Joseph Cropsey, 1919-2012

July 16, 2012

Political science professor taught at the University of Chicago for more than 40 years

By Jessica Tobacman,

July 16, 2012

Joseph Cropsey was a leading political scientist at the University of Chicago for more than 40 years and an adherent of Leo Strauss, another of the Hyde Park institution’s famed political theorists.

Mr. Cropsey, 92, died of natural causes at Rockville Nursing Home in Rockville, Md., on Sunday, July 1, said his son, Seth.

He retired in 1990 but continued to teach a class each year until 2004, his son said.

Mr. Cropsey grew up on Long Island, N.Y., and studied economics as an undergraduate at Columbia University, graduating in 1939 and 13 years later receiving a doctorate at the school. In between, he served in the Army, having been drafted before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He fought in North Africa, Sicily and France.

He taught at the City College of New York and then at The New School before, in 1957, working with Leo Strauss as a Rockefeller Foundation fellow. He became a member of the University of Chicago’s faculty the following year.

“He was very proud of his service,” said John Mearsheimer, R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of political science and a colleague for three decades at the University of Chicago. “He was one of the most famous political theorists of his generation, and one of the leading Straussians in the world. He was a major political theorist who was squarely located in the Strauss school, and Leo Strauss, the father of the Straussians, who was at the University of Chicago beginning in the late 1940s, brought him to the University of Chicago in the mid-1950s, and they closely collaborated on a number of different projects and were very close.”

These projects included helping edit “History of Political Philosophy,” which was originally published in 1963, and editing or writing many other books, including “Polity and Economy: An Interpretation of the Principles of Adam Smith” (1957); “Ancients and Moderns: Essays on the Tradition of Political Philosophy in Honor of Leo Strauss” (1964); “Plato’s World: Man’s Place in the Cosmos” (1995); and “On Humanity’s Intensive Introspection”, published in March.

Mr. Cropsey received a Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching from the university in 1970.

“He was a very accomplished teacher. His lectures seemed off-the-cuff,” said Michael Zuckert, a former graduate student. Mr. Cropsey seemed to teach without referring to any notes. “It was quite remarkable. He was an extremely precise and careful writer, and set a model for us, writing with precision and care. Many students became friends of his.”

“He was an extraordinary teacher,” his son said. “He was deeply interested in political thought and, in particular, ancient and modern political philosophers. He was very warm, caring and generous. He was a man who always had time for his family, students and colleagues.”

His son has received emails from individuals remembering him from their homes in countries including Egypt, Japan and France. “It’s not surprising and of great comfort,” his son said.

Mr. Cropsey also is survived by his daughter, Rachel Simons, and three grandchildren.

His wife, Lilian Levy Cropsey, preceded him in death.

Services were held.

Originally published by the Chicago Tribune