Political Philosophy as Political Phenomenology. Strauss’s Allegory of the Cave.
Corine Pelluchon ( Univ. de Poitiers)
One of the most challenging issues for those who have spent some years reading
Strauss and his commentators is to understand what conception of the relation between theory
and practice he defends. Everybody here has heard of the tension between the philosopher and
the City and we know that liberal education merges with the study of the Classics, especially
of ancient political philosophers. Strauss excavates the sources of the tradition of political
liberalism and emphasizes the virtues that democracy presupposes. The return to ancient
political philosophy seems to be a way of preserving liberal democracy. No regime can avoid
destruction if it excludes the question of human excellence. But can we say that those who
read the Classics have a political influence ? And if so, what role does they play?
Most commentators think that, for Strauss, democracy has to make it possible for
philosophers to continue their intellectual activity. Philosophers put into question some
opinions that the other individuals take for granted and this activity is opposed to ideology. It
is a kind of rebellion, since people are more interested in solutions than in questions and
consider that the philosophical inquiry into the essence of things is dangerous, as seen in
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. I don’t say that this interpretation is wrong, but I think that it
does not suffice to explain what political philosophy is for Strauss.
I will show that Strauss’s return to Socrates not only means that there is no such thing
as a Philosopher-King, but that it also implies the rejection of the Aristotelian model of the
bios theoretikos. In my first part, I will examine the status and the method of political
philosophy in Strauss : he derives from his understanding of the Socratic message the idea
that the City is the starting point for philosophy. Political philosophy is a political