The Codevilla Tapes
The historian of American statecraft and spycraft and conservative political philosopher Angelo Codevilla talks about the ruling elite, Jonathan Pollard, and the rise of the techno-surveillance state—and the consequent demise of the American Empire
No one runs America. That’s the terror and the beauty of American life in a nutshell, the answer to the secret of how 300 million people from many different places can live together between two oceans, sharing a future-oriented outlook that methodically obliterates any ties to the past. All prior lived experience is transformed into science fiction, or else into self-serving evidence of the present-day moral, intellectual, and technological superiority of the brave imagineers who are fortunate enough to live here, in the Now, while all who came before them are cursed. No one can or does control such fantasy-driven machinery, which seems incapable of operating in any other way than it does, i.e., in a space with no beginning and no end, but tending always toward perfection. Learning to accept imperfection and failure may be an emotionally healthy way for adults to negotiate the terrors and absurdities of human existence, but it is not the highway to the perfectibility of man or woman-kind.
Because the large-scale explanations that Americans offer each other about how their country works, or doesn’t work, arise from working backwards from the expectation of some future storybook perfection, they tend to be either childishly conspiratorial or cartoonishly stupid—because those are the types of explanation that tend to win out once you stipulate an ever-more-perfect-and-glorious future as the inevitable outcome of whatever snake oil it is that you are pitching to the suckers. In today’s America, these explanations come in the form of shallow and sweeping identitarian polemics (“white people” or “globalists” run “everything”), indecipherable academese backed by graphed coefficients (people are motivated by “rational self-interest,” as calculated by academics), or as appeals to a glorified and abstracted historical past (“the Founding Fathers,” “the melting pot”) whose promises of future perfection may have seemed real enough to past generations, but must now grow ever more distant with every new iteration of Moore’s law.
Which is not to say that America isn’t governed by an elite class, just like China, or Japan, or France is—only that the ability of that class to actually rule anything is even more constrained by the native culture. The idea that an advanced technologically driven capitalist or socialist society of several hundred million people can be run by something other than an elite is silly or scary—the most obvious present-day alternative being a society run by ever-advancing forms of AI, which will no doubt have only the best interests of their flesh-and-blood creators at heart.
Yet it is possible to accept all of this, and to posit that the reason that the American ruling class seems so indisputably impotent and unmoored in the present is that there is no such thing as America anymore. In place of the America that is described in history books, where Henry Clay forged his compromises, and Walt Whitman wrote poetry, and Herman Melville contemplated the whale, and Ida Tarbell did her muckraking, and Thomas Alva Edison invented movies and the light bulb, and so forth, has arisen something new and vast and yet distinctly un-American that for lack of a better term is often called the American Empire, which in turn calls to mind the division of Roman history (and the Roman character) into two parts: the Republican, and the Imperial.
While containing the ghosts of the American past, the American Empire is clearly a very different kind of entity than the American Republic was—starting with the fact that the vast majority of its inhabitants aren’t Americans. Ancient American ideas about individual rights and liberties, the pursuit of happiness, and so forth, may still be inspiring to mainland American citizens or not, but they are foreign to the peoples that Americans conquered. To those people, America is an empire, or the shadow of an empire, under which seemingly endless wars are fought, a symbol of their own continuing powerlessness and cultural failure. Meanwhile, at home, the American ruling elites prattle on endlessly about their deeply held ideals of whatever that must be applied to Hondurans today, and Kurds tomorrow, in fits of frantic-seeming generosity in between courses of farm-to-table fare. Once the class bond has been firmly established, everyone can relax and exchange notes about their kids, who are off being credentialed at the same “meritocratic” but now hugely more expensive private schools that their parents attended, whose social purpose is no longer to teach basic math or a common history but to indoctrinate teenagers in the cultish mumbo-jumbo that serves as a kind of in-group glue that binds ruling class initiates (she/he/they/ze) together and usefully distinguishes them from townies during summer vacations by the seashore.
The understanding of America as an empire is as foreign to most Americans as is the idea that the specific country that they live in is run by a class of people who may number themselves among the elect but weren’t in fact elected by anyone. Under whatever professional job titles, the people who populate the institutions that exercise direct power over nearly all aspects of American life from birth to death are bureaucrats—university bureaucrats, corporate bureaucrats, local, state and federal bureaucrats, law enforcement bureaucrats, health bureaucrats, knowledge bureaucrats, spy agency bureaucrats. At each layer of specific institutional authority, bureaucrats coordinate their understandings and practices with bureaucrats in parallel institutions through lawyers, in language that is designed to be impenetrable, or nearly so, by outsiders. Their authority is pervasive, undemocratic, and increasingly not susceptible in practice to legal checks and balances. All those people together comprise a class.
Another thing that residents of the broad North American expanse between Canada and Mexico have noticed is that the programs and remedies that this class has promoted, both at home and abroad, have greatly enriched and empowered a small number of people, namely themselves—while the broader American population continues to decline in wealth, health, and education. Meanwhile, the American Empire that the ruling elite administers is collapsing. The popularity of such observations on both the left and the right is what accounts for the rise of Donald Trump, on one hand, and of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on the other hand, among an electorate that has not been historically distinguished by its embrace of radicalism. Add those voter bases together, and perhaps 75% of Americans would seem to agree that their country, however you think of it, is in big trouble, and that the fault lies with the country’s self-infatuated and apparently not-so-brilliant elite.
Every student of history has their own theory about how and why empires fall. My theory is this: The wealth of any empire flows disproportionately to the capital, where it nourishes the growth, wealth, and power of the ruling elite. As the elite grows richer and more powerful, the gulf between the rulers and the ruled widens, until the beliefs and manners of the elite bear little connection to those of their countrymen, whom they increasingly think of as their clients or subjects. That distance creates resentment and friction, in response to which the elite takes measures to protect itself. The more wealth and power the elite controls, the more insulation it must purchase. Disastrous mistakes are hailed as victories or are made to appear to have no consequences at all, in order to protect the aura of collective infallibility that protects ruling class power and privilege.
What happens next is pretty much inevitable in every time and place—Spain, France, Great Britain, Moghul India, you name it: Freed from the laws of gravity, the elite turns from the hard work of correct strategizing and wise policymaking to the much less time-consuming and much more pleasant work of perpetuating its own privileges forever, in the course of which endeavor the ruling elite is revealed to be a bunch of idiots and perverts who spend their time prancing around half naked while setting the territories they rule on fire. The few remaining decent and competent people flee this revolting spectacle, while the elite compounds its mistakes in an orgy of failure. The empire then collapses.
In the hopes of confirming or disproving my theory, I recently traveled out to a vineyard in Plymouth, Northern California where I found Angelo Codevilla, who along with Michael Walzer of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, is one of the few American political philosophers who combines a deep sense of the Western moral and philosophical traditions with a hard-nosed sense of how the American political system actually works. While I am naturally more inclined toward Walzer-ism, I thought it would be fair minded to give Codevilla a hearing, despite the fact that he identifies as a conservative Catholic rather than as a liberal Northeastern Jew. As a sometime student of intelligence work, I will also admit to being an attentive reader of Codevilla’s book , which together with Norman Mailer’s novel offers a fair guide to the karmic evolution of the U.S. intelligence community. Codevilla’s former boss in the U.S. Senate, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, had this to say about his protégé’s book:
Woodrow Wilson once spoke of the demands that would be made on Presidents in the age to come; demands of a kind that could only be met by “wise and prudent athletes, a small class.” Such is Angelo Codevilla; one of the small class of intelligence analysts who has actually been there. Read him; although I plead: Do not invariably agree!
What follows is an edited record of our conversation, which began when I arrived at the Codevilla vineyard in the evening and then continued the next morning, after the Codevillas invited me to spend the night at their house and then served me a delicious breakfast.
Angelo Codevilla: I didn’t predict anything. I described a situation which had already come into existence. Namely, that the United States has developed a ruling class that sees itself as distinct from the raw masses of the rest of America. That the distinction that they saw, and which had come to exist, between these classes, comprised tastes and habits as well as ideas. Above all, that it had to do with the relative attachment, or lack thereof, of each of these classes to government.
Of course, yes. Not in exactly the same way, though; what I said was that the Democrats were the senior partners in the ruling class. The Republicans are the junior partners.
The reason being that the American ruling class was built by or under the Democratic Party. First, under Woodrow Wilson and then later under Franklin Roosevelt. It was a ruling class that prized above all its intellectual superiority over the ruled. And that saw itself as the natural carriers of scientific knowledge, as the class that was naturally best able to run society and was therefore entitled to run society.
The Republican members of the ruling class aspire to that sort of intellectual status or reputation. And they have shared a taste of this ruling class. But they are not part of the same party, and as such, are constantly trying to get closer to the senior partners. As the junior members of the ruling class, they are not nearly as tied to government as the Democrats are. And therefore, their elite prerogatives are not safe.
What a marvelous recitation of ruling class prejudice.
Of course, you would not have judged them to be nearly as intelligent as you folks were. And you probably didn’t imagine that others would think you less intelligent.
Well, they didn’t matter. Because of the power that you wielded, because of the institutions that you controlled.
Now let me give you an alternative. In France, with which you tell me you are acquainted, you have meritocracy in government and institutions. Meritocracy ensured by competitive exams. I, and a bunch of nonliberal democrats as myself, would be absolutely delighted if institutions like , , were to open their pages to people who bested others in competitive exams. But of course, they’re not thinking at all of doing that. As a matter of fact, the institutions of liberal America have been moving away from competitive exams as fast as they know how.
In living memory, and I’m an example of that, it was for a time possible for nonliberal Democrats to get into the American foreign service, and if they did as I did, and scored number one in their class, they would have their choice of assignments. But now, you have all sorts of new criteria for admission into the foreign service, which have supposedly ensured greater diversity. In fact, what they had done was to eliminate the possibility that the joint might be invaded by lesser beings of superior intelligence.
Merit as defined by what?
Merit as defined by the capacity to be attractive to those at the top of the heap. In other words what you have is rightly called not meritocracy, but co-option.
Now it is one of the fundamental truths of our co-option that it results in a negative selection of elites. That each group selects people who are just a smacking below themselves, so that generation after generation, the quality of those at the top deteriorates.
I don’t know that the statesmen of the 1920s and ’30s were any more meritorious than the folks under Barack Obama, because they themselves were not selected by any meritocratic criteria, as you suggest. However, I do know, having taught college for many years, that the amount of work that was done by college students 50 years ago or more was considerably greater than the amount of work that is done by college graduates today.
Them that don’t work so much don’t learn so much, usually.
No. Not Ikea furniture.
They have far more money than people who don’t have similar government attachments. The fact is that proximity to government power has meant, and does mean, more money and greater possibility.
I would dispute that.
Apple and Bill Gates have secured their money, not so much by relocating, but by having become the biggest lobbyists in the country. That is the source of their financial security.
The point of the ruling class is precisely the confusion of public and private power. This is, in fact, this is becoming in fact a corporate state. Which by the way was pioneered by one of my former countrymen by the name of Benito.
I am indeed. That is the meaning of the word party. The Democratic Party is in fact composed of the very people that you are talking about.
Parties are by nature coalitions, each part of which benefits from the other. But they share certain things in common. One of them is contempt for Americans who are outside of their ranks.
Precisely. Here, I’m borrowing an 18th-century British term.
That too. Have you ever been to Branson, Missouri? Do you even know what it is?
Branson, Missouri, is an entertainment center, larger in every way than Hollywood. It is located in Branson, Missouri, in the Ozarks. It is one of the homes of country music stars and starlets. It’s a huge complex of every kind of family entertainment, from bass fishing to theater, music, museums, anything you can imagine. Now the fact that you have never heard of it typifies the limitations of the ruling class.
No, no, no. You haven’t even risen to that.
It typifies the limitations of the ruling class mind, not even to understand that over which you are lording it.
You certainly do teach them that. It is a youthful pretense. It is a pretense to which the Roman patricians did not stoop.
No, no, go back. The Roman patricians call these unfortunates clients. Their relationship with their clients is precisely your relationship with the unfortunate and the poor. They are your pawns, the people whose votes you take.
You are not manufacturing a class, or rather you are exploiting that class’ weakness to turn that class into clients.
Most of all, what you are giving them—which really in a sense they crave more than anything else—is a sense of grievance against the rest of America. Grievance is the handle by which you push these pawns into your cultural wars.
Whatever they have to be aggrieved about, that grievance serves your instrumental purpose. Their grievance is your happiness. If they didn’t have a grievance, you’d try to manufacture it. Their having a grievance is an occasion for you to, to sharpen it, to scratch it, and to make it more relevant to them than it otherwise would be.
Well, no. It is founded upon your will to power.
Let me crib my response to you. Verily, verily I say unto thee, they have their reward. Do people in your class know where that comes from?
I read the first part of the Bible as well as the second, so you ought to read the second as well as the first.
Thank you! Right over the plate.
You are describing, and the textbooks describe, what used to be the American system of government, which has not existed since the late 1930s. The last attempt to revive that system, to make it rise up out of the overlay of administrative agencies that the New Deal built, was the Supreme Court of , 1935, the essence of which decision was to say that a legislative power cannot be delegated. Were that maxim to be enforced, the FAA, the FCC, and on and on, all of these agencies would cease to exist because they are, quite literally, unconstitutional. Now the Supreme Court has held them to be constitutional under the fiction that they are in fact merely filling in the interstices of laws. However, your average law passed by Congress these days consists almost exclusively of grants to these agencies to do whatever it is they wish.
Which is why, when Nancy Pelosi said of Obamacare that we would only know what it contained after it was passed, she was entirely correct. She was describing the way the American government works, which is in fact, to use your words, a vast conspiracy between the best lawyers on the outside and the best lawyers on the inside of government. They call each other, both on the inside and the outside, stakeholders. And the rest of us are what, scumbags?
Deplorables, yes. But we’re not stakeholders, we who are neither regulators nor regulated entities, but rather ordinary people. We are not parties to this covenant.
There’s a lecture given by James Wilson, the signer of the Declaration of Independence and the head of the first American law school, about the difference between American law and law everywhere else in the Western world. Elsewhere, law came from power. In America, positive law will be valid only if it was in accordance with the laws of nature and nature’s god.
The basis of the revolt is simple. We realize that you hate us and therefore we hate you back. And we will take anybody, not that we found this man who fits our description, because Donald Trump didn’t fit anybody’s description of what they wanted. But we will take anybody who’ll take a swing at you.
Which is why I originally wrote at the back of that essay, that this revolution would be for the better or the worse. Because of the urgency that the country class felt. For getting out of all of this.
Fraught with all manner of difficulties. I had several job offers just as I was finishing my comps, and then I got drafted. By the time I came out of the service, there were no jobs to be had. And so first I worked at a jerkwater college in Pennsylvania. Too awful for words, I got out of there, but I couldn’t find anything else. So I did the only thing that I could do, which is to pass exams. I got into the foreign service. And then from there to the Hill and then to Stanford to the Hoover Institution and then to Boston. While I was on the Hill, I also taught ancient and modern political thought in Georgetown.
I probably would have done better for myself and my family if I stayed in the foreign service. Or, in the depths of my depression I got admitted to Berkeley Law school. But hey, you’re right. I have absolutely nothing to complain about.
I got to teach a lot of students, several of them are teaching right now. And they’re doing good work. Books, we’ll see. I don’t think I’m going to write another book because the last one I wrote, hell of a good book, didn’t sell very much. But who knows. If I get some time off of the vineyard here, and I don’t get too many irrigation systems going wrong or things like that, I’ll write some more.
Angelo Codevilla: Senate staffer in control of the intelligence budget. My senator was the chairman of the Budget Subcommittee of the Intelligence Committee. Which means that the budgets came through him and therefore through me. And back then we had markups and we could punish those who were not forthright with us, and we did.
There’s always danger inherent in secrecy. And you know secrecy of course is central to intelligence operations. Secrecy most often is used not for the good of the operation, but to safeguard the reputations of those who are running the operations.
The agencies, like all bureaucracies, have always tried to aggrandize themselves, build their reputations, in order to make and spend more money. Get more high-ranking positions. Get more post-retirement positions for their people in the industries that support them. They’ve done exactly what bureaucrats in other agencies have done, neither more nor less.
But the business they’re in, which involves surveillance, is uniquely dangerous, because surveillance is inherently a political weapon. Inherently so. And there is never any lack of appetite for increasing the power of surveillance, and for increasing the reach of surveillance.
Fortunately, especially in my time on the Hill, we had pretty good resistance against bureaucratic attempts to increase the reach of government surveillance over the rest of the country.
Then along came 9/11, and congressmen, senators, who didn’t know any better, were rather easily persuaded, and for that matter Presidents—George W. Bush being exhibit number one—were very easily persuaded, that giving the agencies something close to carte blanche for electronic surveillance would help to keep the country safe. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was amended in 2008 to accommodate the practices which had evolved extralegally under George Bush, which essentially allowed the agencies to wiretap at will, so long as they claimed that this was for foreign intelligence purposes. In this regard, they claimed that what they were doing was within the spirit, if not the letter, of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which stated that any warrantless collection of electronic intelligence, bugging and other means of collection in finding intelligence, could capture the communications of U.S. persons, only incidentally in the course of capturing the communications of foreign targets.
The 2008 amendments legalized this practice, and added the capacity of the agencies to compel communications companies to help upstream collection of emails etcetera, which would then be recorded. The act, rather the amendment, contains an even longer list of apparent restrictions on how these intercepts of Americans may be used. But these restrictions are basically for show because, essentially, once the foreign intelligence surveillance court authorized a particular operation the practical means of judicial review of what has happened, of how it is being carried out, are so complicated as to be unworkable. And besides, what the hell do judges know about the substance of these things?
Therefore, to get to the point of your question, this increased power and lax attitude conserving it posed a temptation to use these tools for the convenience of the administration in power, which was made much more likely by the increasing identification of the senior ranks of the intelligence community with your ruling class. To the point that these people, being ordinary sentient human beings, believe what the people at the top of their class are saying about the opposition.
We are good and these opponents of ours, which mean to take over our positions, are bad people, they are dangerous to the country, and therefore why not look for every possible means of keeping them out of office?
Right. Now you use that term “the Church Committee” in the context that it was something that was antagonistic to the intelligence business. It was not. The Church Committee was a joint operation between, let’s call it “the left” inside the intelligence community, specifically the CIA, and their friends on the Hill. The result of it was that the left component of that bureaucracy has control of the CIA now.
The drafting of FISA was a cooperative enterprise between the Democratic majority, at that point, of Congress, the staffers being all Church Committee staffers, every one of them. And the ACLU. What I’m calling the establishment left. They were the drafters.
But the impetus of the drafting came from the FBI, primarily, and secondarily from the CIA, the NSA. The reason for their pressure was that the left had sued individual members of the FBI for having wiretapped them during the Vietnam War, in their communications with North Vietnam, communist Czechoslovakia, the KGB, and so on. Now they didn’t like that, and they wanted to make sure that nothing like that ever happened again.
So the point of FISA from the standpoint of the left was to keep that from happening again. The point of FISA from the standpoint of the FBI etcetera was never to be in a position to be sued again.
Right. What the FBI etcetera demanded was preauthorization. We will not do any wiretapping unless it is preauthorized. Unless we are ipso facto clean.
Now the objections to FISA were primarily of a constitutional kind, mainly that wiretapping for national security was an inherent part of presidential power. The president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. And that was a true objection.
I however made a different objection, although I agreed with the constitutional objection. I said that pre-authorization, pre-clearance of wiretapping, would be an unendurable temptation for people in the agencies to do whatever the hell they wanted. They would be exempt from the prudence that the fear of being sued would impose.
My objection caught the eye of the American Bar Association at the time, which organized a debate on that subject at the University of Chicago Law School, with me on one side, and a local law professor by the name of Anthony Scalia on the other.
Scalia took the position that the danger, which I described, which he found real, was minor compared to the need to get the agencies doing their job vigorously. We see how the future turned out.
I must note that Scalia is a southern Italian. And I am a northerner.
“What else is new?”
Sure. Technology itself increased the possibilities. And it would have taken real self-restraint for people to say, “No. We could do this, but we won’t.”
We ought not to have such powers.
Well as a matter of fact, Christians do “lead us not into temptation” all the time.
Well, St. Augustine said exactly that, you know, “Lord make me pure, but not yet.”
Angelo Codevilla: I agree with everything you said, up until the time you got to numbers. Because military operations involve a lot of people. Some intelligence operations are essentially military operations which put people’s lives at risk. The line must be drawn where the military is involved.
However, every word you said concerning Julian Assange, I agree with. Every last word.
I do not know. What is fairly clear is that Snowden entered government service with the idea of doing something like what he did, which certainly removes him from the category of whistleblower. He is certainly no innocent.
But regardless of his motivation, I am glad that he existed. And I’m glad that he did what he did.
The United States does not suffer, and has never suffered, from a lack of knowledge about the rest of the world on the basis of which to make foreign and defense policy. OK? And that is a fundamental fact. And because of that, all the fancy arguments that you must sacrifice this and that for the sake of intelligence, I think are false.
What the authors of the FISA had in mind.
Look. Most people who have a title in Washington don’t do their work. There’s always the chief assistant to the assistant chief, they’re the ones who do the work. And so yeah, they get deputized.
Any purpose under the sun.
That’s the point.
Angelo Codevilla: Ha, ha.
May I give you a quick answer to your larger question?
It depends on who goes to dinner with whom. That’s how Washington works.
Oh no, no, no. You misunderstand me. The ruling class transcends Washington. Part of it is in Silicon Valley, it’s in every major university town in America. It’s in Sacramento. And then you ask, what is it that ties it together?
The poor associate professor of gender studies, number one is not so poor. Number two, she gets her living from the same partisan connection that Jeff Bezos does. She is part of the same party as Jeff Bezos, who has God knows how many billions.
But his power as you have pointed out substantially consists of his connection with government. Although I must say one thing contrary to an absolutist view of the ruling class. That the four major trusts that you mentioned are in large part—have in large part grown naturally, organically. They’re securing themselves by government power. But the government did not force anybody to shop with Amazon.
Oh ho ho ho ho. I remember that.
Yeah, except the fact that Google and Facebook supposedly exercise no control.
Very interesting. At which point, one can challenge that exemption.
Let me give you the tiniest, tiniest glimmer from the margins, the very, very remote margins, of all of this, so you can understand my perspective.
When I started working for the Senate, some folks at the agency figured out that I wasn’t a run-of-the-mill staffer. So I was visited by one of the old boys who took me up to the director’s office—the director wasn’t there at the time. He took me up via the director’s elevator, he had a key. And showed me all around and was very, very clubby with me. Then they took me to his house, which is overlooking the Potomac, with these large wolfhounds sitting about. And essentially, he said the equivalent of “all this could be yours.”
If you play the game. I said to myself, “Hmmmm, what did the Lord say to all this?”
But it really is a matter of who has dinner with whom. I have worked in Washington long enough to know that people would sell their souls for invitations to be at certain tables. To be allowed to speak with this person or that. In the end, it’s all social.
And how do you become social? You express the same thoughts, you have the same tastes. You vacation in the same places. You love the same loves, you hate the same hates.
No, it’s not. You have the wrong idea about Italy. I’m from Northern Italy. I believe this is a hardheaded explanation of a soft but powerful reality.
Either physically, i.e. economically, or emotionally—power. The dream of sharing power. The gender studies professor not only gets her money eventually from government, but she dreams of being part of a world-transforming enterprise.
It’s a dream peculiar to this class. Other classes have been united by different dreams.
Well, I don’t know about primary. Look, the primary element is, as we Christians were taught, pride. That is the sin of sins. There is nothing that moves human beings quite so much as the desire to be on top of other human beings.
However, not in Italy.
The Jewish food in Italy is fabulous.
Angelo Codevilla: But there are plenty of Jews in Europe who are very well acquainted with the theory and practice of exercising power.
But these Jews were not real Jews. I mean, they were not religious Jews. They happened to be Jewish but they were primarily socialists or whatever.
What a fraud.
Oh no. He’s very smart. Very smart.
Yes! Look, the man never had time to be a scholar. He was taken up immediately into the world of conferences and power. And he navigated it masterfully.
What would Kissinger do with Trump? Who knows. This man Trump is something else.
Putting a parenthesis in the conversation, talking about Chinese epics. Are you familiar with the ?
You should be. This is a book that describes the tradition between—or rather I should say the end of the Han Dynasty around 200 A.D. The book was written over maybe 200 years. And it is partly prose, partly poetry. And it’s considered one of the great classics of Chinese literature. The Chinese government a couple years ago did a—condensed it into 95, 45-minute TV episodes. Beautifully acted, with gorgeous costume. With English translations that read something between Shakespeare and Thucydides. Captivating.
I started watching it, I couldn’t stop. I mean my poor wife was left alone. And it conveyed as deep an insight into Chinese character as I’ve ever seen. To get Westerners to empathize with Chinese characters takes some doing. And you can download it, it’s free. The Chinese government has made sure you can download it for free.
Angelo Codevilla: Here I speak with the prejudices of an academician. Because the ethos of the academy changed, evolved. And what drove the change was the growing contempt of professors for our civilization. And you Jews ought not to feel that you are any less the enemy of these people than we Christians.
I should say the defining feature of the ruling class is a certain attitude. And that attitude developed in the academy, and that attitude became uniform throughout the country because of the uniform academy. The uniformity of the academy transformed itself into the uniformity of the ruling class.
It credentialed the mind and the habits. The habits of the heart. It credentialed the habits of the heart. The habits of conversation. The habits of work. The habits of logic. The habits period.
Can you imagine a bright kid coming in contact with that kind of intellectual fraud? The smartest ones will say, “hey, I don’t want to be part of this.” He’ll do something else. He won’t be taken in. Which means that this class will continue to degrade itself.
You’re saying the same thing in two different ways. Why is it that they have dinner together? It is that they believe that they share something terribly important. And that is precisely what they believe to be their stewardship of all things good.
Once upon a time, thus moved, they believed that they were holier than thou. Now they simply believe that they’re trendier than thou. In other words, they share the most valuable thing, which is not devotion to God but devotion to their own corporate mission. Their own corporate status. Status and mission. Status being the priests of the salvific religion of science and progress.
You’re going far too far with using the word “monkish.”
Oh no, no, no. They exist but they’re very few.
I taught in Boston for many years. And believe it or not, I put my kids in the highest-ranking schools in Boston, and I had to go to a parent meetings and school celebrations. And these were, in fact, secular masses. With, including, believe it or not, the breaking of bread.
Bread! Simple bread, passing it around. There’s a kind of faux simplicity. You have fake Puritans too.
No, no, no, no, no. Not 40%. This is an elite attraction. Which attracts people who naturally, very naturally, want to rise above others.
Again, as a kind of professor, I came across hundreds of young people who very naturally ask the question, how can I rise in life?
I am supposed to rise in my life, how can I do that? And I in good conscience explain to them that the paths are there and the ladders are being provided. And they will take you to these places. You will, however, have to adapt yourself to the mindset of these folks.
Now, if you insist on being independent minded, don’t bother. But if you do insist on being independent minded, also realize that these ladders will not be available to you.
A lot of kids will come and tell me how much they enjoy my classes and how much they like the ancients, the way I taught the ancients. And I said to them: “Look. There is no future for you in following the likes of me. I cannot give you the kinds of internships and prospects for employment and writing that others can.”
No, no, no, no, no. Clients, certainly not.
Sure, they win elections. Not through faith but through pure clientelism. And don’t forget, especially nowadays, more and more nowadays, by fostering hate, by fostering resentment against others. If you are on our side, you’re on the side of the good. But more important than that, on the other side are people who hate you.
This is especially true with regard to blacks. They want to put you back in chains! What utter nonsense.
People believe mistakenly that Jews are especially smart. American Jews have proven to be dumb, politically. What is political stupidity? Political stupidity means not knowing which side your bread is buttered on.
Jews have taken to believing the leftist propaganda that the Christians are somehow their enemies. Where in fact, there is no group that is friendlier to Jews in America.
The more Christian you are, the more let us say pro-Jewish we tend to be. And why? Well for this very simple reason. That if you read the Bible, you don’t grow up rooting for the Philistines.
The Christian faith has always been an outgrowth of Judaism. That’s not contention, that is a fact.
Well, yeah. But Jews are supposed to be smart.
Working on the Hill, I would see these Jewish lobbyists breaking their heads against the left. Whereas if they’d gone to conservatives, they would have been greeted with open arms and gotten exactly what they wanted.
Angelo Codevilla: Oh, that’s a really big subject.
Oh heavens, no. No, no, no. Since you’re asking this question to me, you obviously have read that I did what I could to champion his release. Having nothing to do with the fact that he was a Jew, and everything with the obvious falsehood of the accusations on the basis of which he was sentenced.
He certainly committed espionage. And rightly merited prison for a couple of years. Instead he got a life sentence. Which ended up to be 30-something years. Why? Certainly not on the basis of the indictment. I mean, he was accused and pleaded guilty to precisely what he did.
What I know, which a lot of other people did not know, is that given his clearances, he could not possibly have done the things on the basis of which he was sentenced. It was simply impossible for him to do that. And every time I pointed that out to people in intelligence, they would make an argument which was untenable. Mainly that the revelation of facts in reports is tantamount or can easily lead to the revelation of sources and methods.
Nonsense! The compartmentation of American intelligence is premised precisely on the notion that this is not possible. Or extremely difficult. And although it is theoretically possible, one would have to show precisely how it did happen. And nobody even tried to do that.
Furthermore, Pollard was sentenced on the basis of a memorandum, which is yet secret. For our judicial system, to sentence anyone on the basis of any secret proceeding is about as un-American as anything yet.
Well, sure! But it had been only in the most general terms, to which I would say, oh? Show me how that’s possible.
You know, if somebody says, well and by the way, the snowballs in hell were not melting. I’d say, what? How is that happening?
Oh horrible, horrible.
Why? Well, OK. The CIA has all kinds of social-political prejudices. The first thing I learned that I did not expect to learn when I went to my job on the Hill was just how controlled and defined by certain social norms the CIA is. That it is a kind of club that secures itself through co-option. And that co-option involves the furtherance of a whole bunch of prejudices.
So, the straightforward political prejudices are, in no particular order: liberalism, prejudice in favor of the Arabs. You probably are not aware of the corporate prejudices that existed in the favor of the Soviet Union. And they were very, very powerful at CIA, as opposed to DIA or NSA.
To give you an example of these political, pro-Arab prejudices and how they work, when specifically relevant to the Pollard case: When Israel bombed Iraq, the CIA came to us and they formed this committee, and railed at the Israelis for having spoiled this wonderful relationship we had with this wonderful man, Saddam Hussein. I remember at the time sitting next to Pat Moynihan who gave me the elbow and chuckle.
I would say that the majority, by far, of the intelligence committee, laughed at—this is Bobby Ray Inman. And they were cheering on Israel. Hey, bomb more!
But CIA was coming to notify us that in fact they were cutting off the flow of certain intelligence to Israel. And they were doing so in great anger. Now these items of intelligence which were being cut off were precisely the items of intelligence that Jonathan Pollard supplied to them.
They were hurt! They were hurt and they took it out on Pollard. How far did this attitude which I just described blend over into anti-Semitism? I don’t know.
But if I were a Jew, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for me to think that it did. And even though I’m not, I sure would have my suspicions.
So that’s the essence of my attitude, attitude and subsequent involvement, such as it was, in the Pollard case. I mean I saw number one, that the reason for the CIA’s anger was wrong. And in fact, the United States had every reason to cheer what the Israelis did. And most Americans did, as a matter of fact. And later on, the subsequent administration thanked the Israelis for having done precisely what they did.
So the CIA was wrong in that regard. And they were doubly wrong in convincing that imbecile, Caspar Weinberger, to write that un-American memorandum. And that judge should be damned by his profession for having paid attention to it. You don’t sentence people on the basis of a secret memorandum. You just don’t do that in America.
Well, no. We can say. It doesn’t matter that it’s classified, because it alleges something that couldn’t possibly have happened. You can classify it, but that doesn’t make it any truer or any likelier to be true. In fact, it makes it less likely to be so.
Angelo Codevilla: Right, quite so. Two things happen. The first bad, the second worse.
The first is that policy or action made on the basis of information that is not generally available tends to be bad policy. Secret policy doesn’t get the kind of scrutiny that ordinary policy does. And the people who make it do not themselves feel the necessity to be as careful at all that they do as they otherwise would be. So you get sloppy policymaking. You get people riding hobby horses. Not thinking through what they’re doing. And you end up with unintended consequences.
The second is that policymaking on the basis of information not generally available allows one to cut out one’s opponent, allows one to make policy partisan. More partisan than it would otherwise be.
Yes, in the following way. And we’re talking of course about two Iraq wars and then the criticism applies to both in a different way.
The first Iraq War, that is the original invasion of Iraq, happened because the president was under entirely reasonable pressure to do something serious, something definitive, about terrorism. And he concluded in his heart of hearts that overthrowing the regime would have been most vocal in its advocacy of anti-Americanism, and anti-American terrorism, would eliminate one of the major sources of terrorism, and also send a healthy message to other regimes that were in their own ways fostering terrorism.
But, when the subject was moving about inside the highest levels of government, great resistance was encountered to this. And the Bush administration found itself searching for a rationale for that invasion that would minimize opposition from within the government and the ruling class in general. And they sent up a whole bunch of trial balloons in that regard, and the trial balloon that got the least resistance was the trope about the weapons of mass destruction. About which the evidence was always terribly sketchy. But they found that to be the most bureaucratically tenable explanation, and so they went ahead with it. That was a mistake made intramurally, which compromised the eventual support of the larger population.
So much for the first Iraq War. The second one, being the occupation, that was decided in an even less transparent manner. We know that there was intense lobbying on the part of CIA and State for the occupation. And lobbying by the Saudis for that same course. How all that interacted and how George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice and friends soldiered all of that out and came to that particular decision, we still do not know. And they ain’t about to tell us.
And so, we ended up with an occupation which would ostensibly be for the purpose of democratization, but which number one, shied away from democracy because everyone involved realized that democracy meant that the Shia ruled. So as a fact, the day-to-day effort of the occupation, the one that cost so many American lives, had nothing to do with democratization. It had everything to do with preserving a role for the Sunnis.
The U.S. government never fought that war with the intention of crushing the Sunni opposition. They never fought that war with the intention of crushing the people who were shooting at Americans. And then ended up, in fact giving up on that war and paying those very people, in what was otherwise known as the Surge.
A whole bunch of idiots, Fox News conservatives count the Surge, the so-called Surge, as a great success. Great success in what?
Again here, this is as good an example as you will find of the wages of making policy in a nontransparent manner.
I don’t think that it went that far. Or I should say, I don’t think the people involved thought about it that deeply.
I think what you had was a small pooling of resources to tweak the news cycle with regard to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, which then turned into something very major.
After the election. It was, like Watergate, a minor attempt to gain marginal advantage. Which then, unintended by the people involved at the time, became something very big, which escaped everyone’s control.
I believe that there are a whole bunch of people in Washington right now who are quaking in their boots because the House Intelligence Committee has shaken loose some of the documents involved. Because in the long run there are no secrets in Washington. And one can then wonder about the quality of the people who imagined that the things they did could remain secret.
It really was a marvel. The idea was that if we all say it together long enough and we shout it loud so nothing else can be heard, then it will become the effective truth, Machiavelli’s . But I mean, there is a limit to this. I have some close personal friends who are more on the left, and I said to them: OK. Where’s the evidence? Who did what when to whom? Where are the quids and where are the quos? What’s going on here? And all they could say is, “Well, the investigation is going on.”
What is not clear is just how much of the reality will come into the public’s consciousness.
The fault here is not of Democrats on the left. The fault here is of Donald Trump and his friends who have refused to enforce the most basic laws here. The most obvious one is Section 798, (18 U.S. Code), the simple comment statute. Now anybody in the intelligence business knows that this is the live wire of security law. It is a strict liability statute. It states that any revelation, regardless of circumstance or intent, any revelation period, of anything having to do with U.S. communications intelligence is punishable by the 10 and 10. Ten years in the slammer, and $10,000 fine. Per count.
Now the folks who went to and in November and December of 2016 and peddled this story of the intelligence community’s conclusion that Trump and the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia, these people ipso facto violated §798.
Considering these matters are highly classified, and that the number of the people involved is necessarily very small, identifying them is child’s play. But no effort to do that has been made.
That’s certainly true. But you have to go beyond Donald Trump, to Republican power holders in general. These people far more than Donald Trump would be inclined to forbear for the sake of comity with the ruling class. And what kind of comity are we talking about? We’re talking about social comity. Because if you follow the law in this case, you end up putting former directors of CIA, FBI etcetera behind bars. They, and a whole bunch of their subordinates. Maybe a dozen people here would end up behind bars.
We have come to accept that.
The election of 2016 was precisely about whether anyone in America is above the law. The reason why so many people did not vote for Hillary Clinton is the feeling that she and her ilk were above the law, were acting as if they were above the law, which happened to be entirely true. Now the fact that the Trump administration is acting according to the same premise, i.e., that some people are above the law, is evidence that the revolution that the voters wanted in 2016 has only just begun.