Leo Strauss and the Crisis of Rationalism

Another Reason, Another Enlightenment

By Corine Pelluchon
Translated by Robert Howse

Subjects: Political Philosophy, Jewish Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in the Thought and Legacy of Leo Strauss
Paperback : 9781438449661, 319 pages, January 2015
Hardcover : 9781438449678, 319 pages, February 2014

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

Translator’s Note
The Crisis of Rationalism
Two Historical Shocks and a Threat
The Crisis of Political Philosophy
Modern Rationalism as the Destruction of Reason
The Archeology and Overcoming of Nihilism
Part I. The Dissection of the Modern Religious Consciousness
Introduction: The Perplexity of the Modern Religious Consciousness
1. Enlightenment and Anti-Enlightenment
The Jacobi Question
The Pantheism Debate
            The Critique of Natural Religion
            There Is No Such Thing as Moderate Enlightenment
            The Rejection of the Kantian Solution
            The Controversy over the French Revolution
The Crisis of the Tradition
            The Science of Judaism and the Dialectic of Assimilation
            The Discontinuity of the Ancients and Moderns
            The Aporias of Zionism
2. Critique of Religion and Biblical Criticism
The Critique of Religion and Revelation in Hobbes
            The Interpretation of the Bible
            Socinianism and the Radical Enlightment
            The Need to Reconsider the Radical Enlightenment
Spinoza’s Particular Contribution to the Critique of Religion
            Persecution and the Art of Writing
            The Religion of the Ignorant and Weak
            Biblical Criticism (Bibelswissenschaft)
The Social Function of Religion
            The Universal Religion and the “Christianity” of Spinoza
            The Ambiguity of Spinoza
            The Limits of Secular Morality
            The Enlightenment of Spinoza
The Legacy of the Critique of Religion
            The Critique of Revelation Has Not Destroyed the Interest in Revelation
            The Challenge of Philosophy
            The Debt of the New Orthodoxy to the Enlightenment and Religious Liberalism
3. The Return to the Tradition
Rationalism and Mysticism
            Allegory and Symbol
            Reason and Experience
The Human Experience of the Absolute
            Religion and Philosophy
            Ethics and Spirituality
            Redemption and Politics
The Jewish Enlightenment of Maimonides
            Cohen and Strauss
            From Morality to Politics
            The Rational Critique of Reason
Part II. The Dissections of Modern Political Consciousness
Introduction: The Foundations of Modern Political Thought
1. The First Wave of Modernity
Machiavelli, the Originator of the Modern Enlightenment
            The End of the Renaissance Humanist Ideal
            Power, the Mastery of Men, and the Mastery of Nature
            Philosophy, Propaganda, and Barbarism
Hobbes or the Founding of the Modern State
            Political Science
            Vanity and Fear
            Individualism, Liberalism, and Absolutism
            From War to Commerce
The Crisis of Liberalism: The Dialogue between Strauss and Schmitt
            From the Rechtsstaat to the Total State in the Era of Technology
            War and the Affirmation of the Political
            Decisionism and Political Philosophy
            Resoluteness in Heidegger
2. The Second and Third Waves of Modernity
The Rousseauian Movement
            The Paradoxes of Rousseau
            Society and the Rich
            Revolution, and History, and the General Will
Modern Tyranny, Marxism, and Capitalism
            The Dialogue between Strauss and Kojeve
            Philosophy and Politics
            Locke’s Liberalism
            The Contemporary Form of Tyranny
Nihilism according to Nietzsche and after Nietzsche
            The Repetition of Antiquity at the Peak of Modernity
            The Law as Denaturing and the Religious Atheism of Nietzsche
            The Radicalism of the Straussian Critique of Christianity
3. Political Philosophy as First Philosophy
The Return to Socrates
            Political Philosophy as the Fulfillment of Phenomenology
            The Conflict between Poetry and Philosophy
            Wisdom and Moderation
The Medieval Enlightenment
            The Platonism of Farabi and Maimonides
            The Enlightenment of Maimonides
            The Natural Conditions of Prophecy
            Esoteric Teaching and the Enlightenment
The Task for Thinking and the Rebirth of Philosophy
            Phenomenology and the Meaning of the Law
            The Conception of Truth in Maimonides
            What Is Called Thinking?
            Surpassing Heidegger on His Own Ground
Conclusion: The Straussian Enlightenment
Strauss’s Radical Questioning
From Jacobi to Maimonides: Neither Kant nor Hegel
            This Is Not an Ethics
            Strauss’s Legacy

Examines the German and Jewish sources of Strauss's thought and the extent to which his philosophy can shed light on the crisis of liberal democracy.


How can Leo Strauss's critique of modernity and his return to tradition, especially Maimonides, help us to save democracy from its inner dangers? In this book, Corine Pelluchon examines Strauss's provocative claim that the conception of man and reason in the thought of the Enlightenment is self-destructive and leads to a new tyranny. Writing in a direct and lucid style, Pelluchon avoids the polemics that have characterized recent debates concerning the links between Strauss and neoconservatives, particularly concerns over Strauss's relation to the extreme right in Germany. Instead she aims to demystify the origins of Strauss's thought and present his relationship to German and Jewish thought in the early twentieth century in a manner accessible not just to the small circles devoted to the study of Strauss, but to a larger public. Strauss's critique of modernity is, she argues, constructive; he neither condemns modernity as a whole nor does he desire a retreat back to the Ancients, where slaves existed and women were not considered citizens. The question is to know whether we can learn something from the Ancients and from Maimonides—and not merely about them.

Corine Pelluchon is Full Professor in Philosophy at the University of Franche-Comté in France. In addition to her book on Leo Strauss, which was awarded the François Furet Prize in 2006, she has written several other books. Robert Howse is Lloyd C. Nelson Professor of International Law at New York University School of Law and the author of Leo Strauss: Man of Peace.