BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Jeffrey Hart, author
of "Smiling Through The Cultural
Catastrophe," several months ago,
Dinesh D'Souza appeared on this
program, and I want to show the
audience what he said about you.
Mr. DINESH D'SOUZA, AUTHOR, "THE VIRTUE OF PROSPERITY": (From January
14, 2001) I would say that the person
who has had a big influence on me would be sort of my
mentor, which is Jeffrey Hart, an English professor at
Dartmouth. Because here was a guy who was conservative
but not in a boring way. Here's a guy who would--who was
playful. In fact, he would sometimes walk around the campus
in a large raccoon coat with a button that said, humorously,
"Soak The Poor." I mean, his idea was to infuriate other
professors and get them to argue with him and so on. But he
was a very colorful character who was jenly--genuinely
interested in ideas, and he opened up for me a world of
literature and philosophy that has immeasurably enriched my
LAMB: What's your reaction when you hear that from one of
your former students?
Mr. JEFFREY HART, AUTHOR, "SMILING THROUGH THE CULTURAL": Pride.
Mr. HART: Because if I was--was--if I ha--were, in part,
responsible for Dinesh D'Souza, look what he's done. He's
published several very important books. And to the extent
that I did have any influence on--on him, I'm glad I did.
LAMB: How many books have you written in your life?
Mr. HART: This is the eighth.
LAMB: And this book is "Smiling Through The Cultural
Catastrophe." What led up to you writing this, and what's it
Mr. HART: Well, one of the three epigraphs in there is from
Solzhenitsyn, and he says, `A people that has lost its memory
has lost its history and its soul.' And what I'm trying to do in
this book is give the reader an impression of the intellect that
lies behind Western civilization, which you and I at this
moment inhabit. And I feel that a great deal of memory has
been lost, that--you know, if you think of yourself as an
individual and if you lost all memory of your childhood and
adolescence and education, so--you'd be bewildered. It was
hardly--you'd--you'd--you'd hardly be able to locate yourself.
And so I'm trying to locate people in the intellectual matrix of
Western civilization. Now we all notice that the symbols with
which Western civilization declares itself--think of the Golden
Gate Bridge or the Empire State Building or Salisbury
Cathedral--are very different from the Great Wall of China or
the Forbidden City. So the idea that informs this civilization is
very different from the idea that informs Chinese civilization or
Indian civilization, for that matter. So what I'm trying to do in
this book is--is reintroduce the reader to his own civilization.
LAMB: On the cover of this book is a face.
Mr. HART: I think it's supposed to be Shakespeare and
it's--it's--it--it was done by electronic digital reproduction. So
what that is trying to say, I think, is a combination of the
past and the present and the future.
LAMB: What impact has Shakespeare had on us, either in the
past or the present?
Mr. HART: Well, it's--he--he purveys language. Expressions
in--in Shakespeare are--are, you know, rooted about.
We--we think through Shakespeare to--to a considerable
Mr. HART: To be or not to be, the quality of mercy is not
strained, a drop of as a gentle rain from heaven upon the
Earth beneath is Portia. Also--you know, you--you could just
go on and on, and we get him not on--only directly from the
plays, but through other poets who learned to write
by--by--by imbibing Shakespeare.
LAMB: How much did Shakespeare write in his life?
Mr. HART: It's about 30 plays and some poems and the
sonnets. So he wrote a--he was very productive. Mark Van
Doren used to say that if he couldn't do it easily, he couldn't
have done it all, you know, because people have been
interpreting Hamlet or Lear for--for centuries. And apparently,
he just wrote these things the way Mozart wrote his operas.
LAMB: Who learned from Shakespeare, like you said earlier,
and how do you know that?
Mr. HART: Well, his influence is pervasive in the Elizabethan
drama and the Jacobean drama. Milton competes with
Shakespeare, wrote a different kind of verse, because
Shakespeare--he couldn't--he couldn't match Shakespeare,
and so he did something else. Samuel Johnson prefaced
Shakespeare as one of the best pieces of literary criticism in
the English, I think. It was--he--he put a--he did a--an
edition of all the plays and commented on them. But his
preface is a major work of criticism.
LAMB: In your acknowledgments, you mentioned not only Mark
Van Doren, but Jacques Barzun and Lionel Trilling.
Mr. HART: Yes.
LAMB: Who were those three men and why did you give them
Mr. HART: Well, I spent my first two years, freshman and
sophomore, at Dartmouth and then simply resigned. I wa--the
English department in those days was very
unin--uninteresting. And I remember one day sitting down on
a bench and saying--saying, `What--do I really want to
spend two more years at this?' And the answer was no.
LAMB: How had you gotten to Dartmouth? Where were you
Mr. HART: Long Island. My father was a Dartmouth graduate,
class of '21. And he register--registered me at--at--at
Dartmouth when I was born. Of course, I had to get admitted,
but that was a detail. And, anyway, the--the--I went to
Stuyvesant High School here in--in--in New York. It's a very
competitive school. You had to take an exam to get in. And I
found the professors at Dartmouth that I met in 1947 to be
not as good as my high school teachers. So I was sort of
going backwards. And so I quit and got a job with a publisher
at Duell, Sloan & Pierce. I'd written some sketches and stories
and things, and they hired me as a--a low-level editor.
And working for a publisher, I got in with literary people
around New York, book parties and the like, and some
Columbia people asked me, `Why aren't you in college?' And I
said what I just told you. And they said, `Well, would you
give Columbia a chance?' And so I went to Columbia for my
junior and senior years and graduated AB. And at Columbia,
which I think was probably the strongest English department
in the country, Mark Van Doren, Lionel Trilling, Quentin
Anderson, Fred Dupee, Jacques Barzun was in history, of
course. But this was quite a team. And it was then--I didn't
think I was going to become a college professor. But it was
then at Columbia, junior and senior years, I decided, `This is
the kind of thing I want to do.' And I spent four years in Naval
intelligence courtesy of North Korea, and came back to
Columbia for a PhD. And--and I remember I was walking
around at Hamilton Hall getting my course cards signed, and
the chairman came out as if I'd not been away for four years.
And he said, `There you are, Hart. How would you like to
teach freshman English?' So I was hired and taught that and
the humanities course, too.
LAMB: Buried in this book of yours, you tell a couple of stories
around Columbia. Whittaker Chambers' name came up and also
Kerouac's name and Ginsberg's name and others. What--tell
that whole story about--I mean, why did you put that in
Mr. HART: Well, it was an introduction to my section on
Dostoyevsky and specifically on Raskolnikov in "Crime and
Punishment." And Raskolnikov is the ultimate student. You
know, he lives in a hovel. It's a mess. He thinks he's Napoleon.
He thinks about himself all the time. He has terrible guilts, and
he co--commits a terrible crime. Now Raskolnikov could occur
at Columbia. He was in St. Petersburg at--at the time, but
th--that kind of student somehow is around Columbia. And
Whittaker Chambers was a very Dostoyevskian figure. I mean,
can you imagine someone from Princeton sitting down and
trying to decide whether he should commit suicide or join the
Communist Party? No. But at Columbia, you can. And...
LAMB: And--and Whittaker Chambers...
Mr. HART: Did.
LAMB: ...did that?
Mr. HART: Yes. And he de--decided to join the com--and this
was long before the Depression. The country was prosperous.
Things were going well. You could read "The Great Gatsby"
and so forth. And he--here's this gloomy character thinking
Russian thoughts in the middle of the Columbia campus.
LAMB: What about Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg?
Mr. HART: Well, Kerouac--the Columbia legend is that he
walked off the football field to become an ar--an artist,
writer. No. He walked off to--to--to join the military because
he was very patriotic and--and the war was on. So he went
to Boston, got drunk, and he joined the Army, the Navy and
the Merchant Marine all--all at the same time, committing a
federal crime. And somehow, it was covered up, and they let
him--let him stay in the Merchant Marine.
LAMB: Lucien Carr.
Mr. HART: Lucien Carr was a--a hanger-on around the
Mr. HART: Columbia, right. And he committed a murder
because someone may--someone he knew, another man,
made a pass at him in Morningside Park. And he killed him and
threw--threw the body in the Hudson River. And the--of
course, it was found and he came--Ginsberg
knew--knew--know about this occurrence and so did Kerouac,
who was living in Ginsberg's dormitory room. And, you know,
these--these--these people were not Professor Moriarity of
crime. They threw the knife down a--a subway grating or
LAMB: Kerouac did.
Mr. HART: Yes, right. And they got away--they got away with
it because Ginsberg pleaded insanity, and somehow, Kerouac
really hadn't done anything. So Ginsberg went to a--a mental
hospital for awhile, and Lucien Carr served time.
LAMB: You say he served two years?
Mr. HART: Yes.
LAMB: And then William Burroughs. You got on to tell a little
story--I only bring this up because these are all little stories
about--that happened around Columbia.
Mr. HART: Sure. Burroughs lived in the village, but he--he
circulated around with these people, too, and was friend--he's
a--a really awful person. He--he belonged to the Burroughs
business machine family, and he was a--a serious dope addict
and a homosexual. And he married a woman for some reason,
probably sadi--sadistic. He told Ginsberg that women were
unclean and that--so what Burroughs did was get up and act
for cocktail party purposes, shoot a glass of water off her
head with a revolver. In the course of this type of thing, he
missed the glass of water and shot her right through the
forehead, killed her. And this--this was in Mexico. And he got
away with a weapons violation charge. It
didn't--wasn't--wasn't tried for murder, came back and wrote
"Naked Lunch," which is a--a--a drug-soaked horrible thing.
LAMB: So how many years did you spend total at Columbia?
Mr. HART: Seven. And...
LAMB: And left there in what year?
Mr. HART: Sixty-three.
LAMB: Went where?
Mr. HART: Dartmouth. Dart--a position opened up at
Dartmouth in my field, which was the 18th century English
literature. And this looked very good, and I--I accepted it.
LAMB: Going back to the Dinesh D'Souza clip, when he
mentioned you at the program, I immediately remembered you
writing newspaper columns in this town, I think, and the
Washington Star used to publish it years ago, 'cause they're
not even in business any longer. And I said something, of
course, like, `Is he still around?'
Mr. HART: Yeah.
LAMB: And word got back to you that you are very much still
around. What are you doing now?
Mr. HART: Just finished writing this book, and I have another
book mostly finished called "Snapshots From Heaven." It's
a--a memoir, it's not an autobiography. It's snapshots of
interesting people, interesting experiences, the Navy, working
for Reagan in '68 and Nixon in '68, and then the Nixon
campaign in '72--Nixon himself didn't campaign in '72--and Bill
Buckley and National Review and James Burnham and tennis.
Tennis has been a very big thing in my life. I grew up really at
the Westside Tennis Club in Forest Hills and played
intercollegiate tennis both at Dartmouth and Columbia.
LAMB: Before I forget, what are those little items on your
Mr. HART: This is an antique Columbia pin. My wife is an
antiques dealer, and she--she knows I like these things. And
that is from 1912. The--it's a bull moose from the Teddy
Roosevelt campaign in 1912.
LAMB: You have another little--is that a little button down
Mr. HART: Well, my book was published by the Yale University
Press, and Nancy found this antique Yale button somewhere.
LAMB: Move your hand just to the side a little bit...
Mr. HART: Yeah.
LAMB: ...so we can see it. There we go.
Mr. HART: I think it's sort of a party favor that someone
would give a--his date for the weekend, you know, sort of a
LAMB: Is that a special tie you have on there with some...
Mr. HART: Yeah, this is all the--or mostly--the all--all the way
going back to the Colonial days of the American flag. The
famous rattlesnake flag, you know, `Don't tread on me'
and--and so forth, these ensigns and different things. I--it--it
was custom made, not for me, but I--I managed to talk the
shop into selling it to me.
LAMB: Now what about this raccoon coat and what Dinesh
D'Souza said. He liked you because you weren't a boring
Mr. HART: Right. Well, most of the conservatives I know
aren't boring. I mean, who would ever think Bill Buckley is
boring? Anyway, I bought this raccoon coat at a ski area in
northern Vermont, and it weighed at, like, 50 pounds. It was a
tr--tremendous coat. And I--I would wear it to football games
for fun as a kind of retrospective gesture toward the 1920s.
LAMB: Now this book is full of Socrates and Plato and Aristotle
and Jesus and Shakespeare and on and on, Dostoyevsky, you
mentioned. A big question for you is: What can we learn if we
spend a lot of time in this book about what this country is
going through today? Wha--wh--what value is it?
Mr. HART: OK. Very briefly, the core of this book can be
designated internalization. We have, in Moses and Achilles,
two late Bronze Age figures, around 1250 BC. Now both of
these are heroic figures who act. Achilles, a great warrior;
Moses a warrior, too, and a law giver. But it's how you should
behave, really. Achilles wants to be noble. Arite is the Greek
word, noble. And--and nobility is a complicated idea in Homer.
But let's--let's just call it the heroic. Moses is heroic, too.
What you get on the Greek side is the internalization of the
Homeric--heroic--and heroic philosophy in Socrates. Plato
designed Socrates in--in the--in the dialogues as a better
teacher than Homer. In other words, Socrates stands for
intellect and cognition. You understand the wo--world through
Over in Jerusalem, we--we're all familiar with Moses' 10
Commandments. Thou shout--shalt not steal, commit
adultery, whatever. Jesus internalizes the Mosaic behavior
code as in--in--as spiritual aspiration. Not only should you not
commit adultery, far from it, you shouldn't even think of it.
You should be--he uses the phr--the metaphor of a--a
white-washed tomb, whited sepulcher--white outside and
corrupt within. The Sermon on the Mount wants you to be
white all the way through. You don't--you--you would not
take an oath, according to him, because you would never
think of lying. You just wouldn't. So we get, on the one hand,
Socratic cognition and on the other hand, Jesus' spiritual
aspiration. And those are the two poles, I think, between
which the Western mind moves.
LAMB: You said, by the way, in your book, that Jesus and
Socrates never wrote a word.
Mr. HART: That's right. Never--they never got tenure, either.
LAMB: How do we know so much about both of them, then?
Mr. HART: Because other people told their story.
LAMB: In--in what way? How did they do it?
Mr. HART: The four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John
and Plato and the dialogues with Socrates as the--the
post-heroic hero in--in Plato.
LAMB: But you point out, when it comes to the gospels, that
those are written--no--no words were written down about
Jesus for 30 years after his death.
Mr. HART: That's right.
LAMB: How do you trust, then, what was said 30 years later?
Mr. HART: Well, I think the most important--one of the most
important passages in the New Testament was all written in
Greek, by the way, speaking of Athens and Jerusalem. And 1
Corinthians, Chapter 15, this is a public letter to the
congregation in Corinth from Paul, he says--I'll par--I'll
approximate the thing--`Brethren, 300 of you saw Jesus after
his resurrection. Some of you have gone to sleep'--died--`but
the others are still here.' So I think the story began to be
written down, so it wouldn't be lost. The witnesses were
going to die, and the oral tradition of what had happened
would--would fade away unless they wrote it down. And so
you've got these four things. And scholars think that the
may have been based on something called a doctrine/document. But we don't have that. What we have is
what--what got written down.
LAMB: When did Socrates live, compared to when Jesus lived?
Mr. HART: 400 BC.
LAMB: So he lived 400 years before Christ.
Mr. HART: Yeah, yeah.
LAMB: And how long after Socrates' death--and how did he
die--did Plato write down what he had to say?
Mr. HART: Socrates was charged with debasing morals and
starting--attempting to start a new religion. I think
he--he--he certainly wasn't debasing morals. He was an
extremely moral person, but he certainly was an enemy of the
polytheism that was the--the state religion. And it wasn't just
a matter of opinion, you know, Athena and so forth, they had
temples built to them, priests and priestesses and so forth,
holidays. So Socrates was really causing trouble by saying,
not polytheism, but philosophy. And his philosophy was not,
say, empiricism or pragmatism or something, it was--it was
moving in the direction of monotheism. So he was troublesome
to the whole state of things in Athens. And I've forgotten
what the vote was that convicted him, but it--it--it was--it
was pretty narrow. I mean, he--they almost--almost let him
LAMB: But then how long was it after he died till when Plato
wrote the dialogues?
Mr. HART: About a decade, and he--and he--Plato lived to be
85, and he--he continued to write, you know. And--and then
by the way, the--the dialogues we have are popular works. In
the academy, he--he taught much more concentrated
dialectical philosophy, and Aristotle came to the academy and
stayed there for 18 years. So this was not an easy
LAMB: Let me keep going back to the basics of
somebody--you know, the twin towers in New York, 6,000
people dead. What can people--or can people come to this
book and this thought process and learn anything about why
something like that would happen?
Mr. HART: Sure. The civilization this book describes--its
intellectual basis; you could go at it through music or
architecture, whatever--is a supremely successful civilization.
The background of these people, like bin Laden or Mohamed
Atta, it's--it's a failed culture. It's going nowhere. Between
the shores of the Mediterranean and the border of India,
there's almost nothing. There isn't a decent government
except for Israel, I guess. These places--who--who--who
wants to go to Syria? We prop up Egypt, $2 billion a year.
They are not in a position to challenge the West except for
the kind of poor man's war, slamming into the twin towers,
trying to spread anthrax. I mean, this is pretty ridiculous
because Western science coming from Socratic cognition and
through the--through the development of science, now can
produce bombs that make a very, very big explosion. So if we
want to stop the anthrax anytime, we can. They know that. I
think it's--we--we mentioned Shakespeare before--and Iago
says of Cassio, a handsome and wonderful soldier, he says,
`Cassio has a daily beauty in his life that makes me ugly.' So
he hates Cassio for the very thing that you'd normally admire
and tries to involve him in a--in a plot. So I think that the
Western civilization has a daily beauty in its life that makes
LAMB: When you say--makes Islam the religion ugly?
Mr. HART: Yes.
LAMB: Those listening who are Muslims would immediately
quarrel with you. They think they have a beautiful religion.
Mr. HART: Yeah, but when I s--turn on TV and see mobs
screaming in the street and saying, `Long live bin Laden
and'--I don't think this is a--a minority or fringe opinion. Bin
Laden--I mean, he's--he's the Che Guevara of--of Islam, and
very, very popular, not with sophisticated Muslims or, you
know, scholars or something. But the religion, at some point,
must connect with this kind of terrorism.
LAMB: What do you say then--what--what if those people
think they're right, that believe in their Koran and believe in
their god and that they say we--`Western people think they
have the answer, but they are the infidels'?
Mr. HART: Well, I'll just say they're wrong. Look where
they're--look where they are. Look how they treat women.
They cover them up in all kinds of stuff. The--the Taliban
won't even let a woman--woman's eyes show in--in--in
public. This strikes me as grotesque, and I don't think it's just
a matter of opinion. I tried to read the Koran once, and it's
not like the Bible. The nearest thing in the Bible to it would be
the Book of Revelations. It's full of symbolism and mysterious
things. It's not--it--the Bible has actual people doing thing
that you can recognize as actual people doing. The Koran is a
much murkier state--state of affairs, apparently dictated to
Mohammed by a talking goat. This is very strange stuff, and
I--I--I just don't--don't see it as a--an equivalent of
Christianity or Judaism.
LAMB: You mentioned Islam, the way they treat women. What
about the Catholic Church and their--their attitude toward
women? Can you explain that in history, why--and maybe
other religions and other groups, why they separate the men
from the women? In--in the Catholic Church, for instance, the
women aren't allowed to be priests and priests can't marry?
Mr. HART: That's true. I think in time, the Catholic Church will
have women as priests.
LAMB: But what's the mentality now? What's the base for the
way they think now?
Mr. HART: Well, the way they explain it, so far as I
understand it, is that no women were among the original
disciples, and that those are the ar--the forebearers of--of
the priesthood. Now one can say that in those days, it would
have been impossible for women to be among the disciples.
But look at the status that Mary gets in the Catholic Church.
She--and Mary Magdalene was the first one to see the empty
LAMB: Go back again to your basic--the--the characters in
your--your book and who have been written about over the
years. If they were to come to life today, what would they
think of what's happened in the world in the last 300, 400
years? Would they be surprised?
Mr. HART: I'm--I certainly think Achilles or Jesus would
be--Shakespeare would be surprised. I mean, the place looks
so much different from anything they're accustomed to. A
good seminar topic when I discuss these things with students
is did--did Jesus know Greek? I think he did because
everybody did. Paul wrote in Greek. Greek was the language
of the civilized world in those days. So, yes, he probably did.
And also he was very precocious. He disputed with the rabbis
in the temple when he was very young, probably irritated
them no end. Yeah, they probably would be surprised. But
you--you sometimes wonder what it would be like to meet
Jesus as he appears, comes at us from the narratives. I--I
remember, for example, a rich, young man comes up, and
Jesus says, `Sell everything you have and give the money to
the poor.' Now he must have seen something about that man
that told him that wealth was too important to him--it was
fancy clothes or his bearing or something. He saw that wealth
was a problem standing between purity and the way he is. So
I think he would be very perceptive about you if you'd just
look and--and see. And one--one good thing about Peter is
that as soon as Jesus says, `Follow me,' he drops all his fish
nets and follows him. So he--he had the perception that this
was a very unusual person. And so Jesus made him number
one, even though he was rather stupid. And Jesus has to spell
out what the Parables mean and so forth. And Peter is almost
comical because he is the last one to get to the empty tomb.
Apparently, he--he just doesn't run well. So--and--but
none--nevertheless, Jesus saw something about this man
that--so I think he was very, very perceptive.
LAMB: Are you still teaching?
Prof. HART: No, I--I'm not in--not in the classroom anymore.
LAMB: When did you stop at?
Prof. HART: Oh, about five years ago.
LAMB: From all the studying you've done and the reading
you've done and the writing you've done, where do you
personally come out after all these years when it comes to
your own religion?
Prof. HART: I became a Catholic in 1968. I was in a--I went
to the Episcopal Church at Columbia, and Reverend John
Crumb was the chaplain there and very, very good. And the
Episcopal Church, through John Crumb, seemed to me to be
strong, intellectually well-sou--founded, well-based. But when
I left Columbia and went to the--let's say the infantry of the
Episcopal Church, I found it rather thin. And as a--after a lot
of reflection, I remember just before I went out to
Sacramento to write speeches for Reagan, I became a
Catholic in New Hampshire.
LAMB: And what's happened to your Catholicity since 1968?
Prof. HART: I'm deep--dee--deepening and I--I really love the
Catholic Church for its 2,000-year history and so forth. And,
naturally, there--people are going to find things to quarrel
with it. But Jacques Maritain, in--in the first sentence of his
"Peasant of the Garonne," his final book, said `Thank God for
the visible church.' Yeah, thank God for the visible church. I
don't--Andrew Greeley, a priest in Chicago, said a wise thing.
He said, `When you f--when you find the perfect church, join
it, and then it wo--won't be perfect anymore.'
LAMB: When did you become a conservative?
Prof. HART: I think when--when I was growing up, my parents
were Republicans, and what that meant to them was good
government on the Tom Dewey model: clean up corruption
and so forth. From their--they didn't--they didn't think of
themselves as conservatives. I think they thought of
themselves as modern, progressive, good government people.
From their point of view, the Democratic Party was the urban
bosses: Flynn of the Bronx and, you know, the--What's his
name?--Curly in Massachusetts, that kind of--that kind of
person, big labor and the solid Democratic South, the Ku Klux
So there were Republicans and--and--opposed to all that,
though not conservative. I think the term conservative began
to be widely used during the Cold War after 1945 as opposed
to socialism and communism. And then Edmund--Edmund
Burke, very importantly, was rediscovered. So a
conservative--I--I think that my political allegiance goes to,
say, Montaigne, David Hume, Tocqueville, Burke, anti-utopian,
skeptical, prudential, not expecting too much. So
that's--that's one mode of conservative--conservative
thought and feeling, old shop.
LAMB: How did you get involved with Ronald Reagan?
Prof. HART: Bill Buckley was having--Reagan won in 1966 by a
million votes over Pat Brown. Bill Buckley was having lunch
with him at Pacific Palisades, and Reagan was acting as if he
was going to run for president. The conversation just tended
LAMB: What year again?
Prof. HART: Sixty--this was '67. And so r--Bill said to Reagan,
`You need a Sorenson,' which is loosely defined as someone
who puts quotations from Heracleitus into the candidate's
speech. And so Bill called me at home and said, `Do you want
to go out and write speeches for Reagan?' And I said, `Will
I--will I have to go to California?' `Yes.' So I decided to--to
do that and took the--the spring semester off from Dartmouth
and lived in Sacramento and--and worked in--in Reagan's
LAMB: And what was your reaction to the experience?
Prof. HART: Very positive. First of all, I didn't know what a
political speech was, and so I went to the library and read
some famous political speeches. And with my literary
background, I recognized that, as a--as a distinctive genre,
it's not instruction; it's to establish communion between the
candidate and the--and the audience that he understands
their concerns. Even if he can't solve all their problems
immediately, he's--he's with them. I mean, he has to make
There's a wonderful old joke about Franklin Roosevelt coming
to New York when he was president and coming down Fifth
Avenue in his open limousine, crowds lining the sidewalks, and
these two men come out of their office and they're standing
there. And su--suddenly, as Roosevelt goes by, one of the
guys starts jumping up and down and yelling `Hooray for
Roosevelt. Long--oh, won--wonderful for him.' And the
other--his friend says, `Well, that man can't do anything for
you.' And he says, `I know that, but he knows my boss is an
LAMB: Now--now you went from there at one point to Richard
Prof. HART: Right. Nixon beat Reagan at the Miami
convention, and I was driving--I'd bought an old Volvo in
Sacramento, and I was driving across--I'd given the
governor's office my--my itinerary. And I got a phone call in
some awful motel in the middle of some terrible desert, and it
was Nixon's office at 450 Park Avenue and would I stop by
and consider joining that team. And it turned out--turned out
to be very, very interesting.
The--the team was strong: Bill Safire, Pat Buchanan, Ray
Price. Alan Greenspan was our research director. And, you
know--so this was quite a--quite a thing. And I--I wrote
Nixon's famous `Law and Order' speech. I think he gave it in
Pittsburgh. He--I flew--flew on the campaign plane down
there and, you know, worked on the speech to the last
minute. I think it was Pittsburgh, but it might have been
Philadelphia. You know, when you're--when you're on a
campaign plane, you don't really know what city you're in. And
LAMB: And all through this time, you were teaching?
Prof. HART: No, I took the--I--I took the--this was all
through the summer into the fall, you see. And
the--when--when classes started again in late September, I
went back and taught and--there, but continued to file copy
for--for the Nixon campaign.
LAMB: So, in history, Ronald Reagan's position will be, and in
history, Richard Nixon's position will be?
Prof. HART: I think if you take Truman in 1945 and Reagan in
his two terms, they're like bookends around World War III
against the Soviet Union. Truman did what he had to do with
NATO, the Marshall Plan and so forth and resisting the
in--Korean invasion. And Reagan ended it with the fall of the
Berlin Wall. So that's a--quite a hunk of history.
And if I had to say one thing about Reagan, he f--was for a
lot of things: lower taxes, less government and so on and so
on. But--yes, and sincerely. But I think when he got up in the
morning and looked in the mirror and brushed his teeth, the
first thing he thought of was, `What can I do today to
weaken the Soviet Union?' That was his central--central
thing, and he did a lot to do that.
LAMB: Go back to your book. First, let me ask you this. If you
had a choice of reading your favorite newspaper or reading
Plato or one of the other people in your book on any given
day, which would be your first choice?
Prof. HART: Well, I always--always read the newspaper with
breakfast. They don't--they aren't necessarily competing
valuables. You go to them for different things.
LAMB: Where do you get your most enjoyment?
Prof. HART: Reading Plato and the people I talk about. You
know, I'm--I'm not saying this from any political point of view,
but The New York Times is a great newspaper, but there is a
feeling of mental--let me take one step back. When Jesse
Helms announced his retirement--and apart from whatever
anyone thinks of Jesse Helms--The Times said that he
`resisted the tide of enlightenment and progress.' Now that
kind of prose has a feeling of death about it, you know.
I'm not aware of being in a tide of enlightenment and
progress. And, you know, is the Broadway theater better now
than it was in the '20s? I don't think so. This--this kind of
writing is--is--you know, you feel almost that you're--you're
losing brain cells a--as you submit to that kind of prose. And
in--in s--in s--though it's a great newspaper. But with these
people, you don't. That--that language is really alive, and
you--you feel you're getting smarter.
LAMB: You do some biography on some people. I want to ask
you about some of them. Paul.
Prof. HART: Paul.
LAMB: When did he live?
Prof. HART: He was contemporary with Jesus; came from
Tarsus, which is in w--southern part of what we now call
Turkey. He was a rabbi. He was a--said to--described as a
tent-maker. Now this didn't mean--doesn't mean pup tents.
These were very elaborate structures that people moved
down the great caravan routes and--and the sort of
headquarter sense. He did that. He was a preacher in the
synagogue in Tarsus. And one of the great Paul--Saint Paul
scholars, Arthur Darby Nock of Harvard--late Arthur Darby
Nock--thinks that Jesus may have also preached in the--in
the synagogue at Tarsus and conceivably Paul saw him. We
don't know; we can't tell.
However, on the road to Damascus, Paul had a drastic
conver--conversion experience--fell off his horse, as fact, and
felt the power of Jesus in his teaching--it must have reached
him in some way--and became a--became a Christian
and--and an evangelist. The Roman order and the Roman
roads enabled him to travel all over the Near East and, finally,
through Athens to--to Rome. He'd preached in--in Athens.
So, for me, Paul is a symbol of Athens and Jerusalem. He
wrote in Greek. He spoke Greek. He was part of the Roman
world or the Greek world. And he ended in, I think, about 65
AD, in Rome, where he was arrested. It's not quite clear what
for. The Romans were very tolerant. You could believe
whatever you want, as long as you didn't cause trouble, and I
think something about Paul made them nervous and they
LAMB: You say he did not know Jesus.
Prof. HART: We can't tell. This Paul scholar, Arthur Darby
Nock, thinks he might have, but, you know, a scholar like this
goes through all the material and the manuscripts and
inferences and so forth, and he thinks they might have
crossed paths, but he--he won't commit himself to saying he
LAMB: How important is Paul?
Prof. HART: Very.
LAMB: And why?
Prof. HART: Because he had the energy and the eloquence to
spread the message throughout the then-known world,
LAMB: You say in your book, `Paul, we know, was a constant
source of excitement and contention during his travels and
even stirred up riots.' How did he do that?
Prof. HART: By preaching the life, death and resurrection
of--of Jesus, and he settled all kinds of quarrels in--in these
evan--evangelized communities, like Corinth, for example.
There are all kinds of questions o--of belief and theology and
so on coming up, and Paul was--he must have been a very
persuasive and diplomatic figure.
LAMB: You mentioned earlier, but I want you to go back over
it one more time because you start your book this way, the
contrast between Athens and Jerusalem. Why is that one of
your major thesis--themes in the book?
Prof. HART: Good question. The--Athens, with the figure
Socrates in the foreground, stands for understanding the
world through intellect. In other words, Athens stands for
philosophy and science; Plato leaning more--much more
toward philosophy, Aristotle bringing science to bear on--on
things. Jerusalem stands for the aspiration to spiritual
perfection, first through Moses, then through Jesus. And I
think there's a tension between these two things that creates
You don't have an idea unless, really, you're confronted with a
contradiction. Lionel Trilling says that in Keats, the idea of
love and the idea of death produces lyric impulse,
contradiction. Athens and Jerusalem are in tension. Off at the
edge, do you trust intellect or d--do you trust spirituality? We
hope you don't have to choose, and I think the West doesn't
choose. Leo Strauss, a modern philosopher, said...
Prof. HART: That's right. He's--he's dead now, but very much
a presence. He thinks that democracy depends on maintaining
the--both and quality of cognition and spirituality; that a
monk might choose spirituality f--above everything, a
philosopher might choose cognition above everything. But the
society should not--should keep--keep both options available.
I think--I think Strauss is right about that. If you are going to
go for pure--pure rationality, you'd come up with something
like Plato's "Republic." Not very pleasant. And if you go for
pure spirituality, you'd be in a mo--monastery. The society
would be a monastery, which I don't think I would like.
So, yes, I think--s--to put it another way, the educated man
knows too much to be a relativist, not enough to be an
absolutist. Somewhere in there is--is freedom.
LAMB: H--when you taught all this--and--and I assume you
taught this in school?
Prof. HART: Sure.
LAMB: What--what was the reaction of your students?
And--and, I mean, government students--you get in there,
you've got to be pretty bright, don't you?
Prof. HART: They're very bright and they--they get excited.
They're--they feel challenged.
LAMB: How do you notice it?
Prof. HART: They start competing with you in--in your
interpretations, an--and, you know, they--they get smarter
and smarter. And I--I think it's--it's great fun, really.
LAMB: Can they ever get under your skin or did they?
Prof. HART: They don't. The most discouraging thing I have
found, as a teacher, is--is the experience you--a young man
comes in to discuss his essay with you, and it suddenly dawns
on you that, `I'm more interested in the paper than he is,' you
know. You said, `Well, what are we doing?' And that--that's
LAMB: Hanover, New Hampshire, home of Dartmouth, is--the
atmosphere there, what's it like?
Prof. HART: It's changed over the years. Right after the war,
when I first went to Dartmouth, it was full of veterans, and
in--in a physical way, it was a pretty rough place. Now it's
very wealthy. The--the goods on sale on main street
Hanover--you know, th--these students are buying $400 skis
and Brooks Brothers ty--type clothes and so on. And so it's
rather beautiful and stylish, I think.
LAMB: How do you get them interested in this kind of stuff?
Prof. HART: Well, not everyone is. The liberal arts are not
vocational training. Graduate school is vocational training:
medicine, law, whatever. The liberal arts are not howl w--how
to do anything, it's how to--how to be. And if the student
understands that and wants to be better than he is, this is
a--a very exciting thing to do.
LAMB: Again, get back to today. Is there any way to
understand what's going on, say, in the Palestine-Israel--all
that--all that over there from the history of this, from what
you're writing about back in Jerusalem, Athens?
Prof. HART: Well...
LAMB: Why pe--why people today are fighting over this whole
Prof. HART: Yeah. The most volatile thing--the most volatile
faction in Islam--and I--I don't think it's a small faction--is
the very strict version of Islam represented by bin Laden.
What he wants to do is overthrow the Saudi government and
perhaps run the country himself, and what he would establish
is something like the Taliban. Obviously, this is a--a losing
idea. The Taliban isn't going anywhere, except death.
The--the idea that you're going to set up an Islamic utopia
based on Taliban-like strictures is farcical.
So that part of the world has a big problem, and the only way
it can go as--I think is toward modernization, the global
economy and so forth. And, of course, if they didn't have oil,
they'd have nothing. But the strict bin Laden direction is the
opposite of modernization, and it's going nowhere.
LAMB: But what about Jesus coming back today and seeing
what's going on right in Jerusalem? Stand right in the middle of
Jerusalem today, Old Jerusalem, what--what would his feeling
be about what's going on?
Prof. HART: Enormous disappointment.
Prof. HART: Because the intransigence and the r--random
killings and blowing up discotheques, and I think there was a
killing yesterday in Bethlehem, of all places. This is a mess.
LAMB: Would he have any solution to the problem?
Prof. HART: Well, if you--if you go back--you know the
parable of the good Samaritan, where the--the guy is beaten
up and left in a ditch by thieves, and then the good
Samaritan, the man from Samaria, comes along. And it's
dangerous on the Jericho road, but he risks his own situation
and picks up the guy and takes him in. I think if you consider
that parable, what should the Samaritan have done had he
come along 20 minutes earlier and saw the thieves beating
him up? He might have to take his sword and--and interfere,
Jesus doesn't rule that out, but he--what he rules out is
anger. The good Samaritan should not behave like Achilles
killing Hector with fury and blood lust. He should kill him with
regret, that anyone should be so deformed as to try to hold
this guy up. Now short of that or ha--having done that, what
should the good Samaritan have done? I think phone state
police to--to look over things on the Jericho road. Practical
LAMB: Again, going back to the--some of the other
characters you write about in your book, Voltaire. Why--why
so much attention to Voltaire?
Prof. HART: Well, I deal with--excuse me.
LAMB: Who was he, first?
Prof. HART: He was a comprehensive literary man and political
reformer, critic of the monarchy and church of his day. He
really admired the parliamentary monarchy they had in England
when he visited England. He--he would have politically settled
for that. But it was impossible to do that with the absolute
monarchy that the French had. However, he was a
playwright, a historian. He wrote a great history of the
era--reign of Louis XIV. He wrote a lot of poetry. And I
discuss his satire "Candide," which I value for the energy of
its--of its comic sense. It's a very funny book.
LAMB: And Moses--I know I'm jumping all around here, but
these are characters all throughout the book, and I want you
to tell us what you can about them.
Prof. HART: Well, Moses was born a Hebrew, and his mother,
to keep him--the pharaoh--pharaoh ordered the firstborn
killed, and she put him in a little basketlike boat, and he was
bro--rescued by an Egyptian princess, who brought him up
close to the top of--of Egyptian society. I mean, Moses would
have known the pharaoh and had an Egyptian education. But
fundamentally, he was a Hebrew and became the leader of
the then-enslaved people and led them out of Egypt across
the Sinai Desert into what we now call--roughly, Israel called
Canaan in those days.
LAMB: When did he live?
Prof. HART: 1250 BC, I'd say, would be a good date.
LAMB: You say he lived to be 120 years old?
Prof. HART: Those are symbolic figures. They just mean very
old. The Egyptians said 110.
LAMB: And--and we were talking earlier about
Dostoevsky--Dostoevsky and "Crime and Punishment." I wrote
down about Raskolnikov. He antic--`He anticipates the
cataclysmic themes of the 20th century: nihilism, mass
murder, savagery, idology--i--ideology and totalitarianism.'
Explain all that. And did you--by the way, did you read "Crime
and Punishment" when you were at Columbia?
Prof. HART: Yes, I taught it there. Yeah.
LAMB: You--you taught "Crime and Punishment"?
Prof. HART: Yes.
LAMB: And what is it about Raskolnikov that is important?
Prof. HART: Well, he commits a--a brutal murder with the idea
that he is a superior man and he's beyond good and evil.
LAMB: How old is he when he does this?
Prof. HART: He's a law student, a failed law student who
thinks he's Napoleon. And--and one of his theories is that a
great man is beyond good and evil and can do these things.
That's what great men do.
LAMB: And when is Dostoevsky writing this?
Prof. HART: End of the 19th century. It turns out that
Raskolnikov's conscience won't let him get away with it. And
somebody said, I forgot what--what scholar, that Dostoevsky
thought that the unconscious mind was moral and agreed with
Shakespeare on that point. So Raskolnikov's conscience
forces him to admit his guilt to a detective, who's a
Yeah, and I think this is true that--you feel this in
Shakespeare, too--that the unconscious minds of his
characters are often--they're--they're judge and sentencer. I
mean, Claudius in "Hamlet"--it's in--mentioning "Hamlet,"
Rekelnah--Raskolnikov has a friend named Razumikhin, who
means `reason' in Russia--Russian, and Hamlet's best friend is
Horatio, which also concludes the word `ratio'--you know,
reason--too. So we have these--I think Dostoevsky was
competing with Hamlet in--in writing "Crime and Punishment":
the crime in the background, the agonizing, the guilt, the
whole thing. And I'm sure that Dostoevsky wanted to beat
LAMB: `The Western mind is permanently intentioned. It is
dialectal, as Leo Strauss and many others have said.' You
start off by talking about Western culture and the Western
mind. Is there anything special about the Western mind?
Prof. HART: Well, look at it. What's the most powerful part of
the globe? What--the--the science is unbeatable. There's no
comparable special Chinese science or African science. The...
LAMB: If you're Western, where do you live?
Prof. HART: In the civilized world. Y--now notice the term
`civilized world' has been revived since this tower bombing.
The civilized world is supposed to be coming together to
defeat terrorism, which it certainly will. But, yes, the--the
West is--is where things are. No one willingly goes to Persia or
LAMB: Is human nature essentially good?
Prof. HART: It's capable of being good, but it's not essentially
good because the options are open.
LAMB: And you write about the Vietnam War. You say, `It is a
matter of consensus in the United States, at least, this
academic mutation and mutilation had its roots in the era of
the Vietnam War.' What are you talking about?
Prof. HART: Oh, the '60s, the--spelling `America' with a K
instead of a C; the whole ideology of multiculturalism, which
really means that we're supposed to admire all the other
cultures except Western culture. Western culture doesn't
come int--into the multi. I think we have just seen the
collapse of the '60s project with the outpouring of patriotism
after the bombing. All of a sudden, people woke up and said,
`Look, we have something ver--very important here called the
United States,' or Western civilization. And the '60s, at last,
are over, I think.
LAMB: You actually said in your book a little bit--you l--add a
little bit more to it. You say, `None of the cultures we are
supposed to be multi about is at all itself multicultural.'
Prof. HART: That's right.
LAMB: So where do we get the idea here that we should be a
Prof. HART: Well, we are a nation of immigrants, and the hope
is that they assimilate to the existing society. There's been
a--a--a surge of identity politics, which values the difference
rather than the similarities of--of the different constituent
groups of Americans. I think this is a bad thing in that we
should all be getting together on agreed-upon n--norms, and I
hope--I hope that--I hope it works out that way. I don't think
America really is a society with a multicultural future, but a--a
society with an American future.
LAMB: We started out by talking about Dinesh D'Souza and
your teaching. Any other folks over the years at Dartmouth
that you taught that went on to having a public life?
Prof. HART: Well, former student of mine named Paul Gigot
just became editor of The Wall Street Journal, and a former
editor of The Dartmouth Review named Hugo Restall, more
recent graduate than Paul, is editor of the Asian Wall Street
Journal. And those are two of the most potent editorial posts
in the--in--in journalism, so I'm very happy about that. And I
could name a lot of other students who are doing excellent
things, but these are very visible. And certainly Dinesh
D'Souza has written some--his "Illiberal Education" and his
book "The End of Racism" are both terrific works, I think.
LAMB: And--and from your experience as being a lifelong
teacher, what--what makes a good teacher? When do you
know you're doing a good job?
Prof. HART: I think--I--my experience, I've always insisted on
reading all the essays my students turn in. Some professors
have people read them. But even though my last class had
something like 400 students in it, I read--they each wrote
three essays, and I read 1,200 essays because I want to
s--get feedback. You know, I just don't want to throw
something out there and wonder if it's being absorbed. So I
get that kind of thing from reading their papers.
LAMB: Our guest has been Professor Emeritus at Dartmouth,
Jeffrey Hart. And here is his latest book, his eighth book,
"Smiling through The Cultural Catastrophe." Thank you very
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