Three modern books on politics made indelible impressions on me as a student interested in the great wide world. Two are by Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History and On Tyranny. The third is Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, by Strauss’s student Harry Jaffa. These books also led me to Persecution and the Art of Writing, in which Strauss rediscovered the guarded manner in which the classic writers about politics had conveyed their teachings.
Strauss opened my eyes to the great tradition of political philosophy. So when a reader wrote last year to alert us to the establishment of the Leo Strauss Center at the University of Chicago, I checked it out. It is the mission of the Leo Strauss Center to promote the serious study of Strauss’s thought primarily through the preservation and publication of the unpublished written and audio record that he left behind.
Brian Bolduc picked up the story of the Leo Strauss Center in “Leo Strauss, back and better than ever” earlier this year in the Wall Street Journal. Bolduc’s column prompted me to check in with Stephen Gregory, the administrative director of the Center. Mr. Gregory provided a summary of the status of the Center’s work and a list of the Strauss course tapes collected by the Center, identifying the transcripts in preparation as well as the prominent academics editing them. The summary explains:
The publication of carefully edited critical editions of all of the transcripts (with corrections made on the basis of the surviving tapes where available) will secure Strauss’s pedagogical legacy by providing an authenticated record of his teaching. It will make available to all his extemporaneous remarks in the classroom and remove any reason for controversy over what Strauss might have said when teaching.
The 2003 book Leo Strauss on Plato’s Symposium gives a taste of the riches available in the Strauss course tapes. It consists of transcriptions of the lectures given by Strauss in his 1959 University of Chicago course on Plato’s political philosophy. The course was devoted to the study of Plato’s Symposium, but Strauss discussed several other dialogues that he suggests are related to the Symposium.
The summary also explains other aspects of the Center’s work and sets forth its need for funding:
The publication and preservation of the transcripts is one part of a larger set of projects that includes the digital remastering of the audiotapes, the building of a website capable of publishing the audio files and transcripts, and the digitization of documents in the Leo Strauss archive, among other projects. At this time, the Center’s largest single source of support is a two-year NEH grant for $350,000 that mainly supports the digital remastering of the tapes and building of a new website. Since this grant ends April 30, 2011, the Strauss Center needs to have substantial additional funding in hand prior to that date to continue with the transcript project. To complete all of the Center’s projects by 2014 an additional $418,000 will be needed, most of which will be used for the editing of the transcripts, including associated administrative costs.
Last week Mr. Gregory wrote to announce that the Leo Strauss Center had launched the new Web site here with the audio files for the course Leo Strauss taught in 1966 at the University of Chicago on Plato’s Apology and Crito. The audio files of the course’s 16 classes are posted here. Mr. Gregory noted that this is the first of 26 partial or complete sets of audio files for courses of Strauss that the the Leo Strauss Center expects to publish in the next five months, and that they will also start publishing edited transcripts of courses in the spring.
When I spoke to him earlier this year, Mr. Gregory mentioned that the Center receives a steady stream of $5 and $10 contributions from students who support the Center’s work. Contributions to support the work of the Center can be made as set forth here.