Olin Home About Lecture Series Conferences Faculty

The John M. Olin Center for Inquiry into the Theory and Practice of Democracy


With the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Natural Right and History approaching, we judge the time ripe for a reassessment of Leo Strauss's thought starting with a reconsideration of his best known work.  Based on the Walgreen lectures he delivered in October 1949, which marked his debut at the University of Chicago, Natural Right and History was published in 1953 and first brought Strauss to the attention of a wide academic audience, especially in the United States.  Not only has Natural Right and History remained Strauss's most popular work, but the issues this book raises have only gained in significance.  Strauss there reopened the question of natural right, the possibility of a standard of justice independent of and superior to human agreement or convention.  He sharply criticized what he called historicism, the claim that all standards and indeed all human thoughts are relative to or imposed by particular historical situations.  He argued that the radical historicism so widely accepted today eventually followed from changes in thought set in motion by the modern natural right doctrines of Hobbes and Locke.  He also challenged the dominant view that the classical natural right doctrines of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero have been superseded by historical change, and reopened the possibility that the classical view of natural right might have important lessons for us today.  Radical historicism calls into question the possibility of any natural right, including the modern natural right doctrines that have legitimated the only free and decent regimes of which we have experience.  This challenge of radical historicism to modern natural right, and the possible relevance today of classical natural right, are issues that compel us to our proposed reassessment of Strauss's thought.

 To accomplish this reassessment, the John M. Olin Center for Inquiry into the Theory and Practice of Democracy has joined forces with the LeFrak Forum and the Symposium for Reason, Science and Modern Democracy at Michigan State University and with the Carl Friedrich von Siemens Stiftung of Munich to sponsor three conferences. The first conference will be held at Michigan State April 20-22, 2001 and consider the book itself chapter by chapter.  The second conference to be held in Chicago May 11-13, 2001 will explore the contexts (European and American) in which the book was written and will also address some of the issues that loomed large in Strauss's previous work but seem to play a somewhat submerged role in the book.  The third conference will be held in Munich in June 2002 and reconsider the living issues in Strauss's thought fifty years after the publication of Natural Right and History.  The papers from these conferences will be gathered together and published in a volume that we hope will both do justice to Strauss's thought and help spur the more general reconsideration of his thought taking place with increasing vigor both in Europe and in the United States.

Leo Strauss's Natural Right and History: Contexts and Subtexts

May 11-13, 2001
The John M. Olin Center for Inquiry into the Theory and Practice of Democracy
The University of Chicago

Read Conference Introduction

Friday, May 11

10:00 A.M. - 12:30 P.M.  
Chair:  Ralph Lerner, Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago

Hillel Fradkin                The Enchanted Forest: Natural Right and History and Leo 
American Enterprise Institute                       Strauss's Engagement  with Medieval Jewish and 
Washington, D.C.                                       
Islamic Thought

Steven Smith                 The Situation of Modern Judaism in Leo Strauss's Natural  
Department of Political Science                     Right and History
Yale University


2:30 P.M. - 5:00 P.M
Chair:  Arthur Melzer, Department of Political Science, Michigan State University

David Janssens              Leo Strauss's Thought before Natural Right and History:
Faculty of Philosophy                           Natural Right and the Socratic Question
Tilburg University

Daniel Tanguay             Natural Right and History in Preparation: 
Department of Philosophy                    Secularization as a Case Study
University of Ottawa


Saturday, May 12

10:00 A.M. - 12:30 P.M
Chair:  Harvey C. Mansfield, Department of Government, Harvard University

James Ceaser               The American Context for Natural Right and History
Department of Government and Foreign Affairs
University of Virginia

James Nichols              On Leo Strauss's Engagement with Alexandre Kojčve 
Department of Government                 and its Relation to Natural Right and History                  
Claremont McKenna College


2:30 P.M. - 5:00 P.M.
Chair:  Susan Shell, Department of Political Science, Boston College

Mark Lilla                      Leo Strauss, Vico and Natural Right and History
Committee on Social Thought           
University of Chicago

Richard Velkley            Natural Right and History as a Response
School of Philosophy                           
to the Challenge of Martin Heidegger
Catholic University of America


Sunday, May 13 

10:00 A.M. - 12:30 P.M.
Chair:  Richard Zinman, James Madison College, Michigan State University

General Discussion - Synopsis and Review


All sessions will be held in the Theater of Ida Noyes Hall (1212 E. 59th St.). 
If you anticipate needing assistance, please contact
 Stephen Gregory (773-702-3423; stephen-gregory@uchicago.edu).

Leo Strauss's Natural Right and History
A Reassessment

April 20-22, 2001
The LeFrak Forum and the Symposium on Science, Reason and Modern Democracy
Michigan State University

Read Conference Introduction

Friday, April 20

Session 1:          9:30 a.m. – 12:00

Susan Shell                           Natural Right and the Historical Approach
Department of Political Science
Boston College

Nasser Behnegar                  Natural Right and the Distinction Between Facts
Department of Political Science          and Values
Boston College


Session 2:          2:00-4:30 p.m.

David Bolotin                      On Chapters Three and Four of Natural Right and
St. John's College                            History
Santa Fe, NM

Christopher Bruell              On the Place of the Treatment of Classical
Department of Political Science        Philosophy  in Natural Right and History
Boston College


Saturday, April 21

Session 3:          9:30 a.m.-12:00

David Leibowitz                  Modern Natural Right:  Hobbes
Department of Political Science
Michigan State University

Thomas Pangle                  Modern Natural Right:  Locke
Department of Political Science
University of Toronto

Session 4:          2:00-4:30 p.m. 

Victor Gourevitch           The Crisis of Modern Natural Right:  Rousseau
Department of Philosophy
Wesleyan University

Harvey C. Mansfield       The Crisis of Modern Natural Right:  Burke
Department of Government
Harvard University


Sunday, April 22

Session 5:          10:00 a.m.- 12:30 p.m.

Pierre Manent                  The Argument of Natural Right and History
Institute Raymond Aron
EHESS, Paris


All conference sessions are in the Michigan State University Union Building (corner of Grand River Avenue and Abbott Road, East Lansing, MI), Parlors A-C.

Sessions are free and open to the public.

 For more information please contact Karen Battin, Administrative Coordinator, Symposium on Science, Reason and Modern Democracy, Department of Political Science, Michigan State University (517-355-2167; battink@msu.edu)

Olin Home About Lecture Series Conferences Faculty

©1999, 2000 The John M. Olin Center for Inquiry into the Theory and Practice of Democracy, University of Chicago
Revised: September 8, 2000