American Political Thought: Spring 2023 Issue


American Political Thought Journal: Spring 2023 Issue


American Political Thought: A Journal of Ideas, Institutions, and Culture, has recently published its Spring 2023 issue, which includes pieces by JMC scholars W.B. Allen, Jeremy Bailey, Justin Dyer, Susan McWilliams Barndt, Steven B. Smith, and George Thomas. This issue has a special theme: “Harry Jaffa’s Crisis at 65: A Symposium.”



>> Table of Contents <<


  1. “Introduction,” Jeremy D. Bailey and Susan McWilliams Barndt
  2. “What Harry Jaffa Taught,” W.B. Allen
  3. “Jaffa’s Douglas,” Jeremy D. Bailey
  4. The Promise of Equality in Lincoln and in Jaffa,John Burt
  5. “Harry Jaffa and the Idea That All Men Are Created Equal,” Justin Buckley Dyer
  6. “Partisan Supremacy in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates,” Mark A Graber
  7. “Conservatism in Crisis,” Susan McWilliams Barndt
  8. “Harry, Lincoln, and Me,” Steven B. Smith
  9. “Crisis as Critique of the Founding,” George Thomas
  10. “Placing the Lincoln-Douglas Debates,” Anne Twitty


  1. “Editor’s Note,” Jeremy D. Bailey and Susan McWilliams Barndt
  2. “The Anatomy of a Smear: A Response to Ken I. Kersch,” C. Bradley Thompson



“What Harry Jaffa Taught,” W.B. Allen

“I focus on Harry Jaffa’s teaching within the scope of my experience for two sufficient reasons. Most importantly, there is a sufficient distinction between one’s teaching and one’s publications that there is no squared overlay of teachings and publications. That distinction does not emerge from considerations of esotericism and exotericism. It emerges, rather, from the force of mutual exploration between teacher and student, on the one hand, and the dynamics of exhortation, on the other hand. Although one may write in an exploratory manner, seeking to engage readers in discourse more or less open-ended, one always teaches—properly speaking—in an open-ended exploratory manner. One’s teachings, accordingly, necessarily disclose variations—and even contradictions—that are intrinsic to the purpose. Accordingly, I focus on Jaffa’s teachings in order to highlight that teacher-student interaction…”

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William B. Allen is a resident scholar and the former chief operating officer of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education in Washington, D.C. He is Emeritus Dean at James Madison College (MSU) and Emeritus Professor of Political Philosophy at Michigan State University. He has served as chairman for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, as a member for National Council on the Humanities, and as executive director on the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, among other offices. He is an expert on liberal arts education, its history, importance and problems. He is also Chairman and co-founder of Toward A Fair Michigan, whose mission was to further understanding of the equal opportunity issues involved in guaranteeing civil rights for all citizens, and to provide a civic forum for a fair and open exchange of views on the question of affirmative action. He has published extensively, most notably, George Washington: A Collection, George Washington: America’s First Progressive, The Personal and the Political: Three Fables by Montesquieu, Re-Thinking Uncle Tom: The Political Philosophy of H. B. Stowe, Habits of Mind: Fostering Access and Excellence in Higher Education (with Carol M. Allen), The Essential Antifederalist (with Gordon Lloyd, ) and The Federalist Papers: A Commentary.

Professor Allen is a JMC fellow.

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Jaffa’s Douglas,” Jeremy D. Bailey

“In my view, Harry V. Jaffa’s Crisis of the House Divided is the most important work of scholarship published in the field of American political thought. The greatness of the book has to do, first, with its discovery of Abraham Lincoln as a serious political thinker and, second, with its positioning Lincoln as a founder superior to the founders of 1776, including even Thomas Jefferson. The latter project required a study of the principles of Jefferson and the other founders in their own right, and Jaffa’s book includes passages that add up to perhaps the best study in that regard too. Chapters 9 and 14 are the sections I have in mind…”

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Jeremy Bailey is the Sanders Chair in Law and Liberty and Director of the Institute for American Constitutional Heritage at the University of Oklahoma. He teaches in the Constitutional Studies program, and his research interests include the political thought of the early republic as well as constitutional controversies concerning executive power.  His books include The Idea of Presidential Representation: An Intellectual and Political History (University Press of Kansas, 2019), James Madison and Constitutional Imperfection (Cambridge University Press, 2015), The Contested Removal Power, 1789-2010 (University Press of Kansas 2013, coauthored with David Alvis and Flagg Taylor), which was named a 2014 “Outstanding Academic Title” by Choice, and Thomas Jefferson and Executive Power (Cambridge University Press 2007). His articles have appeared in American Political Science Review, History of Political Thought, Review of Politics, Political Research Quarterly, American Politics Research, Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Publius, Presidential Studies Quarterly, and Critical Review.

Professor Bailey is a JMC faculty partner.

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“Harry Jaffa and the Idea That All Men Are Created Equal,” Justin Buckley Dyer

“Harry Jaffa is remembered, above all, as a morally earnest man who was alarmed by the specters of relativism, historicism, and nihilism, and who battled to defend the classical idea of natural right (see, e.g., Uhlman et al. 2015; Watson 2015; Fornieri 2016). His defense of classical natural right was anchored in the proposition, held to be self-evident by the American founders, that “all men are created equal.” This, as his interpreters have noted, creates a puzzle (Zuckert 2009). “The defining principle of classical natural right,” C. Bradley Thompson and Yaron Brook write, “is inequality” (Thompson and Brook 2010, 115). Yet Jaffa championed equality and natural right, and he considered the American regime and Abraham Lincoln’s statesmanship in the service of that regime to be quintessential models for the modern recovery of classical natural right. Jaffa’s originality, as Robert Kraynak observed, was “to claim that the Declaration of Independence, as understood by the American founders and applied by Lincoln, was the best and noblest expression of natural right in the modern world” (2015, 169). This is the central theme of Crisis of the House Divided, Jaffa’s magnum opus, a theme he claimed to have developed with more intricacy and complexity in A New Birth of Freedom, a sequel to Crisis separated in their publication by four decades (Jaffa 2009, viii). Starting with this puzzle—the connection between equality and classical natural right—I briefly retrace central aspects of Jaffa’s argument, in Crisis and New Birth, about the salutary role the idea of natural equality might play in the modern recovery of classical natural right, noting in conclusion Jaffa’s commitment to philosophical skepticism and final emphasis on the need for faith in politics…”

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Justin DyerJustin Dyer is the executive director of the Civitas Institute, professor of government, and Jack G. Taylor Regents Professor at The University of Texas at Austin. He also is professor (by courtesy) of business, government, and society in the McCombs School of Business. Dyer writes and teaches in the fields of American political thought, jurisprudence and constitutionalism, with an emphasis on the perennial philosophical tradition of natural law. He is the author or editor of eight books and numerous articles, essays and book reviews. His most recent book, with Kody Cooper, is The Classical and Christian Origins of American Politics: Political Theology, Natural Law, and the American Founding, published in 2022 by Cambridge University Press. His previous books with Cambridge University Press include C.S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law (2016); Slavery, Abortion, and the Politics of Constitutional Meaning (2013); and Natural Law and the Antislavery Constitutional Tradition (2012). He also is co-editor of the two-volume constitutional law casebook American Constitutional Law (4th edition, West Academic), which has been adopted at leading universities across the country.

Professor Dyer is a JMC faculty partner.

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“Conservatism in Crisis,” Susan McWilliams Barndt

“Harry Jaffa was an intellectual leader of American conservatism, particularly as it developed in the second half of the twentieth century. In 2013, when Jaffa was 94 years old, the National Review called him “the most important conservative political theorist of his generation” (Miller 2013, 34). When Jaffa died, two years later, his eulogists all echoed that judgment. Charles Kesler, for instance, told the Los Angeles Times that “Harry helped to reshape the American conservative movement” (Woo 2015, B8). Jaffa spoke about himself in similar terms; he described himself as a conservative and talked about his work in terms of building “the conservative movement” (Benson 2012, 23)…”

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Susan J. McWilliamsSusan McWilliams Barndt is a Professor of Politics and Coordinator of Public Policy Analysis at Pomona College. She is co-editor of the American Political Thought book series at the University Press of Kansas. She is the author of The American Road Trip and American Political Thought and Traveling Back: Toward a Global Political Theory. She has also edited several books, most recently A Political Companion to James Baldwin and The Best Kind of College: An Insiders’​ Guide to America’s Small Liberal Arts Colleges (co-edited with John Seery). Her writing has been published widely, including in Boston Review, Bust, Front Porch Republic, The Nation, Perspectives on Political Science, Political Science Quarterly, The Review of Politics, and The Star-Ledger. McWilliams Barndt received her B.A. in Political Science and Russian from Amherst College and her M.A. and Ph.D. in politics from Princeton University.

Professor McWilliams Barndt is a JMC faculty partner.

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“Harry, Lincoln, and Me,” Steven B. Smith

“I first encountered Harry V. Jaffa’s Crisis of the House Divided (1959/1973) sometime in the late 1970s when I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago. My knowledge of American political thought was, at that time, thin to say the least. My interests had been—and to some degree still are—in the great tradition of European political philosophy, to which I condescendingly regarded the American contribution as something of an afterthought…”

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Steven SmithSteven B. Smith is the Alfred Cowles Professor of Political Science and Professor of Philosophy at Yale University. He is also the Co-Director of Yale’s Center for the Study of Representative Institutions(YSCRI) which focuses on the theory and practice of representative government in the Anglo-American world. His research has focused on the history of political philosophy with special attention to the problem of the ancients and moderns, the relation of religion and politics, and theories of representative government. Aside from his latest book Reclaiming Patriotism in an Age of Extremes (2021), his best known publications include, among others, Spinoza, Liberalism, and Jewish Identity (1997), Reading Leo Strauss (2006), Political Philosophy (2012), and Modernity and its Discontents (2016).

Professor Smith is a JMC faculty partner.

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Crisis as Critique of the Founding,” George Thomas

“‘Where slavery exists the republican Theory becomes still more fallacious.’

(James Madison, Vices of the Political System of the United States [1787])

Harry Jaffa had long retired by the time I arrived at his old department. But he was around on occasion in my first few years at Claremont McKenna, and some graduate students at neighboring Claremont Graduate University still revered Jaffa in a manner that tended toward idolatry. Stories about his preoccupation with himself still circulated among faculty, many of whom had long been his colleagues. Even some of his friends found him tiresome and his friendship a burden. Hearing about the quarrels between Jaffa and Martin Diamond, it was easy to sympathize with Diamond’s sobriety and sense of humor against Jaffa’s self-important crusades. I got to witness Jaffa’s famous self-absorption firsthand, as on several occasions I had to interrupt him while moderating the Q and A for a visiting speaker. Jaffa, oblivious to everyone else in the room, was sure he was the main event and sought to conduct a Socratic dialogue with the speaker where he could control the questions and direction of the dialogue.1 I quickly learned to cut him off. And there were the awful screeds and quarrels that seemed to account for so much of his writing. All in all, it put me off returning to Crisis of the House Divided…”

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George ThomasGeorge Thomas is the Burnet C. Wohlford Professor of American Political Institutions at Claremont McKenna College. He is the winner of the American Political Science Association’s 2006 Alexander L. George Award for the Best Article on Qualitative Methods and serves as an officer for the American Political Thought section of APSA. Professor Thomas specializes in the topics of American constitutionalism, American political thought, constitutional law, and the Supreme Court. He has written extensively on the Constitution, the Founders, and the history of American education. Aside from his latest book, The (Un)Written Constitution, he is the author of The Founders and the Idea of a National University: Constituting the American Mind (Cambridge University Press, 2015), and he has published articles in Perspectives on Politics, Polity, National Affairs, and Critical Review, among others.

Professor Thomas is a JMC faculty partner.

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American Political Thought journal coverAmerican Political Thought: A Journal of Ideas, Institutions, and Culture is a JMC supported journal that bridges the gap between historical, empirical, and theoretical research. It is the only journal dedicated exclusively to the study of American political thought. Interdisciplinary in scope, APT features research by political scientists, historians, literary scholars, economists, and philosophers who study the foundation of the American political tradition. Research explores key political concepts such as democracy, constitutionalism, equality, liberty, citizenship, political identity, and the role of the state.

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