Eric Voegelin and Leo Strauss are two of the most provocative and durable political philosophers of this century. Ted McAllister's superbly written study provides the first comprehensive comparison of their thought and its profound influence on contemporary American conservatism.
Since the appearance in the 1950s of Strauss's Natural Right and History and Voegelin's Order and History, conservatives like Russell Kirk, Irving Kristol, and Allan Bloom have increasingly turned to these thinkers to support their attacks on liberalism and the modernist mindset.
Like so many conservatives, Strauss and Voegelin rebelled against modernity, amorality--personified by Machiavelli, Hobbes, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, and Nietzsche--and its promotion of individualism and materialism over communal and spiritual responsibility. While both disdained the reductionist "conservative" label, conservatives nevertheless appropriated their philosophy, in part because it restored theology and classical tradition to the moral core of civil society.
For both men, modernity's debilitating disorder revealed surprising and disturbing relations among liberal, communist, and Nazi ideologies. In their eyes, modernity's insidious virus, so apparent in the Nazi and communist regimes, lies incubating within liberal democracy itself.
McAllister's thorough reevaluation of Strauss and Voegelin expands our understanding of their thought and restores balance to a literature that has been dominated by political theorists and disciples of Strauss and Voegelin. Neither reverential nor dismissive, he reveals the social, historical, political, and philosophical foundations of their work and effectively decodes their frequently opaque or esoteric thinking.
Well written and persuasively argued, McAllister's study will appeal to anyone engaged in the volatile debates over liberalism's demise and conservatism's rise.
"McAllister traces an American counter-tradition in the work of thinkers for whom modernity was as much tragedy as triumph. An important contribution to our self-understanding as well as to the history of ideas."--Jean Bethke Elshtain, author of Democracy on Trial
"A lively, nuanced, and insightful account of the two contemporary giants of political philosophy. Warmly recommended."--Ellis Sandoz, Director, Eric Voegelin Institute for American Renaissance Studies and editor of Eric Voegelin's Significance for the Modern Mind
"A beautifully written book that lucidly examines the major works of Strauss and Voegelin for an understanding of the origins and nature of our modern predicament. It is 'must' reading for an appreciation of the theoretical foundations of modern American conservative thought which, as McAllister makes clear, owes so much to these two giants."--George W. Carey, editor of The Political Science Reviewer
"McAllister has performed a real service in delineating so clearly the civic dimensions of Strauss's and Voegelin's thought."--Washington Times
"This is a thoughtful book that not only usefully maps out some of the more obscure and neglected territory in twentieth-century intellectual history, but itself constitutes, to some extent, an inquiry into the problems and pathologies of modernity, and of contemporary American conservatism."--Reviews in American History
"McAllister provides an insightful critique of the ambiguities and tensions that divide the modern American conservative movement into mutually antagonistic camps of cultural traditionalists, economic libertarians, and populists."--Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
"This book is fair and thoughtful. There is no ideological distortion in McAllister's readings; he illuminates rather than obscures."--Stanley Rosen, author of The Ancients and the Moderns: Rethinking Modernity
"A lucid and powerful account."--Kenneth L. Deutsch, coeditor of Leo Strauss: Political Philosopher and Jewish Thinker and The Crisis of Liberal Democracy
TED V. McALLISTER is assistant professor of history at Hillsdale College.