So Leach has undertaken a 50-state tour as chairman of the NEH to instruct Americans in the virtues of civility. Yet while instructing his audiences in the virtues of civility Leach provides instruction of another kind. He shows how the advocacy of civility can be used as a political tool to disparage your political opponents and invite them to stifle themselves. Leach was at it again in his April 2010 Chancellor’s Colloquium lecture at the University of California, Davis.
In this speech we get Leach’s teaching on civility. Leach scrupulously avoided any discussion of the then recent incident at the University of California, Irvine, a school in the same system as UC Davis. At UC Irvine a Muslim student group shouted down Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren and prevented Oren from speaking. There is no hint anywhere in Leach’s Davis speech that a Muslim might be capable of incivility. Whatever the merits of civility, occasionally one needs to be reminded that courage is one of the classic virtues.
We get Leach’s take on the role of civility in human affairs: “There are few greater threats to civilization than intolerance.” As can be seen in spots around the world that Leach doesn’t care to mention. We get Leach’s thoughts on “the never-sleeping nature of history” which, in Leach’s hands, ironically becomes a sure cure for insomnia. We get Leach’s framing of the Holocaust in history: “While the past may at times have murky dimensions, there is clarity about the Holocaust.” Leach is apparently a little murky on the lack of clarity about the Holocaust in the Arab/Muslim world.
We get Leach’s speculation on the possible fate of Einstein’s out-of-wedlock daughter with “his Serbian girl friend.” Leach postulates that she might have died in the Holocaust. He speculates further that if she did die in the Holocaust, she might otherwise have lived to cure cancer. If she did die in the Holocaust but would otherwise have lived and cured cancer, she offers a lesson in the price of intolerance: “Does this not underscore that mankind’s greatest sin was mankind’s greatest loss?” Maybe!
We get another quotation for the book: “It is our obligation to recognize the forewarnings of history.” If only we could recognize them! We get Leach on politics, through a glass darkly: “Politicians routinely develop conflicts that do not technically rise to a legal standard of corruption because legislated law and now judicial fiat have weakened that standard.” But somehow we know what he means!
We get Leach on Thucydides’ “didactic chronicle of the Peloponnesian Wars” and this thought: “The democratic seed that popped so briefly up on a rocky peninsula facing the Mediterranean Sea incubated for centuries with sporadic budding across the world before its eventual transplantation to our fertile soil.” Hey, it’s not Donald Kagan or Victor Davis Hanson, but it’ll have to do.
Previously: An introduction, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. Tomorrow: We conclude with Part 6.
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