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Jeffrey Hart
Jeffrey Hart
Smiling Through the Cultural Catastrophe
ISBN: 0300087047
Smiling Through the Cultural Catastrophe
Although the essential books of Western civilization are no longer central in our courses or in our thoughts, they retain their ability to energize us intellectually, says Jeffrey Hart in this powerful book. He now presents a guide to some of these literary works, tracing the main currents of Western culture for all who wish to understand the roots of their civilization and the basis for its achievements.

Hart focuses on the productive tension between the classical and biblical strains in our civilization—between a life based on cognition and one based on faith and piety. He begins with the Iliad and Exodus, linking Achilles and Moses as Bronze Age heroic figures. Closely analyzing texts and illuminating them in unexpected ways, he moves on to Socrates and Jesus, who "internalized the heroic," continues with Paul and Augustine and their Christian synthesis, addresses Dante, Shakespeare (Hamlet), Molière, and Voltaire, and concludes with the novel as represented by Crime and Punishment and The Great Gatsby. Hart maintains that the dialectical tensions suggested by this survey account for the restlessness and singular achievements of the West and that the essential books can provide the substance and energy currently missed by both students and educated readers.
—from the publisher's website
Smiling Through the Cultural Catastrophe
Program Air Date: January 13, 2002

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 life.
LAMB: What's your reaction when you hear that from one of your former students?
LAMB: Why?
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 about?
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 extent.
LAMB: How?
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 your gratitude?
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 from?
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 here?
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 campus.
LAMB: Columbia?
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 something.
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 lapel?
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 there?
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: 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 little keepsake.
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 conservative.
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 mind. 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 go.
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 curriculum.
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 Islam ugly.
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 tomb.
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 Klan.

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 that way.
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 office.
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 that--that connection.

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 SOB.'
LAMB: Now--now you went from there at one point to Richard Nixon.
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 Nixon...
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 beheaded him.
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 did.
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, including Rome.
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 mental activity.

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...
LAMB: Chicago-based?
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 irritating.
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 issue?
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.
LAMB: Why?
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, kill them.

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 love.
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 psychological master.

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 Shakespeare.
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 the Congo.
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 multicultural society?
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 much, sir.

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