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What obits overlooked in Lincoln scholar Harry Jaffa: His obsessive homophobia

Historians in the News
tags: LGBT, homophobia, Lincoln scholar, Harry Jaffa



Bill Kristol issued a lament for the demise of this “great interpreter of Lincoln (and much else).” The conservative historian Richard Brookhiser mourned the passing of “the greatest Lincoln scholar of the last sixty years,” and the National Review called him a “towering intellectual figure” who “made us smarter about ourselves and more grateful for our inheritance.” But as those on the right pour out eulogies for Harry Jaffa, he should equally well be remembered for giving voice to some of the most noxious sentiments on homosexuality ever issued by a mainstream scholar.

It is hard to overstate Jaffa’s significance as a conservative intellectual. Writer John Miller said he “may be the most important conservative political theorist of his generation,” and First Things praised him as a heavyweight academic without peer. As the founder of the “Claremont school” of conservative thought, centering around Claremont McKenna College and the Claremont Review of Books, Jaffa was a “giant,” a close friend of William Buckley who influenced generations of young conservatives through his scholarship (including Clarence Thomas, who has cited him frequently). Jaffa has long been one of the figures held up by the American right to show its intellectual seriousness, to prove that it traffics in big ideas.

But if one looks beyond Jaffa’s much-admired 1959 book on Lincoln, the rest of his career had a deeply hateful and ugly side. Jaffa maintained an obsession with homosexuality, and spent endless pages attempting to prove that gay people (whom he referred to as “sodomites”) undermined the entire foundation of civilized morality.

In his review of Allan Bloom’s bestselling “The Closing of the American Mind,” which argued that the dangerous tides of relativism and feminism had engulfed American college campuses, Jaffa wrote that:

[T]he demand for the recognition of sodomy as a moral and political right represents the most complete repudiation–theoretical as well as practical–of all objective standards of human conduct…The so-called “gay rights” movement is then the ultimate repudiation of nature…

Read entire article at Salon


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