Leo Strauss is famous for rediscovering “the art of writing.” What is it? Why is it important? What does its use suggest about politics and philosophy? What is the relation of the art of writing to some of Strauss’s other famous rediscoveries—including his revival of the tradition of political philosophy, and his emphasis of the clash between ancients and moderns?

We’ll consider these questions through a close reading of Leo Strauss’s 1952 book, Persecution and the Art of Writing—especially chapters 1 and 2. No previous knowledge of Strauss’s work is presupposed, but students unfamiliar with Strauss might want to read two essays about his work—“Leo Strauss and the History of Political Philosophy,” by Nathan Tarcov and Thomas Pangle, in Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey, eds., History of Political Philosophy, 3rd and revised edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), and “What Was Leo Strauss Up To?Public Interest, Fall 2003 (longer version available in Perspectives in Political Science, Fall 2004). You might also enjoy a book review of Persecution and the Art of Writing by Irving Kristol in Commentary magazine, October, 1952 (“The Philosophers’ Hidden Truth”). Those seeking more familiarity with Strauss might want to take a look at On Tyranny and Natural Right and History, two other books written around then by Strauss.

Images: Detail from Rembrandt, A Writing Philosopher, ca. 1629 |  Detail from Gerard van Honthorst, The Steadfast Philosopher, 1623

Harvey Mansfield & Bill Kristol on Leo Strauss


William Kristol

William Kristol is editor at large of The Weekly Standard, which, together with Fred Barnes and John Podhoretz, he founded in 1995. Mr. Kristol has served as chief of staff to the Vice President of the United States and to the Secretary of Education. Before coming to Washington in 1985, Kristol taught politics at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

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Discussion Questions:

  1. Why might “the relation between philosophy and politics” be a problem?
  2. What does it mean to “state this problem from the side of philosophy,” as Strauss claims he will do in the Introduction?
  3. Why do you suspect Strauss chose to have as his Introduction to this book an essay mostly about Farabi’s Plato?



Discussion Questions:

  1. How does religion fit into the study of the problem of philosophy and politics?
  2. What are the implications of the distinctions Strauss draws between Christianity, Judaism and Islam?
  3. What is the relationship of persecution to the art of writing?
  4. What are other reasons for engaging in the art of writing?



Choose one, and write no more than three pages:

  1. What is the “art of writing,” according to Strauss? Is it really necessary for philosophy?
  2. Is “persecution” key to understanding the “art of writing?” Why does Strauss emphasize it?



Discussion Questions:

  1. What is the relation of philosophy or education to the art of writing?
  2. What does Strauss mean by “freedom of thought?”
  3. What guidance does Strauss supply for distinguishing between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” “reading between the lines?” Is it helpful?



Discussion Questions:

  1. What do we learn from these chapters about the art of writing?
  2. What is the “literary character” of the Guide for the Perplexed?
  3. Part IV of Chapter Three is titled, “A Moral Dilemma.” What is the dilemma? How does Strauss resolve it?
  4. What do we learn from Strauss’s interpretation of the Kuzari about “what philosophy is or what a philosopher is” (first sentence of Chapter Four)?



Discussion Questions:

  1. According to Section One of Chapter Five, what is the relation between the art of writing and what Strauss calls there “historicism?”
  2. Strauss notes that “as a general observation people write as they read.” What does this imply about reading Strauss?
  3. Is the book Persecution and the Art of Writing a coherent whole? Where does it lead one in thinking about the history of political thought? About philosophy? About politics?

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