Today is Harry V. Jaffa’s 95th birthday. Happy birthday, Harry. Just now we’re in need of the understanding and resolve that went behind that most famous line he ever wrote, in service of Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign: “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the defense of justice is no virtue.”
One of his great friends and frequent sparring partners, George Anastaplo, wrote of Jaffa in 1980:
At the heart of our deep affinities–besides the fact that we were both fortunate enough to share a great teacher in Leo Strauss– is our minority belief that fundamental to sensible political science and to a decent life as a community is a general respect for natural right and what is known as natural law. This means, among other things, that discrimination based on arbitrary racial categories cannot be defended, especially by a people dedicated to the self-evident truth that “all Men are created equal.” It also means that the family as an institution should be supported.
…[A]n informed study of nature in human things is perhaps the most pressing demand in education today– and for this Mr. Jaffa, with his profound grasp of the Classical writers, of Shakespeare’s thought, and of the career of Abraham Lincoln, is an invaluable guide.
But perhaps no one has captured Jaffa’s essence better than William F. Buckley Jr. Most often recalled is WFB’s line that “If you think Harry Jaffa is hard to argue with, try agreeing with him. It is nearly impossible. He studies the fine print of any agreement as if it were a trap, or a treaty with the Soviet Union.”
As Churchill once said in another context, True, but not exhaustive. Buckley continued:
Most American conservatives naturally revere the American political tradition, since it is, after all, their tradition, and they are, after all, reverent men. Harry Jaffa has a somewhat different reason for cherishing it: he believes it to be true, as one might believe the theorems of Euclid to be true. He has devoted his career to vindicating its truth on rational grounds. One feels he would have done exactly the same thing for the Lithuanian political tradition, if he had found truth there.