October 12, 2000
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness
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LARRY MONE: I am president of The Manhattan Institute and I would like to welcome you to our 14th Annual Walter B. Wriston Lecture. We are honored tonight to be having as our lecturer the legendary former Editor of Commentary, Norman Podhoretz. Norman truly one of the great public intellectuals of his generation and we are pleased to be honoring him tonight and we are looking forward to a very special evening.
ROGER HERTOG: I am Roger Hertog, Chairman of the Manhattan Institute. I am proud to welcome you to our 14th Annual Wriston Lecture. I can promise you an interesting evening, maybe not slam-bang and roncus [phonetic], but it is as exciting as it gets amongst what some have referred to as the right-wing conspiracy.
Tonight, the main event is Norman Podhoretz, a man who's crystal clear thinking, elegant language, uncompromising convictions for more than 40 years, has had a significant impact on the world of ideas. You will hear more about Norman later.
This evening is important for another reason as well. It is a celebration of thanks to our trustees, to our scholars, to our friends. It is a celebration of something else too. Around here we don't do birthdays a lot for obvious reasons. Tonight we are recognizing a birthday too important to ignore. There is a saying that there are three stages of life, youth, middle age, and you are looking wonderful. A few weeks ago, Walter B. Wriston celebrated his 80th birthday and Walt, I want to tell you, you look marvelous.
We honor Walter because his ideas, too, have had a large impact on our society. Walt has written that we have to continue changing as we move forward in life. That does not mean just tinkling around the edges. We must keep moving, he says. It means continuously adapting to the flux, social and technological change and Walt's life has been a model of that philosophy. It is not only in his 17 years as CEO at Citicorp where he helped, and I think this is fair to say, revolutionize the landscape of global banking. Maybe even more important, Walt understood long before, many years before it became fashionable, that information is a form of capital, that information transmitted by new technologies would reshape the world. You might say that Walt foresaw the displacement of energy by an information as society's main transforming force.
He is a businessman in philosopher's row or maybe it is the other way around. Either way, let us raise our glass and toast our friend, Walter Wriston. As the French say, Walt Lachium [phonetic].
On that happy note, let me share with you the other important matters of state here at The Institute. I am going to borrow a theme from an ad campaign developed by a great growth company of the new economy. The company, Con Edison, was unfortunately a new economy of the wrong century. I am sure that most of you remember this slogan, dig we must for a better New York. Some might say that should be our motto as well.
Why am I so enamored by the metaphor of digging? It is said, to govern is to choose and those choices into inevitably have outcomes and we live with the consequences. We are in the business, The Manhattan Institute, is in the business of analyzing those choices and those outcomes. Yes, I think it is fair to say that our ideas have contributed to the renaissance in this great city. It is hardly time to rest easy or even to declare victory.
George Schultz once said about Washington, nothing ever gets settled in this town. It is a seething debating society in which the debate never stops, in which the people never give up. For those of us who are concerned about the welfare of our city, this is no time to let down. All of us know our taxes remain amongst the highest in our nation. Our unemployment rate continues to be above the national average. There is very little, if any, new middle-class housing and our public school system is woefully inadequate.
A long-term passion of education is encapsulated, I think, by a wonderful story that Al Shanker [phonetic] used to tell. It seems that Shanker once visited an inner-city classroom where most of the kids were C and D students. He asked them the simplest of questions, what do you want to learn? There was a pause and then one of the students timidly raised his hand and said, we want to know what the smart kids do. We agree and in that, 40 percent of New Yorkers are foreign-born, which is the highest level since 1910. It is even more critical to give every child the same chance. All of this makes the public schools more important.
What are we doing? I will apprise my metaphor, where are we digging and who are our diggers? Our chief digger is the mutton chop editor of our flagship publication, the City Journal, Myron [inaudible]. This year Myron has pulled together some of the City Journal's best articles and published them in a book called, the Millennium City. In a remarkable review, which I am sure by now Myron has had his entire staff memorize, the public interest mince no words. It pronounced the City Journal, and I quote, the Journal that saved the city. If that weren't enough, the review goes on to say, it is no exaggeration that magnets new paradine [phonetic] rescued many American cities from what might have been an irreversible dissent into chaos. Myron, we thank you.
As for new scholars, this year we have once again broadened or expanded our ranks. We are proud to add Herman Bodeo [phonetic] to the roster. Herman has held too many positions in city and federal government to enumerate here. I am sure you know, he is serving as Chairman of the Cuny System, which is appropriate for Magna Comglata [phonetic] graduate from City College.
In his newest role, Herman has performed to a level one could only call heroic. He has raised educational standards, changed the open admissions policy, and changed the remedial education program, all for the better.
Now Herman has agreed to work with us on a book, a book to tell the story of his life. It is a great American story of how an immigrant went on to become one of the most influential policy-makers in New York. Herman, we welcome you.
In addition, we have taken a big step forward, strengthening one of the areas where The Institute had not been pulling its own wait, namely the analysis of the city and the state budget. Our results here are not just to mystify the budgets or even to lower taxes, god knows that would be good though. What we want to do is put a more of a spotlight on the egregious level of spending in so many areas and the poor choice of priorities that has marked too many budget cycles in New York and Albany.
We are fortunate to attract E.J. McMann. E.J. brings a wealth of experience in examining tax and budget policies in Albany and the city and has just published, within the last day or two, a 25-page analysis of the affect of tax proposals put forward by Bush, Gore, Lazio [phonetic], and Mrs. Clinton on middle-class individuals and families. I urge you all to read it.
Finally, it is my task to introduce the introducer. He is David Frum, a Senior Fellow at The Institute, a scholar, and an author of many books. What I find dazzling about David is his mental range, whether it extends to 19th Century literature, healthcare reform, economics, or just plain politics. For us, mere mortals who are easily intimidated by David's courageous output, I can relate to Barishnakoff [phonetic], who was once asked, what do dancers think of Fred Astaire? Barishnakoff thought for a moment and said, that is simple. We hate him. Ladies and Gentlemen, David Frum.
DAVID FRUM: Thank you, Roger. It is my distinct honor to introduce Norman Podhoretz and his talk, Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. Introducing Norman Podhoretz is a rather daunting prospect for those of us who have been edited by him because we know that he could, if he were given the chance, reduce our 8-minute introduction to about 42 well-chosen seconds. He has not had his mitts on it, so take a long sip of coffee because illuminating this great man's career may take a moment or two.
Norman Podhoretz observed, in his first memoir, Making It, that there is no longer journey in America than that from Brooklyn to Manhattan. A few sentences in that book, Escape Controversy, that seems to be the one exception to the rule. I am surprised that it was missed. There must have been some reviewer out there who would have said that actually, the journey from the West 70's to East Hampton on the Friday before Memorial Day is the longest journey in America. I think there must be at least a few of the over-educated fellows at The Manhattan Institute who might be willing to explain to him that the journey from Manhattan back to Brooklyn is very nearly as long, and at least nearly equally psychologically fraught.
In this room full of people who have traversed the same bridges and tunnels that Norman Podhoretz did that witticism will have no demur. Those who have followed Norman Podhoretz's great career will also acknowledge that this travel was not the least of his path-finding journeys. Norman Podhoretz trot another and even more difficult path than that from Brooklyn to Manhattan and that is from the Anti-American left of the political spectrum to the patriotic right. That is the theme tonight.
Norman Podhoretz joined the cause of conservatism at almost its darkest hour, at almost America's darkest hour. It is difficult now, now that conservatism is so pervasive that we can almost no longer see it in our political culture, like a child that wonders where its tap is when all the while it is perched on its head.
It is difficult now to understand the drama and importance of the step that Norman Podhoretz made in the early 1970's. When he made it, conservatism was really a belligerent, a belligerent position. William Buckley, another guest tonight, observed it in an interview he gave in the early 1970's that he and his conservatives saw their job as keeping the airstrip in good working order, coffee and donuts on the house against the day when the reinforcing planes would land. Norman's is one of the first reinforcing planes and I think we can all be glad to say that as Norman Podhoretz goes, so goes the nation.
Norman Podhoretz was born in Brooklyn in 1930. He grew up in a neighborhood that even by the stringent standards of the time, would be righted as poor and isolated, full of people who spoke a foreign language and who stamped on their children's tongues, the accents of foreign lands, so much so that even today, in the mentions of Bel Air and on the beach house of Malibu, one could hear the intonations of Galicia [phonetic] and Lithuania.
Phillip Roth, who actually is not in New York for these purposes, might be considered [unintelligible], gave some feel of what it was like to grow up in that world. In one of his stories, one of his characters comes home from school with a black eye and his mother looks at the black eye and says, that is terrible, what happened? The little boy explains, I was beaten up on the way home from school by the Catholics. The narrator, Phillip Roth, explains he used Catholics on the broad sense of the term to include Protestants.
In those neighborhoods, so seemingly distant from American life, there was a promise. There was a promise of American opportunity, there was a promise of American equality, and there was a promise of American Liberty. That promise, in the case of Norman Podhoretz as in the case of so many other people, was honored. From that remote, peripheral immigrant world, Norman Podhoretz was plucked, sent to Columbia then to the Army. The Army discovered that not only did Norman like to talk, but people liked to listen to him and appointed him a political lecturer. Thence to Cambridge University, thence to the center of the group of intellectuals of Murray Kemp called the Family, and to the Editorship at the age of 30 of their family newsletter, Commentary Magazine.
With his appointment to the Editorship Commentary at the age of 30, Norman achieved a kind of success that comes to most of us only at the very end of a toilsome life, if even then. This position, so magnificent on its own terms, is rendered even more magnificent by the fantastic parochialism of the New York intellectuals of that day. Those people were only vaguely aware of the vast landmass across the Hudson River. New York City was their country and the Editor of Commentary was both their king and their Pope, all in one. A friend of mine who was present at the time observed, a little mockingly, some of the feeling of what it meant to live in that world. He describes someone who picked up an issue of Commentary, read one of the reviews, and realized that after reading Feldstein's [phonetic] of Bronstein's [phonetic] book, realized America would never be the same.
Those articles were actually changing America. Through those years, Norman Podhoretz published one brilliant and powerful article after another. They weren't always brilliant and powerful, by the way, when they came in over the transom, but they were brilliant and powerful by the time they appeared under the Commentary [unintelligible]. One brilliant and powerful article after another, challenging what he regarded as the complacency, the philistines and the prejudice of the America of his day. He was emerging as a pre-cursor, an avatar of what we would later call, the new left, and plunging at an age when many people were beginning to retreat from radicalism ever more deeply into it. As he did, he began to discover there were rewards for this and the more he scolded the country's faults, the more lavishly these rewards were applied to him. What was true for him was true for his friends as well.
I don’t even think Norman would describe himself as a humble man, but at the most crucial juncture of his career, it occurred to him what was in fact a very humble thought. He observed this strange transaction by which he and his friends dispensed blame and received praise and realized there was something fishy about it. He began to wonder whether the motive that impelled his friends was really the generous idealism that they claimed or whether it might not look an awful lot more like the same appetite for success that motivated and impelled all of the people they criticized. As he entertained this audacious thought, at that moment he crossed the dangerous threshold that separates brilliance from wisdom. He sat down and wrote, Making It.
The echoes of the explosion touched off by that book still reverberate through New York and shock waves of it were sufficiently powerful to blow Norman Podhoretz straight out of the American Left and into a new millia where he wrote his second and even more searing book, Breaking Ranks. Not all of us can quite understand the cost of living through an explosion like that.
My wife and I moved to New York City in 1990 and we took an apartment. It turned out, by coincidence, to be next door to the townhouse owned by Norman Mailer. Later on, we got to know the Podhoretz's a little bit and my wife mentioned to Mitch this interesting fact. Mitch said in a voice etched with a kind of sadness, it is hard for those of us who have not had this experience to reckon, yes I used to know that house very well.
We are so used to thinking of Norman as a fearless, unyielding, ideological warrior who gives and receives blows with cheer and verb, that it is not easy for those of us on the outside to reckon with the terrible price that he began to pay when he chose to defend his country, to uphold freedom and to speak the truth.
Jefferson said, the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of patriots. As it happened in this case, Norman did not shed his blood. Shedding blood is not always the thing that hurts the most. There are other things that cost even more than blood and that price Norman Podhoretz has been willing to pay. He has been willing to pay it in order to stand against [unintelligible], to stand against anti-skepticism in both its traditional and its new and more sinister progressive forms, to stand against bad politics disguised as mendacious literature, to stand against racial preferences, masquerading as racial equality, to stand against cowardice, folly and lies. Norman Podhoretz braved all of those wounds with full knowledge in advance of how grave they would be and they bore them nobly and we honor him for it.
At the Yon Kipper service that Jews have just endeared, we read a biblical passage that says, the vituralist will bear fruit even into old age. If there were any doubt at all that god is on the side that Norman Podhoretz stands for, it would be dispelled by the magnificent way in which in this decade he has born fruit. The fantastic outpouring of articles in every subject from Izah to the Markea Dasaud [phonetic], in the irritating two books over three years that he has published, including most recently his delightful memoir, My Love Affair with America. It is an amazing life and an amazing career illuminated by intellect, animated by patriotism, dedicated truth.
There is this one nagging caveat, which perhaps a little tactlessly I would like to bring up. His second to last book, Ex-Friends, begins with another wonderful line in which Norman says, if I wish to name-drop, I have only to list my ex-friends. As I look around this room full of people, full of Americans, distinguished eminent enterprising literate, all of them gathered, all of them endearing or new or renewed friends of Norman Podhoretz, all of them gathered tonight to pay him honor, I do have this one question. What are we, chopped liver? Norman Podhoretz.
NORMAN PODHORETZ: Thank you, David, for that extraordinarily generous introduction. I wish to say, being a humble man, that I am unworthy of all the praises you have bestowed on me, not because I actually believe that I am unworthy of them, but because it enables me to tell a joke that I was ordered to tell by Roger Hertog, who's advice or rather commands, I follow in all matters, not only financial and that includes the length of the address you are about to hear. He insisted that I tell this joke, even though many of you have already heard it and by an odd coincidence, it takes place on that same day of atonement that Jews endured just last Monday. There is a particularly solemn moment during the services, which last 10 and a half hours if you start at the beginning and stay until the last show or the last trumpet blows. At various solemn moments in the ceremony, the canter leading the service prostrates himself on the ground of the platform where he customarily stands and is generally then joined by the Rabbi, who also prostrates himself. On this one particular occasion, the Rabbi found himself seized with an excess of religious enthusiasm and began to cry out, Lord I am nothing, I am nothing, whereupon the canter was taken a bit by surprise but not wishing to be outdone, also began to cry out, Lord I am nothing, I am nothing. The lowly septum, the guy who sweeps the floor after everybody has gone, is standing down at the bottom of the platform threw himself down on the ground and started to cry, Lord I am nothing, I am nothing, whereupon the Rabbi looked at the canter and the canter looked at the Rabbi and the Rabbi said, look who wants to be nothing.
Having now fulfilled that first order given to me by Roger Hertog, I will attempt to fulfill the second, which is to confine my formal remarks to 30 minutes and I hope I will be able to do so successfully. I have been asked by a great many people tonight whether I was going to be talking about the crisis in the Middle East and the answer is no, but I would be happy to answer questions on that subject later if anyone wants to ask them.
According to one of the few truly great American poets of the past century, something there is that doesn't love a wall. Robert Frost could have well applied the same image to America itself. America is so special a country that a whole theory was once adopted to account for its many differences from other nations, the theory of American exceptionalism. It is, I think, this very exceptionalism that renders Frost's image relevant to the attitude that so many people have taken toward the United States, no doubt about it, something there is that doesn't love America.
In fact, even in this very hostility to the country, we have an instance of American exceptionalism. Consider Englishmen have never been lacking who dislike or even hate Germany or France or any and all foreigners, as was revealed in the old saying, the wogs begin at Chalet [phonetic]. Indians hate Pakistani's, Turks hate Greeks, Arabs hate Israelis and so on and on through the long and miserable catalog of interstate animosities and bigotries.
Easy as it is to find people who hate other countries and other peoples, it is hard to find Englishmen or Indians or Arabs who hate their own countries. My favorite illustration is a British philosopher who is also a political radical, Bergan Russell [phonetic]. Radical though he was, Russell could nevertheless say that love of England was, and these were his exact words, very nearly the strongest emotion I possess. Therefore, whenever Russell objected to anything England had done, he never condemned the country as a whole but only the particular policy in question or the government then in power.
This was the case even when as a venom opponent of the First World War, he campaigned against conscription and landed himself in jail. Sitting there, this radical pacifist later wrote, I was tortured by patriotism, the successes of the Germans at the Marn were horrible to me. I desired the defeated Germany as ardently as any retired colonel.
If Bergan Russell was in love with his own country, he grew to hate America with an adversely equivalent passion. In this he was no different from other famous European intellectuals, like John Paul Sahtra [phonetic], who joined him in staging a show trial convicting America for committing war crimes in Vietnam, crimes, incidentally, that were never committed. That is another story for another day.
Nothing unusual here, but what was unusual about this trial and other phenomena like it is that Americans were among the prosecutors acting as judges. These Americans were by no means alone in their wholesale condemnation of America who's name they and others of their breed became fond of spelling with a k in order to suggest that it was no different from Nazi Germany. If we were no different from Nazi Germany, we were certainly no better and probably worse than the communists, whether in Hanoi [phonetic] or Havana [phonetic] or Moscow or Beijing. This idea became famous as the doctrine of moral equivalence.
Not all the people who compared us invidiously with the Soviet Union or other communist countries were communists, far from it. Many were just plain old vanilla liberals. Nor was this kind of anti-Americanism a passing phase peculiar to the 1960's or a spillover of the rage against our presence in Vietnam, on the contrary. Although Vietnam acted like gasoline poured on a smoldering campfire in the woods, the native anti-Americanism that fueled the resulting ideological forest fire had a long history and deep roots in our culture. However, in the particular and highly virulent outbreak of the pathological tradition, out of which the anti-Americanism of the 1960's grew, the main carriers of course were the radical left and its sympathizers within the broader liberal community.
As for its intellectual source, this could be traced to an indiscriminately ecumenical combination of socialist, anticorist [phonetic] , and progressivist thought. Yet, a long history and anti-Americanism also exists on the American right and hereto, we have another sign of American exceptionalism. For everywhere else on the earth, it is taken for granted that conservatives will be nationalistic, even to a fault. Everywhere else on the earth, duty, honor, country and the qualities that make for military excellence are associated with the right which often venerates the flag flying over it almost to the point of idolatry. It is, for the most part in America as well, but only for the most part.
Here in America, we have for over a century now, seen conservatives and despised their own country with a [unintelligible] hardly less intense than we find among radicals of the left. The motives driving such conservatives have virtually nothing in common with the reasons behind left-wing anti-Americanism. Even so, they end up with a remarkably similar contempt for this country. Only recently, for instance, a number of eminent American conservatives were so outraged by several Supreme Court decisions and by the failure of the American public to join them in supporting the ouster of President Clinton from office that they actually began suggesting that the American regime, as they called it, had become, so they said, illegitimate. Being illegitimate, they are argued this regime put people of conscience into the position of seriously questioning whether it was their moral duty to engage in acts of civil disobedience and even revolution against it.
No longer were the conservatives in question applauding the wonderful crack once made by William F. Buckley, Jr., that he would rather be ruled by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phonebook than by the combined faculties of Harvard and MIT. They felt betrayed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phonebook. It now turned out that the American people were not really or no longer on the side of the conservatives as against the corrupt elite's of Hollywood, New York, and Washington, who were slouching toward Gamora [phonetic] and the memorable phrase adapted by Judge Robert Borak [phonetic] from an even greater 20th Century poet than Robert Frost, WBA, who I speak here as an American nationalist, not an American, but an Irishman.
What makes the phenomenon of anti-Americanism, whether foreign or native, so curious, so puzzling, so anomalous, is that it is directed against the civilization which has a very strong claim to be listed among the greatest known to recorded human history. I believe with all my heart as well as all my mind, that the United States of America is comparable in stature to 5th Century Athens to Renaissance Italy to Elizabeth in England. All these civilizations were imperfect and from some points of few, worse than imperfect. After all, there was slavery in 5th Century Athens and as for the social and political conditions in Italy during the Renaissance in England during the Elizabeth age, they make the condition of the poor in America against which so moral rage is directed seem comparable to the privileges and luxuries of the very rich of those earlier times. To be sure, just about everyone admits that these old civilizations are high points of human history and therefore deserve forgiveness, so to speak, for their sins. By contrast, hardly anyone, especially among intellectuals and academics, accords the same sculptatory status to the United States. Why? What accounts for this refusal, both on the left and admittedly to a much lesser extent on the right, to acknowledge what I think ought to be an obvious truth, a banality, a platitude?
The answer begins with the difference between the grounds for placing the United States on the list of the greatest of all civilizations and the grounds that have earned the others, their undisputed place on that list. All the others are there mainly because of the great works of art and intellect that they produced from Sophoclees [phonetic] and Plato to Michelangelo and Leonardo DaVinci to Shakespeare and the King James Bible. No works of art or philosophy on that level of sublimity have emanated from the United States. No monuments of unaging intellects as Yates, to cite him again, call them in own of his hymns to Bissetine [phonetic] civilization.
The founding fathers of this country, who incidentally as practical political geniuses surely rank with the greatest political philosophers in all of history. We are not thinking of how to design a country that would be especially conducive to the creation of monuments of unaging intellect. Their intention was stated forthrightly and early in the Declaration of Independence. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain alienate rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There is all is spelled out for all to see except for one detail. In Thomas Jefferson's original draft, the phrase was, the pursuit of property, which made perfect sense to a student of the philosophy of John Lock, who had taught that the foundation of personal liberty was private property. Congress edited out the word property and substituted a much vaguer word, term happiness. No matter. It was universally understood that the new country placed a very high value on material things and material advancement. Worse yet, or in my judgement, better yet, Jefferson and his colleagues made no invidious distinctions between these material things and the things of the spirit.
There was a direct line connecting the pursuit of material happiness or property in this earthly life with the spiritual state of liberty, not to mention the moral of disciplines of religion. Furthermore, each of the three components or blessings, as the Declaration later flatly describes them, depended on the other two. Even worse, or yet again in my judgement, better, these blessings were to be made available to all men. Yes, I know, all men did not mean all men. Slaves were excluded, so in a far less drastic sense, were women.
The principle was established and in due course, the principle prevailed and successfully demanded to be realized in action as the founding fathers understood very well that it would. I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, said Jefferson, himself a slave holder, in speaking of slavery. While he knew enough to tremble, I doubt that even Jefferson could have anticipated that it would take the bloodiest of any war Americans would every fight to rectify this monstrous injustice. Like the other founding fathers, however, he was also wise enough to recognize that any attempt to abolish slavery at that time would have made it impossible to form the new nation. I hope it will not seem offensive if I say, that giving way to this noxious necessity was yet another mark of the great practical political genius of the founders.
From the very first, hostility was attracted both from home and abroad by the new nation to which the new Declaration of Independence and the travails of the Revolutionary War gave birth. Once the Constitution had been written and ratified, the formerly loyal colonial subjects of King George lost their tongues and there was no longer any hostility of any importance from within. That came later when another new nation genetically related to the first but bearing radically new features of its own, was born out of the travails of the civil war.
At this point I cannot resist quoting again a passage from Henry Adams that I have often quoted before because it is so marvelously captures both the nature of foreign hostility and the early American response to it. Describing the general European attitude toward the America of 1800, Adams wrote and I quote, no foreigner of that date, neither poet, painter, nor philosopher could detect an American life anything higher than vogarity [phonetic]. Adams was especially upset by the fact that even William Wordsworth [phonetic], the leading English poet of the day, and I am quoting Adams again, could do no better than when he stood in the face of American democracy than, and now Adams is quoting Wordsworth, keep the secret of a poyence scorn. Adams went on and I quote him again, Wordsworth might have convinced himself by a moment's thought that no country could act on the imagination as America acted upon the instincts of the ignorant and the poor without some quality that deserved the better treatment than poyence scorned. What was this quality to which Wordsworth had blinded himself, that Adams said, the poorest peasant in Europe could discern.
Here is how Adams and his elaborately boroak [phonetic] proselyte preemptly sticking it so to speak to Yates' bezantiasm, described the quality in question. The hard, practical money-getting American democrat who inhabited cold shades, where fancy sickened, where genius died, was in truth living in a world of dream and acting a drama more instinct with poetry than all of the avatars of the East, walking in gardens of emeralds and rubies. An ambition already ruling the world and guiding nature with a kinder and wiser hand than it had ever yet been felt in human history. To these poor peasants, Henry Adam declared, the Americans of 1800 beacon, inviting them to come share in our limitless riches. Come and help us bring to light these unimaginable stores of wealth and power.
This same Henry Adams, the direct descendent of two American Presidents and a conservative, if ever there was one, turned with savage veracity against the same invitation when it was extended to a later generation of the same poor peasants by the American of the 1870's and the 1880's. As Adam saw it now adopting the scorn he had once scorned in William Wordsworth, the country had been ruined by an alliance of bankers like JP Morgan…
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…the name of the one in New York, Tannemy [phonetic]. In the eyes of Henry Adams and many other American patricians, Tannemy existed only for the purpose of catering to the hoards of immigrants being imported as cheap labor to serve the nefarious interests of what Adams' counterparts on the left called the robber berans [phonetic].
As to these punitive robber berans, the marvelous British historian, Paul Johnson, recently posed a powerful question. This collection of entrepreneurial individualists, wrote Johnson, transformed a predominately agricultural society into an industrial and financial super state, bring to the American people an affluence never dreamed of before, so whom did the berans rob? Johnson's incisive question can be matched with others of a similar nature. For anti-Americanism is not nearly fed on politically tendentious bigoted and often ignorant assessments of our economic history. It has also drawn nourishment from the idea that the prelapsarian [phonetic] Henry Adams so beautifully refuted, the idea that Americans cared about nothing but money, or as a once famous literary critic put it, the country had no purpose beyond the aggregation of force in the form of wealth.
In the so-called gilded age that followed the Civil War, Adams having forgotten the defense he had written that very charge, turned into an American version of Thersites [phonetic], the character in Shakespeare's Troyless and Cressida [phonetic], who does nothing but snarl and rail and curse at the leaders of his fellow Greeks in the Trojan War. Adams similarly now joined in the raucous chorus hurling imprecations against the vulgarity, the philistism [phonetic], and the Puritanism, of what an anti-American left would soon be described as a Bushwa [phonetic] society and what on the anti-American right, both here and in Europe, was and still is known derisively as middle-class values.
What about this particular conjures of curses? To begin with the arts as I have already indicated, there is no point in denying that America has never or rarely reached the level of the greatest periods of European culture. Yet, I would maintain, though it too is another story for another day, that we have done far better in that department than I was taught to believe when I was a student at Columbia and Cambridge Universities half a century ago. Indeed, we have done even better than we might have been expected to do in a system deliberately to the design to achieve other objectives.
Moving onto the charge philistism, I can only say that it never took the slightest account of the poignantly humble American veneration for the arts that manifested itself even in the gilded age. How else do we explain the proliferation of universities, research institutes, libraries, museums, art galleries that the so-called robber berans themselves in dowd [phonetic]. Remember, they did it all without the incentive of tax relief, since no taxes to speak of existed in that far off age that was in this respect more golden than gilded.
Finally, as to Puritanism, some of us think that whatever might have been the case in the past, we could use a bit more of it today, but that is yet a third story for another time. Thus far, I have been trying to show that the hostility toward this country has based itself on two main ideas. On the left, both at home and abroad, the primary charge is that the American economic system is unjust. On the right, also both at home and abroad, the primary charge is that American culture is degraded. At times, the two sides merge, each fusing the other's major preoccupation to its own.
Some of the critics who hurl these charges are driven by false ideologies or Utopian greed. Others are consumed by envy and still others are sickened by the feeling that they have been robbed by the vulgar hoards of the positions of leadership to which their self-evident superiority entitles them. I am here to rub their faces in a greater and a higher truth than any they have propounded about the United States of America. I am here to proclaim that the American economic system and the American culture on which it is rooted have created a society in which there is more liberty and more prosperity than human beings have ever enjoyed in any other place or any other time. I am here to maintain that these blessings are more widely shared than even the most visionary Utopians ever imagined possible. I am here to submit that this is an immense achievement and that it is what entitles the United States of America to an honored place on the roster of the greatest civilizations the world has ever known.
Fortunately, the anti-American fevers of the left have for the moment cooled. Even more fortunately for me, since I could scarcely afford to make a new set of ex-friends, most of the conservatives who were recently infected by the anti-American virus have shown signs of recovering their health. Indeed, one might suppose from listening to some of the speeches that both the republican and the democratic national conventions last summer, that the truth that I have been trying to proclaim is now knowledged on all sides. Yet beneath the obligatory patriotic rhetoric called forth by such occasions, we could still hear more whining over oppression and depravation than expressions of gratitude for the blessings that are daily showing upon us all.
We have come to expect this kind of whining from the democratic party as it is now constituted, but even the republicans and their eagerness to show how compassionate they now are, put on a display that might have lead a visitor from Mars to believe that this is a country populated almost entirely by victims of one kind or another. That, in this strange country, complaining has been elevated to the greatest of all virtues.
If this is where we are at the moment, where do we go from here? The first imperative, in my view, is to re-educate ourselves about the nature of this country. We need, first, to affirm that we live in a society, to say it again for it cannot be said too often, in which more liberty and more prosperity are more widely shared than by any other society in human history. Without recognizing this, we will be unable to relearn what so many of us have forgotten or perhaps never even knew, the nature of the principles that shape the establishment of the United States and why and how those principles embodied in institutions and put into action have produced the magnificent result they have.
Conversely, we need to recognize when, how and why we have lost faith in those principles and institutions and therefore departed from them. We need to understand what has driven us to go whoring after strange political gods and to forsake a legacy of traditions on which the American achievement rested. I restrict myself to two examples, one domestic and one involving foreign affairs.
Domestic examples is the policy of preferential treatment from minority groups. The even many opponents of this policy often fail to realize that it violates the single most revolutionary idea of the American Revolution. The one that more than any other enabled it to achieve its objectives to an extent that neither the French nor Russian Revolutions ever could. The idea to which I refer is that individuals ought to be treated as individuals in accordance with their own merits, without regard, in the old formula so many of us were raised on, to race, creed, color or country of national origin.
This idea had worked brilliantly in Americanizing millions of immigrants in the past and in keeping the peace among them, when other ethically and religiously heterogeneous societies were more often than not tearing themselves apart and drowning in blood. Yet, because it seemed not to be working for the blacks, though Thomas Solo [phonetic], among others, has argued persuasively that it was beginning to take hold. It has been abandoned in favor of treating individuals as members of a group. In other words, we have discarded an American tradition that has resulted mainly in wonders and imported an alien practice that has resulted mainly in murder. Here then, we have a striking case of the damage that is done by departing from our tested traditional way of conducting our affairs. The irony is that many of us don't even perceive that the new policy is a departure at all.
This same species of ignorance, or to use a more charitable term, this same bout of amnesia, was responsible for the widespread failure to understand and therefore to articulate precisely what we were defending in the Cold War and why it was worth defending. I believe that failure is still in evidence among us.
Many derived the slogan associated with Woodrow Wilson to the effect that our job is to make the world safe for democracy. But I, for one, see nothing wrong with it as a brief semation [phonetic] of our proper role in world affairs. True, there was a time when protected by oceans at either end of the continent and sheltering under the guns of the British navy, we could safely avoid the foreign entanglements against which George Washington warned. Yet, I dare say even Washington, if he were living today, would acknowledge that the speed of communications on the one hand and of missiles on the other make foreign entanglements and involvement in wars fought in distant places unavoidable. Nevertheless, the voices calling for protectionism are still loud among us, the voices either opposing missile defense or paying only expedient political lip service to it, not mentioning any political party, are still loud among us. The voices denying that American military power has declined dangerously, thereby inviting aggression are still loud among us. The voices are still loud among us denouncing the idea that American power and influence be used to help create a world in which the political and economic blessings that we enjoy are more and more widely spread beyond our own borders. Of course, this must be done prudently and of course, it cannot be done at all if certain prior conditions do not yet exist.
To help create a world safe for democracy, is to follow a policy that seamlessly fuses our bedrock principles with our self interest. Our founding fathers declared they were creating a system that would not only enshrine the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but it would also secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. It is we who are their posterity and therefore it is now our sacred duty to secure those same rights and those same blessings to our own posterity. I say again, before we can do so, we must educate ourselves properly. Only then can we educate our posterity as to the true nature of the blessings of liberty and only then will our own children and grandchildren fully understand why they should joining us in giving daily thanks to our founding fathers and to the laws of nature and of nature's god that they set us so incandescent an example in following with such beautiful fidelity. Thank you very much.
DAVID FRUM: In light of all the current events, all the things happening around the world, we will take time for one or two questions.
FEMALE VOICE 1: Part of it is to turn away from all that you have been talking about. I will ask the Middle East question. How should we understand what is going on in the Middle East? What will happen? What should happen? Is there any hope to be drawn from this?
NORMAN PODHORETZ: God bless America. I, as many of you know, have been predicting for the last seven years now that the so-called peace process would lead not to peace but to another major war between Israel and the Arab nations, that is not just Israel and the Palestinians, but the Palestinians are joined by the other Arab nations, including the two which signed treaties with Israel. That is Egypt and Jordan. I believe that what has been happening in the last few days has cast a sickeningly illuminating light on the truth of that analysis. What we see is the following. After a government has been in power for a certain length of time, which has made more extensive and more numerous concessions to the Palestinians than any other Israeli government ever contemplated or than any other foreign nation including any American government not all that friendly to Israel, dared to demand of an Israeli government. Even after that, the Palestinians and their Arab brothers continue to regard the existence of Israel as an abomination to be eradicated no matter where its boundaries are drawn, no matter what its policies may be. That, in my judgement, has always been and remains alas, the heart of the problem. This is not a normal interstate conflict which can be adjudicated by moving a boundary line 20 miles that way or exchanging populations or whatever nations have previously been at war do in order to arrive at a condition of peace. This is an abnormal conflict in which one side wishes to live in peace, to be left in peace, and the other side wishes to win absolutely. Winning absolutely means eradicating the existence of its adversary. The objective of the Arab world is that there be no Sovran Jewish state and on that part of the earth in which many of them believe is sacred to Owa [phonetic]. They think the existence of a Jewish Sovran state is not only a political injury and an injustice, but a [unintelligible]. They believe it to be not only in their political interest, but in their religious duty to remove this bone from their throat.
The strategy they adopted at first was to do so by direct military assault. After discovering that this would not succeed for various reasons, they adopted a different strategy, which they call the strategy of stages, what we used to call salami tactics. The culmination of the strategy was always regarded as a holy war aimed at wiping out the Jewish state, wiping it off the face of the earth. I think I don't know whether this Jihad [phonetic] will occur next week, events move very quickly. It may be that everyone is backing away from the brink. At least among Israeli doves, it is now becoming increasingly clear that the policies that I do not hesitate to call appeasement, are having the same result that policies of appeasement have had in the past and that the appetite of the tiger has been wetted, not satisfied.
I think a big war is coming, if not this time, then next time. It is hard to know what will set it off. I just know that it will be set off by something, some development, perhaps a trivial development. It will result either, god forbid, in a victory by the Arab side. Incidentally, when I say the Arab side, I would include Iran, a Muslim state which is not Arab but which I believe would set aside its differences even with Iraq to join in such an assault. It would either end with a victory by that side in which case Israel would be wiped out and most of its inhabitance driven into the sea, as Nassau [phonetic] once said, or an Israeli victory in which case the Israel's would find themselves reoccupying territory from which they had withdrawn in order to make peace. They would be back in something like the same old situation, though things always change.
Where we go from here, I don't know. I can predict to you that the Israeli's strategy, whoever runs the government, will probably now be some kind of effort to draw unilateral boundaries and threaten to retaliate very harshly, if these are violated, and let the Palestinians do whatever they want on the other side. I don't think this policy will work because I don't think it would satisfy the Palestinians or any of the other Arab nations.
I don't know what is going to happen. I think it is one of these situations, history has known others, in which you have a conflict that can only be resolved if radical changes occur within the situation, which may mean generation. I have to say that as gloomy as I sound and feel, this is not a conflict that is 2,000 years old, as people keep saying. There were no Muslims 2,000 years ago. It is a conflict, as far as states are concerned, that is only 50 years old. That is not a long time, historically speaking. It is conceivable to me that things will happen in the Arab world that will make a deal possible. There was a time when nobody would have imagined that France and Germany would reach a point where a war between them would be inconceivable, yet we seemed to have reached such a point. It is possible that changes might occur in the Arab world that would make an analogous ventuality [phonetic] possible.
For the rest, I am afraid I don't think that the major war ahead can be avoided. It think the Arabs want it. A former Israeli intelligence officer was reporting to me the other day, who is an extreme dove, said that what we now know is that they don't want us to give it to them. They want to conquer it by blood. I think that was an honest reaction on the part of an honest man. I think this is what we have to look forward to.
DAVID FRUM: With that, I would like to thank Norman for a wonderful evening and also for an extraordinary career. Thank you, Norman.
[End Tape 1, Side 2]