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Natural Right and History (Walgreen Foundation Lectures) Reissue Edition
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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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Thinking that is seeking problems hidden in all the complexity of a modern city might consider hemlock for Socrates the first step in a society that adopts herbicide as the primary... Read morePublished 10 months ago by snap shot hex
An obviously brilliant mind, but such a dense profusion of leaves and branches , that I could not find that the book had any roots.Published 14 months ago by Leland L. Sprague
In NRH, Strauss recovers and valorizes philosophy as a way of life. Examination of the politically urgent question of what is right by nature discloses that natural right is only... Read morePublished 15 months ago by SockPuppet
Strauss first deals with the reigning historicist (Hegelian and Heideggerian) and Weberian dogma because if he does not cast doubt upon such dogma, the discussion of natural right... Read morePublished 17 months ago by Doug G
"Natural Right and History" is a relatively straightforward intorduction to the development of the idea of natural right in the history of political philosophy. Read morePublished on January 3, 2014 by Timothy E. Kennelly
Very little about this book justifies Strauss's high reputation. He doesn't define his terms, and it's difficult to decipher his own position when he's always quoting someone else. Read morePublished on February 17, 2013 by Loo Ti
Several of the poor reviews for this book state that they don't understand why historicism isn't "allowable" in a rationalist critique of society.
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I was going to use the book last week but then I realized that I had gotten a totally different book than the one I ordered. Read morePublished on November 13, 2006 by Theodore B. Johnson