Walter Berns: Teacher, Scholar, Inspiration

Kishore Jayabalan, The American Spectator, January 15, 2015.


Walter Berns, professor emeritus of government at Georgetown University and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, died Saturday, January 10, 2015, at the age of 95. Commentators have noted that the coincidence of his death with that of Harry Jaffa, a fellow Straussian with whom he often disagreed, evokes the providential timing of the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. For me, however, Mr. Berns — as all his students respectfully called him — was a providential figure for altogether different reasons.

Simply put, I would not be where I am today if I hadn’t audited the last course he taught at Georgetown. Slogging away as an economist at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington, I dreamt of graduate school while taking Latin and Greek courses at the Department of Agriculture night school (who knew such things existed at taxpayer expense?), but I didn’t know what I wanted to study. On the advice of my friend John J. Miller, I called Mr. Berns, who immediately told me he was about to retire from teaching and would be of little help to me for future studies. I replied that I only wanted to audit his course, which he very graciously let me do.

American Spectator