Council On Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Walter Russell Mead on foreign policy.
HH: Now sit down and listen closely. This is going to be a wonderful couple of hours. My guest in studio, Walter Russell Mead. He’s the author of God And Gold: Britain, America And the Making Of The Modern World. It’s an important new book, it’s linked at www.hughhewitt.com. He is, Mr. Mead is, the Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow in U.S. foreign policy at the Council On Foreign Relations. You’ve seen his name in print for many, many years, previous bestsellers. But God And Gold is not only an enjoyable book, it’s an important book. Walter Russell Mead, welcome to the program.
WRM: Thanks, Hugh, it’s great to be here.
HH: We have to start by explaining to people who you are. First of all, you’re a son of the South.
WRM: That’s correct. I was born in South Carolina.
HH: Are you Charleston? Or was it upstate?
WRM: Nothing so upscale as Charleston. I was born in Columbia, but my family’s kind of from Florence and Orangeburg.
HH: All right, and so you were raised in a Church family or not? Because religion’s a big part of this book.
WRM: Yeah, my dad is an Episcopal minister, and when I was a kid, he was in a parish ministry. And then he started something called the Alban Institute, which does a lot of work with congregations.
HH: Okay, and are you still attending the Episcopal Church?
WRM: Yes, I am. I go to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Jackson Heights, Queens, where I live.
HH: Interesting. Now when you are at a young age, they send you to Massachusetts where you experience victor’s amnesia. I kind of like that phrase which we’ll come to. Was it Andover?
WRM: No, it was Groton.
HH: Okay, Groton.
WRM: …which is also an Episcopal boarding school where we had chapel seven times a week, twice on Sunday.
HH: Are they still doing that?
WRM: Yeah…well, they’re not now, but they were when I was there.
HH: Okay, and then off to Yale. Now before we go much further, explain to people what victor’s amnesia is.
WRM: Well, it’s a condition I noticed when I went up north, that as a kid growing up in the South, we all knew everything about the Civil War. You know, people could sit around and say you know, if only Stonewall Jackson had gotten two hours earlier or whatever, in the North, in Massachusetts, they didn’t know anything about it. And sometimes, usually it would be kids whose ancestors’ names I knew. They did not know anything about the Civil War. They won the Civil War. It was over. They’ve moved on. In the South, they hadn’t.
HH: And as a result, the South nursed some wounds that are lingering still, and that will apply to other places in the world, vis-à-vis the West.
WRM: That’s right, and that’s one of the things I was very lucky to have that Southern experience, because we know what it’s like to be crushed by Yankee imperialism. And to know that you have to get along in the system these other people are making, whether you like it or not. And also, as a Southerner, you realize well, in some ways, do I want slavery back? No, I do not. So you have this kind of mixed thing of you resent their victory, you resent their arrogance and their ignorance, and at the same time, you’ve got to acknowledge that well, yes, probably Lincoln was right about slavery, and Jefferson Davis was wrong.
HH: I first visited Charleston a few years back, and it was the day that they raised the Hunley, the Confederate submarine that had sunk in the harbor. And they referred to the Civil War not as the war between the states even, but as the lost cause. And I thought to myself, this is 130 years later, 120 years later. It’s the lost cause?
WRM: Well, for my great-aunt, it was the war of Northern aggression. So yeah, it really was a living memory, and my Dad’s first Church in South Carolina, Pinopolis, South Carolina, there was an old lady there who went to the Church who could remember being the daughter of a plantation owner before the Civil War, and remembered listening to the singing of the slaves in the cotton fields.
HH: Now you refer in God And Gold to the ‘doxies’…I just want to know, are you orthodox by Episcopalian standards? Are you sort of a book of common prayer believing Episcopalian?
WRM: Well again, what is an Episcopal standard of orthodoxy? But you know, I’m pretty traditional in my theological beliefs.
HH: Are you worried about the schism that threatens your communion?
WRM: Of course I am. I’ve actually been fortunate enough to meet the archbishop in Nigeria, and then among some of the bishops in the U.S. who are leading some of this, and I also know many of the people on the other side. In fact, the guy that God And Gold is dedicated to was an Episcopal priest who used to work with Frank Griswold, who for many years was the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. So I know all these people, and I’m indescribably unhappy.
HH: How does the…you discuss in the book God And Gold quite a lot the difference between open religion and closed religion. How does that split of the Anglican communion fit into that paradigm?
WRM: I would actually think the model I might use for this is more the Diet Coke model, in the sense that you know, you go now to a store to buy Diet Coke. You don’t just have Diet Coke. You have Diet Coke with lemon, Diet Coke with lime, Coke Zero, Cherry Coke Zero. And I think we’re going to see Anglicanism in the same way, a lot of different…you know, you’re going to be able to select your brand of Anglicanism. Maybe overall, it increases the market share that Anglicanism has. But there’ll be different types.
HH: We’ll come back to that, because religion figures prominently throughout this book, and why Britain and America have so dominated the last three hundred years with an aside to the Dutch. Look, before we go forward, there are a lot of people in the acknowledgements, a lot of people. I always love to read acknowledgements, many of whom have been guests on this program. But one name stands out. Can you guess which one it is?
WRM: Eliana Johnson?
HH: George Soros.
WRM: George Soros, okay.
HH: Now does he support you financially?
WRM: No, I don’t get any money from George, which is probably one reason that we get along as well as we do.
HH: Okay, do you…how do you assess him? For my audience, that’s going to be a big, red flag, and that’s why I wanted to put it out there first.
WRM: Right. Well, what it is, is that George is a member of the Council, and so we’ve met at a couple of Council events. And he’s invited me to spend some time, he’s got a very nice summer place out on Long Island, and he’s been nice enough to invite me out for some weekends, and we’ve had dinner together a few times. And we argue about things, and we spar. And George has a very lively mind. And we don’t agree on a lot of things, but we enjoy arguing with each other.
HH: What do you make of my analogy? I think he’s the Marcus Crassus of our time. If this is the late Roman republic of the American republic period, he’s Crassus. What do you make of MoveOn.org and his other expenditures? Are they good for the country?
WRM: You know, I haven’t followed everything that MoveOn.org does. I wish that…you know, part of this book is to try to say to George that the open society, which is a very important concept for him, and he gets his from Karl Popper. I’m trying to show him that if you really look closely at what Karl Popper did, and where it comes from, Henri Bergson, religion and even traditional forms of religion are actually a part of the open society. And I’m trying to persuade George not, and I have to say with a lot of success, that what he needs to do is to go take another look at historically how the open society developed, and what the real values are that underwrite it.
HH: I hope he reads it closely, because I do…I saw some tension there between what the open society foundation that he leads is about, as I understand it, and what your book advocates. And so I thought it was an interesting juxtaposition. How about that analogy? You’re familiar with most of history, the late Roman republic, really, the Roman revolution period.
HH: Are we undergoing a similar kind of destruction of the mos maiorum of American thought and practice?
WRM: I actually…you know, you look at the last thirty years, it seems to me we’ve been coming back, clawing back from the brink in some ways. I mean, you know, I can remember in the kind of 70’s and 80’s, there was this incredible smug confidence that all of these old American values were on the way out, and that you go back far enough, and people really thought we were all going to be like Sweden in the future, completely secular, completely social Democratic, and that Anglo-American individualism was a sort of an old-fashioned thing that nobody but hillbillies and swamp Yankees were clinging onto. And that just was not the future. Now what we’re seeing is there’s a much more kind of open sense of cultural battle, and these traditional American values are not dead. In fact, they keep reinventing themselves and reasserting themselves. I’m actually more hopeful now about the future of this culture than I used to be.
HH: What about the development of things such as, for example, the Daily Kos or Media Matters, or on the right, you’ve got also very brass-knuckled people of the extreme view, so that politics is becoming more left, more angry, more confrontational, and things like the filibuster of judges…
HH: …prior to the last five years, employed once for a couple of weeks in 1968. These are straining the traditions that America has always been built around.
WRM: Yeah, although you know, one of our biggest traditions is incivility, quarreling and political opportunism. I mean, look at the Jefferson administration. Go back and read what the newspapers were saying about Jefferson, about his opponents. I mean, he was trying to impeach Supreme Court judges that he disagreed with on political grounds. He was trying to impeach them, which is a lot worse than filibustering a confirmation. So…and then you have Aaron Burr, who…
HH: In one respect it’s not, because impeachment is provided for in the Constitution, filibustering is not.
WRM: Right, but again…and the Senate has the right to make its own rules. So I think it’s a situation where having a big republic like the United States, a continental republic with a lot of different regional cultures, a lot of different kind of religious traditions that are active in it, we’re going to have contentious politics. And our Constitution was really kind of specifically built to be able to accommodate what people knew even then was going to be a very diverse and contentious…I mean, you’ve got slavery in half of it, and you don’t have it in the other. So I’m not as worried that we’re driving off a cliff.
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HH: Walter, are you familiar with the Winds of War, Herman Wouk’s novel?
HH: At the end of this, I put this down and said I’ve come into the…I’ve read a book by a gentile Aaron Jastrow, seventy years later.
HH: I don’t know if you think…I think that’s a compliment. But it’s that he was wrong about everything until the end when he realized it, but you’re kind of not there yet. I think your whole…like Constantine’s Jews was his fictional book…
WRM: Right, right, right.
HH: And this is this epic book you’ve written, not a history book, but a book about history. Would you explain that difference, by the way?
WRM: Yeah. A book about history looks at history, thinks about history, sometimes tells some history, but it doesn’t set out to give you in any kind of organized way a history of a particular subject or particular country.
HH: But it’s a theory of what has been going on oh, these past three or indeed longer years.
WRM: Yeah, it’s…I’m trying to make sense out of the history of the English and the Americans for the last three hundred years.
HH: A second analogy. Do you play golf?
WRM: I do not play golf.
HH: Okay, do you know who Gregg Norman is?
WRM: I’ve heard of him.
HH: Okay, this is like the perfect 63 holes of golf in a 72 hole match, because I just love this thing until we went off the road at the end, and let me tell you why. You are very critical of the invasion of Iraq. Are you confident that the invasion of Iraq was a huge mistake?
WRM: Actually, I supported it at the time, and I still hope for the best in Iraq, although the best that you can hope for now is probably not the best we would all wish we could be hoping for. I think there were a lot of mistakes made in the way it was done. I don’t think we thought it through enough in the beginning. I don’t think politically…actually, it reminds me of the story when Mary Todd Lincoln first met Lincoln, and he, Abraham Lincoln walked up to her and he said to her, “Ma’am, I want to dance with you in the worst way.” And she said afterwards, “That’s exactly what he did.” And I think in some ways, that’s the way we’ve handle this. Even so, I hope we are able to move forward to a successful conclusion.
HH: You’re pretty harsh in your assessments of President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld. Are you certain about those assessments?
WRM: I’m not certain about very much in this world. I’m confident, I suppose, that for example, if Bush had, if Bush knew before going into Iraq that things would have turned out as they have done, he would have done many things differently.
HH: You see, the reason I bring that up is on Page 384, and other places, you write very disparagingly about people who are confident of their judgments. I want to find the exact quote, I think it’s on Page 390, that you…yeah, here it is. “It is when we are most confident that we are acting righteously,” or writing righteously, “most sure of our moral ground beneath our feet that we are in greatest danger.” And I concluded the book thinking you were so in favor of ambivalence in doubt, and Niebuhry in sort of humility, but your judgments on the last five years are not grey.
WRM: No, again, Niebuhr would say make judgments, but be aware that you might be wrong. And I’ve certainly had the experience of being aware that I might be wrong.
HH: About Bush and Iraq?
WRM: Yeah. Look, I am probably…I spend much more time getting yelled at by people because I’m not harsh enough on Bush than I actually do getting attacked for being too harsh on Bush. I’ve actually…I’m not one of the Bush haters, not somebody who sort of professionally goes after Bush. In fact, I’ve got a article in the new New Republic, of all places, saying that actually, if you look, America is not in as bad a shape in the world as a lot of critics of the administration think. We haven’t ruined ourselves.
HH: Do you…by the way, aside, you bring up the New Republic, have they conducted themselves honorably with regard to Private Beauchamp?
WRM: I don’t…I haven’t followed it, but it looks to me like they’re in a hole.
HH: Yeah, and what should they do? What would Niebuhr advise them to do at this point?
WRM: I think you should, I think you go ahead and if you, you know, once you’ve realized that you don’t have confidence in a story that you’ve published, you ought to say so. If you still have some doubts, they ought to be a little bit more forthcoming about what they think has gone on and why it happened.
HH: Now we’re talking about Niebuhr, because you talk a lot about Reinhold Niebuhr. And for the benefit of people driving around right now who have no idea who he is and why he matters, would you give them the thumbnail?
WRM: Sure. He’s probably the best known mainstream Protestant theologian of the 20th Century. And he originally…kind of his roots are in kind of the social Gospel, and he was involved in some very left-wing thinking, and particularly in the 30’s. As he developed, though, he came to realize that the mainstream Protestant social Gospel tradition had really left out the concept of original sin. And so they had all these ideas of the kind of perfectibility of human society, and the idea that some of it was our job to try to build a utopia in history. And as his understanding of original sin deepened, and he came to see more clearly how that’s a lynchpin of any serious theological understanding of man and man’s nature. He became far more skeptical both about the sort of left-wing promise of a communist utopia, but also began to think much more about well, maybe we’re going to live in an imperfect world order, and that even in an imperfect world order, you still have the right and the need to defend yourself. He actually became one of the key thinkers in trying to find a moral and ethical basis for American foreign policy in the Cold War, for example.
HH: Now your colleague at the Council on Foreign Relations, my frequent debate partner on this program, Peter Beinart, has also fallen for Reinhold Neibuhr in a big way. And I read through it, and I understand where you’re coming from, but what does it mean in a concrete fashion for people to re-embrace Niebuhr in the way you want them to in God And Gold? What are you actually advocating in terms of a policy approach?
WRM: It’s…actually, it’s not so much a policy approach as it’s a psychological basis out of which policy approaches come. You know, it seems to me, for example, if we look at this kind of neoconservative, the original neoconservative ideas about how it was going to be very easy to bring a democratic change, whether it’s in Iraq or Palestine, how quickly democracy would make these things work better, you tend to look at it, and you realize now well, it’s a lot more complicated, it’s a lot twistier, democracy in certain situations may not be as, the silver bullet that you would like it to be. In some ways, you know, to say you should bring Niebuhr to the party is a little bit like saying you should bring Burke to the party. And I think in many ways, actually, Niebuhr and Burke are very close in their attempts to understand how you try to do good in an imperfect world.
HH: You write that he argued you always need to, “maintain a critical stance toward your own moral and political claims. America needs to understand the elements of justice, however twisted and perverted, in the claims of its foes.” Now have you read The Looming Tower?
HH: And in it, obviously, there is this amazing portrait of Qutub and of Zawahiri, they’re both the victims of torture. Do you mean by that, that we should understand they’re the victims of torture? Or do you mean by that we should excuse their viciousness?
WRM: No, I don’t mean excuse. And this again, this is the difference, it seems to me, some people would like to use Niebuhr as a kind of, you know, introduction into kind of a namby-pamby foreign policy, our enemies are right, we are wrong. That’s not the way I see it at all.
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HH: You ought to be listening very closely, because if I’m right, and Senator Clinton becomes President Clinton, Mr. Mead will be going to Washington from New York where he’s a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. And God And Gold will be part of the package that everyone’s packing around the State Department and the National Security Council. We went to break, Walter, you were talking about the difference between namby-pamby foreign policy and Niebuhrian appreciation for what your enemies have gone through.
WRM: Right. So for example, you would try to understand, say, with the Palestinians, you would try to get okay, we’re not just going to look at the way the Israelis see history, and that finally a safe place for the Israelis after the Holocaust and so on, and return to the Biblical Holy Land. We’re also going to look at the people who were living there, who can’t live there or are not living there now, try to understand the way the world looks to them, not so much from the standpoint of oh, well, they must be right as we are wrong, and so we should apologize and repay, but if you can’t put yourself in the shoes of the other person and see the world the way they see it, then you can’t try to figure out what to do to go forward. And so it doesn’t seem to me that what…Niebuhr actually wrote about how in the Cold War, even if America wasn’t perfect and the communists were at least raising some good issues about social justice, even if they weren’t raising, being socially just, nevertheless, Niebuhr could support the use of nuclear weapons as part of a just war against the Soviet Union. So we are not talking about some kind of ‘I’m going to be at one with you’, and ‘I’m going to forgive everything that my enemy does while abasing myself.’ It’s not that kind of thinking at all. But it’s trying to get you to the point where you can really understand where they’re coming from, try to figure out then what steps you could take that might help to resolve the dispute, or even help you understand okay, this is one that we’re actually going to fight about, and here’s why.
HH: Now my question is when you finished this book, and you sent the manuscript away or e-mailed it off, you must have been aware that you were going to be misunderstood.
WRM: I think yeah, you know, and you’re going to be misunderstood. The left is going to misunderstand me, I think, in one set of ways. The right’s going to misunderstand me in…
HH: Oh, the right’s going to have a heart attack. A footnote on Page 383, “My goal here is not to balance the accounts and give a dispassionate and even-handed account of the period, of the Muslim diaspora, really, my goal is to help a Westerner, a non-Muslim understand the perceptions behind contemporary Muslim attitudes towards the West.” And you talk about how millions of Muslims are displaced during the period 1821-1922, I think about.
HH: But then you don’t mention Armenia. The Armenians are going to throw this book against the wall and shake their fists at you, Walter, aren’t they?
WRM: Well, you know, again, you cannot please everybody, and I think again, in America, we actually understand the Armenian case. What we don’t get is that for a lot of Turks, the sense is there’s a hundred years of massacres of Muslims in central and southern Europe, a substantial proportion of the people who live in Turkey today are actually descended from refugees who felt they were driven out of what is now Yugoslavia, other parts of Europe. You know, some of the things that we saw happening in Bosnia when the Serbs were involved there were happening. Now the Muslims were also guilty of atrocities before and after the Armenian stuff, but my point is from the Turkish point of view, what happened in Eastern Turkey with the Armenians was part of a very long struggle with a lot of atrocities on both sides. And when the West sort of forgets everything else, and then picks on one set of massacres and says that’s what we want to talk about, and why don’t you Turks acknowledge your fault here, and the Turks are thinking well why don’t you acknowledge, or even begin to know about the faults on your side, regardless of what’s right and wrong. And I think in fact, there was. Personally, I think there was a genocide in Armenia. Regardless of what’s right and wrong, you’re not going to get anywhere. So we need to understand the way the Turks envision the history of the last two hundred years, not to change our minds and be like them, but simply to get to the point where we can sit in a room and have a conversation.
HH: Let me, as you point, cut to the chase, as Westerners so often like to do. The second hour’s going to be about the first 4/5ths of the book. The first hour’s about the last fifth of the book. And I found myself putting down saying in your desire, sincere, to get inside the head of our enemy, not the Muslim world, but the jihadist, you took the edge off the jihad. You shaved it of its Takfiri absolutism, and you tried to equate it to the ghost soldiers of the Sioux, or the Tecumseh’s brother, and he’s running around doing the Shawnee rebellion. But they weren’t suicidal. When we come back from break, my objection is you’re taking the edge off of the danger, because you really don’t want it to be as dangerous as it is. So through 2001, I’m 100% with you. But when we come back, Walter Russell Mead, have you underestimated the enemy?
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HH: Walter Russell Mead, on Page 392, you write, “The world of religiously motivated Middle Eastern terrorists is far more alien to Americans than was communism. The U.S. will have to come to terms with rage and frustration that is more deeply seated, more diffuse, and harder to reconcile than the mix of anti-capitalism, Occidentalism and Russian nationalism that powered the United States.” I think that that’s what’s driving your book. But what if you’re wrong in your description of the Islamist radicalism’s potential for reform? What effect…there’s no way to reconcile with the Salafist extreme and their Shia counterpart, the 12th Imamism.
WRM: Okay, now let me make 100% clear here, and I’m going to go back into the book and see how open did I actually leave myself to this. I think you have to defeat this movement of…look, this Osama bin Ladenesque spirit of Takfiri, absolute jihad and so on. You cannot and you don’t negotiate with these people unless it’s a ceasefire for a particular…you know what I mean. But they’re out to destroy us, and they’ve reached a point where that’s the only thing that satisfies them. But it’s interesting to note that they are losing support in the Arab world, generally, that Osama bin Laden, you look at polls, they may like us less than they did five years ago, but there’s less confidence in him. There is in the Islamic world generally much less support for the use of suicide bombing as a technique than there was five or six years ago, and so on and so forth. So in a sense, like when we had communism, what you had was a whole range of people who would walk around saying I’m a Marxist. Some of them turned out to be very good allies of ours, like the Labour party in Britain, or you’d have the social Democrats in Germany. And we might disagree with them over how much regulation and free enterprise was necessary for health and so on, but we’re not fighting a war with them. They’re not Stalinists, and they would choose us over Stalin. I think you have to look at Islam, not Salafist jihadism, but Islam in the same way. There are people in that mix who wear that label, who are determined enemies of the West, and we cannot reconcile them, we can only resist and frustrate them. But there are a lot of people in there that can play a role very much like the social Democrats did in the Cold War. And it’s very much in our interest to figure out who these people are, because they, just as the social Democrats by venting a certain kind of social protest, and helping people organize but in a democratic way, and to satisfy some of the injustices that drove others to become communist, in the same way, reform movements that are based in the Islamic world but are not fundamentally hostile to Western values, or are ready to work with the United States, those are, it is important to us to have groups like that as allies. Now you can make mistakes. You can think these people are in group A, and they’re really in group B, or vice versa, and you can get your fingers burned badly when you make those mistakes. But just as when communism came along, a lot of people in the United States who’d never studied Marxism or Hegelianism or any of this stuff, had to sit down and learn the whole sort of intellectual and political history of this movement not to join the movement, not to support he movement or go squishy soft on the movement, but to cope with the eruption of this movement into history.
HH: Well, my concern is in God And Gold, you do a very wonderful job of retelling how this maritime system that has been developed first by the Dutch, then the British, and then inherited by the Americans, has so carefully…and always won, it’s always beaten everybody. And even very significant enemies, we’ve managed to take it, and take it to them, and some tactical setbacks, but we’ve always won. And so this wonderful confidence you have, then you transfer to our enemies in the Islamic world, not all of Islam, we’re certain on that. And I thought, I put it down and I said he’s seducing the reader into believing this is just another chapter of confronting an enemy. But this enemy is different, and that’s where I was particularly struck by the Sioux warriors and the Shawnee warriors, because even those warriors were not suicidal, did not embrace a cult of death, and that a cult of death is really what’s different about this challenge to maritime order.
WRM: Well, remember, I did talk about Hitler as a ghost dancer.
HH: But he didn’t want to die. He went down flailing…
WRM: No, but I also talk about the Japanese Kamikazes.
HH: Last burp, the last eruption of that regime.
WRM: Right, right. But again, but again, that though I think is key, that this ghost dancing phenomenon that I talk about is one of the things that happens when a civilization finally feels that Anglo-American capitalist civilization has pushed them into a corner, and everything else has failed. One of the responses that people have is, you know, our problem is we just haven’t lived truly…our ways are better than theirs, our gods are better than theirs, and if we can be true to our traditions, we’ll beat them. Now they try that and they lose, over and over again.
HH: And they slaughter all the cattle.
WRM: Right, right, right.
HH: That’s an amazing story. I did not know that story.
WRM: Right. 1856, I think, this young woman, Nongqawuse of the Xhosa people in South Africa, and the British had been defeating them, they had taken their territory, put a garrison in Xhosa territory. And so one morning, she goes down and the gods say Nongqawuse, the Xhosa people, it’s not that your gods are weaker than the British gods, or that your ways are not as good as the British ways. But you’ve lost faith. Show faith. Kill your cattle to show your faith in the old gods, and then we will give you new cattle for the cattle you’ve lost, we’ll give you new food for the food you burn, and the British will sail away. They killed the cattle, 300,000 people, about a third of them died in the famine. And so you know, that’s a death cult in a way. You know…
HH: Ah, different. Now see, that’s where…I put it down, and I said he’s arguing, he’s making a powerful argument, that we’ve seen this before, and we got through it because they’re in their last death throes. And I don’t think we’re in the last death throes of the Salafists.
WRM: Well, you know, who knows? These things can go on. But actually, you know…and we’ll find out. I mean, I can’t…what does Yogi Berra say? Prediction is always dangerous, and especially so when it involves the future. And so you know, five years from now, will this be over? Will it be like communism, which is was a scourge for a hundred years? Will it be like forms of fanatical Catholicism, which were a scourge of two hundred years in the early modern era? What will it be? Who can say. But I actually see…you know, the thing, though, that I find so encouraging is that generally speaking, ghost dancing is just one of the things that happens in a society when it’s pressed to the edge, and that other…so you have the Boxer rebellion in China that tries to kill the foreigners.
HH: Lots more coming up.
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HH: It’s a very important book. It reflects, I think, probably the best case that can be made for liberal democratic optimism about the world that we are in. It’s juxtaposed to Bush sort of realism, and we’ll talk more about why he has his optimism. But Walter, before we go to this short break, Page 385, “There is no way forward without a much deeper encounter between the U.S. and the Arab world, and this encounter cannot succeed unless the carpenter, the United States,” we’ll explain that next hour, “can learn to talk less and listen more.” Should we begin by listening much more carefully to what Ahmadinejad and Yazdi are actually saying, and taking them seriously, that they’re millennial fanatics who would love nothing more than to encourage the return of the 12th Imam by exporting chaos?
WRM: Right. No, those are not the people I’m saying we should listen more to, okay? You know, we should be listening more to the sort of more mainstream figures in the Islamic world. We should try to come to terms with understanding Arab nationalism more, Persian nationalism, Iranian-Persian nationalism, so that when we hear these nut jobs and fanatics who are genuinely dangerous talking, we can understand much better than we now do what the fissure points are, why they get the support they get, where they are vulnerable, how we can understand and assess who’s a dissident and why, to get a, to be able to read those societies in a way that right now, we’re not that good at doing. But also, as we listen more, when we do speak, we learn a way to speak that tends to enable more people to hear us really, and makes us less vulnerable to the kind of cheap shots that they will take. And this is coming out of my personal experience, too, I have to say. Since September 11th, I’ve done my best that every time the U.S. government has asked me, I have done everything I could to go, and I’ve been all over the Islamic world talking about American foreign policy in Pakistan, in Algeria. I’ve done live television in Lebanon, I’ve been in Syria, and I talk about American foreign policy. I don’t make apologies for it. People know I’m there at the invitation of the State Department. I talk about U.S. support for Israel and so on. Over the years, what I’ve learned to do by listening to what they’re saying is I am now much better than I used to be at explaining what we’re doing and why we’re doing it in a way that makes sense to them. And some of what we do even when they fully understand it, they may not agree with this or that, but you know, talking about American support for Israel, why we do it, that it’s not a Jewish conspiracy, that it’s controlling the United States, and so on and so forth. And what I find is you know, like in Pakistan last summer…
HH: We’ll have to save it for next hour. Pakistan last summer, and then the first three hundred years of the book.
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HH: And Walter Russell Mead, we were talking before the break, you’ve been in Pakistan, you’ve tried to listen to the Arab culture, and I appreciate all that. But do you think that the people we have to be worried about, that there’s any opportunity to dialogue, say, with Ahmadinejad and the supreme leader and Yazdi on the one hand, or Osama bin Laden and the Takfiris on the other?
WRM: No. But let me tell you what happened, though, in Pakistan, and I would end my speeches, and I’d say listen, what we’ve all got to do, I say we’ve all got to learn from Anbar, and they’re going what? I’m saying look at the sheiks in Anbar, the Sunnis in Anbar, the Sunni Arabs that for four years, they saw al Qaeda coming in and saying we’re going to defend you, we’re your liberators, we’re fighting the occupiers. And I said they watched Abu Ghraib, all of the things that people attacked the United States for, the Sunnis in Anbar know. And I said at the end of four years, what’s happening is that the Sunnis are deciding that Americans, warts and all, are their allies. I said what they’ve realized is that this is not a clash between civilizations. It’s a clash between civilization and barbarism, and in that clash, Americans and Muslims are on the same side. And what happens is I get loud, sustained applause from all Muslim audiences in the Middle East when I run through that line of argument. And so what I’m saying is that’s not going to convince Ahmadinejad of anything. It’s certainly not going to do anything with al Qaeda. But in terms of getting to ordinary people who could be a base of support for these kinds of movements, or could be a base of opposition to those kinds of movements, and could oppose them far more effectively than we can in a kind of political and cultural way, they can be reached. That’s what I have learned.
HH: And so my question is, though, and I’m very optimistic that that’s going on, and I’m hopeful that it continues, but we’re on a deadline with Iran going critical. They’re about to go critical.
HH: And Hezbollah has shown its willingness to rain thousands of missiles down on civilian populations in violation of every understanding of international law. Does the United States and its Western allies allow Iran to go critical, or do they bomb it if necessary?
WRM: I think we have to continue on the path we’re on with Iran, which is to tighten the screws, build the strongest possible international coalition, and should we reach a point where we have to make a choice between a nuclear Iran or some kind of military action, then I think it’s pretty clear that a military action is where we’d have to go.
HH: You know, that’s fascinating, because if I had found that in God And Gold, I’d have said okay, I’m exactly where he is. But I thought, and my fear for the book is that you will influence liberal elites, Democratic elites, to conclude that we cannot go to military action with Iran. Isn’t that interesting.
WRM: No, no, no. Again, you see, look at what I’m saying in the book about Niebuhr’s attitudes, how he supported the…
HH: Nuclear weapons, yeah.
WRM: Right, and that nuclear weapons could be used in a just war. And then I actually given an example of what I think an Niebuhrian counselor would have said to the first President Bush over Iraq. We’re not perfect, Israel isn’t perfect, Kuwait isn’t perfect, Kuwait isn’t moving towards democracy and so on. Some of this is about oil, but we’ve still got to do it, so that…this is actually an argument that I do, I hope liberals can hear, but I hope everybody can hear that in an imperfect world, sometimes you have only imperfect choices, and sometimes violent military action is not the least imperfect choice that you’ve got.
HH: Well, the clarity that you just expressed on military action rather than having Iran possess nuclear weapons is the sort of clarity that I think liberal Americans need to hear. Now the left is going to…they’ll read this transcript, and they’re going to be angry with you for saying that.
WRM: I…you know, some people are…you can’t please everybody. It’s something I’ve learned.
HH: Let’s back up and talk about the broader theme of God And Gold. First of all, you were an English literature major at Yale.
HH: I love this aspect, whether it’s the walrus and the carpenter, or whether it’s the poetry of John Milton, or whether it is repeated references to texts that have been long on my shelf and gone. Was that just part of who you are? Or was that a part to say that the very expression of the Anglo-American system is found in its highest literature as well as in its chronicle of events?
WRM: I think both of those things. I’m somebody, I’m not a policy wonk in the way I approach things. I approach things with literature, with theology, with culture, history. And I think one of the problems in our public discourse, especially among sort of elites and foreign policy elites, is it gets into this kind of IR theory, and very abstract. And really, to understand something, you’ve got to bring this broader cultural and historical and even literary perspective onto it.
HH: Well, let’s start with the walrus and the carpenter, and especially in the analogy, who they are, who the little oysters are, but who are the older oysters right now? And you’re going to have to assume that no one’s ever heard of this poem.
WRM: Right, right. Well, this is, you know, I say that if you want to understand the way the rest of the world looks at the English and the Americans, the best place to look is in this poem by Lewis Carroll in Alice In Wonderland, where you’ve got the walrus and the carpenter. And I say basically, let’s…allegorically, the walrus is Britain, and the carpenter is America. And you see them one day, they’re standing by the ocean, they start weeping because the beach is covered with sand. And this is that kind of like outrageous Anglo-American idealism. You know, there’s too much smoking, too much saturated fats are being used in cooking, or there’s too much bribery, too much genocide. You know, all of these things that have been going on for millennia, and we’re here saying it must be wiped out. And so you get this if seven maids with seven mops swept it for half a year, do you suppose the walrus said that they could get it clear? I doubt it said the carpenter, and shed a bitter tear. It’s like if you had enough NGO’s, and they had enough funds, could you get rid of these terrible problems? And so then what they do is they, you know, they propose kind of the oysters to join with them in conversations about what to do about the world and where we’re going. And I said actually, this conversation looks a lot like a modern international gathering. The time has come, the walrus said, to speak of many things, of shoes and ships and ceiling wax, of cabbages and kings, and why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings. And this is…shoes? Well, that’s trade in commodities. Ceiling wax is actually used on legal documents, so that’s trade in services. This is like a WTO negotiation. Why the sea is boiling hot? Global warming, right?
HH: Global warming.
WRM: Whether pigs have wings? Genetically modified organisms. And then at the end of this conversation, the walrus and the carpenter end up eating all the oysters.
HH: Not all the oysters.
WRM: Right, right. Well, some of the oysters decided not to come, the sort of older and wiser oysters.
HH: What was it? Cuba? I was just looking for the analogy to the older oysters.
WRM: Well, I actually said probably, it was French. The French have never believed one thing the walrus and the carpenter have said.
HH: The art in God And Gold is in getting people like me to pause for a moment and reflect upon the fact, I’m trying to find it, about the black squirrels are killing the brown squirrels of Europe. And on Page 59, the world’s view of the WASPs, “Cruelty and greed in the service of an inflexible, absolute and utterly inhuman will to power, made more formidable by an insolently arrogant hypocrisy, and exuding an irresistible but intolerable vulgarity. That is what our enemies since the 17th Century have seen when they looked up.” And your examples are Sir Francis Drake, slavers signing the Declaration of Independence, the British blockade of Europe, sanctions on Saddam’s Iraq, Waspophobes, including from Solzhenitsyn to Marx…
HH: …which covers the whole nine yards. And so, you’re not buying into it, but you’re asking people to say this empire, this maritime system, there is good reason why people would hate us.
WRM: That’s right. I don’t hate us.
WRM: In fact, I think it’s a good thing we exist, and I hope we can defend ourselves and move forward. But yeah, this is part of what I mean. You’ve got to be able…in order to be able to deal with what’s out there, you’ve got to be able to understand what’s out there. So I mean, I find that you’ve got a propagandist for Napoleon, who basically, he could be quoting Noam Chomsky, or Noam Chomsky could be quoting him, that this Anglo-American system which we think of as really organized liberty, hits other people around the world, consistently for hundreds of years, in these incredibly negative ways. We need to understand that.
HH: Will talented people understand this more easily than less talented people because of the envy that…an athlete. You know, I’m a terrible athlete, but I look at a great athlete, and I admire them. But against their near peer competitors, they’re not so admired.
WRM: Right. Well, see, for example, for me, what helped me was being a Southerner, you know, where we got our butts kicked by the North in the war of northern aggression. And so a lot of those WASP…a lot of the ways people outside the U.S. think about America, and hate America, are very…I mean, Yankee go home, that could have been written on any fence in South Carolina when I was a kid.
HH: But there’s really no way out of this dilemma, because if you’re going to be as powerful and as successful as the American power and success has been, it’s inevitable, isn’t it?
WRM: That’s right. You know, and again, one of the things I say is that the sort of liberal utopianists who keep thinking all right, now that we’ve beaten the Kaiser, there’s going to be universal peace. Now that we’ve beaten Hitler, there’s going to be universal peace. Now that we’ve beaten Brezhnev, there’s going to be universal peace. No. There is…we’re not just around the corner from a liberal utopia.
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HH: Let’s briefly touch on the protocols of the elders of Greenwich, Walter, because these are the five principles that you say more or less explain this incredible dynamism that for three hundred years has gone from the Anglosphere to the Americansphere to the maritime system.
WRM: Right. Well, it’s…this is the secret plan for world domination, basically. And I don’t know, maybe it’s a mistake to…at the Council, we’re not supposed to tell everybody everything, but here I am, revealing the secrets. I say look, point one of the plan is to have an open society at home. That is to say people can be of any religion they want to, they can think anything they want to, they can say it if they have a new economic idea or a new product, they can introduce it. So you’re a free, open society. And what that does then is it means you have all these products, it means you have a financial system that harnesses resources more efficiently. You see, the Dutch invented all of this, by the way, in the 17th Century, so that scholars from other countries went to Holland because they could teach freely. And you had a great technological boom there, you had the first big speculative boom with the Dutch tulips, the first stock market companies. Okay, so that’s point one. You develop this open society at home. Point two, you take the show on the road, because you can make all these neat things, and you understand commerce and so on. And so you go out and you trade, and you learn from other people, and you teach other people, and this makes you incredibly wealthy. And that brings you to point three, you have a geopolitical system, a balance of power in Europe, for example, so that no European country is strong enough to contest with you for world power.
HH: This is England’s rule that no two navies on the Continent shall exceed their one navy.
WRM: Exactly right. Right, right. And it’s English policy for three hundred years. I mean, you can still see it in a way. The English and the EU are still trying to keep the Europeans from organizing too closely. So then you’ve…and you protect global commerce lanes, you know, the sea lanes. And so then you have a strong navy. Point four, then, is you’ve built this world trading system, and in peace, you say to everybody, come on in, trade. So after World War II, we say to Germany and Japan, trade, make money, knock yourselves out. We’re not going to punish you, you’re not going to be second class. And since World War II, neither Germany nor Japan has felt the need to attack the system. In fact, they’ve kind of become pretty enthusiastic supporters of the international system. But then, that’s 4A. 4B is if there is a war, you then deny them the use of this global system. And in the long years of peace, they develop economies that depend on being able to import raw materials from around the world, global markets. And in war, suddenly they don’t have those. So they go broke, and you have the wealth and the strength to defeat them. I think in some ways, by the way, China, we’re trying to get China into this kind of system now.
HH: But Taiwan may very well break that, right? That’s…you talk about the tripartite balance of power in Asia, India and Japan.
HH: And it’s very persuasive. But like Thomas P.M. Barnett, I keep thinking to myself yeah, but Taiwan’s over there, and they don’t want to be part of that show.
WRM: That’s right. Well, and you know, I think smart Chinese understand, most Chinese understand that they can’t really make them, and I think what we’re all just trying to do is saying well, in theory, Taiwan and China are one, and one of these days, we’ll understand what that theory means. But in the meantime, no change in the status quo.
HH: And are you familiar with Thomas P.M. Barnett’s The Pentagon’s New Map?
HH: All right. And so his argument is don’t worry, they’re not crazy. But if you talk to Frank Gaffney or Jed Babbin…
HH: …they are crazy. They’ve got militarists, and they could very well decide at some point that the Boxer rebellion is alive and well, and we’re taking Taiwan.
WRM: That’s right. Well, again, I am…nowhere in this book do I say that God has ordained that we’re going to have a smooth, peaceful future. That is not, you cannot tell anybody we can just close our eyes and relax, and just watch movies, everything is going to be great. The world is a dangerous place.
HH: Walter Russell Mead, anywhere in the book that you say we could be on the edge of the knife towards cataclysm?
WRM: Hmm, I have to go back and look at the book.
HH: No. I just did.
HH: It’s not…that, I think, is probably my greatest quibble.
WRM: Actually, no. If you look at the last couple of pages, where I talk about where we’re headed, I say you know, I can’t predict how this will end. The weapons of mass destruction are getting more dangerous, and in a way, our technology enables, in a sense, our enemies to have more powerful weapons, because the technological inventiveness that comes out of our society then allows other people to try to turn that against us and create these weapons.
HH: I guess what I’m saying is when I read Bernard Lewis, or I’ve heard him lecture a couple of times, sort of like our Cato the elder…
HH: He ends every speech by saying either we will free them or they will kill us.
HH: And I don’t hear that. You’re not alarmed.
WRM: Well, no, I’m concerned, okay? But again, I keep looking at we have been winning for three hundred years.
HH: And we’ve never had a death cult with weapons of mass destruction.
WRM: We’ve had some pretty rotten things. And you know, I mean, we’ve…Stalin had the nuclear bomb.
HH: Not a death cult.
WRM: And while it was not a death cult, but a pretty scary thing, and there were definitely moments when the Chinese leadership, say, at the time of the Red Guard and so on was not far from craziness. So you know, I don’t think this is as out…this is a new kind of danger, it is a serious danger. It is clearly the number one issue that people dealing with American security and foreign policy need to deal with.
HH: And it might explain the invasion of Iraq.
WRM: It conceivably does. But again, what I say is it was still…we still did it the worst way. I noted…look at how hard Lincoln worked to get the South to fire the first shot. There were ways, I think, we could have done…
HH: Look at how many generals Lincoln went through, and the fact that it had 600,000 dead, and not the terrible and awful toll of 4,000…
WRM: Look, and I…and I…no, no.
HH: But still, 4,000.
WRM: Listen, I completely agree, and I take a lot of heat by the way for not going out there and saying the republic is dead, Bush has destroyed the American republic. He hasn’t. And furthermore, as I keep pointing out to people, we have yet to have one-tenth the military deaths in Vietnam, I mean in Iraq that we did in Vietnam. And furthermore, I think we lost more troops in the Philippine insurrection than we have in Iraq.
HH: What do you judge of the character of George W. Bush?
WRM: Well, I’ve never met the man, and so you know, I’m actually…
HH: You never met Lincoln, but we have a good judgment of his character as well.
WRM: Yeah, but you know, let me wait until some of the people who…what is that Zhou Enlai said about the French revolution? “It’s too soon to tell.” I think George Bush is a deeply honest, sincere, religious man. I think he puts the protection of the United States above his own personal political interest or that of his party. I think he may have been…he is deeply loyal to those around him, possibly was loyal to a fault.
HH: Is he the Republican Truman?
WRM: He could…it could be that people will look at him that way.
HH: That’s what I think we’re going to find out.
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HH: Just for fun, do you go to Davos?
WRM: I have been a couple of times to Davos.
HH: I knew that. You know, the Bilderbergers, probably. You’ve probably been to a Bilderberger conference, haven’t you?
WRM: (laughing) I haven’t actually been to a Bilderberger conference.
HH: Oh, Trilateral Commission?
WRM: I don’t think…does anybody still go to the Trilateral Commission?
HH: It was like fifteen years ago, the last time I…
WRM: I think it’s gone.
HH: Covering…all right, that’s the reason I bring that up, is because you are an unabashed booster of capitalism, and its dynamism, and how it is so much responsible for this. But I also think one of the most interesting observations, some societies are better equipped to live with the chaos that capitalism brings. Ours has been, as was Great Britain. Expand on that a little bit, why it’s so unnerving to some societies, but not to ours.
WRM: Well, I think you have to understand that capitalism is not just about people making money or trading. I mean, they’ve had…I’ve been to the covered bizarre in Damascus. That thing is like 5,000 years old. Trade is not the same as capitalism. And capitalism has to do with this accumulation of wealth, this development of new technologies, this acceleration of social, economic and political history. And that means change. You have a lot of societies in the world where their idea of the way the world should be is totally rooted in a, you know, there’s a traditional way the ancestors laid it down, the proper relationship between a man and a woman, the proper relationship between the peasant and the noble or whatever. And if anything changes, you’re kind of violating the order of Heaven. So when change comes into a society, you have this incredible deep fissure in society between people who want to preserve the sacred values of the past, and people who are attracted to the new, and feel it’s necessary to adapt or whatever. In the English speaking world, and I think this has a lot to do with our religious history, there is this sense that actually, change is what happens when God is working in the life of an individual or in a people, things will change.
HH: And when he calls Abraham to get up and leave. I thought this was very, very important part of the book.
WRM: Right. That’s is…right, God’s call to Abraham is leave your father, and your father’s gods, and go to a new land, and there, I’ll show you the promise. And when we talk about the faith of Abraham, in a lot of ways, it’s the faith in that unknown promise in a new land. And so the faith that we are taught is what saves us, and establishes our new relationship with God. That faith involves the faith to get up and go, and leave what we know, so that over and over again in your life in a capitalist society, you are being called to maybe have a different profession or job from your parents, or move to a different part of the country, or suddenly a new immigrant group has come into your neighborhood, and you have to establish new kinds of relations, or whatever it may be. And from this Anglo-American religious background, we see that as the fulfillment of our religious vocation. Our tradition, in a sense, our tradition is a tradition of change. And I think what that has meant is that over and over again we have been more ready to accept change, even revel in it, and try to push it faster, because we want more.
HH: Now we look at…you talk about the Russian attempt and collapse back on itself after the disillusion of the Soviet Union. China is now trying this, to surf as much change as possible. Are they going to be more successful at it in the embrace of this dynamic of dynamics than Russia has been?
WRM: Well, the Chinese seem to have more of an entrepreneurial spirit. One of the things I found traveling in Russia is that Russians, in Russian culture, people actually believe, really, that if a merchant goes onto a farm and buys the grain from the farmer at one price, and then goes to town and sells the grain to people in town at another price, the merchant is defrauding somebody. Either the farmer is getting too little, or the people in the village are paying too much, that capitalism, trade is theft. Now China has, I think, much more of a cultural willingness to handle entrepreneurialship. It’s kind of a good thing. The Chinese cultural problems with capitalism have, I think, ultimately to do a lot more with the institutional framework, you know, where it’s very important, I think, as capitalism goes on, to have a flexible democratic political system.
HH: What’s the Muslim world think about it? You know, there are limitations on usury that…
WRM: Well, again, one of the things I did a little bit of was looking back through history, Christianity once believed that usury was contrary to God’s law. And in fact, in Dante, bankers are in hell right next to sodomites, because trying to breed money from money was considered as unnatural as sodomy in the Medieval Church. So we had to work that through, and say well, there’s usury which is bad, and then there’s lending and interest, which is good.
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HH: It’s a feast. It’s a controversial feast. Part of it will make you have some indigestion, I’m sure. But a lot of it will give you a great deal of nutrition. We’re talking about reforming of religions. One of the themes that I quarrel with throughout God And Gold is you’re overstating the ease with which this is going to happen, or maybe optimistically. A famous episode on this program, Father Joseph Fessio came on after he’d been at a seminar with his teacher, Benedict, and he reported that Benedict said the problem is the Koran is the word of God. It’s not the interpretation of the word of God, it’s not God’s inspired writing, it’s the word of God, and it cannot be reformed. That evoked an enormous amount of controversy. Father Fessio had to come back and say well, I guess I must have misunderstood him, because the Vatican was not happy with him. But there is that difference between Christian texts and missing manuscripts, and Mohammed receiving the word of God. Doesn’t that make it more difficult to achieve what you are obviously hoping will be achieved, which is a reinterpretation of the toughest parts of the Koran?
WRM: Well, again, I would say that if you look at what some of the early Protestant reformers said about the Bible, and indeed, there are many people walking around today whose view of the Bible is pretty close to what a Wahabi Muslim’s view of the Koran is, it is a holy book that tells you everything you ought to know, it was verbally inspired by God, it cannot be changed, it is authoritative, it judges you, you don’t judge it. So you know, I think in terms of…I don’t think Muslims have a higher view of the revelation than Christians do. I think we are alike in that respect. Now I myself am a believing Christian. I believe that the doctrine of the Trinity is a much richer understanding of who God is, and how God is, and that the notion that God, that it’s intrinsic in God to reach out and build community, that God is love, to me seems like a fundamental insight that leads to a much richer worldview. That’s my vision. But then I look at in terms of whether a religion can be a basis for a successful capitalist society, I for example look at Judaism, which is not Christianity, and has a different religion. But it’s clear that for centuries, many Jews have found a way to be very, very religious Jews, and be very successful in a capitalist society. And the State of Israel has been extremely successful. So the question of whether a religion is true, or the question of how it’s interpreted, are complicated questions. But history tells us, it seems to me, that while Protestant Christianity was the best basis for the formation of capitalism in the Anglo-American world, Catholicism ultimately became a very successful one. Its was not at the beginning. And also, Islam, it seems to me, could well be. Now can I be sure that it will be? No. Do I see things in the Islamic world of people trying to make this happen? I do.
HH: I want to make sure we spend a few minutes on one of the reasons the book is being celebrated, and I among it, is you pay very serious attention to religious history as part of the West. You don’t segregate it, you don’t treat it like the stepchild in the basement. You say this is key, and you talk about tradition, revelation and reason, and you talk about the delicate balance between Protestants and Catholics in England, and how it was replicated here. This is not often studied, and I’ve got to get to the line where you say there’s this worry out there that we will end up with a theocratic system in the United States. I can’t find it…that there are people worried about theocracy when you’re saying no, worry about balance, and make sure that we don’t overdo religion and we don’t underdo religion, that we preserve balance.
WRM: Right…correct. Well, again, you look at in 18th Century England, you had these wonderful people who were, who talked…you know, Attison and some of the others, and actually some of the first weblogs, the Spectator…and talk about the difference between religion and fanaticism, that religion is always good, fanaticism is always bad, and is a perversion of religion. And we in this country, it seems to me, have been great in large part because we have a deep religious commitment which is also coupled with an acceptance of pluralism, and that the truth is that there is no single religion which could establish some kind of theocratic dictatorship in the United States. There are too many other people with too many different religious views. If we lost touch as a people with a sincere religious conviction, and with people feeing that they are connected to transcendent value to God, and that this shapes their daily lives and their values, I think as a country, we would be in deep trouble.
HH: One of the things I loved about God And Gold is you recognize and write about the fact that there are secular fanatics.
HH: Fanatics about secularism, people who wish to drive faith completely from the public square, or even in large part.
WRM: That’s right, and this, it seems to me, is again, fortunately, we’re the kind of country where that’s just hard to do, because there are too many people here who believe in God…
HH: Are the elites going that way in a rather dramatic fashion, and on the academy, especially?
WRM: Well, you know, they’re trying, but they’re getting some pushback, for example, from you.
HH: And, well, Evangelicals on the Ivy League campuses, you also point to.
WRM: That’s right. And again, I think in a funny way, our society becomes more mariticratic, and it gets tougher for kids to get into these schools, and the competition is fairer, I think more religious kids are going to end up going into these schools, because you know, for a teenager to have a lot of discipline, to stay indoors studying, to have the kind of habits and commitments that enable a teenager to get a high grade average, and do all the kinds of things you need to do to get into these schools, it helps to be religious, or at least to come out of a religious home, and to have that inner source of discipline.
HH: You also write about dynamic changes underway in American Evangelicalism. We only have about a minute to the break, but I did think, at first, I was saying don’t you know everyone goes on missions, that Evangelicals are engaged with the world, but you do recognize that as being one of the great strengths of American Evangelicalism now.
WRM: Yeah, and in fact, last summer, I spent a lot of time with, or spent a little over a week with Rick Warren and a group from Saddleback in Rwanda.
HH: You finished the book in Rwanda.
WRM: That’s right. I finished the book in Rwanda with Rick, actually.
HH: You see, there’s nothing more ambitious than American Evangelicalism than to embrace the world and change it. And by the way, that’s got its counterparts in American Catholicism.
HH: Is that appreciated by the Council On Foreign Relations elites?
WRM: Well, it is by me.
HH: Ah, that wasn’t the question.
WRM: I think more than that, our president, Richard Haass, has actually at the Council, we have now done probably more than we’ve ever done in terms of we’ve established an outreach to religious groups, we have news conferences and so on for them, we have programs on religion and foreign policy. So I actually think there is much more understanding of that than there was ten years ago.
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HH: I want to thank you, Walter Russell Mead, for joining us for a long conversation about your book, God And Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World. It’s available at www.amazon.com, bookstores everywhere, it’s linked at www.hughhewitt.com. Can I go out with the big question? You’re going to get a New York Times obituary, because you’re who you are, the Henry Kissinger fellow at the Council On Foreign Relations. What do you want it to say, I mean, in real terms? What are you trying to do?
WRM: Yeah, good. Well, I do think of what Woody Allen once said he wanted to be on his tombstone. He’s not here yet.
HH: You don’t get that option in the New York Times obituary.
WRM: Exactly. You know, I think I’d like it to be said that I was someone who tried to articulate classic Anglo-American values, including religious values, that I was successful, I hope, in giving younger generations of Americans and American scholars a more integrated way of understanding their country’s traditions, that I helped create some international understanding, and also I always like what G.K. Chesterton once said he wanted written on his tombstone, which was his sins were scarlet, but his books were read.
HH: And then finally, who do you want to be the next president of the United States?
WRM: I honestly haven’t figured that out yet. I’m waiting to see.
HH: Among the Republicans, who do you think is best qualified to run this country, post-Bush?
WRM: Again, hard to say. I think one of the things that has to be done after Bush is to, look, the country lost confidence in the liberal intelligentsia, I think, during the Carter era, and has not recovered the confidence. And I think in the Bush administration, a lot of people have lost confidence in conservative, the conservative movement. And the splits that we’re seeing among conservatives…so I guess the movement itself is trying to rethink where it stands now, and where it needs to go. So I think what we need in a sense is, let’s say, a Truman-like figure who can do what’s necessary for the United States in foreign policy, but we would also need somebody maybe more Eisenhower, this is who can get more of a consensus and an understanding among more people about the kind of threat we face, and the kind of things we need to do, because this division in the country between people who believe that we are in a deeply threatening situation, and that we need to engage our full energy and attention in dealing with it, and those who just don’t, that is a very, very serious, and even under some conditions, a crippling disadvantage. So I would say we need a president who can speak to the center, the common sense center, and build a much stronger consensus than we now have in the country.
HH: I don’t have enough time to pose it as a question, but I’ll also say your celebration of the need to understand history, not just in the presidency, but throughout the American curriculum, is long overdue, and I hope taken to heart. Walter Russell Mead, a great joy, God And Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World, it’s linked at www.hughhewitt.com. Thank you for spending time with us today, Walter Russell Mead.
WRM: It was a great pleasure and a privilege.
End of interview.