[Rushtalk] Hugh Hewitt

John A. Quayle blueoval57 at verizon.net
Wed Jan 9 01:56:01 MST 2013

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Larry Arnn

December 2012

Larry P. Arnn
President, Hillsdale College

Time to Give Up or Time to Fight On?

An Interview with Dr. Larry P. Arnn

Larry P. Arnn, the twelfth president of Hillsdale 
College, received his B.A. from Arkansas State 
University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in government 
from the Claremont Graduate School. From 1977 to 
1980, he also studied at the London School of 
Economics and at Worcester College, Oxford 
University, where he served as director of 
research for Martin Gilbert, the official 
biographer of Winston Churchill. From 1985 until 
his appointment as president of Hillsdale College 
in 2000, he was president of the Claremont 
Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and 
Political Philosophy. He is the author of Liberty 
and Learning: The Evolution of American Education 
and The Founders’ Key: The Divine and Natural 
Connection Between the Declaration and the 
Constitution and What We Risk By Losing It.

The following is adapted from an interview by 
Hugh Hewitt for the Hugh Hewitt Radio Show, 
conducted on the day after the election, November 7, 2012.

Hugh Hewitt: My guest is Larry Arnn, the 
president of Hillsdale College. Several weeks 
ago, when I was at Hillsdale, Dr. Arnn warned me 
that yesterday’s election might well go badly for 
the cause of constitutional conservatism. And I 
wanted to review the results of the election with 
him today on the radio show. Larry, welcome.

Larry P. Arnn: Thank you, Hugh, good to be with 
you. And it did indeed turn out to be a terrible 
election from the standpoint of 
constitutionalism. Its results will bring about 
hardships and set back the time frame for 
reviving the kind of government our Founders 
bequeathed to us. I do agree with that. But I 
very much disagree with the idea that this 
election marks a decisive event in our politics, or a point of no return.

HH: That’s what I want to discuss, because there 
are a lot of people who are close to saying “game 
over,” who are tempted now to retreat from 
politics­to go do missionary work, for 
instance­and give up on the republic. But you 
have made your life’s work the studying of leaders who have refused to do that.

LPA: That’s right. And the reason you can’t do 
that, by the way­the reason you can’t retreat 
into private life and give up on politics­is that 
the cost of doing it is overwhelming. If you 
don’t live under good laws, life becomes 
truncated and less happy, injustice becomes 
customary, civilization is compromised. And one 
cannot acquiesce in that. One has to be involved. 
And since politics is natural to us­man is 
essentially political, as Aristotle says­and 
since we do live in the greatest modern 
country­founded that way at least­we owe it a 
lot. And many of the people who have seen the 
republic through to where we are today have gone 
through things that are worse than this. So first 
of all, it’s a duty not to give up. But second, 
there are good reasons to know that the game isn’t over.

HH: What are the reasons?

LPA: One of them is that the election is shot 
through with contradictions. The obvious 
contradiction is that we have a divided 
government. The presidency and the Senate are in 
the hands of one party, and the House of 
Representatives and most governorships are in the 
hands of the other. A second contradiction is 
that a large majority of people continued to say 
in the exit polls that they were against raising 
taxes in order to cut the deficit. One might be 
cynical and put that down to an irresponsible 
refusal to pay for existing benefits­to get more 
and more “free stuff.” But for a long time now, 
opinion polls have pointed towards the existence 
of a broad majority of Americans who favor 
smaller government. This obviously contradicts 
the re-election of the president and the 
Democratic gains in the Senate. The country is 
still a house divided against itself, and that’s 
dangerous. But it doesn’t mean that there’s been 
a resolution. It means in fact the opposite: 
there is not a resolution. That resolution still 
has to be made, and the making of it lies ahead of us, and not behind us.

HH: Reminding us of the words from scripture that 
a house divided against itself cannot stand 
reminds us also of Lincoln. What is the 
applicability of Lincoln’s situation to our own?

LPA: Lincoln’s argument was that either slavery 
is right or freedom is right, and that the 
country couldn’t long stand if it was divided on 
which was so. There was an argument that slavery 
should be allowed to spread and be protected as a 
good thing, and there was an argument that 
slavery violated America’s principles and should 
be kept from spreading. There’s almost an exact 
parallel today, because the people who founded 
our country believed and wrote­and established a 
Constitution to provide­that there must never 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.

Not only that, but government itself has become a 
strong force in elections: Much of the money 
funding the party of big government comes from 
inside the government through public employee 
unions­not to mention corporations, so many of 
which receive a form of welfare from the 
government. This new development represents a 
dangerous corruption of the election process­and 
elections are the only means left to Americans to 
limit government. It’s a real problem.

HH: Another new form of corruption is what I call 
the media-industrial complex. We seem to be in 
uncharted waters now. The Framers of the 
Constitution were geniuses, but we will see if 
their wisdom is up to these new challenges.

LPA: Well just think of what our Constitution is 
doing right now­the protection it is providing. 
In 1946 in England, following Churchill’s ouster 
as prime minister, the Labor government got its 
first outright majority, and within a year it had 
nationalized 15 or so major industries. It was 
able to do that all at once. Compare that to what 
occurred here. President Obama only had that kind 
of united power for two years, because our 
Constitution divides power. He did, in his first 
two years, push through Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, 
which are significant. They will do a lot of 
damage, and we are stuck with them for now 
because of the election. But despite the 
election, one part of the government remains in 
the hands of the opposition. That means that no 
big new legislation is going to go through. So 
the Constitution is working, despite the uncharted waters you mention.

HH: In his introduction to The City and Man, Leo Strauss wrote this:

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 what we see in our politics today?

LPA: It is certainly true that the vast majority 
of our nation’s elites today­those who welcome 
the results of yesterday’s election­are creatures 
of modern historicist thought, which explicitly 
rejects the kind of objective principles­equality 
under God, inalienable rights­on which America 
was founded. According to modern historicism, the 
only objective truth is that one can’t know an 
objective truth. President Obama embraces this 
view in no uncertain terms in his book The 
Audacity of Hope: “Implicit . . . in the very 
idea of ordered liberty,” he writes, is “a 
rejection of absolute truth, the infallibility of 
any idea or ideology or theology or ‘ism,’ any 
tyrannical consistency that might lock future 
generations into a single unalterable course . . 
. .” So much for individual rights and limited government.

This view, which drives modern liberalism or 
Progressivism, has been on the ascendant. But 
remember when you quote Strauss that his works 
were intended to constitute a revival of the 
West. The West is heavily besieged from within, 
but it’s not dead. We are obviously a house 
divided right now, and I think it’s safe to say 
that conditions are going to get significantly 
worse before they get better. But we need to 
remember why Churchill thought that Hitler could 
be defeated even when the British had ten or 
twelve divisions and the Germans had 200, plus 
three times the air force, and the British stood alone.

For one thing, Churchill thought free men were 
morally obliged to believe it, in order to go 
down fighting if necessary. But beyond that, he 
calculated what the advantages were. And there 
was a fundamental advantage that is especially 
important for us to recall today: Churchill 
believed that Hitler’s kind of government could 
not work, and thus that it would not work. In 
other words, he looked at Hitler and he saw 
weakness­despite Hitler’s great military advantage.

Similarly, Churchill and Ronald Reagan are the 
two statesmen I know who regarded the Soviet 
Union as weak, even at the height of its power, 
because it was built on self-contradictory 
propositions and its system led to obvious and 
repeated injustices. Churchill believed that also 
of the socialist government to which he lost in 1946.

HH: Now Larry, I’ve got to break in here, because 
I know the media-industrial complex, and someone 
will go and get the transcription of this and say 
that you are comparing Obama to Hitler, which you 
are not doing. What you are talking about is a 
relative advantage of political forces today, 
comparing that to the relative advantage in 
military forces of Hitler vis-à-vis Churchill. 
You aren’t comparing our government today to the Third Reich.

LPA: No, and I don’t mean that. What I mean is 
that the principles of Progressivism that animate 
our government today, which are antithetical to 
the principles of the American Founding, lead to 
policies that cannot work, will not work, and 
result in obvious injustices. That is its 
weakness, and that provides cause for hope. But 
by the way, there is a parallel with the great 
twentieth century tyrannies: The modern 
bureaucratic form of government cannot remain 
accountable to the people, so in the fullness of 
time it will become despotic. That’s not the 
intention of anybody who runs it today, or at 
least not very many people. But that is its direction.

HH: You mentioned Reagan, who always seemed to 
know, as Solzhenitsyn knew, that it was all 
papier-mâché in the Soviet Union­that you could 
poke a stick through it and it would fall apart. 
It was held together by fear. But modern 
bureaucratic government operates in such a way as 
to gain people’s allegiance and trust. Isn’t that 
a significant difference between the two?

LPA: The experts who run the modern bureaucratic 
state think they are architects of a perfectly 
rational society. They think of themselves as 
scientists, and of the running of government as 
something more like science­the science of 
administration­than politics. They think they can 
coordinate society comprehensively so that no one 
is left out. That’s why they think of their work 
as something good and as something high. The 
problem is that what they are trying to do defies 
human nature­the human nature that led James 
Madison to write famously that men are not 
angels, and that led the Framers of the 
Constitution to divide government in order to 
limit government­and so what these experts are 
doing will ultimately lead to despotism.

But to speak directly to your question, Hugh, 
there are many indications that there’s a deep 
and even intensifying opposition to bureaucratic 
government today. People don’t like it, and they 
don’t trust it. They want less of it. And I don’t 
believe that yesterday’s election signified any 
change in that. Now, how to harness that opinion 
politically is the challenge. No one yet has been able to capitalize upon it.

HH: What would be your advice as to what 
constitutional conservatives should be saying?

LPA: One obvious theme to strike is that people 
didn’t vote for, and don’t support, higher taxes 
and bigger government. But conservative statesmen 
have to get better. Calvin Coolidge once said 
that great statesmen are “ambassadors of 
providence, sent to reveal to us our unknown 
selves.” What that means is that great statesmen 
are not going to be around very often. I’d say 
that the standard of conservative statesmanship 
today is improving, but too few prominent 
conservatives are skillful at explaining the 
problem of the modern bureaucratic state. This 
form of government proceeds by rules, and rules 
upon rules, and compliance with those rules 
becomes a key activity of the entire nation. That 
results in bureaucracy, and in the inefficiencies 
of bureaucracy. Constitutional government, on the 
other hand, proceeds by clearly stated laws.

Not grasping this is an important failure of 
conservative statesmen today. During the first 
presidential debate I stood up and slapped my 
leg, and my wife said to sit down and be quiet, 
when Mitt Romney said that business and 
prosperity require regulation. What he should 
have said instead was that of course we require 
laws in order to be productive and to live 
safely, but that laws are different than 
regulations. Laws are passed by elected (and thus 
accountable) representatives, they cover 
everybody equally, and we can all participate in 
their enforcement because they are easy to 
understand. Not one of those three things is true 
of the regulations imposed by independent boards 
such as those established under Obamacare and 
Dodd-Frank. Romney was not able to make that 
distinction, and yet that distinction is at the 
heart of the choice Americans must make about how they will be governed.

HH: Larry, Hillsdale College now has a Graduate 
School of Statesmanship, and you have spent your 
life studying statesmen. Do we have statesmen 
now, or people you see who are potentially great statesmen?

LPA: What you look for are the ones who have the 
music of America in them, and who are also good 
at learning. It takes both things, and there are 
some fine young conservatives in Congress and 
serving as governors who give one hope. They 
understand the urgency of the situation, and that makes them better.

I was talking to Margaret Thatcher a couple years 
ago, and she asked about the setbacks American 
conservatives had been suffering. And I said, 
“Well ma’am, it’s your fault. You have ruined 
your successors.” And she said, “How did I do 
that?” And I told her that when she did what she 
did, nobody knew if it would work, so it was 
clear that she chose it because she believed in 
it. But the people who’ve come after her­after 
her and Ronald Reagan, I might have said­many of 
them chose it because she and Reagan made it 
work, so they considered it to be the road to 
success. In other words, a lot of them have been 
pretenders. But the situation is more urgent now, 
and there won’t be so many pretenders. The 
pretenders will jump ship. And that’s a healthy development.

But let me close with a word about Churchill. The 
service that he did in 1940, when his nation 
stood up against Hitler alone, was preceded by a 
service equally great. In the 1930s, British 
politics were ugly and ill-directed. Churchill’s 
own party leaders conspired to deprive him not 
only of his seat in Parliament, but of his 
livelihood writing for the public. One of his 
colleagues, an official in the Foreign Ministry 
named Ralph Wigram, was threatened with transfer 
to a remote place without medical care­his son 
had birth defects­if he continued speaking with 
Churchill. Churchill, Wigram, and Wigram’s wife 
Ava stood up to this kind of thing, year after 
year. First a few, and then many, and then 
legions joined them. Finally the British people 
realized the truth, and then all over London 
billboards appeared with the words in large black 
letters, “What Price Churchill?” He was called to 
lead in 1940 because he proved in the 1930s that he could do so.

That same year, Churchill asked one of his 
assistants, John Colville, to find him the 
precise text of a prayer he remembered from the siege of Gibraltar. It reads:

Fear not the result, for either thy end shall be 
an enviable and a majestic one, or God will 
preserve our reign upon the waters.

We might follow Churchill in saying that prayer 
in hard times. We might cultivate the strength that it can give.

Copyright © 2012 Hillsdale College. The opinions 
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