I fully intend to stop using Glenn Beck as a punching bag, but damn it, there are a few things that I just can’t let slip past me without comment. In a previous post, I linked to a video of a weepy Beck flogging his latest project/marketing vehicle, the so-called 9/12 project (the intent is to bring us all back to that kumbaya, trans-partisan state of nationalism that followed the greatest American tragedy in recent history).
As I stated in said previous post, I’m a big believer in giving people a fair shake, and so I have been giving the 9/12 Project’s website a thorough going-over. One thing I will admit that I like about the project is that it encourages people to read – and, unlike Michael Savage or Bill O’Reilly or any of the other pontificators of the right, Beck actually wants his followers to read *real* books, stuff like the Federalist Papers and Tom Paine’s “Common Sense.” There are some unfortunate right-wing revisionist biographies of various founding fathers tucked in there, but it was a better list than I expected.
As I was browsing, though, I came upon a book that Beck was promoting with unusual fervor, a book with zero name recognition and zero traction in other conservative circles. That book would be The Five Thousand Year Leap by W. Cleon Skousen.
The author’s name was weirdly familiar. Skousen…Skousen…Where had I heard that name before? Then it hit me. Not Willard Cleon Skousen, noted John Bircher, conspiracy theorist, and Utah Mormon McCarthyite?!
Dingdingding. You see, in the mis-spent days of my youth, I developed a fascination with Red Scare literature of the 1950s. I collected this stuff for pure kitsch value; these were the days when the Red Scare was still history and our political discourse hadn’t descended to the point where a bald unlicensed plumber was on the nightly news accusing a moderate Democrat of being a Stalinist.
I amassed a small but entertaining collection of such screeds as You Can Trust The Communists (...To Be Communists) and The Naked Communist. The Naked Communist, interestingly, was penned by one Willard Cleon Skousen, a compound polygamist by birth and a hard-core, “The Rockefellers are in league with Mao!” conspiracy nut. This same Skousen is the author of Beck’s recommended book.
Now, why would Beck include a book by a man possessed of questionable political acumen in an otherwise pretty decent reading list? Let’s parse this a bit. Skousen was a prominent figure in hard-right politics in
Glenn, buddy, if you’re going to use your position in the punditocracy to promote conservative Mormon political theorists, you could probably do better than Skousen, a man who is widely regarded as a crackpot at best and a detriment to your conservative bona fides* at worst. Until Paul T. Mero cranks something out, ditch Skousen and throw a little Oakeshott or Nozick your audience’s way. The world will be a better place because of it.* - I feel I can state this because of a piece from that most steadfast of conservative strongholds, the National Review, where Mark Hemingway opined as follows:
Who is Cleon Skousen you might ask? In answering that question, it’s hard to even know where to begin. Skousen was by turns an FBI employee, the police chief of Salt Lake City, a Brigham Young University professor, consigliore to former secretary of agriculture and Mormon president Ezra Taft Benson and, well, all-around nutjob...
Skousen’s Communist paranoia may have reached it’s apotheosis in 1970 when the Mormon church and BYU in particular began receiving a tremendous amount of external pressure to change the church’s policy on denying the Mormon priesthood to blacks. Skousen, then a professor at BYU, published an article entitled “The Communist Attack on the Mormons” and noted that critics were employing Communist tactics which were “distorting the religious tenet of the Church regarding the Negro and blowing it up to ridiculous proportions.” The Mormon Church reversed course on its discriminatory practices in 1978 and began ordaining black men to the priesthood.
Later in the 70s, Skousen accused the Council on Foreign Relations and the Rockefellers of puppeteering the election of Jimmy Carter to pave the way for One World Government, his new favorite topic. Things got so bad that the Mormon Church eventually issued an official communiqué distancing itself from Skousen’s organization, the Freemen Institute.