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Monday, January 12, 2015

Harry V. Jaffa, RIP

Our friend and colleague Harry Jaffa has died.  Yuval Levin writes at National Review:
Yesterday brought sad news of the death of Walter Berns, and today comes word from Claremont that Harry Jaffa has passed away at the age of 96. Two truly towering figures in American intellectual life for many decades, each of whom made us smarter about ourselves and more grateful for our inheritance, if often in quite different ways. What a loss all at once.

Jaffa was perhaps best known for his contributions to our understanding of Abraham Lincoln’s political thought. Even amid the staggering profusion of books about Lincoln — surely the most thoroughly examined American political figure — Jaffa’s greatest book, Crisis of the House Divided, easily stands out. It is a masterful work of analysis, filled with brilliant gems that have lost none of their shine in the 55 years since the book was published. Any scholar would be lucky to leave behind such a contribution, but Jaffa leaves behind much more than that. Although his other work tends to be overshadowed by his case for Lincoln, he was, among other things, a path-breaking and important scholar of Aristotle’s political thought and its implications, and his first book, Thomism and Aristotelianism, remains an underappreciated masterpiece. Shakespeare’s Politics, which Jaffa co-authored with Allan Bloom in 1964, also deserves an audience these days, especially for Jaffa’s chief contribution — an extended analysis of the opening scene of King Lear that stands as a model of how students of philosophy and human affairs can help draw wisdom out of great works of art.
In Perspectives on Political Science, Thomas West explains Jaffa's contribution to our understanding of the Founding:
 For Jaffa, the cause of constitutionalism requires fidelity to the principle of the Declaration, that “all men are created equal.” Jaffa, like Lincoln, believes that the Constitution is the picture frame of silver, which “was made . . . to adorn, and preserve” the “apple of gold,” that is, the principle of “liberty to all” expressed in the Declaration.