Platonic Theocracy, Liberalism, and Authoritarianism in Leo Strauss’s Philosophy and Law
By John P. Mccormick, University of Chicago
Leo Strauss, in Philosophy and Law (1935), offers Platonic theocracy as a more just and stable political alternative to both liberalism and authoritarianism. Rather than merely a scholastic investigation of medieval Jewish and Islamic philosophy, I read the book as a programmatic endorsement of a morally perfectionist political order: a divinely legitimated and rationally justified “true” or “beautiful” state. Since human beings require political community to suppress their evil inclinations and promote their disposition toward the good, Strauss criticizes liberalism for contending that government should remain neutral regarding good and evil and modern authoritarianism for effectively committing idolatry by politically instrumentalizing theology. I demonstrate that Strauss’s long-neglected book is particularly relevant for our own “postsecular age,” an age when adherents of religious orthodoxy increasingly demand concessions from liberal democracies and resurgent state authoritarianism frequently cloaks itself in religious trappings.