A Note on Leo Strauss' Interpretation of RousseauHilail GildinLeo Strauss published two articles on Rousseau's political philosophy.The second of these became Chapter 6, Section A, of Natural Right andHistory. Both are concerned with Rousseau's political philosophy as awhole and they attempt to show that Rousseau is justified in claiming histeaching to be coherent in spite of the bewildering variety of arrestinglylucid and violently opposed assertions that one finds in his writings.Although the scope of both articles is comprehensive, a different writing by Rousseau stands at the center of each of them. The first article—“On theIntention of Rousseau”—is a study of Rousseau's thought as reflected, forthe most part, in the Discourse on the Sciences and Arts.
In the laterarticle, the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality occupies the center.Several prominent British scholars in the 70's drew attention to the impor-tance of Strauss' contribution to the study of Rousseau. (This point de-serves to be made in the light of attempts by some to create the impressionthat, in England at least, nothing that Strauss wrote after his 1936 book onHobbes was taken seriously by anyone who counted.) In 1972, MauriceCranston and Richard S. Peters published a collection of critical essays onHobbes and Rousseau. Their Introduction draws attention to the change inattitude towards Rousseau as a political philosopher since the years priorto the second world war. “Whereas it was the fashion before the war” todismiss Rousseau “as a sinister romantic, a forerunner of fascism and of communism, he has more recently been read with greater respect.” Citingwith approval a lead article of the TLS in June 1970, Cranston and Peters
In the following, references to “On the Intention of Rousseau” will make use of the abbreviation IR. The article was reprinted in Hobbes and Rousseau, ed. byMaurice Cranston and Richard S. Peters (Garden City, New York: Doubleday &Company, Anchor Books, 1972). Page references will be to that collection. LeoStrauss’ Natural right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952)will be referred to by the abbreviation NRH, and his What Is PoliticalPhilosophy? (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1959) by the abbreviation WIPP.1