Harvey C. Mansfield, William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Government, studies and teaches political philosophy. He has written on Edmund Burke and the nature of political parties, on Machiavelli and the invention of indirect government, in defense of a defensible liberalism and in favor of a Constitutional American political science. He has also written on the discovery and development of the theory of executive power, and has translated three books of Machiavelli’s and (with the aid of his wife) Tocqueville's Democracy in America. His book on manliness has just been published. He was Chairman of the Government Department from 1973-1977, has held Guggenheim and NEH Fellowships, and has been a Fellow at the National Humanities Center. He won the Joseph R. Levenson award for his teaching at Harvard, received the Sidney Hook Memorial award from the National Association of Scholars, and in 2004 accepted a National Humanities Medal from the President. He has hardly left Harvard since his first arrival in 1949, and has been on the faculty since 1962.
Question: Where are you from and how has that shaped you?
Harvey Mansfield: I was born in New Haven. That’s a town in Connecticut. It meant that I came from an academic background. And that has certainly shaped me. My father was as professor. Political science of all things. But he was less theoretical. He studied American politics. I did political philosophy. My main influence as a young person was certainly my father. A little bit older, I came under the influence of Leo Strauss, the great refugee German/Jewish professor to Chicago. And also I’d like to mention as influences my teacher at Harvard, Sam Beir, a very manly man and a very intelligent man; as well as my father and my late wife, Delba Winthrop who was as student of mine. I was her teacher. Sometimes as a teacher you come across somebody who’s smarter than you are. That’s the kind you’re especially looking for, and she taught me a lot. At a certain point – I think when I was a freshman at Harvard, a section man –a teaching fellow – looked at me and said, “It’s in the cards for you to be an academic.” And it seemed that I just slid into it without ever making a full-blown, conscious, deliberate decision.
Recorded on: 6/13/07