-1973) was the Robert Maynard Hutchins Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Political Science at the University of Chicago.

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Product Details

  • Series: Walgreen Foundation Lectures
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; Reissue edition (October 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226776948
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226776941
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #185,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A. Sura on July 19, 2003
Format: Paperback
Now here's a puzzle. We have Leo Strauss, an obscure political philosopher of the 1950's at the University of Chicago. He primarily writes on ancient philosophers, such as Xenophon and Plato. Thirty years after his death, we find neoconservatives like Allan Bloom and Paul Wolfowitz saturated in the mainstream, apparently tutored under Strauss. What's the connection?
Amid the recent Leo Strauss craze, perpetuated by a largely sensationalist media blindly driven towards the holy grail of conspiracy theory, I decided to pick up Natural Right and History. While, obviously, one cannot ascertain his entire political message by merely one book, reading Natural Right and History helps obviate the connection.
Natural Right is a "biography" of the idea of natural right. Strauss traces the idea of natural right, from antiquity to modernity to postmodernity. In classic "Straussian" form, to understand the political implications of this book, you have to read painstakingly between the lines.
Strauss starts the book with a rather standard critique of historicism (historical relativism) and conventionalism. His argument against value relativism is very straight forward; hardly any social scientist today makes the claims that Strauss refutes. The new relativism is a more sophisitcated one, couched behind postmodernist word-games.
However, social science is largely built upon the theories of Max Weber. Thus, Strauss uses a reduction proof. If he can reduce social science to Weber, and if he can reduce Weber to historicism, then he can effectively show that the methodologies social science are fallacious, since he shows that historicism is false. Consequently he can show that a historicist understanding of natural right is also bunk.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I apologize for my review title. This is one of the cases when I am not sure I recognize the book I just read from the other reviews. I propose to try to tell you something about actual content and structure of the book. I think it is worth doing because I believe this to be one of the most important books on political philosophy written during the twentieth century.
Strauss' history of Western political philosophy can be summed up as follows. In the beginning there were the Greeks. They lived in their politeia (which Strauss translates as regime- see circa p.136 for his discussion). At first they believed that the laws of their particular cities were handed down from god(s) either directly or through divine inspiration. But then they began to reflect on the fact that their different politeia contradicted each other in their ideas of what was just, godly and noble.
Two things happened as a result. The ideas of nature and convention developed.
-Important methodological aside- As has been pointed out by Kennington and many other commentators, Strauss' use of the word `idea' (see. p. 123) is very particular and could be called Socratic-Platonic. In NRH, he uses the word very sparingly, and only to indicate the philosophical issues that are central to his story. The discussion of each chapter of the book and the book as a whole is built around these ideas. By my listing they are as follows: philosophy, history, natural right, science, nature, justice, man, best regime, man's perfection, the city, and virtue (I may have missed some of these). Now some of these, I would claim, Strauss sees as fundamental issues that have alternate solutions between which it is impossible to rationally decide and some of these issues are dead ends for philosophy.
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Format: Paperback
This book contains a critique of modern relativism coupled with a historical investigation of the development of the idea of natural right. As moderns we consider our philosophical predecessors as caused by history rather than causing it. Strauss demolishes this view by giving a history of Western thought that explains the historical origin of the idea of natural right far better than those who treat all thought as historically limited.
Although Strauss writes "compactly" (he doesn't waste words in getting to the point), his book is quite revealing about the rationales for certain ancient, medieval, and modern political ideas. For those of us who usually find these ideas outlandish or even perverse, this book is extremely rewarding (contrary to another reviewer's vague suggestion). If you have trouble comprehending everything, consume the book in smaller bites. Those interested in the American founding, for instance, should probably concentrate on the chapter entitled "Modern Natural Right"; others may want to explore what political thought looked like before the rise of "science"; for that look at the chapter entitled "The Origin of the Idea of Natural Right". Etc. Etc.
This book is essential for anybody interested in getting a picture of the whole of Western (and even non-Western) thought, but who finds himself disenchanted with glib postmodernist glosses of what is a very complicated subject.
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Format: Paperback
I first encountered this book in high school, spurred by my american history and american government teachers. It is therefore somewhat elitist to state that this will go over anyone's head. The ideas and the prose may be complex, but it just requires some patience. If it's worth it to you, you'll be able to read it.
Strauss gave these lectures to counter what then was called historicism, the position that, because conceptions of such things as freedom and right have been so varied throughout time, that because nobody has been able to agree on what right is, that right is relative to the time. The upshod of the arguement is then, since nothing can count as right definitively, there is no right. Strauss argues that historicism, by being another appearance in history, is subject to the same criticism (therefore interally inconsistent) and that even if nobody has been able to agree on "right" doesn't mean that there isn't any such thing, but because debate has been so heated on the subject, it is only all the more evident that there is such a thing such as right.
I may be a slightly biased source, but i've read my share of Levi-Strauss and Foucault. Sure, Strauss confines himself to political philosophy, but the larger issues are there. Postmodern thought is showing strains of its own now, and Strauss pointed them out before they realized they were postmodern. Essential reading for both camps.
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