Just watched this amazing man on 60 Minutes. Found his number online. Gave him a call. I wanted to know a piece of literature he found compelling. His answer: Shakespeare’s King Lear.
President elect Trump’s pick for Secretary of Defense. Jim Mattis on important principles about leadership, always improving, and being a voracious reader.
Seven Things I Wish all of Them Would Stop Doing:
Mocking one another and then saying they still like so and so.
Saying, “I’m the only one on stage to do thus and such.”
Quoting the Bible
Fearing that an admission of an error in judgment is a sign of weakness
Calling a thoughtful change of mind, “Flip flopping”
“As the number of books on leadership skills and strategies increase, the number of available leaders decrease.”
I say this, of course, with my tongue firmly in cheek.
There is a very serious point that must be made: leaders don’t become that way by reading books on steps and strategies or simple formulas for success. Leadership can be messy which is not the sort of thing that is easily reducible to cleverly laid out principles.
What is one quality you respect the most in the best leaders you have seen?
I was browsing through some of the key books they read at West Point. Not surprisingly, there were no books on the list which offer any real argument for pacifism.
This got me thinking more about education, and what a true education requires. I know some, perhaps many, would say the reading of thoughtful critiques of the military-industrial complex too risky for undergraduates at West Point. I’m not so sure.
I think some wars are “just,” though war is always ghastly in so many ways.
Too many of us Christians live in echo chambers where our views are never challenged. I think we too could benefit from reading critiques of those from outside the faith. We just might learn a thing or two.
From Jonathan Rose, The Literary Churchill: Author, Reader, Actor (Yale University Press).
My interview with Professor Rose on his endlessly fascinating book can be found on Patheos: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2015/06/13/saturday-book-interview-jonathan-rose/
The following interview was done with the award-winning historian, Jonathan Rose. Rose teaches at Drew University.
Moore: Books about Winston Churchill abound. In light of the glutted Churchillian landscape, what motivated you to write this particular book?
Rose: Literature is the one aspect of Churchill’s life that hardly anyone has explored in any depth. And yet, even before he entered Parliament, he had established himself as a tremendously popular author. He wrote history, biography, war reportage, literary criticism, futurology, even a novel. Moreover, his political agenda was profoundly shaped by what he read and wrote. So Churchill is too important to be left to the political historians: you won’t fully understand him unless you study him as a man of letters.
Moore: I was surprised to learn how much Churchill utilized various insights gained from studying the American Civil War. Would you unpack that some for us?
Rose: His American grandfather, Leonard Jerome, was part-owner of the New York Times and a supporter of the Union cause, even in the face of the Draft Riots of 1863. So he was an inspiration for Winston, who saw no clear boundaries between warfare and journalism. And in his lifelong struggle to preserve the British Empire, Churchill’s model was the Civil War, which he viewed as a successful effort to preserve the American Empire. He didn’t quite see that there were important differences between the two cases.
Moore: It is fascinating to see how much the theater influenced Churchill in his various public roles. Describe that a bit.
Rose: All his life he was a passionate theatergoer. He learned his brilliant oratorical skills by watching actors at work. As a parliamentary performer, he was always on stage and in character. And his distinctive wit owed much to his two favorite dramatists, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw. The theatre offered Churchill a script for political action: as Home Secretary he enacted penal reforms after seeing John Galsworthy’s prison drama Justice. And though he never wrote a play, his history of the Second World War is written with a fine sense of drama, timing, and climax.
Moore: Ecclesiastes 12:10 speak of the preacher searching “to find just the right words.” Churchill spent much time getting his words right. What can we learn from his care and concern over language?
Rose: He dictated most of his books and speeches to a secretary, then he would grab the typescript from her and scribble extensive revisions in ink. That’s why his writing had an oratorical resonance. Sometimes, when delivering a speech, he would appear to hesitate, grope for the right word, and inevitably hit on it. But that was an act: in fact his speeches were carefully scripted. There he was poles apart from today’s politicians, who robotically repeat catchphrases pretested on focus groups.
Moore: You mention some of the favorite books of both Churchill and Hitler. It is interesting to see Don Quixote listed as one of Hitler’s favorite books. Did more grandiose stories spark Hitler’s imagination?
Rose: Hitler read compulsively: racist tracts, creepy occult books, and Wild West stories by Karl May, a German author who never ventured west of Buffalo, New York. He loved The Merchant of Venice, and (still more chillingly) his personal library included a booklet on poison gas.
Moore: Political conservatives love to retrieve Churchill for inspiration, but most don’t seem to know of Churchill’s concern over what we call today, “crony capitalism.” Why is this particular concern of Churchill’s not well known?
Rose: This was a crusade that Churchill launched early in his political career, before 1906, and it drove him to repudiate the Conservative Party. Inspired by Adam Smith, he believed in free market capitalism tempered by a social safety net, but he was deeply hostile to any form of corporate welfare. In fact, if libertarian conservatives and Tea Partiers knew better this side of Churchill, they would admire him even more.
Moore: Churchill was not completely alone in appreciating the threat of Nazism, but many did not. What made Churchill so prescient?
Rose: Churchill always hated totalitarian regimes, starting with the schools he attended. And you could say he recognized the threat of Nazism when Hitler was still a schoolboy. Churchill’s 1899 novel, Savrola, was a third-rate political melodrama, but also uncannily farsighted: it’s about a brilliant orator who fights an unspeakably wicked Middle European dictator. So when the actual Hitler appeared on the political stage, Churchill leapt into the heroic role he had created thirty years earlier.
Moore: One of David McCullough’s favorite books is Churchill’s little book on painting. Painting was more than a hobby for Churchill, wasn’t it?
Rose: Certainly, it was also therapy. The Gallipoli fiasco plunged him into a deep depression, and painting pulled him out of it. It gave him a sense of control when his life was spinning apart. He compared composing a work of art to planning a military campaign – except that when you brush paint on a canvas, it stays put.
Moore: Many reading this interview are Christians. Many minister in various full-time vocational capacities. What are a few things these folks could benefit from in reading your book?
Rose: They may be surprised to learn that Churchill grappled seriously and deeply with theological questions. He wasn’t a conventional Christian, but he always had a clear moral vision and fought for it relentlessly.
HT: Jesus Creed
I first heard of Randall Balmer during my studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Later, we met for lunch in New York City. We both are TEDS graduates and have done specials for PBS, so it seemed like the thing to do. Randy’s PBS series, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, was nominated for an Emmy.
Balmer is a gifted writer of over a dozen books and currently teaches at Dartmouth College.
Moore: I’ve read several presidential biographies, but must confess that I avoided Carter until now. Carter’s bland predictability didn’t draw me. I guess I want more drama in my presidents, at least in reading books about them! What led you to tackle this rather vanilla president?
Balmer: Historians have an axiom that history is written by victors, and that has been the case with Jimmy Carter, especially in relation to his successor as president, Ronald Reagan. For more than three decades now, we’ve been hearing about the so-called Reagan Revolution and how Reagan saved America from the “malaise” of the Carter years. I’ve always believed that the achievements of the Reagan administration were exaggerated and that Carter’s presidency was undervalued. One of the beauties of the historical profession, however, is that we revisit the past—and previous interpretations—every few years. We sort through the evidence once more and try to look at it with fresh eyes. Jimmy Carter is finally getting a second look—and I hasten to add that I’m not the only historian who is doing this. Others are also reevaluating the Carter presidency, and while almost no one regards the Carter years as an unalloyed success, Carter looks a little better in hindsight than he did at the time, especially his efforts at creating a climate for peace in the Middle East and his persistent warnings about America’s profligate consumption of energy.
My interest in Jimmy Carter dates to the early 1970s when he first came on the national stage. I was an undergraduate at Trinity College at the time, and I remember being astonished that a politician who was increasingly being taken seriously as a presidential candidate characterized himself as a “born again” Christian. This was the language we used to describe ourselves, of course, but what struck me was that Carter was so unabashed about that self-description. I was, to say the least, intrigued, as much by Carter himself as by the possibility that other evangelicals might finally awaken from their apolitical torpor and reclaim their own tradition of progressive social and political values.
Moore: Like your former professor at Princeton, John Wilson, I came away with a newfound appreciation for Carter. Did that happen in any significant way for you?
Balmer: It’s difficult not to be impressed with Carter if you look seriously at his life, his priorities, and his accomplishments. My favorite quote about Carter comes from James Laney, the former president of Emory University, who said about Carter that he was the only man in history for whom the presidency was a steppingstone. I think that pretty much captures Carter’s activities since leaving the White House, but, as I say, I think his accomplishments as president—the Panama Canal treaties, a recalibration of American foreign policy, environmental preservation—were anything but negligible.
Moore: Your book gives a balanced portrait of Carter. You don’t pull your punches about his missteps and you don’t downplay how disastrous some of his decisions were. When you spent time with the president, did he try to push back on any of your critical assessments of his presidency?
Balmer: Carter took issue with my characterization that, as an outsider to Washington, he had a vexed relationship with Congress. He pointed to a study that showed that, with the single exception of Lyndon Johnson, Carter had a more productive relationship with Congress than any modern president. He’s right, of course, although toward the end of his presidency that relationship soured somewhat, especially when Edward Kennedy effectively broke with Carter in order to challenge the incumbent president for the Democratic nomination in 1980.
Moore: Throughout your book, Carter’s work ethic, attention to detail, and courage on racism stand out. His attention to detail seemed to fulfill the truth of the old adage that “your greatest strength can be your greatest liability.”
Balmer: Yes, there’s some truth to that. As president, Carter, I think, was overwhelmed by the scale of the job. While a state senator, he had promised to read every bill that came before the Georgia State Senate, and he tried to bring that attention to detail to the presidency. Several people told me that they had seen Carter’s glosses on the federal budget; he had actually tried to scrutinize expenditures line by line. And then there’s the famous incident where Carter was actually keeping the log for the White House tennis court.
Moore: Given your three characteristic definition of what makes a person an Evangelical (yours being slightly different from David Bebbington’s), do you think it is possible to also use evangelical as an adjective as in evangelical Roman Catholic or evangelical Orthodox?
Balmer: With all respect to David, I think his definition is unnecessarily recondite. If an evangelical is characterized by “biblicism,” for instance, “crucicentrism” is redundant; “crucicentrism,” after all, is at the heart of the Bible. I prefer a more functional, trinitarian definition: An evangelical 1) believes that the Bible is God’s revelation to humanity; 2) believes in the centrality of conversion; and 3) honors the mandate to evangelize. I see no reason why that definition cannot apply to Roman Catholic or Orthodox believers.
Moore: Douglas Brinkley titles his 1999 biography of Carter, The Unfinished Presidency. It seems you would concur with Brinkley’s assessment.
Balmer: Yes, David Brinkley’s book is excellent. Although I take the argument in a slightly different direction, I think we agree that the reason Carter has been so productive as an ex-president is that he wanted to complete some of the initiatives he undertook as president. Carter, in fact, told me that in so many words. He said he doubted he would have been so active since leaving office had he won a second term in 1980.
Moore: You include the text of Jimmy Carter’s so-called malaise speech. I was amazed how vulnerable Carter was about his failures. Do you know of any other modern president who was that candid?
Balmer: No, I think it’s pretty much unprecedented. The only episode that comes close, I suppose, is Bill Clinton’s acknowledgement of culpability in the Monica Lewinsky episode. But that, of course, was a different matter from Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence” speech. Carter was remarkably honest about both himself and his nation—and his political enemies used it mercilessly against him.
Moore: You cover a lot of terrain in Redeemer: the Life of Jimmy Carter even though it is barely over 200 pages. What do you hope readers would take away from your book?
Balmer: I hope readers come away with a new appreciation not only for Carter but also for the long and distinguished tradition of progressive evangelicalism in American history.