George Anastaplo

Imagine someone saying: “But I know how tall I am!” and
laying his hand on top of his head to prove it.

-Ludwig Wittgenstein1

The six essayists who have contributed to this symposium are entitled to a public acknowledgment of their generous reviews of my scholarship. But since space limitations do not permit me an adequate response in this issue of the Political Science Reviewer [volume 26, pages 248-57 (1997)], I must reserve for the 1998 issue most of what I have to say, including an extended discussion of whether morality is grounded in nature.2

Even so, a few things should be put on record, however briefly, in the same issue in which these essays are found. Five of these six essayists are former students of mine, from whom (here as elsewhere) I have learned much. For example, John Alvis has distilled ten maxims of reading from my literary criticism; Larry Arnhart has developed seven themes in my decade-long series of articles on non-Western thought; Christopher Colmo has been perceptive in considering further the texts I examine (as may be seen in his Note 20 on the usefulness of the ugly in The  Merchant of Venice); John Murley has shown how my constitutional commentaries can be sensibly applied by an experienced politician; and Stephen Vanderslice has suggested the piety that may be implicitly in one’s way of reading and writing, aside from what may be gathered from the half-dozen commentaries on Biblical texts I have already published.3

The criticisms of these five essayists should also be noticed. But, as former students, they have taken to heart the advice (with respect to piety?) I offered on the occasion of the fiftieth birthday party given me by graduate students at the University of Chicago:4

“…Your kindness toward me may be seen in the meal we have enjoyed together this evening and, in a more enduring form, in the formidable briefcase you have entrusted me with, to say nothing of the challenging things you have said about me:

 “The last briefcase I was given came from the Air Corps when I got my wings as a nineteen-year- old, and it accompanied me on my many instructive flights all over the world. Thus the auspices are favorable, and I am entitled to hope that the briefcase you have so kindly provided me tonight will prove, for a long time to come, similarly useful in furthering my education.

 “An even more enduring form of kindness, I presume to suggest as I bring this festive occasion to a close, is that which is traditionally exhibited by one-time students to a would-be teacher. If he is mistaken, they quietly ignore him or, if he is not incorrigible, they correct him (if possible, gently). If he should happen to be correct, they someday do for their students what he was privileged to do for them.”

             Even so, a few of their corrections, however gentle, may be in need of immediate qualification. Thus, one of the essayists makes me more sympathetic to Muhammad than I am, while two of them make me less sympathetic to Joan of Arc than I believe myself to be. Also, however troubled I have always been about the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in 1953, I would not have been troubled if a greedy Aldrich Ames had been taken out and shot in 1994 once it was established that he had sold CIA colleagues to their deaths.5

                  However effective I have been in teaching these former students (at least as to how to deal with erring teachers), it is obvious that Laurence Berns (who is my age) is a far better teacher than I am. In the first part of his two-part essay, he can speak approvingly of much of what I have had to say about classical thought. Whatever merit I do happen to have in writing about the Classics can be attributed, in no small part, to what I have learned from him (a fellow- student of Leo Strauss) for four decades now. But in the second part of his thoughtful essay, he is obliged to take issue with my assessments of much of American foreign policy since 1945. My failings as a teacher are all too evident there.

Mr. Berns and I differed from the beginning, for example, about the wisdom and propriety of our country’s military interventions in Indochina. The arguments I used, however validated they may now seem to many to be by the unfortunate consequences for us both at home and abroad of the Vietnam War,6 were evidently not cogent enough to persuade Mr. Berns that perhaps he should reconsider the basis of our differing assessments of the conduct of American foreign policy. These differences bear upon how the 1990-1991 Gulf War should be regarded, which is what Mr. Berns is much concerned about in the second part of his essay.

My reservations about the Cold War were thoroughgoing for more than a quarter-century. But there was one lesson I learned from that war which I did not at once apply properly to the Gulf War. That is, I had somehow come to see, early in the Cold War, that the Soviet Union was far less powerful than it was officially taken to be in the United States. This belief was confirmed for me by such experiences as a family camping trip in Russia in the Summer of 1960.7 Now almost everyone knows how weak the Soviet Union long was.

We, therefore, should not have taken at face value the official assessment of Iraqi strength in 1990, assessments which were quickly deflated as soon as we began the hostilities in 1991 which exposed the Iraqis as unable to defend themselves at all from our devastating sea, air, and ground attacks. Thus, the January 1991 debates both in Congress and in the country at large should have been far less concerned about the casualties we would suffer and much more concerned about the slaughter we would inflict upon the Iraqis.

My systematic criticism of our Gulf War may be found in a talk of April 26, 1991, “Overwhelming Power and a Sense of Proportion: From the Melian Dialogue to Desert Storm.”8 That 1991 talk, which is what Mr. Berns is very much troubled by in his essay, opened with this observation:9

“It appears that a quarter of a million people are now dead or dying in the Middle East who probably would be alive and fairly well today if the United States had not decided to go to war in mid-January 1991. Even the terrible depredations visited upon that part of the world by so reckless a man as Saddam Hussein in recent years cannot match what we and our allies, with perhaps the best of intentions, were able to do in less than two months.”

 Among the things I said in concluding that April, 1991 talk were the following:10

“We are going to be in serious trouble at home, in the quarter of a century ahead, if we apply to our domestic problems the same kind of moral obtuseness in the use of power that we resorted to in Vietnam and in the Gulf. (This could be seen on a smaller scare in our exhibitions over Libya and in Grenada and Panama)….

 “The best and noblest instincts of the American people were enlisted by the Administration in the Gulf War. This sort of misdirection can lead, when people come to realize what has (and has not) happened, to cynicism, disillusion, and self-doubt unless a way can be shown to avoid such folly in the future. That way is laid out in the Constitution of the United States, a way that rests upon the informed opinion that the moral judgment of a properly-constituted legislative body (especially if chosen by a free people) is apt to be superior to that of the typical executive….”

            The continued deprivations for the Iraqi people –a people long terrorized into submission by their tyrannical rulers –are due in large part to a determined insensitivity on our part which borders on ruthlessness, which should be distinguished from a sensible toughmindedness. The rate of infant mortality, for example, is reported to have risen sevenfold in Iraq since 1991 to one hundred and forty per thousand.11

Critical to our foreign policy in that region seems to be our concern about oil. This concern does not seem to be shared, at least in the same way, by those nations who rely much more on Persian Gulf oil than we do. I still do not understand why oil should be treated differently from other vial commodities that are subject to considerable control by an international market.12

Mr. Berns reminds us (in his Note 30) of the Saudi ambassador’s challenge –to my mind, an insulting challenge—as to whether the United States would have the “guts” to stand by its military obligations in his region. That was six years ago. Why are our ground troops still needed (if they are) to defend the Kuwaitis and Saudis, peoples who have a combined population roughly equal to that of Iraq and who have as well much greater resources? Why are they, with the help of the training and the latest military equipment available from us, not able by now to make it apparent to Saddam Hussein that they would be able to fend him off? One suspects that they are suffering from something like that welfare dependency which Mr. Berns properly deprecates elsewhere. One also suspects that their regimes are so poorly supported by their own peoples that they dare not build up adequate armies, for such armies might develop generals able to take over their countries as well as to deter the Iraqis.

Thus, we act as if we are prepared to risk American lives to defend self-indulgent oligarchs who should be defending themselves—and who regard us as little better than godless and corrupt mercenaries. On the other hand, we are likely to abandon to the savagery of Saddam Hussein the restless Kurds whose uprisings we deliberately promoted in 1990-1991. Kurdistan, it still seem to me, would be a useful as well as a humane addition to the map of West Asia. In these, as in domestic matters, much is to be said for making the right promises and then keeping them, beginning with the promises that a Constitution represents.

We are reminded by experts of how important it is to preserve Iraq as a counterbalance to Iran. But that is another story, one shameful chapter of which was our failure to make the Iranian rulers suffer vividly (after having been given a firm ultimatum) when they presumed to hold our diplomatic personnel prisoners in the way they did during the Carter Administration. In any event, the continuing Iranian threat to Iraq should make it easier for the Saudis and Kuwaitis to defend themselves against Saddam Hussein and his thugs.

Among the lessons I have attempted to teach about these matters is that the President of the United States should be truly subordinated to Congress when decisions are made to go to war. I find curious, therefore, Mr. Berns’s reliance upon Colin Powell’s account of how the purpose of the Gulf War was framed for us, an account which concludes, “The UN had given us our marching orders, and the President intended to stay within them”13

My limitations as a teacher are particularly exposed here, which is still another lesson we can all thank Mr. Berns for. I have, despite scores of printed pages devoted to this subject, obviously failed to relay effectively (even to an old friend) the lessons available in the Constitution as to who is supposed to have the authority to issue the most critical “marching orders” to our armies (as distinguished from our soldiers assigned, pursuant to Congressional authorizations, to multinational contingents). I must repeat, therefore, that it will hardly do for the President and his men so to manipulate international organizations as to secure the kind of “marching orders” that Congress has more sense than to issue except when faced by a Presidential fait accompli (as it was in January, 1991). Even so, I find quite instructive Mr. Berns’s reflections on Executive Power in his essay, reflections that the lessons taught by Willmoore Kendall can help us asses properly.

It was for me reassuring, during the Cold War, to have someone as well-informed as Laurence Berns (who earned his doctorate in international relations) subject my dissenting opinions about Vietnam to rigorous examination. Similarly, there is much that is reassuring about all six of the essays devoted to my scholarship in this symposium, especially when they are critical, for they suggest that the texts I draw upon are indeed worth taking seriously—that the questions and problems I have posed are worth pondering, whatever may be said of the answers and solutions I happen to offer from time to time. These generous essays may also suggest that the older I get, the better I once was. This bodes well for my reputation in the next century, at least so long as former students of mine with pious inclinations remain active.

George Anastaplo
Loyola University School of Law


    1. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (3rd edition; New York: Macmillan Co., 1958), pt. I, sec. 279.
    2. See, on nature and morality, Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen: Essays on Virtue, Freedom, and the Common Good (Chicago: Swallow Press, 1975), p. 528; Anastaplo, The American Moralist: On Law, Ethics, and Government (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1992), p. 616; Anastaplo, “Lessons for the Student of Law: The Oklahoma Lectures,” Oklahoma City University Law Review, vol. 20, p. 179 (1995); Anastaplo, “Teaching, Nature, and the Moral Virtues,” Part I (to be published in 1997 by The Great Ideas Today). See, on the Idea of the Good, Anastaplo, The Thinker as Artist: From Homer to Plato & Aristotle (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1997), Chapter XI, Part Two. See, also, Anastaplo, “Individualism, Professional Ethics, and the Sense of Community: From Runnymede to a London Telephone Booth;” note 33 (to be published in 1997 by the Loyola University Chicago Law Journal.
    3. See, for example, Anastaplo, “On Trial: Explorations,” Loyola University Chicago Law Journal, vol. 22, p. 767 (Adam and Eve), 821 (Jonah) p. 854 (Abraham and Isaac), p. 882 (trial of Jesus) (1991); Anastaplo, “Rome, Piety, and Law: Explorations,” Loyola of New Orleans Law Review, vol. 39, p. 39 (Paul) (1993); “Lessons for the Student of Law,” p. 97 (Noah and Ham). My seven articles on non Western thought have been published by the Encyclopedia Britannica in its annual volume, The Great Ideas Today (1984, 1985, 1986, 1989, 1992, 1993, 1995) [and subsequently collected in Anastaplo, But Not Philosophy:  Seven Introductions to Non-Loesten Thought (Lexington Books, 2002)]. See, on the self and the soul, Anastaplo, Campus Hate-Speech Codes and Twentieth-Century Atrocities (Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1997), p. 87. See, also, Anastaplo, “Thursday Afternoons,” in K. Wali, ed., S. Chandrasekhar: The Man Behind the Legend (to be published in 1997 by the Imperial College Press).
    4. The American Moralist, pp. 500-91. These were my thoughts at fifty. My thoughts at sixty-five and at seventy may be found in “Lessons for the Student of Law,” pp. 153, 174. See, also, Anastaplo, “Law & Politics,” Political Science Reviewer, vol. XXV, 127 (1996) (recognized by the editor, at p. 3, to be “abundantly footnoted”).
    5. See, on the Rosenberg Case, Anastaplo, The Constitutionalist: Notes on the First Amendment (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press [1971]), p. 825; Anastaplo, “The Occasions of Freedom of Speech,” Political Science Reviewer, vol. V, 383, 390, (1975); “On Trial,” p. 994.
    6. “When he died, McGeorge Bundy was working on a book about war whose main message was that Vietnam was a terrible mistake.” James C. Thomson, Jr., “A Memory of McGeorge Bundy,” New York Times, Sept. 22, 1996, p. E3. Mr. Bundy served as National Security Advisor for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. See, on the Vietnam War, Human Being and Citizen, p. 331; The American Moralist, p. 623.
    7. The Russian segment of our six-month European camping trip took us, in July, 1960, from Warsaw to Minsk, Smolensk, Moscow, Leningrad and Helsinki. See, on the limitations of the Russians and the Soviet Union, James Burnham, “Through the Mirror,” National Review, Nov. 11, 1977, p. 1288. See, also, Anastaplo, “Clausewitz and Intelligence: Some Preliminary Observations,” Teaching Political Science, vol. 16, p. 77 (1989); The Constitutionalist, e.g, p. 742, 805; Human Being and Citizen, p. 330; The American Moralist, pp. 555, 620, 621; “On Freedom,” p. 630. See, on tyranny, Anastaplo, The Artist as Thinker: From Shakespeare to Joyce (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1983), pp. 29, 331; The American Moralist, pp. 37, 51, 144, 161. See, on being publicly “proven right,” Anastaplo, “Mr. Justice Black, His Generous Common Sense, and the Bar Admission Cases,” Southwestern University Law Review, vol. 9, p. 980 (1977).
    8. This April 26, 1991 talk is published in “On Freedom,” pp. 604-30. The principal hostilities in the Gulf War had ended two months before.
    9. Ibid., p. 604. See, on Mr. Berns, The American Moralist, pp. 309, 604.
    10. “On Freedom,” p. 629.
    11. See John Diamond, “CIA director says Hussein even stronger now,” Chicago Sun-Times, September 20, 1996, p. 28. It is now estimated that there may have been 500,000 civilian deaths in Iraq since the Gulf War because of the embargo. Can this possibly be true? See Joseph Gerson, Letters to the Editor, New York Times, September 22, 1996, p. E12; Sarah Helm, “Famine After the Desert Storm,” Sunday Review, Independent on Sunday, London, January 8, 1995; p. 4; Ramsey Clark, Letters to the Editor, New York Times, January 21, 1990, p. 14. My April, 1991 talk presumes to offer the prescription of a toughminded Palestinian resettlement policy for the Israelis to follow that should be in the long-run interest of Palestinians as well as of Jews. See Anastaplo, “On Freedom,” pp. 622-25. See, also, Leo Strauss, Thoughts on Machiavelli (Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press, 1958), pp. 14, 49; Anastaplo, “An Introduction to North American Indian Thought,” Great Ideas Today, vol. 1993, pp. 274f (1993); “Rome, Piety, and Law,” p. 115, n. 329. See, as well, a collection available from me, “’Racism’, Political Correctness, and Constitutional Law: A Law School Case Study” (1995-1996) [and subsequently published in the 1997 South Dakota Law Review].
    12. See, on oil, The American Moralist, pp. xvii, 111, 192, 214-16. Compare Robert D. Griffin, Letter to the Editor, New York Times, September 22, 1992, p. E12.
    13. Colin Powell, My American Journey (New York: Random House, 1995), p. 490. I noted, in my April 1991 talk, that I had been told that we took nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia during the 1990-1991 Gulf War. I renew now the suggestion I ventured then: “An inquiry should be made, preferably by Congress, into what did happen, what we proposed to do with any such weapons and in what circumstances. Such an inquiry should be primarily concerned with establishing a proper policy for the United States.” “On Freedom,” pp. 628-29. See, also, Human Being and Citizen, pp. 57-58, 256-57. It should go without saying that my position has never been an argument for pacifism. See, on conscientious objectors and military conscription, Anastaplo, “Church and State: Explorations,” Loyola University of Chicago Law Journal, vol. 19, pp. 61, 127 (1987). See, also, The American Moralist, p. 586.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s