Esotericism Ancient and Modern

Political Theory 34 (1):33-61 (2006)
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Abstract

Leo Strauss presents at least two distinct accounts of the idea that the authors in the political-philosophical canon have often masked their true teachings. A weaker account of esotericism, dependent on the contingent fact of presecution, is attributed to the moderns, while a stronger account, stemming from a necessary conflict between philosophy and society, is attributed to the ancients. Although most interpreters agree that Strauss here sides with the ancients, this view fails to consider the possibility that Strauss's writings on esotericism may themselves be composed esoterically. A reevaluation of Straussian hermeneutics in light of this possibility suggests that the elitism and secrecy often associated with "Straussianism" may stem, not from Strauss's true account of esotericism, but instead from an exoteric doctrine designed to seduce students into a life of philosophy.

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Michael L. Frazer
University of East Anglia

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