Natural Right and History

by Leo Strauss

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Natural Right and History is a philosophical work by Leo Strauss. The main thesis of the text is that humans form ideas and principles based historical processes. Strauss believes that these historical processes are fluid in nature; therefore, the ideas and values people develop from the processes change over time. The other theme, which is directly related to the overall thesis, is the concept of historicism. Strauss states that a specific culture should be viewed and judged based on that culture's particular historical processes. That is why Strauss opines that a universal standard of morality and social conformity should not be used to judge different cultures.

The other theme of the text is the idea of a permissive approach. Strauss objected to the idea of allowing states to live by their own values and standards when it contradicts universal standards, especially when the values of that particular state or culture is considered objectively immoral by universal standards. An example of this is the American Civil War, in which the southern states' policy of slavery contradicted the universal moral code condemning the enslavement of other human beings, which was implemented by the United States, or Union states, as federal law.

The first chapter of the book studies the concept of natural law. Strauss makes references to the Bible, and observes that nature is eradicated from the biblical texts. Instead, the world is ruled by a divine authority figure. Perhaps this was intentional by the multiple authors of the Bible. Before the Judeo-Christian belief system, the majority of the world believed in pagan traditions which emphasized the power of nature and the natural order. Christians had to get eradicate mentions of natural law and worship of nature in order to revolutionize Western philosophy. However, Strauss believes that the natural law is the true law of the universal order--from the weather developments on earth to the mechanisms of the cosmos--than the "word" of a supernatural authoritarian, which is then interpreted by men to create holy texts and canons.

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