By Luke Phillips
Oh handmade strip of boulders jutting past Aquia’s sands
Into the broad Potomac, central vein of Yankee lands-
How many visions have you seen, amid the fading years?
How many lives, how many deaths, how many human tears?
Where Captain Smith beshored his boats, a-coming from the sea
Where Washington and Rochambeau once marched to make us free
Where Lincoln and his Generals traversed, pursuing Lee
Where bondsmen freed escaped along the path to Liberty?
In later years I’ve stood upon the rocks placed there by man,
Who gave your locale meaning through the dramas by their hand
I’ve whispered to the heavens and the waters of my plans
And heard them whisper back that, when those plans fall, they’ll still stand.
Glorious futures, born in my brain, perhaps borne on your strip
May fall upon your rocks and crack, just like so many ships
Or may come to fruition, or likely not- we’ll see-
But if they do they’ll be traced back to days of you and me
When I stood upon your jutted rocks and looked out to the sea.
Over at his charming little home on the web, “The Art of Manliness,” Brett McKay brought to the world’s attention, a few years back, the concept of the “Cabinet of Invisible Counselors.” This somewhat eccentric framework is a useful personal development tool, an extension of the concept of “role models.”
As counseled by the long-dead Napoleon Hill, a man ought to pick a little cabinet of great figures, personal patron saints, living and dead across history, whom he admires and seeks to emulate, and place them in his mind. Then he ought to spend time studying them, their legacies, their lives, their intellects, their characters; and by way of study and emulation, become more like them. This is not a new concept; Machiavelli famously donned courtly robes and communed with the ancients as he composed The Prince, and counseled as well that to become great, one ought to study the paths of those who have attained greatness.
I’ve had a couple such “invisible counselors” myself for some time; in truth, I’ve probably had multiple “cabinets,” one for political thought, another for character, another for adventure, and the like. But I’ve never formalized my invisible cabinet for utility’s sake, nor have I consolidated my many coteries of inspirations into a single general-purpose cabinet of whole-of-life emulation.
So as of this writing, I hereby formalize my “Cabinet of Invisible Counselors” into a club of eight scholar-statesmen, emperors of the mind and of the state, romantic and restless hearts, sober and penetrating minds, men of letters and men of action, who gave their lives to service and civilization. These are men whose lives and characters and intellects and legacies I, in the whole of my life, can only hope to meagerly emulate. If I succeed but a small amount in this quest, I will have succeeded beyond my wildest hopes for my own life.
A few notes.
First off, I am in no way an expert on the life, legacy, intellect, or character of any one of these men, let alone all of them! That said, the Cabinet being a fundamentally self-developmental and self-educational project of communion with great souls, I hope to become something more like an expert on each of them as I move forward in my study of each. And in learning about each, and developing a sort of relationship with their aura, perhaps they, in their kindness, will impart a bit of their wisdom upon my youthful ignorance.
Second off, an admiration and emulation of any one in particular does not presuppose a blind and slavish mimicry to them in entirety. They are counselors; in studying them I shall ask them to advise, not to command. I as a person am inseparable from my time, place, and experience, as are they, and those gulfs are neither easily nor perfectly bridged. But human nature and the stage of life rhyming as much as it does, there are things someone like me can learn from each in their own situations.
Finally, the historically informed will note that these are all Western statesmen and intellectuals of various calibers. It is only natural that I should pick, as my counselors, historical mentors whose paths I seek to follow- men of letters, men of action. I admire men and women in other fields, as well; but statecraft and political thought are my true loves, and for the purposes of informing my intellect and character, it’s better to pick those who walked those paths.
With that being said, here are the eight- each name is accompanied by an image and a brief appeal for their wisdom. The order is not a ranking, but a chronology.
Machiavelli, you stared unflinchingly into the cold, dark eyes of human nature, and through your communion with the ancients and service to your masters, you devised a science of politics, an art of the state, which transformed the modern West. Teach me all you know, that I may use it in service of the common good.
Saint Thomas More
Thomas More, patron saint of politicians, you wrestled throughout your illustrious career with that greatest of questions all Catholic statesmen must ask- Caesar or Christ? Kingdom of Earth or Kingdom of Heaven? My country, or my soul? You gave your final answer with your life. Impart upon me your piety, and help me to explore that darkest of questions in full honesty and conscience.
Hamilton, you rose up from oblivion and built- and matched- your country’s rising greatness. None so mastered the arts of republican empire as did you, and we must thank no American more highly than we thank you for making America great while keeping her free. You would’ve sacrificed your life- though not your character- to exalt your country’s station, and in the end you did. Help me to channel my talents and passions into a life of service to the public good, and let me do for America as you did in stateroom and study.
Burke, you knew the beauty of human life and culture more subtly than did any other man, and saw and practiced the virtues and temperaments needed to preserve the great covenant of civilization from its own excesses. Give me an eye for the beautiful, the glorious, and the sublime, and guide me on the path of the defender of human dignity and freedom amidst a world of extremes.
President Roosevelt, no one enjoyed and embraced and embodied more than you did the joy of life and the duty of life- none was more fit to lead than you, and none was more American. You guided a great civilization from era to era and prepared it for a new age of glory, and in your life in the arena you never lost your spirit. Teach me what it means to be a man- teach me what it means to be a leader- teach me what it means to be an American. May I emulate your virility in all I do.
Mr. Churchill, last of the lions, you saved civilization from itself and lived to chronicle the story for all posterity. You embodied the greatness of your people and the ruggedness that made them great. Inspire me to be infused with a romantic spirit of adventure and a passionate love for the right amidst the darkening storms of human events.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Dr. Moynihan, in your long career in public life, you were a scholar and a statesman, who built the edifices we must now rebuild, who served many lords but had one master- the American people. You were a man of character and intellect, so rare amongst your generation. If I do nothing else, help me to lead and serve humbly, always towards the right, though it might not win me glory.
Dr. Kissinger, more than most, you learned the lessons of history and used them to bend history to your will. Your vision of order and peace, tragic but optimistic, is the sort that saves civilizations from themselves. The only one of my Counselors I have met in the flesh, you are a holdout from another age; may I learn from you the paths of statecraft amidst the letters of history, and follow your tracks.
These have not been prayers, for with the exception of Thomas More, none of these men were saints. Rather, these are appeals for wisdom and guidance- encapsulations of the basic understanding I seek to glean from each counselor.
Perhaps on my deathbed I will know I was a better man for observing the ways of these great men of old. Perhaps not. That, we shall see.
Original Image, by Luke Phillips
Perhaps it is only natural for an Eagle Scout, foreign policy Realist, and moderate, Hamiltonian Republican like myself to see the stewardship of the country’s and world’s future in similarly-minded public figures much more advanced in their careers. Perhaps I suffer from a case of institutional solipsism, seeing the virtues promoted by my own organization as those most necessary for the preservation of national greatness and world order. Perhaps I am navel-gazing adoringly at my own principles, to the exclusion of the reality of the world.
Regardless, the facts cannot be ignored. Three of America’s most respected public servants and contemporary foreign policy Realists are Eagle Scouts who have occupied positions of high leadership in American foreign policy.
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who served both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama as chief of the Pentagon, started off his career in public life with nothing to his name but his Eagle Scout badge and his bachelor’s degree from William and Mary. He was a Vigil Honor member of the Order of the Arrow, Scouting’s honor society, and in college participated in Alpha Phi Omega, a service fraternity chiefly operated by former Scouts.
Over the course of almost five decades (so far) of either government work or publicly-oriented service in the private sector, Gates served in the United States Air Force, the Central Intelligence Agency, and various universities, corporate boards, and government commissions. A renowned Cold Warrior, he served as Deputy National Security Advisor and CIA Director under President George H.W. Bush during one of the most critical pivot points in world history, working closely with that high-priest of Realism, National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft. A sobering President George W. Bush appointed him Secretary of Defense in 2006, a role in which he oversaw the conduct of the Iraqi and Afghan surges, and President Barack Obama asked him to stay on to continue managing those complex wars.
Gates left government in 2011, according to his memoirs out of disgust with the Obama Administration’s lack of strategic discipline. He’s been praised across the board as one of the last bastions of foreign policy sobriety in an age of neoconservative militarists, liberal internationalists, and a rising tide of Paulite isolationists. Walter Russell Mead’s review of his memoir in The American Interest and Richard Russell’s plea for his return to public life in the pages of The National Interest testify to his old-fashioned “country first” ethos and disciplined competence in security affairs. As we’ll see, his Scouting upbringing very much conditioned his self-image and perspectives on duty to country.
U.S. Ambassador to China Jon M. Huntsman Jr.
Governor and Ambassador Jon M. Huntsman Jr., a 2012 candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and a perennial activist for bipartisan political cooperation, was shaped by Scouting from the beginning as well. Son of an energy titan, high school dropout, keyboardist for the rock band “Wizard,” Mormon missionary, and UPenn graduate, Huntsman is an Eagle Scout who also followed the trail of public service.
After working in the Reagan White House as an aide, Huntsman was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Singapore by President George H.W. Bush. He worked in business throughout the 90s and then served as Deputy U.S. Trade Representative under President George W. Bush. After serving as a very popular Governor of Utah, Huntsman was appointed U.S. Ambassador to China by President Barack Obama, resigning in 2011 and running (very unsuccessfully) against his former boss for the Presidency. His experience in diplomacy and international commerce is as deep as his experience in domestic politics, and he was often cited as 2012’s Republican presidential candidate most experienced in foreign affairs.
Probably because he never served as a Defense or State Secretary, few authors have taken the time to analyze Huntsman’s strategic temperament in depth or detail. But he is generally regarded to be a realist-internationalist in the same mold as Robert Gates, weary of overly exuberant displays of American power, prudent in its application, yet still cognizant and proud of the need for a strong America on the world stage. A Foreign Policy article during the 2012 campaign asserted that Huntsman was on the left side of the Republican foreign policy spectrum but generally very much within the tradition of moderate Republican Realism. If his recent pronouncements are any guide, he will continue to hold such views if elected to the U.S. Senate in 2018 or appointed Deputy Secretary of State or U.S. Ambassador to Russia.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
Rex Tillerson was a controversial pick for Secretary of State, as any Trump nominee always would be. He had no experience in government prior to his nomination and was formerly the CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful corporations. But a look back at his legacy and ideas calms the nerves.
First off, Tillerson, like Huntsman and Gates, is an Eagle Scout. Like Gates, he is a member of Alpha Phi Omega and a Distinguished Eagle Scout who also served as National President of the Boy Scouts of America in his adulthood. A friend of his evidently once told a newspaper that “to understand Rex Tillerson, you need to understand Scouting.”
A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and a civil engineer by training, Tillerson has had a long career in the international energy business and served as CEO of ExxonMobil from 2006 to 2016. Though he had no formal government experience before being nominated for Trump’s Secretary of State, he did have the recommendations of such acclaimed public servants as Henry Kissinger, Condi Rice, and fellow Eagle Scout Robert Gates, which suggests he will be a voice of realist sobriety in an otherwise troubled Trump Administration.
Unlike Huntsman and Gates, we do not yet know how Tillerson will function as a public servant. But if his Scouting legacy and his Realist temperament, documented by FPRI scholar Colin Dueck, is any guide, he will do a distinguished job worthy of the Eagle Charge he took so many decades ago as a teenager.
The teenaged future President of the United States, Gerald Ford (holding the flag)
SCOUTING: A FARM TEAM FOR PUBLIC SERVANTS
I’ve thus far made a point of hyping up Gates, Huntsman, and Tillerson’s Scouting legacies as being just as important as, if not more important than, their subsequent professional experiences in shaping their character. I do this because in my (admittedly old-fashioned) view of the relationship between politics, individual greatness, and moral character, the early formation of a leader’s character, worldview, and public style has profound implications for their performance in institutions further along in their careers. Capacity for adapting to institutional constraints, a profound understanding of history and politics, and a pragmatic but principled vision of the future are of course similarly important, but it is the things individuals carry with them and inside them that largely affects their ability to become leaders and influence society. James David Barber has an interesting study of this in his magnum opus, “The Presidential Character.”
Boy Scouting is, before anything else, a program designed to train good men and good citizens while they’re in their formative and impressionable stages of youth and adolescence. Clearly one does not need to be a Boy Scout and have their character shaped by that institution to be a good person or a good citizen, and clearly some Scouts go on to be less-than-average leaders and less-than-benign people. But on balance, it would seem to me that the Scouting program did well in the cases of Gates, Huntsman, and Tillerson in producing competent, patriotic, self-reliant men and citizens, and could well be something of a “farm team” for future leaders in the same field.
But first, we should look at what Boy Scouting is.
The Boy Scouts of America is a rank-based organization for middle-school to high-school-aged boys, ages 11-18. Boy Scouts complete various requirements- service hours and service projects, skills-based Merit Badges, organizational leadership positions, outdoor experiences and adventures, and other programs- to advance through the ranks towards the hallowed rank of Eagle Scout. Before becoming an Eagle Scout, a scout must have demonstrated propensities towards leadership, service, outdoor adventure, and self-reliance through accomplishing a checklist of requirements, including leading an original service project to their community. Mine was the construction of an amphitheater at Kitsap Memorial State Park in Washington State; I am sure Gates, Huntsman, and Tillerson’s exceeded mine in scope and usefulness to their communities.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Gates, Huntsman, and Tillerson routinely and subconsciously reflect on things impressed upon them through their years as Scouts. Leadership through example, the active cultivation of personal character, the constant acquisition of skills in the pursuit of self-reliance, and an undying patriotic urge towards public service and good citizenship are the qualities not merely of strong youths, but of strong men and outstanding citizens, and though not all Eagle Scouts live up to these ideals, they are nonetheless expected of all who pass through Scouting. This excerpt from the Eagle Charge, given to all Eagle Scouts upon their attainment of that rank, pretty well encapsulates the social vision of Scouting:
“You are a marked man… Our country has had a great past. You are here to make the future greater… I charge you to be among those who dedicate their skills and ability to the common good. Build America on the solid foundations of clean living, honest work, unselfish citizenship, and reverence for God, and you will leave behind you a record of which every Scout may be justly proud.”
Boy Scouting is supposed to breed good men and good citizens who can build and carry forth American greatness. The “lifestyle” thus promoted- individual excellence in the service of the public good- is not too far off from the sentiments that President Theodore Roosevelt, an early supporter of the Boy Scout movement, encouraged in American citizens. Here’s President Roosevelt on the patriotic purposes of Scouting-
“The Boy Scout movement is distinctly an asset to our country for the development of efficiency, virility, and good citizenship. It is essential that its leaders be men of strong, wholesome character; of unmistakable devotion to our country, its customs and ideals, as well as in soul and by law citizens thereof, whose wholehearted loyalty is given to this nation, and to this nation alone.”
Jumping forward to the 21st Century, here’s Secretary Gates addressing the BSA 2010 National Jamboree at Fort AP Hill, Virginia:
“…your scouting experience is the first major step toward the most important goal of all: becoming a good man, a man of integrity and decency, a man of moral courage, a man unafraid of hard work, a man of strong character – the kind of person who built this country and made it into the greatest democracy and the greatest economic powerhouse in the history of the world.”
Note, in all three passages, the social purpose behind the excellence Scouting cultivates in boys- the common good, the public interest, and national greatness for the United States of America.
President Theodore Roosevelt with early Boy Scouts. Roosevelt was the first and only “Chief Scout Citizen.”
SCOUTING AND THE PREPAREDNESS MOVEMENT
In its foundations (and to understand any organization, entity, or polity, one must understand its foundations) Boy Scouting has never been merely a lifestyle movement. It has always been bound up with American patriotism and, particularly, the civic nationalist “Preparedness” movements of the pre-World Wars era in American history, espoused by figures like President Roosevelt, Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, and especially General Leonard Wood. (Though Scout executives have always rightly and accurately denied that the organization was meant to train boys to be soldiers.)
The Preparedness movement’s proponents argued that national survival relied on a certain level of national preparedness in a competitive world, in all sectors–from production to manpower to finance to technology to military training. In an informal sense, the Boy Scouts of America was originally designed as a proactive yet subconscious element of American national security- a youth program creating prepared and patriotic citizens, ready to spend their lives serving their country in whatever capacity. Need proof? Look no further than the Boy Scout Motto- “Be Prepared.”
It is interesting to note that some of Boy Scouting’s most vociferous critics, on both the social left and political right, have accused Scouting of being a militaristic organization similar to the Nazis’ Hitler Youth and other fascist outfits. I would argue that that critique is not terribly far off the mark, but still misguided.
Early 20th Century Fascism was a radical and intemperate offshoot of 19th Century nationalism, with roots in similarly collectivist and patriotic sentiments taken to their illogical extremes. Just as the New Deal was the American response to industrialization while Nazi corporatism and Soviet collectivism were the German and Russian responses to the same phenomenon, respectively, so the imperatives of 20th Century great power competition elicited similar responses in very different industrial societies.
The Scouting movement (which has since spread to almost every nation in the modern world) was designed as an institution that would cultivate good citizenship and personal excellence towards a national purpose- the cause of American greatness and ordered liberty. Similar movements in Fascist states utilized the same means for very different ends- unflinching loyalty to the state and the racial nation. Though the means may have been empirically similar, and the ends may have been superficially similar, the ultimate moral purposes could not have been further apart. American Scouting is rooted in Americanism, which is both nationalist and liberal; the equivalents of Scouting in the fascist states were nationalist but wholly illiberal, designed for totalitarian rather than free societies. American Scouting is designed only for a free society.
Secretary Gates and Ambassador Huntsman with two other great Realists- General Brent Scowcroft and General David Petraeus
WHY SCOUTING BREEDS REALISTS
So what does all this have to do with Secretary Gates, Ambassador Huntsman, and Secretary Tillerson’s realist-internationalism?
I would contend that Eagle Scouts- with plenty of caveats and exceptions, of course- are more likely, should they enter the foreign policy sphere professionally and attain high office, to become realist-internationalists like their patron and “Chief Scout Citizen” President Theodore Roosevelt, than they are to be isolationists, liberal internationalists, neoconservative hawks, or otherwise non-realist foreign policy practitioners.
Now, Boy Scouts and Eagle Scouts ascending to national power have not always necessarily been TR-style Realist-Internationalists- note President John F. Kennedy’s decidedly-non-Realist “Pay any Price… to Assure the Survival and Success of Liberty” quip. (JFK was a Scout, but never quite made Eagle.) Note also Eagle Scout-turned-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
But it seems that the basic values of Boy Scouting instill a few qualities in Eagle Scouts that, if nothing else, make it more likely that should they enter public life, they retain the rugged nationalism of Teddy Rooseveltian figures.
First, a commitment to American patriotism cognizant of, but not rooted solely in, American ideals. The training of Scouts in the rough arts of self-reliance and pragmatic leadership ties them up in the cultural qualities of the very real American nation, in ways that cannot be solely attributed to the founding republican idealism of Franklin and Jefferson. This rootedness in and practice of post-Founding American traits- the classic “cowboy” qualities alongside the classic “entrepreneur” qualities- institutionalized by BSA’s Merit Badge, outdoor adventure, and leadership requirements, turns Scouts into something more like quintessential Americans rooted in both the culture and ideals of American identity. This makes Scouting-style patriotism distinct from mere flag-waving and misapplied quoting of the Declaration of Independence.
Second, a commitment to pragmatic public service in any form, government or business or civil society or otherwise. The institutionalized emphasis on service to community and nation as the purpose of excellence, which is instilled in Scouts from a young age, can probably go on to explain why so many other statistics from business to political to military to religious leaders feature Eagle Scouts and other scouts in high numbers. Scouting is neither a sure path nor the only path to pragmatic leadership in American society, but it certainly is one that imbues its followers with distinctive qualities of pragmatism, or so it would seem.
Particularistic American patriotism and pragmatism in public service, alongside the aforementioned qualities of character and excellence Scouting attempts to instill, are certainly not the only things that go into the training of a Kissingerian/Scowcroftian grand strategist. Much professional development and a deep study of history and human nature are indispensable requirements, without which the Scouting virtues would never produce a Realist-Internationalist statesman. But if James David Barber was correct in asserting that early character formation goes a long way in shaping a person’s destiny, it would seem that the Scouting experiences of Gates, Huntsman, and Tillerson were not entirely inconsequential in shaping them as public servants.
EAGLES IN A COLD WORLD
I would be amiss if I didn’t highlight the stakes of our present moment, so I shall turn you to my old boss Adam Garfinkle’s excellent essay in the current edition of The American Interest, “Same World, Lonely World, Cold World.” First, some background: it seems to me that under current fiscal and social circumstances, the level of global engagement of the second Obama Administration is probably the maximum the American public and American government can handle over a protracted period of time, regardless of the wishes of a Paul Wolfowitz or an Anne-Marie Slaughter. This is quite a bit of engagement, of course; but the election of President Donald Trump has capped it right there.
Garfinkle outlines three potential strategic models the Trump Administration could possibly pursue, then: a maintenance of Obama-era international commitments to the liberal international order, or “Same World;” a Paulite reduction of American commitments everywhere, a new isolationism, or “Lonely World;” or alternatively a conscious shift to “the elusive apple of Henry Kissinger’s eye,” a post-liberal world order of regional spheres of influence and concerts of great powers.
My own opinion, as a temperamental conservative, is that the maintenance of the “Same World” liberal international order would be best, but that due to the aforementioned fiscal and social constraints and, not least, the Trump Administration’s potential strategic incoherence, we will likely see a reversion to extreme oscillations between isolationist “Lonely World” bouts of ignorance and incompetence, and Bush-style overreactions to catastrophic international developments. This flight from prudence, this schizophrenic isolationist/reactionary persuasion that has forever been the bane of wise American statecraft, will be the new normal so long as anti-strategist Trump is in office, and will more likely than not result in the final destruction of the postwar international order.
I could be very, very wrong. After all, Rex Tillerson is Secretary of State, General Mattis is Secretary of Defense, and General McMaster is National Security Advisor; the three may well steady President Trump’s hand. As I argued recently at Glimpse From the Globe, this could be the dawn of a new age of American realism.
But we don’t know that. It is prudent to expect the worst. And the worst would be a Trump Administration full of infighting, strategic drift, and oscillating isolationism and hawkishness- a period of instability in American strategy.
That means we could well be in for a historic watershed, and by 2020 or so the adults in the room will need to step in and, with the wisdom and skill of a Theodore Roosevelt or a Henry Kissinger, manage world order. I sincerely hope it does not involve catastrophic war; I sincerely believe that, as Garfinkle notes, it will involve cynical “Cold World” style great-power diplomacy, in a world of new nationalisms across the board. Perhaps through great-power diplomacy a new, rebalanced liberal order can be built.
The first imperatives of good statecraft are the preservation of society through the preclusion or victorious conclusion of catastrophic revolution, and the preservation of the state through the preclusion or victorious conclusion of catastrophic war. The best way to do this is to promote the preservation and ameliorative reformation of political order, domestic and international. That means that talented reformers with a dark view of what is possible make for the greatest statesmen. Lincoln and the two Roosevelts, America’s greatest statesmen, were nothing but such conservatively-tempered reformers. We need someone like that for the forthcoming international storms and domestic convulsions if we’re going to preserve anything remotely like America.
But whoever that President or other leader is, they’d do well to listen to Eagle Scouts who happen to be realist-internationalists like Secretary Gates, Ambassador Huntsman, and Secretary Tillerson.
My own hope is that by 2020, a newly-elected President Jon Huntsman retains Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and pulls out of retirement a new, second-term Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, forming a great, responsible, realist-internationalist “Team of Eagles.” President Huntsman would be interesting, too; David Brooks wrote at the New York Times that we need another Gerald Ford to pick up the pieces and restore the public’s faith in government after our present Trumpian Watergate. Huntsman fits Brooks’s bill of a “decent, modest, experienced public servant,” and like President Ford, is a Realist-Internationalist, a moderate Hamiltonian Republican, and an Eagle Scout. I can dream, can’t I?
The temperament of the Team of Eagles might be useful for building the something which is restorative and new, yet traditional and old, that Garfinkle describes:
“A restored American liberal nationalism, from which a liberal internationalism can be patiently built with likeminded others… is far preferable to reaching for an unattainable globalist utopia (or dystopia), and it is far preferable to a regression back into zero-sum, illiberal ways of thinking and acting.
Is it possible? It has to be, or I fear we are lost.”
Can Eagle Scouts like these three great public servants, or those who come after them, literally save the world?
They might have to.
The following log of three passages, excerpted from three different books, is one of the central segments of my little conscience handbook ,”A Compass-Mirror.” In my view these three sets of principles- both descriptive and prescriptive in nature- are better codifications of my own political thought than anything I’ve written. Perhaps eventually I will synthesize them into unified prose more reflective of my own literary tastes, but even if I do the content would remain the same.
Temperamental Conservatism, Hamiltonian Nationalism, Machiavellian Realism- this is my political thought in a nutshell.
“Principles of Conservatism,”
by Clinton Rossiter
Excerpted from “Conservatism in America: The Thankless Persuasion”
There is a quality of mystery, a feeling for things unseen and therefore best left undefined, in Conservatism. It is a whole greater than the sum of its parts; it is a stew whose wonderful flavor cannot be accounted for simply by ticking off its ingredients… Here, for what it may be worth, is a bare-boned rendering of the principles of the Conservative tradition:
The mixed and immutable nature of man, in which wickedness, unreason, and the urge to violence lurk always behind the curtain of civilized behavior.
The natural inequality of men in most qualities of mind, body, and spirit.
The superiority of liberty to equality in the hierarchy of human values and social purposes.
The inevitability and necessity of social classes, and consequent folly and futility of most attempts at leveling.
The need for a ruling and serving aristocracy.
The fallibility and potential tyranny of majority rule.
The consequent desirability of diffusing and balancing power- social, economic, cultural, and especially political.
The rights of man as something earned rather than given.
The duties of man- service, effort, obedience, cultivation of virtue, self-restraint- as the price of rights.
The prime importance of property for liberty, order, and progress.
The uncertainty of progress- and the related certainty that prescription, not purposeful reform, is the mainspring of such progress as a society may achieve.
The indispensability and sanctity of inherited institutions, values, symbols, and rituals, that is, of tradition.
The essential role of religious feeling in man and organized religion in society.
The fallibility and limited reach of human reason.
The civilizing, disciplining, conserving mission of education.
The mystery, grandeur, and tragedy of history, man’s surest guide to wisdom and virtue.
The existence of immutable principles of universal justice and morality.
The primacy of the organic community.
Reverence, contentment, prudence, patriotism, self-discipline, the performance of duty- the marks of the good man.
Order, unity, equity, stability, continuity, security, harmony, the confinement of change- the marks of the good society.
Dignity, authority, legitimacy, justice, constitutionalism, hierarchy, the recognition of limits- the marks of good government.
The absolute necessity of conservatism- as temperament, mood, philosophy, and tradition- to the existence of civilization.
“Political Principles of Alexander Hamilton,”
by Clinton Rossiter
Excerpted from “Alexander Hamilton and the Constitution”
Engaged as we seem to be in an effort to save our dominant liberal tradition from the defects of its own virtues, and also to extend its range to new social and economic problems, we are rummaging in the past for political thinkers who can help us to perform this critical task… If it is pushed with prudence and imagination, one can expect that [Alexander] Hamilton, too, will be offered a new measure of respect…
…The [political principles] we learn from Hamilton the political thinker will reinforce and energize the liberal tradition, not sap or corrupt it. And the best of those lessons would seem to be:
Men are driven to strive and to achieve by their “passions,” of which the most politically significant are the desire for esteem, the anticipation of gain, and the love of power.
Men also wish to preserve and advance their “interests,” which are the physical and psychological fruits, real or merely hoped for, of their strivings. It is next to useless to preach to men about their duty as citizens to control their passions and rise above their interests.
There is, however, a variety of political techniques through which passions can be steered into channels of healthy creativity and interests can be secured against the assaults of fear and envy.
The test of a sound and viable government is its ability to use old techniques and invent new ones that can harness the passions of men and enlist their interests in the service of the common ends of society.
Encompassing the mass of private interests, yet rising above them to live a life of its own, is the interest of all men in the pursuit of these ends- the general welfare, the common felicity, the public good.
No society can survive and prosper unless its citizens understand the commands of the public good and can generally, whether lured by carrots or threatened by sticks, be made to obey them.
No society can survive and prosper unless it has ways to nurture “choice spirits,” men of uncommon virtue and talent, and to place them in positions of responsible authority.
As the opinions of the people are the decisive force in the political process, so the confidence of the people is the principal support of government.
Confidence is inspired chiefly by an honorable, dignified, efficient administration of public affairs.
It is also inspired, up to a point, by the sounds and appearances of such an administration.
The worst of social ills are disorder, violence, instability, and unpredictability- in a phrase, “the hydra Anarchy.”
The worst of political ills is a weak government unable to cope with the convulsions of anarchy, because the next stop beyond anarchy is not chaos but despotism.
The most likely candidates for the role of despots are demagogues.
In a disordered world, there is more to be feared from a dearth of political power than from an overdose of it.
The cutting edge of power is energy- the use of power imaginatively and forcefully in the public interest-which is the indispensable quality of good government.
The executive is the chief source of political energy.
An energetic executive is as necessary to the success of democratic government as it is to any other kind.
The happiness of men in a civilized society depends to a critical extent upon the capacity of good government, not merely to keep order and to protect them in the enjoyment of their rights and property, but actively to promote social, economic, and cultural growth.
Banks, factories, and armies are as important for the freedom and progress of civilized men as schools and churches. The authors of constitutions for those who aspire to be such men will make room in their planning for such instruments of society.
Principles of Machiavellism,
by James Burnham
Excerpted from “The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom”
I shall now summarize the main principles of Machiavellism, those principles which are common to all Machiavellians and which, taken together, define Machiavellism as a distinct tradition of political thought. These general principles constitute a way of looking at social life, an instrument for social and political analysis. They are capable of being applied concretely in the study of any historical period, including our own, that may interest us. They are to be found, implicit as a rule, in the writings of Machiavelli himself…
- An objective science of politics, and of society, comparable in its methods to the other empirical sciences, is possible. Such a science will describe and correlate observable social facts, and, on the basis of the facts of the past, will state more or less probable hypotheses about the future. Such a science will be neutral with respect to any practical political goal: that is, like any other science, its statements will be tested by facts accessible to any observer, rich or poor, ruler or ruled, and will in no way be dependent upon the acceptance of some particular ethical aim or ideal.
- The primary subject-matter of political science is the struggle for social power in its diverse open and concealed forms.
- The laws of political life cannot be discovered by an analysis which takes men’s words and beliefs, spoken or written, at their face value. Words, programs, declarations, constitutions, laws, theories, philosophies, must be related to the whole complex of social facts in order to understand their real political and historical meaning.
- Logical or rational action plays a relatively minor part in political and social change. For the most part it is a delusion to believe that in social life men take deliberate steps to achieve consciously held goals. Non-logical action, spurred by environmental changes, instinct, impulse, interest, is the usual social rule.
- For an understanding of the social process, the most significant social division to be recognized is that between the ruling class and the ruled, between the elite and the non-elite.
- Historical and political science is above all the study of the elite, its composition, its structure, and the mode of its relation to the non-elite.
- The primary object of every elite, or ruling class, is to maintain its own power and privilege.
- The rule of the elite is based upon force and fraud. The force may, to be sure, be much of the time hidden or only threatened; and the fraud may not entail any conscious deception.
- The social structure as a whole is integrated and sustained by a political formula, which is usually correlated with a generally accepted religion, ideology, or myth.
- The rule of an elite will coincide now more, now less with the interests of the non-elite. Thus, in spite of the fact that the primary object of every elite is to maintain its own power and privilege, there are nevertheless real and significant differences in social structures from the point of view of the masses. These differences, however, cannot be properly evaluated in terms of formal meanings, verbalisms, and ideologies, but by: a) the strength of the community in relation to other communities; b) the level of civilization reached by the community- its ability, that is to say, to release a wide variety of creative interests and to attain a high measure of material and cultural advance; and c) liberty- that is, the security of individuals against the arbitrary and irresponsible exercise of power.
- Two opposing tendencies always operate in the case of every elite: a) an aristocratic tendency whereby the elite seeks to preserve the ruling position of its members and their descendants, and to prevent others from entering its ranks; b) a democratic tendency whereby new elements force their way into the elite from below.
- In the long run, the second of these tendencies always prevails. From this it follows that no social structure is permanent and no static utopia is possible. The social or class struggle always continues, and its record is history.
- There occur periodically very rapid shifts in the composition and structure of elites: that is social revolutions.
It may be remarked that these Machiavellian principles are much closer to the more or less instinctive views of “practical men” who are themselves active in the social struggle, than to the views of theorists, reformers, and philosophers. This is natural, because the principles are simply the generalized statement of what practical men do and have been doing; whereas the theorists, most often comparatively isolated from direct participation in the social struggle, are able to imagine society and its laws to be as they wish to have them.
Below, I copy two passages- one, a passage from Michael Lind’s “Up From Conservatism,” his 1996manifesto of exodus from the conservative movement, and before that, my commentary when I forwarded it along to my priest, Father Jim Heft.
It is especially relevant today, in the administration of President Donald Trump, when so few of us American Catholics know exactly how to move forward politically, amidst a Republican Party culture insulting to the oppressed of the earth and a Democratic Party culture insulting to human nature. Lind’s commentaries here, taken with others’ writings on Catholic social teaching applied to politics, might be useful in pointing out directions by which to move forward.
I was re-reading my mentor Michael Lind’s first book “Up From Conservatism” and I chanced upon one of my favorite passages, a passage that seems incredibly relevant the more I look at it. I’ve copied it below the dashed line below.
In essence, he talks about the dearth of politically-engaged conservative intellectuals who pay true testimony to the Catholic tradition. (There’s always RJ Neuhaus, but as Lind notes, he was more a sidekick to committed conservatives than an independent contributor of the Catholic tradition in his own right.) Lind talks about the overlap between Hamilton-Disraeli-Churchill “One Nation Conservatism” and Catholic social teaching, something which you and I have discussed. I told you that I consider myself an American nationalist; it is this sort of “one-nation conservatism” that I mean when I use that name. There is of course some tension between any nationalism and Catholic universalism, but in my (evolving) view, it seems to me that it’s less necessary to stand with Machiavelli and “love my country more than my soul” if my political temperament is rooted in Catholic social teaching or something like it, and if serving my country and practicing my faith do, in fact, begin to overlap substantially do to that similarity or sameness.
More practically, I’ve told you before that one of my life-projects I’m hoping to embark upon is reforming the Republican Party into a more practical governing entity than the ideological monstrosity it is now; if I ever am in a position to do that, it would certainly be along the lines discussed below, in this Catholic/nationalist/one-nation-conservative vein of political thought, applied to the 21st Century United States. Perhaps California, with its rising Catholic Latino population, would be an easier place to do that than anywhere else…
Overall, I’d like to root myself more deeply in Catholic social and political teaching, so that as I develop as an intellectual and a public servant, I can call upon that tradition for guidance and counsel. Your advice on books to read, then, is most appreciated, and I have already started looking at the books you recommended when we last met.
Just thought I’d send this; hope you’re doing well!
“Up From Conservatism,” by Michael Lind (1996)
…The defeat of one-nation conservatism is, among other things, a defeat for American Catholicism. After World War II, it can be argued, the United States might have had its own version of the center-right, predominantly Catholic Christian Democratic parties of Germany and Italy. The Christian Democrats drew upon a century of Catholic social teaching which held up a moderate, humane version of capitalism, respecting the rights of labor as well as the privileges of business, as an alternative to the extremes of collectivism and free-market radicalism. Because of the transnational nature of Catholicism, Catholic anticommunism tended to be immunized against perversion into nativism (like the sort of conservative anticommunism that was a displacement of earlier Protestant anti-Catholicism.) Finally, the institutionalized and hierarchical nature of the Catholic Church has made it inhospitable to the kind of charismatic populism so characteristic of the Southern Right in the United States.
If the chief element in postwar American conservatism had been an Americanized version of Catholic Christian Democracy, the right today might have been dramatically different. Its center of political gravity might have been found among the white ethnic working class of the industrial Midwest and Northeast, not among small-town and suburban white Protestants in the South and West. The Catholic-influenced economic theory of American Christian Democrats might have placed the interests of members of trade unions as high as, or higher than, the interests of investment bankers, professionals, and the heirs of great fortunes. The universalism of the Catholic tradition might have been brought to bear to combat the deeply rooted racism and nativism of American folk culture. Catholic conservative intellectuals might have contested left-liberal ideologues without collapsing into the crude anti-intellectualism that both the Old Right and the new neoconservatives have engaged in. In foreign policy, a flourishing Catholic conservative intelligentsia might have been able to contribute insights from the Church’s traditional just-war theory.
It was not to be. Although many of the Old Right intellectuals were Catholics, they had little contact with the mainstream of European Christian Democratic thinking of the mid-twentieth century. Notwithstanding the importance of the labor movement for white working-class Catholics, William F. Buckley Jr. and his Catholic associates were resolutely anti-union. The prominent Catholic conservative intellectuals of recent years, like Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Novak, have contributed little or nothing that is specifically Catholic to the worldview of the intellectual Right. For the most part they and other Catholic thinkers on the Right have been content to serve as junior partners to Protestant fundamentalists and business-class conservatives, aiding the cause by coming up with what purport to be “Catholic” reasons to support the teaching of creationism or capital gains tax cuts. They are token Catholics in a movement dominated by Pat Robertson and the Wall Street Journal.
The greatest influence of modern Catholic social thought has been on twentieth-century American liberalism, not twentieth-century American conservatism. In a speech during the presidential campaign of 1932 entitled “The Philosophy of Social Justice through Social Action,” Franklin D. Roosevelt alluded to two papal encyclicals, Quadragesimo Anno (1931) and Rerum Novarum (1891.) Which had sought to promote a third way between laissez-faire capitalism and socialism. FDR contrasted two philosophies: “One of these old philosophies is the philosophy of those who would let things alone. The other is the philosophy that strives for something new- something which I believe the human race can and will attain- social justice through social action.” For decades, pro-labor liberalism (though not cultural liberalism) enjoyed the support of the American Catholic hierarchy. Today, however, in the absence of an American counterpart to European Christian Democracy, many Catholics in the United States find themselves alienated from a political system in which their combination of moral traditionalism and economic liberalism is not represented. If the far right in the United States is disproportionately southern and western and Protestant, the radical center is disproportionately made up of white ethnics in the industrial regions of the country. Many of the Southern whites who formed one half of the Jefferson-to-LBJ coalition have found a new home on the Republican Right. The other half of the old Democratic coalition, largely Catholic descendants of European immigrants in the North, have been estranged from both parties for a quarter of a century. At different times, Wallace, Reagan, Perot, and Buchanan [AND TRUMP] have attracted their votes. Their alienation, and the destabilizing effect it has had on American politics as a whole, is one of the major consequences of the failure of one-nation conservatism in the United States.
“I would willingly sacrifice my life, though not my character, to exalt my station…” –Alexander Hamilton
Some time after writing my “Warrior-Scholar-Statesman” letter to my Dad, I wrote these two follow-up letters. (They may well be the first of many; I have a habit of reflecting and fantasizing through writing.) The proximate cause was my final realization that I’ll never be able to formally serve the United States of America in its Armed Forces due to my mental health disorders and treatment. This was and will always remain one of my greatest shames; but as with all great shames, it is only the fodder of great redemption. Though I cannot serve the United States in uniform and shape my character through military life, there are plenty of other ways I can serve and grow, and these letters were partly explorations of those possibilities.
The other proximate reason I wrote these letters was to develop a sort of benchmark to which I can return to measure my progress as the years go by. As I like to say, no plan goes according to plan; but on the other hand, it’s better to move forward thinking you know what you’re doing, than to move forward with no goals or plans at all. Adjustments can only be made to substance, not to nothing. So I lay down these goals and outlines for my future, knowing full well that they’ll likely change as dramatically as the plans I laid out five years ago changed. I’ll reflect on the end result once I get there.
All that being said, here, in the following two letters, are my aspirations as of early 2017 concerning what, exactly, I hope to do with my life, as expressed to my father over the imperfect medium of email:
First Letter: Things to Do to Be the Man I Want to Be
I wrote up this brief little planning guide earlier today, as I was thinking about how to move forward into becoming the man I want to be. Given that military service is now permanently off the table, I need to find something to replace it and, rather than being a Scholar-Soldier-Statesman, be a Scholar-Servant-Statesman. How to do that is yet to be determined, but I presume working as a Diplomat in the State Department would be a good way to do that, or possibly as a government civilian like a Park Ranger or otherwise a political appointee somewhere in government. Regardless, I’ll be following the party-hack/political-operative route too, I think.
I also added a lot more stuff about personal life and personal character in this one, since I think that’s important.
Anyway, you get the idea. Gotta follow a similar path to Robert Kaplan, Joel Kotkin, Michael Lind, etc., leverage that to become someone like Kissinger, Moynihan, or Shultz, etc., while living the adventurous and public life of Machiavelli, Hamilton, or Roosevelt, a life of the body, the assembly, and the mind.
The first part is a list of things I want to be, and the second part is a listing of ways I can get there. Basically, I just need to be doing exactly the things I want to be doing, and applying to jobs where I can also be doing what I want to be doing.
I think the key, career-wise, at the moment, is to do The Public Interest Fellowship for the next two years in DC, which’ll be a good opportunity to write, study, and network. I can regroup and push forward into other things from there.
Stuff I want to be-
SCHOLAR, STATESMAN, MAN
-Expert on geopolitics, grand strategy, national security (SCHOLAR)
-Expert on Hamiltonian political economy and government affairs (SCHOLAR)
-Expert on Hamiltonian constitutionalism and political realism (SCHOLAR)
-Expert on American history, esp. political-social history, history of the Hamiltonians, etc. (SCHOLAR)
-Expert on world history, esp. political-social history, diplomatic/strategic/geopolitical history, history of the great statesmen, etc. (SCHOLAR)
-Prolific writer and scholar- Books, longform essays, op-eds, reports (SCHOLAR)
-Moderate Republican operative and policy advisor and strategist (STATESMAN)
-Talented statesman, negotiator, administrator in diplomacy and national domestic politics (STATESMAN)
-Excellent public speaker (STATESMAN)
-Excellent networker (STATESMAN)
-Man of good character (MAN)
-Man of interesting personality and wide experiences (MAN)
-Family man and lover (MAN)
-Devout Catholic (MAN)
-Rough Man of adventure and action, particularly outdoors and through extensive travel (MAN)
-Moderately talented poet (MAN)
The way to get to all of these places is simply to do all of them. In order:
-Read on geopolitics, grand strategy, national security, etc. extensively
-Read on Hamiltonian political economy and government affairs, etc. extensively
-Read on Hamiltonian constitutionalism and political realism, etc. extensively
-Read on American history- political-social history, history of the Hamiltonians, etc. extensively
-Read on world history- political-social history, diplomatic/strategic/geopolitical history, etc. extensively
-Write books, longform essays, op-eds, reports, etc. prolifically.
^^Find a job that pays you to read and write. PhD? Think Tank? Magazine Staff Writer?^^
-Connect with and work for Moderate Republicans and their causes
^^Find a job working for Moderate Republicans. Consultant? Caucus director? Policy/Legislation advisor?^^
-Get into the State Department or other diplomatic branch of government
-Run for elected office
-Find more opportunities to speak publicly
-Find more opportunities to network
-Improve character through reflection, study of biography and ethics, practice in dealings with people
-Cultivate an interesting personality and wide experiences through reading, having wide experiences in cultural things, adventure, travel, conversation, etc.
-Develop personally into a good man capable of being a good husband and father; find willing wife
-Attend church regularly, study the Catholic faith
-Have outdoor adventures in various fields; steel yourself to adventure; travel widely through America’s wildlands, especially in the West; travel widely around the world; backpack, shoot, kayak, hike, ride, and do other outdoor adventure sorts of things
-Read more poetry, write poetry frequently
-Study great lives of people you admire: Machiavelli, Hamilton, Roosevelt life-wise, and Kissinger, Moynihan, Shultz / Kotkin, Lind, Kaplan career-wise
Second Letter: Ten Golden Years?
I went the Nixon Library the other day and discovered that Richard Nixon became a U.S. Congressman at the age of 33. As someone who wants to go into a life in politics and public life, I figure that’s as good an arbitrary age as any to use as a goal. Other figures I admire, like Teddy Roosevelt, Alexander Hamilton, and Winston Churchill, spent their 20s and early 30s training themselves for their future public lives, becoming American (or British!) heroes with impressive resumes, and generally developing their character, style, worldview, and intellect for what would become fascinating political careers.
Additionally, I’m 23 right now- I’ll be 33 in ten years. That gives me a decade to live a life of preparation, study and reflection, action and adventure, socializing and networking, to build myself into the man I want to be who will eventually serve the public in as many ways as possible.
So below, I copy (rearranged) the list of life objectives I outlined earlier today on a yellow notepad. All these are goals I feel I should strive to accomplish before I turn 33, so that by the time I turn 33 I’ll be qualified, prepared, and positioned to enter American public life in a formal leadership role. I have intentionally left most of them rather vague, and added commentary in brackets for some of them. There are many paths I can take to most of these accomplishments. It’ll keep me busy and active for quite some time, probably shuttling around and traveling around the country and maybe the world for a good long while. No matter- should be interesting.
Goals Age 23-33, 2017-2027
-Complete Research Fellowship [Hopefully New America’s Millennial Public Policy Fellowship, possibly Public Interest Fellowship]
-Work in Legislature- DC or Sacramento, or both [either as staff, in Capital Fellows Program, legislative aide, etc.]
-Travel across America and report on it [as a writer, perhaps as a scholar, perhaps as a journalist; need to learn more about my country as it is today, in addition to studying its history and culture in great depth.]
-Travel through the world’s geopolitical hotspots [and great centers of civilization] and report on it [as a writer, perhaps as a scholar, perhaps as a journalist; would be very interested to embed with U.S. military and other militaries in conflict zones. In this regard, my models are Robert D. Kaplan and Winston Churchill. Additionally, must read world history, civilizational history, regional history, etc. alongside getting a feel for each place in itself.]
-Write 2+ books [options outlined elsewhere, but some potential masterpieces I could write include a study of American public philosophies of Clay and Lincoln and Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt; a Geopolitical History of Civilizations; a Geopolitical History of the United States; and Alexander Hamilton’s great unfinished Full Investigation of Civil Government, updated for the experiences of civil government since Weehawken, especially the United States Government.]
-Write 20+ reports [on various policy issues]
-Write 20+ essays [on various stories and philosophical issues]
-Write uncountable op-eds
-Develop expertise in 5 fields [probably including geopolitics, political economy, government administration, American history, and political theory] and mastery of 2 of these fields
-Conduct many speaking engagements and become a legendary orator
-Develop at least 3 big ideas or frameworks [in the sense of becoming a useful public intellectual who people go to for specific ideas]
-Consult for and advise elected officials and government officials regularly [at all levels]
-Develop vision for mid-21st Century America [to spend the rest of my intellectual and political career in public life fighting for and turning into a reality] [A Great Spacefaring Republic, an Empire of the Stars, a Republic and a Union protective of Liberty and the American Dream]
-Build national network of contacts and power-brokers all across the country, in various fields and walks of life
-Build a winning and governing Reform Faction of the California Republican Party, capable of electing a GOP Governor and Senator in California
-Prepare myself, physically and intellectually and skills-wise, for National Service of any sort- military, intelligence, diplomatic, emergency management, etc.- in the event of a national emergency in my lifetime that calls for good men to save the country and lowers standard barriers to service [my mental health issues]
-Serve in state and national government bureaucracy
-By age 33, 2027, prepare to be worthy and qualified to attain either: 1. Congressional seat. 2. Statewide office in California. 3. Undersecretary position in Federal Government.
-Sharpen and deepen life philosophy and political philosophy
-Find home base- probably somewhere in California, like Orange County or San Diego
-Become and remain rugged, strong, useful, and self-reliant through adventure and service, including backpacking and conservation work [hopefully Philmont this summer will only be the beginning of frequent excursions across the country to build trails and camp]
-Improve my skills in prose writing, poetry writing, singing, and instrumental music [ukulele and guitar in particular]
-Steel my character and intellect and judgment for the storms ahead
-Develop true and lifelong friendships, especially with siblings, with colleagues in higher causes, and with intellectual comrades
-Find my George Washington mentor figure to spend my life consulting and working with
-Meet, cultivate relationship with, and marry the love of my life- an equal, a friend, a partner, and a companion across life [and I hope to God that she’s Catholic, Republican, and loves politics and history, and loves adventure, like me]
So there’s my goals I want to be working on. Clearly there are many challenges along the way, and it’ll be hard work; if I attain even a third of these, I will have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.
I’ll keep you in the loop as I work on all this!