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The Leo Strauss Center seeks to promote the serious study of Leo Strauss's thought primarily through the preservation and publication of the unpublished written and audio record that he left behind.
Leo Strauss is increasingly recognized as one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth century. His research stimulated significant developments in the study of ancient and modern political philosophy, American political thought (especially the founding), classics, Jewish studies, and Islamic studies, among other fields. He is widely known for defending natural right, especially in its classical form, against the challenges of relativism and historicism, reopening the quarrel between the ancients and the moderns in political philosophy, emphasizing philosophy as a way of life, sharply criticizing value-free social science, stressing the centrality of the theological-political problem, and distinguishing between the exoteric and esoteric teachings of writers of the past. Strauss published penetrating interpretations of writings by a wide range of figures, poets as well as philosophers, going far beyond the conventional canon of figures studied in the field of Western political theory, including not only Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, Marsilius of Padua, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Rousseau, Burke, Nietzsche, Weber, and Carl Schmitt, but also the Bible, Aristophanes, Xenophon, Lucretius, Al-Farabi, Judah Halevi, Maimonides, Lessing, Moses Mendelssohn, Herman Cohen, and Heidegger. Scholars for generations to come will respond to his challenging interpretations of fundamental texts.
Strauss left behind a large collection of unpublished papers. The Leo Strauss archive in the Special Collection Research Center of the University of Chicago library holds an estimated 25,000 pages, including correspondence, manuscripts and typescripts of lectures and papers, and notes. A summary guide to the collection can be consulted online. An extensive record of Strauss's teaching exists in the form of audiotapes of classes, transcripts made from the tapes, notes compiled by students of his classes, and in some cases Strauss’s own class notes. Partial or complete sets of tapes for 26 courses (including two sessions of a course on Montesquieu in autumn 1965 that was cancelled and the only session of the course on the Gorgias Strauss began just before his death in 1973) and one reading group have survived. There will be transcripts for 44 courses and one reading group.
- Edit the course transcripts for publication, using digitally remastered audio files when they are available to improve the accuracy of the transcript.
- Seek publication of selected transcripts in print.
- Publish all of the course transcripts on the Center's Web site.
- Publish digitally remastered audiofiles made from the original audiotapes on the Center's Web site.
- Digitally remaster and transcribe audiotapes housed at the Newberger Hillel Center at the University of Chicago of occasional lectures, many of them dealing with Jewish topics, given by Strauss and publish them on the Center's Web site and in some cases in print.
- Digitize documents in the Leo Strauss archive in the Special Collections Research Center to preserve them and make them more available to scholars and students.
- Publish selected digitized documents from the Leo Strauss archive on the Center's Web site and in some cases in print.
- Enhance the Leo Strauss archive by providing an itemized finding aid, and by rehousing and improving the storage of the original documents.
- Preserve the digitally remastered audio recordings of Strauss's courses and occasional lectures, the text files of the transcripts, and the digitized copies of the documents in the Leo Strauss archive by depositing them in the University of Chicago Library Digital Archive.
- As conditions allow, conduct programs to support and encourage the scholarly study of Strauss's thought and publicize the availability of the materials on the Web site and in the archive, including occasional conferences or lectures and research projects devoted to Strauss's thought.
The Leo Strauss Center is currently funded by a major gift from the Winiarski Family Foundation and two grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities: a $30,000 start-up grant that ran through April 30, 2010 and a $350,000 grant from the Preservation and Access program for the period April 1, 2009 through March 31, 2011. This latter grant is being used primarily to digitally remaster tapes of Strauss's courses and publish them on the Web. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this Web site do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional support is provided by Richard Schiffrin, Earhart Foundation, and numerous individual contributors.