Following the logic of their positions, Strauss and Voegelin agree on crucial points in the development of Western thought but diverge on the role of Christianity. For Strauss, Western thought is a philosophical drama in which the classical philosophers and their medieval developers made virtue the standard for politics; this approach provoked the accusation of modern thinkers that the ancients “aimed too high” and that one should lower the goal of politics to the satisfaction of selfish human passions in a regime of freedom and material prosperity. While the modern revolt against any authority above man at first glorified scientific reason in the conquest of nature, it eventually led to the destruction of reason and produced the crisis of moral relativism or nihilism—the denial of any objective standard of right and wrong and the complete forgetting of eternity. Faced with this situation, Strauss sought to recover the classical rationalism of Socrates, which he understood to be a kind of zetetic (or searching) skepticism that allowed for rational standards of morality in natural right.
For Voegelin, the development of Western thought is mostly a religious drama (“history is Christ writ large”) in which Christianity changed human consciousness in ways that make it impossible to return to classical philosophy. While Christianity advanced the consciousness of the West by elevating the dignity of all persons, it also created a problem for political authority by dividing the spiritual and temporal into two realms and by radically secularizing or “de-divinizing” the political realm. This division eventually provoked a reaction among medieval thinkers like Joachim of Flora who sought to re-connect the two realms by giving politics an eschatological dimension. Their efforts produced a deformed kind of spiritual knowledge that Voegelin calls Gnosticism—the attempt to realize heaven on earth through secularized political religions, such as radical Puritanism, progressive liberalism, Comte’s “religion of humanity,” socialism, communism, and fascism. The history of the West is thus a Christianized history of consciousness that leads to misguided efforts to bring about worldly salvation through utopian ideologies, resulting in the totalitarian tyrannies of the modern age. Faced with this situation, Voegelin sought to recover the primary experience of openness to transcendence in the “mystic-philosophers” of earlier ages in the hope of restoring the authentic basis of order.Both Strauss and Voegelin thought John Locke was "modern." Hat tip: Tom Van Dyke.