Encountering the Abyss: Deconstructing the Political Philosophy of Leo Strauss and the Straussian Interventions Relating to the Invasion of Iraq

  • Agnes Hirst

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis focuses on the figure of an abyss residing at the heart of metaphysics, and argues that thinking in light of its destabilising connotations opens up the possibility of attempting to take responsibility for the violence immanent to any and all politico-philosophical positions. It argues that this abyss represents a void or lack always already underpinning the attempt to posit universal or essential premises, and that it is precisely this lack which may be mobilised to unsettle the totalising claims of ontology. It demonstrates that the abyss occupies a central space in the political philosophy of Leo Strauss and Jacques Derrida, positing that the attempt to secure against it, qua Strauss, precludes the possibility of gesturing towards the taking of responsibility for the violence inherent to politico-philosophical projects. It traces the ethico-political implications of this response through a series of interventions enacted by eight followers of Strauss surrounding the recent Bush administration in the spheres of intelligence production, think tanks, and the media in the context of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, arguing that this securitising logic reflects an ontological totalisation which underpins the totalising politics they propound. It then shows that operating in light of the implications of the abyss, following Derrida, creates a space within which the imposition of totalising ontological claims may be resisted. Mobilising a conceptualisation of 'Deconstruction and/as Resistance', it exposes three assumptions underpinning the Straussian response, the Schmittean friend/enemy binary, the notion of the 'regime', specifically in terms of the opposition of 'tyranny' and democracy residing at its core, and the concept of justice as amounting to the 'reason of the strongest'. It is the intention of this thesis to call for an endless resistance to the imposition of totalising narratives and principles in the hope that the violence of these may be subverted, and the violence which inheres in any and all projects be taken responsibility for.
Date of Award1 Aug 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMaja Zehfuss (Supervisor) & Angelia Wilson (Supervisor)


  • Strauss, Straussians, Iraq, Derrida, Deconstruction, Abyss, Responsibility, Violence

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