Category: Reflection

We Live in Strange Times

By William Galligan
A reflection on a talk with Dr. Steven Hayward about the rise of socialism.

Dr. Hayward described his initial reaction to the recent revival of socialist thought around the globe as one of surprise. According to Hayward, the steady retreat of socialism, which began with the collapse of the USSR, has suddenly reversed despite the obvious failures of recent socialist experiments like those in Venezuela and China. Even in America, the label of socialist has once again become acceptable and electable. House representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, has become one of the most influential politicians on the Hill. Such occurrences would have been unthinkable only a few years ago.

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Reflection on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn at 100

On November 30, 2018, the Buckley Program hosted host a lunch and discussion on the legendary Soviet dissident and Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth this year, this event offered a discussion on his life and work. The program featured Daniel J. Mahoney and Jay Nordlinger. Mr. Nordlinger is a Senior Editor at National Review and a Fellow of the National Review Institute, and he has written frequently for National Review on the subject of Solzhenitsyn. Mr. Mahoney is a Professor of Politics at Assumption College. He is associate editor of Perspectives on Political Science, book review editor for Society magazine, and the author of the critically acclaimed Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The Ascent from Ideology.

By: Shaurya Salwan

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is one of the twentieth century’s most celebrated writers and is even considered to be one of its greatest individuals.

Before this event, I had never heard of him. In fact, the first time I even saw his name was via a post that popped up on my Facebook feed. It was the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program’s advertisement of a lunchtime discussion entitled “Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn at 100.” A quick google search revealed that he was an author I really shouldhave known, and I had already been to a few great Buckley events, so I signed up. Thankfully, the event did not disappoint.

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Reflection on a Semester with Dr. Steven Hayward

Throughout the fall semester, Buckley fellows had the privilege of engaging with five lectures and five seminars by Dr. Steven Hayward on the rich history of conservatism and its intersection with contemporary issues.

Steven Hayward is currently a Senior Resident Scholar at the University of California Berkeley’s Institute of Government. He is also the Thomas Smith Distinguished Fellow at the John M. Ashbrook Center at Ashland University. Before this work, Dr. Hayward worked as the FK Weyerhauser Fellow in Law and Economics at the American Enterprise Institute. Dr. Hayward has also written many books on topics ranging from the environment to President Ronald Reagan. Finally, he has been extensively published in the National Review, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal, among others. 

By: Jasper Boers

In the months leading up to his death in 2008, William F. Buckley, Jr. appeared on Charlie Rose’s PBS program. Rose asked Buckley what he thought of the modern conservative movement. Buckley’s response? That it was in need of a “repristination.” A decade later, and it appears as if the conservative movement Buckley helped create never did receive any sort of ideological dredging, much less a light touch-up. Instead, it has undergone a political factionalization. Traditional conservatism, American conservatism, libertarianism, religious conservatism, neoconservatism, paleoconservatism, populist conservatism (I daresay it)—these are just a few of the divergent examples which Dr. Stephen Hayward identified as making up the modern conservative movement, if one could even describe it with such a unified term as “a movement.”

Dr. Hayward, a Senior Resident Scholar at UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, brought this fall to Yale’s campus a five-part lecture and seminar series which confronted this embattled plurality of modern conservative ideologies. Administered by the Buckley Program, each seminar involved a selection of readings, a lecture, and a subsequent lunch discussion with Dr. Hayward. Frequently during seminar, Dr. Hayward would remark that those in the seminar were, after all, “here to have fun.” While the content of the seminar was indeed serious and philosophical, Dr. Hayward combined a rigorous intellectual approach to conservatism with lighthearted discussion, the occasional joke, and interludes of commentary on Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, the European Union, energy policy, and liberalism in American universities.

Hayward aptly described the conservative movement in his first lecture, terming it “the search for the unchanging ground of changing experience.” The first seminar comprised a broad overview of what exactly “conservatism” is. A reactionary doctrine? A disposition? A set of common principles? Among the authors we read for our first meeting were Thomas Sowell, Samuel P. Huntington, Isaiah Berlin, William F. Buckley, Jr., and Roger Scruton. In our search to define conservatism during the two-hour discussion, Dr. Hayward stressed the question of whether there exists a conservative idea of utopia. The answer? No, probably not. After all, a utopia on principle is a rejection of prior institutions for the sake of change—a decidedly non-conservative philosophy.

The second seminar, entitled “Edmund Burke: The First Modern Conservative,” offered a historical investigation of modern conservatism’s beginnings amidst the terror of the French Revolution. Eleven readings from Burke’s enormous collection of political writings and speeches encouraged lively discussion of his ideas about religion, institutions, and liberalism. In relation to the idea of conserving institutions, Dr. Hayward emphasized Burke’s distinction between the preservative attitudes of the American Revolution and the destructive attitudes of the French Revolution.

After Fall Break, Dr. Hayward returned with a seminar outlining his views of the predominant conservative ideologies today: traditional conservatism, libertarianism, religious conservatism, neoconservatism, and American conservatism. I found this seminar to be among the most riveting, as Dr. Hayward underscored the types of people who fall into each conservative doctrine—elaborating on what professions they occupy, what books they read, and what academic disciplines they study. Among the readings for this seminar, Russell Kirk’s essay Libertarians: The Chirping Sectaries, stood out as a provocative and humorous account of the libertarian movement’s occasional penchant for unreasonable individualism. A central question which Dr. Hayward raised during the course of the seminar was whether conservatism and libertarianism are compatible, seeing as they have rather opposed attitudes towards individual freedoms and morality.

Post-modern thinking, whether pernicious or innovative, dominates contemporary political thought and social science. Dr. Hayward gave an overview of the philosophy during his fourth seminar, as well as a critique of conservative-leaning intellectuals who use “post-modernism” as a buzzword for anything distasteful. Additionally, Dr. Hayward offered a criticism of “post-modern justice,” asking why any idea of justice today requires a modifier (climate, gender, racial). A central tension which our seminar discussion explored was whether or not conservatism overlaps with post-modernism. After all, both philosophies contain a skepticism, if not a rejection, of Enlightenment rationalism.

For his final seminar of the fall semester, Dr. Hayward spoke on the relationship between equality and conservatism. The seminar began with a discussion of where inequality naturally exists, and whether social policy can or should alleviate those inequalities. No discussion of equality in America would be complete without looking to Lincoln and the Declaration of Independence. This seminar examined the difficult, often controversial topics—inequality of the sexes, inequality of skill, economic inequality—that ground modern political discourse. Dr. Hayward concluded the seminar with hopes of continuing the discussion next semester, delving deeper into whether conservatives should or can endorse a grand scheme of human rights.

Dr. Hayward’s seminar offered not only an opportunity for moral and political introspection, but also a chance to understand how conservatives view culture, history, science, and reason. The spirit Dr. Hayward brought to each meeting was both open-minded and principled, serious and humorous. In searching for a definition, or rather, definitions, of conservatism, Dr. Hayward made clear that to understand the conservative movement is to discern the rich intellectual tradition behind it. Perhaps the best method of achieving a “repristination” of modern conservatism, as Bill Buckley called it, is exactly what Dr. Hayward’s seminar set out to do: read, think, debate, and, most importantly, listen.

Jasper Boers is a first-year in Timothy Dwight College.

Reflection on Dr. Art Laffer

On Wednesday, October 24, 2018, Dr. Art Laffer ’63 delivered a talk on “Trump, Taxes, and Trade.” Dr. Laffer served as a member of President Reagan’s Economic Policy Advisory Board for both of his terms in office (1981-1989), and was the architect of the administration’s tax cuts in the 1980s. His accomplishments have earned him the distinction of being called “The Father of Supply-Side Economics.”

By: Ward Hanser

Dr. Laffer began his talk by giving a broad overview of his personal economic philosophy. This is highlighted by his 5 Pillars of Economics, which, he explains, are the foundation we must build upon if we are to achieve sustained and reproducible economic growth. The 5 Pillars are a low rate; broad base flat taxation to minimize personal and economic negatives; restrained spending; sound money to allow for contracts and future planning; minimal regulation; and free trade.

While these are all crucial, Dr. Laffer emphasized the need for free trade. When asked about the trade war with China, India, and other nations, he re-acknowledged our need for trade but did not see much of a problem with President Trump’s brinkmanship. In his eyes, the United States is still the most free-trade nation in the world; however, he believes a world with no trade barriers would be most beneficial for economic prosperity. Other countries’ currency manipulation, tariffs, and other barriers to trade (as well as our own) prevent this goal. If countries are unwilling to meet to talk about trade, he sees no alternative in order to truly get them to agree to talk on how to reduce trade barriers.

Dr. Laffer’s favorite Beach boy’s song is Barbara Ann.

Ward Hanser is a sophomore in Pierson College.

Professor Jack Goldsmith on Executive Power and Current Concerns

On Monday, April 9th, Jack Goldsmith, the Henry L Shattuck Professor of Law at Harvard University, joined the Buckley program for a dinner seminar. There he discussed his most recent book, Power and Constraint: The Accountable President After 9/11, and how the growth the executive branch is more important to pay attention to than ever.

By: Aryssa Damron

At the time of our meeting, questions still hung in the air over what President Trump would do in response to the alleged chemical attack in Syria. Mark Zuckerberg was preparing to testify to Congress about the huge data breach associated with Cambridge Analytica. Questions about whether Trump could or would fire Robert Mueller were being lobbed at Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on a daily basis. The state of the union certainly gave Professor Goldsmith a lot to talk about.

On the topic of Syria, Professor Goldsmith started dinner by polling the room to see how people felt about air strikes. He then set forth his argument for why we should not act as such, citing historical precedents for the use of the war power by the president and how military action not backed up by action in Congress can be dangerous. Goldsmith also argues that it isn’t a conservative position to take in Syria, as war inevitably leads to bigger government which is antithetical to conservative goals.

On the topic of Mark Zuckerberg and Cambridge Analytica, Professor Goldsmith chided people for not being aware of what social media was already doing with their data, long before Cambridge Analytica came along. But, he admits, especially in the United States we use it for free and reap the benefits with little care to what happens to our data. Nonetheless, he does see reform coming from the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Zuckerberg congressional testimony, possibly in the form of regulation that has been seen in Europe in relation to privacy and data protection, though Congress would find it hard to get involved with the censorship questions and questions of content because of the First Amendment.
At dinner with several Buckley fellows, Goldsmith was excited to answer their plentiful questions, which ranged from follow-up questions about what we can do in Syria (Goldsmith admits there is no clear solution) and how the revival of a national draft might be the only thing that would make citizens care about what their military is doing.

When talking about what led him to where he is today, Professor Goldsmith admits that he had no interest in national security in law school.  He studied foreign relation law, which touched on national security law, but he became an expert on national security law when he worked in the government in the early 2000s.

The Buckley Program was pleased to welcome Professor Goldsmith to Yale and delighted to have our fellows show out in force for what amounted to a great conversation about not only the state of politics but how the history of presidential power and restraint can help us better understand an often confusing administration.

Aryssa Damron is a senior in Saybrook College.


JEB: A Classical Conservative

On March 27th and 28th, Buckley Fellows had the pleasure of attending a wide range of events with former Florida Governor and 2016 Presidential candidate Jeb Bush in New Haven. He spoke with Buckley Fellows over meals, visited classes, and gave a lecture, touching upon a wide range of political topics. The following is one fellow’s reflection on his overall experience. 

By: Declan Kunkel

John Ellis “Jeb” Bush is not a name that is often connected with Yale. Politicians and laymen alike often think of his brother and father, George W. Bush ‘68 and George H.W. Bush ‘48. But Jeb, a politician in his own right, was the one making waves during a recent campus visit.

Bush’s comment about going home to his children after his loss in the 2016 South Carolina Republican Primary went viral, sparking responses from conservative pundits and journalists, as well as Donald Trump Jr. But for Bush, it did not matter. He was, as he had been for much of his political career, above the fray. Bush is a self-proclaimed “old-time” Republican, more in the style of Ronald Reagan than Ted Cruz.

In the speech that started the media storm, Bush called for a coming together, a modern form of big-tent conservatism.

“Maybe not a 19th-century or a 20th-century version of conservatism but certainly a 21st-century version of that,” Bush said. And, as if foreseeing the coming outrage, he continued, “sadly the fracturing of the conservative movement could not come at a worse time.” Bush promoted a modern form of an older ideal, a technologically advanced conservatism rooted in the respect and family values that were apparent during Reagan’s time in office. While morals should hold firm, Bush reasoned, “the 21st century conservative agenda cannot be nostalgic about the past,” but rather should focus on practical politics: education reform, tax reform, and restoring power to the states.

Bush, who served as the 43rd Governor of Florida, was often credited with instituting education reforms, including the issuance of vouchers and promoting school choice. His A+ Plan heightened standards in education through the state, and required testing of all students and graded all schools. During his tenure as governor, readings scores increased 11 points, more than five times the national average according to the Maine Heritage Policy Center. “Children are the future,” Bush said at a post-lecture event at Mory’s Clubhouse in New Haven. “If we aren’t investing in them, we are doing it wrong.” For Bush, conservatism strives to create a future by learning from the lessons of the past. “If there was ever need for a Bill Buckley-like approach to transforming conservatism in this country, it is right now,” Bush noted, pointing to William F. Buckley, Jr.’s trademark brand of intellectual, no-nonsense debate. “When there is a breakdown of public discourse, everyone loses.”

Bush expressed his gratitude and admiration for the student fellows of the Buckley Program. “It’s time to turn the helm over to you,” he said at one Breakfast event. “My generation has done a pretty good job fowling it up. But I take solace in knowing that people like you are working to make the world a better place.” In between bites of bacon and early-morning coffee, Bush said that he felt hopeful.

“But it will be a fight,” Bush remarked. Bush is a seasoned fighter himself, who knows when to make compromises and when to fight to the end.  While serving as governor, Bush fought against assaults on gun rights and freedom of speech and supported bills that cut back the government’s size while retaining its core functions. Bush championed a successfully balanced budget amendment and helped transform the State of Florida into one of the most successful economies within the United States. At the same time, Bush reached across the aisle to restore the Everglades, increase land conservation, and increase diversity in the racial composition of state courts.

As Bush highlighted in his lecture, since his presidential run he has focused on education reform and furthering his connection with God. He continues to advocate for charitable causes, notably the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and champions education reform. “Education is the key,” he remarked at a post-lecture breakfast. “And you all are getting the best.” As Bush looked around the Mory’s clubhouse, he saw pictures of his father and brother taken while they were getting their own education. The walls feature inscriptions of his paternal Grandfather, Prescott Bush, and his maternal Grandfather, George Herbert Walker. They all have impressive legacies of public service and intellectual conservatism. Jeb hopes that we carry them on.

Declan Kunkel is a junior in Morse College.