Natural Right in the American Founding: Harry Jaffa’s Legacy

Edward J. Erler, paper presented at a Roundtable on the Work and Legacy of Harry V. Jaffa, Claremont Institute, APSA annual meeting, San Francisco, California, September 5, 2015.


Harry Jaffa spent nearly his whole career uncovering and articulating the natural right foundations of the American Founding. Leo Strauss, Jaffa’s teacher, wrote in the context of the “crisis of the West.” Jaffa extended Strauss’s analysis to the “crisis of America.” It was Jaffa’s contention that “the crisis of American constitutionalism is “the crisis of the West.” This view, which he vigorously defended in the 1990s, seems particularly apt today as America enters what some constitutional scholars have called the “post-constitutional era” and the West lapses into paralysis, uncertain of its purpose and unable or unwilling to defend itself against its enemies. I believe that Jaffa’s book, A New Birth of Freedom, would have been the book—or nearly the book—that Strauss would have written had his concern been the “crisis of America” rather than the “crisis of the West.”

Edward J. Erler [pdf]