Believe it or not, having a luncheon in my honor Monday was a bit like getting married; it was lots of fun, but a surprisingly tense occasion. Before 170 guests at Seattle’s Harbor Club, Discovery’s President Steve Buri and other colleagues formally announced the new “Chapman Center on Citizen Leadership.” KVI radio host John Carlson emceed. Dr. Steve Hayward, the Ronald Reagan biographer (among other literary accomplishments), spoke on leadership–citing lessons from Churchill and Reagan–and State Rep. Hans Zeiger, who formally directs the center, explained why we need financial help to make the program work.
A crowd gathers:
By way of background, I explained to the group that at the end of my life in public office–from Seattle City Hall, state government, Washington, D.C. and overseas (as U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Organizations in Vienna), I was uninterested in further elective or appointive office, but instead wanted to dedicate myself to defending the much-maligned kind of person who dares to get into the public arena. That is to say, I wanted to defend the central strength of our republic, which is representative democracy. It bothered me, and still does, that great attention in graduate schools and elsewhere is paid to instructing journalists in their trade, political science teachers, even lobbyists and campaign consultants. Whole university departments devote themselves to training future government administrators (another word for bureaucrats). All those people have roles to play in politics, but without politicians you can’t have democratic politics at all. Some human beings have to be available who will risk careers, limit their livelihoods and endanger their reputations to seek and hold office. It is important to the public that good people be willing to serve in elective and appointive government and that they be well-prepared. So when, with friends like George Gilder and Tom Alberg, I founded Discovery Institute in 1990, one of our top commitments–and an unusual one for a think tank–was to defend representative government and the people in it.
A democracy by plebiscite is impossible–people can’t be knowledgable enough to keep up on every piece of proposed legislation at all levels. On the other hand, government by experts–by a trained elite of bureaucrats–is a good way to defeat the power of the people to govern themselves. We were and are in danger of losing Lincoln’s concept of “government of the people, by the people and for the people,” and replacing it slowly with a soft tyranny: government of the government, by the government and for the government.
We need better politicians and we need to defend them with reasonable laws.
Twenty years ago I completed and came close to publishing a book on this topic–seeing it as a kind of manual for young people and others who might feel the call to politics–but never got to the last stages of publication. Financial pressures and mounting administrative responsibilities at Discovery Institute–which, after all, has a number of other policy commitments–pushed the book out of sight. But now there are no more administrative excuses; I have to return to the task.
Moreover, Discovery already has a nascent program on “citizen leadership” (under Hans Zeiger) for young professionals in the Seattle area. We are talking about how to revive a successful program that Dr. John West (then the chairman of the Department of Political Science at Seattle Pacific University) also operated 20 years ago, selecting college and graduate students from around the country to take part in a course of the political calling. It was called the George Washington Fellows, and we probably will come back to that name.
In addition, we are making common cause with like-minded individuals and groups elsewhere in the land who want to see a more virtuous and yet robust citizen-based public life. There isn’t a week that passes that someone doesn’t damage public trust in politics through some egregious scandal, or, almost worst, the manufacture of false charges of scandal. People of good will must support simpler, and more reasonable laws around the political process.
My new commentary site, which takes the place of Discovery News that I edited for a dozen years, will help the cause by featuring “news and ideas” from a number of Discovery Institute fellows and other writers.
Our philosophy at the Chapman Center is one that challenges the mechanistic, materialistic view of politics that is epitomized by the late 19th century term, “political science” (a pseudo-science, really, borrowed from the Bismarckian Germans), and sees politics and public life more as an art, as Aristotle conceived it and as the American founders designed it.
We will take up subjects from city design to foreign policy, from first amendment cases in education to reform of the political process. We will show, moreover, how the art of citizen leadership in the public realm connects to the comparable views of nature and humankind examined in other Discovery Institute programs, from the Center on Science and Culture, to Economics (the Center on Wealth, Poverty and Morality), to “Human Exceptionalism” in medical ethics, to education.
I think you will find the Discovery Institute mission of promoting “purpose, creativity and innovation” resplendent in all these programs and perhaps an antidote to the pessimism and banality of many academic exercises and public policy development.
Please bookmark this space and tell your friends!
John Carlson, KVI radio host & emcee:
Dr. Steven Hayward:
Rep. Hans Zeiger:
Bruce Chapman chats with an attendee: