A Study in Naiveté—A Confession of Sorts

George Anastaplo

Dare to be naïve.
—Buckminster Fuller (1975)


             I presume to provide on this occasion (a few hours before the Greek Orthodox Easter) a confession of my serial indulgences in naiveté. Perhaps Harvey Lomax can be of help here, drawing on the considerable work he has done probing the psyche of the confession-prone Jean-Jacques Rousseau, after having done somewhat the same with respect to Friedrich Nietzsche.

            A dozen or so episodes can be recalled by me at this time in an effort to illuminate (or is it really to conceal?) the career that is the ostensible subject of two events today—a panel discussion of my work this afternoon  at a political science gathering and a celebratory reception this evening. These events have been made possible and graced by the efforts of Charles Butterworth, William Braithwaite, Christopher Colmo, Harvey Lomax, Robert L. Stone, and Michael Zuckert.


            I have, for almost four decades now, been called on from time to time to offer birthday talks. Perhaps those talks, with my remarks on this occasion, can be collected and posted on the Internet website established by Joel Rich and maintained by John Metz. The 20,000-plus “hits” received thus far suggest that someone is interested in that somewhat improbable enterprise.


            My explorations in naiveté can be said to have started with my insistence upon enlisting, at age 17, in the Air Cadet Program of the United States Army Air Corps. That service was a remarkably liberating experience, taking me as far west as Formosa, as far south as Liberia, and as far east as Saudi Arabia. All that was, in short, a long way (spiritually as well as physically) from the small town I grew up in Southern Illinois after having almost been killed by diphtheria (I am told) in the city of my birth, St. Louis. In my case, at least, repeated volunteering has proved to be most rewarding, even though I could wonder at times whether I would survive my military service. (One odd consequence of my years of service as an aerial navigator is that I have not worn a watch ever since. I can even wonder whether that has anything to do with my avoidance of e-mail.)


            Then there was my decade-long encounter with the Character and Fitness Committee of the Illinois Bar. I learned very soon that I would not get much support in my folly from either my law school teachers or my classmates (no matter what I said about the crippling and hence dangerous effects among us of Cold War “witch hunts”). Indeed, most of my teachers even seemed to resent what I was doing, not least because of what I was presuming to say about the Declaration of Independence and the right of revolution. My classmates were, in their vulnerability, understandably wary—but, at least, they were not hostile, especially since a good third of them must have made use, at one time or another in law school, of the very good course notes I was known to be making. I notice in passing here that there has been published this year, by the Oxford University Press, a collection of essays on the First Amendment using as its title the closing sentence in Justice Hugo Black’s magnificent dissent in my bar admission case, “We must not be afraid to be free.” (The same title was used, a couple of decades ago, in an exhibit about Dissidents mounted in the Soviet Union by a San Francisco lawyer.) A comment, on the unfriendly reception to the bar admission controversy by my law school dean, was made by me in the course of a May 2011 interview posted on the Chicago Bar Association website (during which I noticed, however, that that man got better and better the more power he got).


            A far more hostile reaction than even that of most of my law school teachers was exhibited by Sidney Hook, a reformed Leninist who was then the chairman of the philosophy department of New York University. I, as a graduate student, had naively presumed to write him about a Cold War issue. (His general Cold War stance was such that he later opposed the American withdrawal from Vietnam.) I continue to be startled when I have returned to this correspondence (which has long been deposited at the Hoover Institute and which is now also on my wordpress site). The unrelenting passion he exhibited, in taking a presumptuous student to task, can sometimes make me wonder how we managed to avoid turning the Cold War into a Very Hot General Conflagration.


            Once I finished my doctoral dissertation—which, by the way, was never submitted to my faculty for formal approval but was simply accepted, sight unseen, upon the insistence of David Grene—once I finished it, I prepared it for publication and offered it to the University of Chicago Press. I learned, years later, that the Press’s editors had wanted to publish it, but they could not do so after an outside reader from Yale came down hard against it. This turned out for the good, however, in that I was able (because of years of delay) to prepare the hundreds of pages of notes that remain (at least for me) the continuing attraction of that 800-page book (which was reissued in an expanded version a few years ago).


            A further exercise in naiveté, in connection with that book, could be seen in my expectation about book reviews. I eagerly consulted the New York Times the Sunday after publication in 1971. But, alas, I have had a score of books published by now—and none of them has been noticed by the New York Times. The Chicago Sun-Times once noticed my work, but stopped doing so when I made some critical remarks in a review commissioned by them of one of their favorite authors. (I was nevertheless asked, years later, to speak at a memorial service for that author.)


            Then there was my expulsion from the Soviet Union in 1960. An article about me, in the current issue of the University of Chicago Magazine, has gotten the story right. That is, I had presumed to advise a car of English tourists (who included a daringly-dressed niece of the then-Archbishop either of Canterbury or of York) that they should not continue the disturbance they were creating on a Moscow street by distributing copies of an American magazine they had been given at the American Embassy. When the police rounded them up I was apprehended as well as one who had been seen “associated” with them. Particularly noteworthy was the determination of my 5’2’’ wife, pushing her way past my guards to get our car keys for herself and our children. If she had been a better driver, she might well have taken the car and children and left for the Finnish border, leaving me to deal with my folly. This episode contributed to a 1972 passage in C. Herman Pritchett’s work that may be his most quoted lines: “As W.C. Fields might have said, any man who is kicked out of Russia, Greece and the Illinois bar can’t be all bad.”


            Then there was the visit scheduled with Justice Black at the Supreme Court, culminating the correspondence we had after my litigation. I was also scheduled on that occasion to visit Leo Strauss in Annapolis. I had mentioned this to Hans Jonas at a conference we were attending. He expressed an interest in accompanying me to Annapolis, which I agreed to. It thereafter occurred to me, however, that I should alert Mr. Strauss about an extra visitor. His response was firm: I was welcome to come at any time, but not Mr. Jonas. (This antipathy was due, it seems, to the Jonas reconciliation with Martin Heidegger.) What could I do? I decided (perhaps naively) that the only way to get out of a quite sticky situation was to return to Chicago, cancelling all appointments (that is, especially at the Supreme Court and in Annapolis). And thus I forfeited my opportunity to visit with Justice Black. (I do not recall the date of my reluctance, at least on that occasion, to lie myself out of my difficulty—but it can probably be determined by consulting the Black-Anastaplo correspondence file deposited, I believe, in the Library of Congress.)


            Then there was my involvement in Greek Affairs after the Colonels’ Coup in April 1967. I believe I was the only American ever to be declared persona non grata by the Colonels (something that was done twice), in large part because of articles critical of them that I wrote which were put in the Congressional Record by Law School classmates of mine, Abner J. Mikva and Patsy T. Mink. I was particularly concerned about what both our State Department and influential Greek-Americans were doing to keep a band of dangerously incompetent Colonels in power. I, in conversations in Rome with King Constantine II, presumed to advise him that he should return to Greece (after his failed Counter-coup of December 1967). “But they would arrest me,” he replied. That would be even better, I presumed to say, but to no effect—and that, I still believe, cost him his throne. He has lived ever since in exile, in England (where he is a friend of Prince Philip). I campaigned thereafter for the restoration to power in Athens of Constantine Karamanlis, living in self-imposed exile in Paris. I even had a visit with the Greek Desk people in our State Department (evidently arranged by someone in the C.I.A. who agreed with my assessments)—but I got nowhere. Then there was the Colonels’ desperate effort to redeem themselves by taking over Cyprus—and this led to the disturbing Turkish occupation of part of that island (to this day) and to the fall of the Colonels in July 1974 (upon which Mr. Karamanlis did return to power in Greece). By that time I was “booked” for the summer, unable to return to Greece until the spring of 1975. But during those six months I heard nothing from anyone in Greece—and I recognized that the Greeks would be able to carry on without me, and so I stayed home. The only Greek I have heard from since 1974 is King Constantine, who sends us (from London) every year a very nice Christmas card featuring a photograph of his ever-growing family.


Then there were some silly charges of “racism” leveled against several of the faculty at Loyola. I was the only one who responded publicly, left pretty much to my own devices by my colleagues (who probably figured it would all “blow over” if simply ignored). (Much more could have been done by me at that time if Bill Braithwaite had still been on our faculty.) I mounted my own campaign which resulted in articles published by me in the South Dakota Law Review. Those articles elicited an enthusiastic endorsement from Gerald Gunther, the leading constitutional law casebook editor in our time.


Then there was the launching, in my seventy-fifth year and thereafter, of three major “projects.” The first “project” is a collection of a dozen conversations with a Holocaust Survivor from Lithuania. Half of these are now in print. The second “project” is a running commentary (in the Thucydidean mode) on the September Eleventh attacks and their aftermath. There are by now some five hundred pages of such commentary in print. Another law school classmate, Ramsey Clark (a former Attorney General of the United States) has agreed to provide a Foreword if these materials should ever be collected in one offering. The third “project” is a contemplated series of ten volumes of “constitutional sonnets.” Four of the volumes are now in print and a fifth should be out next year (and all without any notes!).


Then there are my travel plans—or, perhaps more precisely, by un-travel plans. I have decided, despite my considerable interest in Confucian thought, not to venture a trip to China. Members of my family have gone—but I am really too old to be sidetracked by months (if not even by years) of unwanted attention from a tyrannical regime if I should be moved to say something controversial while there. I have decided it is more prudent for me to observe China from a distance, including in a series of articles (now available on the Internet) in which I have deplored the shortsighted Chinese Government’s efforts to subjugate Tibet and Taiwan.


Then there is, finally, an encounter I recently had at an academic conference in New York City where a son of the executed spies, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (who is a respectable Eastern academic) was a participant. He reminded me at once that we had been together on a Chicago broadcast several decades ago. “You were right,” he then conceded in New York about the Rosenberg Espionage controversy, “when you insisted that the Death Penalty was the issue, not Guilt or Innocence.” This had finally become generally apparent, it seems, when a Rosenberg co-conspirator confessed a few years ago to espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union (but not to atomic espionage).


I have recalled a dozen indulgences in naiveté during my career. Perhaps it is particularly naïve (to the point of supreme folly) to try to proceed as if I can continue doing indefinitely (if not “forever”) what I have long been doing. This perseverance may reflect, I suppose, what is known as “the Human Condition”—and, as such, may be more or less desirable, if not even inevitable, for reasoning beings, however mortal they may really be.

Thus, I can close these reminiscences by recalling a recent session of the weekly University of Chicago Physics Colloquium that I have been attending for decades. The topic on that occasion was, with all kinds of data and charts: “Do worms sleep?” I, on the other hand, could not help but wonder throughout that talk, “Are worms ever awake?”
These remarks were made, April 14, 2012, at an evening celebration following upon a panel discussion, that afternoon, of the work of George Anastaplo. That panel had been part of the annual Midwest Political Science Association convention at the Palmer House in Chicago, Illinois.

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