Leo Strauss and the Recovery of Medieval Political Philosophy

Leo Strauss and the Recovery of Medieval Political Philosophy

Joshua Parens

A thorough treatment of Leo Strauss's controversial interpretation of medieval political thought
Leo Strauss is known primarily for reviving classical political philosophy. Strauss recovered that great tradition of thought largely lost to the West by beginning his study of classical thought with its teaching on politics rather than its metaphysics. What brought Strauss to this way of reading the classics, however, was a discovery he made as a young political scientist studying the obscure texts of Islamic and Jewish medieval political thought.

In this volume, Joshua Parens examines Strauss's investigations of medieval political philosophy, offering interpretations of his writings on the great thinkers of that tradition, including interpretations of his most difficult writings on Alfarabi and Maimonides. In addition Parens explicates Strauss's statements on Christian medieval thought and his argument for rejecting the Scholastic paradigm as a method for interpreting Islamic and Jewish thought. Contrasting Scholasticism with Islamic and Jewish medieval political philosophy, Parens clarifies the theme of Strauss's thought, what Strauss calls the "theologico-political problem," and reveals the significance of medieval political philosophy in the Western tradition.

Joshua Parens is professor of philosophy and politics and dean of the Braniff Graduate School at the University of Dallas.

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Table of Contents

Foreword by Douglas Kries
The Comprehensiveness of Political Philosophy in Alfarabi and Maimonides
Law, Prophecy, and Philosopher as King and Outcast
Vipers, Weeds, and Disorder in the Whole
Escaping the Scholastic Paradigm
Spinoza's Scholasticism and Alfarabi's Platonism
The Differing Places of Metaphysics in Alfarabi and Thomas Aquinas
From Political Philosophy to Enlightened Kalam: The 1930s and 1940s
Maimonides's Secretiveness about Political Philosophy: The 1950s
Theoretical Philosophy, Political Philosophy, and Happiness
Maimonides's Guide as a Work of Political Philosophy
Da capo: An Introduction to the Guide
Appendix: A Critique of Pines's "Limitations" Article


It is difficult to do justice to the erudition and insights of Parens's book in a short essay. It is essential reading for people interested in medieval philosophy, Alfarabi, Maimonides, or Leo Strauss. REVIEW OF POLITICS (Miriam Galston)

[T]he first major English-language work dealing explicitly with the Platonic character of non-Christian medieval political philosophy and Strauss's rediscovery of that character. Not the least of Parens's virtues is that in his careful readings he sets additional interesting philosophical tasks for his own readers. Thanks to Parens's provocative work, it may be time for a full-scale reevaluation of the underappreciated elements of Strauss's 1935 text. PERSPECTIVES ON POLITICAL SCIENCE

Parens's book is a useful, well-researched compendium of arguments showing that Alfarabi and Maimonides are political philosophers, and elucidating how Strauss rediscovered them to be such. Parens delivers his main message with considerable cogency. INTERPRETATION

Joshua Parens presents a clear, highly readable account of how Leo Strauss approached the major themes of medieval Islamic and Jewish philosophy as set forth in the writings of Alfarabi and Maimonides. He shows the pertinence of Strauss's investigations for questions of importance to human beings today, when Strauss was writing, and when the authors first addressed them. --Charles Butterworth, University of Maryland

Joshua Parens has written an important and useful work for the study of both the Straussian project and political philosophy more broadly. Parens explains here the meaning of Strauss's difficult writings on medieval political philosophy and shows how his study of this tradition enabled him to rediscover the enduring character of political philosophy. --Steven Frankel, Xavier University

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