Harry V. Jaffa: An Inconvenient Thinker

Harry Jaffa

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.

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Friday Roundup, January 24th

Don't miss this month's Liberty Law Forum on the Constitution's structural limitations of power and the Bill of Rights: Contributions from Patrick Garry, Ed Erler, Michael Ramsey, and Kenneth Bowling. How should contemporary defenders of limited government and the rule of law understand and learn from the New Deal's revolutionary movement? The current Liberty Law Talk with Gordon Lloyd, co-author with David Davenport of The New Deal & Modern American Conservatism, discusses this question. Liberty Law Reviews: William Atto on Scott Berg's Wilson:  In 1879 . . . he published his essay “Cabinet Government in the United States,” in the International Review. Clearly…

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Crusading Against Collectivism: A Lost Memoir by Herbert Hoover is Published

In 1964 Herbert Hoover died at the age of ninety. He had lived a phenomenally productive life, including more than half a century in one form or another of public service. It was a record that in sheer scope and duration may be without parallel in American history.

His life had begun in humble circumstances in 1874 in a little Iowa farming community, as the son of the village blacksmith. Orphaned before he was ten, Hoover managed to enter Stanford University when it opened its doors in 1891. Four years later he graduated with a degree in geology and a determination to become a mining engineer.

From then on, Hoover’s rise in the world was meteoric.

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The New Deal & Modern American Conservatism

The New Deal

This next Liberty Law Talk is with Gordon Lloyd of the School of Public Policy at Pepperdine on his new book, co-authored with David Davenport, The New Deal & Modern American Conservatism (Hoover Press, 2013). Much has been made, and rightly so, of the example set by Calvin Coolidge in his confrontation with the forces of taxing and spending and nascent regulatory attempts to cartelize certain markets, among other challenges he faced. However, might it be that Herbert Hoover and his "American System" articulated in the 1932 campaign, along with his subsequent attempts to repeal the New Deal, offers the…

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Breaking The UniParty

Yet again, for the nth time, Republican Congressional leaders and their Democrat counterparts produced a Trillion dollar, multi-thousand-page spending bill that was voted immediately after being unveiled, without having been read. Republican 2012 vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan authored the latest edition along with Democratic Senator Patti Murray. Republican leader John Boehner preempted Democrats by preemptively accusing Republicans who opposed the bill of wanting to shut down the government. He topped off this feat of leadership by declaring political war on the conservatives who had given Republicans the majority that had made him Speaker of the House – a war that Republican leaders cannot sustain.

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The Conservative Crack-Up That Wasn’t

Over at balkinization, my buddy Ken Kersch has a post on the punditocracy’s talk, apparently rampant this election season, about the contradictions within American conservatism—e.g. Congressman Ryan’s fondness for Ayn Rand and Roman Catholicism (not to mention  headbanging music).  A political movement that contains such disparate intellectual traditions and forces—plus neocons, business folks, etc.—can’t possibly hold together, thumb suckers surmise.  As Ken notes, though, predictions of this sort have proven wrong for quite some time now. In 1995, political scientist Theodore J. Lowi predicted The End of the Republican Era and the disintegration of conservative politics.

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Ronald Reagan, Whittaker Chambers, and the Dialogue of Liberty

The Watergate controversy and the collapse of the Nixon presidency led me to closely follow the 1976 presidential election, the first national election that I took seriously. The result of that research was a reasoned vote for Gerald Ford.

Ford, though, had not been my first choice for the Republican nomination. As it did for many others, the Reagan challenge had inspired me, and I was disappointed when Reagan fell short at the convention. By 1980, I was solidly in the Reagan camp, rejoicing in his stunning electoral victory over an incumbent president. I still remember the reaction of one of my professors the morning after the election. Clearly disturbed, he announced to the class that he could scarcely bring himself to realize that “that cowboy has been elected president.” His perspective was not unique; it was dominant on that campus—and most others.

During the Reagan presidency, I discovered that Reagan had read Whittaker Chambers’s Witness, a book many considered seminal to the conservative movement. Reagan credited the book with providing his understanding of the philosophy and workings of the communist mind, and I decided it was time to evaluate it myself.

I did not expect what I found. I expected a treatise on communism and how wrong it was. What I received was far more. Chambers had not written a political tract; instead, he wrote painfully of the weaknesses in his own life while detailing the tragic consequences of a philosophy that he believed dethroned God and the sources of the moral contents of life. It was not just a story. It was not simply an autobiography. It was a personal spiritual reflection and confession. One reading was not enough, even though it was 799 pages. I had to go through it again to see what I might have missed the first time. I believed the work to be so significant that later I developed an entire college course around the book and its author, “The Witness of Whittaker Chambers.”

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