Review: Smith, Reading Leo Strauss
In his New York Sun review of Steven B. Smith’s Reading Leo Strauss: Politics, Philosophy, Judaism, Adam Kirsch argues that the demonization of Strauss by the media, academics, politicians, and other critics is "redolent of the propganda of the 1930s, Auden’s ‘low, dishonest decade.’" That is why Kirsch goes on to praise Smith’s new book, which takes a different approach to Strauss: "The demonization of Leo Strauss, in short, is one of the most dismal signs of the times.… That is why Reading Leo Strauss, a sober new study by Yale professor Steven Smith, feels so heartening. By returning to the source and examining what Strauss actually wrote, Mr. Smith lets the breeze of reason into the feverish sickroom of ideology. He portrays a Strauss who cherished democracy as the best bulwark against tyranny, and who valued intellectual honesty above all. By the time Mr. Smith is done, nothing is left of the Strauss caricature except the ignorance and malice that fathered it."
Interest in Leo Strauss is greater now than at any time since his death, mostly because of the purported link between his thought and the political movement known as neoconservatism. Steven B. Smith, though, surprisingly depicts Strauss not as the high priest of neoconservatism but as a friend of liberal democracy—perhaps the best defender democracy has ever had. Moreover, in Reading Leo Strauss, Smith shows that Strauss’s defense of liberal democracy was closely connected to his skepticism of both the extreme Left and extreme Right.
Read an excerpt.