Home Philosophy Philosophy, History, and Tyranny: Reexamining the Debate Between Leo Strauss and Alexandre Kojeve
Timothy W. Burns and Bryan-Paul Frost
The years 2013-2014 marked several anniversaries in respect to the debate between Leo Strauss and Alexandre Kojeve in the former’s On Tyranny} These include the sixtieth anniversary of the 
original publication of the debate in French (1954); the fiftieth anniversary of that debate published in English (1963-1964); and finally, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of Francis Fukuyama’s original article “The End of History?” (1989), which made Kojeve’s name familiar to a new generation of the learned public, and which helped to inspire renewed interest in Kojeve’s claim that liberal democracy (or what he called the universal and homogenous state) presents the final and most perfect form of government. This edited volume uses these occasions to reexamine critically the debate as a whole and to demonstrate why it possesses a timelessness that few philosophic or scholarly debates have ever achieved. All articles herein were written expressly for this volume, and the authors include both senior- and junior-level scholars from disciplines in political science, philosophy, and classical studies. Within manageable limits, the editors have striven to cover the high points of the debate, including its general context, who might have won (if either of them), and its wider philosophical relevance. No interpretive orthodoxy has been insisted upon (as will be evident from the diverse conclusions presented); every contributor, however, is animated by a sincere and very profound desire to learn from the debate and to convey their insights to a wider public, even if they may ultimately disagree with Strauss, Kojeve, and/or both. The editors believe that this is the first edited volume on the debate as a whole, and therefore that it makes a unique and positive contribution to the State University of New York Press series on the Thought and Legacy of Leo Strauss, edited by Kenneth Hart Green.
On Tyranny has been a perennial favorite study among students of Strauss and Kojeve, and many influential and illuminating articles and book chapters have previously been published on the debate. With precision, economy, and often startling clarity, these thinkers put forward the basic ideas and foundational premises of classical and modern political thought. Indeed, they go so far as to suggest that if either one of them is wrong then the other must be right in all or most things, implying that these are two of the most fundamental alternatives in human life and thought. Although diametrically opposed in the answers to almost all of the most important questions, they seem to agree completely on what those most important questions are, as is evidenced from the debate itself: How does one read and interpret a philosophic text? Has Biblical faith transformed human consciousness? Is history a rational and purposive process? Can political life ever be fully rational and satisfying? What is the character of philosophy and politics? What is the highest way of life, and how is it accurately characterized? Indeed, it is hard to imagine a question of genuine political significance that is not somehow addressed or touched on in their exchange. Of course, this does not mean that the debate stands as the final and most authoritative or mature expression of their thoughts: Both went on to write a number of other works after this one, and their philosophic correspondence began to cool after the publication of the debate. Nevertheless, there is a freshness to this debate; it has remained remarkably crisp over time, and neither thinker ever disavowed what he claimed therein.
For the best account of the genesis of the debate, we refer the reader to Emmanuel Patard’s preface to his critical edition of Strauss’s “Restatement,” which includes extensive references to the
Leo Strauss Papers and the Fonds Kojeve. We here limit ourselves to providing some brief biographical information for readers who might be unfamiliar with the two friendly protagonists.
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