Leo Strauss on Nazism
A Theologico-Political Interpretation
The political philosopher Leo Strauss undertook a systematic reexamination of the meaning of tyranny in the twentieth century. In his view, modern political science had failed to understand or even anticipate the rise of Nazism and communism. Strauss contended that the rediscovery of the two founding traditions of the West, classical Greek political philosophy (Athens) and the theology of the Bible (Jerusalem), was necessary to the project of comprehending the most murderous tyrannies that had consciously repudiated this intellectual heritage. I shall show that Strauss’s own profound insights on the Bible, as evidenced in his essays on Genesis, the Athens–Jerusalem conflict, and the weakness of Enlightenment liberalism in pre-Hitler Germany lead to the conclusion that Strauss must fall back on Jerusalem as the foundation that best understands modern tyranny. Ultimately, it is the political theology of Jerusalem, not the political philosophy of Athens, which reveals that the creation of man in the image of God paradoxically opens the door to the greatest freedom but also the most murderous forms of idolatry in politics. Admittedly, this argument is a bold one. After all, Strauss, who saw himself as a political philosopher, sharply distinguished political theology, which is based “on divine revelation,” from political philosophy, which focuses on what “is accessible to the unassisted human mind.” As I argue, however, the human mind requires the assistance of divine (biblical) revelation to make sense of Nazi tyranny.