Thoughts On Machiavelli, by Leo Strauss
It is not to be wondered that Leo Strauss has, as a political philosopher, been subject to a great deal of popular disdain. He fully earned his bad reputation as a corrupter of philosophy, and yet at the same time he remains a philosopher worthy of study, if only because as we have to deal with snakes in the grass that it is worthwhile to read the writings of someone who may be readily and openly admitted to be such a snake in the grass himself. One cannot read this book and the author’s praise of the prudence and autonomy of Machiavelli’s thought without seeing Leo Strauss as a similar sort of person himself, someone who studied the ways of the heathen and the thought of early modern political philosophers in order to oppose both contemporary political thinking as well as to oppose biblical morality . In at least one passage, the author wishes the reader to grand the autonomy of political science as a discipline. And yet this autonomy cannot be granted. The claims of God are universal, and claim lordship over every aspect of existence. Since the author, and his subject, desired to rebel against God’s laws and ways and desired to set themselves up as authorities and receive glory and honor for themselves that properly belonged to God, they were open rebels to biblical law, and open scoffers of biblical religion, something this book has in large quantity. It therefore goes without saying that both Strauss and Machiavelli end up being wicked, as a matter of course, because they confuse the lower paths of life and power as being the ultimate areas of life. Woe be to those who call good evil and evil good.
The depth of material in this book may be judged from the fact that some 300 pages of close type are only comprised of four chapters, and that there are no section headings to indicate a change in thought. We are dealing with a great commentary here, and one that makes few concessions to its readers, and little elucidation of the author’s own serpentine way of thought. Throughout the book, the reader is in considerable doubt as to whether the author is more interested in expressing Machiavelli’s thought through erudite analysis or seeking to convey his own under the cover of discussing Machiavelli. The first chapter of the book examines the two-fold character of Machiavelli’s political thought in that it appears to be contrary between the Prince and the Discourses on the first ten books of Livy. The next two chapters then look at the intentions of Machiavelli in both works, and how they ultimately serve the same end, even if the emphasis is different based on different arguments and a different intended audience. The fourth and final chapter, which takes up about 120 pages of material, looks at the core of Machiavelli’s teaching, spending a lot of time on Machiavelli’s radical and ungodly views on moral virtue.
In reading this book, one becomes aware that the popular disdain for Machiavelli is justified. People who know only a little bit about Machiavelli are content to know that his viewpoints are evil, while those who pretend that he was not evil have to engage in a great deal of dishonest sophistry in order to present him as good, the same sort of sophistry that Machiavelli himself engaged in to avoid meeting with an ignominious end. And yet when reading this book, one cannot help but be convinced that Leo Strauss, like Machiavelli, could justly be considered a deliberate corrupter of the political virtue of the youth. For just as Machiavelli wrote to the young in order to encourage them to become harsher and less virtuous in order to overthrow the accepted ways of their day and time, so too Leo Strauss and his disciples engaged in the same sort of corrupting practice to encourage neoconservatism and the replacement of the virtuous behavior of the state with the use of the naked power of government in order to seek after violence, overthrow the electoral verdicts of the people of other nations, and engage in ferocious conflict within and without the state, without a belief in that virtue that alone prepares mankind for eternal life and that alone makes authority legitimate in the eyes of the public.
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