Like many of the neoconservatives, I spent many years at the University of Chicago where I studied under Leo Strauss’s acolytes: Leon Kass, Joseph Cropsey, and Nathan Tarcov. I did not always agree with them, and some of the basic flaws of neoconservatism were apparent in their thought–such as the excessive concern with equality and the lack of concern for America’s Christian heritage–but these defects in his students’ thinking were not apparent in Strauss’s own writings. Indeed, very few of Strauss’s teachings can be easily found in the crude, pro-democracy ideology of Bill Kristol, Robert Kagan, Paul Wolfowitz, and their fellow travellers. I recall instead that many of Strauss’s teachings called into question the “progressive” and democratic beliefs of the modern age.
University of Dallas Professor Tom West, whom I’ve had the pleasure to meet, offers an excellent description of Strauss’s foreign policy views in this piece in the Claremont Review. In particular, he vindicates him from the common charge that his teachings undergird the “benevolent hegemony” viewpoint of the most prominent neoconservative foreign policy theorists, viz.:
Strauss concluded the passage quoted above by remarking that the lesson of the Cold War is that “political society remains what it always has been: a partial or particular society whose most urgent and primary task is its self-preservation and whose highest task is its self-improvement.”
In his book What Is Political Philosophy? Strauss addressed the grounds of that lesson in the principles of classical political philosophy. For the classics, wrote Strauss, foreign policy is primarily concerned with “the survival and independence of one’s political community.” For that reason, “the ultimate aim of foreign policy is not essentially controversial. Hence classical political philosophy is not guided by questions concerning the external relations of the political community. It is concerned primarily with the inner structure of the political community….”
For Strauss, then, who closely followed the classics on this subject, foreign policy is ministerial to domestic policy, because “self-improvement” or human excellence is the “highest task” of politics. The purpose of foreign policy is therefore to secure the means, admittedly the “urgent and primary” means, namely, preservation, or national security, to that high end. For that reason, Aristotle singled out Sparta for strong criticism in his Politics. Sparta’s error was to organize its laws around the belief that the purpose of politics is the domination of other nations by war.
Thus according to Strauss, the purpose of foreign policy is or ought to be survival and independence, or self-preservation, and nothing else.
Robert Taft couldn’t have said it much better himself.