In 1993-94 I was a graduate student at the University of Montana in the M.A. program in political science. Since I had many required credits out of the way, I decided to take two classes that appealed to my love of the classics and political philosophy: Attic Greek and the History of Rome. The latter class was taught by a professor I did not know, named Hayden Ausland. since I was the only graduate student in what was an undergraduate class, Professor Ausland had me read two books that seemed, out of place: Natural Right and History, and Crisis of the House Divided. The latter book was of course Jaffa’s and the prior was written by Leo Strauss. I thought it odd that he would ask me to read two books seemingly so disconnected to the Ancients, but I read them, and my life changed from that moment.
It was because of those two books I knew I wanted to study with Jaffa at Claremont. So, I applied and the rest is history. It was the best decision I ever made.
My professor Harry V. Jaffa passed away at 96 yesterday. Jaffa was no easy professor. He was a rigorous task master and was an intellectual force unsurpassed. Nevertheless, Jaffa was the consummate gentleman. I took independent study classes with him on Lincoln and had weekly meetings with him on the speeches and texts of Lincoln’s statesmanship. One of the most memorable moments of my graduate student days was when a colleague of mine David DesRosiers engaged Jaffa in a debate held in the basement of the Honnold Library on Harvey Mansfield’s interpretation of the American Founding, for which I transcribed. It was contentious, of course, because the only thing Jaffa loved more than his own family, was America and The Good. On a personal level, I remember at one party, watching a stage with him of the 1999 Tour de France. We were the only ones in the room. I remember him being concerned with the Posties needing to keep the team together in order for Lance Armstrong to maintain a dynasty over the peloton.
There are a plethora of eulogies sure to come. As of this writing, the few I have read are here, here, here, here. There are many videos of Jaffa on the web. Peter Robinson at Uncommon Knowledge still retains a couple of my favorites. In the late 1990s-early 2000s I was engaged in a vigorous critique of Thomas DiLorenzo’s book the Real Lincoln. In this video, Jaffa does better than anyone and he destroys DiLorenzo in this debate:
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Thank you for every Professor Jaffa. America lost a great man, and we all lost a great teacher. RIP.