Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

An Old Student at Home

I had lunch today with a friend, an old friend in both meanings. He is almost one hundred years old. His eyes that have seen so much are but of little use now, although his hearing is pretty good. His own self otherwise is in good shape. He walks with more care than most, a cane helps. But I especially note that if it is the mind that makes the body rich, then he is in all a wealthy man. His life has been good and long and happy. He is a delight to be with and it is his insights I want to mention (without doing them justice, I fear), rather than focus on his body’s coming end, mentioned only from time to time by his own self.

The conversation never flags, it is always interesting, logical, as well as insightful. I like talking with men who have lived long and been everywhere. They have seen much and they remember. The casual reference to things past appear as friendly reminders of something good and worthy and needing to be told only, it seems, for the sake of the hearer, rather than for the sake of self. The public world is discussed, as always, with intelligence and the broadest view possible. The petty rhetoric, the regret at the lack of depth of the candidates, their self-serving stances, and the silliness or mischief of the media’s coverage are touched on. Foreign affairs and the real briars of this earthly world are investigated. He reminds me (I’m only sixty, but already forget everything!) of a very good senior thesis he read a few years back on the Thought of Sayyid Qutb and how that explained as clearly as anything the problem with radical Islam. I listen well as he talks about religious freedom and the separation of church and state and why Islam may not get it and how it eventually might. There is always hope.

He always comes back to excellence and to the students and the education of Ashbrook Scholars and how there are two things he hopes they learn--he knows they do, he just reminds me. First, that words are thoughts and are the means to thoughts. The words we use are important and lasting and they matter. See things and understand them and by naming, explain them. Words are not wild and whirling. We have our good words and students should be introduced to them as originals and as thoughts in themselves and with consequence. Liberty means something, as does consent and limit. It is good that the word regime has been brought back from its misuse. Iraq seems to be in a civil war because it is in an extreme moment, a gap between regimes, as it were. Prudence should rule, if anything can. And Hillary says she would end it all immediately. Silly words those, he says, showing utter ignorance or dishonesty.

The second thing they should learn is the difference between excecutive power and legislative. And he means not only in the constitutional sense. He explains why governors are more likely to become presidents than are legislators. The power attaches to the character, the character is formed by the power, and the executive disposition is to do things. An executive is a doer, he follows things to the end. Doer is a good word. And when you do things you get things done and you also make mistakes. And then you undo those by doing again. This is hard, for each action has a consequence and it is you who are held accountable. So courage is involved, and that means confidence and that is important in a world at arms. This is serious stuff, having to do with cojones and purpose. The Americans are an executive people, by the way, he says. Look at us, look where we have been and how far we have come. We are doers.

So he likes us and our students because we have an understanding of words and deeds. Not bad for an old man, not bad at all. We just need a hundred more like him and then we can say more eloquently to a broader world: some talkers are good doers, they know what they do and even as we may even be eloquent in our actions, we know our purpose. I should have lunch with this proper man more often.

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What a joy to have been a fly on the wall at this conversation

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