After the surviving audiofiles of Strauss’s courses were published on the Leo Strauss Center website in the spring of 2011, the Center held a conference that focused on Strauss as a teacher. These interviews provide a candid and personal look at Strauss from the rim of the seminar table that complements the conference panels (videotape of which is available here) of the 2011 conference. In these interviews, you hear the voices of Harry Jaffa and David Lowenthal, who first took courses with Strauss at the New School in New York in the 1940s, the first generation of Chicago students, which included Laurence Berns, Walter Berns, Richard Cox, Werner Dannhauser, Robert Faulkner, Ralph Lerner, Stanley Rosen, and Thomas Schrock, who studied with Strauss in the first decade of Strauss’s time at the University of Chicago. From the 1960s, we hear from Charles Butterworth, Jeffrey Burnam, and Abram Shulsky.
Many of the men who made up the first generation of Strauss’s students were veterans of World War II. As Ralph Lerner observes, “these were people who had seen action, many of them: sometimes in trenches; sometimes in traveling on seas that were filled with U-boats with hostile intent. They were grown people and they had done something admirable and worthwhile. [Strauss] offered them a challenge as they, in turn, offered him a challenge.” Their histories are remarkable and, as most of the interviewees acknowledge, all the more so because of their contact with Leo Strauss.
A great many points of view are expressed here. Some students emphatically identify themselves as “Straussians”; others claim not to know what “Straussian” means. Whatever their differences, all would seem to agree with Werner Dannhauser’s remark that “deep down [Strauss] really wanted you to learn how to read.”
Stephen Gregory, Administrative Coordinator and Managing Editor of the Strauss Center, began conducting the interviews in November 2010 with his interview of Laurence Berns. Between 2010 and 2014, Gregory conducted eleven additional interviews. Since Gregory left the Strauss Center, its current Associate Director, Gayle McKeen, has continued the project. While we regret the interviews that were never conducted, we are grateful for the lives and thoughts shared with us here.
The Strauss Center extends our thanks to Craig Harding of September Audio for his masterful treatment of the audiofiles, and to Carolyn Roundtree and Jane Harding for transcribing them.