Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire


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Anne Norton

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How an unlikely group of academics came to power in Washington and provided the philosophical justification for the war on Iraq

The teachings of political theorist Leo Strauss (1899–1973) have recently received new attention, as political observers have become aware of the influence Strauss’s students have had in shaping conservative agendas of the Bush administration—including the war on Iraq. This provocative book examines Strauss’s ideas and the ways in which they have been appropriated, or misappropriated, by senior policymakers.

Anne Norton, a political theorist trained by some of Strauss’s most famous students, is well equipped to write on Strauss and Straussians. She tells three interwoven narratives: the story of Leo Strauss, a Jewish German-born émigré, who carried European philosophy into a new world; the story of the philosophic lineage that came from Leo Strauss; and the story of how America has been made a moral battleground by the likes of Paul Wolfowitz, Leon Kass, Carnes Lord, and Irving Kristol—Straussian conservatives committed to an American imperialism they believe will usher in a new world order.

Anne Norton is professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania.

[alternative shortcopy for use after the 2004 election and post-Iraq War]

This enlightening book examines the thinking of political theorist Leo Strauss and how his ideas have been appropriated—or misappropriated—for various conservative agendas. Anne Norton tells the story of the Jewish German-born émigré, his philosophic heirs, and why they are advocates of an American imperialism.

“An honest, wise, and beautifully written account of an astonishing political phenomenon that has profoundly reshaped politics in our times.”—Rogers Smith, author of Civic Ideals


"For those already familiar with Strauss, the book will serve to illuminate new repercussions of his work. For those who are unfamiliar with him, it provides a solid background to understand the underpinnings of a major element of neoconservative thought at a time when Norton's ideological questions demand answers."—Gwen Glazer, NationalJournal.com


"A short but splendid book. . . . Norton offers here a genuine insight into contemporary American conservatism." – Corey Robin, New Statesman

“Well-informed and witty.”—Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., New York Review of Books

“Is George W. Bush not only the most conservative president we’ve ever had, but an entirely new kind of conservative whose ideas will dominate American politics for the foreseeable future? Or is he—along with the neoconservative ‘Straussians’ who advised him to go to war in Iraq—not really a conservative at all, but a daring crusader who’d make a real conservative, like Leo Strauss turn over in his grave? . . . Anne Norton’s Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire, gets [the answers to these questions] right. . . . Her most impressive achievement is to demonstrate how far the ideas we associate with Straussians have strayed from the ideas of Leo Strauss, the German Jewish émigre philosopher who was a central figure at the University of Chicago after World War II.”—Alan Wolfe, New York Times Book Review

“Norton studied at Chicago, the center of the Straussian academic universe, and the book has the flavor of an amusing tell-all. . . . Norton’s account is a sort of critical field guide to Straussians, taxonomizing their ‘variants and subspecies’ and assessing the ways in which some of them have affected U.S. foreign policy.”—New Yorker

“Punchy, personal and passionate. . . . Norton . . . was trained by Chicago Straussians herself, and she writes . . . as a watchdog. . . . This book should . . . stimulate debate.”—Publishers Weekly

“Tracing the rise of neoconservatism is a challenge because it is so new to power. Much is known about the movement as a cult, and now [this] book helps complete the picture by tracing the transition from cult to political force under Bush.”—James O. Goldsborough, San Diego Union-Tribune

“Anne Norton’s new book . . . [is] like a backstage pass into the imperialistic mind of America. . . . Tracing the evolution of Strauss’s ideas as they seeped from the academy into the corridors of political power. Norton, who studied under some of Strauss’s most renowned disciples, chronicles how today’s neoconservatives smuggled his philosophy into the White House and have used it to shape the conservative and belligerent posture of America today. The book’s underlying tone is one of deep apprehension. She’s troubled, honest, and wary.”—Mitchell Anderson, San Francisco Bay Guardian

“Norton’s attack on the Straussians is vigorous and wide ranging. . . . [Such books] unpick the mysteries and contradictions of modern American neoconservatism. They show how our leaders are using the martyrs of Islam to enrich the rich and arm the mighty.”— Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones, Times Higher Education Supplement

ISBN: 9780300109733
Publication Date: October 11, 2005
256 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4