Promoting Natural Rights Instead of Conservatism: Looking at Rothbard and Jaffa
This is the story of a man, an intellectual, born after World War I, who spent studying his university years in New York and became acquainted and studied under German Jewish émigré who fled the Nazi regime in Germany, later becoming mentor and protégé.
That man belonged to the political Right, taught in two different universities during his lifetime, the first one in the Eastern United States, the second in the Western part of the country, was cast out of more mainstream institutions, save a few that still supported their occasional work, and was at the center of the split of the school of thought to which he belonged, with his followers founding and funding an institution of their own to promote his work.
For us at the Mises Institute, this would be the story of one of our founders, and one of the prime intellectual influences of our thought: Murray Rothbard, but there is another man who also fits this description, one that belongs to what could be considered belongs to the opposing side in the American Right, who could have each of the words in the opening paragraph describing his life and work. That man was Harry V. Jaffa.
Usually, the pieces published by the Mises Institute, written about Jaffa, his work, his followers or their work, are highly critical for a number of good reasons, such as constitutional interpretation, the Lincoln issue, or the state of the contemporary American Right, with David Gordon and Thomas DiLorenzo, both senior fellows at the Institute, as his main two opposers in the Austro-libertarian corner.
But this essay is not intended to be another brick in the wall that separates the Right in various self-containing groups, it is rather an attempt at building a bridge between our different institutions by pointing out the similarities in our founding intellectual figures, without falling in the mistake of making demigods out of them.
Both Jaffa and Rothbard were born to Jewish families in New York City right after World War I, the former a mere month before the official armistice between the warring parties in 1918, and the latter some eight years later, right in the middle of the Roaring Twenties, and while both were New Yorkers by birth, Jaffa chose to pursue his undergraduate studies at Yale, Rothbard chose to stay and get his bachelor’s degree from Columbia, making both of them Ivy League graduates.
Jaffa then returned to New York to pursue his graduate studies at the New School for Social Research, where he became acquainted with Leo Strauss, a German Jewish intellectual émigré who had left Germany around the time the Nazis had taken over, and who had spent a period teaching in England at Cambridge before coming to the United States.
Similarly, Rothbard, who had never left New York, pursued his doctoral studies in another university of the city, NYU, where he became acquainted, among others, with Ludwig von Mises, another German-speaking (although an Austrian national) Jewish intellectual émigré who, after leaving his country after the Nazi takeover, spent a few years teaching in a foreign country, in hi
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