I wrote "Jaffa on Equality, Morality, Democracy" in 1992 and, aside from minor editing, it appears unchanged. Professor Jaffa’s writings since then, so far as they have come to my attention, seem to me to call for no modification of the analysis of his philosophy offered here. I discuss some of Professor Jaffa’s views of Lincoln in my review of his A New Birth of Freedom in The Mises Review, Volume 7, Number 2, pp.16—22.
Harry Jaffa is one of the most distinguished of the students of Leo Strauss. His Thomism and Aristotelianism was termed “an unduly neglected minor modern classic” by Alasdair MacIntyre1; and Crisis of the House Divided, his interpretation of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, occupies a prominent place in the literature on Lincoln. However, as a man not content with academic success, Jaffa has devoted enormous energy to the defense of a unique brand of conservatism.
Jaffa’s political views attracted widespread notice during the 1964 Republican Party Convention. Senator Barry Goldwater, the champion of the resurgent conservative movement, received his party’s nomination for President in the face of opposition from the “Eastern Establishment,” led by Nelson Rockefeller. In a defiant line in his acceptance speech, Goldwater declared: “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice is not a virtue.” It was soon disclosed that Jaffa had written the memorable sentence.
Jaffa’s comment expresses correctly an Aristotelian doctrine: unlike such virtues as courage and temperance, justice is not a mean between two vices. But it may be doubted whether a campaign is the best place to expound nuances of ancient thought; and Goldwater’s enemies pounced on the line as evidence of his fanaticism. But if Jaffa had, in the opinion of many, damaged the cause of Goldwater, of one matter there could be no doubt: he himself had arrived.
Jaffa used his influence, polemical talent, and inexhaustible energy to advance his own agenda for the American Right. During the 1950’s and 1960’s, most conservatives opposed the Civil Rights Movement. “Equality” was a veritable curse word to them. For Jaffa, matters were quite otherwise: equality was the key to sound politics. Conservatives should embrace it, not spurn its mere mention. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone of the temple.” Jaffa expounded his position in the course of debates with others on the Right about the significance of Abraham Lincoln. His opponents in these exchanges have included Frank S. Meyer; Clyde Wilson; Thomas Fleming; and, over many years, M. E. Bradford. Whether one agreed with him or not, no conservative could ignore him. Among Jaffa’s admirers is William F. Buckley, Jr., the founder of National Review; and Buckley’s support has contributed greatly to Jaffa’s prominence in right wing circles. The financier Henry Salvatori, a major donor to conservative groups, has lavished patronage on Jaffa’s Claremont Institute.
His scholarly work meshes closely with his political activities. On the basis of the former, he expounds and defends a philosophy of freedom that, as he sees matters, underlies the Declaration of Independence and the thought of its foremost interpreter, Abraham Lincoln. Even more ambitiously, Jaffa sets his defense of freedom in a larger setting — an exposition of natural law morality. Although he has not written a full-scale treatise defending his conception of ethics, he has in his provocative “In Defense of the ‘Natural Law Thesis'” and elsewhere discussed the foundations of morality. In view of the importance of Jaffa’s position, and the immense labor he has devoted to its construction and defense, close examination of his central arguments seems warranted.
Jaffa briefly presents his key to sound political philosophy in a recent popular article: “Of Men, Hogs, and Law.”: “The equality of men, pronounced in the Declaration of Independence, affirms that there is no difference between man and man, such as there is between man and beast (on the one hand), or between man and God (on the other) that justifies one man ruling another without the other’s consent."2
It is not altogether clear what Jaffa means by one man ruling another. Someone who enslaves another clearly rules him, but Jaffa wishes his argument to extend further than this. He elsewhere speaks of "ruling despotically” as a target of his argument, and one can govern someone despotically, i.e., arbitrarily and without his consent, without enslaving him. Even more widely, ruling can cover anyone’s exercising any of the functions of government over another. It appears to me most plausible to take Jaffa in the latter, most extended way.
Jaffa states his argument for equality perhaps most fully here: “‘That all men are created equal’ arises from our experience of a class of beings called ‘men.’ We abstract from the experience of a number of individual human beings the common noun ‘man’…. Having performed the act of inductive reasoning by which the common nouns [‘man’ and ‘dog’] are understood, we can articulate attributes which reflection shows were implied in the act of grasping that noun….We distinguish, moreover, the nonhuman that is subhuman from the nonhuman that is superhuman. We conclude…that there is no such difference between man and man, as there is between men and dogs, that makes men by nature the rulers of dogs, and dogs by nature the servants of men."3
Having thus disposed of animals, Jaffa rises higher. “By the power of reason we form the concept of a perfectly reasonable Being, in whom there are no passions to act as impediments to reason.” Whether one can move from the essence of this Being to its existence, Jaffa leaves open; but the idea suffices to show that “man is the in-between being, the being that is neither beast nor God. We understand therefore that the rule of man over man must differ, not only from the rule of man over beast, but from the rule of God over man.”4
I propose to accept for the purpose of argument Jaffa’s starting point, putting to one side a few problems. Jaffa does not explain or justify the claim that abstraction from empirical perception enables us to arrive at knowledge of essence. I do not say he is wrong to think so — in my opinion, quite the contrary. But the step is controversial; if it is right, Hume’s skeptical doubts about induction fall to the ground, since a being with a certain essence necessarily will act in a given way, if it acts at all. Can Hume be dealt with so summarily?
Perhaps he can; but Jaffa’s controversial assumptions have just begun. Suppose that one distinguishes levels of being according to rationality, in the way that Jaffa has suggested. Does it follow without further argument that the more rational being is entitled by nature to rule the less? I cannot see that it does, especially if both are free agents.
Is the basis of the contention this: a species of greater rationality outranks one of less in the “scale of being”: from its superior rank stems its right to rule? The ‘progress’ we have made in advancing this argument is questionable: we now have two unsupported premises. What exactly is meant by the “rank” of a being? Does any desirable property possessed essentially by a species give it superior rank over a species without it, other things being equal? If so, does any such superior rank carry with it the right to rule? Would a species of similar rationality to man, but essentially more beautiful, be entitled to rule human beings? If not, why not? In the guise of an appeal to self-evidence, Jaffa presupposes an entire metaphysics.
All of this is preliminary: although I do not think he has adequately supported the ‘scale of being,’ I have no arguments that justify its rejection. Let us then accept the scale of being and turn at once to an analysis of the political conclusions Jaffa draws from his notion.
I should have thought that the scale leaves entirely open how beings of the same rank ought to deal with one another. Granted that a superior being may rule an inferior, and that an inferior must serve his superior in ontological rank, why does anything at all follow about beings of the same rank? Why is superior rank required for rule?
Is the argument this? It is a principle of rationality that one should deal with entities according to their genuine properties. Thus, someone who seriously thought that his pet dog could converse with him clearly suffers from a defect in rationality. But to treat a man as a beast is to fail to exhibit reason, in an analogous way. Hence no man may rule another without his consent.
This argument fails, since it assumes that to rule over someone is to treat him as a beast, just the contention that the argument purports to establish. Unless we already know that to rule someone implies regarding him as of lesser rank, the question at issue has been begged.
As Jaffa notes in another context, Thomas Aquinas did not think that slavery violated the law of nature.5 But he strongly supported the scale of being to which Jaffa appeals. Was St. Thomas guilty of failure to draw the ‘obvious’ inference from ‘same essence’ to ‘no right to rule without consent’? Further, there is considerable room for doubt that Jaffa fully accepts the principle himself; if so, how then can he claim it to be self-evident that no one may rule another without his consent?
To say that Jaffa himself questions this principle appears surprising, but nevertheless the matter is not much open to question. In reply to a claim by Shadia Drury that Leo Strauss taught the absolute right of the wise to rule without restraint, Jaffa replies: “The absolute rule of the wise is then a theoretical premise, necessary for our understanding of the problem of wise or just rule, but in no sense a practical conclusion…. anyone who advances the claims of wisdom as ground for ruling must be an unwise adventurer, discredited in advance by the fact he has advanced such claims."6 (The context makes clear that Jaffa agrees with Strauss’s view.)
Jaffa here makes a fatal admission. If the wise have the theoretical right to rule, then it cannot be the case that no one may rule another without his consent. That practical circumstances make it almost always inadvisable to exercise this right is beside the point. Jaffa cannot consistently both agree with Strauss that the wise have such a right and at the same time deny any right to rule without consent.
In reply to a critic, a good polemicist such as Jaffa will often be tempted to minimize any concession he must make to an opponent. Jaffa expounded the same point with a different emphasis on one occasion when he did not confront this temptation. In an account of Aristotle’s Politics, he states: “Still, the intrinsic validity of the claim in the case of someone — a someone very unlikely to put the claim forward himself — is not hereby destroyed. Aristotle’s final conclusion appears to be that the argument stands as valid, but as the man who could justly make the claim will not do so, the only argument that can and will be validly advanced will be that in favor of the best laws. Still, in the infinite contingencies of political life, a moment might come when, contrary to every normal expectation, the rule of the best man might have to be advanced in practice as well."7
In his reply to Professor Drury, Jaffa advances a similar claim: “Thus we contemplate extreme actions in defense of the rule of law by wise men whose unfettered wisdom may sometimes be the necessary condition for the establishment or survival of a decent constitutional order."8 In the earlier passage, no such limitation is imposed on rule by the wise.
To avert misunderstanding, I do not contend that it is correct to support the right of the wise to rule. Rather, the issue is that Jaffa cannot consistently teach this and at the same time assert that rule without consent is illegitimate.
Or can he? He does have one escape; but it is to my mind an implausible one. In his discussion of the scale of being, Jaffa averred that God does not require human consent in order to rule: it is absurd to think that “God would need to secure the consent of man in order to exercise His providential government.”9 This seems reasonable: few even of those who disbelieve in God would deny that if he exists, he may rule without consent. (J.S. Mill is perhaps an exception.) In this passage, then, a divine being is contrasted with the “evident limitations" on the perfection of reason that “every man discovers in his own soul.”10
Elsewhere, Jaffa indicates how the notion of divinity may be extended in a way most people today will find unfamiliar. In his Thomism and Aristotelianism, a scholarly work not written for popular consumption, he argues that according to Aristotle, the philosopher lives the contemplative life, not in so far as he is a man, but in so far as there is “something divine in him."11 If the “absolutely wise” have the right to rule, perhaps they possess this right because Jaffa considers them divine. In this way, he can escape contradiction in his argument. But I venture to suggest that many will find this a most repugnant position, at least in the absence of a full defense of the moral psychology that underlies it.12
So far, then, Jaffa’s claim that no one may rule another without his consent stands unsupported; but on another construal, his statement becomes entirely understandable.
Imagine a situation in which a group of people lack any organized society or government. Each person (or family) is concerned with his own preservation, and no one has any moral obligations toward anyone else. In this state of nature, anyone is liable to be killed: unlike the comic-book Superman, no one is immune from assault. Here there is no question of philosophers having a right to rule, in the sense of a duty others must observe, since their activity depends on the prior existence of an organized community. Universal agreement appears a reasonable way for people to extricate themselves from circumstances that are “nasty, brutish, and short.”
Is Jaffa’s argument then to be accepted? I do not think so: why should we think that what people agree to in this state of nature has any moral significance? Merely to say that in such-and-such circumstances, people would do thus-and-so, shows nothing about morality. If I had monopoly control of all food and could fend off all assaults, people might find it advantageous to enslave themselves to me. This hardly suffices to show that I now have a right to enslave anyone. Why then does anything important about rule follow from what people would agree to in the state of nature? The question is all the more pressing in that in the state of nature, people are free to act in grossly immoral ways, judged by ordinary morality.
Jaffa shows himself well aware of the weaknesses of this argument. He contrasts Lincoln’s position, about which he writes with evident sympathy, with the position just described.13 In Locke’s state of nature, men “have no real duties. The embryonic duties which exist in Locke’s state of nature are not genuine duties but only rules which tell us to avoid doing those things which might impel others to injure us."14
This argument can generate only hypothetical imperatives: if you want to get out of the state of nature, do a,b,c…. By contrast, “Lincoln’s was not only hypothetical; it was categorical as well. Because all men by nature have an equal right to justice, all men have an equal duty to do justice, wholly irrespective of calculations as to self-interest. Or, to put it a little differently, our own happiness, our own welfare, cannot be conceived apart from our well-doing, or just action, and this well-doing is not merely the adding to our own security but the benefiting of others."15
Matters now take a surprising turn. One might expect Jaffa to reject the state-of-nature interpretation of the principle that no one has a right to rule. But in fact he does not do so. In a book published several years after Crisis of the House Divided, Jaffa included an article that presents exactly the view just discussed. In reply to Felix Oppenheim, a defender of “value non-cognitivism,” Jaffa offered an interpretation of the Declaration of Independence that would show its framers need not have been either deceptive in their language nor false in the inferences that they intended to be drawn from it. The interpretation assumes “that by the right to life and liberty the framers meant the right of self-preservation and all the means necessary thereto. Let us assume that they regarded self-preservation as a right because they regarded it as the strongest human passion…."16 This seems exactly the starting point of the argument that Lincoln criticized. In the same article, Jaffa claims that the “imperatives of natural right have the character of the ‘then’ clause in an ‘if…then’ proposition.” Although in fact everyone does desire happiness, “the command as such is hypothetical, not categorical."17
No one will question the importance of self-preservation. But the point raised earlier remains: why is what men would agree to, in conditions in which they may act without restraint, of any relevance at all for morality?
Before proceeding, a question confronts us: has Jaffa contradicted himself? Has he altered his interpretation of the argument for equality? His emphasis may have changed, but I believe he can be acquitted of contradiction. Jaffa does not reject the hypothetical consent argument in the Lincoln passage.18 The “categorical imperative” there referred to is one that Lincoln felt bound to obey, given the nature of his personality. Jaffa does not claim that a moral rule unconditionally binds everyone, regardless of his ends. Further, the state-of-nature argument is not superseded. Rather, Lincoln’s aim is to supplement it when a government already exists.
In like fashion, Jaffa’s thrusts against Straussians who think that a Declaration of Independence rests on Hobbesian premises leave untouched the state-of-nature argument. He criticizes Walter Berns for “the unproved assumption that Hobbes is the philosophic progenitor of the American founding."19 The morality of natural rights “starts from rights not because rights are prior to duties — or that ‘rights’ is just a polite name for passions….The priority of rights reflects the authority of that Creator whose endowment they respect and who demands respect for them."20 But this is quite consistent with acceptance of the argument based on passion. Once a society based on natural rights has been properly organized, those capable of higher goals than bare self-preservation have a chance to pursue them. Jaffa thus denies that the views of the Declaration’s authors “were merely a compound of Hobbes’s materialism, atheism, and hedonism."21 At the same time, he can consistently assert: “In the American founding, comfortable self-preservation may be said to become the end of limited government."22 Since self-preservation does not replace prayer or thought as ends or principles of human life,"23 the self-preservation argument does not stand or fall with Hobbesian assumptions.
To conclude this part of the discussion, Jaffa advances two defenses of the principle that no person may rule another without his consent: the scale-of-being and the state-of-nature arguments. Neither succeeds.
But Jaffa, ever resourceful, has yet another argument that requires analysis. This argument straddles the border between theology and philosophy. It can best be approached by considering an objection to the scale-of-being argument. Suppose someone said: "Jaffa grants that God has the right to rule without the consent of human beings. If so, can he not delegate part of his power to others? And this delegation is just what I have received, delivered to me by direct revelation from God." How would Jaffa respond to our imagined objector?
He would resolutely reject the objector’s claim. Following Strauss, Jaffa maintains that not all claims to revelation are equal: the Biblical tradition ranks highest. Philosophy cannot show the falsity of religion, which rests on an act of faith. Tested against the Biblical tradition, the objector’s claim fails. The golden rule, a fundamental principle of Christianity, implies the egalitarian principle that Jaffa supports. Far from being at odds with reason, Biblical religion lends at least in this instance additional support to the claim that no one may rule another without his consent.
Each step of this argument is questionable. According to Jaffa, Strauss did not place Biblical revelation on the same level as the “theologies or theogonies of Greek poetry…. When Strauss speaks of revelation, he is speaking of faith founded in the Bible."24 I assume that Jaffa endorses Strauss’s opinion: in another article he criticizes Allan Bloom for believing “without argument that there is any learning ‘comparable’ to the Torah and Talmud."25 The key problem for Strauss (and presumably Jaffa) is that his philosophy gives him no basis to rank religions.
According to Strauss, “[p]hilosophy demands that revelation should establish its claim before the tribunal of human reason, but revelation as such refuses to acknowledge that tribunal."26 This refusal cannot be shown irrational, pending the production of a perfect philosophical system, the existence of which is “at least as improbable as the truth of the Bible."27 (In my view, the claim that philosophical argument shows ordinary religion to be improbable is entirely mistaken. But this is by the way.)
But if acceptance of revelation depends on an act of faith which philosophy cannot disprove, how does philosophy gain the power to rank revelations? How do Strauss and Jaffa know that religions based on the Bible ranks higher than any other religion that believes in an omnipotent God?28 Unless this claim is made good, Jaffa’s argument for equality is fatally flawed. Against assertions that God has ordained particular people to rule, he claims that the Bible teaches equality. But without an argument that Biblical revelation outranks any other, claims to rule based on non-Biblical revelation remain in the field. I assume that the claim of superior rank for the Bible is not intended exclusively as itself the outcome of an act of faith. Otherwise, Jaffa’s argument for equality would rely crucially on an act of faith; and he clearly does not want this. “But our social science, if it is to be of any use, must be addressed to Moslems and Jews as well as to Christians, to Buddhists and Hindus as well as to believers in the Bible. It must, finally, be addressed u2018not only to those who enjoy the blessing and consolation of revealed religion, but also to those who face the exigencies of human destiny alone.'”29
But let us grant the assumption that the Bible is superior to all other revelations: can the remainder of Jaffa’s argument be accepted? He finds support from Christianity for equality: “But if we ask what Jesus’s moral teaching was, we will find nothing more fundamental than the golden rule, the injunction found in Matthew 7:12 that ‘Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.’ Let us ask, however, who is the ‘you’ to whom this admonition is addressed? Is it not all human beings everywhere? Does not Jesus presuppose that with respect to their possession of rights, and their corresponding obligation to respect the rights of others, ‘all men are created equal’? In short, the doctrine of the Declaration is already implied in the Judaeo-Christian ethic. In a sense, it is the ground of that ethic."30
The ‘implication’ that Jaffa finds in the precept seems to have been deduced by other means than logic. The golden rule says nothing at all about whether people have political rights, much less equal rights. If people do have political rights, and everyone wishes others to respect his rights, the golden rule perhaps allows one to conclude that everyone ought to respect the rights of others. But how does one get from here to the claim that everyone has equal rights? I said that the precept “perhaps” allows us to deduce respect for rights because according to many Christians the rule applies only to personal relations, not to politics.31
More fundamentally, the interpretation of the golden rule, and its place within Christian teaching, cannot be determined in isolation. Various denominations have different views about the teaching of the Bible, and each prescribes to its members how the golden rule and other precepts are to be interpreted. Jaffa’s religious opinions are his own business, but he possesses no authority to tell others the meaning of a religion he does not share.32
Even if one thinks that the golden rule does teach the political equality of all men, it does require that no one rule another without his consent. Someone who thought that the Bible prescribed authoritarian government could consistently hold that everyone has an equal right to have such government instituted. By hypothesis, he believes that the regime he favors has been prescribed by God. He can thus now maintain that even if he were to have had some other belief about politics, he would want the true belief to be imposed on him. Thus, the golden rule allows him to impose his views on others.
Jaffa himself recognizes almost the identical point: “A community of Christians (or of a particular denomination of Christians) may ask themselves whether, in compelling non-Christians (or Christians of another denomination) to join their church, they are violating the golden rule not to do unto others what they would not have others do to them. But it is not likely that they will think in Kantian or categorical terms of what it would mean if everyone were at liberty to compel everyone else in matters of religious faith. It is much more likely that, thinking only of their own faith as an unqualified blessing, they would see nothing wrong in itself, or contrary to the golden rule, in using the compulsion for the sake of an end of whose goodness they have no doubt."33 Jaffa provides no refutation of this view of the golden rule. He cannot simply point to the contradiction with his principle of equality, since this would beg the question whether the golden rule implies his principle.
Even if Jaffa’s interpretation of the golden rule were correct, his argument would be incomplete. In order to show that the Biblical religions prescribe equality, Jaffa needs to show that Judaism also teaches this doctrine. But, so far as I am aware, he has not addressed the teaching of Judaism on political rights. He notes that according to the Old Testament, everyone is capable of recognizing “the wisdom and understanding of Israel,” which he takes to support the capacity of human nature, apart from revelation, to recognize wisdom.34 But this leaves the point just raised untouched.
Jaffa however advances an argument of his own against the imposition of religion. He tells us that “[r]eligious liberty is grounded in the metaphysical freedom of the mind. Because of this freedom, coercion in matters of faith is destructive of all merit in professions of faith. Therefore, a man’s civil rights can have no more dependence upon his religious opinions than upon his opinions in physics or geometry."35
What Jaffa means by “metaphysical” freedom is unclear. Elsewhere he speaks of the freedom to choose between good and evil as a condition of responsibility.36 Is this common-sense view the same as “metaphysical” freedom? Does Jaffa mean to endorse what is sometimes called “strong free will,” i.e., the view that one could have chosen otherwise than one actually did, even given precisely similar causal conditions? I do not know. I shall, subject to correction, assume that by metaphysical freedom Jaffa simply means freedom in the ordinary-language sense.
If Jaffa means this by freedom, his argument fails. If people are required under threat of legal penalty to profess belief, their freedom of the mind remains. They will presumably know whether they sincerely accept the established church or merely mouth the prescribed phrases to escape punishment. If they in fact believe what they are required to profess, why do their professions “lose all merit”? Similarly, laws against murder do not destroy the moral merit of respect for the lives of others, so long as one would not have killed even without a law against it.
Further, what if a religion teaches that even coerced belief has merit? Once more, Jaffa attempts without authority to prescribe religious doctrine. And even if he is entirely right that coerced faith has no merit, his argument does not rule out an established church. Suppose the church made no attempt to compel belief, but required people to pay taxes to it? Or suppose the church insisted on a certain form of government which had nothing to do with inducing people to accept the church’s teachings? Suppose, e.g., that a church taught that absolute monarchy with complete religious toleration was the best type of regime. In point of fact, the Parable of the Talents in the New Testament has sometimes been used to support the right of kings to rule. Jaffa’s argument provides no reason for believers to refrain from establishing a monarchy.
Jaffa’s invocation of the Judaeo-Christian tradition by no means indicates that his argument for equality rests on religious assumptions, as previously noted. How then can he claim that our “respect for the rights of others constitutes an essential element of our duty to God, our primary duty, and the duty antecedent to our rights"?37 The answer lies in the idiosyncratic meaning Jaffa gives the word “God.” In an odd passage, he contends: “Although the existence of God is certainly implied by the proposition that all men are created equal, it is not necessarily implied. What is necessarily implied is not the Creator, but Creation.38 Implication between propositions is necessary: whatever can Jaffa mean by “implies” but not “necessarily implies”? Is he appealing to systems of modal logic in which “it is necessary that p” does not entail “it is necessary that it is necessary that p”? More plausibly, does he mean that a Creator is conventionally implied by the proposition, but not logically implied?
I suggest that the 1atter is a close, but not a perfect representation of Jaffa’s meaning. Jaffa does, it seems to me, wish to suggest that belief that men are created equal does not logically require a God distinct from creation. But the belief still does imp1y that God exists, since God need not be seen as distinct from creation. In fine, belief in God simply becomes equated with the acceptance of an objective order of nature.39
This suggestion receives support from another strange passage. Discussing the view that the Declaration of Independence takes of governmental power, Jaffa remarks: “The same God may, under his different aspects…without any conflict of interest arising from a diversity within himself…. The three-personed God…may be distinguished however from the originating Deity denominated as Creator."40 God acquires attributes with the creation; once more God seems to be equated with the order of nature and the Creator apart from nature relegated to the unknowable: he is assigned no diverse aspects.
But if Jaffa does not mean by “God” the God professed by ordinary Jews and Christians, why does he use theological terms so extensively? The answer, it seems to me, is that Jaffa wishes to promote a “civil religion” that will secure popular support for his political doctrine. Jaffa maintains that in the ancient world, people believed that their laws ultimately stemmed from a god peculiar to their city. “Every city either had a god as its lawgiver, or received them [laws] from a legislator who had in turn received them from a god.41 In these conditions, popular consent is not needed. People will obey the laws that they believe their city’s god has instituted. But Christianity substitutes a universal God, with whom people can become related apart from their political arrangements. Consent based on equality must replace the rules of the ancient city.42
Jaffa thus intends his interpretation of Biblical religion to accomplish for the modern world what belief in the city’s gods did for the ancient: obedience by the people to the proper system of law. Jaffa quite rightly notes that Christianity allows persons a relation to God independent of their political community; but as he also well knows, many Christian churches have gained religious control of the state. Hence his constant insistence not only on religious toleration, but on the “fact” that Christianity teaches this. He must at all costs defuse any religious teaching that threatens the political views he holds to be correct.
Jaffa praises Abraham Lincoln for his use of religious rhetoric to advance popular belief in his political principles. Lincoln “incorporated the truths of the Declaration of Independence into a social and ritual canon, making them objects of faith as well as cognition."43 Lincoln taught a “political religion which creates ‘reverence for the laws.’"44 To Lincoln, the law does not command assent to religion; rather, “it is the function of religious doctrine to command assent to the rule of law."45 Political considerations can settle questions of religious dogma: thus Lincoln rejected emphasis on human sinfulness. This threatened the views about human nature he took to be essential to the success of political reform.46
In Jaffa’s interpretation, Lincoln carried the political use of religion to what can only be called extraordinary lengths: “Lincoln acted the role of high priest in the Civil War, a conflict which he interpreted, in his two famous utterances, as a divine affliction, designed to transform a merely political union into a sacramental one."47
If one sees Jaffa as attempting to carry on the path blazed by Lincoln, many of the difficulties we have raised dissolve. Instead of asking: what evidence does Jaffa have for seeing Jesus as a proto-Lincoln, we should instead ask: how does Jaffa wish to use the Bible to advance his own views? The blatant weakness of his arguments, taken as factual claims, emerge in a different light if they form part of a myth elaborated for other ends.
But a new difficulty confronts Jaffa. He strongly supports religious tolerance: but may one openly dissent from the political religion he favors? If he disallows dissent, then his ‘religion’ does not practice the tolerance it preaches; if he allows it, he puts at risk the tutelary ends of his ersatz religion. In a discussion of civil and political rights for political parties which aim to deprive others of equal rights, Jaffa maintains that these groups have no guaranteed liberties. The question of what to do about such groups “must be a prudential one.” Although it may be counterproductive to deny rights to the intolerant, “a free society cannot be neutral towards the morality of citizenship, without being neutral towards itself. And this is absurd."48 I cannot think that open dissent from the principle of equality has a bright future in a society run on Jaffa’s rules.
I do not suggest that in his political view of religion Jaffa is hypocritical; but to explain why not, I fear, requires further resort to speculation. Some writers, such as Shadia Drury, have discovered in Strauss and his school a carefully concealed atheism;49 but I do not think this correct. The political view of religion Jaffa supports is entirely consistent with the theology he and Strauss find most plausible. Jaffa normally writes with pellucid clarity; but one passage in a recent essay is a conspicuous exception: “If it is true, as some say, that God created ex nihilo, then God Himself belonged to the Nothing that was prior to Creation. That is to say, the highest reality is predicated if that Being — God — whose nothingness (uncreatedness) is of the essence of his perfection…. God, as potentiality rather than actuality, is non-being rather than being, at least as non-being and being are understood by merely human intelligence. Moreover, to say that ‘nothing prevents anything from changing or being changed into anything else…’ is to say nothing different than saying that nothing (viz. Nothing) limits the power of God.”50
When I first read this, I was inclined to dismiss it as murky Heideggerian metaphysics; but in fact the remarks are of crucial significance to understanding both Strauss and Jaffa. They express a standard doctrine of several Kabbalists. The foremost historian of Kabbalah (and incidentally Strauss’s friend), Gershom Scholem, clarifies Jaffa’s dark saying: “More daring is the concept of the first step in the manifestation of Ein-Sof [the Infinite] as ayin or afisah (‘nothing,’ ‘nothingness’). Essentially, this nothingness is the barrier confronting the human intellectual faculty when it reaches the limits of its capacity. In other words, it is a subjective statement affirming that there is a realm which no created being can intellectually comprehend, and which, therefore, can only be defined as ‘nothingness.’ This idea is associated also with its opposite concept, namely, that since in reality there is no differentiation in God’s first step toward manifestation, this step…can thus only be described as ‘nothingness’…. its particular importance is seen in the radical transformation of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo into a mystical theory stating the precise opposite of what appears to be the literal meaning of the phrase. The monotheistic meaning of creatio ex nihilo loses its meaning and is completely reversed by the esoteric content of the formula…. This view, however, remained a secret belief and was concealed behind the use of the orthodox formula…”51
In brief, the term Jaffa applies to God suggests that he rejects the usual understanding of creation out of nothing. More generally, Strauss, whom Jaffa follows here as always, interpreted several medieval Jewish and Arab thinkers as teaching a philosophical religion rather than religion as popularly understood. In Strauss’s interpretation, philosophers play a key role: when he refers to “prophets” he means them.
As Scholem suggests in a letter to Walter Benjamin, the beginning of Strauss’s early book Philosophy and Law offers a key to his views on religion. According to Strauss, the foremost Jewish philosopher of the Middle Ages, Moses Maimonides, held that the “prophet as philosopher-statesman-seer (miracle-worker) in one is the founder of the ideal state…understood according to Plato’s guidance: the prophet is the founder of the Platonic state."52
In this conception, a prophet does not receive a communication from a personal God. Instead, “[p]hilosophical understanding of Revelation and philosophical grounding of the Law thus means the explanation of prophecy out of the nature of man."53 But does not a prophet foretell the future? Here too Strauss takes Maimonides to be making a point about philosophy: “That the prophet…has command over the things of the intellect and over the knowledge of the future thus signifies that the prophet has command over both (perfect) theoretical and practical knowledge."54
The significance of Strauss’s project needs to be underlined. I do not think that he is suggesting that Maimonides advocates irreligion in the guise of religion.55 Rather, if his interpretation is correct, then philosophical teaching is true religion. Maimonides is not “just anybody” but a foremost expounder of medieval Rabbinic Judaism. Thus, if one accepts the perspective of Maimonides, religion is not abandoned: it is correctly understood. As Jaffa has rightly noted, the epigraph to Strauss’s study of Plato’s Laws offers a clue to Strauss’s thought. And this epigraph, taken from the medieval Arab philosopher Avicenna, exactly confirms our view of what Strauss means by prophecy: “The treatment of prophecy and the Divine Law is contained in… the Laws [of Plato]."56
An obvious objection arises. Why should one think that Strauss’s interpretation of another thinker gives his own opinion? An answer may be found in a second key to understanding Strauss: the unabridged version of his “Farabi’s Plato.” Strauss ascribes to al-Farabi, a tenth-century Islamic philosopher of major importance, this principle: “Farabi avails himself then of the specific immunity of the commentator, or of the historian, in order to speak his mind concerning grave matters in his ‘historical works’ rather than in the works setting forth what he presents as his own doctrine."57
Of course it does not follow that Strauss used the same principle in his own work. But fully conceding that I am speculating, I think that he did so. And this very essay, if interpreted in the way I suggest, confirms the view that Strauss’s praise of “religion” depends on the peculiar sense he gives that term. If religion is understood as “essentially the property of a particular community,” then religious speculation is “inferior to grammar and poetry.” Popular religion is not a live option: Farabi “has infinitely more in common with a philosophic materialist than with any non-philosophic believer, however well-intentioned.”58
As one might expect, Farabi did not use “divine” in its customary acceptation. “Farabi’s u2018divine’ does not necessarily refer to the superhuman origin of a passion, e.g., but may simply designate its excellence…. what he called u2018divine’ in the first statement, is finally called by him u2018human.'”59
But what is the point of all this? Why present philosophy in the guise of an interpretation of religion rather than on its own? In part, the answer lies in fear of persecution; but the more basic reason is far from defensive. By their reinterpretation, philosophers can realize a “secret kingship”; without direct attack on popular belief, they nevertheless achieve an “undermining of accepted opinions."60 Thus, both al-Farabi and Maimonides, according to Strauss, do not intend their use of religious terms to be read in a popular sense. This does not imply that they adopt a “non-literal” understanding: they, and Strauss also, take their usage to be the correct sense. As Strauss sums up: “[A]s philosophers they [Maimonides and the Arabic philosophers] must indeed try to understand the given Law. This understanding is made possible for them by Plato and only by Plato."61 And as the last link in the chain, Strauss notes that Maimonides considered al-Farabi the greatest authority in philosophy after Aristotle.62
It is hardly surprising that Gershom Scholem, thoroughly familiar with his friend’s position, considered Strauss an atheist. He complained that Strauss’s open expression of his atheism in Philosophy and Belief prevented Scholem from obtaining for Strauss a position at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He comments in a letter of March 26, 1936, to the great critic Walter Benjamin: “The book [Philosophy and Law] begins with an unfeigned and copiously argued if completely ludicrous affirmation of atheism as the most important Jewish watchword."63
Along similar lines, the contemporary philosopher Emmanuel Levinas contends that Strauss sees a “cryptogram in the whole of philosophy…in which Reason secretly fights against religion."64 The views of Scholem and Levinas are right, if by religion one means belief in a personal God; but if one takes ‘religion’ the way Strauss himself does, he is most decidedly not an unbeliever. When, in a perceptive essay, Frederick Wilhelmsen asks why “the school of Leo Strauss” never seriously examines Christian philosophy,65 the answer can be found in the interpretation we have suggested. True religion consists of philosophers in “the quest [for truth] which alone makes life worth living.” To identify a particular human being, and a non-philosopher at that, as God incarnate would for Strauss be the quintessence of superstition. This is not the revelation he is prepared to take seriously.
But if this is what Strauss means by revelation, why does he speak of an opposition between reason and revelation? On the view I have imputed to him, would not they be virtually identical? The solution requires reference once more to Strauss’s characterization of miracle. A “miracle” must I think be taken as a successful effort by philosophers to establish a regime on appropriate principles. Charles McCoy has it exactly right: “u2018God’ is u2018camouflage’ for u2018wise rule.'”66 But philosophy, taken as a rigorous science, cannot show that philosophers will succeed in this endeavor: on the contrary, success is unlikely but not impossible. This constitutes the opposition between reason and faith.
This assessment of what Strauss means by revelation receives support from this significant passage: “[R]evelation is either a brute fact, to which nothing in purely human experience corresponds — in that case it is an oddity of no human importance — or it is a meaningful fact, a fact required by human experience to solve the fundamental problems of man — in that case it may very well be the product of reason, of the human attempt to solve the problem of human life.”67
In the paragraph of “Progress or Return?” which follows, Strauss appears to respond to this suggestion from the standpoint of standard religious revelation, but in fact he does not do so. He notes that revelation is “not meant to be accessible to unassisted reason” and refuses to acknowledge the tribunal of human reason. “But God has said or decided that he wants to dwell in mist.” This leaves entirely untouched Strauss’s assertion in the previous paragraph. He never says that revelation stems from a supernatural personal being. Strauss asserts that “philosophy recognizes only such experience as can be had by all men at all times in broad daylight.”68 Nevertheless, the practice of philosophy is confined to an elite. His "defense" of revelation, then, merely claims that judged by the capacities of which all humans are capable, the wisdom of philosophers appears mysterious.
That Jaffa accepts the position just described I cannot demonstrate; but it is, I suggest, the view of religion he finds most plausible. If so, the “political religion” he finds in the Declaration reflects the religious position he thinks most likely to be correct, if any religion is in fact true. God is immanent in creation and unknowable apart from it. One can now understand how he ranks religions, when at first it appears that philosophy has no credentials to do so. Since true religion is philosophy, Jaffa’s ranking is from his own perspective legitimate.
Strauss’s emphasis on esoteric writing has aroused endless fascination, and many have tried to plumb the "secret of Strauss." I fear that I have been no exception; but even if the line of thought just suggested misses the mark, our less speculative results remain. Jaffa has still not arrived at a sound argument for the principle that no one may rule another without his consent.
But even if one does accept the principle, the conclusions Jaffa draws from it do not follow. Jaffa maintains that each person’s right to rule does not become valuable to him until everyone transfers his right to a government.69 But the government cannot operate by unanimous consent: a majority must therefore act as the representative of the whole. It in turn can delegate its power to another type of government, although it is generally desirable that the government be democratic.70
No doubt people can, if they wish, unanimously form a government; but why is the right of self-government valuable only if an agreement of this kind is made? Suppose that in the state of nature, a minimal state arises in the way discussed by Robert Nozick. Or suppose people establish protection agencies to secure their natural rights, and these agencies in turn settle disputes among themselves by negotiation, as Murray Rothbard and other libertarians have suggested.71 Would the right of self-government be without value in these circumstances? Why?
Further, if people do unanimously agree to form a government, why must power be delegated to a majority? Of course Jaffa is correct that a large group cannot decide all issues unanimously; but many different tradeoffs between the benefits of unanimous consent and the costs of securing agreement are possible.72
Jaffa might respond that rules other than a simple majority do not “make every individual equally the source of legitimate authority."73 But this is first of all false: a rule requiring, say, two-thirds majority for legislation does not pick out particular citizens and lower the value of their votes. Rather, it requires whoever wants to pass a law of a certain kind to secure the required proportion of votes. Approval and disapproval of laws are treated unequally, not citizens. Further, it does not follow from the principle that no one can be governed without his consent that rule must be democratic.74 Why cannot people consent to undemocratic rule? Why, e.g., cannot the citizens transfer their right to rule to a Hobbesian sovereign? If they do so, they are not subject to rule without their consent.
I suspect that Jaffa would object to both libertarianism and Hobbesianism on similar grounds. Against the former, he might contend that: “[b]ecause human kings are not gods, no man is permitted to be a judge in his own cause."75 Rothbard’s system, in particular, allows people directly to punish those who violate their rights: they need not delegate their power of enforcement to others, however prudent it may be to do so.
This objection fails on several counts. Most obviously, it leaves untouched variants of libertarianism which do not allow self-enforcement. Nozick’s minimal state, e.g., considerably restricts self-enforcement through the prohibition of risky decision-procedures. Further, Jaffa himself seems sometimes to recognize the legitimacy of a direct response to a violation of one’s rights: “Everyone knows that he may, if necessary and at any time, take ‘the law into his own hands,’ either to defend himself, or to defend other innocent persons from unlawful violence. No positive law can repeal this natural law."76 How can Jaffa hold this and maintain at the same time that one cannot be a judge in his own cause? If he means something else than a direct response by “judge not in his own cause,” what is it?
More fundamentally, how does man’s not being God imply his inability to judge his own cause? Perhaps the argument is that someone who judges in his own cause will be unable to restrain his passions: not controlled by reason, he will judge unfairly. Certainly this poses a problem; but why does the needed control of one’s passions require superhuman virtue? What if someone is able to overcome bias in his own favor? May he be a judge in his own cause?77
Jaffa might raise a parallel contention against unanimous surrender to a Hobbesian sovereign: “The three powers of government are then symbolically present in the Declaration of Independence as aspects of that God in the Declaration who results from Creation, and who is the pattern and support for government in agreement with the rights of man…. The same God may, under his different aspects or functions, legislate, judge, and execute, without any conflict of interest arising from a diversity within himself. But the people, although by law one, remain a composition of relatively discrete individuals, whose passions…are seldom in harmony with each other. Hence the individual persons who compose the legislative, judicial and the executive powers of human government must (unlike God) be really different."78
This argument rests on a dubious assumption. Since the people unified in a commonwealth retain their separate identities, their form of government must mirror this separation. Otherwise, the person holding all the powers of government will copy powers belonging to God. But why is it wrong to do this? If the answer lies in the inability of a single officeholder to avoid the abuse of power, this may well count strongly against an all-powerful sovereign. But the question is empirical: it has not been shown that every Hobbesian sovereign abuses power.79 Even if one forbids a single person to hold complete power, a system might feature several sovereigns, like the Spartan kings. Jaffa has failed to show that alternatives to his majority rule scheme must be rejected.
Not content with an argument for the form of government, Jaffa deduces details of its construction from the scale of being. “Because mere humans are called upon to judge other humans, …punishments should be neither u2018cruel’ nor u2018unusual.'”80 One may readily acknowledge that punishment ought to be humane; but, once again, how does this moral principle follow from the fact that man is not God? Is it that if we were infallible in judging criminals, we would be able to impose cruel punishment? This seems wrong: cruelty is immoral even if the criminal’s guilt is certain.
In sum, Jaffa’s use of natural theology to support a principle of consent and to derive a form of government appropriate to that principle fails completely.
A radical opinion threatens to undermine all of Jaffa’s political philosophy. According to many contemporaries, values reduce to arbitrary preferences. It makes no sense to speak of rational ends: rationality exclusively concerns means. "True" and "false" apply only to statements about the world, but judgments of value are independent of the course of events. As Ernest van den Haag puts it: “For unbelievers and for a secular state, nature merely lets us know possibilities and the consequences of our choices, without telling us what to choose."81
To Jaffa, this view leads to nihilism: its wide popularity has weakened resistance to tyranny and immorality. Further, if morality consists purely of preferences, Jaffa cannot carry on his argument for equal consent. According to subjectivism, Jaffa’s principle reflects his preferences. Others have different preferences, and no reasonable way exists to determine who is right.
Jaffa accordingly regards it as a prime task to vindicate the objectivity of morals. He has especially addressed the issue in his “In Defense of the ‘Natural Law Thesis,'” and I propose to examine his arguments at some length.82 Before doing so, however, I emphasize that my purpose is not to show that morality is subjective. Quite the contrary, I agree with Jaffa that morality is objective. Further, none of my arguments in this or the previous section relies on the assumption that values cannot be derived from facts.
Jaffa begins his defense of natural-law ethics on a dubious note. Felix E. Oppenheim, a “value non-cognitivist,” claims that “[v]alue words do not designate objects, and it is misleading to use nouns such as ‘Justice’ and ‘Goodness'” (p. 191). Jaffa responds by noting the drastic consequences Oppenheim’s suggestion if adopted would have for ordinary language. Jaffa maintains that “grammatical forms are an important index to human consciousness of reality, and the grammar Oppenheim rejects is, so far as I am aware, universal” (p. 191).
Jaffa has wrongly accepted Oppenheim’s dubious argument. Oppenheim and Jaffa agree that if "justice" does not designate an object, the term strictly has no place in language. But to hold that the meaning of a term is always an object to which it refers is a questionable view. Gilbert Ryle memorably satirized “the traditional belief that to ask what does the expression ‘E’ mean is to ask To what ‘E’ stands in the relation in which ‘Fido’ stands to Fido?…the question whether a designator does apply to anything cannot arise until after we know what, if anything, it means. The things it applies to, if any, cannot therefore…be ingredients in what it means."83
Jaffa might disagree and still wish to maintain that meaning is reference. If so, he owes us some argument: he should not assume the truth of a very controversial position. But why must Jaffa defend himself? Even if he is mistaken about language, what has this to do with ethics? It will become apparent below that Jaffa’s assumptions about meaning infect his arguments about values.
Unfortunately, Jaffa has not yet finished with meaning. He informs us that “[s]peech presupposes common experiences. If we speak of our feelings, it is because we believe that others feel what we feel.” (p. 193). Although this belief is essential to communication, we cannot prove it: “We have no way of proving, of being certain beyond doubt, that when we say ‘sweet’ the word conveys the same thing to anyone else in the world…. [but] most people act as if it does, and we think it most improbable that they would so act if they did not experience ‘sweet’ as we do.” (p. 193).
Jaffa makes the “Fido”-Fido theory even worse. Now, terms designate private objects, not meant to be accessible to others. Jaffa’s claim that others probably mean the same thing by "sweet" as I do will not work. In his account, "sweet" designates, and hence means, a private experience. The expression “the same experience as I have when I experience sweet” does not designate anything: each experience of "sweet" is private to the person who has it. No criteria for the use of the expression have been proposed. Since this expression does not point to anything, by Jaffa’s theory it is meaningless.84
The difficulty for Jaffa’s account of language could not be greater. He not only thinks that words like "sweet" designate private objects: he maintains that our perception of physical objects takes place by the application of concepts to sense-data (p. 196). Why does Jaffa assume without argument that we do not directly perceive physical objects? I do not say that he errs in doing so, but the issue requires argument.85 However important this issue, a different problem confronts Jaffa. On his view, we cannot communicate about physical objects at all, since the sense data to which they refer (= mean) are private. Perhaps Jaffa rejects the well-known argument against private language just rehearsed: if so, he owes us an accounting.86
At times, Jaffa appears to recognize that communication requires something other than private objects. “Sensation, or a judgment of the mind utilizing only the data of the senses, is not sufficient to make possible a judgment of fact.” (p. 196) How then do we make such judgments? “Empirical knowledge…is a synthesis of sense data with definitions, universals, in terms of which the sense data are ordered. …What is indisputable, I think, is that every noun, such as ‘chair,’ is entirely subjective in that it is a priori with respect to the sense-data it orders and pre-exists in the mind of the man making the judgment of fact before he makes it. Yet it is objective insofar as it forms a predicate that is inter-subjectively communicable and presupposes an order of things common to the speaker and his actual or potential addressees” (p. 196).
Jaffa rightly sees that language cannot be based exclusively on sense data. He thus wishes a term to mean a combination of a concept and a group of sense-data. But this makes no sense: the concept of something is its meaning. Something’s meaning cannot consist of its meaning plus something else. Perhaps Jaffa means that a perceived object consists of sense-data organized according to a pattern: "table" refers to sense-data grouped in a table-like way. But then, the meaning of "table" once more consists entirely of incommunicable private sensations. (Remember, for Jaffa meaning = designation.) Nor will it help to bring in a world of common objects. If we perceive nothing but sense-data, how do we gain access to the common world? What constitutes referring to a common object? And if one somehow does succeed in referring to “the order of common things,” does each term have two meanings — the common object and the collection of sense-data? Also, what about terms such as "sweet" to which no common object corresponds? Not content with two theories of meaning, Jaffa ventures a third: “The common experience presupposed by speech presupposes in its turn a world of objects common to the speakers. Accordingly, the inter-subjectivity of language presupposes the objectivity and identity of the communicating subjects…. They must be identical, in the sense that the cause of our access to the world of objects must be the same, for the objects to be conceived as being the same” (p. 193).
Here total confusion reigns. Jaffa first claims, as one would expect from his belief that meaning is designation, that common experience presupposes common objects. From this he infers that communicating subjects must have identical ways of grasping the world: thus, a blind man cannot understand what the colors of a sunset designate. But on Jaffa’s account, each person uses his concepts to organize private sense-data: the fact that people have identical mechanisms of perception does not suffice to secure common meaning. Each person still designates (= means, in Jaffa’s idiolect) private objects. Even if one sets this problem aside, the same mechanisms of perception do not assure that communication is possible. Suppose we directly see external objects, but people radically differ in the objects they see. On Jaffa’s view of meaning, how could one grasp the meaning of an external object that only others had seen? Further, why are identical mechanisms necessary for communication? It seems plausible that sharp differences in how people perceive things may impede their ability to communicate: but why is identity needed?
One might well ask why Jaffa has begun an account of ethics with a discussion of language. He attempts by his discussion to lay the basis for a fatal blow against ethical subjectivism. “What is purely subjective, as the value non-cognitivist tells us every intrinsic value judgment is, is incapable of communication” (p. 193).
This argument fares no better than usual for Jaffa. On his theory of language, every term designates, at least in part, a private object incapable of communication to others. Value-terms, as the subjectivist views them, are no worse off than all terms, by Jaffa’s account of meaning. Jaffa himself seems aware of a similar point: “Let me now show why ‘intrinsic value judgments’ and ‘empirical knowledge’ are equally subjective and, for this reason, equally objective” (p. 196). (Jaffa’s point is not identical with mine because he means value judgments as he conceives of them, not as the subjectivist does.) Oddly enough, Jaffa takes the point as telling in favor of value-objectivity. But it does not follow from intrinsic value judgments having as much objectivity as empirical judgments that either is objective.
Jaffa’s contention that subjective value judgments cannot be communicated rests on an even more fundamental error. The “value non-cognitivist” denies that ethical judgments are true or false, independent of preferences. This is what he wishes to convey by calling value judgments subjective: he need not contend that such preferences rest upon ineffable feelings. Likes and dislikes obviously can be communicated: if whenever liver is served I make a face and refuse to eat it, have I not expressed my dislike for it? Jaffa has confused two senses of "subjective": "without truth-value apart from preference" and "incommunicable."
Jaffa also uses his analysis of language to show how we may arrive at objective judgments of value. “If I make the judgment ‘this is a good chair,’ I do not thereby premise any reality different from that assumed to exist in my merely factual statement. I merely affirm that the object before me fulfills adequately or completely the requirements specified in my concept of a chair… .The unqualified term applies only to the perfect object” (pp. 196—197).
Jaffa’s argument rests crucially on his confusion of meaning and referring. He says, in effect: "When I point to a good chair, I am just pointing to a chair: the goodness of the chair adds nothing to it. Since everyone acknowledges that the judgment u2018this is a chair’ is cognitive, so is u2018this is a good chair.’ It adds nothing to the first judgment."
Even if Jaffa were right about the reference of "good chair," his argument that judgments of value are cognitive would fail. A subjectivist could respond: “‘Good chair” has exactly the reference Jaffa thinks it does. Still, to call a chair good means something beyond identifying it as a chair: it expresses our approval of the fact that the chair is not deficient." But is Jaffa correct about the reference of "good chair"? I am inclined to think that the reference of "chair" and "good chair" need not be identical. If I say "I am going to have my chair reupholstered; the stuffing is coming out of the seat," it seems to me that I am referring to a genuine chair, not an analogical one: "it is that chair, that very one over there in the corner, that needs to be fixed." But this is merely my linguistic intuition against Jaffa’s: readers must judge for themselves.
According to Jaffa, the controversy can be resolved through argument. He notes that one can imagine a chair becoming increasingly defective “until we can only say ‘it was a chair.’ Finally, it becomes a mere heap of broken lumber, unrecognizable as bearing any more relation to a chair than to any other possible wooden object. When did it cease to be a chair? Only when it lost all traces of its original form? If it did not cease to be a chair when the first damage was done, it did not cease to be a chair when the last damage was done. What has ceased in even the smallest measure to be a chair is, to that extent, not a chair” (p. 197).
The last sentence of this argument should at once be dismissed from consideration. No doubt something that is not a chair is not a chair: but just the point in dispute is whether a deficient chair is a chair. As to the main argument, why is it the case that if a sufficiently damaged "chair" can no longer be regarded as a chair, then even a slightly imperfect chair is not a chair in the strict sense? Is Jaffa’s argument that there is no non-arbitrary point apart from this to draw the line? But why must there be a point at which a chair ceases to exist? Why should we not rather say that the boundaries of "chair" cannot be exactly determined?
Jaffa’s argument is a variation of the sorites, or paradox of the heap; and although this argument raises complicated logical problems, one can readily see it will wreak havoc if deployed in a simpleminded way. Suppose one removed a single atom from a "perfect" chair. Would it not retain its existence as a chair undiminished? But if the removal of a single atom cannot change a chair into something else, neither will the removal of a single atom from the altered chair. By continuing the argument, one can show that a single atom is a chair. Unless Jaffa wants to involve himself in some very intricate arguments, he had better leave the heap alone.87
Jaffa applies his claim about the meaning of "good object" to morality in this passage: “Judgments of the excellence of objects may become moral judgments when the object under consideration is a man, since moral judgments are judgments of human excellence… We judge a man good in virtue of the presence of humanity in the living organism before us” (pp. 197—198).
Although Jaffa does not here spell out the argument, presumably the contention is that a non-deficient man must be morally virtuous. An immoral man is not fully a man.
This conclusion will by itself not disturb the subjectivist. He can readily admit that someone who lacks a full complement of the Aristotelian virtues is not in the strict sense human. But he may deny that "one ought to approach as closely as possible to strict humanity" is objectively true. Why need it matter to someone if he is in Jaffa’s term deficient? The subjectivist I have conjured up challenges, not Jaffa’s definition of human excellence, but his assertion that “moral judgments are judgments of human excellence.” A moral judgment tells us what we ought to do. And just as it does not follow that whenever we build a chair, we ought to build a perfect chair, it is not a requirement of reason that one morally ought to attempt to become a perfect man. If this appears counterintuitive, perhaps this example will help: If a deficient man is a man only by analogy, then he is strictly something else. We introduce an arbitrary term for this "something else," viz., "*man." A *man is a deficient man, but a man is likewise a deficient *man. Why is one deficiency of greater moral relevance than the other?88
Although Jaffa’s article does not develop his ethics in detail, he offers an argument designed to show that the policy of an “unreconstructed Nazi” who aims at world conquest is irrational. If the argument is right, then the subjectivist is wrong to claim that all moral judgments are mere preferences on the same level. The proof of Nazi irrationality is this: “The Nazi…if he were asked to say why subjecting others to his will was good, would answer that in this he found his greatest satisfaction. Yet in contemplating this satisfaction he would realize (if he thought it through) that this satisfaction would be denied him if he were master of the world surrounded exclusively by slaves. It requires the testimony, not of slaves, but of other masters, to be convinced of one’s mastery” (p. 203).
The argument continues for some length, but let us pause to evaluate this part of it. First, Jaffa relies on an implicit philosophical psychology the conclusions of which he imputes without argument to his imagined Nazi. Jaffa thinks that everyone aims at his own happiness and that recognition by others occupies a key role in securing happiness.89 But what if the Nazi aimed at world conquest because he took this as a moral imperative? Why need something other than the goal itself motivate him? Further, what if he wishes to achieve the goal of conquest and does not care whether others recognize that he has done so? (The latter suggestion allows him to be motivated by his own satisfaction.) If Jaffa replies that both of these possibilities are excluded by a correct account of motivation, he needs to argue for his account, not just state that Aristotle held it (p. 205).
Even if the Nazi does wish recognition, it is not clear why the slaves do not provide it. How can one have better recognition of mastership than having everyone outside one’s own group recognize one as master? Does Jaffa think that the slaves will refuse to acknowledge the Nazi as their master? Or is it that they do not know they are slaves? Neither seems remotely tenable.
Perhaps Jaffa means that since the Nazi holds the slaves in contempt, he will not value their recognition. But there is no reason to think a master must hold his slaves in contempt: perhaps he likes enslaving opponents whose power he respects. (It would not be a good reply here to claim that actual Nazis did hold various groups in contempt: the whole example is one contrived by Jaffa, not dependent on historical accuracy.) And even if he does hold the slaves in contempt, why does this block his winning the recognition of mastery we have assumed him to desire? If what he wants is recognition by those he respects, yet another goal has been postulated by Jaffa. But we have not yet considered the most plausible reason for Jaffa’s view of recognition. This emerges in the argument’s continuation.
The Nazi “depends, at the least, upon the praise and fellowship of fellow master-race members. But, by equal reason, the master race itself cannot know itself to be a master race in a world in which there are only slaves and no enemies. Its sense of its own mastery is dependent upon the possibility of war. If, then, through victory in war, a master race extinguished all actual and potential equals, all enemies, it would have to turn itself…upon itself…. But, in making enemies of his friends, which his commitment to war logically entails, our Nazi would be destroying the basis for the satisfaction he now takes in contemplating victory in war" (pp. 203—204).
This passage might be taken to mean that each Nazi depends on the recognition of potentially equal enemies for recognition: perhaps this is why he cannot be satisfied with recognition by slaves. But Jaffa’s statement itself answers this claim. Each Nazi can receive recognition from “his fellow master-race members.” And, aside from this, we have still not been given a reason why the individual Nazi cannot find the recognition Jaffa postulates that he wishes from slaves.
But what of the new argument about the master-race as a group? This, if anything, has more problems than the first part. Why should one assume that the group as a whole seeks recognition? According to Jaffa, each Nazi wants recognition: but it is a blatant fallacy of composition to conclude from this that the group taken as a collective also seeks recognition. Even if it did, why does the destruction of all actual or potential enemies impede the master-race’s knowledge of its mastership? I should have thought that knowing that one has destroyed all actual or possible enemies is very good evidence indeed of mastery.
Jaffa has confused two types of mastery. In the first, the master defeats, or is capable of defeating, all rivals. In the second, several roughly equal opponents confront one another, one of whom wins or can win. In the latter case, too much of an initial advantage will prevent mastery from being attained: close rivals are needed. If Jaffa has this latter situation in mind, what he says about mastery becomes plausible. But he has not given the slightest reason to think that his Nazi must want this kind of mastery.
But suppose he is right; and, in order to achieve recognition, groups within the master-race must become rivals. How does this undermine the value of friendship? Why could not the members of each new group remain friends? Is the argument that if one group wins, it in turn will have to split, and so on? But why must the process continue until few or none within the group are friends? Would not new rivals be likely to arise? Further, why should one assume that Jaffa’s Nazis value friendship? He notes that the actual Nazis did; but he has forgotten that his case is a philosophical argument rather than a report of historical fact. Why must the members of the master-race who give the Nazi recognition be his friends?
But suppose Jaffa is entirely right in his argument. All he has shown is that in certain conditions a policy of world conquest cannot be maintained over a long period. He has said nothing to rule out groups that aim to dominate smaller areas. What if the Nazis wished to achieve European dominance rather than literal world conquest? Why is pursuit of this goal irrational? And what if the Nazis were to recognize that they cannot permanently gain satisfaction from world conquest? Why could they not aim at conquest for as long as possible? It is not apparent that rationality requires that one have an ultimate goal the pursuit of which can be indefinitely continued.
Jaffa concludes from his argument that the Nazi ought to prefer liberal democracy to Nazism, if he values his own satisfaction. “‘If you would be happy, then you must be virtuous.'” This argument fails also, even if one disregards the obvious point that Jaffa has done nothing to show liberal democracy is required for happiness. Suppose that only a virtuous person can be happy, and that virtue entails commitment to liberal democracy. This does not suffice to show that Jaffa’s Nazi can be happy by attempting to become virtuous. Jaffa began his example with the assumption that the Nazi derives his greatest satisfaction from subduing others to his will. If so, and if only a virtuous person can attain happiness, the proper conclusion appears to be that the Nazi cannot obtain happiness, given his desires. The Nazi, instructed by Jaffa, may think that he would be better off if he were to have different preferences; but perhaps he cannot alter his desires. If so, Jaffa’s argument gives him no reason to prefer liberal democracy, even if the Nazi concedes that his goal is unattainable. He will not get full satisfaction from either Nazism or liberal democracy, but he might be better off under the former system.
Ever fertile with arguments, Jaffa advances yet another thrust against moral subjectivism. The moral non-cognitivist aims to bring about what he considers the best state of affairs, but "the comparative estimate of consequences…is, apart from an objective idea of happiness, impossible, for it leads theoretically to an infinite regress. Consider: I might estimate that course of action A is desirable because it leads to state of affairs A’ which I now consider most desirable. However, the achievement of A’ will cause me to value, not A’, but B’, and my present degree of dissatisfaction will be reduplicated. Unfortunately, I cannot resolve this dilemma by choosing B, since not B but A leads to the preference for B’ — and so forth" (p. 207).90
I find it unclear what Jaffa regards as the difficulty for non-cognitivism. The non-cognitivist will each time choose what he then thinks most desirable. Whatever his choice, he will afterwards think he should have chosen otherwise. But how does his regret pose a problem for the theory? It does not follow from his wish that he had chosen otherwise that he is worse off, or thinks himself worse off, than he was when he made the original choice. He does think that he is not as well off as he might have been had he chosen otherwise, but what is the problem for the theory in this?
To strengthen Jaffa’s example, assume that the person always regards himself as worse off after he chooses than he was before choosing. Once more, why is this a difficulty for the non-cognitivist? The chooser can still aim at each decision to choose what then seems to him best, as the theory requires. No doubt the person has an unfortunate set of preferences, but it is not part of non-cognitivism that anyone who acts in accord with the theory will succeed in raising his level of satisfaction. If the person becomes aware of his self- defeating preferences, he may be at a loss what to do: but this is a problem for him, not for the defender of subjectivism.
Jaffa of course disagrees: he thinks his regress raises a fundamental difficulty for the non-cognitivist. “It is no answer to this to say that such examples are by no means necessary. Neither are any other examples. But the possibilities are demonstrably unlimited, and this fact proves that predictability is a delusion. If there is no basis for predicting the degree of human satisfaction that will result from perfect rationality on non-cognitivist premises, there is no reason whatever for obeying the injunction: u2018Be rational'” (pp.207—208, n. 3).
Jaffa seems to me right that a theory that aims to maximize satisfaction needs a method of estimating satisfaction. But his argument does not show that possibilities are infinite nor offer any other reason against estimates of future satisfaction. Jaffa has at best constructed an example in which satisfaction cannot be increased. How is his case supposed to be relevant to the general problem of estimating satisfaction?
Jaffa may be thinking along the following lines (though this is little better than a guess): In the infinite regress example, there are infinite possibilities. But one cannot rule out that, for any given person, the infinite regress obtains. If so, the possibilities facing an individual may, for all we can tell, be infinite, and predictability is not possible.
But Jaffa’s case involves no infinite regress. At each choice, the person afterwards wishes he had chosen otherwise: this is not a regress at all, much less an infinite one. The number of choices confronting the individual with self-defeating preferences does not increase at all. Even if someone in this situation did face an infinite (indefinite?) number of choices, the possibility of this situation does not suffice to destroy predictability. Why could one not estimate that this situation for a given person was very unlikely to arise? To predict future satisfaction does not require that states of affairs not allowing prediction be ruled out as impossible. Further, even in a situation presuming an infinite number of choices, it need not be the case that prediction of future satisfaction is impossible. Perhaps one holds on good grounds a theory reducing the possibilities that need to be evaluated to a manageable number. And if one settles for an outcome that is “good enough” (what Herbert Simon terms “satisficing rationality”), not all alternatives need to be compared.91
Jaffa has also misidentified the target of his argument; it is not, as he thinks it is, moral non-cognitivism. That position holds that morality depends on preference. But the problem Jaffa advances in his argument is whether satisfaction, if not objectively characterized, is predictable. A non-cognitivist need not maintain this: he can agree with Jaffa that the standards for satisfaction are objective but hold that whether one ought to maximize satisfaction requires personal decision. Also, someone might hold that morality is not dependent on preference but that satisfaction is. And a non-cognitivist need not take satisfaction as a goal. He might think that morality consists of Kantian imperatives, the choice of which rests on preference. Jaffa’s opponent in his article, Felix Oppenheim, adopted a subjective view of both morality and satisfaction; but unless Jaffa intends his comments exclusively as an ad hominem argument, he ought to have considered the cases just discussed.
In the preceding, I have spoken loosely of "preference" and "decision" in the subjectivist position. The first term seems to me the more accurate, since the use of "decision" makes it easy to fall into a misconception, one which Jaffa has not avoided. It does not follow from the subjectivist view that people have to choose their moral principles consciously. All that the view requires is that moral judgments are not true or false independent of preference. Thus, the position need not hold that “we decide what morality” is, as both Jaffa and Ernest van den Haag assume. Someone can be a subjectivist and hold that a person’s preferences are “built into him.” One might think, e.g., that people have certain instinctive likings and aversions which determine their moral choices. As long as one holds that there are no non-subjective criteria by which the preferences can be evaluated, the position still counts as subjectivist.
Whatever one thinks of Jaffa’s arguments, there is no denying that he has taken great care to build a case for the views he holds with such firm conviction. It is thus surprising that he advances one contention that if right would at once invalidate his entire approach. After noting that the “theory of value non-cognitivism is…extremely paradoxical and would drastically revise our conceptions of reality,” he continues: “This of course is no objection to it, for to be a scientist means to submit one’s conceptions to the test of reason” (p. 191).
Jaffa’s argument for moral objectivity, as we have seen, depends on a thesis about the meaning of "good." But this account purports to be about the meaning of "good" in ordinary language. If Jaffa’s just-quoted remark were correct, a value non-cognitivist is free to dismiss Jaffa’s argument as irrelevant. He need not take his theory to be an account of our ordinary conception of morality; and according to Jaffa, its conflict with our ordinary view is no objection to it. Fortunately for Jaffa, he advances only an invalid argument for his contention. If one submits one’s contentions to the test of reason, it does not follow that one cannot consider a theory’s paradoxical content as an objection to it.
Indeed, Jaffa’s best argument in the article depends upon a denial of this contention. He points out that people continue to believe that the external world exists in spite of unrefuted skeptical arguments that this cannot be proved (pp. 194—195). If it is rational to do so, why is it not also rational to retain our convictions that at least some moral judgments are objectively true, despite philosophical problems about “ontological queerness,” verification, etc.?
I hereby confess to a deception. Although I began the argument with a statement Jaffa makes, I continued it in a way that seems to me at least arguably defensible rather than give what Jaffa actually says. I did so because his continuation ruins a promising start.
On his account, recall, value judgments are cognitive judgments. Thus, Jaffa contends, ” u2018intrinsic value judgments’ and u2018empirical knowledge’ are equally subjective, and for this reason, equally objective” (pp. 195—196). But all that Jaffa can obtain from this is that just as we take the world to exist, so we may take moral judgments to be objective. And this is perfectly compatible with a subjectivist view that does not purport to be an analysis of people’s opinions about moral judgments. J. L. Mackie’s error theory, e.g., holds that moral judgments are subjective but that people mistakenly think them objective.92
Have I nothing at all good to say about Jaffa’s arguments? Lest I be charged (of course falsely) with bias against him, I should like to call attention to a point Jaffa makes which seems to me insightful. In a debate with Thomas Rochon, Jaffa noted that some terms, such as “rude,” incorporate both factual and value elements in a way that cannot be disentangled. Whether someone is rude is a factual matter, not one for arbitrary decision; but once we have made the judgment, we seem committed to a prima facie moral judgment. It seems to me that examples of this kind pose a genuine difficulty for a moral subjectivist. The argument, which Jaffa may have learned from Leo Strauss, has aroused a great deal of discussion in recent moral philosophy.93
Jaffa presumably intends the moral theory he has sketched to support the doctrine of political rights discussed in Part I of this essay; and he suggests in the present article an interpretation of the Declaration of Independence (pp. 205—206, n.2). But his moral theory seems at a crucial point inconsistent with the political theory he defends. His key political principle is that no man has the right to rule another without his consent. But he has just argued that only the perfect or non-deficient man is strictly speaking a human being. “When we speak of a poor or defective chair, we are really speaking metaphorically, for the defective chair is not, in the strict sense, a chair” (p. 197). By parallel argument, a defective man is not a man. Why, then, do non-defective men have rights? At best, they have analogies to rights, and the foundation of Jaffa’s politics is destroyed. Similarly, he asks: “How do we decide whether it is better to enslave our fellow men or respect their dignity as human beings, enjoying the same rank in order of nature (or of creation) as ourselves?"94 But on Jaffa’s argument, not all human beings (in the ordinary-language sense) share the same nature: two entities that are analogous rather than members of the identical species do not have a common essence.
What is going on here? I should like to suggest an answer that fits in with the speculative discussion at the end of Part I. If successful, this account will explain why Jaffa refuses to reject the paradoxical view, even though his own argument rests on ordinary language. I suggest that, as before, Jaffa’s official and real doctrine must be distinguished.
He claims that only a non-deficient being is, in the strict sense, human. The question then arises: what is a non-deficient man? Jaffa’s mentor Leo Strauss answers in a surprising way. Referring to “the Platonic-Hegelian assumption that ‘the best’ are somehow ruled by the purely rational, the philosophers…,” he states: “only if the striving for recognition is a veiled form of the striving for full self-consciousness or full rationality, in other words only if a human being, insofar as he is not a philosopher is not really a human being.. .[is] someone who leads a life of action essentially subordinate to the philosopher."95
If this is what Strauss and Jaffa teach, one can readily understand Jaffa’s refusal to reject paradox. Jaffa, one should note, is extremely sensitive to criticism in regard to Straussian teaching about defective human beings. Replying to a citation by Shadia Drury in which Strauss calls non-philosophers “mutilated human beings,” Jaffa comments: “With the exception of Kant, there has never, so far as I know, been anyone who has maintained that morality can stand entirely or simply on its own foundation… . Is it not clear that from the point of view of the man who ‘loves his God with all his heart, and with all his mind, and with all his might,’ the merely moral man must appear a defective human being? The pious man thinks that in obeying the moral law he is obeying and honoring God. To him, a man who is obeying the moral law merely dignifies himself and must appear as less than fully human. Whether from the perspective of Reason or of Revelation, it is the capacity of the human soul to transcend time and participate in eternity that is the ultimate cause of the soul’s dignity."96
Jaffa acts as if he were defending a perfectly ordinary position. But his comments are astonishingly radical in implication. The suggestion that an eternal realm transcends morality, whether one agrees or not, seems perfectly defensible; and so does the view that if there is such a realm, someone not in contact with it is lacking in comparison with someone who is. But surely it is the reverse of commonplace to suggest that non-philosophers are human beings only by analogy. If this does not constitute a radical depreciation of morality, what does?
Jaffa disagrees. Again in response to Drury, he claims that he has always denied that the fact that the intellectual virtues apart from prudence may exist apart from morality implies a radical depreciation of morality. His colleague Harry Neumann maintains that Aristotle teaches this: Jaffa thinks otherwise.97 Professor Jaffa is of course the final authority on what he believes; but if one consults the page in Jaffa’s Thomism and Aristotelianism about which Drury and Jaffa dispute, one will find the following: “Thus we see, by Thomas’ own assertion, that according to the philosophic teaching the highest natural perfection of man is possible without moral virtue. This clearly implies a grave depreciation of morality…[although Aquinas’ theological teaching holds otherwise] it remains true, as Thomas explicitly says, that as far as natural morality is concerned, the highest perfection is possible without moral virtue…. But if it is true that the highest human good is possible without moral virtue, then there is no moral obligation to be morally virtuous binding on those who can attain the highest good without moral virtue. Moral virtue would then seem to be obligatory only to those who are capable of nothing more than mere virtue. This, however, would in any case imply a double standard, one for philosophers and one for nonphilosophers."98
It is a little ironic that in the same article in which Jaffa denies that he has ever taught that the Aristotelian view of the intellectual virtues implies a radical depreciation of morality, he reacts with horror to Kant’s contention that absolute honesty is in all circumstances a moral duty. But the founder of the Winston Churchill Association no doubt knows the use of “terminological inexactitude.”
From Jaffa’s teaching, it of course does not follow that philosophers will generally kill and rob those they deem their inferiors. Quite the contrary, Jaffa is anxious to stress that the main situations in which moral rules may be violated involve the safety of society, presumably judged either by philosophers themselves or statesmen acting under philosophic advice.
One may freely concede Jaffa’s point: I do not think either he or Strauss teaches a Nietzschean view in which inferiors are treated at best with pity, at worst with contempt and cruelty.98a But however limited in practice the exceptions to morality are, Jaffa ascribes to Aristotle and gives every indication of holding himself that philosophers are not bound by moral obligation at all.
Even if one confines attention to the exceptions Jaffa has in mind, his views seem radically at variance with ordinary morality. Citing as an example “[s]ome of Lincoln’s actions during the Civil War,” Jaffa asserts: “Thus we contemplate extreme actions in defense of the rule of law by wise men whose unfettered wisdom may sometimes be the necessary condition for the establishment or survival of a decent constitutional order. But these are not justifications of tyranny, or of any immorality…[because] that there are no moral rules to which exceptions might not be found, where ‘the safety and happiness of society’ are at stake, has been recognized by sound moralists at all times.”99
Jaffa conflates two different views. The first is whether moral rules have exceptions built into them. Thus, I think most people would disagree with Kant and hold that one ought not to be truthful to a murderer inquiring about the location of the person he intends to kill. (Jaffa may be surprised to learn that there are eminent contemporary philosophers who do agree with Kant — Elizabeth Anscombe and Michael Dummett come to mind.) But this modification of the rule against lying gives us a new moral rule.
A different state of affairs is involved in the circumstances Jaffa delineates. Here morality is suspended altogether: the moral rules do not permit an exception: nevertheless the statesman violates them in order to secure the state. An example, not used by Jaffa, may help to clarify the distinction. Suppose a drowning person comes across another person clinging to a plank of wood. The plank’s size does not allow both to hold on to it. Some people think that in this situation, one may throw the other person off the plank to save one’s own life. But those who think this usually do not claim that this action is morally justified: rather, they think that the emerging situation temporarily suspends morality. (I give this example just for illustration and do not impute its conclusion to Jaffa.)
It seems to me very likely that Jaffa envisions acts that suspend morality rather than allow exceptions to moral rules which remain within morality. He mentions “the question as to whether…a man might justifiably commit murder or adultery as a way of preventing the betrayal of his country or, rather, whether he would be obliged to do so, following the dictates of reason and choosing the lesser evil."100 Someone who believes that one might justifiably do these things (and my impression from the context of the quote is that Jaffa is among them) would not, I think, usually be claiming that it is morally required to commit these crimes. Jaffa himself, as his reference to “being obliged” shows, does not recognize the distinction I have attempted to draw.
Jaffa is indeed correct that whether normal moral rules always bind the statesman is an issue that has been much discussed. But his view that “all sound moralists” endorse his position strikes me as peculiar. Is he adopting a stipulative definition of "sound moralist," according to which anyone who thinks otherwise cannot be sound? Or does he mean that no one who is generally considered a major moral theorist (except Kant) rejects his view?
If he means the latter, his contention is incorrect. His example of murder and adultery allude to a famous discussion by an Aristotelian commentator of unknown name called the Old Scholiast. He held that adultery and murder were permissible to save the state; but Thomas Aquinas expressly rejected his position and held that the moral laws prohibiting these acts may never be violated.101 Does Jaffa consider Aquinas a sound moralist?
As to the question itself, extended discussion would be out of place here. But as Jaffa finds the answer so obvious, I should like to inquire whether to save the state someone may commit rape or incest or may have small children tortured to death. Jaffa claims, further, that the laws of war in the Old Testament support his view. But it is surprising that so careful a student of Scripture does not discuss the most famous place in the Bible where the issue arises. These words are attributed to the High Priest Caiaphas: “that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not” (John 11:50-51 KJV). This argument for the killing of Jesus Christ is not usually considered a paradigm of sound morality.
In course of his argument, Jaffa appeals to support from James Madison. Whether Madison held the view Jaffa attributes to him, I do not know: only someone thoroughly acquainted with this period of American history would have the right to challenge Jaffa’s authority. But the quote that Jaffa offers does not support his enlistment of Madison. The passage he cites from the Federalist says that all such [political] institutions must be sacrificed “to the safety and happiness of society."102 It does not say that all moral rules are likewise subordinate to this end.
Entirely apart from these emergency situations, Jaffa’s account of morality differs in other ways from commonly accepted views. He maintains that morality consists entirely of hypothetical imperatives telling us how to be happy (pp. 204—205). Although he recognizes that some goods, such as friendship, can be pursued both for one’s own welfare and as ends-in-themselves, he does not allow that the harm an action causes to others can by itself provide sufficient reason to refrain from doing it. But are we inclined to think that Stalin’s badness consists of the fact that he chose an irrational method to realize his well-being? I should have thought the evil he did lies in his responsibility for millions of deaths. To require an egoistic argument against his actions as a condition for holding them morally wrong displays a corrupt mind.
I suspect that just the position I attribute to ordinary morality is included in Jaffa’s condemnation of morality as an end in itself. Further, his claim that he knows of no one besides Kant who holds this view seems odd. He elsewhere attributes the same view to Aquinas. “Thomas…treats morality as having actually an independent existence and as being intrinsically rational…"103
To conclude this section, I should like to address Jaffa’s claim to be a defender of natural law. It would be unfair to Jaffa to give this term a restrictive definition and proceed on that basis to challenge his right to be regarded as an advocate of this position. Instead, let us characterize a natural-law position as one that holds that morality is objective. Moral principles may all have exceptions; and all principles may be subordinated to prudence, so long as one holds that at least some moral principles do not depend for their validity on human preference.
Does Jaffa qualify as a defender of natural law by this very relaxed standard? On first glance, he obviously does. He notes that America’s founding fathers held that all human beings ought to have certain rights, in a context that suggests his approval of the claim (p. 206, no.2). Yet we have seen in Part I how little in practice one’s right not to be ruled without consent entails.
If one takes account of Jaffa’s wish to base his argument on the Nicomachean Ethics, matters assume an entirely different cast. Jaffa sharply contrasts Aristotle’s teaching with that of Aquinas. According to Jaffa, Aquinas held, but Aristotle did not, that “the content of natural right is everywhere the same and so…the naturally just framework of every just legal code would have to be the same."104 Aquinas allowed variations in moral precepts to meet local conditions, but for Jaffa, “this is a very rigid conception."105
The doctrine he imputes to Aristotle differs entirely from the Thomistic view. “Thomas’ rigid scheme is inconsistent with Aristotle’s principle that what is just is roughly equated with what is legally just, if what is legally just depends upon the nature of the regime and not upon a code of natural right."106 Aristotle accepts this statement’s conditional clause: he attributes the “variety of legally just things…to the variety of constitutions or regimes and not simply to the application of general rules to particular cases."107
But does not this position still make room for natural law? As long as some regimes are objectively better than others, natural law has not been abandoned. True enough; but this does not take us very far. Jaffa attributes to Aristotle the view that in a very poor regime, the good man must obey the government except in extreme cases. From this, he draws an important conclusion about natural right: “The good man, therefore, defers to the law of imperfect communities, and hence to its moral code; and what the good man does is morally right. In other words, not to obey the law and customs of one’s community is usually unjust, and hence contrary to natural right. As natural right enjoins obedience to any legal justice which may reasonably be said to aim at the common good, it would seem to follow that for the most part, the mutability of natural right follows, pari passu, the mutability of constitutions."108
The odd aspect of this passage for a supposed defender of natural law does not consist of its recommendation to avoid revolt in most circumstances. Rather, it is Jaffa’s virtual identification of natural right with the laws of the community. He does not totally equate them: the identification holds “for the most part.” In that qualification lies the sum and substance of Jaffa’s “defense of the natural 1aw thesis.”
Jaffa’s work as a historian and commentator on contemporary politics applies and extends his political philosophy. I do not propose to discuss this area of his work in detail, challenging particular historical views he holds. Rather, I shall discuss a few examples of his method of reaching conclusions.
In his interpretation of Southern goals at the outset of the Civil War, Jaffa places great emphasis on a speech delivered by Alexander Stephens in March 1861. In this speech, Stephens maintained that science supported the doctrine that Negroes were an inferior race. As mentioned above, I do not wish to dispute Jaffa’s assessment of the speech, much less his views on the Civil War. But in the course of his discussion, he advances a bold claim: “Clearly, he [Stephens] had already been influenced by Darwin’s Origin of Species, published in 1859."109
Darwin did not discuss human evolution in the Origin of Species. At the book’s close, he suggests that “light will be shed” on human origins; but his views of this subject became generally known only with the publication of The Descent of Man in 1871. The Origin mentions Negroes only a handful of times in passing, always innocuously.110
I suppose it is possible that Stephens read and digested the Origin within slightly more than one year of its publication; immediately grasped the application of Darwin’s theory to human beings; at once anticipated the use later nineteenth-century writers made of the theory to support doctrines of racial conflict — perhaps he deduced this from the book’s subtitle, “the preservation of favored races in the struggle for life” — ; and, in one culminating insight, saw that all of this could be used to advance the Confederate cause. But I do wish Professor Jaffa would explain his use of “clearly.”
Jaffa’s discussion of Lincoln offers another valuable example of a Straussian philosopher in action. During his debate with Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln made several remarks that have led some historians to think that he shared the anti-Negro prejudices common in his time. Jaffa dissents from this view; he thinks that the statements were carefully qualified and, if analyzed, do not commit Lincoln to belief in Negro inferiority. Once more, I do not propose to argue with his interpretation; those interested may consult his detailed discussion in Crisis of the House Divided.111 What I wish to examine is an argument he offers in support of this interpretation: “In the Lincoln-Douglas debates Lincoln would state many times that he was not and never had been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, or of permitting them to marry with white people. As I pointed out in Crisis he never said that he never would be in favor of such things."112
Now this is quite remarkable! Lincoln advances a certain proposition. But his adherence to it is not complete: rather it is carefully qualified. How do we know this? Because Lincoln did not say that he would continue to believe the proposition in the future. So far as I am aware, Jaffa has never said that he will always maintain in the future the admiration for Lincoln he has often expressed. Obviously, then, he may not genuinely admire Lincoln: his praise for him in a major book and numerous articles has always been carefully qualified. In like manner, Jaffa has not really suggested that Lincoln did not defend racist views: he did nothing but suggest he now holds this interpretation of Lincoln.
Perhaps Jaffa does not wish his hermeneutic principle extended to all statements, but only to those of the form: “I do not now believe, and have never believed.” Before reading Jaffa, I imagined that this phrase indicated emphatic belief; but suitably instructed by superior authority, I have learned the error of my ways. And, as evidence I have reformed, I offer the strongest possible commitment to his view: I do not now and have never adopted it.
Old habits die hard, and error is difficult to avoid. An appendix to one of Jaffa’s own articles is entitled “Are These Truths Now, Or Have They Ever Been, Self-Evident”; and I fear the context makes apparent that he uses the expression in the outmoded manner.113
But enough of the future tense: let us return to the present. In a criticism of Willmore Kendall, Jaffa sharply disagreed with Kendall’s contention that Lincoln’s principle of equality has led to twentieth- century leftist egalitarianism. Quite the contrary, Jaffa claims that Lincoln was a strong defender of private property and the free market.
But during Lincoln’s administration, were there not continual acts of interference with the market by government? Inflated currency, increased taxes, the introduction of an income tax, and a vast expansion of the government come to mind. Jaffa argues that many of these measures were for use only in the war emergency. Moreover, Lincoln himself had little interest in governmentally-directed “national improvements.” His prime concern was the Civil War, and he left the economy largely to Congress. Lincoln “did little, if anything, to expand the power of the federal government per se."114
I am inclined to think this appraisal incorrect, but again I claim no authority to dispute the historical issues with Jaffa. Let us then assume he is right: what follows? He would be justified in claiming that one cannot unconditionally claim that Lincoln opposed the free market. Rather, he was willing to accept interference with it in pursuit of an aim he considered more exigent.
But how does Jaffa get from this thesis to the contention that Lincoln was a great defender of the free market? A supporter of the market usually connotes someone whose policies support it, rather than one who has some excuse for anti-market programs. But, as we have had more than one occasion to see, Jaffa has a language all his own.
Jaffa lavishes compliments on the free market, although I do not know whether he rates himself so stalwart a supporter of it as Lincoln. He offers an excellent defense of private enterprise in medicine and elsewhere champions freedom on contract in employment.115 But because his language at times deviates from standard usage, I think it worthwhile to ask how free a market he actually favors.
That he has in mind a quite limited version of market freedom emerges from his reply to a claim advanced by M. E. Bradford. Jaffa finds “extraordinary” Bradford’s assertion that the policy of equality of opportunity which Jaffa endorses cannot be distinguished from the equality of results he attacks. In reply, Jaffa contrasts a handicap race, aimed ideally to secure an equal finish for all contestants, with an open race. “The purpose of the [open] race is to find out who is the fastest, and this can be done only if the start of the race if fair…. Only an open race is a true race — that is, only a race in which every runner has a chance to compete, can reveal who it is who can run the fastest. And a true race is one in which everyone starts from the same line at the same time, and runs the same distance…. it is precisely when everyone starts together in a fair race that they do not end together."116
Jaffa clearly opposes equal distribution of income, but one wonders how he wishes to ensure a “fair start.” Some people begin their careers with many more advantages than others: large inheritances, easy access to the best schools, etc. In a free market, people do not start with equal opportunity: would Jaffa support changes in this situation to ensure a more equal start? If he does, how far would he go? Does he favor, e.g., the abolition or drastic curtailment of inheritance? Even more important, if he now opposes such measures, does he do so because it would be difficult to gain general consent for them, or does he oppose them in principle?
It is possible that Jaffa intends only the removal of state-imposed discrimination by “equality of opportunity.” If so, his use of the slogan would be entirely consistent with support for the market. But I am strongly inclined to doubt that he wishes to adopt this limited construal. “Fair start” insinuates much more.
So far as I am aware, he has never spelled out in detail the economic policies he supports. But in his introduction to the reissue of Crisis in 1982, he refers to the “great Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965.”117 The 1964 Act is not restricted to governmentally-imposed segregation but forbids discrimination in private employment and housing as well.118 On the basis of Jaffa’s statement, I suggested in an earlier draft of this essay that it was odd for Jaffa to favor the act yet still declare himself a strong champion of freedom of contract. But in fairness to Professor Jaffa, he has recently changed his view. He now believes that “the abuses of the anti-discrimination laws are so intimately connected with misconceptions in the laws themselves that any benefits from them will always be far outweighed by the harm they do."118a Even in his new position, though, he does not support freedom of contract as a moral right. Quite the contrary, his argument is purely prudential; the “real interests” of businessmen will end discrimination more effectively than bureaucratic schemes that mandate group rights.
And what does he mean when he says that the choice between the sales tax and income tax is “ultimately a choice between democracy and oligarchy"?119 Usually, those who advance similar views maintain that sales taxes are ‘regressive': does Jaffa support progressive income taxation? One hopes that somewhere in his future articles or letters to editors he will inform his readers exactly which restrictions on the operation of the free market he endorses. In asking whether Jaffa may rightfully be called a defender of the free market, I do not mean to restrict this term to those who support an unhampered market in the style of Ludwig von Mises; though this is my own view, I have no right to compel others to accept the usage I prefer. But I do not think the term generally applies to those who advocate substantial governmental intervention, as I think Jaffa does. The political theory that Jaffa proposes allows such interference as “prudence” dictates.
At the close of this long review of Jaffa, I confess to a feeling of bafflement. If one reads his interpretation of Aristotle’s Ethics, his discussion of Lincoln’s Lyceum and temperance speeches, and his essay on King Lear, it quickly becomes evident that Jaffa possesses a high degree of ingenuity.120 Yet when he interrupts the explanation of the hidden meaning of his texts to present a philosophical argument, he seems utterly lost.121 John Wild had it exactly right when he suggested that “so much time is spent in devious textual interpretation that there is little left for systematic argument."122
The world of Harry Jaffa is indeed a topsy-turvy one. All men are created equal, except of course for philosophers, who hold divine rank. No one may be ruled without his consent; but everyone must obey all except the most vicious government under whose rule he lives. Morality is an objective science, but none of its precepts is universally valid. The establishment of democracy is our duty to God, who apart from creation is an unknowable Nothing. Oh, what a tangled web we weave!
1. Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), p. 278.
2. Harry V. Jaffa, “Of Men, Hogs, and Law, t. National Review, February 3, 1992. Professor Jaffa briefly responded in a letter to comments on him in my “Democracy and the Missing Argument,” This World, No. 27 (Winter, 1992), pp. 8—13. He enclosed with his letter copies of “Of Men, Hogs, and Law,” his “Lincoln’s Character Assassins,” National Review, January 22, 1990, and an unpublished letter to the editor of National Review, dated January 24, 1992, replying to Ernest van den Haag’s response to the former essay. Since he included these items with his reply to me, I have addressed points in each of them in the present essay.
Since his remarks on my article are contained in a letter not addressed to me, I shall refrain from direct quotation of it. In sum, he objected to my claim that his argument “that Lincoln correctly interpreted the Declaration of Independence to support a system of egalitarian democracy seems of purely historical interest.” “Democracy and the Missing Argument,” p. 9. He wrongly claims that I have not read his Crisis of the House Divided, apparently because my remark echoes Willmore Kendall’s review of the book.
In what way does the comment repeat Kendall? Judging by Jaffa’s essay on Kendall’s review, I think he takes my remark on Lincoln to resemble Kendall’s claim that Lincoln “derailed” the American tradition. According to Kendall, Lincoln’s stress on the Declaration’s equality clause paved the way for radical programs of social levelling. Harry V. Jaffa, How to Think About the American Revolution (Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 1978), pp. 18, 33.
Jaffa has misread my statement. Unlike Kendall, I made no attempt to assess Lincoln’s place in the American tradition. I intended rather to question the relevance to political philosophy of Lincoln’s views and, for that matter, of the Declaration itself. Further, by ‘democracy’ I meant democracy, not the programs of contemporary leftists. I do not doubt that Jaffa is a Reagan Republican and nothing in my article suggests otherwise.
Judging by his comments and enclosures, I think that Jaffa takes my article to be a contribution to the discussion about Lincoln in which he and various Southern partisans, most notably M. E. Bradford, have been engaged for many years. But I did not intend my remarks as an intervention in that controversy. Since Jaffa has raised the question, however, I do think that Bradford, Thomas Fleming, and Frank Meyer have the better case.
If I had repeated Kendall, how would this show that I had not read Crisis? Might I not have read the book and agreed with Kendall? Or arrived at the same position independently?
Jaffa has on other occasions claimed that his critics have not read him. See, e.g., “Crisis of the Strauss Divided,” Social Research, Vol. 54, No.3 (Autumn, 1987), p. 579. Has the possibility occurred to Jaffa that a critic may accurately read him yet remain unconvinced?
If, improbably, anyone wishes to pursue the matter further, Kendall’s review of Crisis is available in his The Conservative Affirmation (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1963), pp. 249—252.
5. Harry Jaffa, Crisis of the House Divided (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982 ), p. 75. Jaffa is correct: see R. M. Spiazzi, O.P. ed., In Libros Politicorum Aristotelis Expositio (Turin and Rome, 1951), I, 74,76, pp. 21,2.
7. Harry V. Jaffa, “Aristotle” in Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey, eds., History of Political Philosophy (Chicago: Rand McNally and Co., 1965), p. 116. The parallelism with Jaffa’s account of Strauss’s view in his reply to Drury makes apparent that he accepts the teaching he here describes. This essay is not included in the 1957 edition of Strauss-Cropsey.
12. It might be objected that Jaffa is simply interpreting Aristotle, rather than giving his own opinion. His interpretation rests on the assumption that it “is only the possibility that Aristotle may have known the truth about things that we find baffling that leads us to study him with all seriousness.” Jaffa does not “imply that Aristotle’s teachings are identical with right reason…. this study would not make sense if it were possible to assume that every deviation from Aristotle was a corruption of the truth…” Jaffa, Thomism, p. 197, n.3. The passage thus suggests that Jaffa is willing to entertain as a serious possibility that philosophers are divine. It is for this reason that I say that: “perhaps Jaffa accepts this view.” Very significant here is Jaffa’s statement that the argument for a ground for law “requires for its foundation such an understanding of morality as one finds in the Nicomachean Ethics… The moral rationality of the Nicomachean Ethics and of the Politics, like that of the Declaration of Independence, is grounded in the objectivity of the distinctions between man, beast, and God. ” Harry V. Jaffa, “Seven Answers for Professor Anastaplo,” University of Puget Sound Law Review, Vol. 13. No.2 (Winter, 1990), p. 400. But in Aristotle God has no direct relation with human beings: the relevant distinctions are, in Jaffa’s interpretation, between men of ordinary virtue, magnanimous men, and philosophers.
13. When Jaffa wrote this passage, he evidently regarded Locke’s account of the state of nature as similar to that of Hobbes. I do not myself accept this interpretation. For an excellent criticism of Strauss’s interpretation of Locke, see Eric Mack, “Locke’s Arguments for Natural Rights,” Southwestern Journal of Philosophy, Vol. XI, No. 1 (Spring, 1980), pp. 57—60.
16. Harry V. Jaffa, “In Defense of the ‘Natural Law Thesis,'” in Equality and Liberty (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), p. 206, n.2. Emphasis in original.
21. Ibid., p. 602. Although this view of Hobbes is standard among Straussians, it is controversial. For a different view, see S. A. Lloyd, Ideals as Interests in Hobbes’s Leviathan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).
26. Leo Strauss, “Progress or Return?”, in Hilail Gildin, ed., An Introduction to Political Philosophy: Ten Essays by Leo Strauss (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1989), p. 305.
27. “Crisis of the Strauss Divided,” p. 588, citing Strauss, “On the Interpretation of Genesis,” L’Homme, 1981, pp. 5—20. Note also the stronger claim in "Progress or Return?”, p. 306: “Now the first alternative — a proof of the non-existence of an omnipotent God — would presuppose that we have perfect knowledge of the whole, so as it were we know all the corners, there is no place for an omnipotent God. In other words, the presupposition is a completed system. We have a solution to all riddles. And then I think we may dismiss this possibility as absurd.”
28. We need to add this qualification in case Strauss argues that philosophy can disprove claims of religion which do not teach the existence of an omnipotent being or at least a being with the power to override natural law.
29. Thomism, p. 193, quoting a speech by Winston Churchill at the MIT Midcentury Convocation, New York Times, April 1, 1949. I assume that Jaffa considers his argument for equality part of social science.
31. Cf. the comment of Carl Schmitt on the precept “Love your enemies”: “No mention is made of the political enemy. Never in the thousand-year struggle between Christians and Moslems did it occur to a Christian to surrender rather than defend Europe out of love toward the Saracens or Turks." The Concept of the Political, trans. George Schwab (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1976), p. 29.
32. Jaffa states in his essay on King Lear: “But great passion, be it that of Lear, of Oedipus, or of Jesus, implmies greatness in the soul of the sufferer. A great passion is always, in some sense, compensation for a great error. As Plato teaches in the Republic, great errors are the work of great souls, souls capable of either great good or great evil.” “The Limits of Politics: King Lear, Act I, Scene I” in Allan Bloom with Henry V. Jaffa, Shakespeare’s Politics (New York: Basic Books, 1964), p. 117. I rely on this passage for the assertion in the text about Jaffa’s religious beliefs.
36. Harry V. Jaffa, “Letter to the Editor of National Review,” January 24,1992, unpublished, p. 1. Jaffa claims that “if [we] are to be responsible for our choice and actions” we must be free to choose between good and evil. But suppose someone was incapable of temptation to evil. Why could he not be responsible for choice among different good acts? Jaffa’s contention makes it impossible for God to be responsible for his actions, since he cannot choose evil.
38. Harry V. Jaffa, “What Were the Original Intentions of the Framers of the Constitution of the United States?”, University of Puget Sound Law Review, Vol. 10, No.3 (Spring, 1987), Appendix B, p. 417.
39. I readily acknowledge that this suggestion is speculative. But note the comment of Jaffa’s friend Harry Neumann: “It is not sufficient philosophically to declare ‘I hold there is no sin but ignorance,’ unless the man asserting it also has, like Lincoln and Jaffa, an unquestioning (and therefore ‘ignorant’) rootedness in his herd’s confidence that ‘god,’ a true non-arbitrary standard of goodness and right, exists.” Liberalism (Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 1991), p. 100. The volume contains a foreword by Jaffa and appears in a series he edits. Cf. also Spinoza’s Deus sive natura.
40. Harry V. Jaffa, How to Think About the American Revolution (Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 1978), pp. 131—132. See also, Lawrence Berns, “Aristotle and the Moderns,” in Kenneth L. Deutsch and Walter Soffer, The Crisis of Liberal Democracy: A Straussian Perscective (Albany: SUNY Press, 1987), p. 156.
49. For Drury’s views, see the article by Jaffa cited in n.6 supra. For a good discussion of Strauss’s views on religion, see Stanley Rosen, Hermeneutics as Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp. 110 ff.
50. Harry V. Jaffa, “Neumann on Nihilism: The Case for Politics,” in Neumann, Liberalism, p. 68. The argument of Jaffa’s last sentence is a poor one. ‘There is no one in the room’ normally does not mean ‘The entity “No one” is in the room.’
51. Gershom Scholem, Kabbalah (New York: Dorset Press, 1987 ), p. 94. For a brief introduction to neo-Platonic doctrines of emanationism, see Richard Sorabji, Time. Creation and the Continuum (Ithaca: Cornell, 1983), pp. 313 ff. On creation out of nothing, see also Leo Strauss, “How to Begin to Study The Guide of the Perplexed” in Liberalism: Ancient and Modern (New York: Basic Books, 1968), p. 182.
55. Strauss’s interpretation of Maimonides is frequently characterized in this way. Incidentally, for a much-needed corrective to Strauss’s “esoteric writing” thesis, see Errol Harris, Is There an Esoteric Doctrine in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus?(Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1978).
56. Leo Strauss, The Argument and the Action of Plato’s Laws (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975), p. 1.
57. Leo Strauss, “Farabi’s Plato” in Louis Ginzberg Jubilee Volume. English Section (New York: American Academy for Jewish Research, 1945), p. 375. I have omitted diacritical marks in “Farabi.” Hillel Fradkin’s claim that Strauss does not, in “Farabi’s Plato,” identify “the prophet, or the 1egislator, with the philosopher” cannot be accepted as it stands. “Philosophy and Law: Leo Strauss as a Student of Medieval Jewish Thought,” Review of Politics, Vol. 53 (Winter, 1991), p. 50. On the page of “Farabi’s Plato” that follows the one Fradkin has quoted, Strauss notes that “the real remedy employed in Plato is far more radical”: philosophers can live in imperfect cities. (“Farabi’s Plato,” p. 381. Fradkin uses a reprint of Strauss’s essay, so our citations do not correspond in pagination.) As discussed below, the more radical remedy implies rule by philosophers.
63. Gershom Scholem, ed., The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem, 1932-1940 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), p. 256. See also Scholem’s characterization of Strauss as “an atheist,” p. 157. Hannah Arendt, another acquaintance of Strauss in Weimar days, commented on him in a letter to Karl Jaspers: “Leo Strauss…is a convinced orthodox atheist. Very odd. A truly gifted intellect. I don’t like him.” Lotle Kohler and Hans Saner, eds., Hannah Arendt-Karl Jaspers Correspondence, 1926-1969. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992), p. 244, Letter of July 24, 1959. The German original edition of the correspondence was published in 1985.
64. Emmanuel Levinas, Difficult Freedom, trans. Sean Hand (London: The Athlone Press, 1990), p. 111.
65. “Jaffa, Strauss, and the Christian Tradition,” in Frederick D. Wilhelmsen, Christianity and Political Philosophy (Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 1978), p. 223.
66. “On the Revival of Classical Political Philosophy,” in James V. Schall and John J. Schrems, eds., On the Intelligibility of Political Philosophy: Essays of Charles N. R. McCoy (Washington, D.C.: CUA Press, 1989), p. 138, no.34.
72. A classic discussion is James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, The Calculus of Consent (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1962). Jaffa ought to have analyzed this issue rather than show that he can repeat Locke’s Second Treatise.
77. There is an analogy between this reason to avoid self-enforcement and Nozick’s idea of risky decision procedures. But Nozick does not ban such procedures on the basis of a quasi-theological argument.
78. How to Think About the American Revolution, pp. 135, 131-32, order transposed.
79. On my speculative view of Strauss’s interpretation of religion, this doctrine might mean that non- philosophical rulers should not interfere with a philosopher’s plans. They should not, e.g., upset a philosophically-devised constitution.
83. Gilbert Ryle, “Discussion of Rudolf Carnap: ‘Meaning and Necessity'” in Gilbert Ryle, Collected Papers (London: Hutchinson, 1971), pp. 226, 230.
84. This is of course a version of Wittgenstein’s private language argument. See Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1953). Of the vast literature generated by this argument, see in particular Saul Kripke, Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982).
85. David Kelley, The Evidence of the Senses (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1986) makes a strong case for direct perception of physical objects. See my review in International Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 28 (September, 1988), pp. 337-339. I take it that by ‘sense-data’ Jaffa means private experiences and does not intend the term as a placeholder for whatever it is we perceive.
87. For a good account of the Sorites, see Roy Sorensen, Blindspots (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988), pp. 217-252.
88. Even if Jaffa’s argument were completely successful, he would not have succeeded in his goal of proving that value words cannot have normative meaning if they do not have cognitive meaning. All he has argued for is that they do not, since on his account normative meaning is cognitive meaning. But he has not shown that no other account of the normative is possible.
89. “As we learn in Book IX [of the Nicomachean Ethics] all friendship, and all virtue are ultimately based on self-love.” Thomism, p. 125. “[T]he practical virtues find their supreme expression in the political sphere, whose good is the honorable good, with respect to which friends are valued either as instruments in the performance of the activities, or as conditions of our consciousness of the virtuousness of the activities.” (Ibid., p. 130)
90. Derek Parfit has discussed self-defeating theories in Reasons and Persons (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984). See also Jon Elster, Sour Grapes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983). Further, to eliminate Jaffa’s problem, one need not resort to natural law. All one needs is the requirement that preferences be consistent.
91. For an application of satisficing rationality to morality, see Michael Slote, Beyond Optimizing (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989). A classic discussion of the use of probability estimates in ethics is J. M. Keynes, A Treatise on Probability (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), pp. 341 ff.
92. J. L. Mackie, Inventing Right and Wrong. (New York: Penguin, 1977).
93. Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953): these “phenomena…are, as it were, constituted by value judgments.” Ludwig von Mises criticizes Strauss’s argument in Theory and History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957), pp. 299-300; but I think Strauss emerges unscathed. Strauss anticipated a similar argument by Philippa Foot. See her Virtues and Vices (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1978). Jaffa’s speeches in his debate with Rochon were issued as a pamphlet, on which I unfortunately cannot now lay my hands. I have had to rely on memory in attributing this contention to Professor Jaffa and apologize if I have misstated his view.
98. Thomism, pp. 31-32. On the next page Jaffa states: “from another point of view the revealed doctrine may be said to depreciate morality, and the philosophic doctrine to elevate it” (Ibid., p. 33). But this point of view does not contradict the earlier point: it concerns whether the prospect of immortal reward is at stake in acting virtuously.
100. Thomism, p. 208, n.84.
101. John Finnis, Moral Absolutes (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1991), pp. 34-36, is an excellent recent discussion. Aquinas states: “The Commentator is not to be followed on this matter; for one may not commit adultery for any good…” Thomas Aquinas, De malo, q.15a.1ad 5  as cited in Finnis, p. 36.
109. “Lincoln’s Character Assassins,” p. 36. In “Original Intentions of the Framers,” Jaffa states: “It is no accident that this speech [by Stephens] was delivered two years after the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species,” p. 393. “Two years” is not strictly correct, since the Origin was published in November, 1859. As I have indicated, I do not intend to dispute Jaffa’s interpretation of Stephens’s speech. But I think he ought to have discussed Stephens’s own comments on it in the recollections he wrote while imprisoned after the war: “The order of subordination was nature’s great law; philosophy taught that order as the normal condition of the African amongst European races. Upon this recognized principle of a proper subordination, let it be called slavery or what not, our State institutions were formed and rested. The new Confederation was entered into with this distinct understanding. The principle of the subordination of the inferior to the superior was the ‘corner-stone’ on which it was formed. I used this metaphor merely to illustrate the firm convictions of the framers of the new Constitution that this relation of the black to the white race, which existed in 1787, was not wrong in itself…that it was in conformity to nature and best for both races. I alluded not to the principles of the new Government on this subject, but to public sentiment in regard to these principles. The status of the African race in the new Constitution was left just where it was in the old; I affirmed and meant to affirm nothing else in this Savannah speech.” Myrta Lockett Avary, ed., Recollections of Alexander H. Stephens (New York: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1910), pp. 173-174. Jaffa is certainly entitled to disagree with Stephens, but not to ignore him. Also, I do not think it correct to say that in Stephens’s Constitutional View, the ‘cornerstone’ sinks from sight.” How to Think About the American Revolution, p. 160. Stephens remarks about slavery in that book: “To maintain that slavery is in itself sinful, in the face of all that is said and written in the Bible upon the subject… does seem to me to be a little short of blasphemous.” Alexander H. Stephens, A Constitutional View of the War Between the States (Philadelphia: National Publishing Co., 1868-1870), p. 83.
110. Paul H. Barrett, et al., eds., A Concordance to Darwin’s Origin of Species. First Edition (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981), p. 509, lists only four references to “Negro” or “Negroes.”
111. Crisis, chapter XVII, “The Meaning of Equality: Abstract and Practical,” pp. 363-386. Jaffa maintains here that “genuine verbal inconsistency may be a requirement of true political consistency,” p. 369.
118. The relevant parts of the Act are reprinted in Richard Epstein, Forbidden Grounds (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), pp. 508-511. Epstein’s book comprehensively analyzes civil rights legislation from a free-market point of view.
118a. Oddly enough, Jaffa’s conversion was announced in a review of Epstein’s Forbidden Grounds, the work cited in the preceding note. See, The Wall Street Journal, September 8, 1992, p. A18. Jaffa’s review fails to confront Epstein’s argument that discrimination is sometimes economically efficient.
120. The eminent Eric Weil praised Thomism and Aristotelianism for showing how a philosophical text should be read. Revue de Metaphysique et de Morale (October-December, 1952), pp. 463-465. In view of Strauss’s opinion of Weil, one wonders how Jaffa regards Weil’s praise. In a letter of August 22, 1948 to Alexandre Kojeve, Strauss said about Weil: “I have seldom seen such an empty human being. You [Kojeve] say: he lacks something. I say: he lacks substance, he is nothing but an idle chatterer.” Leo Strauss, On Tyranny, eds., Victor Gourevitch and Michael S. Roth (New York: Free Press, 1991), p. 239. Jaffa’s interpretation of Aristotle ran into considerable criticism from Thomists. Charles J. O’Neil, Imprudence in St. Thomas Aquinas (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1955), pp. 41-42, criticizes Jaffa’s claim that Aristotle, if liberated from Aquinas’s commentary, allows abortion and contraception. O’Neil’s interpretation of prudence in Aristotle and Aquinas should be compared with Jaffa’s. Henry Veatch, in a review of Thomism and Aristotelianism in Speculum 28 (1953), pp. 176-178, criticized “the seeming perversity of Mr. Jaffa’s method of interpretation” (p. 177) and found in the book “captious arguments and injudicious conclusions” (p.178).
121. Two examples from Thomism and Aristotelianism must suffice.
1. Jaffa’s claim that according to St. Thomas “the highest perfection of man is possible without moral virtue” (p. 311) does not follow from the views of St. Thomas which Jaffa cites. Even if intellectual virtue is better than moral virtue and can exist without it, Jaffa is wrong to conclude that the highest natural perfection can exist without morality. To do so, he needs to add the premise: Possession of the best virtue suffices for possession of the highest natural perfection. But why cannot the highest natural perfection require morality as well as intellectual virtue? Jaffa cannot escape by replying that by “highest natural perfection” he just means ‘possession of the best virtue,’ because the question would then arise, is there a better natural state of affairs than possession of the highest natural perfection?
2. Jaffa fails to note the fallacy of this argument, which he imputes to Aristotle: “Now the gods, in granting our requests, must act; and in acting, act for the sake of an end. The end aimed at cannot have been achieved before the action….But every end is a good, and thus if the gods act there must have been a good achievable by action which was not achieved by the gods before each such action. Hence if the gods fulfill prayers they cannot be perfect beings.” (pp. 119-128) This ignores the possibility that the good in question is that a prayer be answered after it is made.
122. John Wild, Philosophical Review, Vol. 62 (1953), p. 448. See also Wild’s challenges to Jaffa’s view of natural perfection in Aquinas (p. 448) and Aristotle on courage (p. 449). Strauss sharply attacked Wild’s interpretation of Plato in “On a New Interpretation of Plato’s Political Philosophy,” Social Research 3 (September, 1946), pp. 326-364. See the discussion of this article in Nathan Tarcov, “On a Certain Critique of ‘Straussianism,'” Review of Politics, Vol. 53, No.1 (Winter, 1991), pp. 3-18.