Natural Right and History

by Leo Strauss

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 208

In his discussion of political philosophy, Leo Strauss advocates a return to universal principles, or natural law. He argues that historicism, or the evaluation of events and processes within their contemporary context, is often taken too far, encouraging analysts to reject that basic moral standards apply to all times and places. Extending his analysis back into classical times, he traces ideas about natural right up until modern times.

Strauss argues that the rise of historicism in the 19th century both followed from and rejected some principles of the Enlightenment, which sought to separate divine and natural law. Rather than reject the notion of an immutable law that is fundamentally unknowable to humans, Strauss argues that the underlying idea of nature as infallible offers a sound basis for believing in the existence of natural right even though it is not completely knowable.

Closely related to Strauss’ understanding of principles is that of rights. He argues in favor of natural rights that all people have, of which states or other governmental entities cannot justly deprive them.

Originally published in 1953, Natural Right and History is itself historically contextualized, however, in the post-World War II re-evaluation of human behavior and state policies and practices in the wake of Nazi Germany’s excesses.

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