So for this episode “Lucretia” and I were going to discuss, and ask for audience input on, whether we should change the name of our format to “Cocktails Against Communism,” but owing to some technical glitches that we seamlessly fixed over an extra glass of single malt so that you won’t even be able to guess where the patches are, we completely forgot! Maybe next week.

In the meantime, we decided to take up some listener suggestions that we flip the usual format and go straight into our weekly classroom seminar on political thought, and save the whisky banter and comments on news of the week for the end. Some people said they thought we’d be more lucid if we proceeded with a lower blood-whisky level, while other self-effacing listeners said that, as they drink whisky vicarously with us every week, they lose their own capacity by the time the seminar segment rolls around.

We decided this week to take up again the idea of “historicism,” inspired in part because I was re-reading, for the first time in 45 years, C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters (Lewis’s ironic, inside-out advice from the devil on how to corrupt a human being), where I came across two remarkable passages about historicism that parallel very closely the understanding of Leo Strauss in his classic essay, “Political Philosophy and History” (unfortunately not available online unless you have library access). I share excerpts from these passages in the episode, but for reference, here are the complete versions, starting with Lewis,  chapter 27 of Screwtape:

Only the learned read old books, and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so.We have done this by inculcating the Historical Point of View. The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase in the writer’s development, or in the general history of thought it illustrates, and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood (especially by the learned man’s own colleagues) and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the “present state of the question.”

This is a perfect description of the dominant scholarly mode in most of the humanities these days. Here’s Strauss’s parallel passage:

But we cannot be passionately interested, seriously interested in the past if we know beforehand that the present is in the most important respect superior to the past. Historians who started from this assumption felt no necessity to understand the past in itself; they understood it only as a preparation for the present. In studying a doctrine of the past, they did not ask primarily, what was the conscious and deliberate intention of its originator? They preferred to ask, what is the contribution of the doctrine to our beliefs? What is the meaning, unknown to the originator, of the doctrine from the point of view of the present? What is its meaning in the light of later discoveries or inventions? They took it for granted then that it is possible and even necessary to understand the thinkers of the past better than those thinkers understood themselves.

The second passage from chapter 15 of Screwtape (written in 1941 by the way) offers a keen insight into the Progressive mindset of today that flows from historicism:

We sometimes tempt a human to live in the Past. But this is of limited value, for they have some real knowledge of the Past and it has a determinate nature and, to that extent, resembles eternity. It is far better to make them live in the Future. . . Thought about the Future inflames hope and fear. Also, it is unknown to them, so that in making them think about it we make them think of unrealities. In a word, the Future is, of all things, the least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time—for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays. Hence the encouragement we have given to all those schemes of thought such as Creative Evolution, Scientific Humanism, or Communism, which fix men’s affections on the Future, on the very core of temporality. Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the Future. Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.

And here’s the parallel Strauss passage (written in 1949, for what it’s worth):

The typical historicism of the twentieth century demands that each generation interpret the past on the basis of its own experience and with a view to its own future. It is no longer contemplative, but activistic; and it attaches to that study of the past which is guided by the anticipated future, or which starts from and returns to the analysis of the present, a crucial philosophical significance:it expects from it the ultimate guidance for political life. The result is visible in practically every curriculum and textbook of our time. One has the impression that the question of the nature of political things has been superseded by the question of the characteristic “trends” of the social life of the present and of their historical origins, and that the question of the best, or just, political order has been superseded by the question of the probably or desirable future. . . Philosophic questions have been transformed into historical questions—or more precisely into historical questions of a “futuristic” character.

And the character of that Progressive future today is defined in a single word rapidly becoming familiar: “equity.” Which is not to be confused with equality.

Anyway, we give some baseline definitions of the terms hopefully in a user friendly way, before moving on to whisky news, Lucretia scolding Steve for going on Jonah Goldberg’s podcast this week, our Magic Numbers update, our Circleback Mountain update, and Beef of the Week. And it all came in just under an hour—a rarity for us! And let us know in the comments if you like the re-ordered format.

Subscribe to Power Line in Apple Podcasts (and leave a 5-star review, please!), or by RSS feed. For all our podcasts in one place, subscribe to the Ricochet Audio Network Superfeed in Apple Podcasts or by RSS feed.

There are 31 comments.

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  1. Functionary Thatcher
    Functionary
    @Functionary

    It is probably an omen. The link to Jonah’s podcast does not work for me.

    • #1
  2. Steven Hayward Podcaster
    Steven Hayward
    @StevenHayward

    Functionary (View Comment):

    It is probably an omen. The link to Jonah’s podcast does not work for me.

    Fixed!  (I hope.)

    • #2
  3. Functionary Thatcher
    Functionary
    @Functionary

    Thanks for engaging with Jonah. You hit the right points on the political philosophy, but I think there are a couple of “elephant in the room” questions of a pragmatic nature that were not mentioned, and make the discussion seem academic.

    1. Every American government (and non-governmental) institution is corrupt. Whether the Congress, the Executive, or the Courts are in balance or not, none of them answer to the people. The discussions about Chevron, and Congress grandstanding instead of legislating, etc. are yesterday’s arguments. Today, they amount to a distraction from the manifest corruption. For example, the Congress grandstanding seems to be a sop – or distraction – to their de jure constituents, while their de facto patrons exercise the real power.
    2. The perennial Ricochet controversy: In a two-party system, the Presidential election is a binary choice. Jonah supported the worst outcome.

    Avoiding these, was probably a conscious choice by both of you. “Too soon” said Jonah. Too late, say I.

    • #3
  4. Steven Hayward Podcaster
    Steven Hayward
    @StevenHayward

    Functionary (View Comment):

    Thanks for engaging with Jonah. You hit the right points on the political philosophy, but I think there are a couple of “elephant in the room” questions of a pragmatic nature that were not mentioned, and make the discussion seem academic.

    1. Every American government (and non-governmental) institution is corrupt. Whether the Congress, the Executive, or the Courts are in balance or not, none of them answer to the people. The discussions about Chevron, and Congress grandstanding instead of legislating, etc. are yesterday’s arguments. Today, they amount to a distraction from the manifest corruption. For example, the Congress grandstanding seems to be a sop – or distraction – to their de jure constituents, while their de facto patrons exercise the real power.
    2. The perennial Ricochet controversy: In a two-party system, the Presidential election is a binary choice. Jonah supported the worst outcome.

    Avoiding these, was probably a conscious choice by both of you. “Too soon” said Jonah. Too late, say I.

    I’m not sure who Jonah supported in this election, or if he even said. (I may have missed it.) But if you read his last book, he did say that if the 2016 election had come down to his sole vote, he’d had voted for Trump. Because he does understand it’s a binary choice, and Hillary was unacceptable.  It is possible, I think, to be high critical of your party’s nominee, and still vote for the person. Worth reviewing how conservatives split on Nixon both in 1968 and even in 1972.

    • #4
  5. Richard Easton Member
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    I took a three week course at Cambridge University in the late 1990s. One evening, I played a number of speed chess games at the student union. My opponent was drinking heavily but it didn’t affect his chess (we were evenly matched). I was amazed. Perhaps he’d taken lessons from Churchill.

    • #5
  6. Functionary Thatcher
    Functionary
    @Functionary

    Steven Hayward (View Comment):

    I’m not sure who Jonah supported in this election, or if he even said. (I may have missed it.) But if you read his last book, he did say that if the 2016 election had come down to his sole vote, he’d had voted for Trump. Because he does understand it’s a binary choice, and Hillary was unacceptable. It is possible, I think, to be high critical of your party’s nominee, and still vote for the person. Worth reviewing how conservatives split on Nixon both in 1968 and even in 1972.

    Having been an avid fan of Jonah’s for decades, I understand and generally agree with his criticisms of Trump and many of the Trump cheerleaders. I have no idea who he voted for (Virginia is no longer a swing state), but it is very clear that his main obsession is to keep alive the old Republican orthodoxy. As a result, he spends the vast majority of his efforts criticizing the Trump heresy (actually more so Trump’s character and demeanor), and almost no time on the real danger across the aisle. 

    In that sense, even though Jonah has not gone full Jennifer Rubin, he can be “objectively” considered to be the real agent of the corrupt governing class.

     

    • #6
  7. KarenZiminski Coolidge
    KarenZiminski
    @KarenZiminski

    I started avoiding any podcast with Jonah Goldberg on it long ago, not just for his political views, but for his Beavis and Butthead vibe, humor that might appeal to a dirty-minded fifteen-year-old, cringeworthy to an adult.

    • #7
  8. Al Sparks Thatcher
    Al Sparks
    @AlSparks

    Functionary (View Comment):
    Having been an avid fan of Jonah’s for decades, I understand and generally agree with his criticisms of Trump and many of the Trump cheerleaders. I have no idea who he voted for (Virginia is no longer a swing state), but it is very clear that his main obsession is to keep alive the old Republican orthodoxy.

    Jonah says he lives in D.C.  In 2016 he said that he couldn’t support either candidate and would vote for someone else.  He has never said who that someone else was.  I think he did the same in 2020.  Basically, he has said that as a D.C. voter, his vote as a conservative doesn’t count in a practical sense, so it really didn’t matter whether he voted for Trump or not.

    • #8
  9. Al Sparks Thatcher
    Al Sparks
    @AlSparks

    On how politicians treat their staff:  Lucretia asked if any liberal treated their staff well.  I have a theory, though I haven’t read enough about him to say for sure, that Hubert Humphrey, a happy warrior, probably did.

    I have a theory that Trump and Rush probably treat friends and staff well as long as there is a low-grade worship included.  If you end up personally disagreeing too much then you’ll be in the outs.

    Trump is famous for it, but why do I include Rush?  Both Trump and Rush have had failed marriages — more than one.

    George W Bush was known for discouraging blatant sycophancy.  The story goes that he was on Air Force One after giving a speech that didn’t go well, and he asked a junior aide how he did.  The aide diplomatically told him it could have been better.  Bush promptly grabbed his arm and “frog marched” him to the rest of his retinue, and informed them that this guy was the only one who told him his speech was not good.  He made it clear that he wanted honesty from his staff.

    Probably the modern president most famous for really messing with his staff was Lyndon Johnson.  I read the Evans and Novak book on him long before Caro came out with his tomes.  Anyone who worked for Johnson was in for a hard time.  Call it the Stockholm Affect, but he did have loyal staffers.  What really appalled me was how loyal his wife was to the rest of her days long after he had died.  This was a man who would openly seduce other women in front of her.  It boggles my mind.

    • #9
  10. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    I cannot understand why people would say LBJ netted out for the country. 

    • #10
  11. Boney Cole Member
    Boney Cole
    @BoneyCole

    Steve, I was very impressed by your wide ranging allusions, from Delmore Swartz to Father Neuhaus. Lucretia, thank you for your disquisition on historicism.  It is good to be reminded and reinforced in such an impassioned and informed manner.  Also, Steve, thanks for the alternative and more energetic renditions of of “Wiskey on the Jar”

    On the subject of high profile never- Trumpers.  I think the are irrelevant.  I think VDH makes the same point on his podcast.  Trump grew the Republican vote by 10 million, and diversified it. 
    I am impressed by the Time article that described the elite secret conspiracy to defeat Trump.  I have an image of the Board of Directors meeting for a post election analysis. For a few brief moments they discuss the Anti-Trump funding project.  They conclude that it had no discernible impact in the election, but the 100 million dollar investment was so small to comparison with overall expenditures that they might as well continue it, for amusement sake if nothing else.  With that I down my last glass of Old Crow. 

    • #11
  12. Functionary Thatcher
    Functionary
    @Functionary

    Al Sparks (View Comment):

    Jonah says he lives in D.C. In 2016 he said that he couldn’t support either candidate and would vote for someone else. He has never said who that someone else was. I think he did the same in 2020. Basically, he has said that as a D.C. voter, his vote as a conservative doesn’t count in a practical sense, so it really didn’t matter whether he voted for Trump or not.

    You’re right Al; he lives in DC, not Virginia. Jonah Tweet October 2020 

    My point still stands, though. Neither locale is closely divided, and his vote had no affect on the outcome. The affect was that of his obsessive negative focus on Trump’s character, and the impact he had with his large audience (he is quite influential!).

    • #12
  13. Boney Cole Member
    Boney Cole
    @BoneyCole

    I have a little bit of Jameson’s left, so I will continue. Steven, I enjoyed your references to C.S.Lewis, and enjoy the remembrance of reading many of his books and essays.  He was an important part of my reChristianisation, which ultimately led to Roman Catholicism.  Of course, Lewis never crossed the Tiber, and as far as I know never discussed the matter in writing. Roger Scruton, another man I greatly admired,  also adopted Christianity but not Catholicism.  I understand that Scruton studied the matter and chose to stay with Anglicanism. I also understand that you were a personnel friend of his.  Do you know the basis of his decision?

    PS. In early 2017, while recovering from a hip replacement, I hobbled into a talk by Roger Scruton hosted by you at a think tank in DC.  At the food table I talked briefly with Scruton about his book Disappeared, which I had read.  I wished I had something  interesting to say to him to spark a conversation. Alas, I mumbled  something about how it was pretty good and we went our separate ways. 

    • #13
  14. Steven Hayward Podcaster
    Steven Hayward
    @StevenHayward

    Boney Cole (View Comment):

    I have a little bit of Jameson’s left, so I will continue. Steven, I enjoyed your references to C.S.Lewis, and enjoy the remembrance of reading many of his books and essays. He was an important part of my reChristianisation, which ultimately led to Roman Catholicism. Of course, Lewis never crossed the Tiber, and as far as I know never discussed the matter in writing. Roger Scruton, another man I greatly admired, also adopted Christianity but not Catholicism. I understand that Scruton studied the matter and chose to stay with Anglicanism. I also understand that you were a personnel friend of his. Do you know the basis of his decision?

    PS. In early 2017, while recovering from a hip replacement, I hobbled into a talk by Roger Scruton hosted by you at a think tank in DC. At the food table I talked briefly with Scruton about his book Disappeared, which I had read. I wished I had something interesting to say to him to spark a conversation. Alas, I mumbled something about how it was pretty good and we went our separate ways.

    He was the nicest man. I really miss him.

    • #14
  15. Old Radio Guy Coolidge
    Old Radio Guy
    @alanfinger

    Podcasts come and podcasts go but Three Whiskey Hour is the one I look forward to every week. Thanks Steve and Lucretia!

    • #15
  16. mildlyo Member
    mildlyo
    @mildlyo

    Lucretia is the best. Never change, fair Lady

    • #16
  17. The Cloaked Gaijin Member
    The Cloaked Gaijin
    @TheCloakedGaijin

    Functionary (View Comment):

    (Virginia is no longer a swing state)

    Trump won 44.41% of the vote in 2016 and 44.00% in 2020.

    However, Biden won 54.11% in 2020 while Hillary only won 49.73% in 2016.

     

     

     

    • #17
  18. Boney Cole Member
    Boney Cole
    @BoneyCole

    Fairfax County has a population of 1 million.  The entire state is 8.5 million. Fairfax is a creature of the government. They always report the DC suburbs last on election night, just to remind the rest of Virginia that they don’t really matter any more.  Additionally, Terry McAuliff(former Governor and all-purpose Clinton creepster) tweeted on election night not to worry about Virginia, they had a million mail-in votes that they would count last, just in case. 

    • #18
  19. Goldwaterwoman Thatcher
    Goldwaterwoman
    @goldwaterwoman

    mildlyo (View Comment):

    Lucretia is the best. Never change, fair Lady

    Love her as she helps dummies like me understand the main points of their subjects. She also has a lovely voice.

    • #19
  20. Lucretia Contributor
    Lucretia
    @Lucretia

    Goldwaterwoman (View Comment):

    mildlyo (View Comment):

    Lucretia is the best. Never change, fair Lady

    Love her as she helps dummies like me understand the main points of their subjects. She also has a lovely voice.

    I just joined Ricochet just so I could express my appreciation to you both for your kind words!

    • #20
  21. colleenb Member
    colleenb
    @colleenb

    Boney Cole (View Comment):

    Fairfax County has a population of 1 million. The entire state is 8.5 million. Fairfax is a creature of the government. They always report the DC suburbs last on election night, just to remind the rest of Virginia that they don’t really matter any more. Additionally, Terry McAuliff(former Governor and all-purpose Clinton creepster) tweeted on election night not to worry about Virginia, they had a million mail-in votes that they would count last, just in case.

    That’s governor-elect McAuliff to you. Speaking of which, I can’t believe Fairfax is running for governor especially with all the Cuomo kerfuffle kerfuffle.

    • #21
  22. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    Excellent quotations from C.S. Lewis. I think I read Screwtape Letters many years ago but I’ll have to read it again.

    • #22
  23. Captain French Moderator
    Captain French
    @AlFrench

    Lucretia (View Comment):

    Goldwaterwoman (View Comment):

    mildlyo (View Comment):

    Lucretia is the best. Never change, fair Lady

    Love her as she helps dummies like me understand the main points of their subjects. She also has a lovely voice.

    I just joined Ricochet just so I could express my appreciation to you both for your kind words!

    Welcome. It is good to see you here.

    We’ll help you gang up on Steve.

    • #23
  24. colleenb Member
    colleenb
    @colleenb

    Matt Bartle (View Comment):

    Excellent quotations from C.S. Lewis. I think I read Screwtape Letters many years ago but I’ll have to read it again.

    C.S. Lewis is one of those writers who, when I read him, I think why the heck have I not read everything he has written!!? Then I forget and don’t get as much of his read as I should. I did read the Screwtape Letters a few years back but have not tackled Surprised by Joy and the others. 

    Great discussion as usual Lucretia – and Steve.

    • #24
  25. Richard Easton Member
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    Captain French (View Comment):

    Lucretia (View Comment):

    Goldwaterwoman (View Comment):

    mildlyo (View Comment):

    Lucretia is the best. Never change, fair Lady

    Love her as she helps dummies like me understand the main points of their subjects. She also has a lovely voice.

    I just joined Ricochet just so I could express my appreciation to you both for your kind words!

    Welcome. It is good to see you here.

    We’ll help you gang up on Steve.

    The is my favorite R podcast (London Calling is a close second).

    • #25
  26. Steven Hayward Podcaster
    Steven Hayward
    @StevenHayward

    Al Sparks (View Comment):

    On how politicians treat their staff: Lucretia asked if any liberal treated their staff well. I have a theory, though I haven’t read enough about him to say for sure, that Hubert Humphrey, a happy warrior, probably did.

    I have a theory that Trump and Rush probably treat friends and staff well as long as there is a low-grade worship included. If you end up personally disagreeing too much then you’ll be in the outs.

    Trump is famous for it, but why do I include Rush? Both Trump and Rush have had failed marriages — more than one.

    George W Bush was known for discouraging blatant sycophancy. The story goes that he was on Air Force One after giving a speech that didn’t go well, and he asked a junior aide how he did. The aide diplomatically told him it could have been better. Bush promptly grabbed his arm and “frog marched” him to the rest of his retinue, and informed them that this guy was the only one who told him his speech was not good. He made it clear that he wanted honesty from his staff.

    Probably the modern president most famous for really messing with his staff was Lyndon Johnson. I read the Evans and Novak book on him long before Caro came out with his tomes. Anyone who worked for Johnson was in for a hard time. Call it the Stockholm Affect, but he did have loyal staffers. What really appalled me was how loyal his wife was to the rest of her days long after he had died. This was a man who would openly seduce other women in front of her. It boggles my mind.

    We’re going to come back to this question in our next episode. Stand by!

    • #26
  27. Richard Easton Member
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    Will you be talking about the military v Tucker? Someone with a sense of humor changed this Wikipedia page.

    • #27
  28. colleenb Member
    colleenb
    @colleenb

    Richard Easton (View Comment):

    Will you be talking about the military v Tucker? Someone with a sense of humor changed this Wikipedia page.

    Probably a (former) Marine. 

    • #28
  29. Steven Hayward Podcaster
    Steven Hayward
    @StevenHayward

    Functionary (View Comment):

    Thanks for engaging with Jonah. You hit the right points on the political philosophy, but I think there are a couple of “elephant in the room” questions of a pragmatic nature that were not mentioned, and make the discussion seem academic.

    1. Every American government (and non-governmental) institution is corrupt. Whether the Congress, the Executive, or the Courts are in balance or not, none of them answer to the people. The discussions about Chevron, and Congress grandstanding instead of legislating, etc. are yesterday’s arguments. Today, they amount to a distraction from the manifest corruption. For example, the Congress grandstanding seems to be a sop – or distraction – to their de jure constituents, while their de facto patrons exercise the real power.
    2. The perennial Ricochet controversy: In a two-party system, the Presidential election is a binary choice. Jonah supported the worst outcome.

    Avoiding these, was probably a conscious choice by both of you. “Too soon” said Jonah. Too late, say I.

    From a long ago, happier time:

    • #29
  30. Emmett C Stanton Coolidge
    Emmett C Stanton
    @EmmettCStanton

    I have an Al Lowenstein anecdote. In the 60s, before he was famous, he was a Dean of Students at Stanford. It coincided with the institution of co-ed dorms. The Stanford Mother’s Club of the Peninsula (Stanford being on the San Francisco peninsula) asked the university to send a speaker to their monthly lunch: PS: do not send anyone lower than a dean. Lowenstein drew the short straw and in due course appeared. He introduced himself and referred to the Club’s restriction and told the assembled ladies that at Stanford, there was nobody lower than a dean.
    I’ve repeated that story many times. Deans tend not to laugh.

    • #30