In his Natural Right and History, Leo Strauss talks about the three waves of modernity. Machiavelli, he says, was the architect of the first wave which included the early modern philosophers like Spinoza, Hobbes, and Locke. These philosophers reduced the moral and political problems to the level of a technical problem. They emphasized on institutions rather than on moral education. They saw modernity as a movement away from nature and into an artificial social environment.
The second wave was launched by Rousseau who questioned the tenets of the first wave doctrine. He emphasized on virtue, and the role that history, or the historical process, played in determining man’s humanity. This wave included the 18th and 19th century philosophers—Kant, Fichte, Hegel, and Marx—and went right up to Nietzsche. Even though Nietzsche was not part of the second wave, he was the one who initiated the third wave.
By his rejection of the conclusions reached by the second wave thinkers, Nietzsche launched the third wave. He was appalled by Rousseau’s belief that, while making men humane, the historical process effaced in them the naturally good (the sentiment of existence). Nietzsche has noted that “the sentiment of existence” was not in agreement with Rousseau’s conception of it—that it was an “experience of terror and anguish.”
According to Strauss, the first wave philosophy inspired the rise of liberal democracies (like America); the deficiencies in the first wave provoked the second wave philosophy, which led to the communist regimes (like the Soviet Union); and the failures of the second wave led to the third wave philosophy which climaxed with the fascist regimes.