Harry V. Jaffa and American History by Herman Belz

Herman Belz, Claremont Review of Books, Summer 1984.


One of the most important contributions to American history and political science in the past generation is the work of a political philosopher who, in a significant sense, is an “outsider” to both fields. In Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpre­tation of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Harry V. Jaffa, Henry Salvatori Professor of Political Philosophy at Claremont McKenna College, rejects the historical canon that the past should be studied for its own sake, and the dominant assumption of modern politi­cal science that truth is relative to historical circum­stances. Yet in this distinguished book, originally published in 1959 and now reissued by the University of Chicago Press, Jaffa combines history and political science in a uniquely effective manner. Writing about the slavery controversy that produced the Civil War, he is concerned with the past less for its own sake than as a source of instruction for contemporary politics. Denying that truth is historical, he never­theless firmly grasps historical truth. In conscious pursuit of the principles of just government, Jaffa gives renewed meaning to the ancient conception of history as philosophy teaching by example.

Claremont Review of Books