“Imperial Schism? The Firing of Bruce Bartlett as a Lesson for Historians”
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 February 28th. 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.
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