Crisis of A Strauss Divided

Steve Hayward has been a friend for more years than we’d like to count and his new book, Patriotism Is Not Enough, is a tour de force. He writes the history of one of the most important debates in post-war American conservatism in a way that is lively, readable, and intellectually satisfying even for people who know the debate and the participants well. Tod Lindberg writes an equally interesting review which begins:

“Steven F. Hayward’s Patriotism Is Not Enough is a loose intellectual portrait of the life and thought of Harry V. Jaffa and his circle of close friends and even closer enemies. Jaffa, who died two years ago at the age of 96, was a prominent student of Leo Strauss’s who held forth and shaped a generation of students of his own at Claremont McKenna College and its associated graduate school and institute in California. Jaffa was the author, most famously, of the classic study of Abraham Lincoln, Crisis of the House Divided, a book that sought to establish Lincoln not only as a statesman of the first rank but also as a profound political thinker in his own right.

Jaffa was also among the most quarrelsome men of letters ever to reside in the groves of academe, and it is this fact that gave Hayward’s book its impetus and provides its propulsion throughout. Hayward begins with a juxtaposition of Jaffa and Walter Berns, another prominent student of Strauss’s, with whom Jaffa quarreled incessantly throughout their adult lives. Jaffa and Berns, born six months apart, died on the very same day in 2015. This quirk of mortality set Hayward, a tremendous admirer of both men, on his way, and it informs the book’s personal style, which will painlessly acquaint newcomers with some pivotal moments and issues in recent intellectual history, even as it keeps those who already know the subject entertained.

Jaffa had a uniquely high regard for the American “regime” (if we may indulge the vocabulary of the Straussian school). And it was Lincoln, in Jaffa’s view, who played the pivotal role in its true establishment. The framers of the U.S. Constitution had done admirable work. But coping as they had to with a grave political problem—how to create a union of both slaveholding states and states where the practice was forbidden—they lost their grip on what Jaffa takes as the true founding document of the United States: the Declaration of Independence. In dissolving their ties with England and establishing a nation of their own, the Americans claimed they were acting in accordance with “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Lindberg’s entire review does justice to one of the best books of the year. Read the rest at Commentary.

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