Leo Strauss Lecture on Gorgias (Autumn, 1963)

The Strauss lectures are intellectual treasures of political theory. There are roughly three dozen courses Strauss taught over the course of some thirty years, each of which has recordings for anywhere from half a dozen to twenty classes. Not all of the courses have complete recordings, and the quality of some of the recordings is not excellent, but in full, they’re marvels from a man with a very fine mind.

The introductory lecture to his courses are sometimes the most profound. His introductions typically supply an overview of the field and/or history of political philosophy. It’s not the case with every course introduction, but I’ve blogged about a couple exemplary introductory lectures here and here. His introduction to Plato’s Gorgias (Autumn, 1963) is another gem.

In it, Strauss lays out the great problems with the two competing schools of social science: Positivism and Historicism. For the former, he holds special disdain for its insistence on value-free evaluations in the face of explicit value-laden themes: The Good Society, or The Open Society. (I don’t believe he ever mentions Karl Popper by name in a lecture, but there are instances when he can be referring to no one other than Popper. There is, though, a correspondence regarding Popper between Strauss and Eric Voegelin that pulls no punches.) Strauss lambastes positivism for its outlandish claims and cites one his favorite examples of the implicit values and reliance upon common sense–that of the political survey that has, in its methodology, nothing directing its survey administrators to make sure the survey is not administrated to dogs or oak trees instead of human beings.

The lecture can be found here. Enjoy.

 

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