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Leo Strauss’s Locke and the American Founding
LUNCH 11:45 a.m. LECTURE 12:15 p.m.

No subject has stirred more controversy among “Straussians” than the chapter on John Locke in Natural Right and History (1953). It is a primary source for Leo Strauss’s understanding of the foundations of modernity as “low but solid,” and of the American Founding as quintessentially modern—and more low than solid. Allan Bloom, in the Closing of the American Mind (1987), blames the moral disintegration we see around us on the egalitarianism propelled into the regime by the Declaration of Independence. Walter Berns has written that the beginning of the Declaration and its end contradict each other. The “rights” of the beginning, he held, are wholly self-regarding, and could not justify the commitment to our “sacred honor.” Locke is looked upon, in short, as Hobbes with false whiskers.

Harry V. Jaffa, the Henry Salvatori Research Professor of Political Philosophy Emeritus, takes up this challenge in a luncheon talk at the Athenaeum. Kicking off the Salvatori Center’s seminar on Leo Strauss, Jaffa argues that the moral horizons of the American founding, and of Locke himself, were far higher from this well-known interpretation would suggest. In fact, Jaffa argues that if Aristotle had been alive and well in England in 1670, he would have written a handbook for legislators very much like Locke’s Second Treatise of Government (1690). Thus, the elements of classical natural right were in the Founding, as Lincoln said they were. And they were in John Locke, which is where the Founders had found them.

Please join the Athenaeum and the Salvatori Center for this dazzling talk by one of CMC’s greatest scholars and teachers.