The feud that revived conservatism

The feud that revived conservatism

Sad news came over the weekend that the great political scientists Walter Berns and Harry V. Jaffa, both in their mid-90s, had died within a few hours of one another. The thoughts of many who knew them ran to the parallel between the passing of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson within hours of each other on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1826.

Like Jefferson and Adams, Berns and Jaffa were devoted to the principles of the American founding, yet carried on a bitter feud for years. Unlike the two presidents, Berns and Jaffa never reconciled their differences, though in their late years they mellowed and converged in a few ways.

As a student of Jaffa and friend and colleague of Berns at the American Enterprise Institute, I was often caught in the middle and, like friends and students of both men, sometimes cringed at the personal bitterness with which they attacked each other. Yet the wider issues in their debate, and their shared disposition toward the central problems of our time, can be said to have transformed modern American conservatism.

 

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