Leo Strauss: Hobbes and Liberalism
Dahlquist, Karl Arvid
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This dissertation provides the first comprehensive treatment of Leo Strausss studies of Thomas Hobbes during a period that extended from the early Weimar Republic to mid-Cold-War America. I argue that we should regard Strausss Hobbes scholarship as part of a life-long engagement with liberalism, taking the form of a mutually informed relation: Strausss study of Hobbes fuelled his critique of liberalism on the one hand, while his critique of liberalism informed his study of Hobbes on the other. What began as a rejection of bourgeois liberalism and the search for an authoritarian corrective in the Weimar era became over time a cautious endorsement of liberal institutions as found in the post-war United States. I further show that Hobbes occupies not only a central place in Strausss criticism of the liberal political tradition, but in his critique of modern philosophy at large. This dissertation is thus not only about the development of Strausss views on Hobbes; it is also an exploration of Strausss broader conception of politics and philosophy and how he used Hobbes to theorize the political and intellectual climate of the times in which he lived. The method of proof is that of close textual analysis of Strausss Hobbes texts as illuminated by Strausss biography and the historical context. I explore the interplay of text and context by treating Strauss as someone for whom scholarship on the history of political thought was often at the same time a way of theorizing politics and addressing what he took to be pressing political and philosophical concerns. This combination of textualist and contextualist approaches to the study of political thought also contributes as a case in point to the greater meta-theoretical debate over how we, as political theorists, are to interpret and use texts in the corpus of political thought.