On the relationships between social theory and natural law: Lessons from karl löwith and leo strauss

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This article offers a combined reading of Karl Löwith's and Leo Strauss's critique of social theory from the point of view of the natural law tradition broadly understood. Within the context of a growing interest in revisiting social theory's debt to natural law, the piece seeks to unfold the connections between the two traditions without searching to restore any kind of natural law. Rather, it looks at their relationships as one of Aufhebung - the suspension and carrying forward - of natural law premises within modern social theory. The works of these two writers point against conventional wisdom within social theory: Löwith's secularization thesis calls into question the view of the irreligious nature of modernity's historical break as well as its faith in immanent progress; Strauss's reconstruction of natural law (right) gives due credit to the non-religious origins of modernity but at the price of withdrawing even more autonomy from any modern claim to self-assertion. Although some compatibility is recognizable in their critiques, I shall also be arguing that their substantive results point to opposite directions. A critical distance must also be maintained from their interpretations in the spirit of reinvigorating the project of modern social theory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-112
Number of pages22
JournalHistory of the Human Sciences
Issue number5
StatePublished - Dec 2010


  • Karl Löwith
  • Leo Strauss
  • Max Weber
  • modernity
  • natural law
  • secularization
  • social theory
  • universalism


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