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Harry Jaffa–Revolutionary

April 14, 2020

Professor Harry Jaffa was given wide birth by intellectual leaders of the Conservative “movement” because he advised  Sen. Barry Goldwater during the 1964 Presidential election campaign. Yet the advice he gave the Senator stained Goldwater’s reputation by inserting these words into the  conclusion of the Senator’s acceptance speech:

“I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

Goldwater, essentially, was a small time “local” politician with a smattering of knowledge of the idea of Russell Kirk, Bill Buckley and Frederich Hayek. Had he had the inclination to read their writings more deeply he would have discerned that Jaffa was no conservative.

But the Professor was given a conservative  “bath” and accepted by other conservatives who backed Goldwater.

I’ve written about this influence directly in a review of Steve Hayward’s Patriotism is Not Enough and my essay on how a nation exists in time that examines arguments of Professor Gerhart Niemeyer. Niemeyer and Jaffa were friends and  supporters of Barry Goldwater, but thirty-five years after 1964, Niemeyer would develop a theory of existence of a people in history radically different from Jaffa’s. Between Nothingness and Paradise is a complicated exegesis of community in the face of ideology.

Niemeyer demonstrates that a society has a remembered past by reference to “a present unity of action” that is like the “identity of a person,” except society “is not a natural substance . . . [A] society . . . is lacking this tangible phenomenon testifying to identity, the past alone is what could give identity to a society.” Society is a “created” thing, not a natural person. At the start, therefore, a society has no past, but over time materials of a historical past can be created into a consciousness of a historical past. An example that Niemeyer gives is that of ancient Israel.

Niemeyer’s theological/philosophical analysis must be contrasted with Jaffa’s ideological assertion that “equality” defines the nature of the American regime. I came to this conclusion long before reading this passage from Albert Camus’ The Rebel.

From the moment that the freethinkers began to question the existence of God, the problem of justice became of primary importance. The justice of the period was, quite simply, confused with equality.

Harry Jaffa was no “conservative,” he was a revolutionary.

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