Jaffa versus Mansfield by Thomas G. West

Thomas G. West, Perspectives on Political Science 31:4 (Fall 2002).


Harry Jaffa and Harvey Mansfield are two of the ablest among those whose study of America has been shaped and helped by what they learned from Strauss. Both men are patriots. Both admire the Founders and the Constitution. Yet their views on the matter of human equality appear to be complete opposites. Jaffa affirms Lincoln’s sweeping claim that the self-evident truth that all men are created equal is “the father of all moral principle” in the hearts of Americans. But Mansfield says that “All men are created equal” is only a “self-evident half-truth,” and he argues that constitutionalism today is harmed rather than helped by appeals to equality.

Who is right, Jaffa or Mansfield? or neither? An adequate answer to these questions would require a much fuller treatment than I can present here. But I can give at least an overview, so that readers may have a sense of what is at stake and how to think about the different approaches of these two outstanding scholars.

Vindicating the Founders