My Country, ’Tis of Thee: Jaffa’s Defense of the Noble, the Holy, and the Just

Steve Sorenson, Interpretation, Spring 2001.


“It is baffling to reflect that what men call honor does not correspond always to Christian ethics” (Churchill, 1961, pp. 286-87). Jaffa used this expression of bafflement by Churchill as the epigraph to his first book, Thomism and Aristotelianism: A Study of the Commentary by Thomas Aquinas on the Nicomachean Ethics. One could understand A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War as an attempt to show how it is the providential destiny of America to make honor and Christian ethics correspond in the American political religion.

Jaffa is clear from the start that he writes not merely for theoretical reasons, but to “promote a climate of opinion” (p. xiv; all unattributed page references are to the book under review). He concludes this book by stating that “we must take up the weapons of truth and go forth to battle once again.”This is a polemical work. Perhaps the honor of a victory with the weapons of truth corresponds to Christian ethics. Jaffa’s work has been described as “occasionally splenetic and vainglorious” (Kessler, 2000, p. 9), but the nobility of aim and subject matter here serve to raise the tone of the argument above eristics. He has done here once again a splendid job of showing the mistakes of the fashionable thinking on the Civil War, Lincoln, and the founding, but that is not the heart of the book, nor the chief battle.