EXOTERIC AND ESOTERIC IDEAS IN THE PHILOSOPHY OF LEO STRAUSS FORGING SOME APPLICATIONS

BENITO T. VILLAREAL III
MA PHILOSOPHY (MARCH 2009)
Department of Philosophy


Leo Strauss is an historian of ideas but a very unusual one. He was written many commentaries on the major figures in the history of political thought; among these are books on Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Xenophon, Machiavelli, Spinoza and Hobbes. What is unusual about these works is that Strauss insists that all great political philosophers conceal their true thoughts or leave them unsaid. What the philosophers wrote clearly and explicitly was their exoteric philosophy; hiding behind which is their real and more complete esoteric philosophy.

In this thesis, the researcher attempts to uncover the esoteric philosophy of Leo Strauss, which is (1) hidden behind a veil of scholarship or dispersed in the course of detailed and sometimes tedious commentaries; and (2) camouflaged by his dual use of key words like virtue, justice, nobility, and gentlemanliness. We cannot read him literally unless we understand the meaning of the words he uses. Many an apparent contradiction in Strauss’ writings can be resolved simply by paying attention to the contexts of words he uses.

Strauss regards political philosophy as the hard outer shell (read as: exoteric ideas) that hides a soft kernel at its center (read as: esoteric ideas). The soft kernel is philosophy, of which only the few are fit, whereas the many are harmed by it. Political philosophy is the public face of philosophy that hides the truth, not so much to avoid persecution, but in order not to wreak havoc on society, any society.

After giving an account of the ‘crisis’ of modernity, and the role of historicism, relativism, and nihilism in the process of the decline of Western civilization, the thesis writer noted that Strauss has some sobering insights into the limits of politics, which are intended to moderate our expectations. If the researcher finds Strauss excessively pessimistic, we should remember that the specter of Nazi Germany is always in the back of Strauss mind. The researcher argued that, having understood Strauss, we cannot but conclude that Leo Strauss’ greatest intellectual debt is to Nietzsche. Strauss and Nietzsche are not strictly speaking modern, but post-modern. Finally, the researcher explains the status of his interpretation of Strauss by forging some practical applications of Leo Strauss’ esoteric philosophy.