In 1944, he enrolled at the New School for Social Research, in New York City — and that’s when Harry met Leo. The German-born Leo Strauss was teaching a course on Rousseau. “I didn’t know who Strauss was,” says Jaffa. “Nobody knew.” Strauss didn’t make much of an impression on Jaffa until the next semester, in a course on Aristotle and Kant. “His discussion of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics just blew me away. It was like the Gospel for a Baptist preacher. All my life had been a preparation for that moment.” Under Strauss’s tutelage, Jaffa began his life’s work — first a dissertation on Aristotle and Aquinas, and then his pioneering scholarship on Lincoln.
Jaffa’s fascination with the 16th president now seems like a rendezvous with destiny. When he was a boy, his mother had hung a silhouette of Lincoln on his bedroom wall. It bore a quote: “Stand with anybody that stands right. Stand with him while he is right and part with him when he goes wrong.” The words came from an 1854 speech in Peoria. “I paid no attention to it whatsoever,” says Jaffa, though he admits that it may have had “an influence on my subconscious.”