Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Berns v. Jaffa

From Commentary Magazine here. A taste:
Harry V. Jaffa wonders “where in the world” I got my ideas about the founding principles. Well, I do not mind saying that I got them from, among others, the Harry V. Jaffa who wrote The Crisis of the House Divided. There he taught me that all the Founders “read the Declaration [of Independence] as an expression of the sentiments of Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government”; that in “Locke’s state of nature” men have rights but only “embryonic [rather than] genuine duties”; which means that “no man . . . is under an obligation to respect any other man’s unalienable rights until that other man is necessary to the security of his own rights”; that this priority of rights over duties gives rise to a political problem for which Jefferson (whose attempted remedy was “vitiated by his Lockean horizon”) had no solution ....


Tom Van Dyke said...

Berns is disingenuous trying to pin everything Locke, stock and barrel on the Founders. His ideas were a framework, but not a Bible.

Jonathan Rowe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan Rowe said...

One of the things that's tripping me up reading these back and forths is Berns & the East Coast Straussians whether they think the Founders purposefully followed an esoteric Locke (and I can't tell whether they argue that they did) seem hung up on a particular "logic" of Locke's formula.

That is, they seem to argue, regardless of WHAT the founders understood they were doing (what Jaffa stresses -- that the Founders were not up to anything "esoteric") "such" is the logic of what they did.

Tom Van Dyke said...


Having hung with the EC Straussians at the Yahoo "list," I can say their interest in actual history ends with the rise of Augustus Caesar.

Their interest is in the history of philosophy, not the philosophy's effect on history, which is where Jaffa was coming from.

Their interest is in Locke, Jaffa's in Lincoln.

Jonathan Rowe said...

A more controversial thesis of the East Coast Straussians is that the effect of modern liberalism traces back to Locke's classical liberalism put into practice and evolving over time.

Therefore, they believe, we need to support the Constitution sans the natural rights of the Declaration in order to foster a more conservative politics.