Over the weekend, the Philadelphia Society held its annual meeting. Michael Dougherty was there for practically all of it, and gives his account of his experience here. He tells some interesting stories about the people there, his encounters with them and his impressions of the different talks. At the Society meeting, Prof. Claes Ryn gave a talk that was not all together irenic (“the neo-Jacobins should have been flushed out long ago,” he concludes) to Leo Strauss, Harry Jaffa and the neo-Jacobins. This week, I noticed that the talk was available online via LewRockwell.com, cited from it and pointed to a quote critical of the Straussian idea of “the Founding”:
They love to speak of the “Founding,” because that term suggests that America does not have historical origins but emerged afresh from enlightened minds.
On the whole, nothing that anyone at The Remedy, the Claremont blog, has said so far tells me that this characterisation of their idea of “the Founding” is fundamentally wrong. Alerted to the Claremont rhetoric surrounding “the Founding” (the use of quotes, for those who were annoyed by them, is not to ridicule the Founding Fathers or their work, but to emphasise the peculiar use of the phrase that is specific to Claremont) in an earlier argument with Mr. Peterson of the Claremont Institute, I wondered what he would make of this critique of one of Claremont’s favourites, Harry Jaffa. Well, he didn’t wait long to tell me. Since then, it has spread to The Corner and now Daniel McCarthy has also offered his comments, which are far more informed and insightful about Strauss than anything I could have hoped to write about him.
Jaffa, I am reliably told, has written about the Constitution. About that I have little doubt, and if his writings on the Constitution are anywhere as bad as his writings on Lincoln I will strive to avoid them in future. And I don’t think I claimed that “Founding” enthusiasts didn’t talk about the Constitution. I did say that the enthusiasm for “the Founding,” whether as Lincoln’s mystical compact of Union before the states (historically wrong), the providential reconciliation of Reason and Revelation (slightly bizarre) or the creation of a “regime based on truth” (vague and potentially very dangerous) does not extend to enthusiasm for the Constitution (certainly not as it is written, and certainly not as it was originally understood), the rights of Englishmen (which are the only actual “rights” the colonists possessed and the only basis on which most patriots based their resistance to the excesses of Crown and Parliament) or the limited institutions established by the Constitution. Their delight in choice phrases of the Declaration of Independence as the font of truth tends to confirm this relative disdain for the Constitution. Noting that Jaffa has written about the Constitution is supposed to make up for the ahistorical, ideological way he writes about it and other things, but it does not.