We spoke with best-selling author and columnist Mark Steyn in connection with the release of a newly updated version of his entertaining and insightful book of obituaries and appreciations, “Mark Steyn’s Passing Parade.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Steyn spoke with TheBlaze Books on his newly updated book, the fate of America, and issues ranging from gay marriage to global warming to free speech to education and Common Core. The interview, which we conducted in-person, is transcribed below with edits for clarity and links.
Give us a brief synopsis of your newly updated book, “Passing Parade: Obituaries & Appreciations.“
Steyn: Well my big books in recent years have been on the big geopolitical, socio-economic picture. A lot of statistics, lot of numbers, lot of big picture stuff. “America Alone” is essentially a book about demography – I mean I got a best-selling book about demography which doesn’t happen very often, but it’s about fertility rates, really. “After America” in some ways is about debt – it’s about multi-trillion dollar numbers. And they’re all big picture things, but for me the real pleasure is writing about people, and reminding yourself…that it’s not all fertility rates and debt/GDP ratios, but that at the right moment of history, one individual can make a difference. And the people in this book are people who made a difference. That can be in the sense of winning the Cold War like Ronald Reagan did, or it can be in the sense of William Mitchell, who’s the guy who invented Cool Whip…I like writing obituaries. The only thing I would say is that it’s hard to write about people you…you can’t be entirely negative or hateful about people. There’s gotta be something in there [within the person] that you respond to.
And it’s interesting – even someone like Romano Mussolini, who is the Mussolini’s son – Il Duche – the big-time fascist dictator of Italy…Romano Mussolini was a jazz pianist of all things, and I met him once when he came to play in London. His group was called the “Romano Mussolini All Stars.” And after the war in Italy, his dad had been hung from a lamppost, the bottom had dropped out of the dictating business, but Romano got to be the jazz pianist that he’d always wanted to be. But he thought the Mussolini name wouldn’t go well, so he changed his name to the equivalent of “Romano Smith and His Trio.” And nobody came to see him. And then he discovered that actually, the Romano Mussolini All Stars, that that was actually quite a draw with the jazz crowd. But there’s even in that – as I said, Mussolini wound up hanging from a lamppost when they caught up with him with his mistress, but even…the final anecdote about that is that the last time Romano saw his dad, when his time had almost run out, and everybody was catching up with him, and his dad came in effectively to say “Goodbye…” he didn’t know it would be the last time he saw him and he asked him to play some music from Franz Lehár, from The Merry Widow. And just that, even in the…just that little vignette is like a very poignant, human moment, in the life of someone who a couple weeks later was hanging from that lamppost.
I think you always have to if you’re writing – even if you’re writing about – whoever it is, there’s gotta be some little way into the story that makes them human.
And you know as bad as things are – when I think back to that time for example, and I think when Neville Chamberlain was forced out of the prime ministership in the spring of 1940, if the Tory party had picked Lord Halifax instead of Winston Churchill, the entire history of the 20th century would have been different. And so the lesson you draw…we’re in New York City…Winston Churchill was almost hit by a car crossing 5th Avenue in 1932 or whatever it was – if that taxicab had actually left the tread marks over Winston Churchill — again the entire history of the second half of the 20th century would have been different. And so the lesson you draw from that is that yes the debt numbers are bad, yes the demographic numbers are bad, yes all the big picture stuff, the trends, the macroeconomic stuff is all bad, but even so, one man, the right man at the right moment can make all the difference…extraordinary people can make all the difference.
One of the obituaries that I thought interesting was Strom Thurmond’s. Give some readers insight into the story in which you were stuck in an elevator between Barbara Boxer and Strom Thurmond.
Steyn: I was covering the impeachment trial of President Clinton, which was the first time I’d been exposed close up to the United States Senate, which is not a lovely site. And one of the few interesting things as that trial wore on was actually Strom Thurmond because he – Clinton had the sort of two sexpot lady lawyers – and Strom Thurmond used to bring candy for them each day, and then press them with his 112-year old lizard-like hands into their fingers. And you could see the women were like, fatally taken aback by this, but at a certain level they understood that this was what it was gonna take to prevent their guy from being removed from office. And in the end, Strom did not vote to remove Clinton from office, in part I do believe because he had the hots for those lawyers.
Title: Mark Steyn's Passing Parade: Obituaries & Appreciations expanded edition
Author: Mark Steyn
But yea, there was one moment at the end of the day where we were sort of pressed in a crush – me, Barbara Boxer, Strom Thurmond, and a ton of other people. And I suddenly noticed what I thought was this like incredible-sized lizard on the sleeve of my coat. And I was listening to – I think Barbara Boxer was talking – so you look down in horror as this thing is moving down your arm, and then I realize that as it then reached down and began to stroke my hand that it was the incredibly wizened fingers of Strom Thurmond who I think had been meaning to reach over and stroke Barbara Boxer’s hand, but had fallen a little short, and ended up stroking mine.
What can you do? It’s not often…people are always saying your editors always want you to get up close and personal with these political figures, and I felt, if nothing else, I’d done some serious heavy petting with Strom Thurmond.
But, you know, we live in hyper-partisan times, and that’s fair enough. My view basically of the American situation — Mark Levin and I were actually talking about this one time, and Mark put it very well: it’s a 50/50 nation and one side has to win, and the other side has to lose. And I tend to agree with that. All that said though, when you’re being groped by Strom Thurmond, it’s important to be able to recognize the comedy in your own side too. I like to think I could always do that.
When you’re being groped by Strom Thurmond, it’s important to..recognize the comedy in your own side
Are there any other particular obituaries that you think readers will find entertaining or insightful in the book.
Steyn: I always like ones – there’s an obituary there of Otto von Habsburg, who had the 20th century worked out for him would have been Holy Roman Emperor; would have been Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And instead things didn’t work out for him and at the end of his life he was a member of the European Parliament, which I would say is about as big a comedown because it’s not a parliament, it’s basically a Potemkin legislature…I would say that’s as big a comedown as you could get.
What I like about that is that it kind of reminds us that in the span of one life, everything can change. You can see the rise and fall of Communism, you can have revolutions, you can have vast convulsions, all within one man’s life. And, if you’re like Otto von Habsburg, your very surname sort of mocks the idea of prosperity – you’re going around like the last sort of souvenir of an enterprise nobody else is interested in. I like things like that, because it’s a reminder that a guy can live three score and 10, maybe he’ll get an extra 10 or 15 years on top of it, but within 80 or 90 years empires rise and fall, all within the span of a single life.
Sticking with that theme of the ebbs and flows of history, if you were to analogize where America is to another country in another time period in the history of the world, be it Rome or Great Britain at the turn of the 19th century, what country are we and what period are we living in?
Title: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 1-6 (Everyman's Library)
Author: Edward Gibbon
Steyn: When I wrote “After America,” my old editor Cullen Murphy wrote a book called “Are We Rome.” Cullen isn’t any kind of conservative but it’s a very interesting analysis. Societies rise and fall – they reach a level of comfort and they decline. You know how the first generation are warriors, and then the second generation become farmers, and then the third generation become inventors and creators, and then by the fifth generation they’re diversity outreach consultants or whatever, which is the stage we’re pretty much at. And I think there’s truth in the comparisons – you know the one people talk about which is the comparison with Britain at the height of empire – and Kipling to any English schoolboy, Kipling’s recessional – Britain in the era of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, which was a parade such as no one has ever seen of the queen’s subjects from around this mighty empire march down the mow in London, and the idea that if you were a five year old boy who’d been taken along to see the parade that you would end your days in a socialist basket-case would have seemed absolutely astonishing because they thought they were beyond history in a way that America thinks it.
And I think there’s a lot of truth in that except you know – Robert Kagan who wrote this book “The World America Made,” he said well if we are Britain, we’re Britain in the 1870s, you know at the height of imperial…I don’t think that’s true. I just was thinking about it because I’ve just come back from Australia where there’s an entire part of a suburb I think of Melbourne – all the streets are named after Crimea, and I was thinking well you know who here would name – there’s a Kandahar, Saskatchewan, because that was the site of a great heroic victory in – I hope I get this right now — I think it’s the Second World War. No one’s ever going to build a Kandahar, Idaho, so I think that’s the…I don’t like…I’m not even comfortable with those comparisons.
But I’ll tell you why I think we shouldn’t even start thinking like that – and that’s the other thing Kagan says in the book – he says we should be no more concerned about China’s economic dominance than the British were about with America’s dominance. Now wait a minute. You know to everyone except the British and the Americans, the Anglo-American period is seen as one continuous phase. The French don’t distinguish…they just say “Les Anglo-Saxons, to hell with them all.” They see it as, you know two centuries of seamless Anglo-American dominance beginning with the Battle of Trafalgar. And my friend Andrew Roberts, a British historian that [George W.] Bush liked enormously, likes to pinpoint it to I think one month in the 1940s, when on the 14th day of the month the British had more men under arms than America, and on the 15th the Americans did, and that’s the point at which the baton was passed.
But that was the – if you’re gonna go out of business as the global hegemon – passing it to your prodigal son that shares the same language, shares the same legal inheritance, shares the same views on liberty but has taken them in a slightly different direction or whatever, that’s the smoothest transition of global power in history. And the idea that it’s the same when the baton is passed – that London to Washington is the same as Washington to Beijing – is deeply disturbing.
So I don’t think that comparison holds, and I think the danger is that we’re actually heading into a world of no order, in which you have China which is economically powerful, but demographically weak, so it has to use its power in very shrewd ways while it can. You have Islam which is demographically surging but in other ways more or less irrelevant except for oil. You have the wealthiest societies in human history like Norway – Norway is one of the five wealthiest countries on the planet and can’t defend it’s own borders – whereas North Korea is a basket-case but is a nuclear power. And the idea that somehow that could survive so that after North Korea, who goes nuclear next? Sudan? Chad? While at the same time all the money is in places that can basically, that can’t find a detachment of troops to go and guard the border. At one point, if you’ve got poor nuclear countries in Africa, and rich non-nuclear countries in Europe, and they’re a short distance of order apart, they’re just gonna go in and take it.
So I think in the long run, I would say the danger is that we are moving into a world of no order, in which all the mischief makers whether you’re talking about Putin or the mullahs or the Chinese politburo will just have the run of the planet. And I think that’s a tragedy, but I think in a sense the United States has to kind of recover a sense of purpose and economic purpose too, because right now too much of our human capital is diverted into at the low level, low-skill service jobs, and at the high level into things like the president and first lady did until 20 minutes before they became president and first lady – you know the first lady was a diversi-crat, and the president was a community organizer. That’s even more pointless than doing the nightshift at the Quicky-Mart. It’s even less connected to the creation of wealth. And then at the middle you’ve got people who do these sort of jobs with the Department of Paperwork all day long. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lawyer insuring that something is compliant with the federal regulations, or whether you’re one of those people who says, “Well you send me a W-2, and I’ll send you a 1099 and we’ll all pretend that this is some kind of valuable economic activity.”
At some point (and everything meaningful then is outsourced)…if you look at the Industrial Revolution, all the great inventions were made because the inventors were around the stuff. They were on the factory floor, so you see a spinning wheel and it falls over and the guy sees it spinning around on the floor, and he thinks “A-ha, what if we did it that way?” And if you have something like we do now where the inventors are sitting in Palo Alto or whatever, but everything’s actually made in China, I don’t think you have those moments. So I think we may be…and at that point you know, yes we’ll still be able to make something you can listen to Miley Cyrus on, but I don’t know whether we’ll be making anything else, and that worries me.
Do you see a scenario in which progressivism is defeated in the war of ideas in America, or do you think just by virtue of the math and gravity, that ultimately it must fall of its own weight and that’s the only way there will be a “reset?”
Steyn: That’s the sort of standard line, isn’t it: that if something can’t go on forever, it won’t, which I quote at the beginning of “After America…” Ben Stein’s dad formulated that. And that’s true. But it makes a huge difference whether – when it stops, it stops because you’ve gone over the cliff and you’ve landed at the bottom, or it stops because you’ve managed to apply the breaks and bring yourself to a halt two inches before the cliff edge.
The Western world is kind of comfortable with the idea of leaving it till it goes off the cliff
And I would say, I think the Western world is kind of comfortable with the idea of leaving it till it goes off the cliff. And I find the idea that the progressive project, which we’re in now, which for some people now is the point of life, that life becomes a sort of exercise in solipsistic kind of self-expression, and it should all be about going to college till you’re 35 and taking early retirement at 52 and you do some desultory little activity between 35 and 52, but that the purpose of life now has been utterly transformed in the course of the 20th century in a way that’s unsustainable. So how do you persuade people that you can’t have a 30-year retirement, and you can’t stay in school till 28th grade, that life…the values are not gonna work. And I’m not sure, when you say progressivism, I’m not sure that in the end it won’t want to — the way to bet is that it will want to go off the cliff and over the cliff, and the question then is, how do we pick up ourselves up after that.
For America I would say there’s a slightly different question as well, because America…people talk about a “Proposition Nation,” and I don’t entirely buy that. There is a theory that the United States is not like Finland…Finland is the place where Finds happen to live. And if one minute they’re socialist Fins, and the next minute they’re fascist Fins, and the next minute they’re liberal Fins and the next minute they’re conservative Fins, it doesn’t matter because Finland is the place where Fins live, no more, no less.
And America is not like that. It was founded on certain ideas about liberty, and small government and self-reliant citizens, and so if it is no longer a self-governing Republic of limited government by self-reliant citizens, that it’s actually – a majority of people are actually comfortable with European-sized welfare states, and dependency, and all the rest of it – if at that point America still has any more purpose than the Soviet Union did after it ceased being Communist. And I think that’s an interesting question. The Soviet Union broke up, and Yugoslavia broke up and…big countries are not the norm, and a big country that checks out of its founding principles…there’s no reason why it should expect to maintain the same real estate in perpetuity.
One of the consequences of the progressive experiment that you have spoken to at some length, and which I think has been overlooked, is the destruction of human capital. Explain.
Steyn: Well I think people forget how government can transform a society. When Obama was elected, Professor Paul Rahe at Hillsdale College accepted the truth of a lot of what I was saying. My analysis in a dry sense [in Rahe’s view] was entirely accurate, but that I’d missed the point because I was Canadian. “You can take the boy out of Canada, but you can’t take Canada out of the boy.” “What Steyn isn’t grasping here is that we Americans are not like those wimpy, sissified, pantywaist Canadians. We’re not gonna put up with this.” At the time he said that, total government spending in the United States was I think 42.1% [of GDP], and in Canada it was like 42.9% [of GDP], so that 0.8% is the difference between the “manly, sturdy republic where men are men” and the “sissified, pantywaist, semi-French, monarchical basket-case of Canada,” just that 0.8%. And obviously in the Obama years it’s gone the other way. And so I think he underestimates how big government can transform a people.
You know if you traveled around North America by train, in the late 1930s, you’d have thought Canada was the military superpower of the continent. You would have seen a lot more men in uniform at Canadian stations than at U.S. stations. The Royal Canadian Navy was the third largest surface fleet on the planet in 1945. After Pierre Trudeau essentially decided to remake the country in his own image, that was no longer the case. Big government can transform a people.
The Scots are almost everywhere you go – every corner on the planet — anything that’s worth it, doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about banks in Hong Kong or rubber plantations in Malaya or the Canadian Pacific Railway, everywhere you go on the planet was built by Scots. And you go back to contemporary Scotland now, and they’re these pathetic, feeble, passive economic swamp of dependency – parts of Glasgow, male life expectancy…they all sit around eating fried Mars bars all day, and life expectancy is getting down to West African rates in certain wards of Glasgow. So if you’re someone who knows the Scottish diaspora, all that great stuff they did around the planet, and you go back to Scotland, you think, “What the hell happened?” “Well what happened is government. What happened is welfare.”
You go back to contemporary Scotland…[it's this] pathetic, feeble, passive…swamp of dependency
I think what Professor Rahe, bless him, who is a very smart man, underestimated how far welfare and the culture of trans-generational dependency has eaten into the American spirit. And I see that in my part of the world – you know I live in a corner of the world where the mills have closed down, and people who were the grandsons of mill workers and the great-grandsons of farmers – there’s nothing for them to do. But yet at the same time there’s subsidized housing and there’s subsidized this and that…so people can live their lives without having to bear the burdens of their grandparents and great-grandparents, but it’s not a life of dignity. And that’s why I always say the great evil of welfare is not that it wastes money, which it certainly does, but it’s greatest evil is that it wastes people. And that’s absolutely terrible.
I would image you would probably agree with the thesis that the politics reflects the culture, although government itself can impact the culture in ways unanticipated. Another column that you wrote recently had a point about stopping and thinking about the fact that 30 years ago, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court stated that there was no fundamental right to homosexual sodomy, while tomorrow, if the prevailing zeitgeist changes and we move beyond gay marriage to something further from its traditional definition, if you’re against the new radically different relationship arrangement, you’re liable to be called a bigot. The broader question is, how do you explain that the cultural changes are happening at an accelerating pace, that progressivism is marching ever faster?
Steyn: Yea, which is fascinating in a way. If you think, 40 years ago in much of this country, in the Western world, homosexuality was illegal. 20 years ago, in the ‘90s they were still taking polls in which the majority of Americans thought that all homosexual acts – people were opposed to them. So something like that is happening extraordinarily fast. I always like it, sometimes very smart conservatives, you know David Frum for example was opposed to gay marriage 10 years ago, he’s now in favor of it. Another friend of mine down in Oz [Australia] Janet Albrechtsen – she was on tv the other day and she said “I’m coming around to gay marriage,” surprise surprise. And I always think, you know, Janet is extremely smart, but those words would be awkward to me because I would immediately think: “What am I going to becoming around to in another five or 10 years?”
And I find it interesting that people now get very annoyed if you say the wrong word about a transgendered person, but I think Piers Morgan got into trouble for using the wrong…he had some transgendered person of “gender fluidity” or whatever he meant to say on his show, and he was sucking up to her and thought he was doing brilliantly and had got everything right, and immediately afterwards she trashes him for using the wrong term for this and the wrong term for that. Who the hell can keep up? And the question then always becomes, what’s gonna come next, what’s gonna come next, what’s gonna come next?
My view is that that’s all more important than politics, because to elect a conservative government, you need a conservative electorate. And that I think requires for example functioning families. Well, a majority of black, and Hispanic, and poor white American births are now out of wedlock. And what that means as we all know is that single women are the biggest market for big government because government is the “big daddy” who never forgets to send the check. And there’s always…so it’s very difficult to see how those, when you have an increasingly dysfunctional family life, whether those people are gonna be electing a small government party.
I mean I find that – just on the gay marriage thing — I think again Charles Murray, a very smart guy, he’s come around to it as well, because he thinks he’s known gay couples and they’re just terrific parents. The Archbishop of Canterbury who is nowhere near as smart as Charles Murray, but he said “Oh you meet people who are just stunning…just stunning the quality of their relationships.” And I’m sure that the gay people who get to go to dinner parties with Charles Murray and the Archbishop of Canterbury, that’s true. So, gay marriage will just be something that the elite adopts, and will work fine for them, and that will be great. But down at the lower end, I think it’ll be just one more of those things that will just be another more or less irrelevant quiver in a whole series of dysfunctions for the American family.
I mean it’s like the cliché, in my part of the world, there’s a nice high school girl who comes and babysits your kids for awhile when she’s 15 or 16 and you bump into her six years later and she’s got four different kids by three different fathers, and none of them are involved in the kids’ life…and that’s like a cliché in my part of the world, but a very common one. Does gay marriage make much difference there? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it’s entirely marginal because the family is so shattered and atomized already that it doesn’t make any difference at all, but that’s I think the bifurcating between the sort of elite – an elite for whom these institutions still work – and a dysfunctional mass for which they no longer do.
Delving into a couple other issues on the culture – two key things (very interrelated in the case of Hirsi Ali) are free speech and education. On the former, can you give a summary of the speech case in which you are a defendant, and why the average American should be focused on it and care about it?
If [Mann] were to prevail…it would be the biggest setback for the First Amendment in half a century
Steyn: Well in my particular case, I’m being sued by Michael Mann from Penn State University, who’s one of three people who came up with the global warming hockey stick, which showed the last thousand years as the flat handle of the hockey stick – no temperature fluctuations for a millennium – and then the 20th century is the blade where basically it rockets up and out the top right-hand corner of the graph like we’re all gonna fry circa 2014. That would be the conclusion you’d draw from his graph, which isn’t what happened.
But the use that was put to that graph by the IPCC, and by Al Gore in his film “An Inconvenient Truth,” which was force-fed to American children and Canadian schoolchildren and British schoolchildren and many others – force-fed to them…the use to which that graph was put was in my mind completely fraudulent. And I described it as fraudulent.
I think I’m entitled to say that… there’s all kinds of people who think that graph does not smell right…the President of the Royal Statistical Society in Britain is among them…you know statisticians are not big fans of what Michael Mann did with his proxy data. So he’s suing me, and, you know, it’s always a crapshoot when you’re in court, and if you come up in front of a jury.
But I will say this: that I think if he [Mann] were to prevail in that case, it would be the biggest setback for the First Amendment in half a century since New York Times v. Sullivan. It would be a very consequential case, with repercussions that go way beyond climate change. But just on the climate change stuff, it would tell editors and publishers that this critical aspect of public policy on which trillions of dollars of spending hinges, is not like other public policy questions. It is not subject to the give and take of vigorous debate. And that’s why I’m fighting this battle. And that’s why I think…people understand the seriousness and I think I’ll win. But that’s what would be the consequence of it.
The climate change crowd…Obama says, “The science is settled, the debate is over.” Always listen very carefully when someone tells you, “The debate is over, the science is settled.” Einstein didn’t walk around saying, “The science is settled.” Sir Isaac Newton didn’t walk around saying, “The science is settled.” That is unique to this crowd. And they didn’t have politicians who are in many ways responsible – climate scientists are now – Michael Mann himself is in this big tv series. James Cameron, the “Titanic” guy, who has like one of the world’s largest carbon footprints but claims he needs to save the planet, like Barbara Streisand flying in from Malibu on her private jet – you know it’s fine for them, but you’ve gotta be down by the river beating your clothes with the native washer women. But Barbara Streisand and James Cameron will still be flying around on their private jets, and that again is like an elite – it’s an elite accessory.
Jessica Alba who is in this climate change thing with Michael Mann – for Hollywood celebrities it’s like a pain-free cause. It’s great isn’t it? You’re saving the planet. Barbara Streisand actually issued Barbara Streisand’s tips on protecting the environment. You know I remember doing a parody of it: “When Robert Redford comes around to dinner, turn half the lights off in the dining room because he only likes to be lit from his right side these days.”
Again, it’s an elite accessory that will destroy millions of lives. And we should be free to talk about it. And again, it’s the same thing, I’ve got no problem…most people who are opposed to gay marriage don’t object to you or anyone else arguing in favor of it, but increasingly people who are in favor of gay marriage don’t even want to hear about opposing arguments. And I don’t like official ideology. I don’t like it whether it’s fascism or communism, or whether it’s marriage equality or climate change. I don’t want to be told this is the official ideology and you can’t deviate from it, because it’s despotic and it’s totalitarian.
I don’t want to be told this is the official ideology and you can’t deviate…it’s totalitarian
I’m not making crazy comparisons here: I know the difference between Hitler and Stalin, and James Cameron and Barbara Streisand. I can tell the difference between Barbara Streisand and Hitler at two hundred yards, but it is totalitarian and despotic when you start saying, the other side cannot make its case.
Now the Left will argue, “Ok, well your side always says that you want civil society to handle these things,” so in the case of Brandon Eich for example, civil society pushed him to resign, and your side got what it asked for. What would be your best counter-argument when they say, “This is discourse, we’re winning in the discourse, so deal with it.”
Steyn: Well I think that’s true. And I think that’s why they did win. You mentioned that Supreme Court Case, I think that’s 1986 when the then-chief justice of the United States says there is no Constitutional right to homosexual sodomy. And he used all these phrases like “crime against nature.” Not only couldn’t he be chief justice of the Supreme Court thinking like that these days, he couldn’t even be chief executive of Mozilla. And so, my objection to the Mozilla thing is that it wasn’t a market decision as it were. A market decision is when the Duck Dynasty network says “Oh, you bad Duck hunter, you said something beastly about gay people so we’re kicking you off the show,” and when they get the backlash then they decide after all they’re gonna put him back on the show – that’s a market decision. In this case, I think what you have is a kind of elite social acceptance that simply – you know they discovered that as the snooty ladies used to say – that Brandon Eich is not “our kind of person.” And that’s all that was, and that’s – I think that’s slightly different and slightly more worrying. And again I wouldn’t mind if there was a kind of equal playing field.
But for example I saw just a couple of minutes ago, Charles Murray who I just mentioned has been banned from another university that he was going to speak at. Ann Coulter was supposed to speak at the University of Ottawa, and it was cancelled on “security grounds.” Which basically means that because intolerant lefties have threatened to smash a few windows, so you have to hire security for this speech to go ahead, it’s better not to have it. That’s like the violent version of the heckler’s veto as it were.
So there’s no equality – the playing field is not equal here. More and more persons are being excluded, particularly from universities but in other parts of the public space too. You look at how Dr. Laura when she was going to get her tv show, and the Hollywood guys got together and bounced her – got her “blacklisted” to use a word that the Hollywood guys are normally opposed to.
And there’s no solution to this other than actually getting in the game, making other sitcoms, making other movies, and finding a way to do an end-run, which Glenn Beck is doing, and I think is ultimately the way to do it.
But in a way, conservatives abandoned all that space. There’s lot of wealthy conservatives whose daughters turn 18 and they send them off to their old alma mater which was a nice sane place when they were at school in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and she comes back four years later and she’s essentially been brainwashed and socially engineered, and you’ve paid a quarter of a million dollars for the privilege. I mean why do conservatives go along with that? They’ve got to get back in the game at those places.
And of course William F. Buckley wrote “God and Man at Yale” back in the ‘50s, and at my alma mater, Columbia, they were producing Socialists and Communists a hundred years ago.
Steyn: Well yes, you can go back to the famous debate at the Oxford Union: ”This house would not fight for king and country…” The funny thing about that though is that we all understood 80 years ago that elites at the height of the ivory towers of the academy…people did not think – that kind of contempt for national feeling…the difference though now is not just at the elite academy, it’s actually down at the grade school. It’s being taught from the grade school – climate change is a very good example, or even the whole gay thing…when I was at school, we did Latin and Greek in school, and we were expected to pick up homosexuality in our free time. And now nobody does Latin and Greek, but they’re being taught all about gay issues, climate change, all the rest of it. It’s a waste of time above anything else.
The progressive ethos being taught in schools also helps build up the next generation of progressive activists to fight the war of ideas.
Steyn: If that’s the society’s default position – if it’s the air you breathe, which it is largely — the likelihood of persuading people to go into a polling booth every other Tuesday morning in November and plump for conservative government shrinks, and shrinks, and shrinks. They don’t live in the polling booths, they live in front of the television set, and in the grade schools, and in the squishy churches, and in the movie theater, and they spend two minutes once every two years in the polling booths.
So if you’re not in all the space where they actually live, you’re gonna lose.
We’ve danced around it, but do you have any comments on Common Core?
Steyn: Well for starters, there’s 300 million people in this country – let’s assume 100 million of them are school age. You can’t have an education system for 100 million people – it can’t be done. Just to step back a bit by the way, one of the worst things that has happened since the Second World War, is the consolidation of single-town school districts into ever-bigger multi-town regional school districts at an enormous rate. That has delivered more and more the education system away from control by parents and elected representatives, and into the hands of a big national education union establishment, culminating in the federal Department of Education, which is again a 1970s creation, and is not the Department of Education it’s the Department of the Teachers’ Union…they have their own cabinet position. And you can only correct, you can only fix these schools, I think school district by school district, county by county, state by state. You can’t do it nationally. And they’re appalling, and they’re undemanding and the longer people spend in them, the more mediocre is the performance. And everyone understands the reality of this…everyone would like to do something about it. It’s nothing to do with teacher ratios – teacher ratios have fallen spectacularly in the last 40 years, aside from the increased number of teachers, you now have the increased number of administrators.
The average American in 1940 had an 8th grade education. The post-war prosperity of this country was built by 8th graders. 8th grade America won the Second World War, and then bad that big post-war 1950s prosperity. Now we stay in school twice as long, have twice as much attention from school teachers, and for no purpose. The longer you keep people in education — if you pretend that college is universal, it becomes middle school. If everybody goes to college it’s middle school, that’s what it is, that’s what it will be. You take away so many people’s most productive years. It leads to later economic contribution, later family formation, it has all kinds of consequences. And the education that matters is still K through 8. Because if you screw up K through 8, you can spend the next 20 years trying to play catch-up, and it doesn’t really make any difference. And that’s what I’d like to see. I’d like to see a stronger telescope education. I’d like to see a return back to the spirit of single-town school districts, and I’d like to see American education delivered out of the hands of the present educational establishment, and Common Core does none of those things, which is why it’s to me part of the problem, not the solution.