On 19 February this year in Phoenix, Arizona, there was a National Leadership Seminar held by Hillsdale College.
Regular readers might roll their eyes and moan “Hillsdale again?” to which my reply is that if anyone would be so kind as to show me other places where live people were delivering live speeches in the flesh to live audiences these days, I’d be glad to explore those also. In the meantime I shall continue to mine this seam.
Today’s subject is one I have been craving to examine, because he comes as close as anyone to personifying Hillsdale College. He would probably deny that because he seems to be a Primus Inter Pares character, but as President of Hillsdale College he appears to have imprinted it with his own personality. He is Larry P. Arnn.
In several recent postings on this blog he has introduced speakers with a brilliance which kindled my interest, and then recently that kindling was inflamed when I happened upon this interview with him from about four years ago. I commend it.
But for now I am looking at this speech…
I’ve seen Timothy Caspar introducing before, because he is a Hillsdale lecturer of politics, and on the other occasions he read his introduction. Introductions are often read, not just because they are full of important biographical data but because it is a wise policy to ask speakers to write their own introduction. That way the speaker sets his own starting blocks as he wants them, is responsible for accuracy and relevance, and the introducer is saved an invidious task. On this occasion however Caspar is introducing a long-standing colleague and friend, is mostly shooting his own reminiscences from the hip, and doing it well. Why, you may ask, is he then periodically looking down at the lectern? My considered answer is that this is mainly comfort-habit.
Arnn kicks off with a photograph of his grand-daughter. Don’t you hate people who do that? I am skilled at oh-so-subtly flashing the wallpaper picture on my phone, showing surprise that anyone spotted it and then basking in the doting chorus of “aah!”.
This speech was delivered three days before I published this post, and Arnn begins with recalling his friendship with the same deceased subject. You may assume that to be a self-indulgent, mawkish diversion from what he is there to say. If so, you haven’t heard it yet. In that segment he teaches us more about the ethos of Hillsdale College and its approach to education than a brochure could ever tell you.
[At 14:54 he unwittingly sent a personal message to me. I had been surprised and a little disappointed that he had looked down at his lectern quite often, especially in the early part of the talk. Was he regularly and unnecessarily consulting his notes, or was this also a habit? At 14:54 he gave me the answer: it was habit. I knew that because now when he consulted his notes to see if he had missed anything he looked down through his spectacles – which he hadn’t done before.]
At 18:25 he turns to what he calls ‘the bad stuff’, and so begins an analysis of the way the USA was designed to be governed and how that design has become corrupted. With a few minor adjustments he could be talking about the UK, and even when the technicalities are US-specific it’s still interesting, so the lesson is absorbing even for this Brit. I summarise what I learnt in the fault stemming from ignorance. Unscrupulous people have got away with crimes because those who could have stopped them were ignorant of their power to do so. Therefore everything goes back to education and its failings (or deliberate infantilisation of students), and we all see that happening on this side of the Atlantic also.
In his introduction Timothy Caspar described Arnn as “always teaching”. Ain’t that the truth! – this speech is evidence. Part of ‘always teaching’ is always learning, constantly seeking out more to study. Caspar also told us that Arnn was a student of the life and work of Winston Churchill, and for the final section of this speech Arnn turns to him. Suddenly I, an Englishman, am being told by an American a story about Churchill that I didn’t know.
What a magnificent closing!