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Harry V. Jaffa: An Inconvenient Thinker

Harry V. Jaffa, who died January 10, at 96, may well be American conservatism’s most consequential thinker, for having attempted to re-found conservatism on the basis of its most philosophic principles and most revered figures. He was also one of the most dismissed, berated, and scorned of scholars, earning derision from former friends and those who knew him only from his writing, much of which had become acerbic.

Jaffa is the author of such classics as Crisis of the House Divided (1959), Equality and Liberty (1965), Thomism and Aristotelianism (1979), the neglected New Birth of Freedom (2000), and recent collections of essays on jurisprudence, Leo Strauss, and American political thought and conservatism. While it is true, as was sometimes said, that Jaffa applied the thought of Strauss to the study of American politics, that was no mere methodological twist; it was a Socratic insight.

The review of Equality and Liberty that Princeton political theorist George Kateb wrote for Commentary magazine in 1965 remains an excellent starting point for understanding Jaffa’s life. Kateb bemoaned Jaffa’s relationship with Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), for whom Jaffa penned the notorious “Extremism in the defense of liberty” line in the senator’s speech accepting the 1964 Republican presidential nomination:

How could it be that this student of Professor Leo Strauss, this ardent author of a brilliant book on the slavery controversy in the 1850’s, this respected teacher of political theory, would lend his intelligence to such a cause? It is bad enough that professors should be partisans; worse that professors of political theory should be partisans. But there must be limits: working for Goldwater—not just for the Republican party, at a decent remove from its temporary leader, but for the leader himself—must surely be beyond reasonable limits.

The embarrassment that (in Kateb’s mind) attached to working for Goldwater is echoed in the consternation about Jaffa among his friends, former friends, and liberal and conservative scholars alike. For Jaffa’s attacks, while always grounded in close readings of his opponents’ texts, were characteristically not polite dissent but hard-edged polemic and even mockery. Partisanship in defense of liberty is Socratic virtue!

Jaffa devoted his life to explaining the relation between theory and practice, the need to transcend elite (liberal) opinion, and a strategy to enlighten common opinion and thereby strengthen its decency. It became increasingly clear that unless the conservatism within the Republican Party were enlightened, all would be lost.

Without the proper education, the conventions of the day, corrupted even further by the radical modernity of Nietzsche, tightened their grip on the GOP and on Americans more broadly. The best response could be found in his friends. These were fellow Straussians who, though a beleaguered minority, were also the finest teachers of politics around.

But his work was not producing the effects that Harry Jaffa thought it should. The political cause was being compromised due to a philosophic failure.

Thus a list of those Jaffa offended or assailed in recent decades exceeds the roster of any number of editions of the Strauss-Cropsey History of Political Philosophy. High on the list are Irving Kristol, Walter Berns (who, poignantly, died on the very same day as Jaffa), Allan Bloom, Robert Goldwin, and Martin Diamond, just to name some of the distinguished departed. Jaffa found serious shortcomings in some of their scholarly work, compromises that would have offended Lincoln. (See especially Jaffa’s 1978 book, How to Think About the American Revolution: A Bicentennial Celebration.)

Not only that: As kind and generous as he could be with us, his students—he did not spare us or his Claremont Institute colleagues from stern judgments. To paraphrase, did the leading luminaries of American conservatism not understand the difference between Calhoun and Lincoln? That is, did they not see that Progressivism shared with Calhoun roots in Darwinism and German historical thinking? Had they thereby abandoned natural right and failed to grasp the meaning of the Civil War? Would this not make them part of the political problem?

Jaffa’s strategy was not without its flaws. Declaring differences with the proposed third edition of Strauss-Cropsey (whose first edition appeared in 1963), Jaffa even withdrew from the volume his brilliant essay on Aristotle’s Politics. Thus he deprived generations of students of its insights and made it harder for readers to discern the relationship between theory and practice in his philosophic work and Lincoln studies.

The real question here, though, is why Jaffa wrote and said such things about his former friends. A study of each case—which is impossible here—would make the Socratic purpose evident. (An overview that does this is to be found here. [1] )

Another way of gleaning this purpose is to note the themes of Jaffa’s leading books. Insisting that the Declaration of Independence is the central document of the American political tradition, Jaffa made equality its central theme. Note the impact of this insistence. It simultaneously chided conservatives—whose habit was to favor liberty, virtue, or tradition—and stole from the Left its proprietary claim to equality.

What must be understood is that, in Jaffa’s treatment, equality turns out to be the central answer to Western civilization’s central question: the theological-political question. The shorthand for that question: God or country? Revelation or reason? Or, in other words, how should human beings guide their lives? How should they understand what a human being is?

The perpetual squaring off of the ancients (the Socraticism of Plato and Aristotle) against the moderns (the divine ambition of Machiavelli, Hobbes, and their successors) expresses this fundamental puzzle or question. Men and political communities may take their bearings from Aristotle’s idea of the best regime, or they may take their bearings from the moderns’ conception of low but solid passions.

Which is America? How do we best understand Americans? The Declaration of Independence is nothing less than the American resolution—an unprecedented real-life resolution—of the problem.

Elaborating on the meaning of equality in New Birth of Freedom, Jaffa makes the social contract (another term often used, or actually abused, by the Left following its distortion by Franklin Roosevelt) the basis of limited government. But for him that social contract is about governing, ultimately forming souls, and winning wars.

Thus his call for a reconstructed conservatism. It is to be rebuilt not on the basis of markets, family, or theology, but on the basis of a constitutionalism that, because it is rooted in Western civilization, ultimately protects the reason in all three.

Jaffa gave his 1975 volume of essays the title The Conditions of Freedom. It reminds us that freedom imposes conditions on Americans. Liberty is always judged by reason—that is, philosophy. And Jaffa dared to call America the best regime, endowing it with the qualities for which Socrates searched in the Republic.

His study of the American regime showed that the way to philosophy is through politics. Put a different way, it showed that political right is the core of natural right. Jaffa’s sallies on politics, jurisprudence, foreign policy, or Churchill were always executed in this light, which is something George Kateb didn’t see and his more recent detractors did not appreciate.

For example, in jurisprudence, Jaffa insisted on an originalist constitutionalism that makes the Declaration of Independence the golden apple in the silver frame of the Constitution. The only alternative, logically speaking, to this Lincolnian stance is to understand the U.S. Constitution as pro-slavery—which would hardly be an inducement to support the rule of law.

Assailing the legal positivism of a Judge Bork or a Chief Justice Rehnquist, regardless of his agreement with those jurists’ decisions, followed naturally. An originalism without a proper understanding of the Declaration of Independence—see Chief Justice Taney’s opinion in Dred Scott—is yet a further devaluation of the Founding and constitutional government.

None of this should prompt us to overlook the passion Jaffa had for the fact that full human flourishing required poetry. Jaffa showed time and time again that he regarded Shakespeare as a political philosopher: Shakespeare is how Plato would have written after the advent of Christianity. Once again defying scholarly convention, Jaffa was absolutely right to urge that a chapter on Shakespeare be included in the Strauss-Cropsey History of Political Philosophy.

We can see how he found in Lincoln a divine soul testing his own passions, a refulgence for his reason, and a mind that perpetually illuminated the deepest sources of Western civilization: the Bible and Greek philosophy, the transcendent and the everyday, convention and nature.

These are not small matters, and Jaffa over time made something of a litmus test of them. His inelegantly titled Crisis of the Strauss Divided (2012) goes the furthest in laying out a “Straussian geography,” explaining the differences between Straussians in the western United States—influenced by him—and the East Coast Straussians. (Among the best studies of Jaffa are found in the essays by “West Coast” writers Thomas West and Edward Erler in the Spring, 2001 volume of Interpretation.)

The spiritedness and intellect that drove Jaffa to examine himself, his students, his friends, and his country have enriched all. Having written acclaimed books on Aristotle and Aquinas, and on Lincoln, he reexamined and critiqued his work and thereby taught how his fellow Straussians should understand themselves. Jaffa’s eulogy of Leo Strauss in The Conditions of Freedom is particularly instructive in this regard.

It can truly be said that the embarrassment of Harry Jaffa is an embarrassment of riches. But whether Jaffa actually becomes the most consequential figure of American conservatism is the challenge for all who appreciate his work. I had meant to call him last week to let him know of my revival of the Kateb review and some issues it raised. But that call will not be answered; it now rests with his students.

A telephone call from Jaffa could be a blessing or a terror. The distinguished Lincoln scholar Allen Guelzo, having described Harry Jaffa’s phone calls that critiqued Guelzo’s latest books, referred to his friend as “a demanding, unapologetic man.” As accurate as this is, it may be even more appropriate to describe Jaffa as a man who demands apologies—meaning that word in the classic sense of explanations and, ultimately, explanations of how you are spending your life.

[1] In particular see Jaffa on an edition of Leo Strauss’s essays put out by Thomas L. Pangle, a review that was published originally in the Fall 1984 issue of the Claremont Review of Books. Professor Pangle responded in the same journal. To which Jaffa made a reply. See also my recent Law and Liberty review of Pangle’s 2013 book on Aristotle’s Politics.

Reader Discussion

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on January 15, 2015 at 11:49:10 am

Ken:

Firstly, thank you for this fine exposition of Jaffa and thank you for exposing me to his thinking those many years ago. Those old lessons still resonate!

I have a question. It is, perhaps, based upon my own misunderstanding of Strauss and Jaffa but I will pose it anyway and will use the following two quotes as a means of introducing the question: (excuse the shorthand logic)

"Thus his call for a reconstructed conservatism. It is to be rebuilt not on the basis of markets, family, or theology, but on the basis of a constitutionalism that, because it is rooted in Western civilization, ultimately protects the reason in all three."

"We can see how he found in Lincoln a divine soul testing his own passions, a refulgence for his reason, and a mind that perpetually illuminated the deepest sources of Western civilization: the Bible and Greek philosophy, the transcendent and the everyday, convention and nature."

My understanding of Strauss is that he believed that the philosopher must live in the tension between Reason and Revelation and that he must proceed *knowing* that he may not ever "KNOW" truth. (This is the limitation of both reason and revelation).

Has Jaffa, as indicated by the above quotes, with their emphasis on Lincoln and the Declaration, gone beyond Strauss in asserting the *perfection" of the DOI and the "best" regime attribution to America?

In other words, as a philosopher, was it untoward for Jaffa to make such a claim whereas Strauss may not have made such a claim? If this is so, then, perhaps, those who criticized Jaffa's "extremism" quote may have a case that he succumbed to a partisanship that may not be a proper role for a philosopher (Yes, I know the basis of the charge and the events leading up to the use of it. I am not here arguing that such a critique is valid.) and that this occurred because Jaffa did not constrain himself to the *tension."

take care
gabe

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gabe
on January 15, 2015 at 15:57:59 pm

None of this should prompt us to overlook the passion Jaffa had for the fact that full human flourishing required poetry.

In Closing of the American Mind (1987), Allan Bloom expresses his embarrassment to discover that Plato’s Republic, “a serious book of political theory,” wastes ink on trivialities such as music and poetry. But he later warmed to the insight that these art forms mattered as a tool and symbol of social cohesion, and to the molding of souls.

Insisting that the Declaration of Independence is the central document of the American political tradition, Jaffa made equality its central theme. Note the impact of this insistence. It simultaneously chided conservatives—whose habit was to favor liberty, virtue, or tradition—and stole from the Left its proprietary claim to equality.

I’m intrigued: How does a focus on equality in the Declaration say anything about the Left’s relationship to equality? Would not the ideas expressed in the Declaration be deemed progressive by the standards of the day? (Indeed, Jefferson thought so highly of equality, at least in theory, that he drafted into the Declaration some express statements against slavery. But the Continental Congress edited this language out of the document before ratifying the Declaration.)

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nobody.really
on January 15, 2015 at 18:19:28 pm

Nobody:

Perhaps, you misunderstood Ken's comments (or maybe I did).

It is not a question of whether Jefferson's equality proposition was *progressive* for its time but rather the fact that the typical critique of conservatives by the left was that they did not support / foster / proselytize equality. In so proclaiming that the equality proposition was the central tenet of the American founding and that this is at root what conservatives believe (or ought to believe) Jaffa effectively takes an arrow out of the Progressives quiver. I think Masugi is making an argument on a tactical basis rather than challenging the Progressive's belief in equality. The point about conservatives relying on "liberty, virtue, or tradition" explicitly highlights the fault with conservatives not Progressives.
Jaffa does, of course, go on to provide a different concept of equality than do the Progressives and one that is grounded in Lincoln's own conception of same - but still (I think) that in this instance this is intended as a tactical argument.

But we should let Ken Masugi answer this.

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gabe
on January 16, 2015 at 08:44:06 am

[…] Harry V. Jaffa: An Inconvenient Thinker […]

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“If 100,000 Jews Leave, France Will No Longer Be France” - Freedom's Floodgates
on January 16, 2015 at 14:44:10 pm

"The only alternative, logically speaking, to this Lincolnian stance is to understand the U.S. Constitution as pro-slavery—which would hardly be an inducement to support the rule of law."

This is obviously not the only alternative. The actual alternative is that the Constitution wasn't about slavery, it was about protection and trade and offered only the powers to the Federal government that the client states would give up. The Constitution is neither for nor against it, legally, but certainly set up a structure by which intelligent men could challenge and dismantle it WITHOUT VIOLENCE.

Jaffa's defense of Lincoln is extremely misguided and his misunderstanding of the Constitution, disappointing.

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John Ashman
on January 16, 2015 at 21:53:59 pm

I regret I wasn't clearer about equality--this is the equality of natural rights that requires government by consent (therefore, limited government). This equality was overthrown by the Progressive promise of a different equality--which of course was a real inequality, that of the administrative state.

Gabe, this was noteworthy: "Has Jaffa, as indicated by the above quotes, with their emphasis on Lincoln and the Declaration, gone beyond Strauss in asserting the *perfection” of the DOI and the “best” regime attribution to America?" This obviously requires a lot of explanation, since the best regime as founded contained slavery! So does it hang then upon the 13th amendment? It's an amazing situation, full of possibilities.

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Ken Masugi
on January 16, 2015 at 22:09:09 pm

"the Constitution wasn’t about slavery" ?--3/5 clause, fugitive slave clause, international trade slave clause (unamendable), etc.? Dred Scott made things clear. But another narrative is possible. This is important because government is legitimate only by consent. And that legitimacy is challenged by the existence of slavery, which cannot exist on the basis of consent.

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Ken Masugi
on January 17, 2015 at 09:21:01 am

Ken--

Having committed some energy to attempting to understand the political thought of John C. Calhoun and also that of social critics like Herbert Croly, it does not strike me as obvious that these thinkers share the same intellectual roots, or that they are concerned to address problems that are all that similar. What Calhoun might have described as "the promise of American life" (were he to have used that formulation) strikes me as dissimilar in its essential concerns to what Croly describes.

This matters only to the extent that my teaching matters, but I would like to think that it does. And I would like to think that it matters that I teach this material correctly. When I write that it does not strike me as obvious, I intend only to signal that I am not perceiving the connection you assert--not any kind of informed skepticism. I would be immensely grateful if you could take the time to develop the assertion a bit further, either here or via email.

Very much obliged, and with, I hope, appropiate respect to you as a thoughtful and thought-provoking teacher,
Kevin

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on January 17, 2015 at 09:44:33 am

The constitution was about protecting the union, and attempting to ensure its survival in a hostile world of powerful nation-states. See, for just one set of examples of the way American nationalists in the 1780s developed this concern, the early essays of the Federalist, eg. Federalist no. Seven. You can also examine the correspondence of the Virginia framers, especially that of Madison and Washington, to see the same paramount concerns.

Establishing federal control over trade, and protecting American trade with other nations, was one concern among many, because the Articles of Confederation proved unable effectively to do so. Its failure in this regard threatened the continental union. But this was not the only failure of the Articles that men like Madison perceived. For an exhaustive analysis of all of the ways the Articles proved inadequate to preserve the union, see the notes that Madison prepared in advance of the Philadelphia convention, and especially his "Vices of the Political System of the United States."

In the debate over how best to frame a union that possessed the capabilities necessary for it to endure for any length of time, it emerged that some consideration of, and protection for, slavery was requisite if Southern interests were to accept creating a federal government with the requisite powers. Because some of the delegates expressed moral qualms about slavery--qualms that many delegates from the upper South shared some real sympathy--the final document that the delegates prepared took some pains to express its guarantees for slavery in coded language. But it would be a real error to minimize (or deny) the extent to which the constitution prepared in Philadelphia and eventually ratified by all of the states protected slavery.

Moreover, in the judgment of most scholars of the issue, just as in the judgment of most of the delegates in Philadelphia, if a constitution that created a government sufficiently robust to survive were to be created, compromise over and guarantee for slavery was necessary. Whether or not the creation of the union was morally a greater good than condemnation of slavery is of course a judgment call, and in the 19th century some critics condemned the compromise as a "covenant with death." But it is equally clear that in the minds of the framers, compromise of this kind was necessary.

All best wishes,
Kevin

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on January 17, 2015 at 11:56:18 am

Kevin (& Ken):

BTW: Kevin - good to see you back.

Perhaps another way of framing the question is this:

Which Jaffa (and consequently Lincoln) is correct? The Lincoln of Jaffa's "Crisis", i.e. the one who transcends the flaws in the Founding? or the Lincoln of "New Birth" who is the fulfillment of the Founding.
The former would indicate that the compromise was insufficient to overcome the flaw in the application of the equality principle while the latter would suggest the compromise was eventually successful.

In either case, it is clear that, as in all political *solutions* various motivations are in play. The role of the statesman is to reformulate these varying motivations / objectives into a somewhat comprehensible whole without sufficiently diluting the energizing principle.

Just a thought!

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gabe
on January 17, 2015 at 13:48:29 pm

Ken--

I suppose one could argue for the German influence on American progressivism, as mediated by people like Ernst Freund. So even though the reception of German ideas proved controversial in early 20th century progressivism, it was demonstrably present. What I find confusing is the notion that Calhoun, 60 years earlier, was influenced by the same tradition. When I read Calhoun, I see the ideas of a man whose formative thought stems from the American republicanism of the late 18th century. Was there even a statist-liberal tradition of the sort that Freund represents present at all in the Germanic polities of the 1810s, 1820s, or 1830s, that could conceivably have shaped Calhoun?

What am I missing?

Thanks!

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Kevin R. Hardwick
on January 17, 2015 at 14:29:16 pm

I think Jaffa is alluding to Calhoun's attempt to diminish the importance / validity of the *rights of man* by accepting Hegel's premise that these rights are the product of historical processes. Additionally, if I remember correctly Jaffa argues that Calhoun's concept of the "concurrent majority* may be reducible to the Hegelian / "Rousseauian" concept of the *general will." This is to be distinguished in Jaffa's framework from consent of the governed and a higher more durable basis for a good regime, i.e., natural rights / law.

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gabe
on January 17, 2015 at 14:40:13 pm

Again, these compromises weren't about slavery, but about assembling a coalistion government among states with different interests. Had the Constitution been pro-slavery, it would have enshrined it. It did not. If it were openly anti-slavery, it wouldn't have been signed and no large United States would have existed. The Declaration of Independence wasn't law, the Constitution is, and that required compromise and balance. The only relation is that the DoI gives some insight into areas which may be considered to be vague by some. But it has no direct relation or authority of any kind.

If government is only legitimate by consent, than no government is legitimate because none have 100% consent. Find me 100% of citizens that agree to 100% of what government does.

Jaffa's ideas are tremendously flawed.

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John Ashman
on January 17, 2015 at 15:01:27 pm

One can also look to the debates had over A1S9. It was overwhelmingly anti-slavery. So it's very hard to say that the document was pro-slavery in anyway. IMO, SCOTUS could have bided its time and extended protection to slaves and freed them purely on the basis of the Constitution and Natural Rights. Though this would obviously have had disastrous effect and the court was littered with racists anyway.

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John Ashman
on January 17, 2015 at 21:36:38 pm

John, your argument destroys the difference between a legitimate government and a tyranny--surely not your purpose. The Declaration is the Law behind the supreme law of the land. That's what made the compromises of slavery intelligibile--as long as the understanding was that slavery would inevitably disappear--hence the absence of the word. Taney's argument in Dred Scott destroyed turned that understanding on its head. Hence Lincoln's response.

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Ken Masugi
on January 17, 2015 at 21:43:15 pm

Kevin, I attempt to link Calhoun and Progressivism here. http://www.libertylawsite.org/2013/03/20/crisis-of-the-calhoun-united/
There's also this short piece http://www.libertylawsite.org/2013/10/07/sam-tanenhaus-is-a-backdoor-calhounite/

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Ken Masugi
on January 17, 2015 at 21:43:51 pm

What he said!

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Ken Masugi
on January 17, 2015 at 22:25:50 pm

Ken, I don't see how this is the case. The DoI is a list of reasons for breaking up with England and a statement of principles. It was just a large F-You! to King George III, just much more sophisticated. The Constitution came much later and is a compact, a legal document. It in fact, traded principles for pragmatism because that's how law in the end must work. Had they stuck to Jeffersonian principles, the South simply would not have signed. Jefferson would have gladly signed away slavery if he could but that simply wasn't possible. The DoI should "inform" the Constitution but it was also written and signed largely by different people at a different time in different circumstance. In a way, to say that we can use the DoI to change plain interpretation and intent of the Constitution is very much open to tyranny. This is the same thinking that is used today, but instead of the DoI, they subsititute modern life and needs to "inform" the document into doing what is desired instead of what it actually does. The DoI, quite frankly, is essentially nothing to the Constitution, and the Constitution stands alone as law, it needs no other documentation, except to convince the uneducated as to what it clearly says.

Let's be honest. There is no government that doesn't involve tyranny. The Founders knew this and did their best to minimize it. You can't claim that "consent" consists of a small super minority of people signing and agreeing to a document.

You canNOT state that if an unstated goal of destroying slavery isn't achieved within a certain frame of time, that Lincoln gets to beat his wife to make it happen by force. Just as it may be understood that sex will occur after marriage, there is no power given to force it under any circumstance and so people are free to dissolve the marriage when such incompatibilities arise. Lincoln literally had a wife beater attitude. They left, he wouldn't stand for it, so he beat them into submission, at the cost of nearly a million lives. This is like a woman who marries a man and starts plotting how to change him into the man she wants him to be rather than the man he is. It's disingenuous and evil. Even if her idea is a good one, it becomes evil when force, manipulation and secret agendas are applied.

Dred Scott is an unfortunate example of how lawyers attempt to inform the law rather than allow the law to inform them. But even that is not a good excuse to go to war.

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John Ashman
on January 17, 2015 at 22:28:16 pm

"Consent of the governed" is a wonderful fiction that precludes government at all it it were actually reality.

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John Ashman
on January 17, 2015 at 22:31:56 pm

"There is no government that doesn’t involve tyranny." You've made justi government impossible. You are focusing too much on slavery as the measure of equality--this is exactly Lincoln's point, which I tried to explain in my essay. One can't make sense of liberty as the purpose of government without the initial premise of equality. Liberty be be differently defined by wolves and sheep, as Lincoln put it.

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Ken Masugi
on January 17, 2015 at 23:26:31 pm

Just government, truly just on all levels, to everyone IS impossible. It will never happen. The closest you could get is one that strictly adhered to natural rights and even then, there will be times when a fuzzy line will be drawn and people will deny that they have been treated justly. And even without that, there are people who simply do not want ANY governance at all, not even to oppress others. An anarchist will never give consent to be governed as a daily fact of life. The only "governance" he wants is when he requires a judgment in a court in a personal or business affair.

I mean, if you want to clarify and amend your point that got me started, I would revisit it, but I draw a hard line here with Lincoln, in that a) the "unLincoln" does not mean pro-slavery and b) that Lincoln's actions completely undermine many of his words and promises. Regardless of anything he said, he was willing to use any and all force to keep the union together, regardless of slavery, because he didn't want to be President of half a country. And I think he was driven by this because deep down, he knew he was the final straw that caused secession. He didn't want to be seen in history as the President that destroyed the United States. He almost got us conquered.

I sum up Jaffa's relationship with Lincoln as "love conquers all".

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John Ashman
on January 18, 2015 at 10:31:41 am

The Declaration, to return to it for a bit, is not only a revlutionary document. It is also very much a philosophic one--see second paragraph abour self-evident truths and government by consent. The list of grievances follow from such truths, ranging from no taxation without representation to initing Indian warfare. (Note too the charge of inciting slave revolts and compare with Emancipation Proclamation.)
The fact that no government can exist without force is not a defect of govt.; it is a defect of human nature. Madison: "men are not angels...." See Lincoln's First Inaugural for the political consequences of human nature--which is another way of saying all men are created equal.
BTW, don't confuse racial slavery with slavery and its significance for constitutionalism. Slavery needs to be delegitimized in order for constittional government to exist. Stephen Douglas's pro-choice on slaery alternative is decptive and seductive. It would have destroyed the Constitution more effectively than the pure Southern approach.

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Ken Masugi
on January 18, 2015 at 10:33:26 am

Lincoln insisted that slaves in the original slave states needed to be freed by constititnal amendment. To leave it to the Court would have violated the original Constitution. That's the problem of the rule of law and democracy.

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Ken Masugi
on January 18, 2015 at 10:43:41 am

Emancipation Proclamation? Also defeats the idea that he did it to free the slaves.

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John Ashman
on January 18, 2015 at 10:51:13 am

The DoI is still not law. It informed the creation of the Constitution. It is redundant to reniform it. It informs our understanding of the time and thinking but cannot alter the plain understanding of the Constitution.

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John Ashman
on January 18, 2015 at 10:53:05 am

Lincoln's Peoria speech, Oct. 16, 1854 gives a comprehensive case for the new Republican Party and its principles. These are anti-slavery but he also argues that the Declaration is the "white man's charter of freedom"--meaning unless the Declaration is seen as the source of liberty for white men, they won't extend its principles to blacks or anyone else. Of course it's not about just black slavery.

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Ken Masugi
on January 18, 2015 at 10:54:16 am

The Constitution has no plain meaning without the Declaration. Is the Constitution pro or anti-slavery? The question cannot be answered without reference to the Declaration.

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Ken Masugi
on January 18, 2015 at 11:32:02 am

This assumes a narrow version of "citizen", " people" "person". The court only need view it as written and that would have put pressure on the states and the cause.

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John Ashman
on January 18, 2015 at 11:36:34 am

Nonsense. They are standalone documents with plain purposes and meanings. Neither requires the other. And only one has the force of law.

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John Ashman
on January 18, 2015 at 11:51:31 am

Where do you feel the Constituton is pro or anti slavery?

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John Ashman
on January 18, 2015 at 11:56:39 am

And why does it need to have a position other than limited and temporary toleration?

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John Ashman
on January 18, 2015 at 13:52:10 pm

Because a House divided against itself cannot stand.

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Ken Masugi
on January 18, 2015 at 13:55:42 pm

I'll give one example of each:
anti: allowing a vote to ban the international slave trade
pro: allowing a vote to ban the international slave trade
This is an unamendable part of the Constitution--see Article VI.
One can make a strong case either way, but with the Declaration properly understood the Constitution allowed for slavery but (since the word was banished) looked forward to its elimination.

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Ken Masugi
on January 18, 2015 at 13:57:29 pm

That's why majority rule is the only practical mechanism--see last part of Lincoln's first inaugural. You and Lincoln are not far apart on this.

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Ken Masugi
on January 18, 2015 at 14:08:39 pm

This is a great way to phrase the issue. Jaffa was sensitive, I think, to Kendall's critique that a refounding Lincoln would tempt successors. The Lincoln of New Birth would end that issue, and give rise to others. Part of my current work on the 13th A is addressing that issue.

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Ken Masugi
on January 18, 2015 at 16:17:36 pm

"Because a House divided against itself cannot stand."

That's the argument? It's nearly a tautology. A house divided SHOULD NOT stand. it should split and go separate ways. This is the nature of things and humans.

This is Lincoln's rationalization for wife beating. He sets up an unresolvable scenario that justifies death and destruction, rather than simply accepting what has happened and demonstrating that he is NOT a warring thug and enemy, that he is a peace maker and a friend. Rather than do exactly the opposite of what they expected from him, he did EXACTLY what they expected from him. He KNEW that reinforcing Fort Sumter would cause a conflict because it was an act of war. He did it anyway.

Lincoln had a glorious moment to show that he was not who he was perceived to be and did the opposite.

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John Ashman
on January 18, 2015 at 16:23:44 pm

"That’s why majority rule is the only practical mechanism–see last part of Lincoln’s first inaugural. You and Lincoln are not far apart on this."

Two wolves and a sheep deciding what's for dinner. Does majority rule morally allow you to invade another country? If your wife leaves the marriage, then whens he doesn't vote to prevent a beating, the 1-0 vote for wife beating is moral and righteous?

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John Ashman
on January 18, 2015 at 16:28:45 pm

"I’ll give one example of each:
anti: allowing a vote to ban the international slave trade
pro: allowing a vote to ban the international slave trade"

And thus the neutrality. The purpose of the Constitution was neither to ban, nor support slavery, but to bring together a government for foster defense, prosperity and trade. Protecting rights was something of an afterthought and really didn't offer that much additional protections until incorporation.

I really can't see how anyone can see that the Constitution requires the DoI as a moral lifeline. It is law.

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John Ashman
on January 18, 2015 at 19:48:48 pm

The Delaration provides the principles for constitutionalism. Why should anyone respect a Constitution which might allow one to be enslaved? "Slavery" after all is a colorblind term.

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Ken Masugi
on January 18, 2015 at 20:22:43 pm

This is such a "pop" argument, Ken. The choice was to have a union, or not to have one. Under no circumstance would the South have come along and then the Union would be powerless to stop slavery short of a war ANYWAY, and one they would have been ill equipped to fight. They viewed slavery as something that was beyond their power to solve, so they set it aside in order to create a union that could stand up to the major powers that would seek to enslave them from without.

Again, the purposes of the Constitution - Trade. Economic prosperity. Defense. To destroy the Southern economy, no matter how it was based, was a nonstarter.

And the DoI provided no principles, those were already there and floating around. When it came to the Constitution, principle often had to be sacrificed or compromised to achieve the goal. Had the DoI truly been the source, slavery would have been outlawed from the beginning, or the power to do so enshrined and the South would have walked away and there would have been two federal nations from the start. Or none at all.

At this point I have to assume you're just trolling me.

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John Ashman
on January 18, 2015 at 21:23:32 pm

We're actually remarkably close here. Of course your practical argument is correct--I've never disagreed with it. There is nothing in your first paragraph Lincoln would have disagreed with.
"And the DoI provided no principles, those were already there and floating around." That was Jefferson's thought to, almost 50 years later. But that's the whole point--these were the principles that brought about the revolution, and more important, shaped the new republic.
"Had the DoI truly been the source, slavery would have been outlawed from the beginning," No, this is Taney's illogical argument. The problem here is you have an absolutist moralism that won't allow the making of prudential choices. This is in sharp contrast with what you say in your first paragraph.
No trolling at all here.

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Ken Masugi
on January 18, 2015 at 22:06:35 pm

Not sure if it's illogical or not, but obviously they had to overlook slavery and when forming the government, didn't actually put "all men are created equal" into actual law. Or didn't count blacks as actual people. Not even the North wanted them counted as full people for the purposes of representation. In reality, representation should have been set based on the number of citizens, or citizens with the civil right to vote, solving that issue for all time.

I don't recall anyone actually stating in any way at the time that the DoI is the source of any particular part of the Constitution. The DoI was a statement of philosphy and principles, the Constitution, a much later compact between states that certainly incorporated and reflected some of those principles, at least in the Bill of Rights and a few other areas, but truly, the actual Constitution as signed, not Amended, was simply a format for the government and how it would function. I honestly don't get the direct connection AT ALL between the two documents. If I were to draw a Venn diagram, they would both intersect with a single circle in the middle, but not touch each other in any way.

I also don't see my "absolute moralism" unless you consider my dedication to Natural Rights to be absolute moralism. I've already stated how there was no choice but to be pragmatic in the issue. I see the contrast in that, as a libertarian, I find that it is best to have someone be partly libertarian than not at all because it's a process. So getting the South into the Union was part of the process because the only other option was war or economic warfare, neither terribly sane at the time, unless you wanted to end up speaking French or Spanish. Violence isn't the only answer and is very often the worst answer, time and time again. Jaffa claims that the DoI informed the Constitution, the Constitution informed Lincoln, but Lincoln didn't even allow himself to be informed by Jefferson's first Presidential address, which allowed for states leaving as friends. Had he done that, slavery still would have ended and whether we had one or two Federations, the world would have been a better place, then and now.

I have no reason to love or hate Lincoln, but I absolutely disagree with his actions from the very beginning. Especially when he was told by his senior advisors that resupplying Fort Sumter would lead to violence and he chose to do it BECAUSE it would. He wanted that fight, and he got it. All the while pretending that he was a peaceful man. And he admitted this in the end, stating that he viewed war as the only possible response to the "sedition" of the South and their refusal to come back to the Union. That makes him a terribly evil man, not worthy of his reputation, but entirely worthy of his end.

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John Ashman
on January 18, 2015 at 22:23:02 pm

I'm disappointed with this conclusion. In fact, some states allowed blacks to vote, abolished slavery following Independence, etc. On the other hand, the 3/5 clause subsidizes slave states' votes. This recent post seems to discard the assumptions you were making in your previous one. The Constitution exists within a moral and political framework, one the Declaration supplies. One sees the same language in the States (e.g., Virginia Declaration of Rights, Massachusetts Constitution, and so on). The framers were not legal positivists.

"my dedication to Natural Rights to be absolute moralism." Because you don't see that natural rights are meaningless unless they lead to government by consent--John Locke. Jefferson would never allow states to leave on their own for the same reason you say the Constitution was essential in your penultimate post--for national survival. After all, Jefferson did purchase Louisiana.

Fighting for the Union became essential for the reasons you say the Constitution had to be formed. In addition, four score years after the Declaration, the defense of slavery as positive good arose, and by the time of Progressivism morally depraved racial doctrines arose. Remember, Lincoln's decisive argument against slavery is not what it did to the slave but what it did to the master and the political culture that arose from slavery.

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Ken Masugi
on January 18, 2015 at 22:48:53 pm

Not sure where the disappointment would be. In one moment you say the Constititution comes from the DoI, yet in the next, state that these ideas were endemic to the country as evidenced by state constitutions and other documents, which is exactly what I'm saying (the latter). The Constitution picks and chooses its moral framework based on what the varying states would allow. Some states generally believed that blacks deserved or needed to be treated the same as whites (even when most no doubt viewed them as somewhat inferior, including Lincoln) while others didn't. Probably the very biggest possible split between the states and one of the few things purposefully left unresolved. It's hard to say that exists WITHIN a moral framework when they ignored slavery for pragmatism. Obviously, they had to compartmentalize and set aside moral beliefs for the greater good.

As far as "government by consent", again, this is a fiction except in the general sense. I don't consent to the government we have, especially given its flagrant disregard for the Constitution. But I'm left with little choice but to accept it or leave. Jefferson stated outright in his first address that any State that wished to leave of its own accord was free to do so in the spirit of friendship. It wasn't tested, but he made the offer. The Louisiana Purchase violated the Constitution, but he all but apologized for it and certainly only did it because he knew the power to do it could never arrive in time. I absolutely understand that there are unforeseen circumstances that require a TEMPORARY breach of the Constitution, but we breach it and then enshrine it.

The very arguments FOR slavery, the very reasons for leaving the Union where a tacit admission that slavery was known to be doomed. It was failing everywhere, across the globe and the South believed it to be absolutely necessary and even though they were wrong, they were entitled to their wrongness in the Constitution. Lincoln could have used the minority power in the South to wage the war against slavery from within while showing friendship and good will and vowing to keep the door open to any state that wished to return in their own time. It is very conceivable that the US would have returned to a single entity. Or not. Actually, I prefer the "Or not". I think the US got cocky and arrogant and abused its privilege. And having local competition, and the ability to migrate from one country to a better one has its uses. Europe is finding out right now hard and/or tyrannical and/or ineffiecient federalism is now, 200 years after us. They'll learn the hard way, as we did. Now that states can't leave under any circumstance, thanks to Lincoln, there is no recourse to a government unwilling to follow its own DNA.

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John Ashman
on January 19, 2015 at 10:43:07 am

"Not sure where the disappointment would be. In one moment you say the Constititution comes from the DoI, yet in the next, state that these ideas were endemic to the country as evidenced by state constitutions and other documents, which is exactly what I’m saying (the latter)."
I keep saying we agree, you keep saying we disagree. "these ideas" = equal natural rights, govt by consent, religious and civil liberties, etc. Slavery contradicts the idea of govt by consent--yet the Constitution had to be adopted, as you argue.
You may find the notion of consent dubious but the founders did not. You should not be selective in choosing which parts of the founding's principles Ias opposed to its compromises) you adopt.
"The very arguments FOR slavery, the very reasons for leaving the Union where a tacit admission that slavery was known to be doomed. It was failing everywhere, across the globe and the South believed it to be absolutely necessary and even though they were wrong, they were entitled to their wrongness in the Constitution." This supports Lincoln's argument: I would simply apply your notion of the founders compromising for the sake of Union. The South should have compromised, as its later VP Alexander Stephens argued, because the South was getting the better deal by far on slavery. The US was far more a pro-slavery republic than a free one, esp after Dred Scott but even before.

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Ken Masugi
on January 19, 2015 at 12:55:28 pm

Mr Ashman:

You do a disservice to your argument with this comment:

"That makes him a terribly evil man, not worthy of his reputation, but entirely worthy of his end."

A bit intemperate and of no practical consequence or significance to your assertions.

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gabe
on January 19, 2015 at 23:19:29 pm

Gabe, HE GOT over 750,000 people killed in a war of conquest. Not to defend the US from invaders. He could have simply waged peace instead and the South would have calmed down. He did exactly what they thought he'd do, which is prompt a war with acts of war.

So, he DID get what he deserved. Quite a bit less, actually. I have no problem saying it. He was the deadliest President in American history. And the worst by most any measure. He almost got the country conquered. It was incredibly close.

What really makes people look silly is their patriotic love and defense of the man who got more Americans killed than all other Presidents combined.

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John Ashman
on January 19, 2015 at 23:30:13 pm

Well, Ken, we might be CLOSE to agreeing, the apparently that difference is enough to look at Lincoln, the DoI and Constitution from two entirely different perspectives. Unless you don't agree with Jaffa.

If you say "government by GENERAL and EXPIRED consent", that is what we have but we don't have government by ACTUAL consent. The approval rating of Congress is in the single digits. I hadly call this "consent". That being said, general consent is the best we can get with government. I understand that and so did they. They certainly didn't think everyone would be happy about it and had to negotiate and sell the Constitution to make it happen at all.

I don't remotely by that the US was overwhelmingly pro-slavery. I see no historical evidence of this. If anything, anti-slavery sentiment was growing at such a rapid rate that the pro-slavery groups were becoming ever more extreme and even paranoid, certainly fearful. Especially watching as slavery was imploding in the rest of the world. They saw the writing on the wall and acted in a radical way to attempt to preserve it.

But this doesn't support Lincoln's argument, because a) Lincoln said one thing while doing another and b) he wouldn't have gone to war if he'd believed it, there'd have been no need at all. He COULD have appealed to the minority Southerners to become more vocal and overturn slavery even as he engaged in negotiation and trade. But he purposefully provoked a war. That's a known fact He knew the price of sending reinforcements to Fort Sumter, he was warned and did it, not "anyway", but BECAUSE it was the best way to provoke war.

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John Ashman
on January 19, 2015 at 23:41:59 pm

Sorry, left this in the wrong place earlier -

Gabe, HE GOT over 750,000 people killed in a war of conquest. Not to defend the US from invaders. He could have simply waged peace instead and the South would have calmed down. He did exactly what they thought he’d do, which is prompt a war with acts of war.

So, he DID get what he deserved. Quite a bit less, actually. I have no problem saying it. He was the deadliest President in American history. And the worst by most any measure. He almost got the country conquered. It was incredibly close.

What really makes people look silly is their patriotic love and defense of the man who got more Americans killed than all other Presidents combined.

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John Ashman
on January 20, 2015 at 00:02:51 am

John:

"...anti-slavery sentiment was growing at such a rapid rate that the pro-slavery groups were becoming ever more extreme and even paranoid,"

and yet earlier you assert that Lincoln was wrong for not using *minority* sentiment in the south to combat the pro-slavery forces.
In a sense this is equivalent to asking *moderate* Muslims to combat ISIS today. Pro-slavery types were known to take some rather violent action against the moderate voices within the south and also destroyed or intercepted all mail, posts, newspapers, etc that carried an anti-slavery message.

While it is conceivable that it could have been done (I myself have argued this for todays problems) still it is doubtful that it would have accomplished much.

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gabe
on January 20, 2015 at 00:37:12 am

Policial pressure, economic pressure, courts, free speech, etc, are all better at forcing positive outcomes than violence. Whether or not it would have accomplished the job in a timely manner is immaterial because what Lincoln did was morally wrong, ethically wrong, and unAmerican.

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John Ashman
on January 20, 2015 at 09:27:57 am

Aside from this, my child is growing rapidly, it doens't mean she is adult sized.

A small minority becomes a big minority, becomes a small majority. That's how lasting and peaceful change occurs.

"Slavery is wrong! So I must kill 750,000 people!" Brilliant.

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John Ashman
on January 20, 2015 at 10:05:41 am

Yes, it was an evil thing the South did. Just as it would have been a great evil had the original Constitution not been ratified over objections to slavery and the subsidizing of the slave vote.

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Ken Masugi
on January 20, 2015 at 10:41:21 am

The political situation in the 1850s: The Democratic Party controlled the country, with the exception of two Whig war hero presidents. The Republican Party rose in protest of those “twin relics of barbarism, slavery and polygamy” (alive today in the form of multiculturalism and same-sex marriage). Abolitionists flocked to it, though it was not strictly speaking an abolitionist party.
Lincoln (see First Inaugural) would have allowed a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the South its slaves. (Whether it would have passed is another question.) Alexander Stephens, the future VP of the South, argued against secession, because the slave states had it good.
No one in most of the slave states was even permitted to vote for Lincoln; his name did not appeal on their ballots.
It was the moral fanaticism of the South that brought about the war.

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Ken Masugi
on January 20, 2015 at 10:45:49 am

And I take it that you then support the rather dictatorial methods of Jefferson Davis who, during his (mal)administration did more to suppress liberty and property rights than Lincoln ever did.
Check out both his record on economic controls, speech and even the conduct of the war.

Of course, *stealing* Federal armories, post offices, tax revenues, imposts, etc (which did not belong to just the South but the whole nation) must to your mind be acceptable and not also *acts of war.*
Get over it - the South was not some glorified agrarian utopia. It was a retrograde (economically, morally and socially) culture that in the end destroyed itself because its very core / system was such that it could not compete with the North - not to mention that it was morally bankrupt being predicated upon human bondage!

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gabe
on January 20, 2015 at 12:13:16 pm

Ken, I can't see how you can seriously assert that not signing the Constitution would have been as great an evil as slavery. I assert that there should have been two federations from the beginning. Of course, one would wonder which way Thomas Jefferson's Virginia would go, as well as Thomas Jefferson himself. Jefferson is a prime example of how people could be against slavery in principle, yet accept it in reality.

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John Ashman
on January 20, 2015 at 12:15:47 pm

Gabe, I get it. You don't like the South. Get over it.

Two wrongs don't make a right. There were other options on the table, Lincoln purposefully provoked a war and got 750,000 people killed. Those are the facts. What the South did within their states literally wasn't any of his business unless the states asked for assistance.

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John Ashman
on January 20, 2015 at 12:21:22 pm

"It was the moral fanaticism of the South that brought about the war."

NO.

Lincoln had a choice. To pretend he didn't is a total misrepresentation of what happened.

The South SAW the future and didn't like it. They panicked and behaved horribly. This does not rationalizing invasion, destruction, death. A woman may behave badly and try to run away. It doesn't warrant pursuit and physical abuse or death.

Lincoln is a wife beater.

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John Ashman
on January 20, 2015 at 12:46:34 pm

Counsellor:

You are arguing *facts not in evidence.* Just because I don't like it when my dog brings in all sorts of wild things, does not mean I don't like her. I simply expect her to behave with soime decorum.

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gabe
on January 20, 2015 at 17:32:16 pm

John,
The wife beating comparison tilts against you. This wife ran off with a slave.
If you think that outrageous, consider that beating a slave (or owning one) is an even worse betrayal of the natural law and of Christianity than beating a wife. The same moral principles that condemn the one, condemn the other. This is the wisdom behind Lincoln’s Second Inaugural.

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Ken Masugi
on January 20, 2015 at 18:01:19 pm

Sorry I missed this in the flurry with John. Look at Erik Root's book on Jefferson and the pro-slavery turn in Viriginia. He speculates on an antebellum German influence on this debate. At any rate, Lincoln refers to forces of science among the positive good school of slavery. Hegel would be the most prominent, followed by Darwin, born the same day as Lincoln, btw.

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Ken Masugi
on January 20, 2015 at 19:13:37 pm

Sure....if you ignore everything else he said and did and all the death and destruction. It is fun to compartmentalize.

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John Ashman
on January 20, 2015 at 19:59:26 pm

Lincoln was trying to keep his slave and free state Union together and win the war. He also had to run for reelection against his former commander-in-chief, McClellan. He had his principal tas of restoring the Constitution to wholeness, which means showing how it flowed from the Declaration: this was the New Birth of Freedom. The war was of course horrible--no one denies that. But it was the stubborness of the pro-slavery Democrats that led to war. Stephen Douglas, who would have agreed with much of your history, drew the line at secession.

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Ken Masugi
on January 20, 2015 at 20:53:30 pm

Well....killing your opponents is a good way of doing that I suppose. Very philosophical of him

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John Ashman
on January 20, 2015 at 20:56:21 pm

The necessity that led to Union is the same necessity that preserved it. We are a lot closer than you think--it is just to kill to prevent recurring to the state of nature.

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Ken Masugi
on January 20, 2015 at 21:00:18 pm

In order to protect each other...we must first kill each other.

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John Ashman
on January 20, 2015 at 23:17:16 pm

Once there is an agreement to have a Constitution, States cannot withdraw consent without it amounting to an act of war--States that don't permit a candidate from a major party (e.g., Lincoln) to appear on their ballots can't even be said to be republican governments. They have lost legitimacy.

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Ken Masugi
on January 21, 2015 at 00:45:58 am

Thomas Jefferson disagrees with you.

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John Ashman
on January 21, 2015 at 00:49:47 am

Thomas Jefferson disagrees. And so do I.

If you can't peacefully secede, then there is precious little power the States have remaining, now that the Feds have decided that the Constitution doesn't matter, only slim majorities in Congress matters.

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John Ashman
on January 21, 2015 at 08:31:28 am

John, again we are closer than you think--though still divided. Jaffa was fond of citing (I believe Henry Adams): The Civil War was Jefferson arguing with himself--that is, the Declaration and the Kentucky Resolutions. Lincoln resolved this contradiction between these two conceptons of natural rights. So it's not about states' rights but rather which institution can better protect natural rights.

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Ken Masugi
on January 21, 2015 at 08:32:40 am

What "peaceful secession" comes down to is willfulness. The Federalist is clear on such willfulness in the case of Rogue Island not joining the Union.

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Ken Masugi
on January 21, 2015 at 08:51:12 am

Rhode Island was a case of 12 kids forming a gang and telling the 13th to join or hae his lunch money stolen.

Foreshadowing.

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John Ashman
on January 21, 2015 at 08:54:07 am

States don't have rights, only powers.

We celebrate secession 1 day per year and abhor it the other 364.

Irony.

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John Ashman
on January 21, 2015 at 09:07:03 am

[…] Harry V. Jaffa: An Inconvenient Thinker […]

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Jaffa As Neo-Puritan - Freedom's Floodgates
on January 21, 2015 at 09:33:18 am

Liberalism is worshipping the state for all that it does.

Conservatism is worshipping the state despite all that it does.

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John Ashman
on January 21, 2015 at 11:46:09 am

Well-put partial truths. Would a neo-con be an agnostic? But in fact for the religious or at least Christian transcendence or the City of God trumps the City of Man.

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Ken Masugi
on January 21, 2015 at 11:55:58 am

It is clear that neither that South as a whole, nor Lincoln specifically, believed in an actual God, or he'd have left judgment to Him.

People say they believe in God. But they don't. It's why people cry at funerals.

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John Ashman
on January 21, 2015 at 12:03:07 pm

Remember that Lincoln's actions and statements were all over the map.

He was never a coherent man, he always bent to the prevailing winds, but when it came to looking like a fool, he would rather see people die that look like a weak leader.

Had he been even 90% coherent in his words and actions, Jaffa would have had a point. But he is picking and choosing what parts of Lincoln he likes and adoring those parts, while making excuses for all the rest of the horrific statements and actions.

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John Ashman
on January 21, 2015 at 12:14:32 pm

May the arugment between Ken and I be seen as America's first actual "civil war"!

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John Ashman
on January 21, 2015 at 15:31:47 pm

Insofar as one can generalize, I think there is a southern approach to religion, as there is to mores--or no? My sole experience of living in the South is two months one summer at Dook. But I read books too!

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Ken Masugi
on January 21, 2015 at 15:35:09 pm

This is our first real disagreement--over Lincoln's coherence. He had a singular focus--restoring the Declaration to its rightful place. How this was to be done at any moment was a matter of prudence--no emancipation or emancipation, for example.
We agree on too much to be at war.

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Ken Masugi
on January 21, 2015 at 17:33:57 pm

I think we have very different views of "coherent".

The DoI was the act of secession from England's control. Almost identical to what the South did.

Lincoln thought the DoI was great in 1776, but not so much in 1860. Lincoln was King George and threw a tantrum when he was the one getting served divorce papers.

I vew Lincoln's supposed worship of the DoI as immensely hypocritical, assuming it was real at all. My wife beater analogy remains fully intact.

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John Ashman
on January 21, 2015 at 17:41:02 pm

If you insist on wife beating, I insist on the wife running off with a slave. There are consequences to infidelity and treason.
The Declaration and secession can be compared only when you exclude race as a motive for secession--see Alexaner Stephens' Corner Stone speech. Natural rights versus scientific progress.

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Ken Masugi
on January 21, 2015 at 17:54:45 pm

So, you're saying that if your wife leaves you for a reason you don't like, you get to beat her and kidnap her? Pretty sure you won't be able to use "there are consequences" as a defense.

Remember that Lincoln was willing to not only forget the reason, but enshrine. Basically, let her come back and keep the slave as her boy toy. But when that didn't fly, he went to violence.

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John Ashman
on January 21, 2015 at 19:45:19 pm

You're not taking slavery seriousy enough, especially its consequences for the master. Slavery is not simply an economic arrangement. The political culture created by slavery undermines the republican form of government. With the rise of racial theories supported by Darwinism, might America have joined with Germany against England. A divided America might have been further split apart by imperial powers. So a dramatically different history might have come about.

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Ken Masugi
on January 21, 2015 at 20:48:26 pm

I think you give too much credit to slavery, that it might last another 80 years

Aside from that, you don't kill a thief because they may become a murderer.

And aside from THAT, maybe the Founders didn't take slavery seriously enough and should have gone to war with them immediately.

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John Ashman
on January 21, 2015 at 21:07:09 pm

"Aside from that, you don’t kill a thief because they may become a murderer." In this case the thief left with more than his own property--their departure threatened the independence of the North. The difference betwee the situation at the founding and before the Civil War is that the Constitution had been established, which implicitly protected slavery without affirming its goodness. Moreover, under that Constitution the slave power grew. All Lincoln wanted to do was to limit it where it was. The War was avoidable but for Southern pride.

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Ken Masugi
on January 21, 2015 at 21:32:43 pm

Two very, VERY dubious assumptions there.

1. That the North's independence was threatened. By this time, they were plenty big to wage a massive war. If anything, the war damaged them severely and almost allowed a partial, if not omplete takeover by the South. There was no known threat that could be foreseen to make this a solid case.

2. The only pride involved was Lincoln's. The South didn't secede over pride. Lincoln invaded over pride. He didn't want to be President of "half a country".

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John Ashman
on January 21, 2015 at 21:41:39 pm

Once two independent nations are forme out of one, all manner of mischief can come about. Canadian aggressivenes should not be ruled out, besides the obvious threats from imperial Europe.

Of course few if any anticipated the war would last as long as it did.

Lincoln was a moderate on war demands--note the radicals in his party.

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Ken Masugi
on January 21, 2015 at 21:56:17 pm

Wait......Canada?

And, yes, I agree that Lincoln thought he could do this more quickly, but that doesn't excuse a war of conquest.

And look how tyrannical the Federal government has become and how far from the Constitution. The South was right to leave, as would ANY state at this point.

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John Ashman
on January 21, 2015 at 23:29:24 pm

Yes, Canada. Never count anyone out or in.
Defense, not conquest. Cannot routinize disobedience of that sort.
That's a separate issue. See Progressivism.

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Ken Masugi
on January 21, 2015 at 23:40:24 pm

Well, Canada really didn't apparently care for Lincoln or Washington DC, but really wouldn't have been able to do much about it except to cause problems for them, which would have risked DC shifting focus to conquering parts of Canada instead of the South. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books-and-media/book-reviews/new-history-documents-canadas-surprising-role-in-us-civil-war/article12559597/

"Cannot routinize disobedience of that sort."

This is what I would expect to hear in a convention of wife beaters.

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John Ashman
on January 22, 2015 at 20:18:00 pm

Wives who run off with slaves.
If you establish a country--in this case the world's first large republic--you need to defend it against foreign and domestic enemies. Lincoln and the North promised the South its slaves (but no slave states beyond them). And for this the South seceded. There was no practical reason and no principle supporting the South's action.

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Ken Masugi
on January 22, 2015 at 20:24:08 pm

So how does nearly bankrupting the country and getting hundreds of thousands of your soldiers killed help protect the country from foreign invasion? Seems like making a peace treaty and mutual self defense pact with the South would be much more efficient, but what do I know?

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John Ashman
on January 22, 2015 at 20:36:49 pm

But this avoids or begs the question of war resonsibility. I don't doubt the sincerity of the South, and the tragedy can't be measured by ordinary standards--see Lincoln's Second Inaugural.

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Ken Masugi
on January 22, 2015 at 20:43:53 pm

We already know who is responsible. Lincoln had a clear choice. Peace. Or war. He chose the latter. The South didn't invade the North.

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John Ashman
on January 22, 2015 at 20:56:52 pm

But that evades the issue of responsibility--not to mention Fr. Sumter and other federal properties.
The "peace" you speak of is illusory. It is the preface to a series of disasters, not precluding later wars between North and South, with Canada and Mexico thrown into the mix, plus the imperial powers.

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Ken Masugi
on May 29, 2015 at 15:20:05 pm

I am a self-described "liberal", who has developed the deepest respect for Professor Jaffa. His book, A New Birth Of Freedom, completely enthralled me when it came out and to my mind it is THE best book ever written on the meaning of the United States. Jaffa's focus on the moral foundations of our country ought to be a core text of American history at every level. If "conservatives" we're less interested in the almighty dollar than in tring to do what is morally right, following Lincoln and Jaffa, this country might not be in the straits it finds itself and "liberalism" and "conservatism" would not be enemies. The real enemies would be mindless greed and human virtue.

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Commonwealth
on May 29, 2015 at 16:43:40 pm

Jaffa was expert at stealing the language of liberalism for non-liberal purposes. I don't know that your pocket was picked, but he wanted to refound conservatism on a Lincolnian basis. Whether that's your liberalism is another issue--but simply denouncing greed is akin to someone denouncing faction (see Madison).

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Ken Masugi
on May 29, 2015 at 21:24:13 pm

"I don’t know that your pocket was picked, but he wanted to refound conservatism on a Lincolnian basis. Whether that’s your liberalism is another issue–but simply denouncing greed is akin to someone denouncing faction (see Madison)."

You say that Jaffa was expert at "stealing the language of liberalism for conservative purposes." I would suggest rather that Jaffa, like his teacher Leo Strauss, was really less interested in these ideological constructs than identifying and articulating the timeless truths which nourish the human heart.

Madison is not bad company to be associated with. Were conservatism re-founded on Lincolnian principles, it would be quite different from what is today called conservatism.

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commonwealth
on May 29, 2015 at 23:57:47 pm

Agreed on your last paragraph: Jaffa was a revolutionary, a real Socratic.
"Jaffa, like his teacher Leo Strauss, was really less interested in these ideological constructs than identifying and articulating the timeless truths which nourish the human heart." But because Jaffa is Socratic, he wanted to start with prevalent political opinions. He exposes their weaknesses as well as their truths and points to the "timeless truths which nourish the human heart," as you so aptly put it.

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Ken Masugi
on December 21, 2015 at 12:57:58 pm

Weak, Ken. I had always thought you were a man of debate, not a man of insult. But I was wrong.

I guess that's what passes for "conservatism" these days. That's why I'm proud to be a Jeffersonian.

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John Ashman
on December 24, 2015 at 16:17:50 pm

This is written almost a year after the debate between Ken and John Ashman. I am a big fan of Harry V. Jaffa because of his principled reading of the Constitution and the Declaration and his belief, with Lincoln that the one was an apple of Gold within the other's frame of silver. It seems pretty, clear, however, that Mr. Ashman finds equality and liberty to be pretty words without any reality to back them up. Which makes him, probably, a complete positivist. This is why he finds Jaffa so frustrating and incomprehensible: because he is set on the belief that there is no law beyond statutory law. Which of course means there is no justice beyond what men say is just. He reminds me a little of Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor, who regarded himself as the realist doing battle with the phantasies of Christ's revelation of brotherhood. The problem that Mr. Ashman has, in my view, is that he ignores the very real presence of the higher qualities in human being: conscience, compassion, love, mercy, justice, integrity. Mr. Ashman's philosophical foundation is little more than "might is right", which is a terrific philosophy for tyrants and their armies. Ashman obviously regards himself as one of the ruling class in his advocacy of the merits of iinequality and the insubstantiality of equality-- it is hard to imagine someone who did not regard himself as a member of the elite advocating as he has. Presumably, Mr. Ashman would have been fine with slavery as well, since it was statutorily legal. But as every "realist" has to come to grips with one day, "reality slips out of the grasp of even the most determined positivist. For an exercise in "reality" and how it may slip away from the powerful, I would commend to Mr. Ashman Wendell Berry's The Unsettling of America.

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Kenrick Hackett

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