1/24/2020

A Learned but Dismissive Take on Conservative Constitutionalism

"For someone who purports to be primarily attempting to understand his subjects as they understand themselves, Kersch’s tone is off. A thinly veiled layer of contempt pervades the work. A couple of examples: Fr. James Schall, a recently-deceased priest who for years taught at Georgetown, is not identified simply as a priest or a Jesuit or a conservative, he is “the right-wing priest Father James Schall.” What work is the adjective “right-wing” doing? It comes across as disparaging. Harry Jaffa didn’t just study with Leo Strauss, he was “under the tutelage of the master” Leo Strauss. In the margin, I wrote, “it’s as if he were training to be a Jedi Knight.” During the Reagan presidency, conservatives didn’t translate their academic and philosophical thinking into policy proposals, they “narrowed and weaponized” them. Maybe these are accurate descriptions or maybe such language will help make the book appealing to its intended liberal audience. Whatever the case, I would have found it more appealing if it didn’t have an undercurrent of exposé and invective.

Perhaps these small points are petty, so let me turn to a more substantive criticism. In the area of conservative thought with which I am most familiar—what Kersch calls West Coast Straussianism—he makes a significant error.
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Jaffa certainly argued that the excellence of the American regime was based upon its recognition of adherence to human equality, a truth established by “nature and nature’s God.” But Jaffa emphatically did not believe that democratic politics, properly understood, “involved at its core the advancement of a unified and ultimate Good.” The opposite, in fact, is true."

- 'A Learned but Dismissive Take on Conservative Constitutionalism'