Imperial Schism? The Firing of Bruce Bartlett as a Lesson for Historians

News at Home

Mr. Marina is Professor Emeritus in History at Florida Atlantic University, a Research Fellow of the Independent Institute, Oakland, CA, and Exec. Dir. of the Marina-Huerta Educational Foundation. He lives in Asheville, NC. During the Fall of 1981, he studied Affordable Housing Technologies as a Senior Economist with the Congress' Joint Economic Committee, of which Mr. Bartlett was then the Executive Director.

Two economists were in the news this week, with respect to having been, in effect, fired!

One of them, Lawrence Summers, is the President of Harvard University. He is resigning, effective in June, rather than face a long period of nasty confrontation with a part of the faculty. He can, however, salve his wounds with the long-term financial remuneration of a tenured senior professorship, and on the lecture circuit, should he choose not to go into either the business world or return to a career in government.

The other is Bruce Bartlett, whose book, Imposter: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy, is due out today, February 28 th. Bartlett, of course, was fired last October from a conservative think-tank in Dallas, Texas, The National Center for Policy Analysis. The reason? His book hit too close to President Bush’s responsibility for the policies of his administration. The president, directors and some donors to NCPA, apparently believe policies can somehow be divorced from those who make them. What a novel view!

Both firings open up some interesting questions about the intellectual establishment in this country, ranging from universities to think-tanks. For now, let’s focus on the example of Bruce Bartlett’s.

There are three reasons for me to do so. First, Bruce has been my friend for some thirty years; second, despite all of his work in economics and taxation policy, he was trained as an historian, and third, his career choices may have some relevance for historians, especially younger ones, today.

I first met Bruce early in 1976 when, as a Liberty Fund Junior Fellow working on his MA in History at Georgetown, after an AB at Rutgers, he visited the Institute for Humane Studies (then in Menlo Park, CA, now at George Mason University) to do some research at the Hoover Institution. Since all of the Summer Fellows had returned home, he stayed with me in the Institute’s townhouse, where I resided as the Liberty Fund Senior Research Scholar. I was flattered he had read several of my writings, and the evenings together for a number of weeks, really gave us opportunity to discuss our historical worldviews.

His thesis was later published as Cover-up: The Politics of Pearl Harbor, 1941-1946 (Arlington House, 1978). That alone, would be enough to alienate him from the foreign policies of George W. Bush, because it is clear Bruce, was, and is, a non-interventionist, in both foreign and domestic policies. “Imperial George” hates that kind of "Isolationist" opposition to unilateral imperialism, blasting it no less than four times in his recent speech before the Congress.

What impressed me most, however, was that Bruce was one of among a handful of students I have known in my career who, was not only a generalist, but interested in the philosophy of history as well. To demonstrate how out of place that is in today’s university, once, when I offered to exchange positions with someone at Northern Arizona University, so she could be nearer her ill mother in Florida, a “colleague” at FAU wrote to warn them that I was, “a generalist, an entrepreneur (I headed a modest Const. Co. on the side) and a dilettante.” Fortunately, the Honors Program offered me an even better deal than did the “worried” History Department. Narrow specialization today is the game of the game!

I had corresponded with Carroll Quigley, the noted lecturer at the Foreign Service School at Georgetown, who had made some suggestions on my essay Egalitarianism and Empire. I envied Bruce for having had the opportunity to sit in on a number of Quigley’s lectures even though he was not enrolled in his large courses. Quigley had been Bill Clinton’s mentor at Georgetown, and the latter mentioned his writings in the speech accepting the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 1992.

Bruce hoped the Liberty Fund would support his work toward a doctorate in History, but the board of the Fund decided against such a general policy. Had it done so, Bruce might have stuck it out to obtain the terminal degree in History. Enrolled, for same, later at Georgetown, and contemplating in the late 1970s, as a white male trying to get a job in an American university, as he has recounted it, one day he left a doctoral History class in mid-lecture, took Incompletes in all his courses, and was able to secure a job in Washington. His career is nicely described here.

Given Bruce’s conservative worldview, and the specialization that has occurred in American universities during these years, he certainly made the correct career choice. His experience with NCPA indicates also the parameters of the freedom of expression in such obviously biased “think-tanks,” whether of the left or the right.

He is free now to do the interdisciplinary research that has always been his orientation. I would urge him to return to the broader parameters of the philosophy of History that interested him years ago, and that is not given much shrift in today’s universities.

Quigley died in 1977. As I was completing my stay with Liberty Fund, I suggested the Liberty Press reprint what I considered his most important work, The Evolution of Civilizations: An Introduction to Historical Analysis (1961), and was honored to contribute the “Selective Bibliography” short commentary when it was published in 1979.

I hope to be reviewing Bruce’s new book at length in several places. I would suggest to Bruce here, however, that the most important passage in the book has little, if anything, to do with Bush’s economic policies, or comparing them to Reagan’s, but rather to Quigley’s whole analysis of History.

On page 41, Bruce notes the journalist Ron Suskind, in an article that was much quoted, including by this writer, when it was published late in 2004, citing an unnamed Bush White House aide, “We’re an empire now, . . . and you, all of you, will be left to study what we do.”

Well, Bruce, now that you are, so to speak, unemployed, I suggest you take a member of the Bush administration at his word, and continue to study what the Empire is doing, of which domestic economic policies are only a part.

What better place to begin that than to return to Quigley, whose book was focused around the concept of Empire and Universal Empire, in my view a much sounder framework of analysis than anything that has been done by the many writers quoting Spengler or Toynbee in the last decade since the Neocons proclaimed the “new” American Empire that increasingly looks like the “old” Empire of a century ago.

Certainly, the specialists in the universities are not going to do so in any great numbers. Their protests against the New Empire are miniscule, or even pathetic, compared to those in 1898, or even against the Vietnam War. I warn you, though, your idol, Ronald Reagan, was advancing the Empire during his watch, and men like John Negroponte first earned their spurs developing a strategy of killing the peasants in Central America.

To get you back to the insights of Quigley as a starting point, let me mention him on two issues which even George W. Bush believes are paramount today, Energy and the Weaponry now available to Global Insurgents in the “Long War.”

Writing in 1961 Quigley noted that a fourth great Age of Expansion in Global Civilization might come about by our learning to efficiently harness the energy given us by the Sun, since all other sources on our planet were finite, or cause other problems in their development.

Apropos of what has been going on in Iraq and elsewhere, he observed, as quoted at the beginning of my own, ”Weapons, Technology and Legitimacy” that we were in a new age of warfare, which a few military planners are now calling “Fourth Generation Warfare,” seemingly in ignorance that Quigley wrote another whole book on weapons in history.

As several historians have noted, History seeks to answer both the “How” and the “Why” of human action. The first great question is “Why, if we are a Democracy, have the American People, certainly including historians and other intellectuals, allowed their political leaders to change a nation created in the name of Liberty and Self-Determination, into becoming the world’s great bastion of Empire and Counter-Revolution?” Secondly, “How do we restore our nation toward a quest for those lost ideals?”

Bruce, you have shown you have the intellectual courage to take on a Republican administration of great power, in the certain knowledge it would cost you your rather comfortable position. Hopefully, yours in the first salvo that will open further a great Fissure or Schism in the Republican Party and in American History over the question of Empire.

I can think of no one better armed and equipped to take on the great issue of Empire, and I am proud to see you returning to your roots in History.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

"overseas war against those who are aching to wage it on U.S. soil"

is, for example, pure regurgitated Rovian fearmongering bologna, suitable for couch-potato phony Christians and other American halfwits.

At last count, zero Iraqis ever tried to invade the U.S.. Not on 9-11-01 or before or since. Nor will you find a factual statement about this pretend Iraqi war threat to America being the reason for the Washington D.C. Chickenhawk's bungled occupation of Iraq in 2003 either. The talk at the time was of ridding Saddam of his vast stockpile of nuclear weapons. Recycling Rove's lies won't change that reality.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Okay Mr. Purportedly Original Thinker, here is what your treasonous political favorites were saying in September, 2002, to try to dupe the country:

CNN September 8, 2002 Posted: 8:46 PM EDT (0046 GMT


On NBC's "Meet the Press," Vice President Dick Cheney accused Saddam of moving aggressively to develop nuclear weapons over the past 14 months to add to his stockpile of chemical and biological arms.

White House sources also tell CNN that Saddam has in recent months met several times with Iraq's top nuclear scientists and encouraged them to continue their work.

Sources say Iraqi defectors who used to work for Iraq's nuclear weapons "industry" tell administration officials Iraq's top priority is acquiring nuclear arms.

Rice acknowledged that "there will always be some uncertainty" in determining how close Iraq may be to obtaining a nuclear weapon but said, "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

That took about 20 seconds on Google to find. There are tons more of this kind of thing and it won't take weapons inspectors years to find.

Now, may we have your statement from a top level Junior Frat Boy Bush administration official, in the run-up to the Baghdad Cakewalk invasion of March 2003 to the effect that America needs to bog down its military for years in Iraq in order to fight an

"an overseas war against those who are aching to wage it on U.S. soil" ?

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

This interesting but meandering piece of thought-detritus leads ultimately only to the intellectually lazy and historically untenable notion of America being a "Great Empire" under the "Great Imperialist" George W. Bush.

Let us recall a bit of real history here. G.W. ran for president and was nearly elected in 2000 based on a consistently unworkable program of slashing taxes, dumbing down government and civic discourse, and being "humble" overseas. True to form, this "born-again" ex-alcoholic truly wants to "stay the course" on that "straight and narrow" path notwithstanding constant spin-doctoring about doing great things with foreign policy. Like ridding Saddam of WMD. Or containing the "axis of evil." Or waging an oxymoronic "war on terror".

If one must relied on hackneyed clichés, Marina would be closer to reality with this analogy:

George W. Bush is to the great world leaders and empire-builders of the past as Nero was to Caesar.

This is a "president" could barely find New Orleans on the map, and who has achieved nothing of consequence domestically except foolish record budget deficits that are utterly unsustainable.

We do have a huge portion of our military bogged down in Iraq. But we don't really run the place. It would be fairer to say it runs (or ruins) our foreign policy. North Korea and Iran, the only two of the trilateral axis of Orwellian BS who had credible nuclear prospects, are running circles around the inept bunglers in Washington D.C., and laughing their way to nuclear power status.

America's real power, prestige and security internationally are weaker than at any time since the end of the Cold War. A reputation based on half century of American global leadership has been trashed, and there is no credible vision for the future beyond mindless decadent "shopping" at home and empty hypocritical hot air abroad.

This is an "empire" of willfully ignorant, short-sighted, doomed fools.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

You are wasting your own time, Mr, W., nitpicking my answer to your question but childishly refusing to answer my question to you. I suppose the reason for this refusal might be that your propaganda recitation is even further from the historical documentary record than my memory was. I wonder though if the book which was the original topic of this page refers to the rah rah high school football-like never-concede-an-error quality of Rove and his dupes.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

1. The question of whether the U.S. is weaker internationally due to G.W. Bush's presidency is partly a matter of semantics. But consider this example: In 1999 the U.S. successfully intervened in the Balkans to prevent tremendous massacres approaching a genocide. We are evidently not in a position to similarly intervene in Sudan today.

2. "Where the U.S. might have been with his Presidency sans 9/11" is inseparable from "where the U.S. might have been sans G.W. International Neophyte Bush" in the White House. 9-11 would probably not have happened had Bush's administration not been the most inept in many decades. I am not saying that other administrations could not have made some of his mistakes, nor that Al Qaeda might not still have managed some kind of serious attack even if the Bushies taken all reasonable precautions possible to prevent it, and certainly not that they had any prior knowledge of the specific attack. Nevertheless, that specific attack happened in no small part because of a conjunction of blunders small and large at the levels of the local, state, and especially the executive branch of the federal government during the first nine months of 2001, whatever BS the whitewashing 9-11 commission said about this brazen act of heinous terrorism being some kind of "war." (As if war and terrorism are the same, and all our ancestors who died at Saratoga and Chateau Thierry and Normandy were no better than Bin Laden and his murderous fiends.) I am sick and tired of George Chickenhawk Bush apologists trotting out 9-11 as some kind of badge of honor for the Frat and his bungling crooked cronies. It was one of the greatest disasters in American history and it happened on his watch, and partly due to his incompetence, and real historians will not fail to realize and report this reality. It is measurable of his unending cascade of pitiful failures, that evidently the only way to make him look good is to mythologize a great disaster into some act of noble courage on the part of those whose screw-ups allowed it to happen.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Propagandists, in this case wannabe Karl Rove clones, also make lousy historians, and vice versa

Rob Willis - 3/5/2006

Thank you for making my point. You stated that the administration accused Iraq of having a vast stockpile of nuclear weapons. You are incorrect. Developing a nuclear program is very different, isn't it?

While you are "Googling", check the 400 nuclear scientists working for Iraq and given up by their hosts, the Libyans.

You are wasting my time.

Rob Willis - 3/4/2006

I'm delighted to see you running to the base name-calling level so quickly.

If you can find a quote by the American president stating that Iraq had vast stockpiles of nuclear weapons, and can confirm its source, I will be happy to continue a conversation on the subject. With someone who is interested in fact, not politic.

Rob Willis

Rob Willis - 3/4/2006

Propaganda? When did fact become propaganda?

Oh, and Rove can pound salt.

Rob Willis,
Who enjoys facts.

Rob Willis - 3/2/2006

--The first great question is “Why, if we are a Democracy, have the American People, certainly including historians and other intellectuals, allowed their political leaders to change a nation created in the name of Liberty and Self-Determination, into becoming the world’s great bastion of Empire and Counter-Revolution?”--

The last time I looked, the U.S was a representative republic, not a true democracy. It follows then, that we have elected representatives to act generally as they have. You seem upset that more folks agree with Bush's understanding of the peril we face than your own isolationist leanings.

A true empire would have acted in vastly different ways than we have since 2001. If we are becoming isolated in the world community it is because many of our old (and new) allies have been deeply tied to many of the elements who are now our enemies (see: Oil+Food+U.N. corruption.

If there is a vast drain on the economy, we need to examine where to cut expenses: An overseas war against those who are aching to wage it on U.S. soil; or, a bloated and inefficient government budget domestically.

I will wait to read your friend's book, but I somehow think it will be a bit heavy on opinion. Historians, generally, make lousy analysts, and vice versa.

Rob Willis

William Marina - 3/2/2006

It is a book publsihed in 1938 & reprinted in 1943,
Haskell was a journalist well read in ancient History.
What is interesting is that not only did the Roman welfare state parallel the New Deal, even the names
were similar in various programs.

Jason KEuter - 3/1/2006

Let me jump in here with an innocent questionfor Mr. Marina: Is "The NEw Deal in Old Rome" a book? Is it available. Can you post a copy if it's an article. I'd like to read it.

Thank you

Charles Edward Heisler - 2/28/2006

Shifting the ground to laying blame for 9/11 does not, of course, answer the question I proposed about the economy post 9/11 but that is ok, Peter, I do understand the real problem my question presented you--quickly deflecting was your only option.
As to Clinton and Kosovo, that is a very weak analogy given the sniveling and begging of the vile Europeans for the United States intervention. Obviously following their penchant for action only under extreme self interest, Europe brought us into this thing and, fortunately for them, we were able to stop the slaughter with ease. Would that the Europeans return the favor but.....?
I do notice how effective the "Western Democracies" have been in prosecuting the war criminals identified with the genocide in the Balkans--giving us all a fine lesson in how secular nations are unable, even after all their immediate history of being victims of genocide,
of dispensing justice to monsters.
But, since they hate Bush as well, I suspect you admire them for whatever few qualities remain on that Continent.

Charles Edward Heisler - 2/28/2006

Despite your continued casting of aspersions to cover up any solid rhetoric that might be involved in your comments Peter, a couple of matters need be mentioned. One is your claim that the United States is "...weaker than at any time since the Cold War." which you do not and cannot support.
The other is the caveat that overides both your comments and the eulogy for Professor Bartlett--in considering the alleged Bush "failing fiscal policies" one has to consider where the United States might have been with his Presidency sans 9/11 and must consider the rather happy, chugging along, disaster surviving economy we now enjoy post 9/11!

Lisa Kazmier - 2/28/2006

Even a dumb empire is an empire and a dumb imperialist still an imperialist, no? Lots of people liked the goals of being world policeman, among other things, but that doesn't mean they would endore how this administration has conducted its foreign policy.

William Marina - 2/28/2006

Dear Mr. Clarke,
If you were familiar with Quigley, you would understand he differentiated, as I noted, between, Empire and Universal Empire.
What you have noted by way of failure, is our effort over the past half century or so, at Universal Empire, employing economic, political and military tools. In making that attempt, we have certainly weakened our overall position as an Empire, which includes our massive, centralized regulated state at home as well.
See, for exampe, Haskell's classic, The New Deal in Old Rome, if you wish to make comparisons.
It was the military-industrial complex there which backed the Caesars. Perhaps George II/43 is nearer to Caligula, or his horse, than to Nero.