This book is a lively intellectual history of a small circle of thinkers, especially, but not solely, Harry Jaffa and Walter Berns, who challenged the "mainstream" liberal consensus of political science and history about how the American Founding should be understood. Along the way they changed the course of the conservative movement and had a significant impact on shaping contemporary political debates from constitutional interpretation, civil rights, to the corruption of government today. Most importantly, these thinkers explain the deep reasons for patriotism, why we should love America not simply because it is our country, but because it is a free and just country.
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About the Author
Steven F. Hayward is a visiting scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of the two-volume political biography The Age of Reagan: The Fall of the Old Liberal Order, 1964-1980, and The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counter-Revolution, 1980-1989. He has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, the Weekly Standard, National Review, and numerous other periodicals.
Read an Excerpt
“Is Walter Berns still alive?”
“Yes. He’s 95 and in poor health, but I think Walter and Harry [age 96] are seeing who can outlive the other as the last act in their long-running feud.”
I offered that whimsical speculation the week after Christmas in 2014 at a meeting at the Claremont Institute. About two weeks later, on Saturday, January 10, the Weekly Standard magazine was the first to publish on its website the sad news that Berns had passed away that morning. Jaffa, also in failing health, had gone to the hospital the day before. He was slipping in and out of consciousness, but intermittently awake enough to make the standard complaints about the usual defects of hospital life. His family and visiting students were guardedly optimistic; he had overcome several acute crises and hospitalizations before. But he took a turn for the worse, and when he passed away a few hours later, the comparison to Thomas Jefferson and John Adams passing on the same day in 1826 became inescapable.
Jefferson and Adams had been bitter political rivals, culminating in the close and initially inconclusive election of 1800 that could easily have ended in the ruin of the still infant nation. Abraham Lincoln taught, as Jaffa never tired of reminding students, that the election of 1800 was the first to prove that ballots could replace bullets as the means of changing a government.
Adams and Jefferson reconciled in later years, chiefly because the two giants of the American Founding shared the same basic political philosophy, which slowly dissolved the rancor of personal ambition and party spirit that dominated their poor relations for the better part of a decade. Some of their political and constitutional disputes had deep theoretical roots, turning on subtle shadings of how republican concepts should be understood and practiced. Jefferson had some radical inclinations at times, like that “God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion” musing he once made in a private letter, while Adams was the prototypical cautious conservative. Arguing politely and respectfully over their differences in a long correspondence became one of their favorite pastimes in retirement.
Jaffa and Berns never contested each other for political office, but their arguments over the course of a decade took on the bitterness and personal invective of partisan strife. “In your present state of mind,” Jaffa wrote in one public letter to Berns, “nothing less than a metaphysical two-by-four across the frontal bone would capture your attention.” One of Berns’s retorts began: “Who will rid us of this pest of a priest?” Unlike Jefferson and Adams, they never reconciled their intellectual differences, although the feud gradually burned itself out, and the two old giants did once sit together and talk cordially, if a bit stiffly, over lunch in Washington, a meal carefully brokered by the Claremont Institute around 2005. It wasn’t necessary to confiscate the forks and knives. By then Jaffa had turned his attention to new feuds with other targets, and Berns was happy to pass the bull’s-eye on his back to Allan Bloom, Robert Bork, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and Justice Antonin Scalia.
Epic academic feuds are common, but are often about trivial or obscure matters. It is a mistake to explain the Jaffa-Berns quarrel as an example of the narcissism of small differences, or still less the simple pride or one-upmanship typical of most academic fights that have little consequence in the real world. But the differences between Jaffa and Berns and their allied camps that seem abstract or remote on the surface are connected to a serious question, perhaps the most serious political question of this or any time: What kind of country is America? What is the right or best basis for patriotism? Is democracy capable of being understood and conducted nobly? Above all, can these questions be answered without recourse to pondering deeply the nature and condition of the human soul?
Table of Contents
Preface: The First Rule at Sirausian Fight Club Is … ix
Chapter 1 "A Little Touch of Harry in the Night" 1
Chapter 2 "Patriotism Is Not Enough" 21
Chapter 3 Starting Over: Something Has Gone Wrong … 37
Chapter 4 Statesmanship and the Renegade Revival 67
Chapter 5 The Vital Center Cannot Hold 83
Chapter 6 Equality as a Principle and a Problem 115
Chapter 7 How to Think about the Constitutions Two Views 147
Chapter 8 Extremism in Defense of Liberty 173
Chapter 9 The Administrative State and the End of Constitutional Government 189
Chapter 10 Political Philosophy in an Anti-Philosophic Age 213
What People are Saying About This
“This scintillating exercise in intellectual history is fresh evidence of two things. One is that for many decades now America’s most profound and consequential political arguments have not been between conservatives and liberals, but among conservatives. The other is that Steven F. Hayward, author of the magisterial two-volume The Age of Reagan, is an unsurpassed guide concerning conservatism’s not-always-amiable factions.”
George F. Will
“My old boss Ronald Reagan reminded us in his Farewell Address that America requires informed patriotism if it is to avoid ‘an erosion of the American spirit.’ We have Steven F. Hayward to thank for exploring the lives and thoughts of two of our greatest conservative thinkerswho happened to be fierce rivalson this vital problem.”
William J. Bennett, former Secretary of Education, host of The Bill Bennett Interview, and New York Times best-selling author
“The famous feud between two of the leading disciples of Leo Strauss makes for a fascinating intellectual story, and in telling it, Steven F. Hayward sheds a bright light on the major issues which have bedeviled political philosophy in our time.”
“Steven F. Hayward has a marvelous, Isaiah Berlin–like ability to bring both ideas and the individual behind those ideas to light. Hayward’s account of the rivalry between Harry Jaffa and Walter Berns gives the reader not only a new angle on the history of modern conservatism but also more broadly makes sense of the rise of constitutional conservatism.”
Fred Siegel, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and scholar-in-residence at Saint Francis College
“[Hayward’s book] will painlessly acquaint newcomers with some pivotal moments and issues in recent intellectual history, even as it keeps those who already know the subject entertained.”
Tod Lindberg, Commentary
“Hayward’s book is so timely precisely because the kind of patriotism he discusses provides a useful corrective for Trump-style nationalism…Trump’s nationalism provides a useful corrective based only on philosophic principle. They are mutually correcting and mutually supportive. On the one hand, a patriotism that is based only on the principles of the founding cannot succeed in winning elections, because voters rightly demand that any political movement that seeks their support have some plausible plan to address their ordinary interests. On the other hand, a patriotism that is based only on the untutored loves and interests of ordinary voters cannot preserve our precious inheritance of a regime based on natural rights, the rule of law, and self-government. A movement that acknowledges each of these concerns amounts to the kind of patriotism, and the kind of conservatism, that can both win elections and deserve to win them.”
Carson Holloway, The Public Discourse
“Steve Hayward may be the most versatile man in American conservatism…There are just not many conservative public intellectuals who have deep knowledge of public policy who can also offer a subtle and textured analysis of political philosophy.”
Jeremy Carl, National Review
“The book is a fascinating chronicle in itself and an instructive tour of important political precepts…Today’s confusion over what principles should guide our lawmakingor regulate our societymake the Berns–Jaffa quarrel freshly relevant.”
William Anthony Hay, Wall Street Journal
“What makes this book so refreshing is that author Steven Hayward details with gratitude the ways that both men deeply influenced him, and how both might have finally agreed with each other even if they never really acknowledged it.”
Richard M. Reinsch II, LibertyLaw
“With Patriotism Is Not Enough, Steven Hayward has rendered in a lively way a tremendous serviceespecially at the present momentby laying out some of the most essential questions concerning what it is to be an American and a conservative. One can only hope readers will turn next to his subjects’ best books.”
Matthew J. Franck, Claremont Review of Books