Dr. Larry Arnn on Statesmanship and the Way Forward
HH: Last night amid my gloom, as I sat there considering where we are and where we have been and where we may end up, I thought I had to talk today to one individual. And it’s not an elected official, it’s not the Speaker of the House, it’s Dr. Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College. And the reason is weeks ago when I was at Hillsdale, Larry Arnn told me we may lose this, we may win this, but it will not change the challenge in front of us. And I wanted to review that with him right now. Dr. Arnn, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
LA: How are you, Hugh?
HH: I’m not good. I had more faith, more faith. I thought we were going to win in a blowout, Larry Arnn. So how are you?
LA: Well, I’m surprised at the result, and thought we were going to win. I thought we were going to win 4-6 points, by that much.
LA: And it is a terrible result, and it is going to be hurtful and make life more difficult. That’s all true. So I’m a man who thinks that. But I also very much don’t think that this is the decisive event. And I think there are various reasons for that, and some of them are just, they’re undeniable.
HH: That’s what I want to go over, because there are a lot of our friends, and you know them all, because Hillsdale hosts them all, that are close to saying game over, I’m going to go do missionary work, I’m giving up on the republic. And they cannot do that, Larry Arnn, and you have made your life’s work the studying of especially leaders who have refused to do that.
LA: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, the reason you can’t do that, by the way, is that the cost is overwhelming. In other words, if you don’t live under good laws, life is truncated and hurt. And so injustice is done, and civilization is compromised. And one cannot acquiesce in that. One has to be involved. And since politics is natural to us, and since we do live in the greatest modern county, founded that way at least. We owe it a lot, and you know, the people who got us where we are today, they went through things that are worse than this. So first of all, it’s a duty not to do it. But also, there are two really good reasons to know that the game is not over, and I’ll tell you what they are if you want me to.
LA: Well, one of them is it’s very obvious that this election is not a general or uniform movement. It is shot through with contradictions, and I’ll give two examples of that. The obvious one is holding the House of Representatives, but also doing well in the governors races. And another obvious one is that 66% of the people in the exit votes, according to Fox News last night, in the exit polls, were asked would you raise taxes in order to cut the deficit, and two-thirds of the people said no, they wouldn’t do that. And that undergirds, or repeats a movement that’s been going on for about ten years, or fifteen years now in the polls toward a broad majority favoring smaller government. Now that’s one side of the equation, and it was strongly present in this election. But in addition, there’s the Obama victory and the gains in the Senate for the Democrats. And so what we have is a contradiction. We have still a house divided against itself, and that’s dangerous, but it doesn’t mean that there’s a resolution. It means in fact specifically there is not a resolution. And a resolution has to be made, and that’s in front of us, not behind us.
HH: You quote Scripture, and the man of course who springs to mind is Lincoln, who was summoned up by many commentators last night. What is the context of that house divided against itself cannot stand? And what is it’s applicability, Larry Arnn, to the situation?
LA: Well, it’s perfect, because the point is that he gave that house divided speech, and what he thinks is that if we, you know, either slavery is right, or freedom is right. And there’s a party that believes that slavery should be extended and protected as a good thing, and the founding principles of the country claim that it is not. And there’s an exact parallel today, because the people who founded the country believed and wrote, and established a Constitution to provide, that there must not ever be unlimited rule by any man or group of men over other men. And our government is getting to a place where it threatens to become limitless.
HH: Why do you think the electorate returned President Obama against every rule of incumbency?
LA: Well, he’s very capable, and he was up against an excellent ticket, but not a great ticket, in my opinion. And so he managed to sow doubt, and all the…the government, by the way, is a very strong force in elections now. So very much of his money came from inside the government through public employee unions, and so he has that strength, and that’s part of the problem. And he used it very ably. In addition, you know, to name a very dark thing, apparently, they did a lot of campaigning on radio, apparently, in the last ten days on social issues. And there, I think, Obama’s, sorry, Romney’s Mormonism was a harmful subtext in the campaign. And not, by the way, where people might think it would be. Among Christian, I think they were wild for him. I think it was among non-believers who thought that’s kind of cultish, and he’s got these cultish ideas.
HH: Oh, interesting. So that is news to me. That’s why I asked you to come and talk to me.
HH: Now Larry Arnn, I’m talking with Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, www.hillsdale.edu, author of The Founders’ Key, I wrote today, probably under your influence to a certain extent, pray for the President and the Congress, and yes, with special zeal, for the health of the Supreme Court. We are in uncharted waters, but the framers were geniuses, and we will see if that wisdom surpassed even what we had previously appreciated. Now the reason I think it’s uncharted is they did not know, could not have known, that we have a media industrial complex, and that media industrial complex, you just touched on part on it, government is a force in elections. What particular aspect of the Constitution helps us here?
LA: Well, you have to remember, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. In 1946, in Winston Churchill’s career, the Labour government got its first overall outright majority, and within a year, it had nationalized fifteen major industries. And it could do that all at once. And Obama is going, in all likelihood, he’s only going to have that kind of united power for two years, because our Constitution divides power, and it means to win the great gains that he needs to win, he needs to win more than he’s won so far. He did get two years, and he got his health care and his Dodd-Frank. And he’s got the power of the executive branch. But one part of the government is against him, and that’s crucial. It means no big, new things are going to go through. So the Constitution is working, right? And that’s, it’s genius. It’s operating very effectively.
HH: But I worry about the Court.
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HH: I want to go there, Larry. I was given a series of questions by Kathryn Jean Lopez this morning, which I answered, and I told her in these answers, I’m not smart enough to be a Straussian. I’m smart enough, however, to read the introductions to his book and be struck by things. And in the introduction to The City And Man, he writes the following. “However much the power of the West may have declined, however great the dangers to the West may be, that decline, that danger, nay the defeat, even the destruction of the West, would not necessarily prove that the West is in a crisis. The West could go down in honor certain of its purpose. The crisis of the West consists in the West’s having become uncertain of its purpose.” Is that applicable to yesterday?
LA: Well yeah, it’s certainly true that the more victorious among the forces yesterday are creatures of modern historicist Western thought, which is a giving up on objective knowledge of truth or of God. In fact, it claims it’s an objective truth that one can’t know an objective truth. And so that’s going on big time, and that’s what we’re up against. But remember, when you quote Strauss, that Strauss’ works were intended to be and constitute a revival of the West. And you know, you and I know each other and have been friends for so long now, and our relationship, when we’re at our best, constitutes a continuation of that tradition and meaning of the West. So the West is not dead. It’s besieged and heavily besieged from within. But as I say, you have to remember it’s obviously a house divided right now. We’re not going to get Obamacare repealed in the intermediate term. We know that now. And that means the country is going to get significantly worse. But I want to make this fundamental point, and it’s implicit in that quote from Strauss. There are many reasons why Churchill thought that Hitler could be defeated when it was, you know, I mean, the British had ten divisions or twelve divisions, and the Germans had 200, and had three times the air force, and the British were against them alone. And he thought they could be defeated, and there were, one reason was he thought he was morally obliged to believe that. He even said that. And there were other reasons, too. He calculated what the advantages are, and there are many detailed advantages that are parallel to the ones he had in 1940. But then there’s this fundamental one, and you have to remember this. If you believe that this kind of government cannot work, then you have to believe that it will not work. In other words, he looked at Hitler and he saw weakness. And the same thing, he and Ronald Reagan are the two statesmen I know who regarded the Soviet Union, even at the height of its power, as weak, because it is built on some propositions that are self-contradictory, and it produces things that are obviously unjust.
HH: Now Larry, I’ve got to break in here with Dr. Arnn, because I know the media industrial complex, and someone will go and get the transcription of this and say Larry Arnn compared Obama to Hitler, which you did not do.
HH: And I just want to underline that you are talking about a relative advantage of political forces, and as disadvantaged as Churchill was vis-à-vis Hitler, the Republicans are as disadvantaged as that vis-à-vis the President, or many so perceive. But Churchill did not give up. There’s no comparison to the Third Reich.
LA: No, and I don’t mean that.
HH: I know.
LA: Thank you for pointing that out. I hadn’t thought of that, actually, but…and thought of that problem. So you’re, once again, my helper in important ways. No, my point is simple. I think, by the way, I do think there’s one parallel. I don’t think that the modern bureaucratic form of government can work, or can, by the way, remain accountable to the people. So I believe in the fullness of time it’s likely to become despotic, although that’s not the intention of anybody who runs it today, or at least not very many people. It’s not self-understanding, either.
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HH: Larry, our mutual friend, Tony Saliba, has endeavored to name these studios the Reagan.com studios, and I’m very proud of that. And you mentioned that president in the last segment and how he always knew, as Solzhenitsyn knew, that it was all paper mache across the water, you could stick, you could poke a stick through it and it would fall apart. And it did. This is a little bit different, because nobody even knows how bad it is in terms of what it does to people. It is in fact trusted in a way that other bad governments, and again, I am not, nor it Larry, comparing the Obama administration to a despotic government, but they’re unaware of their own, or I think they’re unaware of their own badness.
LA: Well, but that’s both true and not true. You know, by the way, about their own self-understanding, we can only guess about that, but I imagine that that’s very true. In other words, they don’t think they’re bad. They think this is hopeful and high. They think that at last we can rationalize this society. We can plan it scientifically. We can coordinate it comprehensively so that no one is left out. That’s what they think. And by the way, if that were true, that would be good. But it, you know, and what I think is that defies human nature, and will come to disaster, and by the way, despotism, ultimately. But the point about it, nobody knows. And remember, there’s a deep thing going on in public opinion ever since the birth of bureaucratic government, but intensifying lately, and that is people don’t trust this kind of government, and they want less of it. And I don’t believe that this election signified any change in that opinion. What’s the key to the situation? Somebody has to find the key, because no one has been able to capitalize upon that opinion.
HH: Now let’s pick up on, and by the way, you mentioned the key. Larry Arnn’s book, The Founders’ Key, one of the essential guides to surviving the next two years, but the other guide is Speaker Boehner, a good and decent man very skilled in the ways of the House, genuinely conservative, genuinely pro-life, not a skilled orator.
HH: And so my question is if you were going to advise the Speaker on how to speak publicly, and this is what I hope you actually give an Imprimus address on, what would you encourage him to say and do in the near term?
LA: Well, the first thing, and by the way, I only read it quickly, but he made a statement last night, and it was pretty good. This is not a vote for more taxes and more government, and that’s the theme, right? And once you become better…you know, great statesmen are the ambassadors of providence sent to reveal to us our unknown selves. That’s Calvin Coolidge, and what it means is they’re not going to be around very often. But by the way, the standard of statesmanship is getting better. Paul Ryan is very able. John Boehner is better than his immediate predecessors, in my opinion. And so we do need to explain to people, and nobody’s very good at this, but I’ll make a quick attempt. This form of government proceeds by rules. And compliance becomes a key activity of the entire nation. And by the way, if you look at this form of government, you can see it physically when you walk around Washington, because there are buildings that house it, and they look like buildings that house that kind of activity. And in the old, original buildings in the Capitol, there’s no room for that kind of activity. You couldn’t employ the people and put them in the, in the buildings. There’s not space for them. So this kind of government proceeds by these rules, and in the end that means that bureaucracy, and the inefficiencies of bureaucracy, are essential to it. Now constitutional government proceeds by simple rules. Here’s a failure of Mitt Romney, and it’s an important failure. And I remember stood up and slapped my leg, and my wife said sit down, be quiet, in the middle of the first debate where Romney was very good. And he said I believe that business and prosperity require regulation. I’m not against regulation. What he might have said was I understand that we all must live under law to be productive and to live safely. But laws are different than regulations. Laws are simple, they are made in advance, and they cover everybody equally. And we can all participate in their enforcement, because they’re easy to understand. And he should have said that. And whereas the kind of, and you know, if it were I, because I do it all the time, I would have said you know, Mr. President, Abraham Lincoln, whom you admire, signed a law that gave away 10% of the land area of the United States to almost three million people. And the law is 1,320 words long.
LA: And your law, the Homestead Act is what that is, and by the way, without fear or favor, and not knowing who’s going to get the land, anybody can fit the category, whereas your laws are thousands of pages long. And then rules are made amounting to tens of thousands of pages to implement the laws. And only highly expert people who cost a lot of money can understand the laws. It’s a different form of government. And Mitt Romney was not able to make that distinction, and yet that distinction is at the heart of the choice.
HH: That would have been wonderful eloquence. And you know, Romney made some very eloquent remarks in that first debate, and in the second and the third, but that is something I’ve never heard a Republican…I knew about the Homestead Act. I didn’t think about it in the context of President Obama and his admiration for President Lincoln and how that might have undone him at some point.
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HH: Larry, the college has a graduate school of statesmanship. You have spent your life studying statesmen. And statesmen, we do have them right now, but we might have the raw material of a statesman. You don’t know if you’ve got them until they’re actually in the executive office. Who on the bench ought we to be looking to, to make these arguments and make them…you’ve mentioned Congressman Ryan, but to make the sorts of arguments that have to be made and quickly?
LA: Well, you know, you look to the ones who’ve got the music of America in them, and also who are good at learning. So Rubio is really great, isn’t he?
LA: And you know, there’s a lot of good governors now, and I hear that this Ted Cruz guy is dynamite.
HH: Oh, he is, yeah.
LA: And so you know, I think there’s a lot of talent coming up, and people understand the urgency of the situation, and that makes them better. Just remember when people went into politics, I’ll tell you a quick…so at one time, I was talking to Margaret Thatcher, whom I happen to know…
HH: Nice name check.
LA: She said what happened over there in 2008? And I said well, ma’am, it’s your fault. And she said my fault? And I said yes, ma’am, and she said why. And she said because they’ve adopted our principles? And I said no, ma’am, they have not done that. You didn’t do anything to your opponents these days. You have ruined your successors. And she said how’d I do that? And I said when you did what you did, nobody knew if it would work, and you chose it for its own sake. And the people who’ve come after you, many of whom are choosing it because you made it work, and they think it’s the road to success. And so a lot of them are pretenders. Well now, just think. The situation is more urgent now. There won’t be so many pretenders. And that’s a healthy development.
HH: Well, that is well and truly said. That is well and truly said. Dr. Larry Arnn, thanks for finding time on a busy day. I very, very much appreciate it, because I think you’ve encouraged a lot of people out there.
LA: Always a joy to talk to you, Hugh.
End of interview.