A word from W.B. Yeats

I’m out in Aspen at the summer policy conference of the Claremont Institute. The conference, ending tonight, has been simply outstanding. I hope to have a bit more to say about it later. At lunch today I sat next to Claremont Distinguished Fellow William Rusher, the publisher of National Review from 1957 through the magazine’s glory years. For years he held down the conservative side of the terrific PBS debate program “The Advocates.” He told me that the Ford Foundation quit funding the progrm when he regularly won the mail-in votes on the debtes.
At Dartmouth I saw him debate a prominent liberal in 1971 or 1972. I remember almost nothing of what was said, except Rusher’s stirring conclusion with the recitation of a Yeats poem he’d committed to memory. Today I asked him what the poem was, and he recalled that it was Yeats’s “Leaders of the Crowd.” Written in 1921, it’s one of those poems with a political theme that Yeats raises to a level of generality sufficient to make it timeless. Here it is:

They must to keep their certainty accuse
All that are different of a base intent;
Pull down established honour; hawk for news
Whatever their loose fantasy invent
And murmur it with bated breath, as though
The abounding gutter had been Helicon
Or calumny a song. How can they know
Truth flourishes where the student’s lamp has shone,
And there alone, that have no Solitude?
So the crowd come they care not what may come.
They have loud music, hope every day renewed
And heartier loves; that lamp is from the tomb.


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