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Dr. Larry Arnn 4th of July Reflection on the Declaration, Lincoln, and Dr. Harry Jaffa

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HH: This is a special edition of the Hugh Hewitt Show, a special edition of the Hillsdale Dialogues, in fact, all of which are available at And it’s with Dr. Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, all things Hillsdale available at And it’s so appropriate that he be joining me on July 4th. For the past 15 years of the Hugh Hewitt Show, I have aired an interview I did originally a decade and a half ago with Dr. Harry Jaffa. And that interview is now not appropriate to re-air, because not only have I moved to the morning and the timing is all off, but Dr. Jaffa has gone to his reward. And so we’re going to take the best of those hours and spend time with his student, Dr. Larry Arnn, celebrating the 4th of July and Dr. Jaffa. And Dr. Arnn, would you tell people a little bit about Harry Jaffa and why it is appropriate on the 4th of July we begin the day that we celebrate our independence by celebrating those conversations with him about this subject?

LA: Professor Jaffa was a scholar, a very great scholar of classical thought, especially Aristotle, and of America from the founding to Abraham Lincoln. He did a great of recovery in regard to Lincoln and the founding. His biography, he was born in 1918. His middle name is Victor because of the victory in World War I. The centenary of his birth is in two years. He was very smart. He went to Yale, studied literature, and early among the Jews who were ever admitted to Yale. His father ran a saloon in, where, in Manhattan, I think. Professor Jaffa was a very bright man. And after undergraduate school, he discovered at the new school for social research a Germany escapee Jewish thinker, Leo Strauss, became the first student of Leo Strauss. Strauss was himself a revolutionary man, because he was a Jew in Germany who had studied with Martin Heidegger, a very great thinker, who was also a Nazi. And Strauss had to run for his life, effectively, from his own teacher. And he thought something’s gone very wrong here with thinking. We should start over, and he went back to the classics. Jaffa, in 1954, roughly, picked up a copy of the Lincoln-Douglas debates in a used bookstore, and didn’t know anything about them. He started reading them in the store. He came back the next day to read some more. It was a big decision to buy a book, bought it the next day, and he discovered in a few hours, this is what his mind was like, that this is like reading a Socratic dialogue. You and I have spent a lot of time on the Lincoln-Douglas debates and on the Socratic dialogues, right?

HH: Yes, yes.

LA: He saw the relationship. And he saw that the position of Stephen Douglas was really that justice just constitutes the interest of whoever is strongest, and that Lincoln instead raised the question of the good or the right. And that gave rise to a very great book called Crisis Of A House Divided. Professor Jaffa published several books, one on Thomas Aquinas, on Aristotle, about which he wrote his doctoral thesis, and several on essays that are delightful. Churchill loved to read Shakespeare and Mark Twain and find the political meanings of those. I wish as much as anything about the past that the tapes of two courses on Shakespeare that I had with Professor Jaffa could be available, because they were just awesome.

HH: Well, he was awesome when he came to my studio a decade and a half ago, at that time already in his 80s, and quite a remarkable intellect. Let’s play the first of many cuts we have Harry Jaffa in the studio all those years ago talking about the significance of the Declaration of Independence that we celebrate today, cut number one?

HJ: I would say that the two greatest events for human history in the history of the world was the enunciation of the unity of God on Mount Sanai and the Declaration of the unity of the human race in Philadelphia.

HH: The declaration of the unanimity of the human race? What do you mean by that?

HJ: Well, the proposition that all men are created equal indicates that the human family, that there is a human family, and all races and nations of mankind are part of that family, that they are all the children of one God, and the political character of the human race as such is shown by the Declaration. The American people in declaring their independence did something which was unique in human history. In the first place, no political system or regime ever had a beginning in which the principles of government were announced as the basis for this particular regime. But it was also the case that the rights upon which they base their authority were rights which they themselves declared that they shared with all men everywhere.

HH: Dr. Arnn, we were going to break with Dr. Jaffa there, but Sanai and Philadelphia, that has always shocked people even 15 years after I first played it.

LA: Yeah, well, he, he had this amazing elevating, first of all, it’s just marvelous to hear his voice. You know, I knew that man for 40 years, more than that, and I just, and I never fail to learn in talking with him, even when he was ordering me about, which he always did. Yeah, he had this comprehensive and detailed view, but detailed really only about the most important things. And so he saw that is changed religion from the ancient religions of which we have record, when the idea was that there was one God for every man. He loved to read the passage from, in the promise to Abraham. I will be your God, and you will be my people, and this will be a blessing to all the nations on the Earth. And that’s a new thing. That’s something different. And that means, it means, by the way, in potential, the promise of peace is greater because of that, if we can conceive each other as children of a common father. And Professor Jaffa could just ring the changes on that.

HH: And he also connected it then to Philadelphia and one people.

LA: And also to Athens, see, because what is Socrates’ question always but what is the right thing to do in principle? What is the truth of this without qualification? In other words, one moral code and philosophic understanding implied for all people? It’s hard to get, but implied. And Professor Jaffa thought that the Declaration of Independence was an expression of the coming together of those two things. And he thought that we become a unique people making a unique contribution to the world by adopting those principles. And they become our principles, and we are a particular people, but we stand for principles that mean well to all. And just to hear him explain all that, you know, and the great philosophic text in which he found those things, and he was himself amazed when he read the systematic way in which Abraham Lincoln understood those things. Also, the system, and he discovered this, too, also the systematic way in which Winston Churchill understood these things.

HH: I did not know that Jaffa studied Churchill.

LA: Oh, yeah. I had a course with him on Churchill, and I guess I am the chief one of his students who turned to Churchill, but there wasn’t any reason. We used to press Churchill – who’s greater – Plato or Aristotle? Who’s greater – Churchill or Lincoln? We just loved to ask questions like that, and he had a common thing he would say about it. He would say if you look up into the high mountains, their tops shrouded in clouds, you can’t tell which is higher. But that doesn’t mean you can’t tell the difference between a mountain and a molehill.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing)

HH: That is very well said. Well, it is wonderful on this 4th of July, America, that I’m joined by Dr. Arnn, a student of Harry Jaffa. If you’re just tuning in, it’s early on the 4th of July. We’re going to spend this hour and next recalling an interview that I aired repeatedly for 15 years in my old afternoon slot with Dr. Harry Jaffa about the Declaration of Independence, about Lincoln, and about the understanding of why it matters even to this day, so don’t go anywhere. Instead, begin your celebration by focusing on the first principles of the Declaration, July 4th, 1776, penned by Thomas Jefferson in concert with who, Dr. Arnn?

LA: The Declaration?

HH: Yes.

LA: John Adams.

HH: And Ben Franklin, correct?

LA: And Ben Franklin, yeah, that’s right. Yeah.

HH: But they backed off of Jefferson’s eloquence. If I recall this correctly, they were in the room, but they demurred.

LA: Well, Adams was an extremely important man in the founding. That series also, the HBO series, the book, John Adams, by David McCullough, is awesome, and it was made into a TV series on HBO. Adams is a man who maneuvered Jefferson into writing that thing.

HH: And so we owe Adams a debt and Franklin a debt, and mostly, Jefferson as well as Dr. Jaffa. Don’t go anywhere on this 4th of July. Celebrate the right way by starting by reflecting upon what it is we’re celebrating. It is the Hugh Hewitt Show.

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HH: Dr. Arnn, now that Dr. Jaffa’s gone to his reward, agreed to join me and talk a little bit about those interviews. Let’s play a little bit more of Dr. Harry Jaffa from years past talking about the miracle in Philadelphia, cut number two:

HJ: They were radical in that they grounded the authority of the people in the laws of nature and of nature’s God. And the laws of nature are older than any human laws since they result from the very being of the universe. So in that sense, they were very radical. But they were also radical in the sense that they represent that something absolutely new in human experience. What was new in human experience was at the same time the eldest ground for morality and constitutional government. In the literature of American history, it’s very common to emphasize the continuity between British constitutional development and the American Constitution, and that there was a great deal of continuity. It’s certainly the case. But there was also a great novelty. For example, the Constitution says that there shall never be any religious test for office. This was the first time in human history that there had been a government which was not based in one way or another upon a religious test. The British government was based upon a whole series of religious tests.

HH: You’ll have to explain for the audience what a religious test is, Professor.

HJ: Well, a profession of faith which is authorized by the government itself.

HH: Now Dr. Arnn, did you notice how he moved effortlessly from Philadelphia to Philadelphia from 1776 to 1787?

LA: Oh, yeah. Well, he was, the thing about, you should know about him, I mean, I’ve known a lot of very learned people and work with them all the time. This man was very special. And the discovery of these themes, you don’t see it in these interviews, because first of all, you’re doing a very good job with him, Hugh, but in addition, so far, he’s not fighting anybody. But he was always fighting people. His friends, right, he was always taking on somebody and kicking the daylights out of them for making a mistake. He loved the quote from whom, from it might have been from Pericles. Aristotle is accustomed to seek a fight. And so he was like that. He was very aggressive, right? But when you studied with him, you also learned that he only fought because of his loves. Doesn’t his voice sound generous and high when you hear it?

HH: Yes.

LA: And then think of the promise and the blessing of these things that he’s discovering, right? To treat everybody the same, right, as long as, by the way, they will believe in and practice the principles of freedom and let others do the same. We learned on the Christmas card at Hillsdale College every year, we call it a Christmas card, but what we put on it is a quote from George Washington’s letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island. And I learned of that from Professor Jaffa, of course, and we would say that excepting Israel, this is the first letter from any chief executive to some Jews addressing them as equal citizens. It is now no more that we speak of religious toleration as if it were by the indulgence of some that others enjoy their inherent natural rights. So in America, the test becomes not a religious test. You have a right to be free in your religion. The test is do you subscribe to the laws of nature and of nature’s God, and the moral code that gives rise to it?

HH: That is a perfect place to break. Don’t go anywhere, America. On this 4th of July, Dr. Arnn is staying with me this hour and next celebrating not only the Declaration of Independence and our framing, our Constitution, but Dr. Jaffa, the scholar who helped forth in this period for the last 15 years on the Hugh Hewitt Show. We review it all. Stay with us on this 4th of July. Happy Independence Day. I’ll be right back.

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HH: In the course of that interview, Dr. Arnn, many years ago, I, since Dr. Jaffa was such a renowned teacher, and it was actually the first time I met him, I asked him some student questions, including this one, about how important is the Declaration for people who haven’t read it, cut number three:

HJ: The statement that all men are created equal, that they have certain unalienable rights, that among these, now the Declaration says among, so the enumeration that follows is not exhaustive. And we can say very easily that among the rights with which we are endowed by our Creator or the rights of freedom of speech, the free exercise of religion, freedom of the press. These are all natural rights. In the Bill of Rights, which is an appendix of the first 10 Amendments, particularly the 1st Amendment, which says that the Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, or of the right of people peaceably to assemble and petition the government. These rights which were never mentioned in the body of the Constitution, but they were not mentioned originally, because they were assumed to be essential to the functioning of any free government.

HH: But they were encompassed in Jefferson’s Declaration among them?

HJ: They certainly were.

HH: And so Dr. Arnn, it’s just, he just moved effortlessly between the two documents. He wants them to be intertwined.

LA: Yeah, he had a big fight for many years with a lot of the originalists among lawyers. And they would say that there’s only the text of the Constitution, and that you can’t add any theory to it. Robert Bork was a famous interlocutor in those arguments. And Professor Jaffa would say okay, sure, but what do the words mean? You have to think that through, right? For example, the Constitution has three places where it protects slavery, very significant that it doesn’t mention the term slavery, which Madison, chief among the authors of the Constitution, said was significant that they didn’t put that in there, because they didn’t want that word in there. They didn’t want the Constitution to be read as meaning slavery, even if it had to compromise with it. So Professor Jaffa made that point in this argument that he just made, that the list of the rights are not the only rights, that all of the rights that can be understood to be pertaining to human nature, we can talk about what that means in a minute, would also be included. And I remember Robert Bork once sort of responded that there weren’t any rights protected by the Constitution except the rights that are listed there. And Professor Jaffa countered what about the 9th Amendment, which says that the listing of these rights doesn’t mean there are not other rights? And Robert Bork, the great originalist, published in writing, well, that part of the Constitution is just an ink blot.

HH: An ink blot. Very famous.

LA: So Professor Jaffa had him admitting that he didn’t want to read all of the Constitution.

HH: (laughing) You know, I remember from the last segment you talked about how he was best in argument. William F. Buckley said about Harry Jaffa if you think Harry Jaffa is hard to argue with, try agreeing with him.

LA: Oh, yeah.

HH: And that comes to mind in this exchange I had with him on the founders’ intent, whether the Declaration was really to be a governing document or it was just inspiring rhetoric, cut number four:

HJ: There’s no question that these principles were the ones to which they gave their ultimate allegiance. Apart from what we know were the compromises that came later, the compromises involving the institution of chattle slavery. And one of the, you might say, paradoxes, but also in a sense, almost the genius of the American founding is that it confronted the issue of slavery by denouncing everything that could possible justify slavery, at the same time the people who made our government at the beginning were unable to change everything to fit the pattern of the principles.

HH: But people are so cynical today, Professor Jaffa, that whatever politicians say, and elected officials, is immediately discounted and run through the interpretive mill. And you’re making the argument that they intended to be believed when they wrote this down. They were not merely setting the stage for armed rebellion.

HJ: No, well, they were certainly setting the stage for rebellion.

HH: But not merely?

HJ: Well, remember, the Declaration was issued after the war had been going on for a whole year. And the year before, on July 6th, in other words, 365 days minus two before the Declaration, there was a declaration for the causes of taking up arms. That cause was a justification. So they already had a statement of principles which preceded the Declaration, and which foreshadowed it.

HH: So you see, I was trying to agree with him there, Dr. Arnn, and he wasn’t having any of it.

LA: No, no. He had this in common with Margaret Thatcher, whom I was privileged to know. She wasn’t a scholar like him, of course, but if you, especially when she was in her energy before her age came, if you told a story about her, my main mode with her when I was see her, would be to praise her and tell her great stories about herself. She would often retell the stories, because she could tell them better.

HH: (laughing) That’s exactly it. But he makes his point that way. It’s an interesting dialectical approach. Let’s go to what, I brought up Lincoln with him, and I want you to comment on this at length after he hear it. This is Harry Jaffa on Lincoln’s use and invocation of the Declaration in the Gettysburg Address, cut number five:

HJ: Well, let’s begin with the first words, Four score and seven years. One of the main issues between him and Douglas in the Lincoln-Douglas debates, which continued on into ’59 and ’60 as well, was whether or not that we exist as a nation by virtue of the Constitution. That’s what Douglas said, only by virtue of the Constitution. Lincoln insisted no, we live, we exist as a nation in virtue of the Declaration of Independence. So four score and seven years is designed to reaffirm 1776, see? So that was, you might say, Lincoln’s last word in the debate with Douglas.

HH: Oh, how interesting. And so by declaring that, though, what is the import of such a declaration?

HJ: Well, in 1857, the Supreme Court delivered a decision known as the case of Dred Scott. That decision was one of the most destructive acts by any person or group in all human history. The Chief Justice, in his opinion, said that according to the founding fathers, Negroes, meaning free or slave, were so far inferior that they had no rights which white men were bound to respect. And as evidence for that statement, he said that the proposition that all men are created equal did not include Negroes.

HH: So why did he go there, Dr. Arnn?

LA: So be more specific. Why…

HH: Why invoke, I’m bringing up the Declaration, and he immediately goes to Dred Scott.

LA: Yeah, well, the point is, you know, that, first of all, there are two kinds of consequences of the Dred Scott decision. The first one is practical and political, and it’s massive, because the Republican Party, what it was founded to do, it was founded to eliminate slavery by constitutional means, and so to preserve the partnership between what Lincoln called the apples of gold and the pictures or frames of silver. The Declaration is the apple of gold, and the Constitution is the frame in which it sits. Well, the Constitution didn’t give the federal government power to eliminate slavery in the States. And so they thought about this device. In fact, I’m very proud that predecessors of mine helped to think of this at Hillsdale College. They thought up most of the land of the country is not yet organized as states. We will exclude slavery from that. And then slavery will be placed on the course of ultimate extinction. And the Dred Scott decision says that the federal government doesn’t have the power to do that, right? That means that it destroys the Republican Party if it stands, and it destroys any constitutional means to attack slavery. So that’s, that’s massive, but it’s not the most important thing about it, because of course, it is a direct denial of the principle of the Declaration of Independence, that the color of your skin could make you a lesser person.

HH: Right, right.

LA: And so it undercuts both, the free nature of the Union, and also, and because it does the second thing, it undercuts the meaning of the nation. And that thing, see, and that’s a court decision, right? Later in the Civil War, Lincoln would arrest a bunch of people in Maryland to stop them from fomenting secession in Maryland. And then the Capitol of Washington, D.C. would have been surrounded, because Virginia went. And Roger Taney issued a habeas corpus order to present these people so he could let them go. And the guy went to the, the marshals went to the White House, and the White House told them they’re in a fort. So the marshals went to the fort, and the general of the fort said okay, good, how are you going to open these gates?

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing)

HH: I also asked Jaffa years ago why did Lincoln even bring up the Declaration in the debates with Stephen Douglas. Here’s what he said, cut number eight:

HJ: Lincoln had to argue, as the whole anti-slavery coalition argued, that slavery itself was both impolitic and unjust. This was a very difficult thing to do, because apart from the opinion in the North as well as South, was very unfavorable to the rights of Negroes. The only way in which the expansion of slavery could be prevented was by convincing a majority in the free states who would constitute a majority in the Electoral College that slavery was wrong. He had to do this without arguing for anything on behalf of Negro rights other than that they should not be slaves. Lincoln had to say repeatedly in 1858…

HH: And Larry Arnn, we went over this again and again. That’s a very hard recipe to mix, and yet Lincoln accomplished it.

LA: Oh, yeah. See, that’s right. So Douglas’ argument was the country’s founded on the white basis. Some of us don’t like slavery. We don’t have to have it. We can just make it up ourselves. But it’s a morally neutral question. It’s according to your preferences. And there was a very wide agreement, by the way, that people didn’t want black people marrying white people, and people didn’t want them living as equal citizens. How’s Lincoln going to argue in that context? And the Declaration of Independence provides the way.

HH: It did. We’ll come back. Dr. Larry Arnn is my guest. All of the Hillsdale Dialogues available at, and everything Hillsdale available at More Dr. Jaffa on the 4th of July when we return. Stay tuned.

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HH: Dr. Arnn, I have to play for you where we sparked it up perhaps the most with Dr. Jaffa all those many years ago when we talked about God and Jefferson, cut number 13:

HJ: I can’t imagine that he said it so many times without meaning it.

HH: And so it is really that the rights are in the nature of the people, or were in the rights in the nature of the Creation put on Earth?

HJ: Well, when Locke said that we were all property of God, therefore we can’t be the property of each other, you see. The two things are perfectly compatible.

HH: Sure.

HJ: The authority of God is superior to the authority of man, but among human beings, there is no human being who has authority directly from God.

HH: One of the more pernicious arguments that is around nowadays, though, is that the people who were in Philadelphia on July 4th, 1776, and those who eventually framed the Constitution, did not believe in God, and did not intend to legislate for a God-centered world. Is that pernicious? Or is it in fact objective?

HJ: It’s pernicious.

HH: Why?

HJ: Well, all authority, human authority, political authority, arises from the people. But who is the people? What do we mean by the people? That means human beings who have been endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. It is the fact that human beings have been endowed by God with their rights that makes the people the source of authority. But can that authority of the people, be exercised in any way? I mean, could the people establish a Nazi regime or a communist regime? No, because to do so would be inconsistent with the rights with which they have been endowed. Jefferson, on one occasion, spoke of, he was criticizing the Supreme Court for proclaiming the ultimate authority for interpreting the Constitution. He said the ultimate authority for the principles of the Constitution is the people en masse. They are independent of everything but moral law. In other words, the people is a people only insofar as it is a moral people incorporating the moral law. And it is that incorporation of the moral law in the people themselves that makes the people the source, the legitimate source, of political authority.

HH: Now Dr. Arnn, that was an elegant few steps. I asked him is non-belief was pernicious, and he ended up talking about moral authority, having confirmed that it was. But that was a very elegant dance away from the proposition.

LA: No, so let me add the caveat here that Professor Jaffa is a very great man. And I’m not entitled to speak for him. He had…

HH: (laughing) Okay.

LA: …of course, many students, and a lot of them are better than I. I just happen to be doing this, because the old thing doesn’t work anymore for you. But having said that now, let me be bold. When Professor Jaffa means, speaks of God, he does mean a perfect being that you can understand through thinking about it, right? You can just look at the structure of the universe. You can see that every artifact you make, this bottle sitting on my table right, it’s a water bottle, the water bottle is for drinking. Drinking is for health. You see, there’s an ascent. And but when you get to health, you get to a thing that’s good for its own sake, and yet it’s not sufficient. What are the ultimate things? Look at the perfection of a dog. This is one of Professor Jaffa’s favorite analogies. He used this all the time, metaphors. He would say a dog is a noble being, right? He liked dogs a lot. But a human being is more perfect than a dog. Now just think of the perfections in the human being, and imagine them perfected, and everything imperfect removed. You have a picture of God. And God, being perfect, would supply a moral standard. The reason that one must have respect for the great face that reinforce and elucidate the moral law is because they are speaking of that perfection in which we find by approaching our happiness in the practice of virtue. So Professor Jaffa was a Jew, and had deep respect for that faith. He had deep respect for Christianity. He believed in the regime of religious freedom, but he believed that this moral law was known both in freedom, sorry, in reason and in faith, and that’s why we can have laws that don’t have to be sectarian.

HH: And why we do not, why we must in fact have a free exercise clause, not merely a religious test that is correct, but a free exercise clause.

LA: One of Professor Jaffa’s discoveries, I believe, and favorite things to say, was that America is made both possible and necessary by the Christian revelation. And the reason that is, is that if you have the Jewish law, and the Jewish law, the Jewish faith is that there is one God for every human being, and this God is a law-giver, but he only gives the law to the Jews, poor chosen people, Christ is one God for every man, but he gives no law. And that means that the law must be limited so everyone can worship Jesus if they please. But he doesn’t give a law.

HH: And that is all in the Declaration, and we will explain more of that in Hour Two of this special 4th of July edition of the Hillsdale Dialogue. Stay tuned.

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HH: And Dr. Arnn, I want to play for you, I asked him whether or not Lincoln and Jefferson actually meant it when they claimed that all men were created equal. Here’s what he said, cut number nine:

HJ: In the first place, you have to be clear as to in what respect they held that all men are created equal. They were equal in their rights, the rights with which they were endowed by their Creator, rights which were theirs under the laws of nature and of nature’s God. Now Jefferson, for example, admitted that there were great inequalities among white men. He also thought that maybe Negroes as such were inferior in intellect or in rational and various abilities, even in athletic abilities, because he thought that they were inferior in both body and mind. Or he speculated that that might be true. But he said that has nothing to do with their rights. He said Sir Isaac Newton may be my superior in every human respect, but that does not give him any right to control my person or my property.

HH: But Jefferson owned slaves. That comes the retort no matter.

HJ: Yes.

HH: And so his speculation seemed to have trumped his ideology.

HJ: Well, let’s put it this way. Jefferson, like all of us, was born into a world that he didn’t make. And to have ideas, and Jefferson’s ideas did more in the course of time to change the world than probably any man that ever lived. But to expect of him to have changed the world simply because he was born into it, whether he had these ideas, is simply to not understand the nature of human experience.

HH: (laughing) That makes me laugh even when I hear it, Larry Arnn.

LA: Yeah.,

HH: In other words, do you know what you’re saying, Hewitt?

LA: Yeah, isn’t that good? It’s the thing he loved to say in class. He would say the miracle of the founding is not that they committed this seeming contradiction, this contradiction, in fact, contradiction between announcing the equality of man and keeping their slaves. By the way, they did liberate slavery over most of the Union pretty soon. The miracle, he said, was that a bunch of slaveholders should articulate the principles of the Declaration of Independence on the explicit understanding often proclaimed that it condemned slavery. That’s the miracle.

HH: That is a miracle, and I asked him about that, and where it came from, because those framers were steeped in classical education. So I asked him what birthed that Declaration of Independence. Here’s what he said, cut number 10:

HJ: Jefferson wrote a letter to Henry Lee in I think 1823 which is the most extensive exposition of what his intention was. He said it was not to find out any new ideas or invent anything new, but to present the common sense of the subject as it was found in letters, sermons, lectures, and the elementary books of public right, as, for example, Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, etc.

HH: Aristotle, Cicero, Locke. Let’s start with those three. What did Aristotle say that he bequeathed to the framers in Philadelphia

HJ: Well, I think that the idea of nature as the norm for human behavior, that clearly has its origins…

HH: What does nature as the norm mean?

HJ: Well, when Jefferson wrote that all men are created equal, what he meant by that, explained in part, at least, is there was no difference between man and man, as I say, any human being and any other human being, as there was between man and dog, for example, or a man and God. The authority that a human being has over horses or dogs or other animals comes from nature because of the difference in nature that makes man so superior to all the inferior species that he has authority over them. There is no difference between human beings which makes one human being the master of that other human being because of a difference in nature.

HH: Then I went and asked him about, okay, that’s Aristotle, here’s Cicero, and I asked him what Cicero’s impact was, cut number 11:

HJ: Aristotle did not have any explicit concept of natural law, meaning a law which was transnational or international, which governed people without respect to their membership in particular political societies. Cicero did. Cicero did in part because the Roman Republic had conquered the ancient world and has created a kind of international municipal law through the power of the Roman legions. And so the stoics thought of a law governing mankind independently of positive law. So, and Cicero’s conception of natural law was developed greatly in the Christian West by Thomas Aquinas.

HH: And then we went on to talk about Locke and cut number 12: This is what he said Locke contributed.

HJ: And Aquinas and in Hooker, the idea of the, the idea of authority proceeding from kings or princes, the idea that authority originated in the people and not in custom or in just in the objective truth of laws. I mean, the Decalogue, for example, the prohibition against murder, theft, adultery…

HH: The Ten Commandments, yeah.

HJ: Well, not all Ten Commandments.

HH: Okay, keep going.

HJ: The first tablet has to do with our relationship to God. The second one, our relationship to each other, although the 5th Commandment is ambiguous. but these things were recognized as being intrinsic to human, the welfare of human beings. No human society can, so these were prohibitions recognized everywhere, but that all law had its origins in the authority of the people. That was something new, which was not in any, for example, in any Democratic idea before the American Revolution.

HH: So Cicero, Aristotle, Cicero and Locke, and by the way, Dr. Arnn, I know you never got done with a book when you talked with Dr. Jaffa.

LA: Yeah, that’s right.

HH: But it, was this new to him? Or would the framers have said yes, you’re right, that’s exactly what we were doing?

LA: Well, we can only, you know, first of all, the framers were politicians, and they were statesmen, and so their arguments are, you know, amazingly erudite. But also, they’re practical political arguments. Professor Jaffa is a scholar. He’s like a classical scholar in this way. He speaks in ordinary terms. Has he been using a lot of technical terms, you know, when you hear him? He never did.

HH: Nope.

LA: He’s very analytical. I mean, he is simply brilliant, you know. I mean, he’s such a mastery. But what I think is, what he says about them is built up out of their words. And that’s a very profound point. I studied with two main teachers, I guess you’d say, Harry Jaffa and Martin Gilbert. And they are so very different. But I know where they came together. Martin Gilbert was a historian, he wrote narrative histories out of the documents. But he would always say the past is real. And when the documents exist, there is no reason or license to speculate. You can read what they say. One of Professor Jaffa’s favorite quotations, it’s in both Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. This alone is denied even to God to make what has been not to have been. And that states something about nature, right? One of the first things you have to teach people in education, the thing I learned more than any other from Professor Jaffa and his students, and my fellow students of his, was that you have to approach things as if they are real, and find out what they’re like. And so this work that he’s done on the American founding and Lincoln is, in my opinion, a great act of recovery, and therefore not foreign to them at all.

HH: And not being, not being foreign to them meaning, I think, that they would have consented to his interpretation of their work?

LA: I agree with that. You know, we have a, we who study, you know, we, anybody who studies a great figure, in my opinion, if they do it in a worthy way, will marvel at them sometimes. I often say to myself how did Churchill know that? I know how I knew it. You know, I had some great teachers, and I spent many years teaching and thinking about it, and talking to people about it. And you forget that Churchill is just like us in that regard. He’s looking at the world and trying to make sense of it. And he just was particularly good at it. And the same is true of Lincoln, and the same is true of the founders. And so Jaffa understands them. One of his great, he gets this from Strauss, one of his great rules of procedure is you must understand a thinker as he understood himself before you make any attempt to understand him better.

HH: We will be right back on this 4th of July talking about the Declaration of Independence, the men who wrote it and ratified it, the men who lived it, the men who studied it, Harry Jaffa in particular, with Dr. Larry Arnn of Hillsdale College. All things Hillsdale available at Go sign up for Imprimis, the speech digest. It’s absolutely free. That will be your declaration of independence from conventional thinking if you go and do that during the break. I’ll be right back on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

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HH: In the last segment, Dr. Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, and all things Hillsdale available at, you mentioned Leo Strauss. Therefore, I’m going to go to Dr. Jaffa’s teacher, Leo Strauss. I asked him about Leo Strauss in the course of that interview. Let me play those cuts and get your comment on it. Cut number 22:

HJ: I’ve been sometimes asked who are the greatest men, who was the greatest man of the 20th Century. And I sometimes often will answer the greatest, the two greatest men were Winston Churchill and Leo Strauss. Winston Churchill known throughout the world, Leo Strauss known almost nowhere, but what Churchill was to Hitler, Leo Strauss was to Martin Heidegger, the philosopher of national socialism. And I add to this the fact that Churchill seems to have, his victory over Hitler seems to be complete. The Third Reich was destroyed, Hitler committed suicide, and the world has seen at least something of freedom as it would not have had Hitler won the war. Strauss has not been victorious. He’s been victorious over Heidegger in terms that he has provided the reasons, the philosophic understanding which has within itself the power of defeating Heidegger’s doctrines, you see. But Heidegger is enormously popular, and the reason that Scalia and Rehnquist believes these things are because that what Heidegger’s influence, or you might say pre-Heideggarian influence of nature and, I was trying to think of the name of a, Max Weberr…

HH: Larry Arnn, how compact and beautiful is that?

LA: Yeah, you see, Heidegger, Heidegger, you know, defends, he is a member of the Nazi Party and holds an office under the Nazi Party, an office you couldn’t hold if you were not a member of the party, and now is emerging his diaries, which are called, what, the black books, because they were in some black oilskin cover. And come to find out he was a more thoroughgoing defender of the program of the Nazis than was previously known. And what does he teach, really? Well, first of all, it’s very complicated, and Heidegger is a modern philosopher, and that means there’s a lot to penetrate that’s new kind of jargon that makes a system. But Heidegger’s teaching about being and about our understanding of the good of things is always contextual. And we have some agency in the making of the context. That’s what historicism is about. And that led him to think, I mean, there’s a passage I read the other day that’s been translated into English lately from these diaries, and it’s, he says something to the effect that it’s too bad about the Jews what has to happen to them, but someone has to suffer for the greatness of the German people to be realized. And that thing, when you get there, then, you can do anything to anybody.

HH: Yup.

LA: And that’s what Strauss rebelled against, and that’s what Abraham Lincoln rebelled against. Remember Lincoln, one of Lincoln’s condemnations of slavery, which were high and moral, and which did establish the rights of the blacks, even though he didn’t fully draw that out all the time, his condemnation was it’s the old serpent, isn’t it? You work, and I’ll eat.

HH: He also, I asked him about Strauss and his City and Man book, cut number 23:

HJ: Profound crisis. It’s shown on the campuses that there is no, what is the ultimate human good as defined by philosopher professors on our campuses today? The very popular expression of this is that the highest human good is the emancipation of the uninhibited self-emancipation. Well, the greatest example of an emancipated self that I can think of is Adolf Hitler. He did exactly what he wanted. Every man would like to be a tyrant, you see. So the idea that the emancipation of the uninhibited self is this was the, human freedom is defined without any regard to any objective moral principles whatever. This is the dominant opinion on our campuses today. This is the opinion underlies what is called political correctness.

HH: And it is not the opinion in the Declaration of Independence, America. More on that when I return with Dr. Larry Arnn on this 4th of July. Don’t go anywhere. It’s the Hugh Hewitt Show.

— – – – –

HH: When we went to break there, we were talking about the crisis on campuses, Larry Arnn. It seems to me not coincidental that if you talk about the great document, you end up talking about the great men. And if you talk about the great men, you talk about the great evil men as well. It always comes up in the same conversation.

LA: Yeah, it, these claims of rights, so what do you learn from the classics, and if you study them the way Professor Jaffa did, you learn it firmly, right? You can’t forget it. These claims of right infuse everything we do. Hitler himself was making moral arguments, right? His argument was not what Professor Jaffa says. His belief was that, but his argument was we can win greatness for all people by making the racially pure German people the masters of the Earth. They can overcome all the mediocrity in the world and be excellent, and everything else can live in relation to their excellence, right? Well, if you just listed those things, and never mind that they’re crazy, those are also claims about good, right? Hitler’s claim was that his regime was good. And that distorted claim raises the question of the good, and invites you to think about it. That’s why it’s so important for these totalitarian regimes to punish what people say. One of Churchill’s great, and you know, look at these Islamic tyrannies, right? What are they like? What’s it like there? If you raise an objection, they will hunt you to the ends of the Earth. And so Churchill’s point was think of the weakness of these men there in the Nazi regime that they sit quivering that somebody will say something.

HH: Yeah, yeah. I also asked him about Lincoln, because the 4th of July was celebrated by Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address, which was a November address, but it was about a battle fought on the 4th of July, Gettysburg, and I asked him about Lincoln and why he was different from other tyrants who often destroyed republics. This is what Dr. Jaffa said about that, cut number 14:

HJ: Lincoln was committed to the Constitution. And he was committed to seeking political change only through constitutional means. The Constitution, the antebellum Constitution, meaning before the 13th Amendment, gave the federal government no authority over the domestic institutions of the individual states. And one plank in the Republican platform, which Lincoln repeated in his inaugural address, was that the preservation of the sovereignty of the states over their domestic institutions, this was essential to the perpetuity of our political institutions. And now the abolitionists, or at least the extreme abolitionists, were ones who believed that any power that could be summoned to destroy slavery was justified. They thought that any time Lincoln or any president had the power to intervene to destroy slavery in the states, he should use it. Lincoln rejected that. And in rejecting the Napoleonic approach, he was rejecting the approach that the abolitionists were recommending. Lincoln insisted that as president, as a candidate for president and as president, he was seeking only such authority as the Constitution conferred on the federal government.

HH: Now…

HJ: Wait a minute now. He was, that, all of that authority was concentrated on one question in the decade before the Civil War, and that was the question of the territories. And the only aim that the Republican Party had in 1860 in gaining the presidency was to prevent the extension of slavery into the territories. Now it was the common belief, and I think generally accepted, and I think can be accepted by us, that if slavery stopped expanding, it would have to contract. It could not stand still. So Lincoln was confident that if the extension of slavery could be finally stopped, that slavery, that a process would be initiated which would take place within the individual states, just as the individual states had abolished slavery north of the Mason-Dixon line, between the Revolution and the Constitution. So the process would be begun, which would lead to the emancipation of the slaves in the slave states themselves.

HH: Now Dr. Arnn, I have to ask you, do you think that Lincoln foresaw that the Civil War was inevitable after his election, even though he believed, as Dr. Jaffa just said, slavery would go extinct if limited to where it was intended to be limited by the Constitution? Do you think he saw the dominos falling?

LA: Well, first of all, you have to isolate when they began to fall. When Lincoln ran in 1858 against Douglas for the Senate, he intended to destroy the position of Douglas, which was that each state could decide for itself about slavery, it didn’t have any moral significance to the rest of the Union, and in fact, not really even any moral significance for the people who decide it however they decide it. And that was a plan for peace by Douglas. Lincoln had an alternative plan for peace, and that is we will preserve the Constitution, leave it where it is, but not let it grow. I think in 1858, he thought that that had, I think he thought that was right, that is to say, you had to do it that way, because if you don’t proceed lawfully, then you’re destroying the whole structure of law. So I thought, I think he thought he had to do that. But in addition, I think he thought that would work, in other words, that that could be accepted. But then 1859 and 1860, and then the run up to the campaign and the election, and then especially after the election, then steps began to be taken for secession. And the rhetoric in the South, and in the North, but especially in the South, became more violent. And so surely by, you know, I mean, I know Lincoln didn’t make any speeches between the time of his nomination until he got on the train to go and be inaugurated. He didn’t make any speeches in the campaign. And that was customary of Stephen Douglas, sort of broke tradition and campaigned himself in that 1860 election all over the South. But Lincoln did write a draft, write in a couple of letters, and draft a letter to President Buchanan to say if you start giving up territory to these guys, I’m going to announce that I’m going to undo that when I take office. So he saw the war coming by then, for sure.

HH: All right, and then I asked Dr. Jaffa about the Second Inaugural, which is appropriate on this 4th of July, to reflect upon one of the great messages of American history, Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. Here’s what I asked him about the importance of that, cut number 17:

HJ: It would be impossible to exaggerate its importance. It was, I can’t say that it was the greater speech than the Gettysburg Address. I can’t say that anything…but it certainly was Lincoln at the peak of his philosophic, theological and political powers. It was, most of all, a statement that the Civil War was a punishment for the sin of slavery, and that North and South were equally subject to punishment for that.

HH: Does it rebuke those who would make common cause with sin for a time in order to achieve a greater end? Because if in fact it’s a punishment, then that means the framing, the Constitution, was misconceived, doesn’t it?

HJ: No, I think that the Constitution certainly represented, involved a compromise. But it involved a rational compromise, because any alternative, if the Constitution had not had these compromises with slavery, it would not have been ratified. Had it not been ratified, another constitutional arrangement which would have been much more favorable to slavery would have taken place. So from that point of view, I would say the founders are not to be punished, or not to be held accountable. But Lincoln quoted both the Old and New Testament, that woe unto the world because of offenses, it must needs be that the offense come. But woe unto that may by whom the offense cometh, see? And Lincoln afterwards said he thought that this reflected as much on him personally as upon anyone else. But he said so we must say that the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. In other words, the founding fathers, and he himself, did everything they could, but it was not enough. But the Scripture says that woe unto the world by whom the offense cometh. That seems to be, that’s what the Bible teaches, and that seems to be the experience of mankind.

HH: Dr. Arnn, do you agree with that assessment?

LA: If you think like Lincoln, then you think this way. You think that the principles of the Declaration of Independence are universal, and they become embodied in a nation, that the nation then has a mission to represent those principles. Then you think that the laws that are passed in the Constitution provides a structure for those principles to live and for a people to govern themselves under it. It’s precious. The Constitution is imperfect, of course, but if you read Madison in the run up to the making of the Constitution in an essay he published called Vices Of The Political System, we are encouraging vice among ourselves, and our union is going to come apart, and we lose the Declaration of Independence that way. But Professor Jaffa’s point then following that is principles may be perfect. Human beings are not.

HH: Are not.

LA: And so we will never have perfect laws. Lincoln says very famously and beautifully in a speech in, and I’ll recount that if I’ve got one minute.

HH: You do.

LA: July the 10th, 1858, closest thing to an actual 4th of July speech Lincoln ever gave, it’s the form, it’s the most beautiful of all of such speeches, in my opinion. And he starts out the way they always started out – my, what a great country this is, and look how wonderful it is, and look how big it’s become, and look how proud we are of it, and what an achievement. And then he says, and we think back on those days in the beginning when the founders started it, and we think that they must have been iron men. They fought for their principles, he says. But then we see a problem, and that problem is that we are not blood of the blood and flesh of the flesh of the fathers who came before us. We come later. What makes us all the same, and that is the electric cord of the principles of human equality. It’s there, and that is always to be striven for, never to be perfectly attained. That’s Lincoln.

HH: And we are celebrating that electric cord today. Stay with me, one more segment with Dr. Larry Arnn on this 4th of July.

— – – –

HH: I want to close our conversation, Dr. Arnn, by playing for you from my old conversation with Dr. Jaffa about the Declaration of Independence what he said about the meaning of the pursuit of happiness and his definition of virtue and have you conclude by reflecting on those two comments. First, cut number 24, Dr. Jaffa on what it means to pursue happiness.

HJ: The articulation of the meaning of the word happiness for the Western tradition for more than two thousand years has been that given by Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics. And the word in Greek that is usually translated, Eudaimonia, which means to have a good daimon. Another word is Makarios, which refers to wealth. But the meaning that the word has for Aristotle is defined by Aristotle himself. It is that good for the sake of which all other good things are sought. Happiness does not, Aristotle, consist in wealth, because wealth is an instrument. Having wealth is good for the things that you can do with the wealth. And the question is what can you do with the wealth? Happiness is not good simply for the sake of honor. Why? Because honor depends upon the character of those who give the honor as well as, in other words, to be admired and honored by stupid or vicious men does not mean that the honor is worth anything. Stalin, for example, used to have these parades throughout the Soviet Union praising him and with banners, and he would look at the parade and said, and think gee, what a great man am I. Of course, he ordered the parades themselves. But when Churchill was honored by the Parliament, it was by a Parliament which had already rejected him as its leader. But the tributes of free men freely given for honorable deeds mean something. But honor itself is a questionable good. Well, Aristotle’s final conclusion is that, and this of course needs to be articulated throughout the ten book Nicomachean Ethics, that happiness is an activity of virtue in a complete life.

HH: And so the pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of that. I also asked him to define virtue, cut number 25:

HJ: Aristotle goes through the entire list of virtues, beginning with courage and going on to temperance, and then onto magnanimity and then at the justice, and then finally into happiness, into friendship. Virtue is an activity in accordance with right reason, with respect to the different occasions in which human beings make judgments of right and wrong in order to act well. For example, courage is an activity of acting well in the presence of danger and to neither be not to run forward into danger needlessly, nor run away from it in a cowardly manor. Temperance is the right act, the mien between excess and deficiency with respect to the pleasures of taste and touch.

HH: So Larry Arnn, is it right to end up talking about happiness and virtue on the 4th of July when we should be talking about freedom?

LA: Happiness occurs twice in the Declaration of Independence. It occurs first in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and then it occurs when it says that when people, if people are to throw off their government and choose new forms most likely to affect their safety and happiness. As Professor Jaffa would always point out, is the alpha and omega of Aristotle’s politics. Now why is happiness mentioned? The answer is that is, after all, the goal of freedom. And to fail in happiness, to fail to practice the virtues, is to become the slave of the vices. And so people say sometimes the Declaration of Independence is all wrong because it doesn’t name responsibility as well as rights. Well, first of all, they should read the dang thing. But second of all, it’s profoundly apparent in this treatment of happiness. What do we want? What do we want for our children? We want them to be free. Do we want them to be free to do whatever they please? We want them to live well. You know, at Hillsdale, we had commencement the other day, the best I’ve ever seen. Clarence Thomas was the speaker this year. And what is the point of commencement? The only appropriate thing at commencement apart from thank you’s is speeches about living well. And free people get a chance to do that.

HH: And that is the Declaration, and that’s what we celebrate today. Dr. Larry Arnn, thank you for going back. I hope it’s been more than nostalgia for you to hear your old professor.

LA: It’s a beautiful and great thing. You know, I love that man, loved him since the day I met him, even, as I say, when he was typically ordering me about.

HH: (laughing) So we share that in common. I remember that interview very well. Dr. Arnn, Happy 4th of July. Happy 4th of July to all of you. I hope you go and read the entire Declaration of Independence for yourself from start to finish, perhaps out loud and in a group, and enjoy the rest of the day, as we all do as free people, any way we care to celebrate the day. But you might begin it with the Declaration of Independence.

End of interview.


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