Werner J. Dannhauser, 1929-2014

Werner J. Dannhauser, who worked for COMMENTARY as an editor fifty years ago before moving into academia as a celebrated teacher of political philosophy, was an American original—and of a type of which there are, sadly, fewer and fewer as the years pass. He was a deeply serious intellectual—and a bit of a reprobate. He was a highly responsible bourgeois who tragically found himself a widower at a very young age with two very young children—and a party animal who liked to gamble and drink. (He once prevailed upon his legendary teacher, Leo Strauss, for a loan when he got himself in over his head in a professional poker game and needed some scratch to keep his legs from getting broken out from under him.) He had the beard of a 19th Century Swedenborgian clergyman—and told a Jewish joke like nobody’s business. He taught moral and political philosophy with great gravity—and got into hot water for talking dirty in a Cornell classroom. He was a genuinely delightful man and, when he could free himself from the writer’s block that oddly afflicts so many Straussians, a prose stylist of true grace and wit.