The brilliant and much-maligned political philosopher Leo Strauss has often been painted by his detractors as a reactionary warmonger. In a recent book, Robert Howse argues that in fact he espoused a firm belief in international law and cooperation. Furthermore, Howse contends, Strauss came to his position through introspection and the peculiarly Jewish process of teshuvah—repentance and return—in his case, for his youthful flirtation with the German right. Howse comes to these surprising conclusions in part through careful analysis of recently-published transcripts of Strauss’s classroom teaching. Steven B. Smith writes:
It is only in [his] seminars on [the 17th-century Dutch philosopher Hugo] Grotius and [Immanuel] Kant . . . that Strauss applied the insights gleaned from Thucydides to the revival of international law and just-war theory in the years after World War II. Strauss, we learn, was by no means opposed to a policy of enlightened internationalism. The very fact that he devoted an entire course to Grotius’s Rights of War and Peace is itself revealing. Here he found Grotius struggling with the same question that had occupied him since his early Weimar period, namely, how to fashion a political theory that threads the needle between sheer Machiavellianism and Kantian moralism. Accordingly, he finds in Grotius’s idea of a law of peoples, the ius gentium, a way to provide a ground for political ethics that is both rational and secular, and yet that recognizes the need for statesmanlike prudence and the ability to adapt to the needs of circumstance.