Public spaces, public faiths: Leo Strauss on modernity and the polis

Date of Completion

January 2009


Political Science, General




Leo Strauss is often said to prefer a “return” to the ancients. He was clearly drawn to the ancient Greeks' understanding of “natural right” and their manner of philosophy. This dissertation, however, redirects attention to a different facet of Strauss's admiration for the Greeks: the ancient city. While obviously admiring Greek philosophy, this work argues that Strauss also found some aspects of Greek political life to be compelling. In particular, Strauss admired the city's small size, its moral seriousness, its preference for an orthodox lifestyle, and its fusion of the public and the sacred. The central argument of this work is that Strauss considered the ancient city to be the most desirable regime and he thought the city might someday return as a possible regime. How did the city regime come to be obsolete in the first place, though? Strauss believes the rise of Christianity to be the culprit. Christianity inadvertently destroyed the idea of the “divine city” and the commitment to fierce patriotism by suggesting that politics is not worth such attention. Instead, the afterlife should be sought. This led to an evolution of regimes beyond the city (chiefly, the modern liberal state) that depreciated the political sphere. However, if the rise of Christianity originally caused the city's decline, what happens if Christianity wanes in the public eye? Strauss suggests that the city could return with a decline in Christianity. This dissertation breaks new ground in establishing Strauss's connection to Christianity and in arguing that the city is his ideal regime. ^