Joe was nearly a year younger than I. So I expected that it was in the order of nature that he, not, I would have to perform this office. I was confirmed in this opinion because I could imagine no better reason—than to deliver my eulogy—for his protection by Providence in five years on the battlefields of North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and France.
Joe and I first met, as nearly as I can remember, in Mr. Shapiro's training classes for reluctant Bar Mitzvah candidates. At least I was reluctant, and the worst student in the class, while Joe was the best. I remember even that he conducted young people's services, which I never attended since, like Tom Sawyer, I never attended any religious services except under the sternest compulsion. But I remember returning from the synagogue one day. Walking ahead of us in the street were two boys of Italian ethnic origin. In those innocent days we pinned labels on others and ourselves without any regard for unity or diversity. The boys were engaged in fierce controversy over which of them possessed the largest endowment of masculinity. As the battle raged loudly on, Joe could no longer restrain himself. He stepped forward, saying "Gentlemen, gentlemen, resolve your question by a duel, with rulers, at one pace." I don't think they had the slightest idea of what he meant, but being "ruled by rulers" became for a time a byword among the cognoscenti.
Our lives were twined and intertwined in many ways. Joe entered the doctoral program in economics at Columbia soon after receiving his undergraduate degree in the spring of 1939. If anyone had told him then that his career would be in political science, he would have thought them crazy. But Joe had always been a fan of Adam Smith, and he resolved to get through as much of the doctoral program as possible in whatever time he had before military service intervened. In less than two years he had completed every requirement except the dissertation. From that day to this, I've never known anyone else to accomplish this astonishing feat. Needless to say, during this time, the seat of his pants seldom left the seat of his chair. One day however he found time for me in his room near the library, and the conversation drifted to the subject of his social life. (Not mine, since at that time I had none.) There was a young lady, a year (or maybe two) behind us at Lawrence High School, who was also a cousin of Bob ("Dinny") Dinerstein, one of a tight little knot of friends who faced the world together, friends who didn't think much of the world, but who thought all the world of each other, and who would remain friends to the end of their lives. I can foreshorten this tale by mentioning that Dinny was best man at Joe and Lill's wedding soon after Joe came home from the war. Before Joe left for the war however we had a wrestling match (verbal) over whether he should make a telephone call to someone who—my private information told me—was anxiously awaiting it. At the end I broke a stalemate by declaring that if he didn't make that call, I would. That did it! All good things followed.
After Joe returned from taking care of Hitler, he resolved by sheer intensity of effort to make up for all the time diverted from scholarship onto battlefields. I saw him regularly in those days and saw him fruitlessly grinding away in the wholly uninspiring technical literature of professional economics. As an ABD in economics at Columbia he was headed towards a career on that track, and his first teaching appointment was in the economics department at CCNY. Meanwhile, I plied him assiduously with the Arabian Nights tales of the seminars of Leo Strauss. I tried—for long unsuccessfully—to get him to accompany me to one of them. Then one night—miraculously—he went with me. The result was instantaneous. But Joe had now to find his way in a whole new universe of meaning, and emancipate himself from the historicist premises of all his previous education at Columbia, as I was doing with respect to mine at Yale.
Meanwhile, Joe's career was nominally still in economics, at CCNY, where he was able to get me an appointment teaching three sections of the Intro course in economics in 1948-49, at a time when I had no other paid employment. That was my only regular income that year and it was a lifesaver. The next year Strauss was in Chicago, where he made it his first order of business to get me on an academic payroll. I joined the faculty of a great books program for adults in the evening. It was in the downtown college, only twice a week, leaving me plenty of time to work on my dissertation. But I enjoyed every moment in the Basic Program. I had an office of my own on campus: the anteroom to Strauss's office, where I monitored the traffic to the inner sanctum, and began what became the ritual of research assistant.
Thomism and Aristotelianism was finished before the end of 1949, and dispatched to New York to my dissertation committee, and to the University of Chicago Press, where Strauss's recommendation assured acceptance. It was published in the spring of 1952, but not before it had secured me a tenure track appointment at Ohio State, one which began in September 1951. In 1956-57 I had a Rockefeller fellowship to write a book on the Lincoln Douglas debates and I moved my family to Chicago for the year. My daughter was born there on Christmas day 1956. Mother and daughter both contracted staph infections in the hospital, and we had several months of very rough going. But the Straussian circle provided just the stimulus I needed, a fact proved by the manuscript of Crisis of the House Divided, completed in May of 1958, less than nine months after returning to Columbus and the classroom.
Meanwhile, Joe had written his brilliant dissertation on the Theory of Moral Sentiments and, after vicious in-fighting, beaten the reluctant economics department at Columbia into giving him his degree. With the publication of Polity and Economy, however, the Straussian world became aware of a new and powerful presence.
Before Strauss left for Chicago in January of 1949, he arranged for me to take my comprehensive oral exam, which he would chair. One of my "fields" was economics. I had taken one or two courses with Adolf Lowe, one of the stars of the Graduate Faculty, and he would examine me. I put myself in Joe's hands. He promptly read a series of articles Lowe had published, and wrote out a digest that even I could understand. Next he wrote out a series of questions most likely to proceed from the articles, followed by answers to the questions. Then he wrote out the answers to the questions. Finally, he drilled me unmercifully. The actual examination was déjà vu all over again. Joe's anticipation of Lowe's questions had been uncanny. It was one of "my" great academic triumphs, and I eventually received a summa with my degree. But as far as the economics exam was concerned "The hand was the hand of Esau, but the voice was the voice of Jacob."
In the spring or early summer of 1957 the Cropsey family arrived in Chicago, as we had done the year before, also afloat on a Straussian connection to the Rockefeller Foundation. The Cropsey and Jaffa families had the luxury of sharing the summer of 1957 in Chicago. At the end of that summer however, we returned to Columbus, but the Cropseys would never return to New York or to the economics department at City College or at any other college. Joe was jumping ship, changing his professional career in midstream, something I have never heard of anyone else doing. Joe's doctorate and professional training had been entirely in economics. Leo Strauss had laid the foundations of the change, by his own enormous success in attracting students to the department, which made the opening in the department Strauss's personal patronage. Looking ahead to the next decade, the Strauss-Cropsey collaboration became a magical center, a kind of Yankee Stadium of the world of political philosophy.
It is a senior English class at Lawrence High School sometime in the school year 1934-35. The teacher has assigned the class the task of each writing a short story, fictionalizing some personal experience, real or imagined. The teacher read all the contributions, and found them all unremarkable, with one exception. She then asked Joseph Cropsey to read his composition to the class. I never saw or heard it again and never remember it in any other voice. But nothing I read in my high school years, and in many other years, impressed me more. "Unbeknownst to meself," it was my introduction to the pathos of Socratic irony, unmediated by Leo Strauss.
"A poor little rich boy lives in a great mansion off Fifth Avenue. The home is richly appointed, and there are servants moving about. The boy is in his room, surrounded by his luxuries. But they hold no charms for him. He is bored. It is the Christmas season. It is dusk, there is cold rain and snow falling, and the streets are crowded with anxious shoppers. The boy decides to slip past the servants, and join the crowds. He does so and presently finds himself outside a brilliantly lit display of a high priced toy store. He already possesses most of what he sees, but being on the outside everything now seems different. He is rapt in wonder as he presses his nose against the glass. As he does, a seedy, ragged drifter sidles up to him. ‘Would you like to have one of these?' he asks the boy. The lad nods and they enter the store together and make a purchase. They leave and each goes his own way. Next morning at breakfast the boy's father remarks on an item in the news of the day of a body taken from the east river. It has nothing to identify on it. Only a receipt in a pocket for a toy purchased the night before."
Harry V. Jaffa