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Harry Jaffa–Part 2

March 28, 2021

The influence of Professor Harry Jaffa on the many conservative graduate students who studied with Jaffa at Claremont graduate school is understandable, but perplexing.

Jaffa took personal interest in his students that included their progress to a Ph.D. degree and shared their decision to affirm the truth of traditional scholarship and of “tradition” itself.  I valued Jaffa’s honesty as when he published a retraction in the Wall Street Journal of his former support of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

That did not encourage me to value Jaffa’s “conservatism,” however, because Jaffa was not a conservative despite his advocacy of the candidacy of U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign for President.

Jaffa should be understood as a “Modern,” that is an Enlightenment intellectual who advocated the preservation of rights “by any means necessary,” that is, even if that destabilized political order.

Thus the end of government is seen to be the preservation of rights as opposed to sustaining political order.

That is the basis of my argument that I posted on my “blog” on April 14.

Professor Harry Jaffa was given wide berth 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.”

. . .

Because of his role on the Goldwater campaign.  Professor Jaffa . . .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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