Re: Jack Diggins, R.I.P.

by Steven F. Hayward

Let me second John’s notice of the passing of John Patrick Diggins, whom I got to know slightly after his Reagan book came out two years ago. I gave it a mostly favorable review in the Claremont Review of Books, despite a couple of themes that are debatable, and I hosted a panel for him on his book at AEI. I had thought at the time that he didn’t look healthy. A few of my Reaganite friends had a more jaundiced view of his book, but as I said to them, “When a board-certified New York liberal intellectual comes out with a broad endorsement of Reagan’s greatness, we shouldn’t quibble about the fine points; we should take it to the end zone and do a sack dance.”

He wrote a number of fine books, including Up From Communism, a dense analysis of several of NR’s first generation writers (Eastman, Burnham, etc.), but I think Jack’s overlooked masterpiece is a book from the 1980s entitled The Lost Soul of American Politics, which is a defense of the Lockean roots of the American founding. It takes aim at the lefty historians who have made a sophisticated project of trying to read Locke out of the American founding so that they can claim a crypto-socialist original intent. I noted Diggins’ helpfulness in this review-essay about Gordon Wood (also in the great CRB), who is a key player in this intellectual saga. And yes, he was fond of Harry Jaffa, chiefly because he shares Jaffa’s view of Lincoln, but I also saw Jack take on Harry with some effectiveness (not an easy thing to do) at a conference about 25 years ago.

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