Harry V. Jaffa, 1918-2015

Allen C. Guelzo

“Harry V. Jaffa, a towering scholar of American history and political philosophy, has died. The Claremont Institute fellow’s work on Abraham Lincoln led historians to consider him as much more than a mere politician, and laid the foundation for what can be called the Claremont school of conservatism.” – Patrick Brennan, National Review

People often ask whether I was a pupil of Harry Jaffa, since so much of what I've written about Lincoln has a certain Jaffa-esque resonance. I have to tell them, no, regrettably. After all, I am a history person and Harry was a political science person and ne'er the twain shall meet. But buying a copy of Crisis of the House Divided at Baldwin's Book Barn in 1980 was something of an epiphany for me: the book convinced me that Lincoln was a thinker worth taking seriously as a man of ideas. Years later, after the publication of Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, Harry called me at home, entirely out of the blue, and without any introductory preliminaries, launched into his own review of the book, what it should have had here, what it needed there. He was irked that I said in the preface that I was not a Straussian. “Harry, how could I be? I've never read Leo Strauss!” That bothered him not at all. “Well,” he replied, “you've read me, haven't you?” Maybe that was just a slight exaggeration; but for many, many people, Harry really did speak for the enigmatic emigre who had been his mentor, and who feared that without a mooring in moral substance, the American democracy was vulnerable to the same undermining which had occurred in Strauss's own Weimar Germany. Strauss, and Lincoln, taught Harry to care very deeply about liberty and equality, about Socrates and Thrasymachus, about the Declaration of Independence and the Lincoln-Douglas debates. He called me many times over the ensuing years, and I would always listen to his characteristic coal-raking of what I'd written—not because he didn't like it, but because he always wanted it to be better. So, for a good long time to come, we will look beyond horizons for that demanding, unapologetic man, Harry Jaffa.

Dr. Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and Director of the Civil War Era Studies Program at Gettysburg College. This note of remembrance originally appeared on his Facebook page.

Image: National Review

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