September 30, 2006
My remarks to The John Adams Society of Georgetown University
Remarks by Brendan Steinhauser to The John Adams Society at Georgetown University September 29, 2006 You can listen to the audio here. I’d like to first thank you all for being here, and for deciding to become active with ISI. I’d like to talk today about the current climate on college campuses, and what that means for our civilization. I’d also like to discuss the title of your club, The John Adams Society. First, please allow me to read an excerpt from my book The Conservative Revolution: How to Win the Battle for College Campuses. “Leftists have been the loudest and most successful activists on college campuses since the 1960's. Their infamous protests of the Vietnam War were exceptional in their magnitude. The demonstrations were so successful that communist Vietnamese leaders admitted that their efforts to win the war hinged upon the success of the so-called "anti-war protestors." They knew that their only hope was a divided America. Public opinion was vital to the American leadership as well, as indicated by the political decisions that prevented a successful end to the war. The lesson from this sad history is that students do matter, and always have. Students have the time and the means to organize for their causes. More importantly, college campuses are the battlegrounds for the ideas that shape public opinion. While conservatives have introduced ideas onto college campuses for decades, they have traditionally not been as successful at getting exposure for these ideas. But, this has been changing over the course of the last few years. National movements that seek to address the problem of the biased and blatantly Leftist universities are already making progress. "For over a half-century, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) has worked against the collectivist ideas on college campuses and has countered with the mission to further in successive generations of American college youth a better understanding of the economic, political, and spiritual values that sustain a free society." As I wrote on the back of my book, “College campuses today have become bastions of Marxism and political correctness.” The former radicals of the sixties have comfortably moved themselves in to the academy, along with their ideologies. Since academia is a place where ideas are not tested against reality, this seems the perfect place for their failed Marxist economic beliefs and for the deconstruction of postmodernism. When one can insulate oneself against reality, he does not have to face the inconvenience of determining whether is ideas work. Rather, he can lecture and write about the failings of the market economy and the potentialities of socialism. Young students who challenge his views on history, economics and politics are naïve, conditioned by their parents and that oppressive religion, Christianity, to think a certain way. Their minds have not been opened, and they have not thought outsight the dominant paradigm, which is controlled by the dominant (ie: white, male, Christian) culture. All the so-called classics, from Homer, to Aristotle, Aquinas to Shakespeare, can be deconstructed and discarded. And they should be replaced with Foucoult and Derrida, Chomsky and Marx. The West’s culture was superior only because it violently victimized non-Western, third-world peoples of color. It’s imperialism, racism, capitalism and sexism go hand-in-hand and are the driving forces of its dominance. Not its ideas. Well, I say hogwash. In Texas there is another less polite word for it, and it starts with “bull.” The Intercollegiate Studies Institute is a non-profit educational foundation that began in the fifties when a small cadre of students gathered together to counter the collectivism that had entrenched itself in American politics and culture. From the New Deal to communist sympathizers, Frank Chodorov and his friends realized that the academy was the battleground for ideas in America, and they began a mission that continues today: to Educate for Liberty. With the post-war conservative movement beginning to flourish, they tapped into the minds of men like Russell Kirk and William F. Buckley, and began holding small meetings like this one where they simply discussed ideas and great books. Although their small enterprise has grown into a huge institution that has thousands of members, their work is unfinished. The academy is now controlled by those tenured professors like Ward Churchill, Peter Singer, Noam Chomsky and Robert Jensen that seek to destroy the Western tradition steeped in Judeo-Christian values, ordered liberty, the free market, individual responsibility and rights. I do not use this term “destroy” imprecisely. When you read their texts or discuss their ideas with them, such academics are not ashamed to say that the West, and more specifically These United States, are what is wrong with the world. They seek to replace the Western tradition with something else, something ostensibly progressive. If progress is moral relativism, collectivistic economics, abortion, the end of gender, atheism, narcotics and democratic despotism, then I want none of it. The fact that these ideas not only permeate, but dominate, the liberal arts on college campuses, is what is so frightening, and why it is so important that groups like ISI continue their work. As Russell Kirk wrote in The Roots of American Order, “Our time of troubles is like the disorder of the Roman republic in the first century before Christ, and like the catastrophic collapse of Roman civilization in the fifth century after Christ. As individuals and as a civilization we people in the twentieth century grope for order.” I assure you the radical professors in the academy aim at disorder, moral anarchy and throwing the ideas of St. Augustine, of Plato, of the founding fathers, into the dustbin of discredited ideas. Because these ideas are the foundation upon which the West and ultimately the American Republic was founded, they must be destroyed. Ergo, we see curricula filled with the ideas that run counter to the West. Only by replacing Western culture with postmodern culture can the radical innovators bring about the zenith of their counter cultural utopian vision of man’s paradise on Earth. For, if one does not believe in God or his heavenly rewards, nor humanity’s fallen nature, then surely this Earthly existence can and must progress toward perfection. That, my friends, is the difference between us, and them. Hopefully I have clarified the struggle of ideas that we are facing every day in our culture. John Adams and Ordered Liberty Now I want to turn to one of the greatest founding fathers, whom you have chosen to honor by naming your club after him. Kirk has called John Adams “the founder of true conservatism in America.” Kirk writes in The Conservative Mind, “the American Revolution was not an innovative upheaval, but a conservative restoration of colonial prerogatives…Thus, men essentially conservative found themselves triumphant rebels.” It was Kirk’s thought that inspired me to write an essay called “Is there such a thing as a conservative revolution?” In this essay, I wrote, “Who could argue that this was a revolution whereby the colonists rebelled precisely to preserve their rights as British citizens? When listing the grievances in the Declaration of Independence that brought forth the revolution, Thomas Jefferson mentioned policies that the King and Parliament had instituted that had violated the colonists’ rights. Most of these policies were recently enacted, after the French and Indian War. It was the King and the Parliament, and not the colonists, who were changing things. Therefore, the revolution that ensued sought to restore things as they were before the innovations of the British government. This was a conservative revolution.” John Adams was indeed a conservative revolutionary. Adams knew the importance of religion in the polity. He wrote, “Is there a possibility that the government of nations may fall into the hands of men who teach the most disconsolate of all creeds, that men are but fireflies, and that this all is without a father?” “Give us again the gods of the Greeks.” It seems today that the academy is filled with people who would replace belief in a higher power with belief in the supremecy of consumption, self-gratification and secular humanism. Adams’ views of man’s equality might be pertinent for those today who worship at the alter of “equality.” He wrote, “That all men are born to equal rights is clear. Every being has a right to his own, as moral, as sacred, as any other has. But to teach that all men are born with equal powers and faculties, to equal influence in society, to equal property and advantages through life, is as gross a fraud, as glaring an imposition on the credulity of the people as ever was practiced by monks, by Druids, by Brahmins, by priests of the immortal Lama, or by the self-styled philosophers of the French Revolution. For honor’s sake, for truth and virtue’s sake, let American philosophers and politicians despise it.” This indictment of equality should ring true in light of today’s push for social leveling and redistribution of wealth and status. Adams preserved the Western tradition and its search for the truth. He reflected Aristotle’s Ethics when he wrote, “All sober inquirers after truth, ancient and modern, pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity, consists in virtue.” What were these virtues that good men should seek to cultivate? Certainly not the virtues espoused by our intellectual elites today. What were his views on power in light of his understanding of human nature? “My opinion” he writes “is, and always has been, that absolute power intoxicates alike despots, monarchs, aristocrats, and democrats, and Jacobins, and sans culottes.” It was the political genius of Adams and other founders that led Kirk to call our Constitution “the most successful conservative device in the history of the world.” Others can and have said much more about John Adams and his contributions to American liberty than I can. I highly recommend The Conservative Mind and The Roots of American Order, both by Russell Kirk, and both which describe the intellectual and moral tradition of what he called “The American Cause.” The point I’d like to leave you with is that you should immerse yourselves in the ideas and stories of the Western tradition stretching from the plains of Homer’s Troy, to Dante’s journey to hell, to Hamlet’s struggle with the grief of his father’s murder. These ideas and stories are worth reading, and re-reading, and telling and preserving. The literature, art, architecture and political philosophy of the West is the story of who we are today. I fear that if we do not defend our culture, both from radicals in the academy and barbarians at our gates, we could lose it. And despite what some intellectuals might have you believe, the world would most certainly not be better off if the West were to fall. You are the remnant that has the ability to preserve the ideas that influenced our founders at the creation of the Republic. Take it as a personal responsibility to speak out in class, to meet and discuss the great books, to introduce other students to these ideas and to continue the mission that ISI has been pursuing for over fifty years. Keep the torch of liberty lit, and carry on the traditions of the West, and of our country, what has been called “the last best hope for mankind.” Thank you for your attention.