Terrible news out this morning of the death of Angelo Codevilla, at age 78, reportedly in a car accident.
It is hard to overstate the importance and brilliance of Angelo. If you only knew him by his many books and columns (including this 2015 piece he wrote for Power Line on Trump’s significance and prospects), it would be sufficient to establish his greatness. But he was also at the storm center of key aspects of American intelligence and foreign policy going back more than 40 years.
As a Senate Intelligence Committee staff aide to Wyoming Senator Malcolm Wallop in the late 1970s, Angelo was instrumental in exposing the perils of our arms control strategy vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. But it was also in this same time period that Codevilla and Wallop revived the idea of strategic missile defense, thus setting up President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative in the 1980s. Codevilla was a keen critic of how the Pentagon bureaucracy did its best to delay and undermine even the research program for SDI let alone eventual deployment, such that we still don’t have the robust missile defense capability that technological progress has made eminently possible.
Among his many fine books are a translation of Machiavelli’s Prince, and several books on war, strategy, and intelligence that hold up very well even at a remove of 30 years in some cases. Especially recommended is his book The Character of Nations, which holds up very well because it draws upon vast historical learning that never goes out of style. His co-authored book with Paul Seabury, War: Ends and Means, is also a fantastic primer on how to take warfare seriously. And his book on intelligence, Informing Statecraft, is also a classic that can be read to great use today, because it was less about transient facts such as the Soviet Union and more about the defective culture of our “intelligence” community.
In recent years Angelo took on the mantle of gentleman farmer, growing premium wine grapes up in the Sierra foothills southeast of Sacramento, but where he also continued to issue forth a series of short books (especially The Ruling Class—a favorite of Rush Limbaugh) and notable articles. (See especially his longer essays for the Claremont Review of Books.) Don’t miss what appears to have been his final article for American Greatness a few days ago: “Epitaph for the ‘War on Terror.'” You can see in this article what had long been Codevilla’s central theme: America is unserious about foreign affairs.
Avenging 9/11 and preventing its recurrence was justification for putting enormous effort and money into unrelated or even counterproductive activities the ruling class sold to us as antiterrorism.
Or take in this long interview with Angelo that appeared in The Tablet a while back. Sample:
David Samuels: In 2010, you wrote an article, which then became a book, in which you predicted the rise of someone like Donald Trump as well as the political chaos and stripping away of institutional authority that we’ve lived through since. Did you think your prediction would come true so quickly?
Angelo Codevilla: I didn’t predict anything. I described a situation which had already come into existence. Namely, that the United States has developed a ruling class that sees itself as distinct from the raw masses of the rest of America. That the distinction that they saw, and which had come to exist, between these classes, comprised tastes and habits as well as ideas. Above all, that it had to do with the relative attachment, or lack thereof, of each of these classes to government.
One of the things that struck me about your original piece was your portrait of the American elite as a single class that seamlessly spans both the Democratic and Republican parties.
Of course, yes. Not in exactly the same way, though; what I said was that the Democrats were the senior partners in the ruling class. The Republicans are the junior partners.
The reason being that the American ruling class was built by or under the Democratic Party. First, under Woodrow Wilson and then later under Franklin Roosevelt. It was a ruling class that prized above all its intellectual superiority over the ruled. And that saw itself as the natural carriers of scientific knowledge, as the class that was naturally best able to run society and was therefore entitled to run society.
The Republican members of the ruling class aspire to that sort of intellectual status or reputation. And they have shared a taste of this ruling class. But they are not part of the same party, and as such, are constantly trying to get closer to the senior partners. As the junior members of the ruling class, they are not nearly as tied to government as the Democrats are. And therefore, their elite prerogatives are not safe.
If you have some time to spare, take in this 2014 lecture by Angelo at the Heritage Foundation, where he speaks with his usual bluntness about our national security establishment: