2/22/2017—Harry Jaffa, who died in 2015, was a professor at Claremont McKenna College and “patriarch” of the Claremont Institute, which is getting publicity these days for its Claremont Review of Books and its ties to the Trump Administration. But I want to say here that Professor Jaffa would have had nothing to do with Donald Trump.
The Institute has always stood against all forms of progressivism, but Jaffa was also known both for his searching and beautiful studies of Lincoln and his criticism of the value skepticism of his fellow conservatives. In 1994, he selected me to write a response to his essay in Originalism and the Framers of the Constitution, in which he argued for a natural rights interpretation of the Constitution as both faithful to the framers and true. I was picked as the left wing natural law position. It was an honor.
Yesterday, the New York Times highlighted the Institute—Justice Alito just accepted an award—and its ties to Trump. And certainly the Institute has always opposed the “East Coast” version of conservatism, as the article makes clear—modern, individual, selfish (but isn’t that what the right of abortion is?). Jaffa thought America “heroic”—standing for something enormously large.
Well, I don’t know about the Institute, but I know about Professor Jaffa. His attitude toward Trump would be the same as that of his beloved Lincoln toward the Know-Nothing Party, a 19th century anti-immigrant group. Lincoln accepted their support as any office-seeking politician would do—and he said so in at least one letter I read somewhere. But he made it clear what he thought of the group. Jaffa would welcome policies he agreed with but he would never support Trump.
Jaffa, like Lincoln and like the Declaration of Independence, believed there were self-evident rights of all human beings. Universal human rights. As far as I know, he never feared immigrants, but assumed they would become the next generation of Americans dedicated to the American creed—as indeed they always have. I cannot imagine anyone further away from Donald Trump.