This Biographical Essay is a fragment and outline of what I hope will be a much more complete, book-length biography of Leo Strauss sometime in the future.
I welcome any constructive criticism or additional information.
In 1919, “for reasons of local proximity [Strauss] went to the University of Marburg, which had been the seat and centre of the Neo-Kantian School of Marburg, founded by Hermann Cohen,” “the greatest representative of German Jewry and spokesman for it,” “who surpassed all other German professors of philosophy of the period 1871 and 1925 [when Martin Heidegger became a professor], by the fire and power of his soul.” “Cohen attracted [Strauss] because he was a passionate philosopher and a Jew devoted to Judaism,” and so he was therefore “the centre of attraction for philosophically minded Jews who were devoted to Judaism,” like the young Leo Strauss. Strauss may never have met Hermann Cohen, who died in Berlin in 1918. “[The Neo-Kantian] School was in a state of disintegration [at the time of Strauss’s arrival at Marburg]. The disintegration was chiefly due to the emergence and ever-increasing power of phenomenology - an approach opened up by [Edmund] Husserl… [L]ater…” “[w]hen [Strauss] was still almost a boy [22 y.o.]…[Husserl] explained to [Strauss] who at that time was a doubting and dubious adherent of the Marburg school of Neo-Kantianism, the characteristic of his own work in about these terms: ‘the Marburg school begins with the roof while I begin with the foundation.’” “But also: Cohen belonged definitely to the pre-war world. This is also true of Husserl. Most characteristic of the post-war world was the resurgence of theology: Karl Barth... Wholly independently of [Karl] Barth, Jewish theology was resurrected from a deep slumber by Franz Rosenzweig, a highly gifted man whom [Strauss] greatly admired to the extent to which [he] understood him.”
In 1920, Strauss, at the University of Marburg, met Jacob Klein (1899-1978), a Jew born in Libau, Russia, who was studying philosophy, mathematics and physics. According to Strauss, Klein “stood out among the philosophy students not only by his intelligence but also by his whole appearance: he was wholly non-provincial in a wholly provincial environment. I was deeply impressed by him and attracted to him. I do not know whether I acted merely in obedience to my duty or whether this was only a pretence: I approached him in order to win him over to Zionism. I failed utterly. Nevertheless, from this time on we remained in contact...” Hans-Georg Gadamer was similarly impressed by Klein. Gadamer seems to have met Strauss at Marburg’s Library, where Gadamer was in charge of procuring the books requested by students, at around this time.
“Academic freedom meant in Germany that one could change one’s university every semester and that there were no attendance requirements nor examinations in lecture courses.” Summer Semester started in late April and finished in late July, the Winter Semester started in early November and finished in early February.
In 1921, Strauss went to the University of Hamburg, and completed his PhD, “On Epistemology in the Philosophical Doctrine of F. H. Jacobi”, which was supervised by Ernst Cassirer. The oral examination took place on 17 December 1921. Of the years that follow, Strauss later says, “I can only say that Nietzsche so dominated andbewitched me between my 22nd and 30th years, that I literally believed everything that I understood of him…”
In 1922, Strauss went to the University of Freiburg-im-Breisgau for a post doctoral year, in order to see and hear Edmund Husserl. Strauss believed that he did not derive much benefit from attending Husserl’s lectures because he was “probably not mature enough, [since his] predominant interest was in theology.” “[Strauss] attended regularly the lecture courses on the Social Doctrines of the Reformation and Enlightenment by Julius Ebbinghaus.” “This was the first time [Strauss] heard about Hobbes in a way that caused [him] to take notice... in [Ebbinghaus’s] lively presentation, Hobbes’s teaching became not merely plastic but vital.” “One of the unknown young men in Husserl’s entourage was [Martin] Heidegger. [Strauss] attended his lecture course from time to time without understanding a word, but sensed that he dealt with something of the utmost importance to man as man.” Strauss was very impressed by Heidegger’s thoroughness and intensiveness of his interpretations of philosophic texts, (in particular, on one occasion, when he understood something of what Heidegger meant, his interpretation of the beginning of Aristotle’s Metaphysics). “Up to that time [Strauss] had been particularly impressed, as many of [his] contemporaries in Germany were, by Max Weber: by his intransigent devotion to intellectual honesty, by his passionate devotion to the idea of science - a devotion that was combined with a profound uneasiness regarding the meaning of science. On [his] way north from Freiburg... [Strauss] saw, in Frankfurt-am-Main, Franz Rosenzweig... and [Strauss] told him of Heidegger. [Strauss] said to him that in comparison with Heidegger, Weber appeared to [him] as an ‘orphan child’ in regard to precision and probing and competence.” “Sometime later [Strauss] heard Werner Jaeger in Berlin interpret the same texts [namely, Aristotle’s Metaphysics],” and according to Strauss, “there was no comparison”; Heidegger was infinitely better.
Strauss’s post doctoral years were also spent at Giessen and Marburg and Berlin, where he studied mainly history.
Sometime during the 1920s Strauss meets, on at least one occasion, with Vladimir Jabotinsky, the leader of the so-called Revisionists and a hard line political Zionist.
From 1922 to 1924, Strauss participated in Rosenzweig’s Lehrhaus at Frankfurt-am-Main (the Freies Jüdisches Lehrhaus). In 1923-4 at the Frankfurt Lehrhaus Strauss led an analytical reading of Herman Cohen’s Religion of Reason. Nehama Liebowitz and Strauss attended Julius Guttmann’s Berlin seminar on Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed between 1924-5. In exchange for her instruction in the Hebrew text of Saadya Gaon’s The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, Strauss read with Liebowitz the Greek text of Plato’s Gorgias. In 1924-5 at the Frankfurt Lehrhaus Strauss analysed Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise, exchanged classes on Plato for classes on Abravanel with Nahum Glatzer, and spoke on “The Theory of Political Zionism.” He also published articles in Der Jude and Jüdische Rundschau. Strauss’s 1924 article, “Cohens Analyse der Bibelwissenschaft Spinozas”, in Der Jude brought him to the attention of Julius Guttmann and secured a research position for him at the Berlin Jewish institution, Akademie für Wissenschaft des Judentums. He was charged by Guttmann with research on Jewish philosophy. At the Akademie, between 1925 and 1928, he wrote his first book, Spinoza’s Critique of Religion as the Foundation of his Science of the Bible, Investigations into Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise, (dedicated to the memory of Franz Rosenzweig), which was published in 1930 by the Akademie’s publishing house. He also helped to edit the Akademie’s Moses Mendelssohn Jubilee Edition, and translated Mendelssohn’s Hebrew works for it.
In 1927, Strauss meets Gershon Scholem and they “became increasingly close.”
After completing his Spinoza book, Strauss was given the task by Julius Guttmann, who acted as the chairman of the Academy, of analysing the Wars of the Lord by Gersonides (Levi ben Gershon), and began by analysing Gersonides’ Teaching on Prophecy.
Gershon Scholem’s letter on Oskar Goldberg was distributed in Berlin by Leo Strauss and Walter Benjamin.
In 1931, the Akademie started to experience financial trouble and so Strauss applied for a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation for the Social Sciences in Germany.
Strauss’s study of Spinoza’s Biblical criticism led him to doing research on Thomas Hobbes on the one hand and to doing research on Maimonides on the other. The Hobbes research brought him into contact with Carl Schmitt. The first part of Strauss’s Hobbes’ Book was shown to Carl Schmitt. One of the last publications of Strauss was an outstanding review of The Concept of the Political, by Carl Schmitt. Schmitt helped to get the article published in the same journal in which the original book had been published. Schmitt provided a professional assessment of Strauss and recommendation for a fellowship to the Rockefeller Foundation for the Social Sciences in Germany. Ernst Cassirer and Julius Guttmann also gave recommendations on Strauss’s behalf, but Strauss places the chief responsibility of receiving the fellowship on Schmitt.
At the end of 1932, Strauss was in Paris, France, studying on the Rockefeller Fellowship mediaeval Jewish and Islamic philosophy. Here he married a recently widowed Jewish woman called Marie (Mirjam) Bernsohn (b. 1900 in Erfurt, Thüringen), on 20 June 1933, whom he had previously met in Berlin in 1930. Strauss thus acquires a son-in-law, Thomas (Petri).
Strauss also met up with Alexandre Kojève (1902-1968), whom he had met in Berlin in the late 1920s.
During a visit to France from Germany in Easter 1933 by Hans-Georg Gadamer, Strauss introduces Kojève to Gadamer.
On 10 December 1932, Walter Benjamin wrote to Gershon Scholem (his letter not extant), “… but I am glad to hear that you take an interest in Leo Strauss, who always made an excellent impression on me, too.”
On 10 June 1933, Strauss wrote to inform Carl Schmitt that the Rockefeller Fellowship had been awarded to him for a second year and that he intended to study at Paris for another semester and then go to England to study Hobbes in the early part of 1934. Of the local scholars, the Arabist Louis Massignon and André Siegfried made the strongest impression on him. Strauss also becomes interested in Charles Mauras, asking for a letter of introduction to him from Schmitt. Strauss saw “striking parallels” to Hobbes in Mauras’ political thought.
At the beginning of 1934, Strauss and his family had moved to London, England. From a postcard to Kojève (in English) Strauss tells Kojève that he finds England and the English are more congenial to him than his experience of France and the French. (He writes from a Boarding house facing the British Museum). He hopes to get a card in order to use it for his research, and is taking English lessons. By 16 January 1934, he says that having attained his borrowing card he goes “each day [to] the British Museum (half a minute’s walk) in order to study the English Hobbes-literature and the Hobbes-MSS.” And what Strauss regards as “the most important fact”: “I saw Downing Street, the seat of the greatest power of the world - much, much smaller than the Wilhelmstrasse. I had a very strong impression.”
From 1928 to 1932, Strauss wrote his second book, which was on Maimonides’s Prophetology, called Philosophy and Law: Contributions to the Understanding of Maimonides and his Predecessors. It was not published until 1935, by which time Strauss was in England. It had to be published by Schocken, because by that time (1935) the Akademie’s publishing house was no longer allowed by the Nazis to publish and Schocken had taken over that task for the Akademie.
On 29 March 1935 Gershon Scholem wrote to Walter Benjamin, “Any day now, Schocken will bring out a book by Leo Strauss (I devoted great energy to obtaining an appointment for Strauss in Jerusalem), marking the occasion of the Maimonides anniversary. The book begins with an unfeigned and copiously argued (if completely ludicrous) affirmation of atheism as the most important Jewish watchword. Such admirable boldness for a book that will be read by everybody as having been written by a candidate for Jerusalem! It even outdoes the first 40 pages of your postdoctoral dissertation! I admire this ethical [moral] stance and regret the – obviously conscious and deliberately provoked – suicide of such a capable mind. As is to be expected here, only three people at the very most will make use of the freedom to vote for the appointment of an atheist to a teaching position that serves to endorse the philosophy of religion. I hope I will be able to furnish you with a copy of the book once it comes out.” Walter Benjamin replies, “I am also very interested in Leo Strauss’s book. What you tell me about him fits in with the pleasant image of him I have always made for myself.” On 3 May 1936, Walter Benjamin writes to Scholem about the whereabouts of Leo Strauss, “Is Leo Strauss in Palestine? I have a mind to address his books in the journal Orient and Okzident… Perhaps you’ll be seeing the author; if so, can you prevail upon him to send me the books.”
“Nothing will come of Palestine: Guttmann is going there.”
Ernest Barker (Oxford University) becomes acquainted with Strauss and gives assistance and support.
On 9 April 1934, Strauss tells Kojève, “I like this country, about which one might say what Diderot said about Hobbes: dry (the pubs close at 10 pm sharp here, and the stuff’s expensive!), austere and forceful, much more than I do France. And by contrast to the Bibliothèque Nationale, the British Museum is a place to which one enjoys going.” “I have become a real Hobbes philologist: MSS. Etc.”
Strauss uncovers what he believes may well be Hobbes’ earliest writings. But he may have later changed his mind, at least about some of the essays.
In 1935, Strauss relocates to Cambridge (38 Perne Road) and is associated with the Sidney Sussex College, The University of Cambridge, meets R. H. Tawney (introduced by means of a letter of recommendation by Henri Sée), and finishes his Hobbes Book.
On 9 May 1935, Strauss writes to Kojève that his Hobbes Book “…[is] the first attempt at a radical liberation from the modern prejudice,” and that “The economic situation is serious. I have a grant until 1 October, which does not exceed the minimum for bare existence. It remains an open question whether it will be renewed for another year. After that it is certainly over. Where we turn, only the gods know. I have no luck, dear Mr. Kochevnikoff.”
In 1936, Strauss was finally able to publish The Political Philosophy of Thomas Hobbes (Clarendon Press, Oxford). Michael Oakeshott writes a lengthy book review of it.
“The board of the faculty of the University of Cambridge gave [Strauss] a grant for the Academic year 1936/37.” However, economic circumstances and the unlikely prospect of future employment forced Strauss to look elsewhere, and so “[I]n 1936 and 1937… Strauss made trips to the United States to look for a permanent position.”
In the autumn of 1937, he was appointed Research Fellow in the Department of History at Columbia University, New York. Strauss left for the USA, leaving his wife and step-son behind in the UK.
Strauss “came [to the New School of Social Research, New York] in 1938 on the basis of [Harold] Laski’s strong recommendation and subsidised by fees donated from the latter’s American Lecture tour.”
From 1938 to 1948 Strauss was a member of the graduate faculty, New School for Social Research, New York. Becoming in 1938 a lecturer in political science.
In 1939 his wife joins him in New York from the UK, bringing her son with her.
In September of the same year the Second World War begins.
Strauss becomes an associate professor of political science and philosophy in 1941. In 1944 he becomes a professor of Political Science and Philosophy. Concurrently: 1939-40 visiting lecturer: Hamilton College, Clinton, NY; Union College, Schenectady, NY; Middlebury College, Vt; Amherst College Massachusetts; Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut.
During 1941 to 1948, the bulk of Persecution and the Art of Writingwas written (published in 1952).
In 1942, Strauss’s sister, Bettina Kraus (married to Paul Kraus), dies in Cairo. Strauss’s father dies of a heart attack in Kirchhain, Germany, but Strauss does not learn of this until after the War. All of Strauss’s relatives still living in Germany were then deported to a concentration camp in 1942, and died there.
In 1944, Strauss becomes a US citizen.
Paul Kraus dies in Cairo (firstly thought to be suicide, later found out to have probably been murder).
1945 World War Two ends.
Strauss and his wife adopt the four year old Jenny Ann Kraus (b. 1942) (his niece) in 1946, after the death of her father, Paul Kraus, in Egypt.
In 1948 On Tyranny was finished and published.
In 1948 the Charles Merriam Chair of Political Science was still vacant at the University of Chicago after Merriam’s retirement two or three years previously. Herman Pritchett and others “began to hear about Leo Strauss at the New School in New York. It was agreed that he should come out, and we should have a look at him. He came out in the summer of 1948. Hans Morganthau, who was acting chairman that summer, took Leo over to [Robert] Hutchins’ office and left him there. By the time he came out, a half hour later, Hutchins had appointed Strauss as a member of the department [of political science], full professor, with a salary more than anybody else in the department was getting.” Strauss had recommendations from Michael Oakeshott, Ernest Barker, and R. H. Tawney. When consulted by Hutchins, Mortimer Adler and Richard McKeon gave strong recommendations for Strauss’s appointment. Hutchins was faced with the task of appointing one of three applicants to the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago. The applicants were: Alessandro d’Entreves, Leo Strauss, and Alfred Cobban. Edward Shils had also recommended Strauss (in 1936 Shils had read Strauss’s dissertation).
From 1949 to 1973 Strauss remains a member of the faculty, University of Chicago. From 1949 to 1968, he is a professor of political philosophy.
During 1949, Martin Buber offers his position at the University of Jerusalem to Strauss after his retirement, but Strauss declines. In October, Strauss delivered his six Walgreen Lectures on Natural Right and History to a public audience.
From 1949 to 1953, Strauss works on Natural Right and History (published in 1953).
In 1953 Strauss is a visiting professor to the University of California, Berkeley. He was offered a tenured position there, but declined.
From late 1954 to mid 1955 Strauss accepts a position as visiting professor of philosophy and political science at the Hebrew University, in Jerusalem, Israel. He also travels to Germany, to Marburg to visit his father’s grave and to Heidelberg to lecture at Gadamer’s invitation on Socrates.
From 1957 to the end of his life, Strauss’s lectures, seminars, and courses start to be audio-taped and typed up, funded by contributing students.
From 1953 to 1957 Thoughts on Machiavelli was written, and published in 1958.
From 1944 to 1957 What is Political Philosophy? And other Essays was written, and published in 1959.
In 1959 Strauss became the Robert Maynard Hutchins distinguished serving professor at the University of Chicago.
From 1962 to 1964 The City and Man was written, and published in 1964.
In 1963 Strauss received a Citation for Doctor of Laws from Dropsie College.
From 1964 to 1965 Socrates and Aristophanes was written, and published in 1966.
In 1965 an Honorary doctorate in Political Philosophy, University of Hamburg was awarded to Strauss. He had planned to return to Germany to receive the honour, however due to ill-health he had to decline. He also declined a job offer.
In 1966 an Honorary doctorate for contributions to Jewish thought, Hebrew Union College (Cincinnati) was awarded to Strauss.
On 3 June 1967, Kojève dies of a heart attack after just having addressed the delegates to one of the negotiations of the GATT. Strauss retires from the University of Chicago at the end of this year. His last public appearance as a member of the University of Chicago was for a lecture he gave at the Downtown Centre of the university on the 1 December 1967. Strauss departed shortly after this lecture for Claremont Men’s College, California.
In 1968, Liberalism Ancient and Modern was published, containing mostly previously published articles and essays.
From 1968 to 1969, Strauss was a professor of political science, Claremont Men’s College, California.
In 1969 a Diploma, honorary Doctor of Laws, St. John’s University, Jamaica, New York. Citation for Doctor of Laws, St. John’s University, Jamaica, New York was awarded to Strauss.
From 1969 to 1973, Strauss was Scott Buchanan distinguished scholar-in-residence, St. John’s College, Annapolis.
During 1970 Xenophon’s Socratic Discourse was completed.
During 1972 Xenophon’s Socrates was completed.
From September to November 1971, Argument and Action of Plato’s Laws was composed, but it was not published until 1975.
From 1967 to 1973 Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy, mostly composed of previously published essays and articles, was written, but it was not published until 1983.
Sometime between 6:00 and 6:30 pm on 18 October 1973, Strauss dies of pneumonia. He is buried in the cemetery of the Knesseth Israel Synagogue, Annapolis. Psalm 114 was read in the funeral service at the request of family and friends.
1. Anastaplo, George, 1983, The Artist as Thinker: From Shakespeare to Joyce, Ohio, USA, Ohio University Press, Swallow Press.
2. Banfield, Edward C., 1992, “Leo Strauss,” in Shils, Edward, pp. 490-501.
3. Boar, M. A., Jewel, M. E., Sigelman, M. E. L., (eds.), 1991, Political Science in America: oral history of a discipline, University of Kentucky Press.
4. Buber, Martin, 1972-75, Briefwechsel aus sieben Jahrzehnten / mit einem Geleitwort von Ernst Simon; und einem biographischen Abriss als Einleitung von Grete Schaeder, L. Schneider, Heidelberg.
5. Deutsch, Kenneth L., and Soffer, Walter, 1987, The Crisis of Liberal Democracy: A Straussian Perspective, New York, State University of New York Press.
6. Gadamer, Hans-Georg, 1984, “Gadamer on Strauss: an Interview,” Interpretation: a Journal of Political Philosophy, volume 12, nn. 2&3, pp. 1-13.
7. Gadamer, Hans-Georg, 1985, Philosophical Apprenticeships, trans. Robert R. Sullivan, MIT Press, USA.
8. Glatzer, Nahum N., 1956, “The Frankfort Lehrhaus,” Leo Baeck Year Book, 1, London, pp. 105-122.
9. Green, Simon J. D., 1995, “The Tawney-Strauss Connection: On Historicism and Values in the History of Political Ideas,” The Journal of Modern History, 67, June, pp. 255-277.
10. Gunnell, John G., The Descent of Political Theory: The Genealogy of an American Vocation, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
11. Kohler, Lotte and Saner, Hans (eds.), 1992, Hannah Arendt/Karl Jaspers Correspondence 1926-1969, New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers.
12. Korth, Hildegard, 1978, Guide to the Leo Strauss Papers, The University of Chicago Library, Department of Special Collections, Joseph Regenstein Library.
13. Lerner, Ralph, 1976, “Leo Strauss (1899-1973),” in American Jewish Year Book, pp. 91-97.
14. Lipton, David, 1978, Ernst Cassirer, Toronto, University of Toronto Press.
15. Lüders, Joachim and Wehner, Ariane, 1989, Mittelhessen - eine Heimat für Juden? Das Schicksal der Familie Strauss aus Kirchhain, Gymnasium Philippinum, Marburg, Germany.
16. Mary Ann Druback,1992, Robert M. Hutchins: Portrait of an Educator, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
17. Meier, Heinrich, 1995, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: the Hidden Dialogue; including Strauss’s notes on Schmitt’s Concept of the Political and three Letters from Strauss to Schmitt, Chicago, University of Chicago, translated by J. Harvey Lomax.
18. Myers, David N., 1992, “The Fall and Rise of Jewish Historicism: The Evolution of the Akademie für Wissenschaft des Judentums (1919-1934),” Hebrew Union College Annual, vol. LXIII, Cincinnati, pp. 107-144.
19. Platt, Michael, 1987, “Leo Strauss: Three Quarrels, Three Questions, One Life,” in Deutsch and Soffer, 1987, pp. 17-28.
20. Rosenzweig, Franz, 1935, Briefe, edited by Edith Rosenzweig, Berlin, Schocken.
21. Scholem, Gershon (ed.), 1989, The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem 1932-1940, Translated by Gary Smith and Andre Lefevere, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press.
22. Scholem, Gershon and Adorno, Theodor W. (eds.), 1994, The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin 1910-1940, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, translated by Jacobson, Manfred R. and Jacobson, Evelyn M.
23. Shils, Edward (ed.), 1992a, Remembering the University of Chicago, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
24. Shils, Edward, 1992b, “R. M. Hutchins,” in Shils, Edward, 1992a, pp. 185-196.
25. Strauss, 1995,“Existentialism” Lecture, in Interpretation: a Journal of Political Philosophy, 1995, Spring, vol. 22, no. 3, pp. 303-318.
26. Strauss, Leo and Löwith, Karl, 1988, “Correspondence,” in Independent Journal of Philosophy, vol. 5/6, pp. 177-192.
27. Strauss, Leo, 1936, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes: Its Basis and Its Genesis, Oxford, England, Clarendon Press.
28. Strauss, Leo, 1959, What is Political Philosophy? And other Essays, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
29. Strauss, Leo, 1983, Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
30. Strauss, Leo, 1991, On Tyranny, Revised and expanded edition, Victor Gourevitch and Michael S. Roth (Eds.), The Free Press, New York.
31. Strauss, Leo, 1996, Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Meier, Heinrich, Vol. 1, Die Religionskritik Spinozas und zugehörigen Schriften, Stuttgart, Germany.
32. Strauss, Leo, 1997, Gesammelte Schriften, ed. Meier, Heinrich, Vol. 2, Philosophie und Gesetz - Frühe Schriften, Stuttgart, Germany.
33. Strauss, Leo, and Green, Kenneth Hart, (ed.), 1997, Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity, New York, State University of New York Press.
34. Strauss, Leo, and Voegelin, Eric, 1993, Faith and Political Philosophy: The Correspondence Between Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin, 1934-1964, Peter Emberley, Barry Cooper (trans. & eds.), University State University Press, University Park, Pennsylvania.
35. Udoff, Alan, (ed.), 1991, On Leo Strauss’s Thought: Towards a Critical Engagement, Colorado, Lynne Rienner Publishers.
36. Various Authors, 1976a, American Jewish Year Book, volume 76.
37. Various Authors, 1976b, Essays in Honor of Jacob Klein, Annapolis, Maryland, St. John’s College Press.
According to the accompanying Lebenslauf, “Ich bin jüdischen Glaubens” (I am of the Jewish Faith).
Arrested by the Cheka for selling black market soap, and narrowly escapes execution. Released with the help of influential family friends. He becomes a convinced communist. When denied the possibility of further education, he decided to cross the Polish border with a friend. In was place briefly in a Polish prison as a suspected spy. Reaches Germany, where he sold smuggled family jewellery to support himself.
He studied philosophy at Heidelberg and Berlin, and received his doctorate in 1926 under Karl Jaspers on the religious philosophy of Vladimir Soloviev. He also attended classes by Jaspers, Husserl, and Heidegger. In the years that followed he travelled extensively in Italy studying art history. In 1928, Kojève arrived in Paris to study Eastern religions, especially Buddhism, at the École Pratique des Hautes Études. During the 10 years or so following his departure from Russia, Kojève had been supported by a wealthy uncle. When his uncle’s business went bankrupt in 1930, Kojève was forced to find a living. In 1933, Kojève takes over classes on Hegel from Koyré who leaves to teach at Cairo.
From 1933 to 1939, he lectured on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind. Kojève’s auditors (not all necessarily enrolled) include such outstanding intellectuals and scholars as: Raymond Aron, Georges Bataille, Alexandre Koyré, M. Merleau-Ponty, B. Parain, Jacques Lacan, Raymond Polin, Raymond Queneau, Rogert Caillais, Pierre Klossowsky, Pierre Uri, Robert Marjolin, André Breton, Gaston Fessard S.J., Tran Duc Thao, Hannah Arendt (briefly, while passing through Paris). Following the defeat of France, Kojève was demobilised from the army. In 1941, he went to Marseilles, which was then part of Vichy France, with the hope of leaving Europe for the USA. In 1944, he joined the Resistance and risked his life in trying to convince a troop of Tartars not to fight with the Nazis. His resistance group was called “Combat.” He did not serve in the Maquis, the armed resistance. After the war, he was persuaded by a former student, Robert Marjolin, to join the Ministere de L’Economie et des Finances. In the course of his work he travelled to North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Japan. Strauss would send his best students to Paris, to received instruction from Kojève. In 1957, Kojève travelled to Germany, and visited Carl Schmitt there. In 1963, Kojève played an important part in the GATT negotiation of the Kennedy Round. On a trip to Germany in 1967, he spoke to radical students there and told them that the best thing that they could do would be to learn Greek. Kojève died in Brussels on 3 June 1968, following an address to the members of the Common Market. He was a chevalier of the legion of Honour.