Some notes on Leo Strauss
A few notes on Leo Strauss’ Liberalism: Ancient and Modern (LAM)
Some adherents of the Great Books tradition have developed a line of thought that has influenced contemporary political science and political practice. According to Leo Strauss, the great minds—perhaps as few as one great thinker in each generation—become the teachers for the rest of the population. (LAM 3) The great thinkers take society from a pre-political to a political stage. (LAM 127)
Strauss understood liberal education in the ancient world as the domain of a few. (LAM 10-11) In a well-ordered political society the few great or wise minds, through their writings (LAM 3), teach the next generation of political leaders. Leadership in this arrangement becomes the domain of an elite group of liberally educated individuals. The leaders are selected by the previous generation of leaders, an arrangement that aims to protect the quality of the leadership line. (LAM 11)
A liberal education, according to Strauss, leads to the conclusion that God, as popularly understood, does not exist. While religious belief is mythical, such belief is necessary for the mass of people. The atheism of the great thinkers is carefully concealed from the people: the safety of the great thinkers—as well as the stability of society itself—rests on this type of carefully guarded secret. Plato’s “noble lie” that society is best ruled by the wise few is a necessary fiction that the masses must accept if society is to remain stable.