Scholars of American Politics

Harvey Mansfield, The Weekly Standard, February 9, 2015.


Among followers of Strauss, one issue is the importance of politics in the relationship of politics and philosophy. Politics thinks it is the most important human activity because it decides who rules in the world. Every human activity, including the most private matters such as the philosopher’s reflection, takes place under the rule of some authority that protects or permits it. It is philosophy’s business to question this authority and its self-proclaimed importance, and to bring its assertions to the bar of reason and its assurances to the test of eternity. The issue then is whether philosophy’s claim to importance is sovereign over politics so as to eclipse politics, or does philosophy have something to learn from politics in a way that rescues the importance of politics?

Walter Berns and Harry Jaffa both took the latter view, and they studied American politics as a serious subject and America as a kind of philosophical republic. Since both of them spent their lives in the study of American politics, their lifelong professional premise required that they take the notion of political virtue seriously and not make its inferiority to philosophy their main theme—as does Plato in his Republic. But each of them did this differently.

The Weekly Standard