Great Men are Seldom Good Men: Agricola and Tiberius
Jakub Grygiel and Robert D. Kaplan are both literary classicists, foreign policy realists, geopolitical thinkers, and exquisite writers and thinkers. Both harken to Rome, at times, when seeking a mirror for the dramas of the present day. But they come, in the past, to very different conclusions concerning what from that past we ought to learn. Two passages, one profiling a good Roman, the other a great Roman, illustrate the differences in Kaplan’s and Grygiel’s analyses- differences which have troubling implications.
Grygiel’s Orbis essay “Agricola: A Man For Our Times” meanders from Roman decadence to counterinsurgency strategy, but its chief wisdom is in its commentaries on the Roman provincial governor Agricola. In short, Agricola was a family man and a skilled military strategist who served the Empire honorably in putting down native rebellions in Britain. When he returned to Rome, he was disgusted by the decadence of Emperor Domitian and the court, and retired to his farm to serve and protect his family. Grygiel argues that virtue is so crucial, that if it cannot be maintained in public life, it is honorable to retire from that life.
Kaplan’s concluding chapter in Warrior Politics, “Tiberius,” looks at the Roman Emperor (and first successor of Augustus) Tiberius, examining his career and accomplishments. These accomplishments- mainly in bringing peace to the northern frontiers and restoring dignity to the Emperor’s position- were huge, and Kaplan notes that some have argued that Tiberius kept Rome great for the succeeding centuries. In the second half of his imperium, however, the Emperor devolved into “the worst sort of tyrant,” and thus is justly remembered not for the prudence of his middle-aged statecraft, but the cruelty of his old-aged rule. Kaplan more or less concludes that Tiberius ought to be remembered for his skill, rather than for his character.
In a way, Grygiel’s Agricola represents the public virtues of a Thomas More, humble principle in the face of decadent corruption and naked power, the salvation of individual honor and conscience in a cruel world. Kaplan’s Tiberius, meanwhile, represents the public virtues of a Machiavelli- a results-oriented quasi-utilitarianism that values skill and success for the sake of the peace and order it brings. Agricola embodied goodness; Tiberius embodied greatness. To paraphrase Lord Acton- great men are seldom good men.
One is tempted to recall Isaiah Berlin’s The Originality of Machiavelli and conclude, throwing their hands in the air, that one may either live the life of a saint, or the life of a prince. Berlin himself, in that magisterial essay, counsels that a dialectical synthesis of Christian and Machiavellian virtue is impossible, and would only make hypocrites and monsters of those who tried. Machiavelli and More, too, seem to echo this sentiment- for Machiavelli loved his city more than his soul, while Thomas More died first a servant of God and not the king.
There’s a moral price-tag on each ethical system. Agricola’s character, in compelling him to resign the public service, forfeited all ability to positively influence the direction of the Empire in a public role. It is of course impossible to know how things would have turned out, had he remained in public life; but there’s a sense that Agricola, for all his virtue, in some sense yet abandoned his responsibility to the glory of Rome and the survival of his civilization. Whether or not that is justified by his duty to his family, I am not quite sure.
Tiberius’s character, meanwhile, was cruel and calculating, at least in his later years. And despite his great triumphs in the defense of Rome, his capriciousness and cruelty- which in some ways bolstered his ability to stay in power and keep order in the Empire, and were in some ways arguably necessary- hollowed out his support and destroyed his reputation, to the detriment of the office of the Emperor. Worse, the conduct of unprincipled bad behavior on the part of Tiberius paved the way for further cruelty, this time divorced from Tiberius’s cunning wisdom, by succeeding Emperors like Nero and Caligula. Cruelty, the ultimate price of order, destroyed order in its own time, where virtue could have saved it.
So is this the ultimate reality of political ethics, then- that one may live honorably but ineffectively, or dishonorably but effectively, in public life? Must we be either Richard Nixon- brilliant, visionary, and indomitable while cruel and deceptive and paranoid- or Robert Gates- a man of great character and duty and talent, yet consigned to resignation to uphold one’s own dignity?
I’m not quite sure, because there seem to have always been exceptions of sorts- President George Washington comes to mind. Baltasar Gracian’s maxim- cunning as a serpent, innocent as a dove– reminds the ambitious of the need to wear many masks, and be many things, simultaneously. Washington was, as most of his biographers learn, in every respect a good and decent man. But he was also a man who knew how to “be not good” and use cruelty and deceit when his country required it.
It may be that temperance, moderation, and prudence- being as they are unteachable and undefinable, yet somehow learnable and practicable- make up the only path to reconciliation of goodness and greatness (and George Washington was nothing but temperate, moderate, and prudent.) The greatest quality of a statesman, then, would not be the ability to get things done in the interests of the greater good. Nor would it conversely be self-sacrifice and duty to higher principles even to the point of death. One must be neither Caesar nor Christ- one must, in some odd and imperceptible way, be both, if they would lead and serve.
The real political virtue would in reality be prudence, directed towards the twin imperatives of goodness for its own sake and for the sake of honor and image, and greatness for the sake of the preservation of the common good. This does not easily lend to an easy moral code- rather, it is something that must be taught through reflection on and practice of the contradictory truths of life.
Were it not for the life and legacy of someone like George Washington, it’s hard to believe that this synthesis is even possible. It’s still hard.
Guest Contributor Sophia Justice Warren: The Intersectional Oppressiveness of “Do You Hear the People Sing?”
If you’re intersectional and woke, you’ll let intersectionality impregnate your mind and purpose like a Facehugger from “Alien,” and then burst forth from your chest in renewed form, ready to tear down all the oppression of humanity in the interest of building a better world in the here and now. That’s how this stuff works.
By Sophia Justice Warren
The creator, manager, and main contributor of this blog, Luke Phillips, has been kind enough to let me share my thoughts here, in his respect for all points of view. He might disagree with someone’s ideas, and even view them as dangerous, but he’d never be so callous as to block them from speaking on a public forum. (This, by the way, is a private forum, so he’s extremely magnanimous for letting me write here.)
So first off, my thanks to him- he’s the best.
(Even though he’s one regressive son-of-a-bitch who doesn’t consider himself a feminist or an ally. So screw him. But thanks anyway Luke!)
If you haven’t already, go ahead and follow this link to a looped version of “Do You Hear the People Sing” and its reprise, from the 2012 Hollywood version of Les Miserables. Listen to that deceptively melodious and intersectionally odious piece of musical literature, which frankly ought to be banned by international law and scrubbed from the internet, while you read my takedown of its oppressive lyrics. Maybe someday you can be as woke as I am.
So “Do You hear the People Sing”- it’s a really nice-sounding song, I concede, and upon first listen it almost sounds revolutionary, as though its writers cared about human rights and personal expression. The French Left has evidently considered lobbying to make the French-language version into the French national anthem several times, without realizing what a reactionary backward step that’d be.
But just look at its intellectual history and environment, which no piece of work should ever be separated from. I’m sure conservative classicists have their own definition of what such an analysis would include, but I mean one thing and one thing only- look at the intersectional positions of the people whose minds birthed this song.
Victor Hugo, that bastard, was a French republican nationalist and was once a Catholic. (Read: white, rich, male, justifies his privilege by belief in a “God” who also happens to be white, rich, and male. Freudian narcissism much?)
Now look at the songwriters and producers of the 1980 French musical version of Les Mis, and, I suppose, their British and American counterparts who translated the songs, including “Do You Hear the People Sing,” into the even-more oppressive and imperialistic English language. A cursory Google Images search reveals them all to be white men. Notice a pattern here?
Anyways, the fact that Les Mis was literally created by a bunch of white guys, living and dead, is not nearly the biggest problem with it. For that, you can just go to the lyrics. Every lyric is a rubbishy piece of trash, frankly, but I’ll just highlight the worst transgressions of human rights.
First- The lyrics are totally masculo-normative and hetero-normative:
“Do you hear the people sing?
OK, “people” is gender-neutral etc., with some problems but not crippling ones. So off to a good start-
“Singing the song of angry men…”
Stop. Right. There.
Men? MEN? As though men- and they’re talking about straight white French men, by the way- have any reason to be angry.
Straight white French men don’t have their very humanity questioned in the canons of Western literature.
Straight white French men don’t have to worry about making less money than their labor and services are worth.
Straight white French men aren’t stigmatized because of who they love or how they use their sexuality.
Straight white French men have the world on their side- so don’t give me this shit about them being “angry,” either in 1832, 1980, 2012, or freaking 2017.
Or better yet, I don’t give a shit about them being “angry.” And the songwriters should’ve been woke enough, at the very least, to bring the actual concerns of the actually oppressed- women, people of color, gender minorities- into the song. That they don’t, means they don’t think those concerns are important.
Second- the experiences of actually oppressed people of color are trivialized:
“It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again…”
Right. As though the white French peasantry and middle class of the mid-19th Century was anywhere near as oppressed as the victims of British and American slavery, people of color all, or anywhere near as oppressed as the equally-literally-enslaved people of color in South Asia, Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia, and other regions victimized for their racial makeup by the white supremacist depredations of American, German, British, Spanish, Portuguese, and, yes, French colonialism!
This is wrong. “Slave” is a term that ought not be used lightly- terms that describe the literal appropriation and ownership- ownership!- of the bodies of people of color should never, ever, EVER be used to describe the “plight” of privileged white people who think their leaders aren’t letting them into city hall enough and who’re concerned they get 21, not 22, square meals a week.
When the term “slave” is applied to decidedly non-enslaved European whites, it removes that term of any meaning and trivializes- dehumanizes, even- the experiences and needs and rights of those who are actually enslaved. Rubbish.
Third- the song’s a shill for stupid fucking Christian understandings of human nature, theology, and morality- which marginalizes other religions and especially marginalizes those who believe faith is not important for moral living (and who rightly believe that faith can in fact be an instrument of oppression-)
First, a few personal points. I hate few things more than I hate Christianity, in all its hypocrisy, its delusional and irreconcilably contradictory demands for righteousness and humility, its anti-humanist emphases on suffering and sacrifice, its otherworldly mysticism, as though there can be a Heaven anywhere but what we make on Earth. I also hate the oppression it forebodes for sexual and gender minorities and generally anyone, even not a sexual or gender minority, who views sexuality and sexual expression as integral to human identity and central to human freedom. Pre-Christian Roman Europe was oppressive for many reasons; but the advent of Christianity brought an oppression of the soul which Roman patriarchy and pagan bloodthirstiness cannot begin to approach.
One more thing, before approaching the topic at hand. There are those- Luke Phillips included- who argue that Western modern liberalism, and its child, postmodernism, from which much of my woke-ness springs- is in some ways a mere “devolution” of Protestant Christianity, with all the emphasis on equality and individuality and communitarianism and none of the “moral realism” or emphasis on divinity or demand for the formation of character.
There might be an ounce of truth in the postmoderns-as-devolved-Christians argument, but it is mostly wrong, wrong, wrong. If anything, intersectionalists are much more advanced versions of the Rousseauian and Robespierran prophets who shook the Christian chains off of human freedom and started us along the great path of social enlightenment, whose clear pinnacle and conclusion is exactly what I believe and practice and preach.
But that is an argument for another time.
Meanwhile, let’s look at the Christianity within “Do You Hear the People Sing?”
“Will you join in our crusade?”
An appeal to “heaven” for the rectitude of their oppressive actions. Sure is insensitive and incensing to use the term for the Medieval Catholic Church’s attempted genocide of Muslims, though, as though it were something noble.
“They will live again in Freedom in the Garden of the Lord…”
More bullshit about the immortality rewarded if only you follow the big invisible man in the sky’s nonsensical and oppressive “commandments.”
“They will walk behind the ploughshare; they will put away the sword…”
A clear reference to the supposed “pacifism” of Christian living. (Look at Christianity from its very beginnings to see how fake that is.) I’m not sure which Bible verse it comes from- probably Fallopians 69 or something.
Fourth- the song is overtly and overly nationalistic and militaristic, promoting the sort of jingoism that has been the sole cause of war after war after unjust war-
“Will you give all you can give so that the banner may advance;
Some will fall and some will live, will you stand up and take your chance?
The blood of the martyrs will water the meadows of France…”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of revolution, including revolutionary violence, if such is necessary to bring down patriarchy, racism, and institutional oppression.
But the characters of Les Mis aren’t just talking about fighting the supposed “injustices” raining down on them. A brief look at history reveals them to be French nationalists, republican nationalists but nationalists nonetheless, whose vision of patriotism is not substantively different from Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” ethos.
Nationalism is a very dangerous thing.
Patriotism is also a very dangerous thing.
Justifying “sacrifice” and “martyrdom” in the name of a state and nation is tantamount to racism and jingoism, and should never be lauded. It assumes that there are nations and countries rather than one common humanity, and that individuals ought to profess loyalty first to those entities closest to them. The great Marxist thinkers highlighted the fallacy of this analysis, and the failure of Communism- that bastardization of TRUE socialism!- was not due to any intellectual or economic contradictions within the Marxist tradition, but rather because those who sought global revolution before national revolution were marginalized in the Communist Party of the early 20th Century. Humanity is the political unit- states and nations are the unjust and illegitimate domains of capitalists and aristocrats. “The people” means the people of all humanity.
So when the characters of Les Mis sing of shaking off the “chains of oppression” they are supposedly bound by, they do it with the same legitimacy that Donald Trump voters do it- a love for their “home” corresponding to a blind disregard and hatred of those outside their “home.”
Want to know how and why the First and Second World Wars started?
I hope it’s clear, then, that “Do You Hear the People Sing” is not the revolutionary universalistic anthem so many poor unfortunate souls believe it to be. It is, rather, something like the Jacksonian Revolution of 1830s America- it superficially advances towards things that aren’t entirely wrong, but it neither seeks to overthrow the corrupt and oppressive institutions of the past, nor to expand true equality of rights to all the marginalized of a particular society or, indeed, of the planet.
In that sense, “Do You Hear the People Sing” is literally no different from Disraelite Toryism, Rooseveltian Progressivism, New Deal Democracy, or Rockefeller Republicanism- an inherently nationalistic, conservative, quasi-reactionary ethos meant to reform society just enough to quell the just uprisings, so that true revolutionary change is strangled in its cradle. The primary goal is the preservation of fundamentally unjust institutions, to preserve the privilege of those who inhabit them. The primary goal is not universal human justice, is not the alignment of humanity and human society and human institutions with the ultimate moral ideal of intersectional equality, and is not human progress in any real form (though conservative “Reformers” like Luke Phillips will undoubtedly argue that they are trying to advance society at as quick a pace as it can be advanced along while preserving “what is best of it.”) Benjamin Disraeli and Abraham Lincoln, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Nelson Rockefeller, all cast themselves as “reformers,” as does Luke Phillips today. The thing is, “reformers” all try to preserve the structural violence of the modern patriarchal west for its own sake. That is unacceptable.
A total fucking bastard named Barry Goldwater, despite being wrong about literally everything else, was right about one thing and one thing only:
“Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice; Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
Once you’ve found the truth, the only way is all the way- defend it, advance it, preserve it, eliminate all opposition to it, that it may flourish and reorder the world in accord with your inmost conscience’s prejudices.
And that is what we, the disciples and practitioners of intersectionality, are called to do.
I hope you’ve realized, reader, who the enemy is, and what you must do.
Ode to Inspiration Point, Aquia Landing
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.
Luke Phillips’s Cabinet of Invisible Counselors
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.
Eagles on the World Stage: Gates, Huntsman, and Tillerson in a Cold World
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.
Basic Principles of Temperamental Conservatism, Hamiltonian Nationalism, and Machiavellian Realism
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.
RePost: Michael Lind’s Commentary on American Catholics in “Up From Conservatism”
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.