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Jaffa As Neo-Puritan

In the days since Harry Jaffa and Walter Berns passed away, the former’s angry disputes with his fellow Straussians have received a lot of commentary. There are those who say it was all quite childish. And you know, a lot of it was, precisely because the differences so often seemed small or, when examined closely, not really differences at all. Still, some of the differences are real enough to merit our close attention.

On the more general issue of which student of Strauss is more faithful to the true and complete teaching of Leo Strauss, the most obvious response is that the capable students of any great teacher always grab on to part of what he (or she) taught and confuse it with the whole. Marx and Hegel. Alexandre Kojève and Hegel. Maybe even Aristotle and Plato.

There are more complicated cases: Thomas Aquinas was an Aristotelian, in a way, who thought he was improving upon Aristotle. Frankly he sometimes did, even from a merely empirical view. Not giving that possibility more attention is the main shortcoming of Harry Jaffa’s otherwise quite remarkable commentary on Aristotle and Thomas (Thomism and Aristotelianism, 1949). And some outstanding students of Strauss, such as Stanley Rosen and Laurence Lampert, thought they had surpassed Strauss on key points. Maybe they did. But there’s little evidence they rose to his “pay grade” in the overall sense.

Strauss, a student of human nature if there ever was one, might have predicted that his followers would degenerate at times into quarrelsome sects. We can speculate that he would have been happy enough to see the sects named after two regions of his adopted country. He deliberately taught with the intent to create a proud cadre of American public intellectuals, and Strauss certainly must have felt some proper pride in his success.

All in all, the question of which Straussian or group of Straussians corresponds most perfectly to what the master actually thought shouldn’t be anyone’s bottom line. WW(L)ST? easily devolves into a silly question. More so: WWSD? He may or may not have, say, invaded Iraq. But it wouldn’t have been such a prudent move to leave that decision to the Strauss who had so many legendary practical “issues” even in the details of ordinary life. Straussians—including Berns and Jaffa—have disagreed on the prudence of invading Iraq and on about every other issue of “public policy.”

It is by Strauss, in fact, that we are so effectively reminded that in real life the best thinkers often stink at being “deciders.” There’s the extreme case of Heidegger. It might be the case (I actually doubt it) that Rousseau was a much greater thinker than Burke. But Burke was a pretty perfect decider; he was almost never wrong in his practical judgments. And the same observations can be made on the relationship between Kojève and Raymond Aron. Aron had an inferiority complex when it came to his status as a thinker in relation to both Kojève and Strauss, and it’s true enough that his theoretical efforts only soared so high. Most of Aron’s intellectual exertions were in the service of responsible political choices, and he remained clear-headed in situations when more gifted theorists were wont to disconnect theoretical aspirations from responsible, genuinely realistic practical judgment and the moral responsibility we all share.

Many Straussians seem to have learned from Leo Strauss that the philosopher—such as Strauss himself—is a “perfect man,” because he is an “investigator.” Even in that view, perfect doesn’t mean perfect in every way. The investigator, that is, ought not be confused with the wise man.

Most Straussians, it’s true, are more appreciative than not of the effectiveness of Enlightenment philosophers from Machiavelli onward in imposing a kind of humane if low-level political rationalism on the world. But those Straussians also remind us that the wise philosopher-king only exists in a book and is not to be confused with Socrates himself. The Enlightenment project was animated by an unwarranted confidence that those philosophers knew what they were doing.

Certainly their “anti-theological ire” and often rather complacent atheism shouldn’t be confused with forms of knowledge. And the later great philosophers who actually saw the results of enlightenment were generally in rebellion against a world in which God is dead and the moral and political worlds had been emptied of humanly worthy content. Here we Straussians think of Rousseau, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the ambiguous case of Marx. But we also have to think of the young man Leo Strauss himself.

To return to Jaffa: Let me begin by admitting that, in the disputes he got into with all of the others, I always had a soft spot for Harry, whether or not he was actually right on this or that theoretical issue. And maybe even when his practical judgments were just wrong.

He was surely the most puritanical of the Straussians. He shared the contemporary form of puritanical moralism when it came to health, being a teetotaler, fierce objector to smoking, and extremist regarding personal fitness. As a result of his puritanical personal regimen (showing that extremism in pursuit of health is no vice), he made it to 96. Transhumanists such as our friend Peter Thiel who hope to make it to the Singularity have a lot to learn from Jaffa. (Well, Berns made it to 95 even with his love of scotch.)

Jaffa was also quite the moralist when it came to “traditional family values.” His theoretical disputes with his fellow Straussians were mixed up with concerns about divorce, the gay lifestyle, and so forth. He avidly went after anyone who seemed to talk up public Epicureanism. That’s why he seemingly overreacted when Berns said what is actually true—that America and liberalism generally owe a huge debt to Hobbes. And that’s why he seemingly overreacted when Allan Bloom and Thomas Pangle implied that the only way to lead an undeceived life was to pursue the playful erotic self-indulgence of the philosopher. Morality, from that Epicurean view, is for suckers. According to Jaffa, however, Aristotle and the Bible were actually in perfect agreement in teaching that the moral life is for us all.

Jaffa seemed never to think that extremism—in speech—in defense of liberty was a vice. His best efforts were always directed against anyone who shared Stephen Douglas’s fault of moral indifference. He could readily put Douglas’s, Scalia’s, and Taney’s “positivism” on the same page, and he let it be known that any positivist or traditionalist was, in principle, as soft on slavery as John C. Calhoun.

It is yet another form of positivism for a philosopher to distinguish, especially too radically or complacently, between the transpolitical truth of philosophy and the mere conventionalism of any particular political order. For Jaffa, the absolute truth of the principles of the Declaration of Independence was in constant need of unironic or un-exoteric political defense. That defense had to be authentically rational and authentically spirited. We remember it was Strauss’s class on the Nicomachean Ethics that turned Jaffa around, or turned him on to political philosophy. The man of moral virtue knows and practices the virtues—beginning with courage, magnanimity, and justice—as someone who proudly embraces the responsibilities given him as the rational animal.

In each of his spirited philosophic quarrels with his fellow Straussians, Jaffa was, I think, highlighting a real problem in “Straussianism,” whether or not he was fair in his criticisms. And his remedy was absolute dedication to political equality, a devotion that depends on an insight about irreducible personal significance that is, in fact, Biblical. Political equality depends upon natural equality, on an unironic affirmation of the truth that all men are created equal.

As Tocqueville tells us, a devotion to political equality that was both somewhat Aristotelian and very Biblical was singularly characteristic of the original American Puritans. Tocqueville’s criticism of the Puritans turned out to be that they weren’t Christian enough—that is, that they were too focused on the legalism of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy at the expense of the teaching of Jesus that was far from reducing even sin to a crime. Jaffa of course was hardly as puritanical as the Puritans, but he, like Lincoln, owed them something.

In the end, the political philosophy of Harry Jaffa is vulnerable to challenge from a Straussian, or a Thomistic, or a puritanical point of view. The objection that could be lodged is: does his philosophic American Founding really, in all honesty, give his moral dedication an adequate foundation? That, after all, is the objection that Lincoln himself may have had to the Founders—as is so memorably revealed in Jaffa’s Crisis of the House Divided. Jaffa, of course came to believe he had misunderstood both the Founders and Lincoln. Another way of expressing this egalitarian objection to the allegedly excessively self-interested and un-civic founding philosophy can be found in the work of the great neo-puritanical political thinker of our time, the late Carey McWilliams.

Maybe it would have been better and truer for Jaffa to highlight the irreducibly puritanical (Calvinist/Christian) contribution to the legislative compromise that was the Declaration. And maybe it would have been better to take more seriously Thomas’ criticisms of parts of Aristotle’s Ethics. The magnanimous man, as Aristotle admits, averts his eyes from his debts or what he has been given; in fact, he doesn’t wonder about who he is. Chastening pride with gratitude, as Thomas contends, is the route to a more realistic understanding of the relationship between human greatness and human equality.

But to give Jaffa the credit he’s due, the evolution of his thought was in the Thomistic direction of harmonizing reason and revelation—and not only on the level of morality.

Reader Discussion

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on January 21, 2015 at 11:11:19 am

Peter: Nicely said.
A question?

" The objection that could be lodged is: does his philosophic American Founding really, in all honesty, give his moral dedication an adequate foundation?"

Assume the answer to this question is NO.
Assume Jaffa may have been aware of this (then don't assume it)

Could it be possible that Jaffa, having rejected modernity for its many faults, had the intent of establishing or re-codifying a central unifying myth for the American regime as a defense against the nihilistic, dehumanizing tendencies of modernity?

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gabe
on January 21, 2015 at 12:37:17 pm

Very interesting to frame Jaffa as a "puritan", because it gets at one of the more unremarked-on puzzles about the man.

Sure, Jaffa was in a way the most "puritanical" of the Straussians: giving interviews on the 700 Club, defending the natural law tradition, celebrating AIDS as "the return of nature" (i.e., extermination of homosexuals), decrying divorce and Darwin, quoting the Bible, and so on. And even in his more scholarly pursuits Jaffa had a lot to say about the "theological-problem", and America's historic role in solving it.

In all of these ways, Jaffa often sounded like a real, honest-to-goodness "Christian conservative" academic - something of a rare breed! Except that...Jaffa was not actually a Christian. He was Jewish by birth - although, unlike many Straussians, he rarely referenced this fact. Indeed, his defense of "traditional morality" generally sounded very much like a defense of....Christianity.

Now, Hadley Arkes might seem to be cut from a similar cloth as Jaffa. They both combined a Jewish heritage with a political outlook that was directed at supporting "Christian conservatism".But of course Arkes did eventually converted to Catholicism - and openly discussed the relationship between his Christianity and his Jewish heritage. Jaffa, on the other hand, seems to have gone out of his way to give the impression that he was America's last Puritan, and yet in all that defense of old-time religion he scarcely ever let slip any clues concerning his own. I wonder why?

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Village Atheist
on January 21, 2015 at 12:58:59 pm

In effect, was Jaffa positing the Declaration (and equality proposition) as the modern *Revelation* to balance Reason and thus reestablish the proper *tension* of which both he and Strauss spoke.

Could this be why some may have seen his strident defense of his / Strauss position(s) as Puritanical?

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gabe
on January 21, 2015 at 13:03:08 pm

You're right to wonder, although i believe you think you already know the answer. I didn't know Jaffa was on the 700 club.

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Peter Augustine Lawler
on January 21, 2015 at 14:00:24 pm

To be fair, I didn't actually see Jaffa on The 700 Club myself - only heard about it. But I do know that Jaffa made public endorsements of Robertson and Falwell in the 1980s - in all of which, as I recall, he rather gave the impression of speaking as a member of the same "club" as them, so to speak.

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Village Athesist
on January 21, 2015 at 15:24:48 pm

Both publicly and privately Jaffa would speak of the significance of Judaism in western Civilization and the importance of Israe to the West and to American Jews. He also knew that American evangelicals were key allies for preserving morality and for the sake of Israel. Unfortunately, many of his earlier writings have been saved on the Claremont.org website, but I think enough remains to support my judgment here. A rabbi presided at his memorial.

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Ken Masugi
on January 21, 2015 at 16:26:05 pm

But you're still staying within the mode of utilitarian religion. Maybe because Jaffa couldn't escape that mode, he was in some respects too puritanical and in others not puritanical enough. He was aware of the problem, though. It's more than the theological-political problem.

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Peter Augustine Lawler
on January 21, 2015 at 16:51:04 pm

Yes, you're right that "He was aware of the problem, though. It’s more than the theological-political problem." I also think that Jaffa had some very questionable understanings of Christianity but I think he kept a lot of that private.

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Ken Masugi
on January 21, 2015 at 18:31:58 pm

I once heard Jaffa talk about Christianity. He described the Resurrection and all that as repulsively gruesome. In general, Straussians are often deformed by their lack of knowledge of Christianity, an ignorance enabled by Strauss himself.

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Peter Augustine Lawler
on January 21, 2015 at 19:27:37 pm

I didn't know about his repulsion at that gruesomeness. Agreed on ignorance of Chrstianity.

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Ken Masugi
on January 21, 2015 at 19:36:57 pm

!splain yourself!

"Straussians are often deformed by their lack of knowledge of Christianity, an ignorance enabled by Strauss himself."

Why is this so? (I ain't saying that it ain't but...)

I rather see both of them as having fallen victim to hubris - a sin that Strauss decries in (?) one of his books. He argues that the philosopher must live with and *in* the knowledge that he will never *know* (truth?) and that it is a fault of lesser minds to behave as if they do, or at best, it is permissible to so behave in order to main a myth for the regime - but one will NEVER" know."
My impression of Jaffa and Strauss, at times, is that both of them believed as if they had overcome this, their words to the contrary notwithstanding. That is a fault in them, perhaps.
But it would still be helpful if you were to 'splain how Straussian-ism leads to a corrupted view of Christianity - especially to a non-Straussian such as myself.

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gabe
on January 21, 2015 at 20:44:46 pm

I was going to make the same point about Jaffa- he was Jewish, so he can't quite be a Puritan. If you wanted a religion analogy, perhaps one could say that at times Jaffa played the role of a Pharisee against the other Straussians playing the role of Sadducees

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cjwolfe
on January 21, 2015 at 20:46:40 pm

"Thomas Aquinas was an Aristotelian, in a way, who thought he was improving upon Aristotle. Frankly he sometimes did, even from a merely empirical view. Not giving that possibility more attention is the main shortcoming of Harry Jaffa’s otherwise quite remarkable commentary on Aristotle and Thomas (Thomism and Aristotelianism, 1949)."
Yes. I'm writing something for the next CRB to that effect

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cjwolfe
on January 21, 2015 at 22:53:54 pm

I meant unfortunately many of his writings have NOT been saved....

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Ken Masugi
on January 21, 2015 at 22:57:17 pm

Gabe, I think much of this is simply biographical, being raised as Jews but not practicing. But the serious issue goes beyond that. Heinrich Meier deals with this in a book on Strauss, very difficult going.

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Ken Masugi
on January 22, 2015 at 10:55:05 am

I always find it strange that we use the word "Puritan" in these cases. There's no discussion of congregational polity here, which is what made Puritans a sect in the first place. And the Puritans did not reject alcohol, for to prohibit alcohol would be to try to prohibit temptation rather than sin, and would, therefore, be a wrong. Similarly, recreation had its place in a good life according to John Winthrop and the others. Jaffa agreed with that, as his devotion to Wodehouse demonstrates.

That said, New England had a rather more "Hebraic" Christianity than did the other regions of America, and Jaffa, and Lincoln's view of America owed something to that side of American culture.

Hence Jaffa didn't really want to talk about Jefferson's Epicureanism or his materialism. As I recall, he didn't like it when I noted that in Jefferson's famous "last letter" he spoke of "palpable truths" rather than "self-evident truths."

I also believe that Jaffa rethought Thomism and Aristotelianism over the years, just as he rethought Lincoln and the founders.

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Richard S
on January 22, 2015 at 11:50:11 am

Richard S:

A question if I may.

"..he didn’t like it when I noted that in Jefferson’s famous “last letter” he spoke of “palpable truths” rather than “self-evident truths.”

What was his specific response? Did he feel this lessened his assertion that the DOI was a document "for all ages..?" (a popular topic around these parts these days).

Also glad to see that someone else knows that the Puritans were not quite the *puritans* we all thought them to be. They did like their little inebriates as well as *intimacies."

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gabe
on January 22, 2015 at 12:08:30 pm

I don't remember exactly. If memory serves, however, he highlighted that he was discussing Jefferson's public writings. Perhaps we should call them Jefferson's writings on behalf of the public. Jefferson's Epicureanism and materialism were not relevant there.

I would put it this way: Jefferson's writings are not necessarily a good guide to the meaning of the Declaration.

I would also suggest, following Peter's theme, that Jaffa's Americanism was much closer to John Adams' than it was to Jefferson's. Recall Jefferson's thraldom to the Jacobins, and his belief (hope) that war could be replaced with embargo. (Madison was even stronger on that last point than was Jefferson).

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Richard S
on January 22, 2015 at 12:44:00 pm

OK. thanks!

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gabe
on January 22, 2015 at 13:49:24 pm

Regarding Jaffa on Jefferson the man, I think you've got to look to his essay in "Equality and Liberty," titled "Agrarian Virtue and Republican Freedom." In that essay Jaffa sees Jefferson as a kind of aristocrat who imagines that the hearty virtue of farmers is what will preserve the American republic, really buying into alot of antifederalist-type ideas about virtue preserving government as opposed to institutions. None of that tells you much about the meaning of the Declaration- but it was another side of Jefferson, whom you can see from that essay Jaffa admits was a multi-faceted character

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CJ Wolfe
on January 22, 2015 at 14:04:18 pm

"The objection that could be lodged is: does his philosophic American Founding really, in all honesty, give his moral dedication an adequate foundation."

The reply to the objection I think Jaffa would make is that the Declaration is merely an expression of certain definite conclusions from the natural law written on men's hearts- which is the real source of morality. We Claremonsters may at times sound like we're trying to derive an entire system of ethics from the Declaration of Independence; if that were true, we'd be be wrong (mea culpa). Such an ethical system would be deontological Kantianism as opposed to Aristotelianism. But if you noticed, Jaffa always spoke of natural law as the ground for morality and the ground for the Declaration, the chief document of the American Founding.

I would also add that Jaffa appreciated Aristotle a whole lot more than other Straussians did; they like Plato more, because he mainly offers questions about morality instead of conclusions. Jaffa thought actually coming to an answer about a moral question was important, which is probably one reason why he valued the Declaration so much.

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CJ Wolfe
on January 22, 2015 at 14:50:42 pm

CJ:

Thank you for that information. Your last three sentences seem to have answered my somewhat poorly articulated questions above (even if not addressed to me).

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gabe
on January 22, 2015 at 14:57:15 pm

Lots of good questions. Don't have time. Two quick points.
1. The Puritan thing can be taken too literally. of course. But Hebraic Christianity is the connection with Jaffa.
2. The real Puritans (see McWilliams and Marilynne Robinson) belong on the egalitarian left.
3. It's hard to get Straussians to talk about the fact that Jefferson was a sincere Epicurean and seems to have regarded natural rights talk as public rhetoric. That's partly because that's the approach some of them also take.
4. Jefferson the Epicurean didn't let the injustice of slavery disrupt his personal serenity much at all. And he was the leading Founder who was most for slavery's indefinite perpetuation and even (at points) expansion.
5. Jaffa was, in fact, more Aristotelian than most Straussians and not for the "deconstructive" readings of THE ETHICS found in various recent Straussian tomes.
6. I, of course, did not endorse any practical judgment of Jaffa here.
7. To say that Jaffa was ultimately for the natural law written on our hearts raises more questions that I will lay out later.

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Peter Augustine Lawler
on January 22, 2015 at 14:58:01 pm

two quick points turned into seven (a better Straussian number--attend to the point in the middle).

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Peter Augustine Lawler
on January 22, 2015 at 15:08:31 pm

If I remember that essay correctly, CJ, Jaffa suggests that Jefferson's belief in science would, in time, and had to, in time, wreck his agrarianism.

And Peter, it might be worth remembering that in "Model of Christian Charity" Winthrop stresses the responsibility of the individual to lay up for his family. In extreme times, of course, charity is a duty, but in ordinary times the individual and the family are key. Similarly, the Puritans took on the guild system. In short, their view of labor would not be what Left has embraced for quite some time. That was all of a piece with the American Puritans' emphasis on their being one law for ruler and ruled.

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Richard S
on January 22, 2015 at 15:09:53 pm

P.S. I always suspected that Jaffa thought that philosophers or would-be philosophers who cheat on their wives or leave their wives can easily bring philosophy into disrepute.

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Richard S
on January 22, 2015 at 15:29:11 pm

Well, I think J. did think along those lines. But it was often rather silly. Even Socrates is protrayed as trapped by law in a loveless marriage and treating his wife life dirt. We don't look to him for families values either.

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Peter Augustine Lawler
on January 22, 2015 at 15:32:34 pm

True enough. But they were for a more energetic government on behalf of equality and so morphed into Abolitionists and Congregationalist "social gospel" guys of the sort that taught MLK. Google Marilynne Robinson's moving account of antebellum Oberlin. Even WJBryan's leftism has a Christian/Puritanical foundation. And don't forget that some Straussians criticize Woodrow Wilson for his political Calvinism. Needless to say, this is a complicated issue and I'm late for class.

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Peter Augustine Lawler
on January 22, 2015 at 19:16:34 pm

Am I correct in inferring that by "Hebraic Christianity" you mean that the focus of Puritanism was on individual's ethical conduct, self-reflection and self-improvement, rather than on personal subjective experience of the divine?

Great essay, by the way. I look forward to further development of these themes.

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djf
on January 22, 2015 at 19:43:25 pm

Oberlin was founded by Presbyterians not Congregationalist, no?

Scotts Presbyterians can hardly be classed as "Puritans," and that was Wilson's background, no?

But some NE Puritans did move over to Presbyterianism.

It's probably no coincidence that Coolidge and the Tafts had Puritan roots. On the other hand, many years ago when I was studying in Germany I met a young lady from the midwest (if memory serves). She said she was a Congregationalist. The Puritan church i said. But now, she said, "we think God is cool."

Given the story of international Leftism, and it's appearance in various places, isn't the general story one of people who wish to immanentize the eschaton?

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Richard S
on January 23, 2015 at 09:14:57 am

like dirt.

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Peter Augustine Lawler
on January 23, 2015 at 13:24:04 pm

I think Jaffa's point was that what might hold true for Socrates in some regards might not hold for us. We are not worthy of all Socratic indulgences.

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Ken Masugi
on January 23, 2015 at 15:45:28 pm

N.b.:

Jaffa himself could not have given these kinds of "well, it was ok for Socrates" or "well, it's good for Israel" responses so explicitly - and as a first line of response, no less, rather than as a fortuitous consequence of first principles - because it would have undermined his whole natural-law, morality-is-absolute posturing (and would have made him sound more "East Coast" than the East Coasters he so often attacked, incidentally).

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Village Atheist
on January 23, 2015 at 16:29:45 pm

"his whole natural-law, morality-is-absolute posturing" It was no posture regarding natural law.

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Ken Masugi
on January 23, 2015 at 18:44:25 pm

Why not have everybody identify themselves as either *East* or *West* coast so a non-Straussian can get a handle on this.

just kidding!!!!

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gabe
on January 26, 2015 at 09:16:08 am

[…] Jaffa As Neo-Puritan […]

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How Jaffa’s Critics Remember Him - Freedom's Floodgates
on January 26, 2015 at 09:21:40 am

Jaffa was Jewish, yes -- but to a political philosopher, what more is Judaism than an allegiance to a homeland, to Israel? Jaffa, in his silence regarding his actual religion, made his beliefs clear: Jaffa was an "American Zionist," America was his new Jerusalem, his Israel, and the puritans were his exiles. It would have been a seamless transition for him to believe in the American religion, as his ancestors believed in the Israeli religion, and to claim the Puritans as his own. Especially if the actual religion part of it didn't matter all that much.

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CFF
on January 26, 2015 at 09:53:38 am

Someone ought to get Paul Gottfried's take.

http://www.unz.com/article/prof-harry-v-jaffa-founder-of-modern-american-conservatism/

http://www.theoccidentalobserver.net/2013/09/paul-gottfried-and-claes-ryn-on-leo-strauss/

http://www.libertylawsite.org/2012/04/15/conservatism-true-and-false-in-america-evaluating-leo-strauss-from-the-right/

http://www.lewrockwell.com/2001/08/paul-gottfried/contra-jaffa-and-strauss/

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BenjaminL
on March 26, 2015 at 15:47:51 pm

Quite late to this, but so be it.

I am going to go in order through some of the points Lawler raises.

1) I’d like to know in what ways Aquinas improves on Aristotle. That’s not snark, spoken out of a conviction that Aristotle must be better. I really want to know, as I have profited from both, but always began from the assumption that Aristotle is better. If that’s not always right, I’d like to know where.

2) Strauss fully anticipates the forming of a “sect” around himself and the break-up of the sect into various schismatic sub-sects. This is stated quite clearly in the “Restatement”—it’s not explicitly about himself, but once one realizes that all that abstract talk is really about his own teaching and his own students, the scales fall from the eyes. Kojeve accuses Strauss of founding a sect; Strauss pleads guilty. Kojeve says that sects have all these drawbacks and are not really philosophic in the full and final sense; Strauss agrees but says that Kojeve gives insufficient credence to the value of sects in serving as soil out of which genuine philosophers can grow. In the modern world, the only hope for the revival and survival of Strauss’ kind of philosophy is the sect, with all its drawbacks. One value Strauss saw in “sub-sects” is that they allow for serious argument on a ground of fundamental agreement and common vocabulary. Arguments between Straussians and quants are no less a waste of time than between Straussians and deconstructionists. But intra-Straussian arguments can be very fruitful, the same way that arguments among ancient philosophic sects could be fruitful, or even between “Athens and Jerusalem.” The division into sects prevents ossification of the teaching in to ideology and doctrine.

3) I think this line vastly oversimplifies Jaffa’s teaching: “That’s why he seemingly overreacted when Berns said what is actually true—that America and liberalism generally owe a huge debt to Hobbes.” Berns went quite a bit further than that, as did many of his friends and peers (Bloom, Pangle, others). It would take forever to rehash those debates entirely, but suffice it to say (for now) that Jaffa’s position was more “nuanced” in that he recognized both what the American Founding drew from modern political philosophy and what it drew from ancient thought. Indeed, for Jaffa the Founding had four principle intellectuals sources of inspiration and guidance: 1) modern political philosophy, above all Locke; 2) ancient thought ("Aristotle, Cicero”); 3) ancient and modern political practice, learned through the study of history; and 4) the Bible. Jaffa’s East Coast sparring partners tended to limit America to modern though acted out, full stop. This is the explicit pronouncement of Bloom in Closing (a book I dearly love, for what it’s worth). Jaffa may have been wrong, or the creator of a myth, in insisting on all of this, but surely his position is more detailed, thorough and complex than the simple reduction of America to the esoteric Locke of NRH, which he argued against.

4) Jaffa definitely could be very hard on those who acted immorally, but he reserved his real ire for those who acted badly and then used the tools of philosophy to rationalize, excuse, justify and color their immorality. I think he found that hard to forgive, and I think he had a point. There is so much that could be said on this point but I’ll try to limit myself. First, the use of philosophy to justify the bad is wrong on so many levels. It uses the high to sanctify the low, thereby perverting the high. It also assumes that philosophy has fully and finally “figured out” that morality is really a sham with no rational basis, something that Strauss certainly never said or even hinted at, as far as I can tell, and with which Aristotle (for instance) quite explicitly disagrees. Second, it seems rather obvious to me that western civilization continues to accelerate its race to the bottom. What’s needed in such a circumstance is not more “compassion” and forgiveness and understanding but to stand up for virtue. Jaffa did that and it made him seem like a crank. Every “conservative” is willing to be against divorce in the abstract but is quick to excuse or overlook it when it happens to people they know and like. The entire society is gripped by this sort of “non-judgementalism”—that is, we conservatives at least can judge abstract sins, but actual sins, oh no, that’s too hard. So we have a 50% divorce rate, a 50% illegitimacy rate, a 99% premarital sex rate and on and on. And that’s just sex. Circumstances matter. During the Inquisition or puritan witch burnings (overblown, but still), a softer stance on morality might have been the prudent course for philosophy, but in a time of late republican rot and decadence, to take such a stance is to fiddle while Rome burns.

5) Regarding Jaffa and the Declaration, you are right that “For Jaffa, the absolute truth of the principles of the Declaration of Independence was in constant need of unironic or un-exoteric political defense.” I think this once again gets back to the circumstances of our time. Ours is an age of relativism, multiculturalism, easy going nihilism—all these things (and more) that Jaffa (and Bloom and others) diagnosed. What’s need in such a time from philosophy is not more handwringing about the absolute unknowability of the full and final truth, at least not in the political realm. Strauss is clear that philosophy probably can never become wisdom as opposed to quest for wisdom and Jaffa never disagreed with that. But that’s a theoretical truth that, if made the basis for action or exoteric teaching, acts as a solvent on the good that is achievable in the here and now. Strauss also said that loyalty to a decent constitution and to the cause of constitutionalism is the duty of every serious man. He condemned “unmanly contempt for politics.” Strauss also is quite clear (as much as he is clear about anything) that philosophy depends on the city. Jaffa, on these Straussian bases—and out of other motives, not least his patriotism—sought to bolster the American Constitution and the American character with all the powers at his disposal. Jaffa believed, or at least insisted (since I cannot see into his mind), that the teaching of the Declaration and the relating writings of the founders was true. He said that in the circumstances of Christian modernity in the West, these were the final political truths and the only just bases for political right. He did not say that they were the whole, entire truth. All of Strauss’ Platonic-Aristotelian caveats about the limits of politics and the ultimate supremacy of thought over action still hold. But to insist on appealing to those in way that leads to indifference to or even contempt of a decent constitution and the fate of constitutionalism, in our time, he considered perverse.

6) “Does his philosophic American Founding really, in all honesty, give his moral dedication an adequate foundation?” I think it does, because of what I said above. First, Jaffa’s American Founding is NOT purely philosophic, or even emphatically so. It is more explicitly philosophic than any ancient regime, but it’s also explicitly religious in so many ways, and also explicitly practical, a DEED as much as a THOUGHT, and a deed that uses prudence to answer the necessities of its and subsequent time. Jaffa’s teaching on morality is as much rooted in the Bible and Aristotle as it is in the Declaration. He emphasizes the areas of agreement out of a prudential vision for what is most needful in our time. He never denies the disagreements and tensions. He simply does not believe, or at least does not say, that they fatally undermine the entire project. Because what GOOD would that serve?

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Michael Anton
on March 26, 2015 at 15:48:36 pm

BTW, I began a reply to Gottfried on Unz's site, but never finished because I knew it would be a waste of time.

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Michael Anton
on March 27, 2015 at 08:57:33 am

Michael- regarding question #1, I've made an attempt to discuss ways that Aquinas has made improvements to Aristotle's ethical teachings in the new issue of the CRB, the same issue with your excellent memorial of our mutual teacher, Harry Jaffa. I really enjoyed hearing about Jaffa's "lair" down in the basement of Honhold library; I used to study down their myself and it's funny to imagine him hanging out down there.
http://www.claremont.org/article/the-philosopher-and-the-theologian/#.VRNbr44m8uc

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CJ Wolfe
on March 29, 2015 at 09:50:53 am

Thanks, I will buy that book.

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Michael Anton

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