Saving Civilization: Straussian and Whiteheadian Political Philosophy

Both Leo Strauss (1899–1973) and Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947), believing civilization to be in crisis, hoped that their philosophies could help overcome this crisis by influencing politics. Strauss, who focused almost entirely on political issues and took great pains to become politically influential, has been amazingly successful. His ideas provide the main philosophical basis for the neoconservative movement, which now dominates US foreign and domestic policy and is thereby the most influential political philosophy in the world. Whitehead, for whom politics was only one of many concerns and to which he devoted far fewer words than to several other matters, has thus far had little if any influence on the world of practical politics. He did, however, provide the basis for a political philosophy that, while having a few things in common with Straussian philosophy, is for the most part diametrically opposed to it. The importance of this point is that unless Straussian political philosophy is replaced by Whiteheadian political philosophy, or something similar, there is little hope that civilization will long survive. That is, at least, the conviction behind this essay.

In presenting Strauss’s position, I will follow the interpretation offered by Shadia Drury, especially as given in The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss, which first appeared in 1988 and was reissued with a new introduction in 2005. Her interpretation, according to which Strauss’s position is basically Nietzschean, is controversial, but that is not surprising in light of her view that one must distinguish radically between the exoteric level of his writings, in which he supports religious belief and conventional morality, and the esoteric level, in which he expresses his true beliefs in a way intended to be understood by only a few. Those who have accepted the pious, exoteric Strauss as the real Strauss will naturally disagree with her view that he was really an “atheist and moral nihilist.”[1]

Drury’s interpretation is supported by Laurence Lampert, the author Leo Strauss and Nietzsche. Criticizing “mindless dismissals” of Drury’s book, he speaks of its “fine skeptical readings of Strauss’s texts and acute insights into Strauss’s real intentions.”[2] Lampert agrees that “Strauss is an atheist [and] a pagan.”[3] Lampert’s interpretation is so similar to Drury’s, in fact, that we can speak of the “Drury-Lampert interpretation.”[4]

The truth of their Nietzschean interpretation of Strauss, besides being intrinsically convincing, is supported by two biographical facts. First, Strauss himself, in a letter to Karl Löwith, said that “Nietzsche so dominated and charmed me between my 22nd and 30th years that I literally believed everything I understood of him.”[5] Second, one of Strauss’s last writings was an essay on Nietzsche[6] that, in Drury’s words, “reveals the extent to which Strauss’s own ideas have their foundation in Nietzsche’s thought.”[7]

Given this prologue, I will now, presupposing the truth of the Drury-Lampert interpretation, compare Straussian political philosophy with Whiteheadian political philosophy on a few key issues. By “Whiteheadian political philosophy,” I mean the political philosophy that is present, partly explicitly, partly implicitly, in Whitehead’s writings. The issues to be treated are the present crisis of Western civilization, the relations between religion, morality, and society, the truth about reality, the best form of government, and the nature of political philosophy.

1. The Crisis of Western Civilization

Both Strauss and Whitehead believed Western civilization to be in period of crisis, and both of them believed that this crisis was due to the fact that inherited ideals had lost their power. For Strauss, in Drury’s summary statement:

A civilization is healthy when it is inspired by an idea, a purpose and a project that animates all within its compass. A civilization begins to decay […] when the individuals within it no longer believe in the idea or ideas that are its guiding light […]. The crisis of modern Western civilization consists in the fact that [modernity’s guiding] ideas have now lost their power; we no longer believe in them.[8]

The crisis, in Strauss’s words, “consists of the West’s having become uncertain of its purpose.”[9]

Whitehead’s sense of crisis can be seen by reading together several of his statements. Having defined adventure as “the adventure of ideas, and the adventure of practice conforming itself to ideas,” he said: “Without adventure civilization is in full decay.”[10] Then, saying that “[t]he prolongation of outworn forms of life means a slow decadence,” he added: “let us hope that our present epoch is to be viewed as a period of change to a new direction for civilization.”[11] Elsewhere, he wrote that “as the present becomes self-destructive of its inherited modes of importance,” there is a need for “new aims at other ideals.”[12]

Both men believed that philosophy might play an important role in overcoming the present crisis. Philosophy could now best serve civilization, Whitehead suggested, by “seek[ing] the insight […] to escape the wide wreckage of [the human] race.”[13] For Strauss, the solution to the modern crisis would require the recovery of “political philosophy,” in his distinctive sense of that term, to be explained later.

2. Religion, Morality, and Society

Does a good social order require adherence by members of the society to moral norms believed to be objective? And if so, does this morality in turn depend on a religious view of the universe? Strauss and Whitehead both answered these questions in the affirmative.

For Strauss, society, to be healthy, must rest on morality, which must in turn rest on a religious worldview. “[O]n the basis of a strictly this-worldly orientation,” Strauss said, “no objective norms are possible”—at least not the kind of objective norms required by civil society.[14] “[People] cannot […] live together, if opinions are not stabilized,” and they cannot be stabilized if people think that their society’s principles “have no other support than our blind choice.” These principles must instead be regarded “as divinely established and involving an absolute duty.”[15] Losing this view leads to catastrophe. It was the nihilism resulting from the loss of biblical morality that led to Nazi barbarism.[16]

Besides providing the basis for the society’s moral laws, religion is also necessary to provide contentment. In explicating Machiavelli’s position, Strauss says:

[W]ealth, pre-eminence and glory give many comforts of which the many are necessarily deprived. Society would be in a state of perpetual unrest if men […] were not both appeased by religious hopes and frightened by religious fears. Only if their desires are thus limited can the many become satisfied with making those small demands which can in principle be fulfilled by political means.

Religion is necessary, moreover, to produce citizens who are willing to sacrifice, perhaps even their lives, for their state, which is likely only if it is regarded as sacred and its basic principles considered “sacred dogmas.”[17] Although Roman paganism was better for this purpose than Christianity, at least as usually interpreted, “Christianity permits the exaltation and defense of the fatherland” and “Christians may be good and faithful soldiers because they fight for the glory of God.”[18]

The contemporary crisis is due to the fact that modernity, failing to recognize the permanent need of a religious basis for the state, has endorsed political atheism and political hedonism. “Political atheism” is the idea that atheism should be publicly declared, thereby contravening the belief of all pre-modern atheists that “social life required belief in, and worship of, God or gods.”[19] Political atheists such as Thomas Hobbes and Pierre Bayle, believing that an atheistic society, besides being possible, would be preferable, advocated “popular enlightenment,” in which the truth about the world, as they saw it, would be shared with the masses.[20]

By “political hedonism,” Strauss meant the idea that a good political order could, rather than being based on duty rooted in religious reverence, instead be based on the goal of fulfilling people’s desire for comfort and pleasure.[21] Society would focus not on citizen’s duties but their rights, such as the right to liberty and happiness, so that “[t]he state has the function […] of safeguarding the natural right of each.”[22]

The “modern project,” presupposing these beliefs, was to create a world of universal happiness and prosperity based on the conquest of nature. The present crisis involves loss of faith in this project combined with nihilism, which holds that no ideals or principles are intrinsically more noble than any other.[23] The crisis of modern society, said Irving Kristol, a Straussian generally considered the godfather of neoconservatism, is that reason alone is impotent to ground morality.[24] Given the political importance of religion, Kristol said, it is necessary to breath “new life into […] religious orthodoxies.”[25]

Whitehead agreed that a good society presupposes widespread moral and religious beliefs. He spoke of the importance of having a “vision of the world” that includes “those elements of reverence and order without which society lapses into riot.”[26] Also, believing that social progress in the West has been inspired primarily by the “humanitarian ideal,” according to which human beings, simply by virtue of their humanity, have essential rights, he was concerned that this ideal was being undermined by modern developments such as Social Darwinism, according which to which social progress is achieved by “the extermination of the unfit.”[27] Whitehead believed, moreover, that the main source of respect for humans qua humans is “reverence for that power in virtue of which nature harbours ideal ends, and produces individuals beings capable of conscious discrimination of such ends.”[28]

3. The Truth about Reality

Although Strauss and Whitehead agreed that society requires morality which in turn requires a religious worldview, they disagreed on whether a religious-moral view of the universe can be philosophically justified.

Strauss held that it could not. Pointing out that “[u]tility and truth are two entirely different things,”[29] he regarded religion as “both untrue and salutary.”[30] Although religion claims to be based on divine revelation, “every belief in revelation is ultimately belief in the absurd.”[31] Religion, therefore, has a “human, not heavenly, origin.”[32] Accordingly, although Strauss spoke of his own religious tradition, Judaism, as glorious, he counseled fellow Jews to embrace it as a “heroic delusion.”[33]

In rejecting revelation, Strauss understood it broadly to include “what is nowadays called religious experience,” which, he say, has no “cognitive value.”[34] Accordingly, although philosophy is the search for knowledge about the whole[35]—”all philosophy is cosmology ultimately”[36]—it is not based on a synthesis of sensory and religious experience. It instead consists exclusively of “reasoning based on sense perception,”[37] and there is no higher truth to be found by synthesizing philosophy and religion.[38] As Lampert says, “Strauss did not differ from Nietzsche” regarding “the truth about revelation” and hence “the exclusivity of philosophy.”[39] On that basis, Strauss shared Hobbes’s “materialistic and atheistic view of the whole.” In such a cosmology, as Heidegger emphasized in his essay on Nietzsche’s saying “God is dead,” there is no place for a realm of supersensuous values to exist.[40]

Strauss, surely sharing this view, thereby held, with Hobbes and Machiavelli, that “there is no cosmic support for [our] humanity,” “no superhuman, no natural, support for justice,”[41] and with Nietzsche that “human life is utterly meaningless and lacking support.”[42] There is, in other words, no natural law, in the sense of normative principles of conduct rooted in the nature of things.[43] The very idea of a natural law, Strauss held, is a “contradiction in terms,” because nature could contain laws of conduct only if there were a divine legislator.[44]

Whitehead’s mature views were radically different. After having been agnostic or even atheistic most of his life, he decided, after turning to metaphysics, that a rational and empirically adequate cosmology required an all-inclusive actuality to which the term God would not be inappropriate, even though this actuality differed significantly from the deity of classical theism (which was rightly, from Whitehead’s perspective, considered incoherent by Strauss[45]).

Given Whitehead’s doctrine of God, there was somewhere for moral norms, along with other Platonic forms (such as numbers), to exist, namely, in what he called the “primordial nature of God.” This primordial nature, besides providing a home for moral norms, such as justice, also provides them with agency, because the primordial nature, rather than simply containing the eternal forms passively, envisages them with appetition that they be actualized in the world.[46] We can thereby understand how they can influence us.

However, Whitehead’s explanation of how nonmaterial norms can influence us, even if they be given efficacy by a divine actuality, requires one more dimension of his philosophy, his doctrine of perception, according to which sensory perception is derivative from a more fundamental, nonsensory mode of perception. Given that doctrine, he could regard the experience of moral ideals as involving genuine perception on our part, referring to our “experiences of ideals—of ideals entertained, of ideals aimed at, of ideals achieved, of ideals defaced”—as our “experience of the deity of the universe.”[47]

Whitehead’s theism combined with his epistemology, therefore, allowed him to regard “the impact of […] religious and moral notions,” which he called “inescapable,”[48] as cognitive, truth-giving experiences. He held, accordingly, that a metaphysical philosophy, to be adequate, had to integrate the data of our religious and moral experience with the data of sensory perception.[49] As a result, whereas Strauss accepted a universe that is thoroughly disenchanted in Max Weber’s sense, meaning that it contains no moral norms,[50] Whitehead presented a reenchanted universe.[51]

4. Natural Right(s) and Good Government

The radically different cosmologies of Strauss and Whitehead led to radically different views about human rights and the appropriate type of government.

With regard to Strauss, the fact that he was a moral nihilist does not imply that he was a relativist or nihilist in his own, Nietzschean, sense of those terms, meaning a person who believes that there is no standard for declaring any values more noble than others.[52] The fact that there is no divinely rooted natural law, in other words, does not mean that there is no such things as natural right, which can be discerned by philosophical reason.[53] Natural right can be discerned, he said, by taking renouncing authority and taking nature as the standard, with nature contrasted with convention.[54] Taking nature as the standard means that “a human life […] is good [if] it is in accordance with nature.”[55] The “true code” is one that “is in accordance with the truth, the nature of things.”[56]

The fundamental fact about nature, Strauss said, is that it is not egalitarian. It is characterized instead by hierarchy—higher and lower, superior and inferior.[57] People are very unequal, so the policy of “equal rights for all” is inappropriate. Because “some men are by nature superior to others,” they are, “according to natural right, the rulers of others,”[58] because they are the “true natural aristocracy.”[59]

This—the right of the superior to rule over the inferior—is the one and only right inherent in the nature of things. Human rights in the egalitarian sense are nonexistent. Although one might doubt that Strauss, in quoting Edmund Burke’s phrase “imaginary rights of men,”[60] meant to endorse this rejection of human rights, this doubt is removed by Strauss’s statement, in the 1930s, that any protest against certain Nazi policies should be made “without the ridiculous and pitiful appeal to ‘the inalienable rights of man.’”[61]

“The classic natural right doctrine,” Strauss says, is, when fully developed, “identical with the doctrine of the best regime.”[62] The best regime is “aristocracy,” “in which the best men habitually rule,” and this “would seem to be the rule of the wise.”[63] Their rule should be “absolute rule,” because it “would be absurd to hamper the free low of wisdom by any regulations” or by making the rulers “responsible to their unwise subjects.”[64]

However, although this policy would be best in theory, it is “impracticable. The few wise cannot rule the many unwise by force [and] the ability of the wise to persuade the unwise is extremely limited.”[65] Also, “the wise do not desire to rule […] because their whole life is devoted to the pursuit of […] the unchangeable truth.”[66] Therefore, although “the simply best regime would be the absolute rule of the wise,” the “practically best regime is the rule […] of gentlemen.”[67] This policy presupposes Strauss’s division of human beings into three natural types: philosophers, the masses, and gentlemen. The gentleman “is the political reflection […] of the wise man.”[68] The gentlemen, by ruling directly on the basis of the advice of the wise, allow them to rule in a “remote manner.”[69]

Strauss’s doctrine of natural right, in any case, leads to an aristocratic doctrine, which rejects the idea that all human beings have inherent rights, which good government would protect.

Whitehead’s position was the exact opposite. He held that insofar as there has been moral progress in Western civilization, this progress has been due to the “humanitarian ideal,” which involves “the idea of the essential rights of human beings, arising from their sheer humanity.”[70] Believing that this ideal reflected that idea of the human soul that came about through the combined influence of Platonic, Stoic, and Christian ideas, Whitehead considered harmful the Humean denial of the human soul.[71]

He considered the most direct threat to humanitarian ideal, however, to be the Social Darwinian notion that social progress will come about through “the extermination of the unfit.”[72] Although Whitehead did not refer to Nietzsche in this regard, he could well have quoted the following passage, in which Nietzsche attacked Christian morality:

All “souls” became equal before God: but this is precisely the most dangerous of all possible evaluations! If one regards individuals as equal […], one encourages a way of life that leads to the ruin of the species: Christianity is the counterprinciple to the principle of selection […]. The species requires that the ill-constituted, weak, degenerate, perish: but it was precisely to them that Christianity turned as a conserving force […]. What is “virtue” and “charity” in Christianity if not just this mutual preservation, this solidarity of the weak, this hampering of selection?[73]

Although Strauss did not, to my knowledge, explicitly endorse this part of Nietzsche’s teaching, he certainly held that, given the great inequalities between different types of human beings, the idea of equal rights was inappropriate to the nature of things. The crucial difference here is that Whitehead, because of his theism, does not accept nature as interpreted through Darwinian-Nietzschean eyes as providing the ultimate standard. This standard is provided by “that power in virtue of which nature harbours ideal ends.”[74]

Given that standard and Whitehead’s concern for universal human rights, it is not surprising that he hoped for a world that would abolish war. In his 1933 book, Whitehead mentioned World War I as the primary sign that civilization needed “a new direction.”[75] Also, in discussing implications that have been drawn from a one-sided interpretation of biological evolution in terms of the “struggle for existence,” he spoke against the focus on competition, military warfare, and the “Gospel of Force,” which, he said, “is incompatible with a social life.”[76]

5. The Task of Political Philosophy

The diametrically opposed views of Strauss and Whitehead about religion, morality, and good government led them to diametrically opposed conceptions of political philosophy. The difference involved whether philosophers should openly proclaim the truth about the universe as they see it.

For Strauss, the truth—that God is dead and morality is devoid of cosmic support—would undermine the religious morality that society needs. Political philosophy, accordingly, needed to consist of two parts: an esoteric core, in which the truth is stated in a way that will be grasped by the wise few, and an exoteric coating, consisting of “noble illusions” required by the masses. Philosophers who are “socially responsible,”[77] Strauss says, will write so as

to reveal what they regard as the truth to the few, without endangering the unqualified commitment of the many to the opinions on which society rests. They will distinguish between the true teaching as the esoteric teaching and the socially useful teaching as the exoteric teaching.[78]

Near the end of his life, Strauss summed up this view in the syllogism that “philosophy is the attempt to replace opinion by knowledge, that opinion is the element of the city, hence philosophy is subversive, hence the philosopher must write in such a way that he will improve rather than subvert the city.”[79]

For Strauss, recovering political philosophy, thus understood, was the precondition for overcoming the modern crisis, which was due precisely to the decline of political philosophy, thus understood.[80] This decline began when early modern philosophers, such as Machiavelli and Hobbes, openly proclaimed truths that should have remained the secret of the wise few, thereby undermining the illusions needed for strong societies.[81] “What is needed,” summarizes Drury, “is natural law for the masses and classic natural right for philosophers and those in power.”[82]

In public, of course, the wise should pretend to believe the moral code taught to the masses.[83] This involves hypocrisy, of course, but “it is impossible for a wise man to benefit his city except by deceiving it.”[84] In order for the state (which Strauss often called “the city”) to be strong, it was necessary for the people to be willing to fight and die for it. Toward this end, they needed to believe in “pious swindles” and “noble falsehoods,” including not only God, moral norms, and life after death, but also the sacredness of their nation.[85]

From Whitehead’s perspective, by contrast, there would be no need for political philosophy to distinguish between esoteric and exoteric teachings, because the truth as he sees it would be salutary for both the political leaders and the people. His philosophy of the whole, in other words, provides the background for his political philosophy. This point is made most clearly in a chapter entitled “Civilized Universe,” in which Whitehead sought “evidence for that conception of the universe which is the justification for the ideals characterizing the civilized phases of human society.”[86]

Because Whitehead saw the idea of essential human rights as central to these ideals and also saw modern thought as undermining the traditional justification for such rights, he sought to provide “a reconstructed justification for the doctrine of regard to [human beings], as [human beings].”[87]

Also, given Whitehead’s conviction that the continuation of war showed that civilization needed a new direction, he argued that if civilization is to be saved, it must move “From Force to Persuasion”[88]—by which he meant a world in which social coercion, some degree of which would always remain necessary, would be reduced to “the barest limits necessary for [social] coordination.”[89]

One factor that had contributed to warfare, Whitehead believed, was the traditional idea of deity as exercising coercive omnipotence. Saying that for the barbarian the “final good is conceived as one will imposing itself upon other wills,”[90] Whitehead spoke of traditional theism’s “barbaric conception of God,” then added: “I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the bones of those slaughtered because of men intoxicated by its attraction.” By promoting the “worship of glory arising from power,” Whitehead believed, this conception of deity had “infused tragedy into the histories of Christianity and [Islam].”[91]

Given those comments, we can see why Whitehead considered the view that he attributed to Plato—”that the divine element in the world is to be conceived as a persuasive agency and not as a coercive agency” and that the world’s order is based on this “divine persuasion—to be “one of the greatest intellectual discoveries in the history of religion.”[92] We can also see that Whitehead considered his own doctrine of God, which developed that idea, to be an integral part of his political philosophy.

Toward this end, Whitehead hoped for a new form of religion that, by encouraging “the love of [hu]mankind as such”[93] and promoting “world-loyalty,” would become “the common basis for the unity of civilization.”[94]


[1] Shadia B. Drury, The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss, updated edition with a new introduction (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), ix.

[2] Laurence Lampert, Leo Strauss and Nietzsche (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 132n5.

[3] Ibid., 143n18. Lampert is here citing with approval Stanley Rosen’s “refreshingly direct” acknowledgment of these facts.

[4] Essentially the same interpretation is also reflected in Nicholas Xenos, “Leo Strauss and the Rhetoric of the War on Terror,” Logos: A Journal of Modern Society and Culture 3/2 (Spring 2004) (

[5] “Correspondence of Karl Löwith and Leo Strauss,” trans. George Elliott Tucker, Independent Journal of Philosophy/Unabhängige Zeitschrift für Philosophie 5/6 (1988): 177-92, quoted in Lampert, Leo Strauss and Nietzsche, 5. The period between Strauss’s 22nd and 30th years would have been 1921-1929. “It was Nietzsche’s fundamental critique of the Enlightenment,” Lampert says (164), “that helped give Strauss his beginning.”

[6] Strauss, “Note on the Plan of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil,” Interpretation 3 (1973): 97-113; reprinted in Strauss, Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 174-91, and in Lampert, Leo Strauss and Nietzsche, 187-205.

[7] Drury, The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss (henceforth PILS), 171.

[8] Ibid., 133.

[9] Strauss, City and Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964), 3; Strauss, “The Crisis of Our Time,” in The Predicament of Modern Politics, ed. Harold J. Spaeth(Detroit: University of Detroit Press, 1964), 218; quoted in Drury, PILS, 160.

[10] Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (1933; New York: Free Press, 1967), 259, 279.

[11] Ibid., 278.

[12] Whitehead, Modes of Thought (1938; New York: Free Press, 1968), 103.

[13] Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 159.

[14] Strauss, Natural Right and History, 70, where he is explicating Max Weber’s position. The qualification is needed because Strauss does believe, as we will see, that a purely rational approach to nature provides norms, those of “natural right,” but that these are norms only for the few, not for the masses constituting society.

[15] Strauss, Natural Right and History (henceforth NRH), 6, 12, 153.

[16] Strauss, “Preface,” Spinoza’s Critique of Religion (New York: Schocken, 1965 [originally published in German in 1930]).

[17] NRH, 107, 257.

[18] Strauss, Thoughts on Machiavelli (henceforth TM), 179, 189.

[19] NRH, 169; quoted in Drury, PILS, 142.

[20] NRH, 198.

[21] PILS, 134-37.

[22] NRH, 181.

[23] Drury, PILS, 160-62.

[24] Irving Kristol, Neoconservatism: Autobiography of an Idea (New York: Free Press, 1994), 99, 101, 258, 269, 298-99; as cited in Drury, Leo Strauss and the American Right, 148.

[25] Ibid., 146; cited in Drury, Leo Strauss and the American Right, 148.

[26] Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 99.

[27] Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 13, 35-36.

[28] Ibid., 86.

[29] Strauss, NRH, 6

[30] Strauss, TM, 226.

[31] NRH, 71; here Strauss is expressing his view in an explication of Max Weber’s position.

[32] NRH, 41. “According to Machiavelli,” Strauss said, “Biblical religion and pagan religion have this in common, that they are both of merely human origin” (TM 205), so “the dogmatic teaching of the Bible has the cognitive status of poetic fables” (TM 205, 41).

[33] Strauss, “Why We Remain Jews: Can Jewish Faith and History Still Speak to Us?” in Kenneth L. Deutsch and Walter Nicgorski, eds., Leo Strauss: Political Philosopher and Jewish Thinker (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1994), 73.

[34] TM, 208; here Strauss uses Aristotle to express his view.

[35] In Strauss’s words, “philosophy, in the full and original sense of the term,” [is] the attempt to replace opinions about the whole by knowledge of the whole,” whereas the sophist “is unconcern[ed] with the truth, i.e., with the truth about the whole” (NRH 30, 116).

[36] Strauss, “On the Interpretation of Genesis,” L’Homme: Revue francaise d’anthropologie 21 (1981): 5-36, at 15-19 (quoted in Lampert, Leo Strauss and Nietzsche, 171.

[37] Strauss, “The Mutual Influence of Theology and Philosophy,” 112, quoted in Drury, PILS, 51. See also NRH, 92, where Strauss says that reason is “the human faculty that, with the help of sense-perception, discovers nature.”

[38] NRH, 74.

[39] Lampert, Leo Strauss and Nietzsche, 143.

[40] Martin Heidegger, “Nietzsche’s Word: ‘God is Dead,’” in Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology: Heidegger’s Critique of the Modern Age, trans. William Lovett (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), 53-112.

[41] Strauss, NRH, 170, 175, 178.

[42] Strauss, “Note on the Plan of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil,” Appendix to Lampert, Leo Strauss and Nietzsche, 188-205, at 194.

[43] Strauss, “Natural Law,” 83, cited by Drury, PILS,

[44] Strauss, “Natural Law,” Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 12: 80 (reprinted in Strauss, Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy), cited in Drury, PILS, 103.

[45] Drury, PILS, 40, citing Strauss, “The Mutual Influence of Theology and Philosophy,” 112, and “Jerusalem and Athens,” Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy, 157, 162. The main issue was the contradiction of divine omniscience and omnipotence with human freedom.

[46] Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (orig. 1929), corrected edition, ed. David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne (New York: Free Press, 1978), 32-33.

[47] Saying that “[t]here are experiences of ideals—of ideals entertained, of ideals aimed at, of ideals achieved, of ideals defaced,” Whitehead added: “This is the experience of the deity of the universe” (Modes of Thought 103).

[48] Whitehead, Modes of Thought, 19.

[49] Regarding religious experience, Whitehead said that religion “contributes its own independent evidence, which metaphysics must take account of” (Religion in the Making, 76). With regard to moral experience, he quoted with approval Henry Sidgwick’s statement that philosophy’s aim to unify all departments of rational thought “cannot be realized by any philosophy that leaves out of its view the important body of judgments and reasonings which form the subject matter of ethics” (Science and the Modern World, 142).

[50] See H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, eds., From Max Weber (New York: Oxford University Press, 1958), 122, 155. Strauss did believe, contrary to Weber, that “the unassisted human mind” is able to discern an absolute norm (NRH 70). Aside from Strauss’s “natural right,” however, his universe is as thoroughly disenchanted as Weber’s.

[51] See David Ray Griffin, Reenchantment without Supernaturalism: A Process Philosophy of Religion (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2001).

[52] Ibid., 162.

[53] Strauss used the term “natural right” rather than “natural law,” he said, so as to make clear the distinction from Thomistic natural law; “Letter to Helmut Kuhn,” Independent Journal of Philosophy 2 (1978): 23-26, at 24; cited in Drury, PILS, 103.

[54] NRH, 84, 92, 93, 11-12.

[55] NRH, 95.

[56] TM, 83.

[57] NRH, 118, 134.

[58] NRH, 134-35.

[59] NRH, 298, quoting Burke.

[60] NRH, 297.

[61]Quoted in Nicholas Xenos, “Leo Strauss and the Rhetoric of the War on Terror” (

[62] NRH, 144.

[63] NRH, 140.

[64] NRH, 140-41.

[65] NRH, 141.

[66] NRH, 151.

[67] NRH, 142-43.

[68] NRH, 142.

[69] NRH, 152.

[70] Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 13.

[71] Whitehead wrote: “Hume’s flux of impressions and of reactions to impressions, each impression a distinct, self-sufficient existence, was very different to the Platonic soul. The status of man in the universe required re-considering. ‘What is man that thou are mindful of him?’ The brotherhood of man at the top of creation ceased to be the well-defined foundation for moral principles. There seems no very obvious reason why one flux of impressions should not be related to another flux of impressions in the relative status of master to slave” (Adventure of Ideas, 29-30).

[72] Ibid., 36.

[73] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, edited by Walter Kaufmann. Translated by Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Random House, 1967), 141-42.

[74] Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 76.

[75] Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 278.

[76] Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (1925; New York: Free Press, 1967), 205-206.

[77] Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1952), 35-36.

[78] Strauss, Writings in Platonic Political Philosophy, 221-22; quoted in PILS, 19.

[79] Jacob Klein and Leo Strauss, “A Giving of Accounts,” in Leo Strauss, Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity, ed. Kenneth Hart Green (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997), 463; quoted in Xenos, “Leo Strauss and the Rhetoric of War.”

[80] Strauss, “The Crisis of Our Time,” 217-18; cited by PILS, 165.

[81] Drury, PILS, 35-36, 119-23, 131, 141-43.

[82] Ibid., 109.

[83] Drury, PILS 53, citing Strauss, “An Unspoken Prologue to a Public Lecture at St. John’s,” Interpretation 7/3 (September 1978), 1-3.

[84] Strauss, City and Man, 235.

[85] NRH, 107, 257.

[86] Modes of Thought, 105.

[87] Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 38. Whitehead, in line with the language of the time, wrote “man, as man.” But the change as suggested is entirely appropriate to his thought, especially given the fact that he was an outspoken advocate of women’s rights.

[88] This is the title of Chapter 5 of Adventures of Ideas.

[89] Adventures of Ideas, 56, 85.

[90] Adventures of Ideas, 51.

[91] Religion in the Making, 54-55, Process and Reality, 342.

[92] Adventures of Ideas, 166, 160.

[93] Adventures of Ideas, 286.

[94] Religion in the Making, 60; Adventures of Ideas, 172.

Works Cited and Further Readings

Drury, Shadia B. 2005. The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss, updated edition with a new introduction (New York: Palgrave Macmillan).

Griffin, David Ray. 2001. Reenchantment without Supernaturalism: A Process Philosophy of Religion (Ithaca: Cornell University Press).

Heidegger, Martin. 1977. “Nietzsche’s Word: ‘God is Dead,’” in Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology: Heidegger’s Critique of the Modern Age, trans. William Lovett (New York: Harper and Row).

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1967. The Will to Power, edited by Walter Kaufmann. Translated by Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Random House).

Kristol, Irving. 1994.  Neoconservatism: Autobiography of an Idea (New York: Free Press).

Lampert, Laurence 1996.  Leo Strauss and Nietzsche (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

Strauss, Leo. 1965. Natural Right and History (Chicago, University of Chicago Press).

Strauss, Leo. 1958.  Thoughts on Machiavelli (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

Strauss, Leo. 1964. City and Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).

Strauss, Leo. 1964. “The Crisis of Our Time,” in The Predicament of Modern Politics, ed. Harold J. Spaeth(Detroit: University of Detroit Press).

Strauss, Leo. 1965 (1930) “Preface,” Spinoza’s Critique of Religion (New York: Schocken).

Strauss, Leo. 1973. “Note on the Plan of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil,” Interpretation 3.

Tucker, George Elliott. 1988. “Correspondence of Karl Löwith and Leo Strauss,” (Independent Journal of Philosophy/Unabhängige Zeitschrift für Philosophie).

Xenos, Nicholas. 2004. “Leo Strauss and the Rhetoric of the War on Terror,” Logos: A Journal of Modern Society and Culture.

Weber, Max. 1946. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, edited and translated by H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (New York, Oxford University Press).

Author Information

David Ray Griffin
Professor of Philosophy of Religion and Theology, Emeritus
Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, CA 93117

How to Cite this Article

Griffin, David Ray, “Saving Civilization: Straussian and Whiteheadian Political Philosophy”, last modified 2008, The Whitehead Encyclopedia, Brian G. Henning and Joseph Petek (eds.), originally edited by Michel Weber and Will Desmond, URL = <>.