Natural Right and History

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University of Chicago Press, 1965 M10 15 - 326 pages
In this classic work, Leo Strauss examines the problem of natural right and argues that there is a firm foundation in reality for the distinction between right and wrong in ethics and politics. On the centenary of Strauss's birth, and the fiftieth anniversary of the Walgreen Lectures which spawned the work, Natural Right and History remains as controversial and essential as ever.

"Strauss . . . makes a significant contribution towards an understanding of the intellectual crisis in which we find ourselves . . . [and] brings to his task an admirable scholarship and a brilliant, incisive mind."—John H. Hallowell, American Political Science Review

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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Review: Natural Right and History

User Review  - Thomas Bundy - Goodreads

Unbelievable. I am not smart enough to read books like this. :) Read full review

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For the most part the prior reviewer is correct is castigating the misguided criticisms of the first reviewer. Indeed, on many levels, the requisite education necessary to read and study meaningfully the old classics is a thing a of the past, perhaps a requirement that is irretrievably lost. We also live in age that is permeated by almost insurmountable prejudices and thoughtlessness as well as in an age that adheres to a world-view that is not congenial to assimilating a form of political discourse that is completely alien to our modern sentiments.
Without a doubt Strauss is a profound thinker -- subtle and insightful. He offers a unique perspective and a freshness of interpretation that discloses layers of complex meaning that is closed off to the clear, but more prosaically minded political theorists the reviewer mentions (Tuck, Skinner) and other thinkers who merely remain on the surface.
Nonetheless, Strauss, for all his ingenuity, irony and subtilty, could make the task of following his complex arguments more congenial to the reader in spite of his limitations. The reviewer is correct to claim that Strauss in a sense is a clear writer; but it is the clarity of intuitive brilliance, and not the clarity of simplified ideas expressed in straightforward prose, ad usum Delphini. After all, these great political texts are indeed intrinsically difficult to understand and for several reason, and they are difficult even if one has the required intelligence, extensive erudition, interest, lack of prejudice and patience to assess them.
For example, Strauss could have greatly lessened the burdens on the reader by reducing the length of the incredibly tedious and long chapter on M. Weber, and he could have done so without any loss of meaning. Given the subtly of his meandering arguments, he could have provided summaries of his main points both before and after his core arguments are presented. At times, in fact often, Strauss shifts the meaning of his terms without indicating to the reader that such a transformation was silently undertaken. To take only one instance: in the chapter on Burke, “Natural Rights” refers at one point to the rights in the state of nature and at other times the same term refers to the rights of “civil society,” but with a completely different meaning intended. These types of ambiguities can only cause confusion and unnecessary difficulties for the reader.
It is unclear (at least to me) why the book ends abruptly with the chapter on Burke. No mention is made of subsequent thinkers who reflected deeply on “Natural Rights” such as Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, just to mention the most illustrious. Strauss does not indicate his reason for this important omission.
Another oddity is the lack of any extensive discussion concerning the relation between Hobbes and Machiavelli. That discussion, among other things, would have prevented the error made by the reviewer from stating that Hobbes was the first to “throw down Aristotelian teleology in political science.” Machiavelli is to take the prize instead. Hobbes boasts that he is the founder of the first true political theory, whereas I believe he knew that Machiavelli would make the same claim, perhaps with greater justification.
One last point: it is an open question within scholarly debate whether Hobbes was an atheist. Indeed, Strauss himself claims he wasn’t! In this instance Strauss is not very convincing.
Samuel Attard



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Elizabeth A. Kaye specializes in communications as part of her coaching and consulting practice. She has edited Requirements for Certification since the 2000-01 edition.

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