HOISTED FROM ÞE ARCHIVES: Wilmoore Kendall & Jefferson Davis vs. Harry Jaffa & Abraham Lincoln

From 2005. Whatever else he thought, Harry Jaffa was an American at his core...

Jeet Heer has been writing about Wilmoore Kendall: <https://jeetheer.substack.com/p/racism-and-the-paradox-of-anti-democratic>. That reminds me of this:

HOISTED FROM THE ARCHIVES FROM 2005Harry Jaffa, Willmoore Kendall, the Crisis of the House Divided, & the Party of Abraham Lincoln: ‘“Most conservative books are pseudo-books: ghostwritten pastiches whose primary purpose seems to be the photo of the ”author“ on the cover. What a tumble! From The Conservative Mind to Savage Nation; from Clifton White to Dick Morris; from Willmoore Kendall and Harry Jaffa to Sean Hannity and Mark Fuhrman—all in little more than a generation’s time. Whatever this is, it isn’t progress…”—Andy FergusonWeekly Standard.

Let me enthusiastically agree with Andy Ferguson’s high praise of the very interesting Harry Jaffa. 

But Willmoore Kendall? 


Those with access to National Review’s electronic archives can read Willmoore Kendall’s review of Harry Jaffa’s Crisis of the House Divided, with Kendall’s attack on Jaffa’s argument that the Declaration and the Constitution are together living documents dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. As Kendall (unfairly) summarizes Jaffa’s argument:

As for the “all men are created equal” clause, Jaffa’s Lincoln… sees it as the indispensible presupposition of the entire American political experience…. Jaffa’s Lincoln sees the great task of the nineteenth century as that of affirming the cherished accomplishment of the Fathers by transcending it. Concretely, this means to construe the equality clause as having an allegedly unavoidable meaning with which it was always pregnant, but which the Fathers apprehended only dimly…. 

The Civil War… had to be fought in the interest of freedom for all mankind… once the South had gone beyond slaveholding… to assert the “positive goodness” of slavery, and so to deny the… equality-clause standard as the basic axiom of our poltical system. [Jaffa] insists that [the Civil War] had to be fought lest the possibility of self-goernment perish from the earth

And what does Kendall think of Jaffa’s argument? That it is OK as long as it is kept a hundred years past and dead. But Kendall believes that “all men are created equal” is not fine, not fine at all if it is going to have implications here in the present. Let me quote the ultimate paragraph:

The idea of natural right is not so easily reducible to the equality clause, and there are better ways of demonstrating the possibility of self-government than imposing one’s views concerning natural right upon others. In this light it would seem that it was the Southerners who were the anti-Caesars of pre-Civil War days, and that Lincoln was the Caesar Lincoln claimed to be trying to prevent; and that the Caesarism we all need to fear is the contemporary Liberal movement, dedicated like Lincoln to egalitarian reforms sanctioned by mandates emanating from national majorities, a [Civil Rights] movement which is Lincoln’s legitimate offspring. In a word, it would seem that we had best learn to live up to the Framers before we seek to transcend them.

Kendall writes in code. Where Kendall writes “Caesar” read “illegitimate tyrant.” Where he writes “egalitarian reforms” think “letting African-Americans vote.” Where he writes “a movement which is Lincoln’s legitimate offspring” read “post-WWII civil rights movement.” Where he writes “live up to the Framers” read “abandon any attempt by federal courts or the national legislature to interfere with the peculiar institutions of the American South as they stood in 1950.”

Abraham Lincoln—and Harry Jaffa—would agree that there are better ways of demonstrating the possibility of self-government than imposing one’s views concerning natural right upon others. That’s why they objected to Southerners’ holding African-Americans as slaves: what could possibly be a greater “imposition”? For a Union army under the command of General Ulysses S. Grant to say to rich white Southerners that they cannot hold African-Americans as slaves would seem to everyone a lesser “imposition” than for the Mississippi militia under the command of Jefferson Davis to say to poor African-Americans that they are slaves—or for Robert E. Lee to send J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry to ride around the Army of the Potomac in Pennsylvania to, among other things, pick up free African-American citizens of the United States and drag them to the Confederacy to be enslaved. 

Well, it seems like a lesser imposition to almost everyone. It seems a greater imposition to Willmoore Kendall.

Oh. And the “transcending” that Kendall italicizes in the first of my quotations from him above? That’s also code. That’s code for “under Jaffa’s interpretation, Abraham Lincoln is, at best, a fellow traveler of the communists.”

Is this really any better than Sean Hannity? More sophisticated and more polite in form, yes. But better?

LINK: <https://www.bradford-delong.com/2005/12/harry_jaffa_wil.html>

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