Andrew Klavan: a polished sapphire.

Think about the people you want to be around. Think about everything that’s the opposite of shallow and trendy. Think about four years of conversations you’ll never forget. That’s Hillsdale College.

(from the website of Hillsdale College in Michigan)

As a courtesy I habitually supply explanatory links for people, places and publications involved in my blog posts. That’s the first time in more than 460 posts that I have been so impressed as to reproduce words from a venue’s website. In April 2019, at Hillsdale College Andrew Klavan delivered the speech we feature today.

Declaration of interest: I’m a fan of Klavan’s, having discovered him years ago via his Revolting Truth videos. I listen to his podcast, The Andrew Klavan Show with its ridiculous opening signature song, preceded by an even more ridiculous one-minute flight of absurdity that sometimes reduces even him to hysterics. He makes me laugh, makes me think, keeps me abreast of the goings-on over the pond. I also appreciated his autobiographical book, The Great Good Thing. I reveal all this to warn that there’s a danger that you might find me fawning.

Klavan begins at 2:00, following an introduction by Abby Liebing. She reads her introduction, and that’s ok given that introductions are more than 80% factual information. However, if I had guided her, I would have urged her to dare to face the audience and not the script when giving us her name because I’m certain she knows her own name well enough not to read it. Yes, of course, the paper is a security blanket; but we want to see her face.

Klavan’s speech ends at 33:12. There follows nearly the same amount of time for Q&A.

He reads his speech, and suddenly I’m torn. He reads better and more expressively than almost anyone I’ve heard. In fact in passing I reckon virtually all of his podcast is read from a script; but you have to listen very closely to spot it because he has really mastered the art of writing in spoken – a subtly different language from written – English.

The writing is magnificent. For instance at 10:10 Klavan brings up the question of abortion, and a few seconds later gives us in just one, short, jaw-dropping sentence the strongest argument I’ve heard that abortion must not be the mother’s choice. And it’s based not on theology but biology.

Would any of the speech’s brilliantly economic choice of words have been compromised if he had shot this speech from the hip? Possibly, but that would have been offset by the benefit of the words being transparently spontaneous. It would have been the same brain that conceived the words, albeit without the luxury of dwelling over each phrase, so right there is the compromise to be judged. The freshness of spontaneity or the sparkle of economy? An uncut diamond or a polished sapphire? That’s why I’m torn.

We can compare the two. At the beginning, from 2:42 Klavan morphs from the end of a brief thank-fest into some spontaneous musing on the state of society and whether it is appropriate to laugh at it. At 3:36 he moves to his script, and the colour minutely fades.

But now I doff my rhetor hat, become an ordinary audience member, and tell you that it is a stupendous speech. There are points here and there when I’d take issue with the detail of some of his arguments, but that’s part of the stimulus that makes it so enjoyable.

I often press the stop button when Q&A begins, but thinking I’d sample a little of it I then sampled all. Hillsdale College yields up some excellent questions. Most of them from students, but there is one questioner who describes himself as “seasoned”. We can see only the side of his head, but I reckon he’s slightly more seasoned than I, and I am more seasoned than Klavan. At any rate, Klavan for once is put on the back foot. His answer is pretty good but his body language suggests that it’s been a narrow thing. I’m glad I saw that.

I enjoyed the whole hour.