On Walter Berns and Harry Jaffa

Harvey C. Mansfield, "Scholars of American Politics: The contributions of Walter Berns and Harry Jaffa," Weekly Standard, February 9, 2015.

In this essay, Mansfield assesses the work of two late scholars of American politics, Walter Berns and Harry V. Jaffa.


“Among followers of [Leo] 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.”

Weekly Standard