Dr. Larry Arnn of Hillsdale College on Statesmanship
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HH: This is a special show. And I want you to pay very close attention to it. Here we are, two weeks, really, from the start of the election cycle that is among the most critical I have ever watched, and maybe the most critical ever. And a lot of the conversation has been about issues of small import, gaffes, faux pas, not really the question of who ought to lead this great republic. And that requires a very different kind of consideration. And today’s show is devoted to that. It’s devoted to who is a statesman, how do you find them, and why do you need them. And to walk us through that, through the history of that, it’s a special deal, so I want you to pay attention from start to finish, is my old friend, Larry Arnn. Dr. Larry Arnn is the president of Hillsdale College. And he is an extraordinary scholar. He is also a frequent visitor on this program. And every year at the end on this show, I replay a show I did with him ten years ago on the history of ideas and Western Civilization. But today, we’re focusing on specifically the history of statesmanship, because Hillsdale College has a graduate school of statesmanship, a first principles approach to graduate education in philosophy and American politics. It offers a PhD and an M.A. And so they study this stuff, and so with that introduction, Dr. Arnn, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
LA: How are you, Hugh?
HH: I’m good. Now I have to make a ritual slam at you somehow. You are from Arkansas, and Arkansas did lose to LSU last week.
LA: (laughing) Yeah, but the players from Arkansas can read.
HH: (laughing) Okay. That just lost me every affiliate in Louisiana, I think.
LA: But wait, I didn’t say anything about the boys in Louisiana. They can all read, too.
HH: Now Dr. Arnn, let’s start out. This is an ambitious project. And when I originally sent your staff my outline for today, beginning with Pericles, and ending with Reagan, they said I’m not sure he wants to do that. But you have been studying up, I gather?
LA: Yeah, I have to cram, because you, like that thing ten years ago, you asked me to talk about things I don’t know anything about.
HH: That’s the best kind of interview, but that’s not true, because if you study one statesman, have you studied them all?
LA: If you study statesmanship, it gives you a tool to understand them all. And if you study one really great one, it gives you a standard against which to judge the others.
HH: Now what do you think of the project that I’m proposing here, that here we are at the beginning of an election year. We’ll replay this show many, many times, and people can, perhaps we’ll give it over to Hillsdale. They can post it at www.hillsdale.edu as we’ve done with our earlier long conversations. But what do you think of the project, the lens through which I proposed people view their choice ahead?
LA: The reason I think it’s much needed is that a lot of these guys running for president in history, in recent history, don’t know what it is to be a statesman. And they make a mistake about what line of work they’re in, and so not many of them. There is actually one who can kind of do it in the race right now, but I’m not going to say who that is. Not many of them can really answer a question that’s put to them from the point of view of a statesman. And great statesmen can always do that. And they know what it is they do. And our guys and girls today, they mistake themselves for schoolteachers, for public administrators of various projects, for generals, and they’re not those things. They’re something else. And most of them don’t know what it is.
HH: Now I am holding in my hand, by way of introduction for our audience, a book called The Founders’ Key: The Divine And Natural Connection Between the Declaration And The Constitution, And What We Risk By Losing It. It is by my guest, Dr. Larry Arnn. It is not yet available when we first air this program in late December, 2011. It’s an advance reader’s copy. I can’t sell it, and I can’t distribute it, according to the cover I have received. But I can read it. And at the conclusion of The Founders’ Key, it says that we are entering a period where we need a work of restoration and recovery of many years. It will entail the growth of civic institutions that match and surpass those built in early America. In other words, you’re an optimist about what we can get done, but you are very specific about how it must be done, and who must lead it.
LA: I think that’s right. I think we have a pattern. You know, the good thing about history is it never repeats itself. But the ways things work, the patterns of things, can be discovered in it. And so I think in American history, which is a particularly coherent history, it’s…not many countries like ours in the way they began, or in the nature of the arguments they have. In American history in particular, you can find the way of things, in my opinion.
HH: Why did you name this book The Founders’ Key?
LA: Well, I think what the book is about, is I think there’s a big thing that’s so much ignored, and that is the Constitution of the United States, and the Declaration of Independence fit together, and they form together a key to unlock the problem of government. And it takes both of them, and they overlap very heavily. And almost nobody ever treats them that way anymore.
HH: Now the cover, by the way, this is a little curious aside, has got a framed portrait of some of the founders and the framers. But it also has a sword through the bottom of it with the initials G.W. Any particular reason why you picked this?
LA: Well, it’s a bunch of founders, and G.W. refers to George Washington.
HH: Of course.
LA: And he’s the greatest of them. So it seems right. You know, America was made, there were three million people in round numbers who lived in America when America, when the United States of America was made. And in one way, those three million are the builders of our republic. In another way, the subset of them that supported the Revolution and fought for it, are the builders. In another way, the hundred thousand, or fifty thousand, I don’t know what the number is, who fought in the army and sacrificed for it in some way of time and effort and blood and money…and then, you know, there’s a few, a couple thousand, maybe, who were political leaders. And then there’s four or five, and they were just very important, and you can make a case that each one of that four or five was indispensable. And what they did, in the book, I compare the making of America to the making of a statue. The word constitution and the word statute, and the word statue are cognate. They all come from the Latin word which means to set something firmly in place. So a statue is a work of art, and America is a work of art. And a work of art, the one I mention, is something by Michelangelo, it has four things that make it what it is. It’s made of something. The United States is made of the people and the land. They were very unusual, not ever been, a group of people who came from a well-developed civilization to a wilderness to kind of start over, but bringing with them what was developed before. And that never happened before. In fact, one of the reasons western stories, western movies, for example, are interesting to Americans is the same thing happens again on the frontier. So the land and the people are very important. But then, and that’s what we might call the material cause, just like the marble in a statue, and the efficient cause of Michelangelo’s David, for example, is Michelangelo sitting and hacking away at the marble, and polishing and shining it. Well, these founders are the efficient cause of America. They made the country. And then Michelangelo’s David has a formal cause, and that’s a boy, David. And it looks like a boy. You know, the Pieta, another very beautiful thing by Michelangelo, looks like a mother and her fallen son, right? They’re the form. That’s what gives it its form. The formal cause of the United States of America is its Constitution. And then it has a final cause, and that final cause is what moved Michelangelo. What beautiful thing inspired him and drove him to do what he did? It was a very difficult labor, he says of the Sistine ceiling that he painted, that it almost killed him. Well, what moved the founders? What is the final cause of America? What beautiful thing commands our love to move us in a certain direction? And those things are all mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. And you can’t understand the United States without understanding those four things about it. And the miracle, and an amazing thing about our country, is how coherent those things are, and how they are there to be understood.
HH: Do you think the men and woman running for president understand those things?
LA: No, but you know, some of them are pretty good. And they, you know, I have a kind of…you know, like you, Hugh, I’m a strange fellow, and that is I’ve read a lot of books and thought about things for a long time. And that’s one way of living one’s life. Statesmen and citizens learn a lot of things from nature. And the great statesmen are unusually perceptive, and also often, they often have a lot of learning, too. And Coolidge said of statesmanship that it is, a great statesman is like an ambassador of providence sent to reveal to us our unknown selves. Great statesmen can see things. And so great ones don’t have to read Aristotle, which I happen to have read and I teach it here. They can figure things out. And so a lot of what I just said, by the way, I can show you, I might even mention it today, where Winston Churchill said things that are very like that.
HH: When we come back, we’ll begin our long walk through the history of statesmanship with Dr. Larry Arnn. He’s the president of Hillsdale College. If you’re not already receiving their free newsletter, you ought to go sign up for it during the break. Just go to www.hillsdale.edu and sign up for it there.
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HH: How long have you been the president of Hillsdale now, Dr. Arnn?
LA: Almost twelve years.
HH: A dozen years? Very well. And he’s just about to launch the Graduate School of Statesmanship. I believe it’s already launched, actually. But to take it to the next level, he’s also the author of a brand new book, The Founders’ Key, which I was just talking about. You know, Arnn, one of the reasons I put up with the slings and arrows you’ve thrown my way, and the many discourtesies and slanders you’ve heaped upon me these many years I’ve known you, is that you do teach me things. And in this book, The Founders’ Key, I just want to say I was astonished to learn, and I’m embarrassed I did not know this, that the Northwest Ordinance was a mere 3,000 words long, and the Homestead Act, which you write, “Transferred about 10% of the land area of the United States to unnamed, private parties in lots of 160 acres each, the only condition was that a family live on the land and work it five years. Eventually, more than 1.5 million people availed themselves of this opportunity. President Abraham Lincoln signed it into law in May of 1862. And like so much that he did, is among the most generous acts of government policy in human history. It applies to all, it can be read and understood by all. It is 1,380 words long.”
LA: Isn’t that wonderful?
HH: It is so remarkable, the economy with which so much good was accomplished, and the juxtaposition with the length of which so much bad is being done to the country right now.
LA: And see, you can’t, by the way, if you write, James Madison writes this in the Federalist Papers. If you write short, clear, you know, and by the way, if you can get it, beautiful laws? Then everyone can participate in them. And if you write the kind of laws we have today, only experts can know what they mean. And that means experts become powerful. The Northwest Ordinance makes everybody powerful. And the Homestead Act does the same thing. The Obamacare bill makes only those who are experts powerful.
HH: That’s well said. Now before we begin our march, tell us about the Graduate School of Statesmanship, and what it is that Hillsdale intends to accomplish with this, because I think it’s going to have enormous appeal, I mean enormous appeal across the United States when people learn of it.
LA: Thank you. I think it will. It actually…about twenty years ago, I can’t remember, one day, and I was working at the Claremont Institute, where I first met Hugh Hewitt, one day I sat up in my chair and I realized something. If these here founders are saying that there are some ideas to understand, and if you don’t understand them, the political system will go wrong, and if these here founders tried to set up a national university to teach those ideas, and failed, George Washington left his largest bequest for the National University, and if they left a curriculum behind for it to follow in outline form, somebody ought to do that work. And they tried for twenty years, and they never got it done. And so about that long ago, whenever it was, I decided I was going to try to get that done. And when I got a call from Hillsdale College about being the president of the college in 2000, one of the things I told them was I was so keen to do this thing, that I couldn’t really consider another job. I was going to do it. Well, I was, I thought. I didn’t know how. And they said that sounds like a really cool idea. And I said well you know, you’re an old, beautiful undergraduate college. You don’t want anybody messing with it and starting a graduate program. And the chairman, Bill Brodbeck, a good friend of mine, replied, well now you’re telling me our job. Who are you to do that? And so it’s taken a long time, but we’re taking applications now. They’re coming in strong. And next year, we are beginning the Hillsdale College Graduate School of Statesmanship. And it teaches the books and ideas in political philosophy in which the founders were deeply steeped. And it will equip one to know what the country is about. And also, you’ll have to learn along the way what you are, what kind of thing is it, a human being? What is it to be one of those things? What’s different about that than other kinds of things? And the founding of America is built on those distinctions. And we’ve largely lost sight of them today.
HH: Will the graduate school of statesmanship be located in Michigan? Or is it going to be in Washington, D.C? Or both places?
LA: It’s going to be mainly in Michigan, and the reason it’s to be here is because it’s cold here, and we don’t want people coming who are not serious.
HH: And there is no football to distract you, either.
LA: You know, watch the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, and you’ll see Hillsdale graduate, Jared Veldheer playing left tackle for those guys, third on the all-pro balloting right now, and he’s only a sophomore in pro ball.
HH: But some of it will be in D.C., will it not?
LA: Well, when you finish your coursework, then my idea, and we haven’t worked all this out, yet, but we have this really great center in Washington, D.C., on Capitol Hill, called the Kirby Center, Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center For Constitutional Studies And Citizenship. And it’s a beautiful building, right across the street from the Heritage Foundation. And it is, the whole thing is built as a place to study, and also a living monument to the founding of the United States. And I invite you to tour it, because it’s gorgeous. And Hillsdale College students go there, and they intern, and they get connected, and they learn things about the nation. My theory is they’ll do more teaching than they do learning. At least I hope that’s what’ll happen. So these graduate students will have a chance to go there when they finish their coursework. So that’s how it plays into it.
HH: Now my relatively new friend, Father Robert Spitzer, who is a remarkable man, and he was until fairly recently the president of Gonzaga University, and is a Jesuit, and he called me up and asked to be on the show to talk about his book, and he said there’s an old Jesuit rule, which is if you do not ask, you do not ask, and so that’s why he called me up and asked. I am curious, let’s ask people, are you fully funded at the Graduate School of Statesmanship? If someone is sitting out there thinking this is a marvelous project, and by the way, Arnn has no idea I’m about to ask him this, and they want to put their name on it, or they want to put their resources behind it in a significant way, because what you are talking about moves them in some way, can they do that?
LA: Yes, indeed. Thank you. The Graduate School of Statesmanship is partially funded, and it needs, and it isn’t named after anyone right now, and it needs scholarship money as the largest single thing it needs, and it need one more chair for a professor to sit in, as we say in the academic world. That means he’s got to work. And so there is some significant need, and we’re working on that, and we would love to talk to people who are interested in helping.
HH: I really believe, I wouldn’t say this, I’ve known Arnn long enough, I don’t have to shine Arnn on, on anything, that if someone wants to really leave a legacy in the world of academics and leadership and statesmanship in America, they will find Arnn. They will call him up and come see him and talk about funding this particular school taught by these particular people at this particular time, because if you read The Founders’ Key, you’ll understand sort of the urgency of the moment. And I was just there. I was just up at Hillsdale. You have wonderful people, Larry. I’m not even sure who your faculty is. I met some of them on this, but they are just really wonderful people who are invested in this, emotionally and mentally, and in many ways that you don’t find on college and graduate school campuses in America. So if you’re driving around and you’re listening to this, and you want to be a part of something that is going to matter, find Arnn – www.hillsdale.edu.
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HH: I asked him to be ready to talk about a dozen different people, and I asked at the very beginning to talk about Pericles. Larry, the reason I start with that is I think that this may be, his funeral oration, may be the first time that I as a young man was ever thrilled by a speech not delivered verbally that I heard. And it was in a government course. Stanley Hoffman was teaching it. He assigned the book, The Peloponnesian Wars, and there is the funeral oration. And it’s an amazing thing. Why is Pericles sort of held up as the, if not the first, one of the earliest statesmen?
LA: Well, he’s unique. He gets this honor. One of the most important things that ever happened in history happened in the 4th and 5th Centuries B.C. in Greece, where there was the first great flourishing of the life of the mind that makes one of the two main streams that form Western civilization. And the Greek city-states were the bed in which that flourishing took place. And the greatest book, in my opinion, ever written about ethics or about politics, in my opinion, the ethics thing, I think, is hardly controversial, was written by Aristotle. And in the Ethics, Aristotle names Pericles as the example of a capacity, statesmanship. So that’s a big deal. And nobody ever got that before. And Pericles also, in the second book of history every written, written by Thucydides, Thucydides just can’t shut up about how great Pericles was. And so he just has an amazing place, a unique place, in the story of statesmanship.
HH: What is it that he did? And what is it about him that made him that person?
LA: Well, I’m going to fault him a little bit, but first, I’ll tell you what was so great about him. He was this, can I tell you what it is to be a statesman? Should I do that?
LA: Statesmanship arises from human nature. And if you just step back for a minute and think about how weird you are, you can see what I’m saying, because in many, many respects, everybody listening to this program is just like a dog. He’s got to sleep, he’s got to eat, he’s got to drink, on his mind all the time is the things he needs. And if he doesn’t attend to them, he’ll die. So we’re necessitous creatures. And on the other hand, unlike a dog, something in us stands outside what we do, and judges that. And so the question of the just and the unjust, the advantageous and the disadvantageous, to quote Aristotle, is always on our mind even as we meet necessity. We are required by our nature to try to do good. And that means since we have to solve all these problems of necessity, I’m giving you the account in the Nicomachean Ethics of this, it’s the best one I know, in the effort to solve all these problems of necessity, we have to know a lot of details, and we have to weigh them up and measure them extremely carefully. But if that’s all we do, we’re just like a very clever dog, whereas if also we have some notion of the good, and we can describe it, then our coping with necessity is never purely a pursuit of the good, but always informed by that and in that direction. And so that’s what all prudential reasoning involves – deep, quick, rapid, accurate knowledge of the things around us, some people are just really good at that, and knowledge of the good. Well, I won’t make the argument now, but this capacity we have that lets us stand outside ourselves and be moral judges of ourselves is exactly, it’s called reason, but in Greek, the word for reason and the word for speech are the same word. The word is logos. In fact, Jesus is referred to as Logos in the first verse of the Gospel of John. It goes En arche en ho Lógos. In the beginning was the Word. So if reason, this capacity that lets us know right from wrong, and speech are the same thing, it follows that something central in our nature both lets us make moral distinctions, and lets us talk to each other. And so we get connected up. And that makes us naturally political, argue the classic philosophers. And this natural political nature, this natural political capacity we have, means that these choices we make are made in common.
HH: And when we come back from break, hang on to that. When we come back from break, we’ll talk about how that connects up to statesmanship, these choices that we make in common.
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HH: When we went to break, Dr. Arnn was explaining why the choices we make in common bind us together and create something called politics. Continue on, Dr. Arnn.
LA: Well, some people are just really clever at figuring out practical things. Everybody knows somebody like that. And some people are just extraordinarily good at it. And some people are very good at describing ultimate, beautiful, inspiring things. You probably know some preacher who’s good at that, or somebody like that, or Hugh Hewitt himself ain’t too bad. And by the way, he said I slandered him. Slander is uncomfortable truth when it comes among friends.
LA: But Hugh is good, right? And he’s got ability that way. Some people have both of those abilities. And you need that in politics, because politics is the authoritative place where we come together to make choices that always have a moral dimension, right? And some statesmen are just really great at that. And in the classical canon, the one who’s mentioned the most at being great at that is Pericles. And I’ll just tell you one thing he did that’ll show you what he’s like. Pericles comes after the two great movements of the Greeks. The first movement was the great war with the Persians, which is the subject of Herodotus’ History, the first history book every written, and the second was a war between, or among the Greeks, called the Peloponnesian War. And Pericles comes mostly between those two wars. He died in the second year of the 27 year long Peloponnesian War. And what had happened after the defeat of the Persians at Thermopylae and Plataea and Salamis, the three great battles, was that the Greeks were the greatest thing going, and they had reached a peak. And of course, immediately they began to squabble and fight, and they ultimately, by the way, more or less destroyed themselves. But what was going on was Pericles was an Athenian, one of the two greatest Greek cities, and they were having trouble with Sparta, the first really militaristic society in the Western world, at least. And Pericles found that he couldn’t keep agreement with the Spartans, and so one thing he did, and he just had a gift for this, was that he united an enormous coalition against Sparta by taxing them. Isn’t that odd?
LA: But why did they love it? Because of what he built, because, you ever heard of the Parthenon?
LA: Or all of the structures on the Acropolis? In other words, he enrolled them in a magnificent achievement. And the reason Hugh likes the funeral oration, and what the funeral oration is, is a eulogy to the war dead from the first year of the Peloponnesian War, which war, by the way, eventually destroyed Athens. He lost, right?
LA: But he described in magnanimous, great-souled language, the greatness of Athens. And so you can’t read that without understanding you’re hearing the description of a great people. And he doesn’t just move Hugh Hewitt in the 21st Century with that description. The people around him thrilled to that. And he was the greatest statesman of the Greeks. And you know, like the statesmen of the Greeks, he was eventually prosecuted and exiled, and had every other thing go wrong with him. But for about fifteen years, he was the man.
HH: Interesting point, though, about statesmen. They do not have an endless upward trajectory to their lives.
LA: No. Politics is, the last word in the title of the last book that Winston Churchill ever wrote is tragedy, because this Earth is not Heaven, and things go wrong. And none of us is perfect, and certainly Pericles was not, in my opinion. I’ll tell you what I fault him for, if you want me to.
LA: If you read the funeral oration, and if you read in the beginning of Thucydides’ history of the Peloponnesian War, Pericles’ speech at the onset of the war, both of them suffer from something, in my opinion, that the very greatest statesmen don’t suffer from, Churchill, for example, not at all. They’re a little hubristic, to use a Greek term. They’re a little arrogant. In the funeral oration, one of his points is we do these great things, and they’re easy for us, right? Are great things ever easy? In the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, in counseling his fellow citizens about the war, he says you’ve got to fight it, and he says we really can’t lose, because we have this naval power, we have more capital, they really won’t have a means of assailing us, and so we will just go from strength to strength. And that isn’t what happened. And that means they went to war, and see, the Greeks are kind of a different people from us. There’s something to that point. But they really went to war on the argument that our greatness will carry us, and this war will be an expression of that. And George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill never went to war on that argument.
HH: You know, it’s very interesting for this audience, everyone who’s a regular guest here eventually shows up at Hillsdale, one of whom is Victor Davis Hanson, who goes there I think annually to teach the students. And he warned at the beginning of the Obama years that hubris would cripple him.
LA: And I personally pray that he’s correct.
HH: (laughing) Well, I don’t think there’s much doubt about it having happened already.
HH: …in terms of hubristic…but not necessarily destructive of the quality of leadership. It just may be a byproduct of flawed statesman.
LA: Yeah, well, but see, remember, what happened in Athens, by the way, is that the Spartans did what was predictable they would do. They went and took all the farmland away from Athens, and that meant all the landowners on that farmland, and all the people who made their living from it, were crowded into the city. And of course, they were unhappy. And that bred, you know, they were losing their property, that bred discontent. Pericles had sort of foreseen that, and so he thought we’ll get our grain and we’ll get our food, you know, because we have this long wall that connects the city of Athens to the port of Athens, and they can’t get through that. And then they can’t contest us on the sea. So we’ll get our grain from somewhere else.
HH: And the flaw in his thinking when we return.
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HH: Dr. Arnn, when we went to break, and we conclude our first hour, Pericles took great faith in the long wall that protected Athens, but it didn’t work out.
LA: No, and it didn’t work out for a lot of reasons, but one of them was, and there were three, one of them was the people who were dispossessed of their land were carrying a big burden, and they were unhappy, and they spread dissent in the city. The second was the city was overcrowded. A plague broke out. Pericles himself died early in the war not of the plague, but he lost a child to the plague. And they lost 25% of their population to the plague. And the third thing is Sparta, by the way, Sparta also was destroyed in the war, because Sparta did two things that were terribly unexpected. One is they changed their nature. They became a sea power. And that altered fundamentally what they were, and you know, because they were a militaristic society with these many hundreds of thousands of slaves tending their soul, and they were a great military power, and they could keep the slaves down and fight enemies as long as they didn’t go very far from home. To become a sea power is a very different thing. And then they also make an alliance with Persia. And that’s the kind of thing that Pericles might have imagined. And maybe he did imagine, but he didn’t say. And if he did imagine, and he didn’t say, then it’s possible that he thought the war was worth it, even if you lost, as a movement, a demonstration of greatness. And it’s not for nothing that the suggestion is made in Plato’s dialogue Gorgias, that Pericles identified greatness as something not having to do with goodness. There’s a criticism of him there. And that’s also implied amidst all the praise in Thucydides. And so I wonder, there’s no question that he’s a great statesman, and one of the greatest. I wonder if he’s as great as the very greatest.
HH: A question we will explore in Hours Two and Three, and is also sort of a warning. That was a very nicely delivered warning, Larry, about charisma and reputation, and agenda. And so we’ll come back and talk about this as begin our election year at the end of this year. And this will replay many times over the years ahead, and I think it will always be relevant. But it’s especially relevant on the eve of 2012 that we talk about what it is that makes for great leaders, what the flaws in those leaders are, how to spot them, and what to look for with Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College.
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HH: Last hour, I blew out my interview outline completely, and so we have to play catch up now, Dr. Larry Arnn.
HH: And so in one segment, I want to go way back in the way back machine to Caesar and to Constantine, and ask you just generally what is it that distinguishes them as great leaders through history? Why do they have something to offer us, even as we pick a president in 2012?
LA: You picked the people we’re talking about, Hugh, and I noticed, going down the list, that all of them except one have in common remarkable facility in war. And so through war, Caesar both destroyed the Roman republic, and converted it. The Roman republic had already been destroyed. It was now an oligarchy, people ruling for money. And he turned it into an autocracy, that is to say, people ruling on their own authority. And it lasted a very long time. And he didn’t mean to do that. He meant better than that. But that’s what he achieved, and I don’t know if he would have done better than that if he had more time, but of course, he was murdered by people that he had conquered and then forgave, a sign of his good intentions. And we’re going fast, but I’ll read this second to the last paragraph in Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar. Antony says of him, Mark Antony, his colleague and successor, this was the noblest Roman of them all. And think what that would be, by the way, to be the noblest Roman of them all. All the conspirators, save only he, did that they did in envy of great Caesar. He only in a general, honest thought, and common good to all, made one of them. His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed up in him that nature might stand up and say to all the world, this was a man. Now the point of that is a great statesman is an exemplar of what it is to be a human being. And Caesar was that. Constantine was the first ruler in history to lead large armies to battle in faith in Jesus Christ. And the Roman empire was in some ways necessary to the spread of Christianity in two ways, and one of them was it was so far reaching as to be almost universal, and Christianity is a universal religion. And so it wouldn’t be a great seedbed for it to be in the old Greek city-states, each with its own gods, whereas Rome had had to alter that to get so big. And then the second way has to do with Constantine, because he’s a very interesting guy, because he was a very faithful man, very devout, attributed his victories, and Lord, literally, I mean that, could he not fight? He was an amazing guy on a battlefield. And he attributed them in the most devout way. It’s like he’s a medieval, or a crusader, almost. And yet in the empire, he established toleration not just for Christianity, but for all that obeyed the moral law, a kind of a model of what would reach its full development in the United States. So that’s an enormous change, and in my opinion, a very great one.
HH: Now you mentioned at the beginning of that that my list of people, and you added to it, and we will add Margaret Thatcher to it as well as we move through this, most of them have facility with war, or leading war, not necessarily as warriors. But isn’t that necessarily, you’re only going to find statesmen in period of peril, aren’t you?
LA: Well, you certainly get a better chance, and you know, in my opinion, Winston Churchill would have been the man he was if he’d lived when Disraeli lived, when things were not that difficult. But we wouldn’t know it, because his, it’s the same reason that Thucydides gives for writing the history of the Peloponnesian War. He doesn’t think that war is the purpose of the Greek city. No serious person thinks that unless you’re a Spartan, and Aristotle faults the Spartans for thinking that. What he thinks is when you put them in motion, and under stress, you can see better what they are. And that’s right. That means that great times show what people can do.
HH: Does, in your opinion, does experience in combat as a young person make it much more likely that you’ll be a statesman as a senior? And that, I think of Churchill in World War I, and you think of Washington in the French and Indian War, and of Napoleon early, rising through the revolution. What do you think?
LA: Well, it, of course it depends, but not every soldier is a great statesman. But we have Churchill’s testimony about that question. Churchill wrote a novel, and the novel is called Savrola, and it’s about a vigorous, young statesman, and of course, it’s really just about him. But there’s a change in the novel between him and the guy, the guy, Savrola, who’s the protagonist. He had not been a soldier, and Churchill quotes him saying, once he’s talking to a soldier, he says I must qualify myself by reading from the book of war. So I think Churchill agrees with you.
HH: Now last question in this segment, Constantine, of this list of people we’re talking about, Pericles, Caesar, Constantine, Napoleon, Bismarck, Disraeli, Lloyd George, Churchill, Washington, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, I would guess that Constantine is the most obscure to a Western audience. Why do you think he does not figure much in the public consciousness of those who study leadership?
LA: That’s a good question. You know, the city that he founded, Constantinople, which he modestly named after himself, is in the east. It’s way over there in Byzantium. And so it’s possible that has something to do with it. There are people here at Hillsdale College who think that Constantine and Byzantium, and Constantinople are done an injustice. They’re not understood well enough. They should be greater. And I think there’s something to that, yeah. And by the way, he is one of the, he’s either the last, or one of the two last, it depends on how you read it, who actually ruled the Roman empire as a unity.
LA: Because it was busy breaking up when he was around.
HH: Now you also just mentioned in passing an interesting thing. He modestly named for himself. Modesty is not much familiar with great statesmen, is it?
LA: Oh, I think that’s not true.
LA: I think, you know, I think that my favorite three are Washington and Lincoln and Churchill. And they’re very different kind of guys. But I think that all three of them are humble in ways, for example, that Pericles was not.
HH: All right, let’s switch to someone who was not humble, but who was certainly a statesman, Napoleon. And now we’ve gone forward 1,500, let me see, 1,400 years in our timeline, and I’m sure there’s some very distinguished people in the interim. But Napoleon, what is it about him that people are attracted to and understand as being his greatness? You walk into his tomb in Paris, and you realize here was someone who changed everything.
LA: Yeah, he did. He changed everything and nothing. It’s hard to find anybody who did as much as he did in public life, because he was born in this little town in Italy, and you know, I think he was 23, he might have been, I forget the exact year.
HH: Corsica, yeah.
LA: He became a leading figure in war before he was in his mid-20s. And he was an amazing, creative genius. That is to say, and you know, war is very exposing of one part, of all the parts, probably, of the gift of statesmanship, because the reason most generals are not very good at it is because it’s so confusing. And they can’t really hold all the factors in their mind, right? The reason generals like frontal assaults is if you do that, you always know where the enemy is, right? Whereas if you try to flank you, it’s just logical fact, draw a picture on a piece of paper and you’ll see, you can’t flank anybody without exposing your own flank, and that’s dangerous. Well, some people walk out on a battlefield, and everything is just clear to them all the time. And then if you add this factor with Napoleon, it didn’t bother him much to lose people. And so there’s that, right? He was just awesome. To go up against him was to fear. And that’s one thing. And another thing is he, you know, in a period of time that he had when he had power, he invented a whole new system of law, and it’s better than the system that went before. It’s not as good as the one we’ve got, but it’s better than what the French had. And it is, by the way, more equal and more just, and more open to everyone than what came before it, and he pretty much did that himself.
HH: So lawgiving is part of statesmanship.
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HH: Larry, when I sent this list back and forth with your very able and competent majordomo there, I expected that you would object that in my list of people we would cover, that I had not included Marlborough. And I thought because I think you were the one who gave me that book…
HH: …those two volumes, and he is the man without whom we would not have Churchill, quite literally. So what is it about Marlborough that just as an afterthought, since we’ve gone ahead of him a hundred years to Napoleon, that ought to be remembered at least in this conversation?
LA: Well, the difference between Marlborough and everyone else on this list is that he never lost a battle. And Churchill makes a very great deal of that. And when Churchill wants to praise him, and what Marlboro did, Louie XIV was the first great threat, French threat to the British. And you know, my wife’s English, so I have a fondness for those people. And the war with Louie XIV went on for the better part of thirty years. And in the middle ten years, Marlborough commanded, and not in the exterior, the outer years. And in the outer years, the allies, and they were the same allies most of the way through, never did anything very successful. The minute Marlborough took up the command, he fought pitched battles often against overwhelming odds, he besieged cities, he sometimes did both at the same time, and he never lost. It was just, I won’t tell you, but I invite you to go and read the chapter before, a chapter in the Marlborough called The Battle of Blenheim, and that chapter, and the chapter after. It is just a tale of wonder how great this guy was. And he was, through these wars, able to establish the regime implied by Great Britain and the United States, even only implied by Great Britain at that time, but implied, and to put into the sunset the regime implied by Louie XIV.
HH: What’s also interesting about him, and I do not know much beyond Churchill’s volume, is that he fought a rear guard against political adversaries across the water every step of the way, not always successfully. And so he was cunning. He was very cunning.
LA: Oh, yeah.
HH: Go ahead.
LA: He would, you know, I mean, the generals, in the Battle of Blenheim, that’s where Marlborough really broke the French for good and all, that they never were the same after that, but in the battle, the French marshal on the morning the battle starts is writing a letter to Louie. And he said he’s got them right where he wants them. He says they’re making a demonstration before they continue their retreat. And then he sends the message off by a horseman, right? And then he fights the battle. And of course the next time he writes Louie XIV, he’s a prisoner, and his army is gone. And so yeah, and the thing is, whatever that skill was, he had it in politics, too.
HH: (laughing) Let me ask, that’s very funny. Let me ask, before we move on to the English-speaking statesman only, we do have to nod at the Germans. We’ll be back to talk a little bit about Hitler and the difference between the statesman and a dictator. But Bismarck was a statesman, and not many people know much about him. Why does he matter? And what ought we to take away as a quality of leadership that he embodied?
LA: He was an extraordinary man, and he had that quality, like all of them have, right? He, first of all, mark this. The French Revolution and Napoleon changed the world, not in good ways, in many respects. And Bismarck stands as a kind of reaction against that in Germany. And he built, I mean, he’s a very odd guy. He was kind of a clerk, is all he was. And he built Germany, the one we have today, the modern German nation, out of little bitty German states about the same way Pericles built the Athenian League. He taxed them, he funded an army, he, by the way, he collected taxes against the direct command of the Prussian parliament to fund the army, unconstitutional. And then he went out with this army, and he won victories. And every, it’s just like building the Acropolis. And everybody was involved in these victories, and the next think you know, from nowhere, after a thousand years, Austria is a second-rate power, and modern Germany is born. And he did that in about 25 years. And then, in another very great thing that his successors couldn’t reproduce, he made treaties with all the people he had aggrieved – France, Russia, Austria, and he carried himself humbly for the rest of his life, and his nation in the presence of them. And that’s why we didn’t have a war for a long time.
HH: Now he was a strange guy.
HH: What was it, what personal qualities about him ought people to be looking for or not?
LA: Well, he was, the only thing about a statesman he had was the central thing, right? He didn’t look very good, he wasn’t a great talker. He just could calculate. And my opinion is his ultimate purposes were good. And so he was a, by the way, he’s kind of a forebear of modern American conservatism, with both its virtues and it has some faults, in my opinion. And so he stands up for kind of a conservative world tradition, you know, like in Fiddler, Tradition. And that’s good, right? I believe in that. But he adapts. He’s very flexible. So and what he really is, is he’s the advisor to the Kaiser, William II, and he just lives under the favor of that guy, and he’s just a master. That’s his quality.
HH: When we come back from break, we’ll talk at length about Disraeli. But is there anyone else from Europe that we ought to remember before we move on? I mean, there’s all sorts of people, but in one minute, is there someone that people ought to at least put a footnote down to?
LA: No, this list is good.
HH: All right.
LA: Gladstone. Gladstone.
HH: Oh, he’s English. He’s in our English line, though. We’ll talk about him in the shadow of Disraeli where he belongs.
HH: Don’t go anywhere, America, I’ll be right back. Halfway through our march through the great statesmen of history with Dr. Larry Arnn, he’s the president of Hillsdale College. The Graduate School of Statesmanship, which is at Hillsdale, is a first principles approach to graduate education and political philosophy in American politics. It offers a PhD and an M.A. in politics. How long does it take, Larry Arnn?
LA: It takes a year if you go fast. The Dean is R.J. Pestritto, and if I say anything that I shouldn’t, he’ll correct it.
HH: All right.
LA: It take a year if you go super fast for an M.A., but that’s hard. It takes two years, really, for an M.A., three years of course work for the PhD, and then you’ve got to write a dissertation. And we’ll be mean about that so you write it fast.
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HH: Larry Arnn, when I was a young man, I worked for Richard Nixon in San Clemente, and he had a great library, and we were working on books, and one day he sent me into the library, and told me to bring back a specific book. And I went and I got it, and I brought it back, and he found what he wanted. It was the most heavily annotated book I believe of his library, which was extensive, and it was Lord Blake’s biography of Disraeli. And so of course I read it many times. I still have it and read it probably every three or four years. I think it’s the best political biography I have ever read. And I just fell for Disraeli, because he’s so improbable a figure. And of course, Bismarck, about whom we were just saying, said there’s the man, the old Jew, at the Congress of Berlin. Why did he say that?
LA: Well, Bismarck didn’t like Jews quite as well as he should have (laughing).
LA: That’s part of it. Bismarck didn’t. Disraeli was born with a Jewish mother, I think, which is what makes you Jewish. He converted to Christianity. He was famous for his rich widow marriage. They doted on each other until she died. He always had money trouble, even though he had the rich widow wife. He went through bankruptcies. He is an unusual guy, because he wrote novels that were also political weapons. Everything Churchill wrote was a political weapon. And he did write one novel, but it wasn’t a very good weapon, whereas Disraeli’s were good.
LA: So he was a very odd guy. I think he might be the originator of the statement that Arthur Balfour, Churchill’s friend, used to love to quote. What religion are you, sir? And he said I share the religion that all gentlemen have. And what religion is that? And he said gentlemen do not say. So he was like that. He was cultured, he was a little bit foppish, you know, a dandy.
LA: He wasn’t a war-like guy. By the way, Bismarck dressed in uniforms all his life. And until he’d conquered half the world, half of Europe, the army didn’t like it, because he really wasn’t entitled to it. But he did it anyway. Well, that would have been so distant from Disraeli. It would have looked so odd, and it would have never occurred to him to do it. He was like that. But if you want to know what I think is the great thing that he did, what he really did was he prepared the Britain that Churchill inherited, because what Britain was like before Disraeli, and Gladstone, too, was…and Cobden and Bright, was that it was a aristocracy in part. And the aristocracy was organized around an economic interest in land. And the tax policies on imports and exports subsidized the rich at the expense of the poor. They taxed bread so that country people could make more money. And the country people were able to preserve that, because they had unequal representation in parliament. They had this system where the land of gentry just had a whole bunch of seats they controlled. Disraeli is the Tory who more than any other person brought an end to that. And that was a very big deal. He ran as a protectionist when he first became prime minister, and you can see how, because of what I just said, tax policies and tariffs are a big feature in the constitutional form of rule in that country, because they preserve the status of the aristocracy. Well, he was for that in the beginning. He very quickly softened on that, but he didn’t really himself get that changed. Others did. But what he did do was he started fooling around with the franchise, to make it more equal. And that prepared the way for the Britain that Winston Churchill helped to produce.
HH: It’s interesting. You’ve brought this up a few times in our earlier historical personages, that tax policy, which I hadn’t really thought much about as being an element of statesmanship, sure has figured heavily in a lot of these.
LA: Oh yeah, and that’s right, because your attitude, like Napoleon’s code. What was good about it? Equal right to property. So the way you deal with poverty, and taxing is one of the ways you deal, that’s a statement of where the priorities in the regime are. And that’s why, I don’t think myself, that the tax issue is at the center of things. It’s just a sign of what’s at the center of things, because in America, right now, we’re at the point of no longer being a liberal society. And what that means is the government is about to become larger than the rest of the society in economic terms. That’s a regime change.
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HH: By the way, Larry, I’ve mentioned Imprimus a few times. Would you explain to people why they ought to go to www.hillsdale.edu and sign up for that?
LA: Well, it’s nearly 40 years now, and it goes to about 2.2 million people a month. So step one, we’re spending a lot of money on it. And step two, it’s free. It’s a service we do. And if it moves you to get involved in Hillsdale College, that’s up to you. We don’t, never give your name to anybody else. And if it doesn’t, if you want to write us dirty letters, we’ll try to find time to answer them.
HH: And if you are a young person looking to go to college somewhere, who ought to consider Hillsdale?
LA: Well, if you believe that the things we’re talking about, if you believe that there are things in nature that are high and beautiful and abiding, if you believe that there might be such a thing as the laws of nature and nature’s God, and you want to go through the hard work of finding out what those laws might be, then come see us. We give a very fundamental, rigorous education in what the founders of our college call literally, scientific and theological. That means the natural sciences, the humanities and theology.
HH: And if you want to know about Larry, go read his new book, The Founder’s Key, which will be available soon. You can preorder it at Amazon.com. All right, Dr. Arnn, you brought him up. I don’t like Gladstone. I don’t like anything about him. But you brought him up, and you’re being very generous with your time, so I’ll jam him into our British hour along with Lloyd George, and we’ll reserve Churchill for the start of next hour.
LA: Yeah, well, anybody can see that Gladstone was a great man. He was a brilliant talker. He was a Tory for a long time, and then a Liberal. And he was the scourge of Disraeli. Queen Victoria liked Disraeli. She didn’t like Gladstone. But you’d have to call Gladstone a very great man. And by the way, he was a liberal, and I’ll tell you why. If we could get him in the race today, you and I would fall all over ourselves for him.
LA: So he, at the end, he’s the one who got through the Irish free state. IN other words, he liberated Ireland.
LA: …from the English. And when he failed to do that, by the way, he was…I’m sorry, he didn’t get that done. What am I saying? He tried to get that done, and he was stopped by Winston Churchill’s father and Neville Chamberlain’s father.
HH: Well, didn’t he get the vote for them, though? Didn’t he establish…
LA: He brought the vote in 1888. But then, in 1921, I think it was, Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain, the sons, finalized that thing and got it done under Lloyd George. So it’s very, you know, I think the speech at the end goes Ireland stands, you know, he’s summing up this great debate, and think of the people, you know, Joseph Chamberlain, Lord Randolph Churchill are in this debate and Winston Churchill memorized long speeches in this debate to train himself. Ireland stands waiting at the bar, waiting for an act of oblivion, so long abused, I’m paraphrasing, and it’s not quite right, but it’s very beautiful how he says it. And so he was a man of immense power and goodwill. And of course, Lord Randolph Churchill and Disraeli used to make the most terrible and effective fun of him.
HH: The empty volcano. All right, but you just mentioned something about being eloquent. And well, what passes for eloquence in America is different for what passed for eloquence in parliament, whether it’s Disraeli or Gladstone. How important is that in statesmanship?
LA: Politics grows from our ability to use words. And so the greatest statesmen used them beautifully. And there are exceptions. George Washington was not particularly eloquent. He got James Madison to write the best speech he ever gave. But it just mattered. It was decisive for them that Pericles, I’m looking down our list, and
Caesar, and Constantine, and Lloyd George, and Churchill, and Lincoln, and Reagan were beautiful speakers. And that was a weapon, and it mattered.
HH: Let’s talk a little bit about Lloyd George, the great leader of World War I. And if you have a picture next to the word fierce in a dictionary, it will be his. He looks fierce. Welshman, dirt poor, what made him a statesman?
LA: Well, he was a wonder. He had these qualities. He was very eloquent. He was eloquent in a different way than Churchill. He’d just stand up and talk, blow off all day. He was a radical liberal. Churchill sort of followed him through his career. And in 1916, ’17, ’18, he came out of office in 1922. Through the first World War, he did great things. And most of them were insufficient. He, like Churchill, thought that trench warfare was disastrous. And he had a great difficulty assembling the political power to stop it and look for another way. But he did slow it down, and he did look for another way, and he did a lot of good there, and also he kept the country together. His predecessor, Herbert Henry Asquith was given to drink on the job. And so it was a great relief when Lloyd George came in. He brought Churchill back into politics. Churchill had been disgraced early in the First World War over the Dardanelles, and he’d been gone off to fight in the trenches. And only when Lloyd George became prime minister did somebody have the stomach to bring Churchill back. And he and Churchill were very close. And I’m very fond of this story. I’ll close with it. In 1940, it looked like Britain was going to be invaded. And if it was invaded it was pretty much known, it was the strategy, that they were going to give up London, because they couldn’t defend it. And if they were really going to be in a fight in the middle of the country for the country, that means it could fall. And at that point, Churchill sought out the old man, Lloyd George, his old friend. Lloyd George had been too soft on Hitler. And Churchill explored with him Lloyd George coming into the cabinet. And a historian, John Lucas, says that may have been, if the government should fall, maybe then Hitler would treat Lloyd George to deal with a patriot instead of some Nazi toadie.
HH: Wow. I’ll be right back with Larry Arnn. Don’t go anywhere.
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HH: Larry Arnn, we begin next hour with Churchill, but I want to conclude this hour, we’ve got only about three minutes. If there is a greatest failure of statesmanship, it would have to be World War I. And in the year that we taped this, a movie, War Horse, is about to come out that will try again, vainly, to capture the horror of World War I. There was a lot of talent on the world stage then. Why did it all fail to foresee, and then to stop, what is just butchery on a scale that we’ve never seen since?
LA: Well, very few people had understood the lessons of the Civil War, where in 1864 especially, there were things that happened that were like that. Churchill saw it. Very few people gave a warning about what war was going to be like in the technological age. And then once you got going, nobody had really ever seen societies so wealthy that they could hurl so much at each other. And they were so large that they had limitless supplies of men. And it just got out of hand. And the people, especially Winston Churchill, who were warning against it, didn’t manage to get heard, in part because they tried something, the Dardanelles, the stop it. And for political reasons, that didn’t work. And so it was this vast tragedy that Churchill characterized this way. Affairs of men have become so big now, that it’s hard for men to control them.
HH: But should, did anyone try, who was a prime minister, Churchill was not the ultimate authority in any of those countries at that time, whether it’s the Kaiser or the French prime minister or Lloyd George, or Asquith, or any of these. Did any of them at one point or another just say this has got to stop?
LA: Well, you couldn’t do that, because you’re in a war, and that means to stop is to let them run over you. And remember, Germany was sitting on a whole bunch of France. And so Lloyd George especially, among prime ministers, tried to find another way and moderate it. But because the political divisions were what they are, and because the generals were very prestigious in that war, and a couple of them were kind of dumb, in my opinion, especially Kitchener, who was killed there in the war when his ship hit a mine, it just had tragedy written all over it. And you couldn’t get command of it. And nobody with the vision…you see, that’s, you know, it could be our country will fail in these times that we’ve got right now, because it’s a big job to be a statesman, and a world is a very large place now. And there’s so much power in it, it’s hard to control it.
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HH: I’m not going chronologically at this point, because, Larry Arnn, I want to spend this segment on Winston Churchill, and then go back to the Americans after we finish with the Englishmen, though we will also include Margaret Thatcher in the course of this. What is it that makes Churchill easily the greatest man of the 20th Century, and perhaps of the modern era?
LA: Well, nobody quite like him. He, Aristotle says that we learn the virtue of prudence by studying people that have the reputation for it. Churchill did so much. He was born in 1874, he went into politics in 1900, he retired from the prime ministership in 1955. Think what happened in those years. Both World Wars, the nuclear bomb, the airplane, the jet, you know, everything. So he did all that, managed to be in the middle of all that. In addition, Churchill wrote 50 books. They’re beautiful. He wrote all his own speeches. He wrote countless memos and letters, and they’re good, and they’re extremely revealing about what he thought. So the trouble with this particular guy in studying him is that the record is too rich. And so you have to spend years at it to really get, you know, I mean, to claim you know it. It takes a long time.
HH: Let’s tell people, by the way, not only are you the author of The Founders’ Key, the new book that I talked about at the beginning, and the president of Hillsdale, you are a Churchill scholar, and you spent years in the vineyards here doing this.
LA: Yeah, well I used to work for a very great man named Sir Martin Gilbert, who’s the official biographer of Churchill. I met my wife working in his house. And he works for Hillsdale College now, and the college is the publisher of that. And I teach Churchill every other year here. So I’ve been studying it now for thirty-some years, and enjoy it. It’s inspiring and wonderful.
HH: Can I ask you to tell one story? Well, two things – one, you told me a story I didn’t know the last time I was at Hillsdale about who would you most like to be if you weren’t yourself. And how did Churchill answer that question and the circumstances?
LA: Ooh, I’ve forgotten what I said. What did I say?
HH: He was at dinner, and he was asked that question at dinner. And his wife was sitting next to him. You don’t recall this, do you?
LA: Oh, no, no. He said her, his wife. Yeah, yeah.
HH: I think he said the second Mr. Churchill. That’s what you told me, at least, and that was a good story. How about his emotional state, Larry Arnn? He was subject to depression. Are statesmen often that way?
LA: Well, he wasn’t. I mean, first of all, there are two claims about Churchill. One is that he was a drunk, and one is that he had depression, right?
HH: The black dog, he called it, right?
LA: Yeah, he did. He talked about that, right? The truth is, you ever had a down day?
HH: Well, not me. No, I’m on the radio. But…
LA: Yeah, but think. You know, what did he do, right? Like is there any period in his life when you can find him impaired by this depression, right? He’s just an incredibly productive individual all the time. So he would get down, but my own reading of it is he could see an awful lot. There were things to be down about. And he’s famous for not being down when everybody else was. So I don’t know about the depression thing. I know this very revealing thing that seems to be a better picture into his soul. In 1940, he’s now 65 years old, and he becomes prime minister on the day that Hitler attacks to the west. And within eight weeks, Britain is alone in an overwhelming battle, and he’s reading stories about, he’s hearing reports that say we really can’t defend the coast. If they get over the sea, they’re going to come in and they’re going to take a bunch of our country for sure. So that’s gloomy. And everybody reports how brave he was. And all the guys in his office, John Martin and John Peck and John Colville, they were all named John, they’d all worked for Neville Chamberlain, and they’re all writing in their diaries and memos to each other, I see, this is how you fight. But in the middle of that, Churchill said to Colville, he said George Borrow records a prayer for the siege of Gibraltar. Would you find its exact words for me? Now Churchill had a fantastic memory. But for this little thing I’m about to quote to you, he wanted the exact words. Fear not the result, for either thy end will be an enviable and majestic one, or God shall preserve our reign upon the waters. Churchill wanted the exact words of that prayer. So he was deeply afraid, and he was courageous. You see, that’s what he was like.
HH: A couple of other aspects – energy. He’s 65 when he becomes the last best hope of mankind. Is it that leadership is best at that age? Or is there a particular age? You know, Lincoln was much younger.
LA: Well, it takes, Churchill was a doer of many things. And Lincoln was, you know, the careers are very different, right, because Churchill was involved in everything for a long time. And it’s even kind of hard to find the theme. What was Lincoln’s theme? Anybody can name it, right?
LA: The crisis of slavery in a free republic. It’s growing. Shall slavery grow? That’s the question that Lincoln faced in his life, and he figured out an answer to it. By the way, people who worked at this college back then helped to figure out that answer, and defend it in war. So Lincoln’s career is tight, poetic, compact. His greatest speeches are like that. Churchill’s career is equally so, but you have to go through a lot to find the central things about it, and they’re not very many, and they’re really beautiful, just like in Lincoln. And in the end, they amount to the same thing. So that’s the thing about Churchill. There’s just so much. And you know, by the way, if you just like to read history, he could really write it. And so it’s fun to read it. And a great political philosophy teacher, Strauss, said that The Marlborough is one of the greatest volumes of political education he ever read.
HH: Oh, I didn’t know that. Now there’s another aspect of Churchill which is shared with Lincoln and Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Douglas MacArthur and a few others, which is immense physical courage, or at least disdain for danger.
LA: Well, Churchill was a very brave soldier in the way that George Washington was. That is, there are records of him on a battlefield being deliberate, brilliantly, spectacularly, openly brave, and yet not apparently excited. He did that several times in his life, and not many people ever do that. And Churchill had that, and was, it was a gift. And he had the moral courage that went along with it, too. So it was really extraordinary. And you know, it’s worth me putting it, if there’s time. I’ll tell you what Churchill was concerned about, and it’s our problem today. There are two things that are going on in the world that mean that we may lose our country. One of them is as we accumulate power and technology, well, they’re both connected to that, right? We’re richer, we’re more prosperous, we command much more power both in weapons and in capacity to fight, you know. And Churchill writes the wars of Marlborough, and earlier wars, they were limited by the fact that people soon ran out of food and had to stop a while and grow some. They couldn’t really fight through the winter. And so…and the weapons weren’t that good. Well, this growth in power of human beings raises a logical problem that was very apparent to Churchill, and that is he says about war, he says without having improved appreciably in virtue, or enjoying wiser guidance, we’ve at last got into our hands the means of our own destruction, right? So we’re still the same creature. We’re just a lot stronger. And the foreign policy equivalent of that is the cost of war. They killed 3,000 American citizens with some razor blades, because there’s so much momentum moving up in the sky, that if they can redirect it, they can kill a bunch of people. So the equivalent of that in peace deeply worried Churchill. He feared socialism, he feared all the forms of breakdown of constitutionalism, because you know, who’s governing our country right now except a bunch of people who think that they should have the power to manage everything in the society, because if they’re given that power, they can make it all right.
HH: Yeah, The Founders’ Key, by the way, America, if you read it, will explain to you progressivism in a very brief and quick way about the rise of people who think they’re entitled to rule absolutely on the basis of their superior knowledge, and it does explain the threat.
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HH: Washington, Larry Arnn, somewhat difficult figure to get any feel for, but someone who’s hard to avoid when you talk about statesmanship. He is the inventor of this country.
LA: Yeah, well, I took a dome tour with our mutual friend, Tom McClintock, Congressman, the other day. And you go up in the top of the dome.
LA: And the Capitol took three generations to build. But up at the top of it, and this part got built maybe thirty years after Washington died, there’s this painting, the Apotheosis Of George Washington. It’s gorgeous, and it is a production of the mind of the founding generation. He is in the center. Why? The answer is he was the supreme man of moral virtue. And he didn’t have the reputation for being the supreme man of intellectual virtue, and yet he had that thing the statesman has, which is his guiding light. The rights of man guided his steps. So what did he do? He conquered the British from nothing, and he did it mostly by resilience, only latterly by skill as he learned, and by resources as the French came along and helped. But he did it mostly by his example. We won the Battle of Trenton because of his will. And we didn’t have a disaster, and sort of won the Battle of Monmouth because he turned 20,000 people around by his bravery on a horse. Both times, that’s what everybody could see. But when it’s over, and everybody loves him, I mean, they’re just…and see, he’s a very warm figure. The reason he seems so self-restrained is because he was so powerful a man, with such powerful ambitions, that he had to restrain himself or he’d blow up. That’s my reading of it, and other people’s, too. And so like after he does all this, of course they want to make him king. He eschews it. Of course, they want to rebel, because they’ve beaten the greatest army in the world, and made possible our whole country. And the Congress won’t pay them their salary. They’re not asking for anything extra, just pay us our pay, which is nothing. And so Washington stops that. And then he gets on his horse, and he rides to Philadelphia, and he has a ceremony, and he hands in his resignation from the army and goes home. In other words, a great, magnanimous man bowing before a free people in a way to teach them what freedom requires. There’s no better example of that phenomenon anywhere in history than George Washington.
HH: But then he comes back because he’s needed a second time.
LA: Summoned, you know, and by the way, he almost, they couldn’t have had the Constitutional Convention without him. And Madison and Hamilton know that, and they’re pleading with him. And do you know why he almost didn’t go?
LA: There’s a conference of the Society of Cincinnati, and that’s retired soldiers from the Revolutionary War who emulate the Roman statesman and warrior who believed in civilian rule, and always retired after he fought his wars, right? And so they’re going to have a meeting, and Washington, the beloved, is to go. And word starts circulating that it’s kind of an elitist society. And so of course Washington says he won’t be able to go, because he doesn’t want people talking about him that way. But now, he’s given his indisposition as an excuse, and so he tells James Madison, for goodness sake, oh, I can’t appear in public at this time, because I’ve already given an excuse to the society, a huge sense of propriety, right? And Madison, who’s a more nimble man, talked him out of it and found a way, right? Else, no Constitutional Convention. And then when they write the part about the Executive Branch, everybody’s looking at him. He’s going to be the guy. Everybody knows that. It’s not possible for anybody else to run against him. Massive achievement, father of our country, deservedly so.
HH: I’m going to have to, this is a good time to ask you this as well, about spouses, because they are a very, very different lot if you go through Disraeli’s older wife, if you talk about Caesar’s wife, the famous Caesar’s wife. But Martha, and we will soon talk about Mrs. Lincoln and Nancy Reagan, et cetera. These are parts of their biography, partners for statesmen.
LA: Well, Washington was very fortunate. Martha Dandridge Custis, she was a widow, and had some money. Washington had money, too. He was a very successful farmer, and he got into the Fairfax family, and he did very well for himself. But she also had some resources, but mostly, they were just very devoted to each other, and she was a support, an effective support, including in front of the soldiers, including when the soldiers were suffering. And she did what I still think is a great thing, although the historian in me makes me hate it. She burned all their letters, because they were not for other eyes. Wouldn’t that have been priceless to read?
HH: Yes, and you know, someday, someone’s going to be smart enough to pretend to have discovered them, and write them up.
HH: Now Arnn, let’s switch over to Lincoln to start here, because I’m going to jump from Washington to Lincoln, and that debate rages. It’s been on this show before with Richard Norton Smith, et cetera, who’s the greater man. I’m not going to ask you that, but how are they alike, and how are they different in their leadership?
LA: Well, you know, Washington was, you know, first of all, start with the physical, right? Washington was a very beautiful human being. He was awesome. He was extremely handsome. He was large for the time. He was very well-proportioned. He looked especially good on a horse. Lincoln was tall, but he was gawky and common-looking. He had familiar manners. He always seemed less than he was. He likes to tell jokes, sometimes at his own expense. Washington was more formal. Now Washington was charming. He liked, he was never unfaithful to his wife that we have any hint, but he liked women. He liked dinner, he liked to talk, he liked to amuse them. He was good at that. But it wasn’t homespun, or what you might call lull. So they seem different that way, right? And they were. Lincoln, by the way, his war service, he was a captain in the Indian War, and he loves to tell, his comment was, just like everything about Lincoln, he’d say I never actually saw a real fighting Indian, but we had many bloody skirmishes with mosquitoes.
HH: (laughing) Hold that. We’ll be back to continue the contrast between America’s two greatest statesmen, Washington and Lincoln, when we return with Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College.
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HH: Larry Arnn, we’re talking about Lincoln and Washington, and the contrasts. Obviously, Washington a warrior, and Lincoln, not, but both great strategic thinkers.
LA: In the scale of the virtues, you know, they were both, by the way, very ruthless people, right? They had to be. And for the things that they loved, they were very much so. So Washington, you know, on Christmas morning, crosses the Delaware River and surprises the Hessians, and kills a whole lot of them, just so he can claim a victory to keep us in the war, right, a desperate endeavor. Lincoln kept pushing. There’s a really great history of the Civil War by a journalist-historian from Ohio named Bruce Catton. And after the Battle of Antietam, a very, very terrible battle, here’s what Catton writes. I have it memorized. He says, “And so the war expanded to a place that no one had imagined. But also, it narrowed down to just two men – Lincoln and Lee, both with the terrible ability to make men love them, and the ruthlessness to tell them what to do.” So…
LA: (laughing) Isn’t that nice?
HH: You know, people don’t read Catton much anymore. I read him when I was young, and he’s a marvelous…
LA: Very worth it. Yeah, I just enjoy him. No, and he doesn’t do a good job in his chapter on the Gettysburg Address, but heck, read the Gettysburg Address. So he’s really great. Lincoln’s gifts, I think, statesmanship, quote the philosopher, makes the argument that is requires a summation of all the virtues. It’s one of three things in the Nicomachean Ethics that are said to require that. And you can’t be a coward and be a statesman, and you can’t be a glutton and be a statesman. And you can’t lack the intellectual virtues and be a statesman. So you’ve got to have them all, right? Well, that doesn’t mean that they’re not mixed up in different people in different ways. And so Lincoln’s virtues are more intellectual, right? He was a logician and a poet. So a logician – as I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. To me, that is meaning of democracy. Whatever differs from this is no democracy. You say that the black man is to be your slave, because his skin is darker than yours. Take care. The first man you meet with a lighter complexion is your master. See, the logician, right? Lincoln is always like that. The poet – If every drop of blood drawn by the lash through two hundred years of the bondsman’s unrequited toil must now be repaid with another, drawn by the sword. Still, it will be said that the ways of God are righteous altogether. Now this farmer boy wrote that thing.
HH: Yeah, the Second Inaugural. I am amazed by that speech still. That is such an amazing speech.
LA: And it’s an appeal to peace, right? It’s beautiful. It’s a repose.
HH: But it’s terrible, Larry. The consequence of that statement you just read is terrible about what he will do to win.
LA: Yeah. Oh, sure. Yeah, you know, he got a bunch of black men, Negroes they called them back then, into the White House to talk to him about colonization. And he was for that, right? He didn’t think black and white people could live together as equals. Nobody did, really, or few people did. And so he looked them in the eye, and he said, there’s a transcript of the meeting. And he said I guess you’re all free men, are you? And you know, they’re in the White House. And they looked around and they said yes, sir. And he said well, I just want to talk to you as free men. He said despite the fact that you’re free, it doesn’t matter where you go. The band is upon you. And I don’t know if I can do anything about that. He said I don’t even know why you’d want to live here with us. But there’s a place, he says, in Central America. And we could set you up a country, and you could have your own place down there, and we’d help you get started. But we can’t make you go. You’re going to have to want to go. He says that to them, right? And they, their countenance falls while he’s talking. It doesn’t go well. And they shuffle out, and say they’ll think about, and they come back and see him, and they say sir, we’re Americans. And Lincoln says okay, I understand. We’ll have to try to make this work. And so he writes to Nathaniel Banks, and he says to the reconstruction plan, let them try to work themselves out of their old relation of master and slave into their new relation, because they’re going to be here, right? And so what I think is Lincoln is a tragic figure with a massive understanding of the principles and institutions of the country.
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HH: Dr. Larry Arnn is my guest. As we get close to the end of our show on statesmanship, so you only have eight minutes in which to cover Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.
HH: Dr. Arnn?
LA: Yes, sir.
HH: You only have eight minutes in which to cover Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.
LA: Okay, Teddy Roosevelt was an extremely interesting, vivid, courageous and energetic man, and one of the fathers of most of the things that are wrong in America today.
LA: If you read his Bull Moose party platform of 1912, or ’16, I can’t remember. Sorry, I’m getting confused. You’ll see what I mean. It’s in the Hillsdale College Constitution Reader. So Margaret Thatcher…
HH: But was T.R. a statesman?
LA: Yeah, a man of the public? Sure. And effective, too, but gosh…and you know, high-minded in some respects, but you know, he was a historicist, Hugh. That means that he thought that evolution is the driving force in human nature, a kind of social evolution, right?
LA: And you know, he was kind of a racist. And so was he a great American statesman? No, he was not.
HH: All right, Thatcher.
LA: She is the woman who more than anyone else shows us what it takes to dispute with bureaucratic government. And she’s the one who faced it down the best. And so one can learn a lot from her massive, clear sight, energy and stubbornness.
HH: Explain that. This is so important. I have never heard you put it that way before, but she was the warrior extraordinaire with the administrative state.
LA: Yeah, very much. And see, what had happened, what she came into was the Labour Party belonged to the trade unions. It’s a class party. In fact, a majority of the votes at the annual Labour conference was controlled by the Trade Unions Council, and a majority of them, it used to say in the paper when I used to live back there, labeled themselves as communists, right? And so in a way, that party is in a conflict of interest. It’s not for the government and for the whole people. It’s for a class. And they would shut down the government to get their way, and make the railway line not deliver the milk, and the coal wouldn’t come through, and they’d always try to do that in the winter to break the government and get what they wanted. Look at Wisconsin or Oakland, California, lately. So what she did was came and took that on. And several conservatives were elected on the promise that they would do that. And she was the one who had the stomach for it. And she just deployed very large numbers of cops, and portable fencing, and she would arrest the people who would, because you could go on strike if you wanted to, but you couldn’t go on the kind of strike that would shut down parts of the country. In those days, it was called secondary picketing. That’s where you strike against not just the company, but all their suppliers and vendors and customers. And so she was just incredibly resolute about that. And I happened to be living there when she came to power, and it was better than watching any tennis match I ever saw, and I used to watch Wimbledon over there, because she would, every year she would, when the address from the throne came, she would always be on the offense. She would just go at them like across the terrace at the House of Commons, where the Prime Minister sometimes has receptions, is the greater London Council across the river, a huge building. And Ken Livingston, the mayor, used to put up huge, anti-Thatcher banners. And it would annoy, and it would get in the paper, and everybody would talk about how he was thumbing his nose at the Prime Minister. So she abolished the Greater London Council.
HH: (laughing) And Red Ken was out of a forum.
HH: And three minutes for Ronald Reagan, and why he was a statesman, and what we ought to look for in our candidates that are like what he was.
LA: My favorite thing about Reagan, and there are very many, is his first inaugural address, the first address, inauguration by a president on the west side of the Capitol, looking at the National Mall. It is a beautiful paean to the institutions of self-government. And it includes these three features. There’s a tour of the monuments of Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln. Of Lincoln, he says, whoever would know the meaning of America will find it in the life of that man. Then he directs our attention, earlier, I’m sorry, the first element, he’s talked about the heroes who make America go, everybody who works. And that’s what’s going to fix our economy, the hope that comes from free labor. Then these great heroes, and then he says, he turns to the last set of heroes. He says and think about the land across the Potomac, at Arlington, the Stars of David and crosses. Before each one, a hero like those I’ve been mentioning. And there’s one I know about. He was in the 1st American Expeditionary Force abroad in World War I. His name, he’s from Kansas, his name was Martin Treptow, he says. And he writes, he says, we must win this war. And so I, he’s writing this thing, and he’s killed after he writes it, and so I must fight as if the whole result depends upon me. It’s very beautiful. And all you’ve got to do is compare that inaugural address to the other recent ones, especially Bill Clinton and Obama, and you will see they are of very different spirit.
HH: Do…how…this is a conversation we’ll conclude in the next segment. How do you suggest people assess those who want to replace Obama?
LA: Well, first of all, they should know what the right level of abstraction is. The purpose of the government of the United States is to secure our rights, and also to protect the conditions of our safety and our happiness. That’s what the Declaration of Independence says. Our country has grand constitutional forms. And those forms today, Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, the list of things that Congress is supposed to do, is breached so far that it’s not really relevant to what’s going on right now. But it doesn’t matter. There are three things. The government is meant to be limited. That is to say the society is supposed to be bigger than the government. The government is supposed to be representative, that is to say nothing in the government is supposed to work without being representative of the people. The modern bureaucracy is not representative. And finally, the powers are supposed to be separated in the government, and it’s not like that. The bureaucratic agencies, which are most of the government, they now hold all the powers in each individual agency. So we should, a statesman should know that, and then that will tell him what kind of thing he’s supposed to be able to deal with.
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HH: Thank you, America, for listening today. We will post a transcript of this eventually (Transcriber’s note: We?!?) Hopefully, we will get the MP3 of my conversation with Dr. Larry Arnn over to Hillsdale, and they can post it at www.hillsdale.edu as well. I want to thank Adam and Del and Breck and Nick and Kevin, and of course Duane, and at the other end of this, at Hillsdale, my friend, Dr. Larry Arnn, and his good and able assistant, Fred, and all of you for listening…Dr. Arnn, thanks for your time. Thanks for the copy of The Founders’ Key as well, which I hope you’ll come back and talk about when people can actually order it and get it sometime early in the new year. But what have I missed that you think we ought to cover before we conclude this conversation about statesmanship?
LA: You could look for this last thing. I’ll answer your last question again. Presidents are not schoolteachers, and they’re not environmental clean up agents, and they’re not supposed to make the economy go. They’re to run a political system that permits all of us to do those things. The ones who know that can be great presidents.
HH: So how do you listen for that?
LA: Well, there’s one of them right now who has some knowledge of that. And I don’t really want to mention who it is. But you’ll hear that one, and he’ll say well, we don’t really deal with that level of detail. That one, by the way, is often guilty of doing the same thing himself. But I’ve been noticing lately he’ll say the question we can ask is what is the interest of the United States of America as a whole, and how can the presidency serve it? And he’ll, you can hear him. He’ll translate the questions into that. And remember, our government can only be effective if it doesn’t try to do everything. And it’s also true, it can only be controlled if it doesn’t try to do everything. And you know, if I could say one sentence about what the great American statesmen have had, they understand that the limits on the American government contribute to its beauty and its majesty and its necessity. So they’re not against the government, they’re for good government, and they know what that is.
HH: One minute, how do they deal with the media, statesmen?
LA: Well, you know, tell the truth. And there’s a lot of lying, but you know, some of them are doing a pretty good job with the media right now. And remember, there’s a lot of discounting by the people going on. So if you’re clear, and you know what you think, and you can just say it simply, that’s all Reagan did. And by the way, it sounds like it’s easy. You have to live your whole life thinking that through in order to become clear on such topics. But if you do that, then people will hear. And by the way, Hugh, thank you, too, because don’t you help people find the truth?
HH: Well, we hope to, and I appreciate you giving as much time to that endeavor today, Larry Arnn. It’s been a wonderful conversation. If you want to continue that conversation directly or indirectly, go to www.hillsdale.edu, sign up for the Imprimus newsletter. You get great speeches about such subjects as we have talked about today every single month. And investigate the Graduate School of Statesmanship there. If you’re a younger person going to Hillsdale, give Larry Arnn a call. I’ll be back tomorrow with the ebb and flow of politics and your phone calls on the next Hugh Hewitt Show.
End of interview.