Machiavelli’s Subversion of Esotericism

  • Shadia B. Drury


Strauss considers our present political predicament to be one of ‘crisis’; in particular, it is a crisis occasioned by what he calls ‘modernity’. Simply stated, ‘modernity’ is the revolution against the wisdom of antiquity; a revolution that Strauss undoubtedly believes to be not only ill-conceived and foolish, but ultimately disastrous for the continued survival of Western civilization. We cannot understand what Strauss means by modernity without first grasping the central role he attributes to Machiavelli in this revolution.


Greek Philosophy Political Idea Classical Philosophy Great Tradition Severe Condemnation 
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  1. 1.
    See J. G. A. Pocock, ‘Prophet and Inquisitor’, Political Theory, vol. 3, no. 4 (November 1975) pp. 385–401; see also Felix Gilbert’s review of Leo Strauss’s Thoughts on Machiavelli, in Yale Review, vol. 48 (1959) pp. 466–9.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    John Gunnell, ‘The Myth of the Tradition’, American Political Science Review, vol. 72 (1978) pp. 122–34, esp. p. 133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Herbert Butterfield’s review of Strauss’s Thoughts on Machiavelli, in Journal of Politics, vol. 22 (November 1960) pp. 728–30; Carl J. Friedrich, ‘Teacher of Evil’, New Leader, vol. 42 (12 October 1959) pp. 27–8; see also G. L. Mosse’s review in American Historical Review, vol. 64, no. 4 (July 1959) pp. 954–5.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See Pocock, Gilbert, Gunnell, Butterfield, Friedrich and Mosse, notes 1–3 above; see also J. Hallowell’s review of Strauss’s Thoughts on Machiavelli, in Midwest Journal of Political Science, vol. 3 (1959) pp. 300–3; Willmoore Kendall’s review of the same work in Philosophical Review, vol. 75, no. 2 (1966) pp. 247–54; Robert J. McShea, ‘Leo Strauss on Machiavelli’, Western Political Quarterly, vol. 16 (1963) pp. 782–97;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    See Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr, ‘Strauss’ Machiavelli’, Political Theory, vol. 3, no. 4 (November 1975) pp. 372–84, a reply to Pocock;Google Scholar
  7. see also Allan Bloom, ‘Leo Strauss: September 20, 1899–October 18, 1973’, Political Theory, vol. 2, no. 4 (November 1974) pp. 372–92.Google Scholar
  8. 52.
    TM, p. 167; see Strauss’s ‘Machiavelli and Classical Literature’, Review of National Literatures, vol. 1, no. 1 (Spring 1970) pp. 7–25, esp. p. 10: Strauss says that the Great Tradition is founded by Socrates and culminates in the work of Aristotle.Google Scholar
  9. 58.
    Willmoore Kendall, ‘Who Killed Political Philosophy?’ National Review, vol. 8, no. 11 (March 1960) pp. 174–5: Kendall compares Strauss’s approach to political philosophy to that of a detective with a dead body trying to uncover the author of the crime. But what he uncovers is not a single criminal, but a syndicate, led and masterminded by Machiavelli. The detective realizes that the crime does not consist in the murder, but in the creation of a world in which the murder is not a crime. Machiavelli is the man responsible for a world in which killing is not a crime. Kendall’s account is accurate only to the extent that it sees Machiavelli as the enemy of political philosophy, as Strauss understands it. However, his account is misleading in so far as it sets up too great an opposition between Strauss and Machiavelli.Google Scholar
  10. 59.
    Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, trans. George Schwab, with comments by Leo Strauss (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1976).Google Scholar
  11. 65.
    Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1958).Google Scholar

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© Shadia B. Drury 2005

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  • Shadia B. Drury

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