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Leaping Back to the Founding, Part 1: The Left Really Reveals Its Hatred of the American Idea

October 24, 2009

5000-year-leap

In the campaign against Glenn Beck, one of the angles pursued in ad hominem smears against the popular Fox News host has been to play up his promotion of the work of conservative author W. Cleon Skousen.

I initially blogged about leftist internet magazine Salon’s Skousen hit piece here. At the time I had not read The 5000 Year Leap, the principle Skousen text which Beck had promoted. My post mainly focused on the ad hominem nature of the attack.

Now, having read Leap something even more troubling emerges: the book is fairly reasonable and in trying to label it a work of crackpot Salon is basically rejecting the American founding.

Leap is a useful introductory text for those unfamiliar with the basics of the US government and the principles of the founding. It’s not a work of crackpot conspiracy thinking. I don’t know if Skousen’s other works are — they very well could be. But just because someone is off in crazy land on one subject does not mean every idea they put forth can be dismissed. And just because Beck embraces some of Skousen’s ideas it does not mean he should be smeared with some Skousen’s more far-out-there alleged arguments.

This is not to say Leap does not have its problems. I found reading it somewhat similar to watching Beck. I agreed with perhaps 75-80% of the ideas while occasionally wincing at the often hokey style.

Basically I’m in complete sync with “Crunchy Con” Rod Dreher, a blogger who I really should be reading more consistently:

Skousen must have developed his unsavory reputation from his other books, because none of his is in “Leap.” If all you knew about Skousen was “Leap,” you would be completely oblivious to the bad stuff about him. “Leap” is a work of interpretive history, one that treats the American founding as a “miracle,” and renders the Founders as having an air of semi-divinity about them. In its worshipful tone and substance, it blurs the line between religion and nationalism — not in a frightening way, but rather in a hokey, 1950s civic-religion way. This is the kind of book you’d expect Opie’s civics teacher in Mayberry to assign to him. It’s an eccentric book to be sure, and a poorly written, poorly argued and sentimental one. It is, I mean to say, a bad book, but it’s not an evil book or a crazy book. The idea that America is charged by God with a manifest destiny, and is an exception among the nations of the world, is a deeply problematic idea, to say the least, but it is (alas) one well within the historical mainstream f this country. Skousen himself may have been an extremist in his convictions, but you have to look to his other material for evidence of that; it’s not in “The 5,000 Year Leap,” and I want to make that clear after yesterday’s post, which I mean to correct.

That said, as I was going through “Leap” last night, I kept thinking, “How in the world did this thing set Glenn Beck’s mind on fire?” It’s not that Skousen or anybody else is wrong in the least to be filled with admiration for the Founders and their achievements, but that this is such a mediocre work of starchy pseudo-history you can’t believe somebody in his position would take it so seriously.

[Where I’d depart from Dreher is in judging the level of quality of Leap. Writing-wise I think it’s fairly mediocre, not Dreher’s bad. Dreher doesn’t comment too much on the substance of the ideas. For me idea-wise it’s pretty good, though, not great or amazing.]

The core of Leap is Skousen’s introduction of what he identifies as the 28 principles which the founders gleaned from human history’s political thinkers and then used to found the United States. Skousen’s list is probably a little longer than it needs to be and some of his conclusions are inadequately supported by the evidence he presents. (Were he submitting NewsReal posts I’d probably send them back to him to rewrite.)

Regardless, he does present plenty of important concepts for understanding the American Idea. And it’s clear why Beck would see value in the book. So at NewsReal we’re going to explore these ideas in a series I’m calling Leaping Back to the Founding. In Part 2 I’ll explain how Salon chose to misrepresent Leap. Then beginning with Part 3 I’ll begin presenting each of the 28 ideas with some brief commentary as well as links to NewsReal items of relevance which involve the ideas. Readers are strongly encouraged to contribute their own arguments and interpretations of the founders’ ideas discussed. The best of these will then be incorporated into the series as “Founding Comment of the Day.”

Part of the added value of exploring these ideas is to keep them fresh in mind as they relate to NewsReal’s mission of Keeping the Cable Guys Honest. If we are to confront the Left’s body of ideas and challenge others to reject them, then we need to be able to articulate those which should be embraced instead.

Skousen doesn’t articulate the American Idea perfectly — but then who could? (The American Idea by its very nature is complex and even contradictory. Every two people who support it have a slightly different conception of what it is.) However Skousen gets close enough that he’s certainly worth utilizing as a catalyst to begin the discussion at NewsReal. I hope you’ll join me.

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19 Comments
  1. October 24, 2009 1:21 pm

    “(Were he [Skousen] submitting NewsReal posts I’d probably send them back to him to rewrite.)”

    David is being humble here. If Shakespeare submitted to NewsReal he could expect things sent back for re-write:
    “What is this word “gnarled”? How does it support your thesis?”

    Seriously though, David deserves endless kudos for his tireless commitment to the quality of NewsReal publications. Writers are a lazy breed in general and need a good shepherd to keep them on track.

    • October 24, 2009 2:47 pm

      Thanks Guy.

      I’m not sure Shakespeare would be right for NewsReal. I don’t know if he’d be able to make a focused argument. 😉

    • swemson permalink
      October 25, 2009 12:36 am

      Guy;

      Hear hear !

  2. October 24, 2009 1:30 pm

    The critics are foaming, because they think that the conservatives are like them – unthinking True Believers in everything that comes out of Their Leader’s (PBUH) mouth.

    Or pen.

  3. P-Diddle permalink
    October 24, 2009 2:06 pm

    David, Rod Dreher calls Beck a propagandist in his piece. While I agree Beck is passionate and incredibly smart about what he does, I think it might be going too far to call him an outright propagandist. I might have a misunderstanding of the word’s meaning, but I believe propaganda to be more government driven. It is America’s very essence to have people give ideas and to have those ideas discussed.

    I feel this is what Beck does. He just gives us his view of the world. By linking Beck to propaganda, I believe Dreher himself would have to admit that he himself is a propaganda artist, much in a similar way that Beck does, by simply exposing his view of the world. I also do not believe this to be true.

    I’d like to hear what you think if you had the time. Thanks for the great work you do here at NewsReal.

    • October 24, 2009 2:43 pm

      “Propaganda” is one of those words that has been so used and abused that it’s all but meaningless. Basically one uses the word “propaganda” to describe political material one does not like.

      It has nothing to do with being gov’t sponsored, though. Definitions:

      2 : the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person
      3 : ideas, facts, or allegations spread deliberately to further one’s cause or to damage an opposing cause; also : a public action having such an effect

      I mean by the actual dictionary definition every blogger on the internet is a propagandist.

      Thanks for your kind words.

  4. David Thomson permalink
    October 24, 2009 2:17 pm

    Cleon Skousen enrages the Leftists because he emphasizes the indispensable role traditional Judeo-Christian values serve in underpinning a viable social order. On top of that, he believes the individual reigns supreme over the collective. This means the Progressive “elites” are supposed to mostly stay out of the way and mind their own business. They have no special claims to power—and the financial rewards that normally go along with it. Heck, no wonder they can’t stand Skousen and anyone else who is persuaded by his arguments.

  5. David Thomson permalink
    October 24, 2009 3:18 pm

    “David, Rod Dreher calls Beck a propagandist in his piece.”

    Propaganda was originally a neutral term. Accusing someone of employing propaganda is meaningless. It leaves unanswered whether the individual, in a particular instance, is telling the truth.

  6. Kyle permalink
    October 25, 2009 3:25 am

    Have read “Leap” a few times and am really looking forward to this series. Thanks for doing it!

    • October 25, 2009 6:06 am

      You’re welcome. I look forward to your comments on it.

  7. gatekeeper96740 permalink
    October 25, 2009 7:19 am

    The Making of America is another of Skousen’s books that should be taught in schools.

  8. Isabel Isherwood permalink
    October 25, 2009 8:51 am

    I tried reading the 5,000 year leap and found it too hokey but I wasn’t totally against it and really felt bad that I hadn’t really given it a good chance. I’m looking forward to reading David’s interpetations and I make just go back and slog through the hokiness to get to the gems buried in it.

  9. peachey permalink
    October 25, 2009 1:39 pm

    After listening to Michelle Obama’s comments on the campaign trail extoll the fact that her husband was “going to CHANGE American history” I get a sense of the efforts of the Left to deny and manipulate the history of this country. Michelle and group fail to realize that you can re-write history,you can lie about history, you can ignore history, but, you cannot truthfully change history. Learning from history and incorporating the positive and negative, the thoughts and actions of of the past created the greatest document,our Constitution. I look forward to your series.

  10. Soylent Green permalink
    October 25, 2009 5:25 pm

    Dear Peachey,

    Yeh, but the trouble is, the left is also teaching their version of history to our kids. That, unfortunately, makes it TRUE to them.

  11. Larry permalink
    November 17, 2009 9:56 pm

    Did you know that W. Cleon Skousen is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints (ie, LDS or “Mormon”)? Glen Beck is a member of the same faith, as am I. I did not known Skousen was the author of “Leap” and am more likely to pick it up now.

    I can at least partially explain why the book “ignited” Becks mind. Glen understands and identifies with the same fundamental belief system as Skousen. I cannot stress enough how much influence this common world view will have on LDS readers of “Leap.”

    I know I must be viewed as “biased” as I’m a member of the same faith, but I’ve listened to some of Skousen’s lectures and read a couple of his other books, and all (the lectures in particular) indicate an extremely studied and insightful man.

    Having not read “Leap” yet, but only the above reviews, I can only guess that Skousen’s work was less well developed out of his attempt to write a book for ‘general audiences’ and absent of some of the ‘pearls’ his LDS readers would find meaningful.

    The two other books by Skousen I’ve read are “The First 2,000 Years” and “The Third 1,000 Years,” both analyzing sections of the Old Testament in light of what we know as Latter-Day-Saints.

Trackbacks

  1. Leaping Back to the Founding, Part 2: Is this a “Christian Nation” Theory? « NewsReal Blog
  2. Leaping Back to the Founding, Part 3: If Natural Law is the Basis of America Then How Come No One Can Explain It? « NewsReal Blog
  3. Leaping Back to the Founding, Part 4: I’m Not the Only One Struggling with Understanding “Natural Law” « NewsReal Blog
  4. Leaping Back to the Founding « NewsReal Blog

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