Harry Jaffa: Citizen Straussian

Michael Zuckert, Remarks from Claremont Institute APSA panel, September 2015.


My main thesis is that Harry’s career as a thinker, teacher, and political man was an expression of his efforts to hold together these two loves—Strauss and America.

As anyone who knows Strauss’s work will concede, this is not in every respect an easy task.  Strauss strove to rescue and recover political philosophy, a pursuit that pointed in both the directions implied by its name—toward politics and toward philosophy.  The problem, in a Straussian vein, lay in Strauss’s main thesis regarding those two elements of political philosophy:  there is an irredeemable tension between philosophy and the city.  That means that political philosophy is in same important respects a house divided, impelled toward two things that are themselves in tension or even disjoined.

That tension or disjunction underlies many of the schisms in the now large group of scholars who have fallen under the influence of Strauss.  Some lean more toward the philosophy pole, others more toward the politics pole.  This is one way in which one might characterize the split between East and West Coast Straussian.  To be a bit more concrete, the student of Strauss who most leaned toward philosophy (and away from politics) was Seth Benardete.  The student of Strauss who, at a high level, most leaned toward politics was, in my opinion, none other than Harry Jaffa.  Benardete and Jaffa are the two poles of the Straussian school, at least among the first generation of his students.

Michael Zuckert [pdf]