Book Review: The Conditions Of Freedom

The Conditions Of Freedom:  Essays In Political Philosophy, by Harry V. Jaffa

This book is a wonderful one, but that ought not to be a surprise since it is a collection of essays (some of them previously published) by Harry Jaffa.  This is one of those books that is a feast of scraps and that helps to demonstrate the wide scope of what an author is interested in.  In this particular case, in the course of this book’s contents it is easy to see the author’s thinking about a wide variety of literature, from a discussion of the political philosophy of Lincoln and Douglas and Shakespeare, the influence of the author’s own education, the philosophy of the Greeks, as well as the problems that contemporary universities have with urging the study of the liberal arts when those arts have been cut off from the well-spring of tradition and morality.  The end result is a set of essays that mixes a wide variety of interests and shows the author not afraid to wade into controversy thoughtfully and intelligently.  If you have enjoyed Jaffa’s writings about other subjects, there is a lot here that the reader is going to appreciate.  You know what you’re getting with a series of essays from Jaffa.

This book is almost 300 pages long and it is divided into two very unequal parts.  The first part of the book consists of eleven essays that take up more than 200 pages of material.  After a preface the author gives praise to his teacher Leo Strauss (1), and gives an interpretation of Aristotle’s politics (2) as well as the limits of politics in King Lear, a familiar essay for those who have already read Shakespeare’s Politics (3).  There is an essay on the virtue of cities (4) as well as political obligation (5) and civil disobedience (6) in the American political tradition.  The author discusses the meaning of equality (7), the political theory of the American Civil War (8) relating to federalism, a new introduction to the author’s Crisis Of The House Divided (9), Tom Sawyer as the hero of Middle America (10) and finally a discussion on the conditions of freedom (11).  At this point the book switches to discuss literary criticism and contemporary criticism, with a syntopical reading about slavery, a couple of selections about Stephen Douglas (13, 14), Lincoln and the cause for freedom (15), Reconstruction (16), a couple of short discussions of the writings by and about Winston Churchill (17, 18), along with a closing short essay that discusses the liberal dilemma about education and morality (19).

The question of freedom is one that has always been important in the American political tradition and there is a lot here that the reader will be able to ponder.  The author explores politics ranging form Aristotle to Harvard.  If Jaffa has been best known as a sympathetic commentator on the political thinking of Abraham Lincoln, this book allows the author to show his deep knowledge and at least some sympathy with the plight of Stephen Douglas, who is much less better known at this point except for his connection with Lincoln.  And if you like seeing Jaffa discuss literature and the joys of textual interpretation than his writings about Tom Sawyer and the tension between the otherworldly and the this-worldly that the character exposes in a humorous and light-hearted way.  While the author is less sound when talking about biblical matters than when he talks about political philosophy, there is enough great political philosophy here that this is a really enjoyable book.  Of course, every book I have ever read by the book is enjoyable so it is little surprise that this particular volume is a pleasant and informative and thought-provoking means.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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