Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Beyond humility

Shorter David Brooks, "Saving the System", New York Times, April 29, 2012:
I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I do this grand strategy thing at Yale with a bunch of guys that you probably never heard of because it's, shall we say, kind of exclusive. Not Humility Studies, if you know what I mean. We were just emailing each other the other day about the state of the world, too, and how difficult it is for America to make all the other countries do what we want any more, and how stupid and petty-minded voters are, and I mentioned this article I saw in Foreign Affairs, and I can tell you we are very concerned.
Image from OceanWisher.
Studies in Grand Strategy is a full-year postgraduate class led by Professors John Lewis Gaddis, Charles Hill, and Paul Kennedy running from January to December,
with readings in classical works from Sun Tzu to Clausewitz to Kissinger as well as more contemporary works from the post-Cold War era. Students will identify principles of strategy and examine the extent to which these were or were not applied in historical case studies from the Peloponnesian War to the post-Cold War period. During the summer, students will undertake research projects or internships designed to apply resulting insights to the detailed analysis of a particular strategic problem or aspect of strategy, whether of a historical or contemporary character. In the fall, the seminar will turn its attention to fundamental contemporary grand strategic issues. 
Founded in 2000, it took on a certain national importance in the early years of the Bush administration, when the new powers found that, while it was okay to staff a low-rent department like Justice with the graduates of Regent University, a different standard was needed for State and Defense. Grand Strategy became the go-to place, attracting a fairly precious brand of student:
When they discussed George Packer's book, "The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq," with cadets at West Point, the students decided not to record the discussion because they did not want to have "views expressed in the spirit of intellectual debate be used against them at a Senate confirmation hearing" some day, said Minh A. Luong, the program's associate director. (Wall Street Journal, December 20 2008)
So last year the Visiting Professor of Humility, who had to be in New Haven on Tuesday mornings anyway, took to showing up a day early to sit in with the kids preparing for their confirmation hearings, in the role of a Co-Teacher, alongside the memorable foreign-policy thug, but not convicted criminal, John Negroponte, a regular on the show. This year it seems he's become a permanent regular in his own right, but it sounds like he's cutting classes, since he has to communicate with Hill by email.

Someday I may finish the post I started on last year's classes, when Brooks published his lecture notes on Machiavelli (the Cesare Borgia of our time turned out, natch, to be Barack Obama, in a good way, sort of, but not really, and the interpretation of Machiavelli was off the wall, I thought, but the argument was going to be pretty complicated). For today's piece, the title, "Saving the System", is telling: I have a funny feeling the real concern is that if they don't get a Republican elected president pretty soon none of their graduates are ever going to get proper jobs ruling the planet—a long, dark future at the Hoover or Manhattan Institute, wingnut welfare dependency, crushed pride. I'm so sorry.
Agostino Carracci, Hairy Harry, Mad Peter and Tiny Amon, between 1598 and 1600, used in a similar context in January 2013 by Tom Levenson.
Driftglass suggests that Brooks's teaching might be most effective if he was enclosed in a glass booth, like Eichmann I guess, with posters displaying some of his most vile prose moments arrayed on the wall behind him. A spectacularly fine piece by Jim Sleeper at Ten Miles Square adds all the facts I didn't know about Brooks and Charles Hill (and Leon "I am in no way a neoconservative" Wieseltier) .

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