How to Commemorate the 350th Anniversary of Spinoza’s Expulsion, or Leo Strauss’ Reply to Hermann Cohen

Steven B. Smith

Abstract: How should we think about Spinoza after the 350th anniversary of his expulsion (2006)? One way is to consider this through the “dialogue” between Hermann Cohen and Leo Strauss on the occasion of an earlier commemoration. The revival of interest in Spinoza in the early part of the twentieth century was preparation for reinstating him within the fold of European philosophy and Jewish history. Strauss remained skeptical. While exonerating Spinoza from Cohen’s harsh rebukes, Strauss regarded Spinoza’s various solutions to the “Jewish question” as deeply flawed. In a series of writings from the 1920s to the 1960s, Strauss attempted to show that the problems of European Jewry could not be reduced to politics (Spinoza) or culture (Cohen) but remained a living testimony to a world characterized by the absence of redemption. The best way to remember and even honor Spinoza’s legacy today is through recognition of the permanence of the theologico-political problem.

Biography: Steven Smith is the Alfred Cowles Professor of Political Science and Master of Branford College and received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He has served as the Director of Graduate Studies, Director of the Undergraduate Program in Humanities, and Acting Chair of Judaic Studies. His research has focused on the history of political philosophy, the role of statecraft in constitutional government, and Jewish thought. He will be offering a course on "Leo Strauss and Straussianism" this spring and is currently a co-organizer of conference on "Machiavelli: Philosophy, Rhetoric, and History" to be held at Yale in 2008. His recent publications include Spinoza, Liberalism, and Jewish Identity (1997), Spinoza's Book of Life (2003), and Reading Leo Strauss (2006). He is currently editing the Cambridge Companion to Leo Strauss (forthcoming).

Volume 3, Number 2 (Spring 2008) pp. 155