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.

Read More

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.

Read More

The Real John Locke—and Why He Matters

LockeScores of textbooks attest that John Locke is the most important intellectual influence on America’s Founding. No other first-tier philosopher can provide a moral and theoretical justification for the United States, its traditional culture, and its form of government. Even the skeptics who question Locke being the only influence concede he was the most significant. The practical problem is that modern experts are confused about what Locke actually thought.

Read More

Critiquing Leo Strauss from the Right


This next episode of Liberty Law Talk is a discussion with author and professor Grant Havers on his conservative critique of Leo Strauss. Many conservatives hold Strauss in high regard as a thinker who shaped their intellectual commitments. Havers discusses the question: what's so conservative about Strauss' philosophy? Havers' recent book Leo Strauss and Anglo-American Democracy: A Conservative Critique contends that Strauss was a liberal Cold War warrior who most wanted to defend the foundational principles of British and American democracy. Going to the heart of Strauss' philosophical principles and his grounding of modern constitutional liberty in classical Greek political thought,…

Read More

“The god of this lower world”

NPG 655; Edmund Burke studio of Sir Joshua ReynoldsEdmund Burke, mobilizer of theoretical resistance to the French Revolution in the face of all odds, pursuer of Warren Hastings in the face of certain defeat, lived a political life so seemingly incautious that by its end he had to ask to be buried in an anonymous grave lest the Jacobins, on their inevitable march across his beloved island, exhume and violate his bones. Yet he described prudence as “the first of all virtues.”

Read More

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…

Read More

Straussian Civil Wars

strauss nyrbA seemingly esoteric academic debate bursts forth in the Book Review of the Sunday New York Times that ought to turn us to the most significant political books of our times. The war between the West and East Coast Straussians, academics (and political players such as Bill Kristol) who have been influenced by the political philosopher Leo Strauss,  involves no mere battle of the books but bears political consequences as well. His books and their interpretation and application are required reading for their wisdom about free and civilized societies. Strauss’s work encompasses grand themes of the West, including ancients and moderns, reason and revelation, natural right and history, and philosophy and poetry (in its root sense of creation). But in all this was saving the West Strauss’s intention? Was he instead a Machiavellian? A Nietzschean?[i]

Read More

The Theologico-Political Question (Part I), and Texas Cheerleaders

texas godThe cheerleaders at Kountze High School, 95 miles northeast of Houston, may deploy Christian-themed banners at school sporting events, a State District judge ruled.  Some photos of the banners (with cheerleaders) may be seen here.

In Texas, religious free exercise cuts a wide swath, as its State Supreme Court displayed in Pleasant Glade Assembly of God v. Schubert (2008).  A member of the church, a suffering Laura Schubert, had hands (lots of them) laid on her, as her faith calls for, and came out of the experience with physical injuries and psychological trauma.  The Court concluded that

Read More

Conservatism True and False in America: Evaluating Leo Strauss from the Right

In today’s America, there are two conventional ways of understanding Leo Strauss’s ideas.  These two perspectives, predictably, reflect the opposite poles of the established political spectrum.  On the Left, critics have portrayed Strauss, a German-Jewish émigré who escaped the rising tide of Nazism in Germany, as an enemy of liberal democracy who built a vast intellectual movement in the United States in order to foster a right-wing agenda that is devoted to sexism, class hierarchy, and fascist wars of conquest.   Shadia Drury’s The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss (1988) was only the first volley that leftist opponents have leveled against Strauss.  Leftists like Stephen Holmes, Nicholas Xenos, and William Altman have continued to portray Strauss as an evil elitist bent on creating a Platonic regime that would feed “noble lies” to the ignorant masses in order to cajole them into embracing perpetual war against the forces of social progress.

On the Right, Strauss’s numerous disciples and neoconservative fellow travelers insist that their master was a sincere defender of the democratic regime and the liberal ideals of freedom and equality.  These supporters, who are usually either his students or students of his students, contend that Strauss was a supporter of a classical liberal tradition that is now facing deadly threats from the Left.  This kinder, gentler version of Strauss can be easily found in the writings of Thomas Pangle, Michael and Catherine Zuckert, Harry Jaffa, and Peter Minowitz, all of whom insist that this quiet, reserved teacher of the “Great Works” of political philosophy sincerely admired Anglo-American democracy, celebrated Lincoln and Churchill as stalwart defenders of liberty, and viscerally opposed Nazism and Communism as grave threats to western civilization.  In their view, the best evidence for Strauss’s democratic credentials comes from his lifelong opposition to noxious ideas like “historicism” and “relativism” that fail to distinguish the virtues of democracy from the vices of tyranny. 

Read More