Jim Leach is the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. We have chronicled his speeches in a series of posts that seeks to penetrate the essential Leach.
He doesn’t think much of us, and he’s not reluctant to let us know. But he does think highly of himself. Even though he has a staff capable of writing or editing his speeches, he thinks he doesn’t need the help. But Leach badly needs a course in remedial writing. Short of such a course, he needs the writer’s equivalent of an intervention. Does Leach lack a friend who can stop him before he sets pen to paper again?
Leach customarily holds himself out as having read Lawrence Durrell’s highly literary Alexandria Quartet and has taken to using the Quartet as a teaching tool in his speeches. One wonders, however, whether someone who has read all four novels of the Alexandria Quartet would say, as Leach does, that “Certain frameworks of thought define rival ideas,” or that “The choice for leaders is whether to opt for unifying statesmanship or opportunistic partisanship.” I would like not to think so.
Last year I took a look at Leach’s “Bridging cultures: NEH and the Muslim world.” It is an atrocious speech that Leach gave to the Carnegie Corporation of New York. In “Jim Leach’s bridge to nowhere” I took a stab at conveying the substance of the speech. I would like to return to the speech to highlight a few sayings of Chairman Jim that deserve to be noted for the record:
I want to stress a theme that might seem self-evident but is seldom given the attention it deserves. To wit, relations between countries are only in part a dialogue of one government with another. Actually, it is businessmen and women, unelected people of good will, be they artists, scholars or students, who are more integral to defining the tone of relations between states than public officials…
Just as government is a part of culture and not vice-versa, cultural relations are often more consequential than political ones. Public officials and their views come and go; culture may evolve but it is a weighty constant….
If this premise has validity, the national interest suggests that whatever the politics of the moment in nation-state relations, citizen effort, consistent with law, should be undertaken to reach out to those societies with which tension is highest….
Ah, the tension. Leach was just getting warmed up for this:
At the turn of the last century, two controversial political sociologists from Italy, Mosca and Pareto, attempted to update an undertaking of Aristotle and chronicle the types of governments then in existence. One of their observations that seems trite but carries profound implications is that whatever kind of government is in place, it is impressive how at key moments powerful elites are empowered to make decisions of a kind that impact multitudes.
Leach’s style is what I would call educated illiterate. Whatever Mosca and Pareto were saying, we won’t be able to discern it from Leach. And I am quite sure that neither Mosca nor Pareto is responsible for deep thoughts such as this one that follows in the next paragraph:
At the time of our founding, one of the principal concerns of our first citizens was to limit the capacity of a single person–in this case a presidency shorn of kingly authority–to initiate war. Today the challenge for citizens is to help make the need for government officials to instigate war less likely.
And don’t forget this:
There is something about the human condition that prefers governing decisions, even seemingly irrational ones, to be made at socially cohesive levels.
We are not even half way through the speech, but our eyes are beginning to close. Awake or asleep, the citizens in Leach’s audience were undoubtedly dreaming of a better world. Leach says the challenge “for citizens is to help make the need for government officials to instigate war less likely.” On this day, however, the challenge was for citizens to stay awake and suppress their laughter.