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Dr. Larry Arnn Previews The Upcoming Totalitarian Seminar Series of Dialogues

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HH: Dr. Larry Arnn is kind of back from vacation, the president of Hillsdale College. Our weekly conversations are called the Hillsdale Dialogues. They’re all available at But I received video of the passengers aboard the Hillsdale cruise staggering off the ship loaded down with book bags and careening around quoting Aristotle. And that wasn’t a cruise. That wasn’t a vacation. That was like going back to the bar exam, Dr. Arnn.

LA: College is hard duty, and we like to spread…

HH: Who’s going to come on your cruise if they have to work that hard? I have in my, welcome back. I hope you had a good summer vacation.

LA: It’s your listeners. They come, Hugh.

HH: They do go, and they should go. They love the Hillsdale cruise, but for all things Hillsdale, you have been giving Prager, my nemesis, a digital version of Imprimis that I don’t get to give away. That’s an unfair advantage to a man who ought not to be given any advantages at all.

LA: No way. Everybody, anybody can get Imprimis digital.

HH: Well, Prager is saying it’s exclusive to him.

LA: Oh, is he?

HH: Yes, he is.

LA: Ooh. Well, he’s such an honest man. Why would he tell us that?

HH: He doesn’t, he’s a Russian speaker. That should tell you something. I have in my hand a syllabus which I want to discuss with you today after I ask you, we’ll talk about it next segment and next hour. You are teaching Ethics, Nature and Totalitarianism: Selected Writings from C.S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Arthur Kessler, and Winston Churchill this fall, are you not?

LA: I am.

HH: This is a kind of a cross-examination. In the objective of the, and I’m not going to list the instructor information, in the objective of the seminar, you write that totalitarianism is a neologism. It is in one sense a new name for an old thing, tyranny. The old thing, tyranny, is connected to ethics and to nature, because in the classics, who first used the term tyranny, politics is natural to human beings, an activity stemming from and inseparable. Now here’s what, I have a question for you. Tyranny is a kind of politics, the worst kind. Now you wrote this syllabus, did you not?

LA: I did.

HH: When you say that something is the worst kind, you are assuming knowledge of the best kind, right?

LA: Yes.

HH: So where do you get that from? I mean, this is 2016. How dare you tell us that something is the worst and something is the best?

LA: (laughing) There you go. Yeah, well, I mean, first of all, this is a very simple thing, right? Aristotle says that there are six kinds of government. There are three bad ones and three good ones. And the bad ones are all the ones where the ruler rules in his own interest. And the good ones are where the ruler rules in the public interest. And then so there are three bad ones and three good ones. Then the second classification is easy. This is how you get six. How many people rule? In tyranny, one person rules in his own interest. In monarchy, one person rules in the public interest. And aristocracy, a few people rule in the public interest. In oligarchy, a few people rule in their own interest. And in democracy, all rule in the public interest, and then the name for bad democracy, all people rule just in the interest of the majority, and oppress the minority, Aristotle says that, too, is called democracy.

HH: Now those are objective descriptions. I don’t think anyone can argue with the objective description nature of Aristotle’s politics. But what you say, what you claim is that tyranny is the worst kind. So that presupposes a standard.

LA: Yeah. Yeah.

HH: Where does that come from? I mean, haven’t there been good tyrants?

LA: No.

HH: Oh?

LA: No.

HH: Never?

LA: The reason is, if they’re good tyrants, they’re monarchs, right? I mean, sometimes, tyrants can do good things. You know, sometimes, occasionally, Hitler did some good things. You know, he built some pretty buildings. He built a lot of ugly ones, too. But no, then in that case, they would be called monarchs, right?

HH: Well, Sullah, I actually brought up Sullah on Meet the Press to the astonishment of many people two weeks ago. And Sullah was a dictator, and he was a tyrant, wasn’t he?

LA: Sometimes, but not like Hitler.

HH: No.

LA: And not, and see, that’s, and see, here’s, just remember in, so Saddam Hussein, right? The regime was serving his own appetites. He glorified himself.

HH: Yup.

LA: He took the resources of the state for his own satisfaction or pleasure, sometimes not just physical pleasure, but that’s very common. And so what ends up happening then, you know, there’s a really beautiful thing. I mean, if you want to understand tyranny, and look, you know, we’ve, some of these Arab states are just terrible tyrannies, or more commonly, oligarchies. And what goes on in them, right? These, the mullahs who rule some of these states are crazy, and often corrupt. I heard a really good lecture the other day, and he said the only people who are Muslims by the standards of the mullahs in Iran are mullahs. And everybody else thinks it’s a cruel joke. And so, but the point is they have this doctrine, and they exalt themselves. They’re the only ones who God vouch saves the direction of how to run the regime.

HH: All right, you have to pause, hit the pause button there. We’re going to come back and talk about the mullahs of Iran and how they are the worst kind of tyrants when I return to Dr. Larry Arnn of Hillsdale College, for all things Hillsdale, We are doing the Hillsdale hour across two hours right now.

— – — – –

HH: We are embarking on a new series of Hillsdale Dialogues over the next many weeks based upon the seminar that Dr. Arnn is teaching at Hillsdale College this fall, a seminar entitled Ethics, Nature And Totalitarianism. And I began immediately by challenging his statement in the syllabus that tyranny is the worst form, the worst kind of government. And we’re talking about mullahs. Somehow, he went from tyranny in Aristotle’s Politics to the mullahs. How did that happen, Dr. Arnn?

LA: Well, the mullahs in Iran, I think, are in fact an oligarchy, not a tyranny, so that was a bit of a slip. But I got there through Saddam Hussein, who was a tyrant.

HH: Yes.

LA: And who apparently shot his son-in-law in a cabinet meeting, by the way.

HH: He did.

LA: And so…

HH: It’s a very tyrannical thing to do if you think about it.

LA: It was, I mean, you know, well, it’s say it’s not exactly the rule of law.

HH: It is not the rule of law. I don’t think it’s happened in Washington, yet.

LA: And you know, do you have a married daughter?

HH: Yes, I do.

LA: Yeah, I do, too, and I bring this example up from time to time.

HH: (laughing) There are reasons I can’t do that. He’s a killer. And so (laughing)

LA: So (laughing) yeah, my son-in-law is a fine, young man, but he’s a political philosopher. I could kill him.

HH: And get away with it. He could throw a book at you. No, I’d end up with a bomb on my head if I did that. So in any event, tell me more about this seminar. I want to bring up another thing. You write in your syllabus this is a seminar. You must be here to participate. This seems to me to be rather tyrannical.

LA: Yeah, there you go.

HH: Your contribution is important, and not just to your own instruction, but to all of us. Each student will be required to submit a question or a comment, approximately 100 words, by 8:00pm of the evening prior to class. That is an exercise in tyranny, isn’t it? Are you a tyrant in your seminar?

LA: No, I’m a monarch.

HH: (laughing) Well, do you think your students agree with that?

LA: Oh, yeah. Well, you know, first of all, there’s a lot of classes offered at Hillsdale College. I’ve got a wait list, so…

HH: Well, there are a lot of people who want to get in tyrannies. But I’m actually getting at an important point. The difference between the tyrant and the monarch depends upon a non-objective judgment, doesn’t it?

LA: No, of course not. I mean, for example, you’re a father, right?

HH: Yes.

LA: And when they’re little, you have very great authority. You’d call it an oligarchy, you and your wife, maybe.

HH: Yes.

LA: But later, your authority is not unlimited, of course, or your legitimate authority is not, because do your kids talk to you today?

HH: Sure, yes.

LA: And they wouldn’t, see, because these distinctions between the bad forms of government and the good are rooted in justice, which is a natural virtue. And justice means giving to each person what is his due. And so if you assume that you can live somebody else’s life for them, or enslave them so they live their life in service of you, then you are taking something from them that does not belong to you. It does belong to…

HH: But I return…

LA: …them as their natural property.

HH: I return to the fact this is inherently subjective, because if you ask Saddam’s sons, who were dispatched by the American military rather rapidly after the invasion of Iraq, they probably thought that their tyrant father was a good monarch, correct?

LA: I doubt it, very much doubt it. In fact, I doubt if Saddam thought he was, because characteristic of tyranny, there’s a really great dialogue, The Hiero, by Xenophon, and it is a dialogue with a tyrant, and the tyrant, it emerges, is miserable, and why? Because he knows everyone hates him. And he has no security. I mean, why did, why was Saddam Hussein always murdering people?

HH: Why isn’t Xenophon’s The Hiero on this syllabus? I’ve never heard of that, by the way.

LA: Hiero. Well, it’s really great. Leo Strauss wrote a book about it called On Tyranny. And it’s not on there, because the five people that we’re reading are amazingly different people from different countries, and they wrote powerful and famous books, and they’re all about the same thing.

HH: And we’re going, in the next hour, we’re going to introduce people to this and give them our plan for the next many weeks, which will be following this. We’re also going to talk about Donald Trump and Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway and all the politics of the day, as I often do with Dr. Arnn. But I want to know, is the syllabus available online anywhere at Or do we keep this close?

LA: No, you can put it online if you’d like to. We…

HH: Because I want my audience to understand that beginning in two weeks, they have to have read the Ethics, Book One, the Politics, Book One, Chapter One or Two, or perhaps Chapters One to Five. I don’t think that’s a very definitive syllabus, if you ask me, and then the Politics, Book Three, Chapter Thirteen, and Herodotus’ History 5.92. But when you give a student choice a syllabus, it’s not really a syllabus, is it?

LA: Yeah, of course it is.

HH: I don’t know. It’s more of a suggestion. Well, I’ll talk more with Dr. Larry Arnn about this.

— – – — –

HH: I want to give you a few headlines, Dr. Arnn. Two German State Elections Pose Test For Angela Merkel Amid Voter Angst Over Migrants, because Angela Merkel basically decided to allow a million Arab refugees into Germany. I also want to tell you that the U.N. admitted today that they brought the cholera epidemic to Haiti when they were attempting to govern Haiti amidst the chaos in post-earthquake Haiti a few years ago. That’s a New York Times story. And, of course, people are worried that the arrival of said Steve Bannon, former head and chairman of as the CEO of the Trump campaign presages a sort of turn to the dark side of Team Trump, despite the fact that Kellyanne Conway, whom you and I have known for 20 years, has she been on the campus, by the way? Has Kellyanne been to Hillsdale before?

LA: She came on a cruise with us.

HH: Yeah.

LA: And she is delightful, by the way.

HH: She is delightful, and she’s a disciplined manager of messaging, and it’s a very good thing that she will be traveling with Donald Trump. But somehow, I don’t know Mr. Bannon at all. I wouldn’t know him from Adam if I bumped into him on an elevator, but he is controversial within circles of conservatism. But while we have actually a U.N. admitting to a tyrannical sort of mistake in Haiti, and Angela Merkel actually exercising tyrannical powers in Germany to admit a million people that the government never voted on, we have allegations of tyranny about Trump who’s in the private sector. Isn’t this odd?

LA: Yeah, it is. And you know, so to go back to our definitions, what Angela Merkel did was not tyrannical, exactly, because whatever else she is, she’s not a sole ruler. What she is, however, is a, and she is actually in a constitutional framework.

HH: Yeah.

LA: And she has been elected several times. And she has to stand for election, and she might lose anytime. But it is true that something is going on in modern politics that tends to oligarchy, and that is the state is very big in all of the former, or the current free republics, depending on where you think things are. And so the state becomes very big, and it becomes a huge factor in the electoral process itself. And the European Union, to zoom up, because if you just connect the dots, Angela Merkel decided to let those people in, and then once she did that, effectively, she had decided to let them into any country in the European Union.

HH: Yes.

LA: Because they say, that the principle is you can’t have free trade in goods without free trade, free movement of labor. And I keep pointing out to people who want to argue with him about that, that goods are different from labor. And they say why, which is an amazing thing, and I say well, labor is people. And if you took all the cotton in Egypt, and you took all the sheep in Britain, and you exchanged them, so all the cotton in Egypt was in Britain, and all the sheep in Britain were in Egypt, neither country would be fundamentally changed.

HH: Oh, the sheep would object.

LA: If you took all the people and exchanged them, they would be very much changed.

HH: Yeah, they would be completely transformed, but the sheep would object if they were sent to Egypt.

LA: (laughing)

HH: But I am mystified by this, actually, because you just defended Angela Merkel as part of a constitutional democracy and a framework that is constitutional, which indeed she is. But that’s like saying our Supreme Court exists in a constitutional framework, but it has assumed powers unto itself which verge on tyranny. They really do. I’ve been arguing we have to elect Trump because if we don’t, the Court will be lost for 40 years or forever, depending on how apocalyptical one wants to be, and we won’t know 40 years from now. You and I, at least, won’t know what’s going on. But the, except from the other side. And people don’t believe it, because the forms remain. And the forms don’t really matter if people take tyrannical authority. And didn’t the Bolsheviks prove that to us?

LA: Yeah, and the distinction I’m trying to introduce is the distinction between the rule of one, that’s evil, that’s tyranny, and the rule of a few, they can be many, but they have to be a small part of the society, and that’s what we call oligarchy. And that actually, if you think about it for a minute, is a pretty good term. Let’s say that it becomes true in America, and it has not become true, but let’s say it did become true. One can fear this now, plausibly, that the forces connected to the government, the very, the 22 million people I think it is who work for the government at all levels, and let’s say their various assigns became so strong that they really controlled elections. Then, they would be an oligarchy. And you know, they’re, you know, for example, Franklin Roosevelt didn’t want people who worked for the government to be members of unions. But now, I think there might be nine or eight of the top ten givers in politics are unions.

HH: Yup.

LA: And most of them are public employee unions. And so they have an interest in the size of the government, and there are signs that they vote according to that interest. And one should be afraid about that.

HH: And they should also be afraid that from the beginning of the republic forward, the drawing of Congressional districts has been a political process controlled by state legislatures, very political people responsive to the pressures of their particular region, city, county. That is, in recent years, been under attack by bipartisan commissions, which are bad, but even worse, the Supreme Court has very narrowly avoided taking control of that process and declaring this gerrymander to be good and that gerrymander to be bad, which would be the substitution of their judgment about political districting for the judgment of the people. And that would be the end of, because they would dress it up in an elegant rule that made it appear fair, but it would favor Democrats. Don’t you agree with me that if you have five leftists, and we have four leftists right now on the Supreme Court, and I say that with all due respect for Justices Breyer, Kagan, Sotomayor and Ginsberg. They are leftists. If you add a fifth, they will control politics in America. They will.

LA: Well, a lot of it. A lot of it, surely, and the thing is, you do need in democracy, a very interesting form of government that was never made to work in the ancient world for any extended period of time. And Aristotle actually doesn’t believe it can work. But we introduce something new into it, and that’s constitutionalism. And that means that as Jefferson said, in all cases, the majority must rule. But for the rule to be rightful, it must be reasonable and protective of the rights of minorities. How do you get that? More than any other man, I think, Thomas Jefferson’s friend, James Madison, supplied the answer to that in the writing of the Constitution of the United States, because the solution to gerrymandering, and we say gerrymandering instead of gerrymandering. We learned that from a professor who was a great expert on this, Alan Heslop in Claremont. He worked on this all his life, and he was English, so he said gerrymandering. But it’s named after Elbridge Gerry.

HH: Gerry, yes, Gerry.

LA: Yeah, yeah. But the way you fix that is you write a constitutional rule that provides that the districts be drawn in non-partisan ways. And you just put in a few rules. One of them is the districts have to be compact and contiguous. And that means, you know, all connected with each other, and the people are all living close to each other. And then his rule, he wrote like four rules. And if they would be implemented, they would work. And you have to start up in one corner of the state, and you have to work your way across and down in an orderly fashion drawing contiguous districts big enough to get the right number of people in them. And there’s a couple of other rules. There’s just four or five. And for years, he wanted that written into the California Constitution. And it would really work, and it would stop that practice. And that’s a constitutional check on the will of the majority.

HH: But what I fear is a judge-drawn rule that says if Democrats are drawing the lines, in their definition of contiguous rules, Republicans will be out of business.

— – – – –

HH: Dr. Arnn, just an introduction, give people some sense of why we are talking about totalitarianism in 2016, and particularly about Churchill, Lewis, Huxley, Orwell, Kessler and Churchill?

LA: Well, those are all books that relate to the scientific administration of society. They all are about, two of them are about communism. Aldous Huxley is about a future utopia or dystopia, depending on how you read it, in which people are manufactured. And Winston Churchill feared this growth of totalitarianism, and that word for tyranny was invented in the 20th Century. And all of those authors used it. And what it means is now for the first time, the government can control everything. In the Nazi regime, and in the communist regime, it was dangerous to talk to your children. And institutions were founded where the state could get information, control their education and get information from your children about you all the time. And that means the dinner table was controlled, something of which Winston Churchill warned might happen in England, as it might. And so what they think is, the use of the tools of modern science, we can make the society into something different. And that does mean the total control of everything. And that’s something that ancient tyranny couldn’t plausibly aim to do. And Aristotle writes of tyranny that it doesn’t last very long, because people hate it, and they resist it, and they tear it up. But there’s one way, it’s one of the most dramatic things in Aristotle, that it could sustain itself. And it is, he tells the story of a young tyrant who sends a messenger to an older one, one who has survived. And the messenger says my master wants to know how you keep in power. And he’s standing in a wheat field, and he’s got a sickle in his hand, and he starts lopping off tops of all of the tall pieces of grain. And the young man goes back and says what happened, he didn’t say anything, he just did this. And the young tyrant says I know what he means. That means every excellence, every friendship, every source of privacy in the society has got to be undermined. And that way, the only the connection people have with each other is through the tyrant. Well, that’s very hard to do in the ancient world. But where societies are richer, they can afford to have lots of secret police. And they can use listening devices. And they take up this science of breaking people down, including with torture, you know? In Dzerzhinsky Square in Moscow is the prison, the Lubyanka Prison. And to go in there is to go into the pit of Hell. And everybody knew what that was, and you could get a knock on the door at night, and your loved ones taken, and you never knew if you’d see them again, or where they were taken, and you knew that if you asked, you might be taken.

HH: And that’s why we’re going to study it. We’re going to do it for the next many weeks. But the good news is the tyrannies of the 20th Century did not have the technology of the 21st. Should they arise again, not such good news, Dr. Arnn, 20 seconds, correct?

LA: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, there’s a great story after our conquest or the liberation of Afghanistan where a young man who’d been in the mullahs’ secret police, said that his job was to go around at night listening for television or music or card playing, and that he was doing, people who did that were tortured, and he did that because they threatened his children.

HH: My gosh. That’s what’s ahead. Not cheery, but necessary. I’ll get the syllabus up, and we’ll send you a link, America.

End of interview.


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