Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie’s newspaper career spanned nearly half a century. In 1965, he joined The Richmond News Leader. Four years later he became the Editor of its Editorial Pages — a position he continued to hold (until his 2007 retirement) with the Richmond Times-Dispatch following its 1992 merger with The News Leader. Mackenzie served in Richmond as editorial-page editor of its two dailies for a record total of 38 years; he wrote his twice-weekly nationally syndicated column for 30 years — from 1981 until 2011. During the course of his career as an editor and columnist, Mackenzie wrote more than 22,000 editorials and columns. In a 1982 page-one profile, The Washington Post termed him one of the nation’s most consequential editors. Praxis interviewed him for his perspective on Western Civilization and his insights regarding shifts in American culture, values, politics, and the press.

Introduction

Doug Monroe:

We are rolling.

Doug Monroe:

Okay, great. Ross, thank you so much for doing this. You asked the question, how did I make the cut? And I started thinking about that. And I think Maria and I were sitting around our office, and we were probably thinking about all the silliness that we were seeing on TV, pretty much over the last year, and how the world to a lot of people has become sort of circus like, and we get a little tired of all that, and sometimes we need serious answers, and we go looking for adults. We want some adults in the room that can give cogent answers in a friendly way but have some weight behind it, and your name came right to the top, because we had more or less grown up reading your editorials, and we always felt like there was a mature statement being made in a way that people could understand, regular people could understand. So that’s why you made the cut. And so I just want to tell you how grateful we are that you are here to answer these questions.

A 41-Year Career in Journalism!!!

Ross Mackenzie:

Sure. It began maybe in college when I ended up with a column. And so then when I was graduating from college, I talked to one of my mentors, William Buckley, who said, “Well, when you’re ready to go to get into newspapers, let me know”. And so I wound up in Richmond and it was a happy conjunction because they were looking for a new editor at that time or beginning to look. And I walked in the door and 1965 and in ’69 I was named editor and things just went on from there. It was very fortuitous for me. And then after that, I started my column in 1980 and did that for 30 years syndicated. So yeah, that was a very happy circumstance.

Doug Monroe:

You ruined the curve for everyone who job hops today.

Ross Mackenzie:

Well-

Doug Monroe:

You were hired to be the boss and as long as you didn’t blow it prior to getting the appointment, and obviously you did well there.

Ross Mackenzie:

And of course it was one of the premier editors chairs in the nation, the people who went before. These were wonderful people, Pulitzer prize winners, or two of them and one of them who should have been. But they were big, big shoes and a big chair to fill.

Doug Monroe:

That’s an amazing story.

Ross Mackenzie:

And I ended up sitting in that chair longer than any of the other predecessors, so 38 years in that chair.

Comments on Traditional Journalism

Doug Monroe:

We’ll get to journalism, but it was really at a time when there was a lot of power in that seat.

Ross Mackenzie:

It was. And newspapers have changed dramatically, and we can get to that later. But it was. I think that a lot of the editors in those days used to think that they were tremendously powerful and changed people’s minds all the time. But I don’t think that that happened very often.

Doug Monroe:

It influenced more than you may think. But anyway, it was a pleasure to read your columns. I know your parents had a large influence. Could you describe them, particularly your dad, you mentioned?

Your parent’s influence on you?

Ross Mackenzie:

Right. So my dad was a New Zealander who had been sent off to school in England, oldest son. Wound up arriving in England in boarding school in 1914 and was in boarding school ’14 to ’18. And, of course, those were the years of World War I, and at the end of World War I, he and a bunch of guys said, “Well, let’s go down and fly for this Royal Air Force.” And so after training and learning about the aircraft, which were basically flying coffins, he spent six weeks in the war before the armistice.

And it’s just been always astounding to me that here 15 years after Kitty Hawk, people like my dad were flying in combat. It just staggers my mind to even think about that. And he went on to the University of Edinburgh and undergraduate and medical school, and then came over and met my mother. And that’s all she wrote.

She was quite a gal, and I think I learned from her. From both of their examples, I learned a great deal. And I learned from her, probably anything else, the tapping of that pool of intuition that some of us are blessed to have, and she had it and…

Your 2 year study under Leo Strauss?

Ross Mackenzie:

Leo Strauss was a counter revolutionary, in that he led the assault on behaviorism in the academy. Now, what does that mean? It means that political science so-called, which rose under the concept of political theory, studying how man ought to behave in a political environment, had been taken off over by the behaviorists who said, “You know, we don’t need to study this anymore. We need to study how man does behave because only once we learn how man does behave in a political environment, then can we begin to shape him and make society better,” which is what contemporary liberalism is all about today.

Strauss said we need to get back to the ought here, and so he led the move back into taking on the behaviorist departments. Now for a while, that battle succeeded. And you walked onto a campus, and even now, if you walk onto a campus and say you’re a Straussian, you have immediately identified yourself as to what you believe and where you stand relative to these academic departments. Now, behaviorism has continued to gain… Behaviorism is essentially political sociology. And it’s no longer a science. There are too many variables when you’re studying the human being to be really a science.

We’re talking more about feelings. Strauss was this revolutionary figure who said that we need to get back to the study of ancients and moderns, the study of the traditional philosophers. And I spent two years with him in close study, close textual analysis, of primarily the ancients but some semi-modern such as Machiavelli and Vico and Spinoza, Maimonides… But more Plato, more Aristotle.

How did Dr. Strauss influence you as a journalist?

Ross Mackenzie:

… And it was this close textual analysis that helped me understand a little bit about what I was getting into. When I arrived in Chicago on a grant, he said, “Now Mr. Mackenzie, I understand that you are going into newspapers.” And I said, “Well, that’s the intent.” He said, “Well then, you and I are going to be spending the next two years studying one word.” And I said, “Okay.” And he said, “We are going to be studying persuasion.” And I said, “Well, okay, let’s get on with it.” And so we did. And ultimately we would spend weeks on a paragraph of Maimonides, or weeks on a couple of sentences in Machiavelli. And the ultimate thing we were, I think, trying to do, was to reconcile how you can study, how you can have order without oppression and reconcile it with liberty that is not licensed. And so after two years I was ready to rock.

The role of humor in persuasion?

Ross Mackenzie:

So humor, to my mind, is one of the great elements that we have for persuasion. It makes points so easily where dialogue and long discussion can’t. It’s particularly useful in arguing against liberals because they insist on being taken seriously. And when you don’t take a liberal seriously, you’re really getting into his oatmeal. And I learned that primarily from William Buckley. National Review was always good with the jape and the rapier, getting it into the ribs as opposed to swinging the broad axe. I found that when I was in Richmond as editor on the editorial page, in the writing, I used to work on having almost daily, a short piece, as opposed to a long piece. And have it have a light aspect to it. So it would attract the reader over into this vast sea of ink and maybe give them something to smile at, or laugh at, or inform them in a light way, and then they might stay and hang around for the longer pieces.

The cartoonists became a critical. When I arrived, the News Leader did not have a cartoonist. It had had only one in its history, a fellow named Art Wood. And MacNelly came along and within a year of his, well, in his first full calendar year of being on my staff, he won the Pulitzer Prize. He was not quite the youngest by a couple of months ever to have won it. Mauldin was the youngest to win it at 23 and, let’s say, one month, and MacNelly won it 23 and five months, or something like that. They were both 23, as I recall. MacNelly went on to win two more Pulitzer Prizes. Then he was succeeded when he left by Bob Gorrell, who was just wonderful. And Gary Brookins was at the Times Dispatch and he came to me when we merged the News Leader into the Times Dispatch. And the humor that they expressed was something that drew people to the editorial pages, in a way, because they knew that they could go there and reliably find something to smile about even on the greatest of days. So very, very important.

William Buckley’s influence on you?

Ross Mackenzie:

Well, he was one of the great influences in my life. I worked for him for two summers when I was in college and did a book with him about the study of domestic communism. I came to my views through anti-communism, by reading some of the defector books, the stories that these people had wrote about their saga under communist regimes, and they had escaped and wrote about them. And these had been awfully powerful to me. Buckley was this wide armed personality with this wide ranging mind and very engaging individual who could bring disparate aspects of the conservative movement, so called, into the tent. He could bring in the anti-communist. He could bring in the virtue, people like Russell Kirk. He could bring in the libertarians and keep them all together in this tent, by the strength of his intellect and his personality.

And that spilled over into me, I guess. I feel that was a major influence in my own development and enhanced my views beyond the anti-communism that brought me to the conservative movement in general. I don’t like the word conservative because it tends to identify one’s self in terms of the other side. And I view myself as a moderate, but I think we all tend to view ourselves as moderates. We don’t think of ourselves as extremists or some kind of a nut. We all think we’re moderates. And I don’t like to go off note on that sense. I don’t want to be forced into a rhetorical discussion of where I stand because of how I’m labeled by somebody who largely disagrees with me.

Now, so I think that I like the word moderate. Or centrist. So the left will often speak as though, “There’s nobody here in this room, but us centrists. you guys are way over here on the right and we’re just here in the middle and then you’ve got those… Well, who’s on the left? Well, oh, those communists.” Actually the communists are over here, but the fascists are over here and this distinction between the fascists and the communists as being somehow different. One being left and one being right is intellectual fraud. They both essentially come from the same seeds. And they’re essentially the same thing, albeit by a different name.

Doug on Communism’s New Found Relevance

Doug Monroe:

Exactly. Again, I’ve got to move on. By the way, we finished the first section and that wasn’t too bad. It’s a little over 20 minutes.

Ross Mackenzie:

Okay.

Doug Monroe:

And so we’ll move along. But the whole analysis of looking at what happened behind the Berlin Wall in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union, people are starting to dip back into that kind of reading and thinking and interviewing people that still have memory and they’re applying it not to over there, but to here. And people are starting to write about that. So what you did your study on with Mr. Buckley is becoming fresh again. It’s crazy. All right. Are you okay? You want some water or anything like that?

Ross Mackenzie:

I think I’m good. What question are we on here?

What’s your worldview?

Ross Mackenzie:

I would say it’s the Judeo-Christian tradition. It’s the West. It’s the 10 Commandments. It’s the Golden Rule. It’s natural right. 10 Commandments, particularly five to 10, respect your parents, don’t steal, don’t kill people. That’s pretty basic stuff. And act honorably. Golden rule, do unto others. That’s the way I roll and that’s my old view, and ain’t too complex.

Do you believe in the supernatural?

Ross Mackenzie:

The answer is yes. I think that man needs some kind of connection to the transcendent, some kind of connection to the other. Whether there’s a heaven, I’m not sure about, but I sort of like the idea of Woody Allen who says, well, when he’s heading out, just in case there’s a heaven, he’s going to take an extra pair of underwear.

And yet I think Resurrection is real. And without the Resurrection, there is no Christianity. Without the Resurrection, there’s only a comic book aspect to Christianity that is not much beyond Superman. So, yes, it’s important, and it’s real. I think that my view on religion has also been enhanced by recent experiences in life where miracles have played a very important role in my continuing even to live. Two cancers and a broken neck and aspects of those incidents, particularly the last, which are beyond coincidental.

There is something there. There are angels. There is something, and I think that man needs that belief. Otherwise, it comes down to a barren humanism that says there is nothing beyond ourselves. The cosmos is so vast and so complex and so interconnected, That one says, “The more I learn about science, the more I become a believer in something else.” So that’s about where I am.

How important Judaism and Christianity to Western Civ?

Ross Mackenzie:

Well, they’re its essence. There’s no question that without Judaism or the Judeo-Christian tradition, the West wouldn’t be the West. It summarizes why we are in the dominant position that we’ve become. When I say we, I mean, America and the Commonwealth countries, largely not exclusively, but the Europeans, the English speakers. We tend to be inheritors of this tradition and believers in its values. And those values are what we have come to do, come to believe and embrace, through our a priori knowledge and our a posteriori knowledge. And they just make the West what it is, critically, crucially important to what we are and what we became, at least for a while.

Doug Monroe:

We’re kind of dedicated just as an advertisement to taking a 2000 year look at that rather than chopping it up into a thousand little pieces where you can be destroyed by your enemy. Really it’s important to understand the long term there about Western history. So, where do…

Ross Mackenzie:

You know, Oakeshott had a wonderful phrase and he said, Michael Oakeshott, and he said, you know, we’re having a conversation, I may have more to say about the word conversation here in a minute. We’re having, here in the Western Judeo-Christian tradition, we’re having a conversation that began in the primeval forests. And as we go along, we learn more. The conversation that we have within ourselves and with those who went before has brought us to where we are now. And the best parts of that conversation tend to be those who were operating within the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Doug Monroe:

That was a great corrective, though. It’s actually a 4,000 or 5,000 year our conversation and it’s since the beginning of recorded time. You know, whenever we learn to write and have language.

How do we obtain our worldviews? And you yours?

Ross Mackenzie:

So I think that we come, we come to our worldview through two avenues. One avenue is the avenue of a priori knowledge, which is the knowledge that we’re born with. And this I think is one of the great divides in humankind, the belief that all of our knowledge, so that one group believes that all of our knowledge is experiential. It comes to us after we are born. And another group says, yeah, but we know certain things about right and wrong and good and bad. Maybe even before we come out of the womb it’s information, it’s knowledge that we are born with. It may not, we may not be able to articulate it when we’re, when we’re born, but thereafter we come to know it internally. And so I think that as we, as we, as we grow older, we meld our a priori knowledge with our experiential knowledge to give us what may be our worldview.

So it comes to me, to me, it comes from my parents, their example, they’re bringing out the knowledge that I was, that I was born with enhancing it, and then applying the experience, experiences that we have in life and the mentors we have Leo Strauss, William Buckley, others who have influenced me along the way. And I think that this divide, which I was mentioning a minute ago, this divide between a priori and a posteriori is also the divide between reason and revelation. Between the is, and the ought, the fact/value distinction that Hume talked about so vividly. We know certain things, we have certain values and they are either suppressed through experience or brought out through experience and they give us the view that we have as we become adults.

Has any one experience influenced you?

Doug Monroe:

We’re, we’re done with that section. I just want to ask a short little question here. Is there anyone that you haven’t mentioned that has had a particularly important influence on your worldview?

Ross Mackenzie:

I think right now the experience that I mentioned of my broken neck has been profoundly important to me in bringing me to a more… to heighten my awareness of the sense that there is something else out there that is sitting on my shoulder or looking out for me.

Doug Monroe:

Gotcha. So it’s an experience, not a person-

Ross Mackenzie:

It’s an experience. Not a question.

Doug Monroe:

… In many ways. And that’s often what it is for a lot of people too. Well, thank you for that. I still haven’t gotten that article from St. Mary’s, but I’m getting it and we’ll probably post it.

Is place or home important?

Ross Mackenzie:

We have lived for 47 years in a rural setting in West of Richmond in Goochland. And as I drove up the driveway every day, I could sort of feel the weight of the world and my cares fall away. And I think that the concept of place is very, very important in how our lives are going to unfold. This was a house that passed the nudity test. You could take your clothes off and circumnavigate your house, and nobody would see you. So how great can that be? And so place is just very important and also the idea of aloneness as opposed to congestion is very important. I think that as we become a congested people, we’ve seen with studies with mice time after time, mice and the laboratory rats, that the more people you have in a congested area or the more living creatures you have, sometimes these people go wacky and they go off their game and they become uncontrollable and they do unpredictable things.

And so I just do love the fact that we were able to live in a quasi-isolated environment and live our lives and grow and raise as a family in that sort of setting.

Doug Monroe:

It’s funny, the Rappahannock River Bridge going north gives me that feeling of going home, where you leave it behind. And it’s wonderful.

What and where is Rivendell?

Ross Mackenzie:

Well, I should say that Westernesse and Rivendell, they’re words, both come from Tolkien, who is one of, I think, the great writers of the 20th century. And Westernesse was a name for Numenor where whence Aragorn came and it was the land of the last good men and how appropriate was that?

So Rivendell was the place of retreat and restoration. And Rivendell, in our sense was the name of a remote log cabin, 10 miles from the nearest light bulb. You had to swim across a river to get there the first time and swim back the last time and get the canoe out of the cabin and had no running water and it had no electricity.

And you could just get there and once you got there, the practice was to take your watch off so time didn’t matter. And you could pull up the draw bridge. The river was right there five yards from the front door, a little bank that dropped down to the river. And you were just yourself. And you could be the way you wanted to be as a family or as an individual. And it was our cathedral in the woods. It was where we went to church but for a longer period of time than just one hour on Sunday, we could go out there and be there for days and weeks.

And you wouldn’t have to deal with questions of whether Al and Tipper Gore were the model for the Love Story. You didn’t have to worry about that stuff. Or whether Al Gore invented the internet, didn’t have to worry about that stuff. And when Richard Nixon resigned, I learned about it by the fellow who is at the general store 10 miles away. My office had called and he had driven out and he honked the horn and he said, “Hey Ross, call your office, Nixon resigned.” And so I had to go back and write the piece in a phone booth on the highway 10 miles away. So anyway, it’s a wonderful place where you could grow and be yourself and not have to worry about the other out there.

Is Nature our teacher?

Doug Monroe:

Okay, so, I’m going to read what you wrote about it, and I’m going to combine this, maybe, with another question, with your permission, about natural law, a little bit. Because I’ve heard you mention that without my prompting really. Is man meant for being in nature literally? And here’s a quote from one of your editorials about Rivendell, “The woods are a cathedral of nature that invigorate the individual, torn by the secularities and mediocrities of society.”

Ross Mackenzie:

So the answer is yes, man is meant to be in a natural society. I think we learned this from many people and some of the great ones like Jefferson, who wrote extensively on the role of the agrarian life in mankind. We have a quote on the wall at the cabin from Wordsworth, which says, “One impulse from the vernal wood can teach you more of man, of moral evil and of good than all the sages can.” And yeah, I think in the woods you learn about growth, germination growth and decay, as much as you can, or far more than you can from a more urban life. So I think it’s important to realize that people from Thoreau to Annie Dillard are going to the woods and writing about nature for good reason. And the reason is that the lessons are there if only we will only do our homework and read them.

What happens to man removed from nature?

Ross Mackenzie:

I think we’re seeing the removal of man from nature in our psychiatrists’ consultation rooms. I think we miss a lot of what the good Lord or the Judeo-Christian tradition intended for us if we don’t have that connection with nature that so many of our parents felt for us getting us off into the woods, into nature for a week at a camp or whatever. They’d take us off on weekends or we’d go to the parks. Parents knew it for their children, and I think we, as a culture, know it for each other, but those who are isolated from nature, I think don’t learn its lessons and consequently don’t act from the benefit of the lessons that it could teach if they were exposed to them. I think we see it with the impoverished and these boys clubs and girls clubs who take young people into nature, into natural environments, to expose them to the liberation that you can feel and the connectedness to natural things.

Doug Monroe:

The couple camps I’ve been associated with that have brought kids from inner city out to camp, it has a huge impact on them.

Ross Mackenzie:

Yes.

Doug Monroe:

It’s really amazing.

Your whole family each year to MI wilderness cabin Rivendell?

Ross Mackenzie:

Oh, yeah. Well, there were four, plus the dog. The various dogs. So it’s quite a trip, up to 22 hours, each way. So we used to do a lot of, also on travel, we got into audio books. When you had a four year old and a six year old, who we would get to the end of our driveway, and they would say, “Are we there yet?” You had to come up with something else. So we did “The Wind in the Willows” and “Swiss Family” and “Robinson Crusoe.” And after that, I got into my commute between from Goochland to Richmond, I got into doing books on tape and it was just a wonderful release to be able to read and drive the same time. That’s pretty good.

But at the cabin, yes, we would go out there and we would just be a group of four and people would say, “Well, what do you do there?” I said, “Well, we shoot and we canoe and we swim and-” “You fish?” “Yeah, we fish.” Right. “So what else do you do?” “Well, we read books and we sit around campfires at night and talk.” Yeah. “But when the kids are in bed, what do you and Jenny do?” I said, “You don’t get it. That’s what we do.” So.

Doug Monroe:

Well, I would say, I think the rest of the story is sitting behind me right here.

Ross Mackenzie:

Well, the rest of the story is a very important part of the story.

Doug Monroe:

And the logistics of doing all that. I can’t imagine it must have taken quite a lot of preparation.

Ross Mackenzie:

Well, she’s been wonderful, and throughout my life, and particularly during the cabin years, when she would go up there in these primitive conditions, and she did very well.

How did the 1960’s negatively impact America?

Ross Mackenzie:

So the ’60s were a point at which we began to change the consensus about what America was all about. We had, theretofore, a consensus about the virtue of the American experience. That these men who gathered in one place in 1776, and again in 1787. One of the more miraculous aggregations of humankind and intellect in the history of the west. Somehow this was not exceptional for what they did. That they did not launch us on a path of exceptionalism as a country.

And I think a culmination of that came, there have been many culminations, came in shortly after Obama was elected president when he went and gave his Cairo speech. And he said, “The concept of American exceptionalism is wrong.” Really? Now that was well after what, 20, no, 40 years, 45 years after the ’60s that you asked your question about, but it was an affirmation that what began in the ’60s, the destruction of that, begin the breakdown of that consensus came to a point where he was even saying it in 2008, 2009, that we were no different from all the countries that have gone before.

So we began to ask that question about America implicitly in the ’60s, and it has brought us to the present point where we now have things like the 1619 Project, which is saying 1776 was not any… It was actually a bad thing, not a good thing. And that the good thing was 1619. And so I think the 1960s are all wrapped up in that transformation, from where we were to what we have become.

When did some Americans start getting negative on the military?

Ross Mackenzie:

Yeah. So I think that although the discussion tends to go toward Vietnam, I think the discussion really begins with Korea, because Korea was the first war in our history that we weren’t allowed to win when we had the military capacity to do so. The discussions were about, well, MacArthur wanted to go back across the Yalu. Truman said no. It led to MacArthur’s firing. But there was no question that as we went forward in the ’50s up to ’53, when we finally settled or came to a truce that is still in place, we were not allowed to win that war when we could have. If we move forward to Vietnam, basically the same thing. Now what does that do to a culture when you’re saying, “Well, you can win a war, but we’re not going to?” That is not going to be allowed for you to do that. I think we’re seeing also, we have seen over many years, a similar attitude regarding Israel.

How does Israel relate?

Ross Mackenzie:

So if I’m correct, I think Israel has been attacked seven times. It was attacked the very day it was announced as a nation, it has won every one of those wars. But the public pressure from the West has always been, “You need to give back that land that you won, you shouldn’t have won it. You should treat the people who were there differently.” Well, okay. We’re still having that discussion, but Israel’s very victories are being challenged as though our ability to win in Korea and Vietnam were challenged. Now, I think what that does to a country is it changes a lot of attitudes in the country, goes to the very question of the exceptionalism that we were talking about a few minutes ago. Is this country exceptional in its ability to win the wars that it wages? Maybe not, and we’re not going to allow it to be exceptional, and then Obama can come and declare that it is no longer an exceptional nation.

Doug Monroe:

Fascinating you bring Israel into that, I’ll just comment on that briefly to keep the discussion going. You’re basically saying you have to let your enemy attack you, beat them, then give them the land back that they attacked you from.

Ross Mackenzie:

Right.

Doug Monroe:

It’s hard to get your arms around that, for a regular person anyway.

Ross Mackenzie:

It is.

Doug Monroe:

Only an elite could think of something so crazy.

Ross Mackenzie:

You think of it in more political terms. A president will say, “You may not like what I’m doing…” X president, I don’t want personalize this. X president says, “You may not like what I’m doing, but hey, we won. So these new policies are going to come into place.” Whereas, the Israelis can’t say that. “We won.” “But you can’t do that,” the others are saying.

What amazed you most during your 41 years as Editor?

Ross Mackenzie:

So I think that, one of the most astonishing things that I’ve witnessed is the fall of the wall. I was, what the wall has fallen after all of this? That’s okay. I mean, well we landed on the moon, that’s remarkable. But we knew sort of got the feeling we were part of the trip on that. And finally we got there and wow, what a magnificent thing. But almost out of the blue, you wake up one day and here the wall is no longer there and they’re pulling the thing down. I was just astonished.

I guess maybe the only thing that compares to it, albeit in a far different plane, is the election of Trump in 2016. I was part of the very strong consensus that he had no way of winning. And suddenly we woke up and, yeah, he won. So anyway, yeah. The fall of the wall was an astonishing moment, a great success for the West.

What brought the Berlin Wall down? It’s impact?

Ross Mackenzie:

It was accomplished by a variety of people, but some of the great players were Reagan of course, and Thatcher and John Paul and wow. And of course, maybe the fourth player there was Solzhenitsyn who told the story about what had been going on behind the wall. Just astonishing.

Now, I think we also need to be very clear that it did not end communism worldwide. It defeated, it told the end of communism per se, in Soviet Union, although the incumbent followed by the name of Putin says the glory years of Russia were during the height of the Soviet regime. Okay. So maybe communism continues. One can make the case that it does in the Soviet Union, albeit under a different header.

But we need to remember that communism is alive and well in places like Cuba, places like Venezuela, places like largely Southeast Asia. And of course the elephant in the living room is China and China is run by the CCP—the communist party of China. And yeah, we’re still dealing with it in there. We’re going to be dealing with them for quite some time. I think though.

Sam Huntington? Is conflict inherent in human history?

Ross Mackenzie:

I think that the history of mankind is, alas, the history of wars and the history of conflict. And I think it is a pipe dream to think that war and conflict are over, that we can ever reach that nirvana, where it doesn’t happen. The stakes become ever greater with the arrival of the nuclear age. We’re thinking about that, or worrying about that publicly regarding Iran, whether they should have nuclear power and nuclear weapons. I believe that they’re going to achieve them. How we’re going to react to that is going to be a great question. We also have, the big boy on the block is China and they got all the nuclear weapons they need. And so I think that Huntington’s concept of cultures in conflict is valid and that we will never come to the point of the global warm and fuzziness that globalists would like us to have. Globalism is behind the UN, the whole concept of the UN. That as we sit down and talk and converse, we’re going to come to a more peaceful and more brotherly relationship with each other.

Is family the basis of civilization?

Ross Mackenzie:

Well, it is the basis of civilization, no question. Where we are now in the growth of the welfare state… So the family is built on the concept, one concept, of responsibility, taking care of yourself or yourselves, your family. As we grow older, we either continue to take care of ourself and our new families that we create as we go along, or we give up that responsibility. I think that what’s happened as we become less dependent on ourselves and more dependent on something else, being the government, I think we are losing a great deal.

Now, whether we’re going to ultimately come to the ultimate commune where the government oversees the entire population, that’s a different question. Where we are now is I think we’re seeing the destruction of the family. The removal of the father, so often from the family scene, tears up our children, tears up our families, it tears up our culture. I just think that it is a great indicator of change on the cultural landscape that is not beneficial to us as a country, us as a people, us as a culture itself.

What is wrong with our educational system?

Ross Mackenzie:

One of the differences between liberals and conservatives so-called is that conservatives tend to believe that man is born fallen and he’s a sinner. And he seeks to improve, he’s penitent and seeks to improve during his life versus the so-called liberals say, no, man is born good and is corrupted by institutions and by other people. But I think institutions is a good word. So when you ask about education, maybe the ultimate institution and what it has done to our landscape, I think that we have been trying to change the institution of education for as long as I’ve been cognizant of it. And that we are seeing the consequences of this changing of institution. One of the things that I’ve long thought is that when you set to tinkering, let’s say you’re set to tinkering with the one room schoolhouse, which was a pretty darn good concept you set to tinkering.

And what does it do? It requires you to always do more tinkering. Well, we didn’t adjust it here right, so we need to do a little bit more over here. But then over here it’s different. So education, as one thinks about it, in my lifetime has been a constant change, a constant tinkering. We had phonics in the beginning. I was raised on look say. Sally and Dick and their dog Spot, okay? And then we went to in math, you remember when we went to the rods that four and four is yellow? Hello? And then now I saw most recently that a new Oregon teachers manual is telling teachers that they need to come up with two answers to math questions, two correct answers for math questions so that you don’t ruin Johnny’s self-esteem if he gets it wrong, gets the answer wrong.

So education has been a constant tinkering with a bad result. I think what we’re seeing in the classrooms today is just not what we saw 50 years ago and 50 years ago was maybe about as good as it could get in the culture that we have. And that was the old one room teacher with the older kids helping teach the younger kids and going on forward and getting on and getting out and getting on with it versus now worrying about whether Johnny’s going to be hurt if he doesn’t get the one in one is two question exactly right, so.

Comments on your friend, Walter Williams?

Ross Mackenzie:

So Walter was quite a guy. He was, of course, one of our great free market economists of the last 30 years. He believed that the market was just about everything. I like his point about the minimum wage. When you would ask him about the minimum wage, he would say, “Well, now let me just ask you a question. Would you rather have the current minimum wage, I guess is $7.25. Would you rather have a job for $7 and 25 cents an hour, or would you rather have no job at $15 an hour?” So Walter had a wonderful way of relating economic issues to everyday experience, and he was just a wonderful teacher in that regard, and headed up one of the few remaining free market departments in the country.

How to explain our war over America’s heroes?

Ross Mackenzie:

We focused on the goodness of these men, their accomplishments, the good things that they did. And now we’re focusing on their sins. So we’re focusing on the sin of Madison’s owning slaves versus the virtue of his creating a constitutional government the likes of which we’ve never seen in the history of mankind. And even the creation of that government led to the disappearance of the sin for which we now want to condemn him. Without the constitutional government, the American form, we would not have had the elimination of slavery. And we want to condemn Madison and the others for this? And we want to punish people living today who had no play in the slavery for which were being told we should be put punished. And so now we need to change the historical narrative and this gets us to Winston and 1984 and, what is it? He who controls the past controls the future and he who controls the present controls the past. We’re changing our culture, we’re changing our historical narrative so that we can change the future. Okay.

Is the history of Communism repeating itself in America?

Ross Mackenzie:

You mention that and it gets me thinking about my long-term fascination with anti-communists. They come out and they tell a story and it’s their story that captures us. And you read the story and you say, “We better not do that again.” And it’s also related to my fascination with the POWs. Here’s their story and isn’t it awful what man can do to man? Similarly, isn’t it awful what man can do to man in the anti-communist stories? And now we’re leading to a more communal type of government, a more tyrannical, semi-quasi tyrannical form of government. And we’re going to get the very stories, we’re going to revisit the stories that we’ve already got. Why would we ever want to go there?

What about journalism today?

Ross Mackenzie:

Overall, the newspapers have been extremely liberal. I can tell the story about 1980 at the editor’s convention, there are 500 people, 500 editors from the nation’s leading newspapers. And when you went into the opening cocktail party, you were given a little form and you were supposed to check the one box of the individual who you wanted to be the next president, not who you thought would be, but who you wanted to be. Now, this is 1980, it was April 1980, and you had people like Jimmy Carter, Teddy Kennedy, Bush I, Ronald Reagan, John Anderson was in the mix. And at the final function, they announced the results.

500 editors, 250 of them wanted Teddy Kennedy to be the next president. Another 150 wanted Jimmy Carter to be the next president, to be reelected. Then the numbers fell down through Bush I, through John Anderson, I think John Anderson was third, John Anderson, Bush I. And finally we came down to five people in the room out of 500 wanted Ronald Reagan to be the next president. These are the nation’s leading editors. That was in 1980. Now we come forward and newspapers have dramatically, dramatically changed, not in their ideology, but in what they are. We have lost 2000 mastheads since the year 2000. It’s astounding.

What is the state of the newspaper industry today?

Ross Mackenzie:

The business model doesn’t work anymore. Newspapers are being shut down. Major mastheads, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe. They’ve all had their financial problems and many of them have gone toes up. They’ve gone bankrupt. They’ve been bought by hedge funds. They are not being managed by traditional newspaper people anymore. So many of them are in shutdown mode, if they haven’t shut down already.

I can remember when I came to Richmond that we had a combined News Leader/Times-Dispatch total circulation of about 270,000, between the two newspapers. That was in 1965. Today, I would be surprised if the combined News Leader/Time-Dispatch is circulating more than 70,000 as opposed to 270,000. It’s just these numbers, I have no inside knowledge of what those numbers are. This is my expectation. I may be wrong, and I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am.

How did the old newspaper model work?

Ross Mackenzie:

What happened was that early on, newspapers were built around an advertising model. So newspapers were highly profitable operations, which were funded by advertisers. And when you’re presenting to an advertiser, you don’t want to have… You want an anodyne product. You don’t want a product that is going to irritate people. You want to come up at them with what you call objectivity. Now, this objectivity was essentially run and produced in newsrooms, which were people, by liberals, but it was presented as objectivity. And if you wanted to go onto the editorial page and get subjectivity, you could do that. They were split. In Richmond, that was the case, and it was the case in many newspapers around the country. All of that began to change within the past 10 years.

What changed in newspapers and when?

Ross Mackenzie:

And it dramatically changed in 2016. Major revolution in newspapers. So we have this decline of circulation nationwide. Lot of it is a consequence of the internet, but advertisers are fleeing. The bottom lines are very bad and along comes the victory of Donald Trump, which caught all of these newspapers by surprise. Caught me by surprise. But this was not supposed to happen. And these newspapers separately, or over here, are looking at their survival under the advertising mode of setting these newspapers, running these newspapers, and you know what? Things changed. And that change was led by the New York Times, laterally by the Washington Post. But at the New York Times, they said, “We’re not going to be an advertising based newspaper anymore. And we’re not going to present as being objectively driven in our news columns, even though we weren’t, we were liberal, we weren’t moderate, we were liberal, but we sold ourselves as being objective to satisfy our advertisers.”

“But our advertisers aren’t supporting us anymore. They’ve gone to the internet or they’ve gone to the golf course. Wherever they’ve gone, they’re not here advertising in the New York Times. What we’re going to do is change our model to an advocacy driven readership. We are going to give these readers what we want them to have, which is our point of view, which is liberalism. And regarding Donald Trump, we are going to drive this guy from office and we are going to sell our newspapers on the internet.” And we ultimately were successful in doing this.

“We’re going to get them to pay for our product electronically. And that’s how we’re going to make our money. We’re going to give up on the print product because we can’t get the advertisers and we’re going to sell these people what they want to hear, which is in this case to get rid of this guy, that’s going to lead to two impeachment trials. It’s going to lead to the Mueller investigation. It’s going to lead to all this stuff to get rid of this guy that our readership wants to hear. That his election was a mistake.”

And that changed the model for new newspapers around the country. Those that survive. Changed at the Washington Post, same reason. They trailed the New York Times a little bit, but same things happening there. They are selling their agenda as opposed to the pretense of objectivity. And it’s taken over in newspapers around the country, the lesser ones that survive.

The future of newspapers

Ross Mackenzie:

Now will the other ones survive? Wonderful story about Warren Buffet who bought the Richmond newspapers. And he has these massive shareholder meetings for Berkshire Hathaway. And he was asked … I believe it was last spring or maybe the spring before, I don’t recall. But recently he was asked about his investment in the Virginia newspapers, which had been the former media general newspapers. “What do you think about newspapers today?” And he said, “Well, I think the New York Times and the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal will survive, but the rest of them? Toast.”

So I think that the future of newspapers is limited. I think they’re going to be … Those that survive are going to become more advocacy based, where they can sell to a readership and still make money, sell to a readership that is going to agree with their point of view. That is the point of view in the newsroom, no pretense anymore. It’s a liberal agenda and they are going to try to sell that agenda to enough people, so that they can make money. And these people are going to pay so that the readers can get behind the paywall.

Extremely spinned political advocacy today, rather than facts?

Ross Mackenzie:

In Richmond, for example, only the News Leader and the Times-Dispatch had an Associated Press wire. Later, it had a New York Times or a Washington Post wire. And that’s where the news came from. That’s how it was distributed through those wires. And then you had your local people who went out and covered the courts and covered the local government’s Board of Supervisors meetings and the meetings down at City Hall. But the national and international news were run by these few wire services. Now, everybody, you can get your news everywhere. But what can’t you get everywhere? You can’t get the opinion of those people in the newsrooms, so we’re going to sell that opinion, advance it as news, package it as news, but require people to pay for it behind a paywall on the internet.

Why are most reporters on the Left?

Ross Mackenzie:

I think you can ask the same question, Doug. I think you can ask the same question about the academy, the mainline churches, Hollywood, as well as the press. These are our culture forming entities. I think there’s a reason that it’s hard to find a conservative on a university faculty anymore. It’s hard near impossible to find a conservative in a newspaper newsroom, let alone editorial page. When I was editor, there were only about five conservative editorial pages of any size in the country, Wall Street Journal, Richmond and then you maybe went to Orange County, maybe Indianapolis, maybe Phoenix, but very, very few. Also in the church that the mainline churches have gone in the same direction and in Hollywood, the same direction.

People are known as rarities if they’re conservatives, such as Clint Eastwood. Used to be maybe Ronald Reagan, maybe, but he was not… He was a conservative, but he was an anti-union guy when he was in Hollywood and was taking on the labor unions, which were in fact riddled with communists. The why is because these enterprises, the press, the academy, Hollywood, and the churches are part of the leftist hegemony, which shapes the culture. You can get some of this from Gramsci who says, we need to have people out there shaping the culture and they’re doing it.

Is the Leftward shift a conspiracy?

Ross Mackenzie:

I don’t think it’s a conspiracy. I’m not a conspiracy guy in this sense, but I think it goes to your point. People tend to hire their own. Once you’re there, if you’re known as an outsider, you’re ostracized, you’re forced out or life is made miserable for you.

Ross Mackenzie:

I can tell you a story about in the academy. When I was in college, my mentor there, a fellow named David Rao, full professor, had been on the faculty for 20 years, 30 years maybe. And he had his office right next to the administrative office for the political science department. And one day he went to his office and the door was closed and he asked, “What’s going on? He said, “Well, we’re expanding into your office because we need to expand the administration office, and yours is the adjacent space. So we’re expanding into your space. He said, “Well, where’s my office?” “Well, your office is in the basement of one of the university colleges and oh, by the way, you’re going to share it with a graduate student from Uganda. Now this is how a full professor was treated at Yale in 1960. Come on. That was 1960. All right? Continues to go on.

How is our Cultural Left affecting us?

Ross Mackenzie:

So the hegemon is a reality in the sense that it is there from the pulpit, from the newsroom, from the movie screen, from the university lecture hall. It is shaping those who come after or those who are affected by it. And it’s a largely leftist product that these people are being given. And it’s affecting in terms of the resistance to it, is affecting the mainline churches whose pews are empty or emptying. I remember when I used to write about, when I was writing professionally, that I used for the Episcopal Church, I wrote that the national number of communicants were 2.9 million. Now, they’re 1.9 million. And of course, we’ve had population growth during that period. And so you’re seeing resistance to this by this hegemon, this leftist hegemon preaching from the pulpits or the newsrooms or wherever it may be.

How are Americans resisting the Left?

Ross Mackenzie:

You’re seeing resistance by people leaving. You’re seeing the newspaper circulation diminishing. You’re seeing more and more parents are saying, “Why do I need to pay $60,000 a year of after tax money to have my child propagandized by some wacko professor who’s going to turn him into something that I don’t want my child to become.” You’re seeing resistance to this. You’re seeing it now in the schools, partly because of the virus, enhanced by the virus. Parents are saying if they’re going to shut the schools down, I don’t necessarily like the way things were going in the schools anyway, we’re going to start building blocks or basically going into small school units where we’re going to get six families with the children from six families.

And we’re going to get in a teacher or two and hello, one room schoolhouse. We’re going to get a teacher in or two. And we’re bring in, if one parent is good at science and another’s good at math and another’s good at reading, we’re going to have the parents begin to participate in the education of their kids. And these are acts of revolution on the part of people who are saying, “We don’t want this stuff anymore.”

So that’s a long answer, maybe.

Comments on Elitism

Doug Monroe:

No, I got you. I’d love to read just the last paragraph I read this morning before hopping in the car, would agree totally with what you’re saying. So in this again, just editorial comment. It’s because, one, I think smart, elite people like to control others. Number two, it pays, today particularly. People are intimidated by whatever the cultural fat is. And I do think there’s, a lot of them believe that they’re helping others, the oppressed, the poor and so on. So there’s some legitimacy to it, but the more we don’t find babies running around without clothes on, everyone’s fed, everyone has shelter, the more that kind of goes away as a reason, I think.

Ross Mackenzie:

So, you know-

Doug Monroe:

In the United States anyway.

Comments on Elites in Government

Doug Monroe:

It was a guy named Auguste Comte. I don’t know if you know who he was.

Ross Mackenzie:

I sure do.

Doug Monroe:

Who is the father of sociology?

Ross Mackenzie:

Am I right?

Doug Monroe:

Father of sociology. And he said, what government is about is the improvement of society. So if you’re talking about the improvement of society, what does that mean? What it means is that you have a concept or an image about how you can make things better. So we want government to make things better. Better from whose perspective? Mine. I know better what’s- I know best what’s better for you than you know for yourself. Essence of leftism, it’s the essence of leftism. And if you go to that wonderful quote by Orwell, who says at bottom, people who want to get to government to purportedly make things better, become corrupted by the power they have. And so what happens? The rationale for torture becomes torture. The rationale for terror becomes terror. The rationale for power becomes control.

Ross Mackenzie:

And as Alexander Hamilton said is evidence, “I submit all of human history.”

Ross Mackenzie:

Okay?

Doug Monroe:

Yes.

How is illiteracy influencing America?

Ross Mackenzie:

I think one of the things that it’s doing is it is disallowing us to focus. I think the lack of focus or lack of our ability to focus is one of the great cultural changes that we’re confronting right now. So what happens when you sit down with your newspaper is you focus on what’s going on, what you’re reading, anything you’re reading, in this room, any book, it’s requiring you to focus. But as we move away from the printed word to the electronic view, we are allowed to look around and not focus so much, we become distracted. And maybe this goes back to my love of writing alone. You can focus on what you’re saying and how you’re saying it, as opposed to being bothered by that noise or that person or that distraction that’s off there on the periphery. I think our change from the printed word in newspapers or in books, the printed word is under siege in almost all its forms, newspapers, magazines, books.

As we move away from the printed word and the focus it gives us, we’re becoming a more active people and not able to, in the newer phrase, which to hone in on what is really the important thing at hand. And I think that’s what it’s doing to us to answer your question. What is it doing it to us? It’s making us more distracted and consequently not as effective and in our behavior as human beings and taking care of ourselves, which is what we ought to be doing.

Doug Monroe:

Exactly. And finding solutions, and also just being friendly and sociable toward each other.

Too much debt? Inflation? Balance the budget?

Ross Mackenzie:

Sure. Yes, we need to balance the budget. It’s one of the great oughts. Yes, we ought to balance the budget. Will we ever balance the budget with a currently $25 trillion dollar national debt? The answer is no, we’re never going to repay that. Are we coming into a sort of a new economic nirvana where we never have a collapse? I don’t think so. I think we’re looking at some time down the road, heaven knows when that’s going to be, but I think we’re looking at potentially very bad times with this kind of extravagance, beyond extravagant. Extravagant is not an operative word here, but I don’t know of a better one right now. But profligacy, maybe. We’re just throwing money all around and we will have to pay for it at some point. And yes, we should be balancing the budget. Families balance budgets, states such as Virginia are required to balance budgets. And yeah, it’s the way to go.

What size Government is best?

Ross Mackenzie:

Smaller government is better government. That was what was envisioned by the founders. I’m for it, but government efforts to cut government have always been only partially successful. I don’t think ultimately Ronald Reagan, even Ronald Reagan cut the government. He cut its growth by a certain percentage, but he didn’t cut the bottom line numbers. I’m not sure about what Trump did. Certainly at some of the higher levels, he couldn’t fill his positions. So they weren’t filled. I think we’ll probably see them filled now and government will. I think it’s inexorable. I think government grows.

Doug Monroe:

Got you. That’s not hopeful. I’m glad I won’t be around for the long term trend on that.

What about the 2020 presidential election?

Ross Mackenzie:

So I think the election was marred by fraud in the sense that we allowed mail-in voting. I think it’s going to become the new norm. Vote harvesting, unwitnessed vote harvesting is going to become part of the new norm. Both are contained in the new HR1, which is Nancy Pelosi’s most important legislative effort to get HR1 passed and they embrace this whole concept of vote harvesting and mail-in balloting. I think the… Whether fraud was the cause of Trump’s defeat or not, I think the jury is… My personal jury is still out on that one.

I think that it’s important to me that none of the examinations of fraud that went to the courts was sustained. So I think we’ve always had fraud. We had fraud in 1960. We had fraud in 1800 in the Adams Jefferson election. We’ve always had fraud. Whether the fraud is decisive in the outcome I’m not sure that I can say. As we go forward I think that the example of the 2020 election means that we are probably consolidating democratic control in Washington for the foreseeable future. I do not see a good prospect for the Republicans winning, at least at the presidential level, anytime soon.

Do you still support mandatory public service?

Ross Mackenzie:

The answer is yes. It was one of my many campaigns that failed, editorial campaigns. I think it’s… So I always… Mandatory public service. I always had a… It was a two component deal. One was you start with six months basic training, basic military training, boot camp. So everybody gets six months of military service compulsory. The voluntary enterprise has worked where it’s been tried.

I think the public also feels that public service is important to the extent that if you’re a high school student, you don’t have a very good prospect for getting into college if you can’t show your sincere multitude-ness volunteer hours showing that you are interested in public service and serving your fellow man. And you’re not going to get into college unless you can show that. You’re not likely to get into college unless you can show that.

So we have out there a sense in the public that public service is good. Voluntary public service is good. That yeah, it would be a nice thing to serve in the military, but we don’t need the military right now. And so I come down to the fact that public service would be good for the nation if it became part of our cultural fabric, where we said to the young, “Look, you’re going to have the opportunity to serve and do your one, call it one year of service,” either directly after you finish high school, before you go to college, or we’re going to let you postpone it until you leave, either through flunking out or needing a gap here or graduating from college. You’re going to do it at that point when you leave a four year undergraduate program.

And when it’s required, when everybody does, it’s going to be part of the discussion among the young. They’re going to say, “Well, when are you going to do it? Are you going to do it right after college? Or are you going to do it after high school?” And, “Gosh, what are you going to do for your non-military component? You going to work in the jails. You’re going to escort little old ladies across the street? Are you going to work on the drug houses? What are you going to do?” I think it’s important to infuse this into the culture. It would be a comparatively easy thing to do. The military component also is important to me because I do think we need to build, within this country, a sense of the need to defend it. And all of those come together in still believing in the importance of a mandatory year for service with a military component. Yes.

Doug Monroe:

I think it would also get us treating our young adults like they’re adults again. So that would be quite helpful.

Is China the New Soviet Union?

Ross Mackenzie:

The answer is yes, I do have a view. I think that the future has Chinese reality in it that we are hardly even aware of right now. China is the big guy on the block. They’re going into outer space, they’re building their military. They are invested heavily in the American economy and in the economies of Western countries, large and small. They’re building ports. I mean, from Zoom to TikTok, they’re all over the internet.

They are a tyrannical state. Call them communists, call them whatever you want to, it’s tyranny. They’re enslaving their people. They’re killing off the Uyghurs and selling them, selling their body parts. They’ve shut down Hong Kong, they’re anti-liberty, they’re anti-anybody who disagrees with them. We need to recognize that this is happening and we need to prepare for it, and I’m not sure we adequately are. I hope we are, but I don’t feel that we are. Yeah.

Doug Monroe:

Gotcha. Strong statement there. I think Obama was… That’s one of the right things he did, is try to change this a little bit more toward China.

Ross Mackenzie:

Yeah.

Doug Monroe:

He didn’t do it that seriously, but all in due time.

What about climate change?

Ross Mackenzie:

I think it’s our new religion. I think it’s ironic to note the change in the phrase itself from its former, global warming. Scientifically, I don’t think that there’s any doubt that we’re getting slightly warmer. I think the data sustain that. I think what the data don’t sustain is why we’re getting warmer. I think we are probably most likely in a sun spot cycle, which is giving us warmer temperatures. I’m not sure that anything we can do can affect it much.

I think it’s interesting to think about the great piece of land called Greenland. When the Norwegians arrived there, they gave it that name. For a long time it hadn’t been very green because we went into a cold spell. Now we’re coming out of that cold spell into a warm spell. I think these are much more likely to be natural cycles that we can’t affect much. To base so much of our economic policy on affecting climate change, I think is a heavy dose of misdirection.

Have traditional Christians lost America?

Ross Mackenzie:

… have as traditional Christians and as so called conservatives, are we losing the game? I think we are. I think if you look at Europe and the great cathedrals of Europe, they’re empty, virtually empty, except a bunch of old ladies in some of the rare pews and their museums. It tells you what’s happening to Christianity in Europe. I think here in America, the seeming collapse of the mainline churches is another indicator that their influence is diminishing rapidly. They’re becoming pulpits before the proselytizing of leftist doctrine.

The religious scene, to my mind, one of the bright spots on it is what I think is another great awakening, there have been basically four in sort of the historic annals, but this may be a fifth, or it may be a continuation of the fourth, where we’re seeing the growth of the megachurches. I think the reluctance of the more established mainline churches to get particularly excited about the more fundamentalist megachurches is an indicator that the mainline churches really don’t like what they’re seeing in this flocking to a new, more biblically-based religion.

That’s where the enthusiasm is, in the megachurches, not in the mainline churches. And so I think that the mainline churches are lost. Whether the megachurches are lost, I think the jury’s still out.

I think conservatism, so called, may be lost as well because of what’s happening in the political sphere. I think these two elections, 16 and 20, are dramatic turning points in the political success of a cultural development, which goes by the name of conservatism. I think that conservatives have probably largely lost it. And now that the Democrats, the leftists have the power of all three, well, at least of both houses and the presidency, not the courts, but while they have these three political entities in their control, they’re going to do as much as they can to secure that for the long term. And I think that that means in that securing means that the more moderate conservatives are going to be frozen out and these changes are intended to make sure that they are frozen out.

How do Americans know when we are at the end of an era?

Ross Mackenzie:

I think you get it. I think you learn, you see, that you’re at the end of an era in two ways. One is by the mere fact of looking around, the anecdotal evidence that things are not the way they ought to be or the way you would like them to be or the way they have been all along, education, the churches, the economy, the mere fact that we can spend all this money and figure we’re never going to have to pay it back. These are big changes. The fact that now we’re not taking much pride in military service anymore. That’s an anecdotal datum that is very troubling that something here is going on. So, that’s one way. Looking around. Seems simple, but it’s the aggregate of the sign posts you see on the landscape to mark, hey, we may be getting at the end of the road here and we may be going somewhere else. That’s one.

The second is this area, this zone, of optimism versus pessimism. I’ve been an inveterate optimist all my life, but I see here, now… And, that optimism may be… Let me say this, that optimism is in whether I think, whether I have felt, that things would get better long term. It’s almost that cliche, will my children and grandchildren be better off than I am? The question has often been asked from the sense of monetarily, but I ask it not only monetarily, but otherwise. And I think when you could say, “Yes, they will be,” that’s one place in the culture, on the road. But when you begin to say, “I’m not so sure. The way these indicators over here are speaking to me that I see when I look around, I’m not sure that this road we’re going down is going to be better for them than it was for me.” I think that may be the other part of this marker, that there’s a growing sense of pessimism out of what used to be an optimistic point of view.

What is the Left really after? How does it fail?

Ross Mackenzie:

I go back to August Comte. I think that the left at bottom wants to make things better. I think it would be wrong of me to suggest otherwise. I think that they’re sincerely motivated, at least originally. But I’ve read too much of what can happen about people who want to make things better. They get into positions of power and they don’t like to give it up. And I think one of our great writers, great novelists was Orwell. And to read his story is so telling about what happens in a fascist communist state, which is what big brother presides over, and how to make his life better or make life better within Oceania for people like Winston Smith.

To make life better for him, you have to destroy him. You have to make him confront his greatest fear, and then you have to control him. Once you’ve broken him, you have to control him by keeping him drunk all the time so he won’t resist is the literary equivalent of what Orwell says in 1984. Which is if you want a picture of the future, think of a boot grinding on the human face forever. Now the left wants to make things better, but I’m enough of an act tonight to know that to believe that power does corrupt and absolute power corrupts, absolutely.

And Orwell again, Orwell says, in such modes, in such circumstances, people get power for power. They torture for the purposes of torturing. There is no other rationale. And I then go to that wonderful by Mel Roe. I think it’s Mel Roe, who had talked to a woman who was jailed and she had gone into communism believing in its many virtues. And then she gets put in jail and she says to him, “And then one night I heard screams.” That’s the picture that Orwell says of a boot grinding on the human face. And I think although liberalism Comteans, August Comteans, J. Allen Smith is a political behaviorist, 1902, something like that.

Spirit of American government, great influence on American political science. I think these people want to get into it to make things better. In their defense, that’s what they want to do. But in making things better, they have to tinker and keep tinkering and ultimately they become fascinated with their ability to tinker and control. And it’s a bad trip the rest of the way. This gets also into, you mentioned, we talked about Strauss a little bit. How Strauss is sort of referenced and either revered or detested as one of the fathers of neoconservatism, so called, and it’s led to bizarre, obscure, weird logical explanations to blame Leo Strauss for the Iraq War.

Come on. But anyway, that’s the way it went. As the left wants to make things better, it wants to change our institutions because it is seen our institutions here to four as corrupt, or it sees them as they exist now as corrupt. So it wants to change them and make them better, and that leads to more tinkering and that me leads to the collapse of public education. So I think that it’s after wanting desperately to make things better in according to their definition of what better may be, but in the process only makes them worse.

Is the Left better at narrative or language?

Ross Mackenzie:

So this is a fascinating question; whether the left is better rhetorically than non-leftists. Of course, leftists never have an enemy to the left [foreign language 00:00:21]. Never is there an enemy to the left. They’re always to the right. Okay.

I think the rhetoric of liberalism today is grounded in pity, and in guilt. And that is a language that is very hard to argue against. And so that gives them a rhetorical advantage going up to people whose rhetoric is not grounded in pity and guilt.

Your favorite historical figures?

Ross Mackenzie:

So I’ve done a lot of college admissions, and that was a great question. Who would you like to have dinner with?

Doug Monroe:

Yeah.

Ross Mackenzie:

Right. Jesus, Socrates, Shakespeare. Churchill, in the 20th century. Lincoln, maybe the greatest American of all. In the 20th century, I think maybe John Paul and Solzhenitsyn, towering figures.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about America?

Ross Mackenzie:

I used to be optimistic, but I’m increasingly pessimistic. I came to my views, maybe if there was a moment that I can identify, I read Whittaker Chambers. Wrote one of the great autobiographies in the American language. The only other great one is, the only one on the same level is, maybe, “The Education of Henry Adams.”

Chambers, when he left communism, believed deeply that he was leaving the winning side for the losing side. This was in the 1930s. He was never a high ranking communist. He was only a courier and he was this magnificent writer who had happened to be a courier to a guy named Alger Hiss. And it was his testimony, it was Chamber’s testimony about Hiss, that led Hiss to jail. And Hiss went to jail, not for being a communist, but for lying, saying that he didn’t ever know Whittaker Chambers, where they’d been great friends. I would defy anybody to read that part of Witness, his autobiography, called A Letter to My Children, I would defy any reader to read that without tearing up. And when I read Chambers, it introduced me to anti-communism, albeit he was an American communist, and really my sensitivities went to non-American communists. But he had a marvelous quote that I’ve had on my wall for a long time. And, I might be able to give it to you right now.

“It is idle to talk about preventing the wreck of Western civilization. It is already a wreck from within. That is why we can hope to do little more now than snatch a fingernail of a saint from the rack or a handful of ashes from the faggots, and bury them secretly in a flower pot against the day, ages hence, when a few men begin to dare, to begin again to dare to believe that there was once something else, that something else is thinkable, and need some evidence of what it was, and the fortifying knowledge that there were those who, at the great nightfall, took a loving thought to preserve the tokens of hope and truth.”

It’s not a very optimistic statement, but I fear that it may, he may, it may be true.

Three Quotes and Dialogue

Ross Mackenzie:

This is a quote by Lincoln, and I had this on my wall during my years as editor. Jenny used to say to me when she would pick up the paper and read some letter from somebody ripping me, and she would say, “Why do you let these people say this about you?” I go, well, “That’s part of the game. You need to let them vent.” I had this quote, which is a marvelous quote from Lincoln. Whenever you’re ready.

Videographer:

We’re rolling. Anytime.

Doug Monroe:

Ready.

Ross Mackenzie:

Lincoln said, “If I were to try to read much less answer all the attacks made against me, this shop might as well be closed to any other business. I do the very best I can and the very best I know how, and I mean to keep on doing it until the end, and if the end brings me out, all right, then what they say against me won’t amount to anything. But if the end brings me out wrong, then 10 angels swearing I was right. Would make no difference.”

Doug Monroe:

A lot more eloquent than saying I’m toast anyway.

Ross Mackenzie:

Here’s another Chambers quote. I don’t know if you haven’t read “Witness.” You read “Witness.” Another Chambers quote. “It is part of the failure of the West to understand that it is at grips with an enemy having no moral viewpoint in common with itself, that two irreconcilable viewpoints and standards of judgment, two irreconcilable moralities proceeding from two irreconcilable readings of man’s fate and future are involved, and hence, their conflict is irrepressible.”

Doug Monroe:

Exactly. Right. Any ones you’ve got like that, we’ll take them.

Ross Mackenzie:

All right. Now the last one is by T. S. Eliot, and it’s about writing, and it goes back to a little bit toward the Lincoln quote, and it’s in response to why are you such a contrarian? Why are you always going against the tide? Why are you always leaning in against the wind? Nobody else is saying it this way. Why don’t you say it this way? Or why don’t you say it that way or whatever? This is a response to that.

T. S. Eliot. “I confess that I am not very much concerned with the question of influence, or were those publicists who have impressed their names upon the public by catching the morning tide and rowing very fast in the direction in which the current was flowing, but rather that there should always be a few writers preoccupied in penetrating to the core of the matter, in trying to arrive at the truth and set it forth, without too much hope, without ambition to alter the immediate course of affairs, and without being downcast or defeated when nothing appears to ensue.”

Doug Monroe:

In other words, the truth. Thank you.

Ross Mackenzie:

That’s it. That’s all I have.

Doug Monroe:

Wow. That’s beautiful. Thank you so much for that.

Overview

Ross Mackenzie

Ross Mackenzie’s newspaper career spanned nearly half a century. In 1965, he joined The Richmond News Leader. Four years later he became the Editor of its Editorial Pages — a position he continued to hold (until his 2007 retirement) with the Richmond Times-Dispatch following its 1992 merger with The News Leader. Mackenzie served in Richmond as editorial-page editor of its two dailies for a record total of 38 years; he wrote his twice-weekly nationally syndicated column for 30 years — from 1981 until 2011. During the course of his career as an editor and columnist, Mackenzie wrote more than 22,000 editorials and columns. In a 1982 page-one profile, The Washington Post termed him one of the nation’s most consequential editors. Praxis interviewed him for his perspective on Western Civilization and his insights regarding shifts in American culture, values, politics, and the press.
Transcript

Introduction

Doug Monroe:

We are rolling.

Doug Monroe:

Okay, great. Ross, thank you so much for doing this. You asked the question, how did I make the cut? And I started thinking about that. And I think Maria and I were sitting around our office, and we were probably thinking about all the silliness that we were seeing on TV, pretty much over the last year, and how the world to a lot of people has become sort of circus like, and we get a little tired of all that, and sometimes we need serious answers, and we go looking for adults. We want some adults in the room that can give cogent answers in a friendly way but have some weight behind it, and your name came right to the top, because we had more or less grown up reading your editorials, and we always felt like there was a mature statement being made in a way that people could understand, regular people could understand. So that’s why you made the cut. And so I just want to tell you how grateful we are that you are here to answer these questions.

A 41-Year Career in Journalism!!!

Ross Mackenzie:

Sure. It began maybe in college when I ended up with a column. And so then when I was graduating from college, I talked to one of my mentors, William Buckley, who said, “Well, when you’re ready to go to get into newspapers, let me know”. And so I wound up in Richmond and it was a happy conjunction because they were looking for a new editor at that time or beginning to look. And I walked in the door and 1965 and in ’69 I was named editor and things just went on from there. It was very fortuitous for me. And then after that, I started my column in 1980 and did that for 30 years syndicated. So yeah, that was a very happy circumstance.

Doug Monroe:

You ruined the curve for everyone who job hops today.

Ross Mackenzie:

Well-

Doug Monroe:

You were hired to be the boss and as long as you didn’t blow it prior to getting the appointment, and obviously you did well there.

Ross Mackenzie:

And of course it was one of the premier editors chairs in the nation, the people who went before. These were wonderful people, Pulitzer prize winners, or two of them and one of them who should have been. But they were big, big shoes and a big chair to fill.

Doug Monroe:

That’s an amazing story.

Ross Mackenzie:

And I ended up sitting in that chair longer than any of the other predecessors, so 38 years in that chair.

Comments on Traditional Journalism

Doug Monroe:

We’ll get to journalism, but it was really at a time when there was a lot of power in that seat.

Ross Mackenzie:

It was. And newspapers have changed dramatically, and we can get to that later. But it was. I think that a lot of the editors in those days used to think that they were tremendously powerful and changed people’s minds all the time. But I don’t think that that happened very often.

Doug Monroe:

It influenced more than you may think. But anyway, it was a pleasure to read your columns. I know your parents had a large influence. Could you describe them, particularly your dad, you mentioned?

Your parent’s influence on you?

Ross Mackenzie:

Right. So my dad was a New Zealander who had been sent off to school in England, oldest son. Wound up arriving in England in boarding school in 1914 and was in boarding school ’14 to ’18. And, of course, those were the years of World War I, and at the end of World War I, he and a bunch of guys said, “Well, let’s go down and fly for this Royal Air Force.” And so after training and learning about the aircraft, which were basically flying coffins, he spent six weeks in the war before the armistice.

And it’s just been always astounding to me that here 15 years after Kitty Hawk, people like my dad were flying in combat. It just staggers my mind to even think about that. And he went on to the University of Edinburgh and undergraduate and medical school, and then came over and met my mother. And that’s all she wrote.

She was quite a gal, and I think I learned from her. From both of their examples, I learned a great deal. And I learned from her, probably anything else, the tapping of that pool of intuition that some of us are blessed to have, and she had it and…

Your 2 year study under Leo Strauss?

Ross Mackenzie:

Leo Strauss was a counter revolutionary, in that he led the assault on behaviorism in the academy. Now, what does that mean? It means that political science so-called, which rose under the concept of political theory, studying how man ought to behave in a political environment, had been taken off over by the behaviorists who said, “You know, we don’t need to study this anymore. We need to study how man does behave because only once we learn how man does behave in a political environment, then can we begin to shape him and make society better,” which is what contemporary liberalism is all about today.

Strauss said we need to get back to the ought here, and so he led the move back into taking on the behaviorist departments. Now for a while, that battle succeeded. And you walked onto a campus, and even now, if you walk onto a campus and say you’re a Straussian, you have immediately identified yourself as to what you believe and where you stand relative to these academic departments. Now, behaviorism has continued to gain… Behaviorism is essentially political sociology. And it’s no longer a science. There are too many variables when you’re studying the human being to be really a science.

We’re talking more about feelings. Strauss was this revolutionary figure who said that we need to get back to the study of ancients and moderns, the study of the traditional philosophers. And I spent two years with him in close study, close textual analysis, of primarily the ancients but some semi-modern such as Machiavelli and Vico and Spinoza, Maimonides… But more Plato, more Aristotle.

How did Dr. Strauss influence you as a journalist?

Ross Mackenzie:

… And it was this close textual analysis that helped me understand a little bit about what I was getting into. When I arrived in Chicago on a grant, he said, “Now Mr. Mackenzie, I understand that you are going into newspapers.” And I said, “Well, that’s the intent.” He said, “Well then, you and I are going to be spending the next two years studying one word.” And I said, “Okay.” And he said, “We are going to be studying persuasion.” And I said, “Well, okay, let’s get on with it.” And so we did. And ultimately we would spend weeks on a paragraph of Maimonides, or weeks on a couple of sentences in Machiavelli. And the ultimate thing we were, I think, trying to do, was to reconcile how you can study, how you can have order without oppression and reconcile it with liberty that is not licensed. And so after two years I was ready to rock.

The role of humor in persuasion?

Ross Mackenzie:

So humor, to my mind, is one of the great elements that we have for persuasion. It makes points so easily where dialogue and long discussion can’t. It’s particularly useful in arguing against liberals because they insist on being taken seriously. And when you don’t take a liberal seriously, you’re really getting into his oatmeal. And I learned that primarily from William Buckley. National Review was always good with the jape and the rapier, getting it into the ribs as opposed to swinging the broad axe. I found that when I was in Richmond as editor on the editorial page, in the writing, I used to work on having almost daily, a short piece, as opposed to a long piece. And have it have a light aspect to it. So it would attract the reader over into this vast sea of ink and maybe give them something to smile at, or laugh at, or inform them in a light way, and then they might stay and hang around for the longer pieces.

The cartoonists became a critical. When I arrived, the News Leader did not have a cartoonist. It had had only one in its history, a fellow named Art Wood. And MacNelly came along and within a year of his, well, in his first full calendar year of being on my staff, he won the Pulitzer Prize. He was not quite the youngest by a couple of months ever to have won it. Mauldin was the youngest to win it at 23 and, let’s say, one month, and MacNelly won it 23 and five months, or something like that. They were both 23, as I recall. MacNelly went on to win two more Pulitzer Prizes. Then he was succeeded when he left by Bob Gorrell, who was just wonderful. And Gary Brookins was at the Times Dispatch and he came to me when we merged the News Leader into the Times Dispatch. And the humor that they expressed was something that drew people to the editorial pages, in a way, because they knew that they could go there and reliably find something to smile about even on the greatest of days. So very, very important.

William Buckley’s influence on you?

Ross Mackenzie:

Well, he was one of the great influences in my life. I worked for him for two summers when I was in college and did a book with him about the study of domestic communism. I came to my views through anti-communism, by reading some of the defector books, the stories that these people had wrote about their saga under communist regimes, and they had escaped and wrote about them. And these had been awfully powerful to me. Buckley was this wide armed personality with this wide ranging mind and very engaging individual who could bring disparate aspects of the conservative movement, so called, into the tent. He could bring in the anti-communist. He could bring in the virtue, people like Russell Kirk. He could bring in the libertarians and keep them all together in this tent, by the strength of his intellect and his personality.

And that spilled over into me, I guess. I feel that was a major influence in my own development and enhanced my views beyond the anti-communism that brought me to the conservative movement in general. I don’t like the word conservative because it tends to identify one’s self in terms of the other side. And I view myself as a moderate, but I think we all tend to view ourselves as moderates. We don’t think of ourselves as extremists or some kind of a nut. We all think we’re moderates. And I don’t like to go off note on that sense. I don’t want to be forced into a rhetorical discussion of where I stand because of how I’m labeled by somebody who largely disagrees with me.

Now, so I think that I like the word moderate. Or centrist. So the left will often speak as though, “There’s nobody here in this room, but us centrists. you guys are way over here on the right and we’re just here in the middle and then you’ve got those… Well, who’s on the left? Well, oh, those communists.” Actually the communists are over here, but the fascists are over here and this distinction between the fascists and the communists as being somehow different. One being left and one being right is intellectual fraud. They both essentially come from the same seeds. And they’re essentially the same thing, albeit by a different name.

Doug on Communism’s New Found Relevance

Doug Monroe:

Exactly. Again, I’ve got to move on. By the way, we finished the first section and that wasn’t too bad. It’s a little over 20 minutes.

Ross Mackenzie:

Okay.

Doug Monroe:

And so we’ll move along. But the whole analysis of looking at what happened behind the Berlin Wall in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union, people are starting to dip back into that kind of reading and thinking and interviewing people that still have memory and they’re applying it not to over there, but to here. And people are starting to write about that. So what you did your study on with Mr. Buckley is becoming fresh again. It’s crazy. All right. Are you okay? You want some water or anything like that?

Ross Mackenzie:

I think I’m good. What question are we on here?

What’s your worldview?

Ross Mackenzie:

I would say it’s the Judeo-Christian tradition. It’s the West. It’s the 10 Commandments. It’s the Golden Rule. It’s natural right. 10 Commandments, particularly five to 10, respect your parents, don’t steal, don’t kill people. That’s pretty basic stuff. And act honorably. Golden rule, do unto others. That’s the way I roll and that’s my old view, and ain’t too complex.

Do you believe in the supernatural?

Ross Mackenzie:

The answer is yes. I think that man needs some kind of connection to the transcendent, some kind of connection to the other. Whether there’s a heaven, I’m not sure about, but I sort of like the idea of Woody Allen who says, well, when he’s heading out, just in case there’s a heaven, he’s going to take an extra pair of underwear.

And yet I think Resurrection is real. And without the Resurrection, there is no Christianity. Without the Resurrection, there’s only a comic book aspect to Christianity that is not much beyond Superman. So, yes, it’s important, and it’s real. I think that my view on religion has also been enhanced by recent experiences in life where miracles have played a very important role in my continuing even to live. Two cancers and a broken neck and aspects of those incidents, particularly the last, which are beyond coincidental.

There is something there. There are angels. There is something, and I think that man needs that belief. Otherwise, it comes down to a barren humanism that says there is nothing beyond ourselves. The cosmos is so vast and so complex and so interconnected, That one says, “The more I learn about science, the more I become a believer in something else.” So that’s about where I am.

How important Judaism and Christianity to Western Civ?

Ross Mackenzie:

Well, they’re its essence. There’s no question that without Judaism or the Judeo-Christian tradition, the West wouldn’t be the West. It summarizes why we are in the dominant position that we’ve become. When I say we, I mean, America and the Commonwealth countries, largely not exclusively, but the Europeans, the English speakers. We tend to be inheritors of this tradition and believers in its values. And those values are what we have come to do, come to believe and embrace, through our a priori knowledge and our a posteriori knowledge. And they just make the West what it is, critically, crucially important to what we are and what we became, at least for a while.

Doug Monroe:

We’re kind of dedicated just as an advertisement to taking a 2000 year look at that rather than chopping it up into a thousand little pieces where you can be destroyed by your enemy. Really it’s important to understand the long term there about Western history. So, where do…

Ross Mackenzie:

You know, Oakeshott had a wonderful phrase and he said, Michael Oakeshott, and he said, you know, we’re having a conversation, I may have more to say about the word conversation here in a minute. We’re having, here in the Western Judeo-Christian tradition, we’re having a conversation that began in the primeval forests. And as we go along, we learn more. The conversation that we have within ourselves and with those who went before has brought us to where we are now. And the best parts of that conversation tend to be those who were operating within the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Doug Monroe:

That was a great corrective, though. It’s actually a 4,000 or 5,000 year our conversation and it’s since the beginning of recorded time. You know, whenever we learn to write and have language.

How do we obtain our worldviews? And you yours?

Ross Mackenzie:

So I think that we come, we come to our worldview through two avenues. One avenue is the avenue of a priori knowledge, which is the knowledge that we’re born with. And this I think is one of the great divides in humankind, the belief that all of our knowledge, so that one group believes that all of our knowledge is experiential. It comes to us after we are born. And another group says, yeah, but we know certain things about right and wrong and good and bad. Maybe even before we come out of the womb it’s information, it’s knowledge that we are born with. It may not, we may not be able to articulate it when we’re, when we’re born, but thereafter we come to know it internally. And so I think that as we, as we, as we grow older, we meld our a priori knowledge with our experiential knowledge to give us what may be our worldview.

So it comes to me, to me, it comes from my parents, their example, they’re bringing out the knowledge that I was, that I was born with enhancing it, and then applying the experience, experiences that we have in life and the mentors we have Leo Strauss, William Buckley, others who have influenced me along the way. And I think that this divide, which I was mentioning a minute ago, this divide between a priori and a posteriori is also the divide between reason and revelation. Between the is, and the ought, the fact/value distinction that Hume talked about so vividly. We know certain things, we have certain values and they are either suppressed through experience or brought out through experience and they give us the view that we have as we become adults.

Has any one experience influenced you?

Doug Monroe:

We’re, we’re done with that section. I just want to ask a short little question here. Is there anyone that you haven’t mentioned that has had a particularly important influence on your worldview?

Ross Mackenzie:

I think right now the experience that I mentioned of my broken neck has been profoundly important to me in bringing me to a more… to heighten my awareness of the sense that there is something else out there that is sitting on my shoulder or looking out for me.

Doug Monroe:

Gotcha. So it’s an experience, not a person-

Ross Mackenzie:

It’s an experience. Not a question.

Doug Monroe:

… In many ways. And that’s often what it is for a lot of people too. Well, thank you for that. I still haven’t gotten that article from St. Mary’s, but I’m getting it and we’ll probably post it.

Is place or home important?

Ross Mackenzie:

We have lived for 47 years in a rural setting in West of Richmond in Goochland. And as I drove up the driveway every day, I could sort of feel the weight of the world and my cares fall away. And I think that the concept of place is very, very important in how our lives are going to unfold. This was a house that passed the nudity test. You could take your clothes off and circumnavigate your house, and nobody would see you. So how great can that be? And so place is just very important and also the idea of aloneness as opposed to congestion is very important. I think that as we become a congested people, we’ve seen with studies with mice time after time, mice and the laboratory rats, that the more people you have in a congested area or the more living creatures you have, sometimes these people go wacky and they go off their game and they become uncontrollable and they do unpredictable things.

And so I just do love the fact that we were able to live in a quasi-isolated environment and live our lives and grow and raise as a family in that sort of setting.

Doug Monroe:

It’s funny, the Rappahannock River Bridge going north gives me that feeling of going home, where you leave it behind. And it’s wonderful.

What and where is Rivendell?

Ross Mackenzie:

Well, I should say that Westernesse and Rivendell, they’re words, both come from Tolkien, who is one of, I think, the great writers of the 20th century. And Westernesse was a name for Numenor where whence Aragorn came and it was the land of the last good men and how appropriate was that?

So Rivendell was the place of retreat and restoration. And Rivendell, in our sense was the name of a remote log cabin, 10 miles from the nearest light bulb. You had to swim across a river to get there the first time and swim back the last time and get the canoe out of the cabin and had no running water and it had no electricity.

And you could just get there and once you got there, the practice was to take your watch off so time didn’t matter. And you could pull up the draw bridge. The river was right there five yards from the front door, a little bank that dropped down to the river. And you were just yourself. And you could be the way you wanted to be as a family or as an individual. And it was our cathedral in the woods. It was where we went to church but for a longer period of time than just one hour on Sunday, we could go out there and be there for days and weeks.

And you wouldn’t have to deal with questions of whether Al and Tipper Gore were the model for the Love Story. You didn’t have to worry about that stuff. Or whether Al Gore invented the internet, didn’t have to worry about that stuff. And when Richard Nixon resigned, I learned about it by the fellow who is at the general store 10 miles away. My office had called and he had driven out and he honked the horn and he said, “Hey Ross, call your office, Nixon resigned.” And so I had to go back and write the piece in a phone booth on the highway 10 miles away. So anyway, it’s a wonderful place where you could grow and be yourself and not have to worry about the other out there.

Is Nature our teacher?

Doug Monroe:

Okay, so, I’m going to read what you wrote about it, and I’m going to combine this, maybe, with another question, with your permission, about natural law, a little bit. Because I’ve heard you mention that without my prompting really. Is man meant for being in nature literally? And here’s a quote from one of your editorials about Rivendell, “The woods are a cathedral of nature that invigorate the individual, torn by the secularities and mediocrities of society.”

Ross Mackenzie:

So the answer is yes, man is meant to be in a natural society. I think we learned this from many people and some of the great ones like Jefferson, who wrote extensively on the role of the agrarian life in mankind. We have a quote on the wall at the cabin from Wordsworth, which says, “One impulse from the vernal wood can teach you more of man, of moral evil and of good than all the sages can.” And yeah, I think in the woods you learn about growth, germination growth and decay, as much as you can, or far more than you can from a more urban life. So I think it’s important to realize that people from Thoreau to Annie Dillard are going to the woods and writing about nature for good reason. And the reason is that the lessons are there if only we will only do our homework and read them.

What happens to man removed from nature?

Ross Mackenzie:

I think we’re seeing the removal of man from nature in our psychiatrists’ consultation rooms. I think we miss a lot of what the good Lord or the Judeo-Christian tradition intended for us if we don’t have that connection with nature that so many of our parents felt for us getting us off into the woods, into nature for a week at a camp or whatever. They’d take us off on weekends or we’d go to the parks. Parents knew it for their children, and I think we, as a culture, know it for each other, but those who are isolated from nature, I think don’t learn its lessons and consequently don’t act from the benefit of the lessons that it could teach if they were exposed to them. I think we see it with the impoverished and these boys clubs and girls clubs who take young people into nature, into natural environments, to expose them to the liberation that you can feel and the connectedness to natural things.

Doug Monroe:

The couple camps I’ve been associated with that have brought kids from inner city out to camp, it has a huge impact on them.

Ross Mackenzie:

Yes.

Doug Monroe:

It’s really amazing.

Your whole family each year to MI wilderness cabin Rivendell?

Ross Mackenzie:

Oh, yeah. Well, there were four, plus the dog. The various dogs. So it’s quite a trip, up to 22 hours, each way. So we used to do a lot of, also on travel, we got into audio books. When you had a four year old and a six year old, who we would get to the end of our driveway, and they would say, “Are we there yet?” You had to come up with something else. So we did “The Wind in the Willows” and “Swiss Family” and “Robinson Crusoe.” And after that, I got into my commute between from Goochland to Richmond, I got into doing books on tape and it was just a wonderful release to be able to read and drive the same time. That’s pretty good.

But at the cabin, yes, we would go out there and we would just be a group of four and people would say, “Well, what do you do there?” I said, “Well, we shoot and we canoe and we swim and-” “You fish?” “Yeah, we fish.” Right. “So what else do you do?” “Well, we read books and we sit around campfires at night and talk.” Yeah. “But when the kids are in bed, what do you and Jenny do?” I said, “You don’t get it. That’s what we do.” So.

Doug Monroe:

Well, I would say, I think the rest of the story is sitting behind me right here.

Ross Mackenzie:

Well, the rest of the story is a very important part of the story.

Doug Monroe:

And the logistics of doing all that. I can’t imagine it must have taken quite a lot of preparation.

Ross Mackenzie:

Well, she’s been wonderful, and throughout my life, and particularly during the cabin years, when she would go up there in these primitive conditions, and she did very well.

How did the 1960’s negatively impact America?

Ross Mackenzie:

So the ’60s were a point at which we began to change the consensus about what America was all about. We had, theretofore, a consensus about the virtue of the American experience. That these men who gathered in one place in 1776, and again in 1787. One of the more miraculous aggregations of humankind and intellect in the history of the west. Somehow this was not exceptional for what they did. That they did not launch us on a path of exceptionalism as a country.

And I think a culmination of that came, there have been many culminations, came in shortly after Obama was elected president when he went and gave his Cairo speech. And he said, “The concept of American exceptionalism is wrong.” Really? Now that was well after what, 20, no, 40 years, 45 years after the ’60s that you asked your question about, but it was an affirmation that what began in the ’60s, the destruction of that, begin the breakdown of that consensus came to a point where he was even saying it in 2008, 2009, that we were no different from all the countries that have gone before.

So we began to ask that question about America implicitly in the ’60s, and it has brought us to the present point where we now have things like the 1619 Project, which is saying 1776 was not any… It was actually a bad thing, not a good thing. And that the good thing was 1619. And so I think the 1960s are all wrapped up in that transformation, from where we were to what we have become.

When did some Americans start getting negative on the military?

Ross Mackenzie:

Yeah. So I think that although the discussion tends to go toward Vietnam, I think the discussion really begins with Korea, because Korea was the first war in our history that we weren’t allowed to win when we had the military capacity to do so. The discussions were about, well, MacArthur wanted to go back across the Yalu. Truman said no. It led to MacArthur’s firing. But there was no question that as we went forward in the ’50s up to ’53, when we finally settled or came to a truce that is still in place, we were not allowed to win that war when we could have. If we move forward to Vietnam, basically the same thing. Now what does that do to a culture when you’re saying, “Well, you can win a war, but we’re not going to?” That is not going to be allowed for you to do that. I think we’re seeing also, we have seen over many years, a similar attitude regarding Israel.

How does Israel relate?

Ross Mackenzie:

So if I’m correct, I think Israel has been attacked seven times. It was attacked the very day it was announced as a nation, it has won every one of those wars. But the public pressure from the West has always been, “You need to give back that land that you won, you shouldn’t have won it. You should treat the people who were there differently.” Well, okay. We’re still having that discussion, but Israel’s very victories are being challenged as though our ability to win in Korea and Vietnam were challenged. Now, I think what that does to a country is it changes a lot of attitudes in the country, goes to the very question of the exceptionalism that we were talking about a few minutes ago. Is this country exceptional in its ability to win the wars that it wages? Maybe not, and we’re not going to allow it to be exceptional, and then Obama can come and declare that it is no longer an exceptional nation.

Doug Monroe:

Fascinating you bring Israel into that, I’ll just comment on that briefly to keep the discussion going. You’re basically saying you have to let your enemy attack you, beat them, then give them the land back that they attacked you from.

Ross Mackenzie:

Right.

Doug Monroe:

It’s hard to get your arms around that, for a regular person anyway.

Ross Mackenzie:

It is.

Doug Monroe:

Only an elite could think of something so crazy.

Ross Mackenzie:

You think of it in more political terms. A president will say, “You may not like what I’m doing…” X president, I don’t want personalize this. X president says, “You may not like what I’m doing, but hey, we won. So these new policies are going to come into place.” Whereas, the Israelis can’t say that. “We won.” “But you can’t do that,” the others are saying.

What amazed you most during your 41 years as Editor?

Ross Mackenzie:

So I think that, one of the most astonishing things that I’ve witnessed is the fall of the wall. I was, what the wall has fallen after all of this? That’s okay. I mean, well we landed on the moon, that’s remarkable. But we knew sort of got the feeling we were part of the trip on that. And finally we got there and wow, what a magnificent thing. But almost out of the blue, you wake up one day and here the wall is no longer there and they’re pulling the thing down. I was just astonished.

I guess maybe the only thing that compares to it, albeit in a far different plane, is the election of Trump in 2016. I was part of the very strong consensus that he had no way of winning. And suddenly we woke up and, yeah, he won. So anyway, yeah. The fall of the wall was an astonishing moment, a great success for the West.

What brought the Berlin Wall down? It’s impact?

Ross Mackenzie:

It was accomplished by a variety of people, but some of the great players were Reagan of course, and Thatcher and John Paul and wow. And of course, maybe the fourth player there was Solzhenitsyn who told the story about what had been going on behind the wall. Just astonishing.

Now, I think we also need to be very clear that it did not end communism worldwide. It defeated, it told the end of communism per se, in Soviet Union, although the incumbent followed by the name of Putin says the glory years of Russia were during the height of the Soviet regime. Okay. So maybe communism continues. One can make the case that it does in the Soviet Union, albeit under a different header.

But we need to remember that communism is alive and well in places like Cuba, places like Venezuela, places like largely Southeast Asia. And of course the elephant in the living room is China and China is run by the CCP—the communist party of China. And yeah, we’re still dealing with it in there. We’re going to be dealing with them for quite some time. I think though.

Sam Huntington? Is conflict inherent in human history?

Ross Mackenzie:

I think that the history of mankind is, alas, the history of wars and the history of conflict. And I think it is a pipe dream to think that war and conflict are over, that we can ever reach that nirvana, where it doesn’t happen. The stakes become ever greater with the arrival of the nuclear age. We’re thinking about that, or worrying about that publicly regarding Iran, whether they should have nuclear power and nuclear weapons. I believe that they’re going to achieve them. How we’re going to react to that is going to be a great question. We also have, the big boy on the block is China and they got all the nuclear weapons they need. And so I think that Huntington’s concept of cultures in conflict is valid and that we will never come to the point of the global warm and fuzziness that globalists would like us to have. Globalism is behind the UN, the whole concept of the UN. That as we sit down and talk and converse, we’re going to come to a more peaceful and more brotherly relationship with each other.

Is family the basis of civilization?

Ross Mackenzie:

Well, it is the basis of civilization, no question. Where we are now in the growth of the welfare state… So the family is built on the concept, one concept, of responsibility, taking care of yourself or yourselves, your family. As we grow older, we either continue to take care of ourself and our new families that we create as we go along, or we give up that responsibility. I think that what’s happened as we become less dependent on ourselves and more dependent on something else, being the government, I think we are losing a great deal.

Now, whether we’re going to ultimately come to the ultimate commune where the government oversees the entire population, that’s a different question. Where we are now is I think we’re seeing the destruction of the family. The removal of the father, so often from the family scene, tears up our children, tears up our families, it tears up our culture. I just think that it is a great indicator of change on the cultural landscape that is not beneficial to us as a country, us as a people, us as a culture itself.

What is wrong with our educational system?

Ross Mackenzie:

One of the differences between liberals and conservatives so-called is that conservatives tend to believe that man is born fallen and he’s a sinner. And he seeks to improve, he’s penitent and seeks to improve during his life versus the so-called liberals say, no, man is born good and is corrupted by institutions and by other people. But I think institutions is a good word. So when you ask about education, maybe the ultimate institution and what it has done to our landscape, I think that we have been trying to change the institution of education for as long as I’ve been cognizant of it. And that we are seeing the consequences of this changing of institution. One of the things that I’ve long thought is that when you set to tinkering, let’s say you’re set to tinkering with the one room schoolhouse, which was a pretty darn good concept you set to tinkering.

And what does it do? It requires you to always do more tinkering. Well, we didn’t adjust it here right, so we need to do a little bit more over here. But then over here it’s different. So education, as one thinks about it, in my lifetime has been a constant change, a constant tinkering. We had phonics in the beginning. I was raised on look say. Sally and Dick and their dog Spot, okay? And then we went to in math, you remember when we went to the rods that four and four is yellow? Hello? And then now I saw most recently that a new Oregon teachers manual is telling teachers that they need to come up with two answers to math questions, two correct answers for math questions so that you don’t ruin Johnny’s self-esteem if he gets it wrong, gets the answer wrong.

So education has been a constant tinkering with a bad result. I think what we’re seeing in the classrooms today is just not what we saw 50 years ago and 50 years ago was maybe about as good as it could get in the culture that we have. And that was the old one room teacher with the older kids helping teach the younger kids and going on forward and getting on and getting out and getting on with it versus now worrying about whether Johnny’s going to be hurt if he doesn’t get the one in one is two question exactly right, so.

Comments on your friend, Walter Williams?

Ross Mackenzie:

So Walter was quite a guy. He was, of course, one of our great free market economists of the last 30 years. He believed that the market was just about everything. I like his point about the minimum wage. When you would ask him about the minimum wage, he would say, “Well, now let me just ask you a question. Would you rather have the current minimum wage, I guess is $7.25. Would you rather have a job for $7 and 25 cents an hour, or would you rather have no job at $15 an hour?” So Walter had a wonderful way of relating economic issues to everyday experience, and he was just a wonderful teacher in that regard, and headed up one of the few remaining free market departments in the country.

How to explain our war over America’s heroes?

Ross Mackenzie:

We focused on the goodness of these men, their accomplishments, the good things that they did. And now we’re focusing on their sins. So we’re focusing on the sin of Madison’s owning slaves versus the virtue of his creating a constitutional government the likes of which we’ve never seen in the history of mankind. And even the creation of that government led to the disappearance of the sin for which we now want to condemn him. Without the constitutional government, the American form, we would not have had the elimination of slavery. And we want to condemn Madison and the others for this? And we want to punish people living today who had no play in the slavery for which were being told we should be put punished. And so now we need to change the historical narrative and this gets us to Winston and 1984 and, what is it? He who controls the past controls the future and he who controls the present controls the past. We’re changing our culture, we’re changing our historical narrative so that we can change the future. Okay.

Is the history of Communism repeating itself in America?

Ross Mackenzie:

You mention that and it gets me thinking about my long-term fascination with anti-communists. They come out and they tell a story and it’s their story that captures us. And you read the story and you say, “We better not do that again.” And it’s also related to my fascination with the POWs. Here’s their story and isn’t it awful what man can do to man? Similarly, isn’t it awful what man can do to man in the anti-communist stories? And now we’re leading to a more communal type of government, a more tyrannical, semi-quasi tyrannical form of government. And we’re going to get the very stories, we’re going to revisit the stories that we’ve already got. Why would we ever want to go there?

What about journalism today?

Ross Mackenzie:

Overall, the newspapers have been extremely liberal. I can tell the story about 1980 at the editor’s convention, there are 500 people, 500 editors from the nation’s leading newspapers. And when you went into the opening cocktail party, you were given a little form and you were supposed to check the one box of the individual who you wanted to be the next president, not who you thought would be, but who you wanted to be. Now, this is 1980, it was April 1980, and you had people like Jimmy Carter, Teddy Kennedy, Bush I, Ronald Reagan, John Anderson was in the mix. And at the final function, they announced the results.

500 editors, 250 of them wanted Teddy Kennedy to be the next president. Another 150 wanted Jimmy Carter to be the next president, to be reelected. Then the numbers fell down through Bush I, through John Anderson, I think John Anderson was third, John Anderson, Bush I. And finally we came down to five people in the room out of 500 wanted Ronald Reagan to be the next president. These are the nation’s leading editors. That was in 1980. Now we come forward and newspapers have dramatically, dramatically changed, not in their ideology, but in what they are. We have lost 2000 mastheads since the year 2000. It’s astounding.

What is the state of the newspaper industry today?

Ross Mackenzie:

The business model doesn’t work anymore. Newspapers are being shut down. Major mastheads, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe. They’ve all had their financial problems and many of them have gone toes up. They’ve gone bankrupt. They’ve been bought by hedge funds. They are not being managed by traditional newspaper people anymore. So many of them are in shutdown mode, if they haven’t shut down already.

I can remember when I came to Richmond that we had a combined News Leader/Times-Dispatch total circulation of about 270,000, between the two newspapers. That was in 1965. Today, I would be surprised if the combined News Leader/Time-Dispatch is circulating more than 70,000 as opposed to 270,000. It’s just these numbers, I have no inside knowledge of what those numbers are. This is my expectation. I may be wrong, and I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am.

How did the old newspaper model work?

Ross Mackenzie:

What happened was that early on, newspapers were built around an advertising model. So newspapers were highly profitable operations, which were funded by advertisers. And when you’re presenting to an advertiser, you don’t want to have… You want an anodyne product. You don’t want a product that is going to irritate people. You want to come up at them with what you call objectivity. Now, this objectivity was essentially run and produced in newsrooms, which were people, by liberals, but it was presented as objectivity. And if you wanted to go onto the editorial page and get subjectivity, you could do that. They were split. In Richmond, that was the case, and it was the case in many newspapers around the country. All of that began to change within the past 10 years.

What changed in newspapers and when?

Ross Mackenzie:

And it dramatically changed in 2016. Major revolution in newspapers. So we have this decline of circulation nationwide. Lot of it is a consequence of the internet, but advertisers are fleeing. The bottom lines are very bad and along comes the victory of Donald Trump, which caught all of these newspapers by surprise. Caught me by surprise. But this was not supposed to happen. And these newspapers separately, or over here, are looking at their survival under the advertising mode of setting these newspapers, running these newspapers, and you know what? Things changed. And that change was led by the New York Times, laterally by the Washington Post. But at the New York Times, they said, “We’re not going to be an advertising based newspaper anymore. And we’re not going to present as being objectively driven in our news columns, even though we weren’t, we were liberal, we weren’t moderate, we were liberal, but we sold ourselves as being objective to satisfy our advertisers.”

“But our advertisers aren’t supporting us anymore. They’ve gone to the internet or they’ve gone to the golf course. Wherever they’ve gone, they’re not here advertising in the New York Times. What we’re going to do is change our model to an advocacy driven readership. We are going to give these readers what we want them to have, which is our point of view, which is liberalism. And regarding Donald Trump, we are going to drive this guy from office and we are going to sell our newspapers on the internet.” And we ultimately were successful in doing this.

“We’re going to get them to pay for our product electronically. And that’s how we’re going to make our money. We’re going to give up on the print product because we can’t get the advertisers and we’re going to sell these people what they want to hear, which is in this case to get rid of this guy, that’s going to lead to two impeachment trials. It’s going to lead to the Mueller investigation. It’s going to lead to all this stuff to get rid of this guy that our readership wants to hear. That his election was a mistake.”

And that changed the model for new newspapers around the country. Those that survive. Changed at the Washington Post, same reason. They trailed the New York Times a little bit, but same things happening there. They are selling their agenda as opposed to the pretense of objectivity. And it’s taken over in newspapers around the country, the lesser ones that survive.

The future of newspapers

Ross Mackenzie:

Now will the other ones survive? Wonderful story about Warren Buffet who bought the Richmond newspapers. And he has these massive shareholder meetings for Berkshire Hathaway. And he was asked … I believe it was last spring or maybe the spring before, I don’t recall. But recently he was asked about his investment in the Virginia newspapers, which had been the former media general newspapers. “What do you think about newspapers today?” And he said, “Well, I think the New York Times and the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal will survive, but the rest of them? Toast.”

So I think that the future of newspapers is limited. I think they’re going to be … Those that survive are going to become more advocacy based, where they can sell to a readership and still make money, sell to a readership that is going to agree with their point of view. That is the point of view in the newsroom, no pretense anymore. It’s a liberal agenda and they are going to try to sell that agenda to enough people, so that they can make money. And these people are going to pay so that the readers can get behind the paywall.

Extremely spinned political advocacy today, rather than facts?

Ross Mackenzie:

In Richmond, for example, only the News Leader and the Times-Dispatch had an Associated Press wire. Later, it had a New York Times or a Washington Post wire. And that’s where the news came from. That’s how it was distributed through those wires. And then you had your local people who went out and covered the courts and covered the local government’s Board of Supervisors meetings and the meetings down at City Hall. But the national and international news were run by these few wire services. Now, everybody, you can get your news everywhere. But what can’t you get everywhere? You can’t get the opinion of those people in the newsrooms, so we’re going to sell that opinion, advance it as news, package it as news, but require people to pay for it behind a paywall on the internet.

Why are most reporters on the Left?

Ross Mackenzie:

I think you can ask the same question, Doug. I think you can ask the same question about the academy, the mainline churches, Hollywood, as well as the press. These are our culture forming entities. I think there’s a reason that it’s hard to find a conservative on a university faculty anymore. It’s hard near impossible to find a conservative in a newspaper newsroom, let alone editorial page. When I was editor, there were only about five conservative editorial pages of any size in the country, Wall Street Journal, Richmond and then you maybe went to Orange County, maybe Indianapolis, maybe Phoenix, but very, very few. Also in the church that the mainline churches have gone in the same direction and in Hollywood, the same direction.

People are known as rarities if they’re conservatives, such as Clint Eastwood. Used to be maybe Ronald Reagan, maybe, but he was not… He was a conservative, but he was an anti-union guy when he was in Hollywood and was taking on the labor unions, which were in fact riddled with communists. The why is because these enterprises, the press, the academy, Hollywood, and the churches are part of the leftist hegemony, which shapes the culture. You can get some of this from Gramsci who says, we need to have people out there shaping the culture and they’re doing it.

Is the Leftward shift a conspiracy?

Ross Mackenzie:

I don’t think it’s a conspiracy. I’m not a conspiracy guy in this sense, but I think it goes to your point. People tend to hire their own. Once you’re there, if you’re known as an outsider, you’re ostracized, you’re forced out or life is made miserable for you.

Ross Mackenzie:

I can tell you a story about in the academy. When I was in college, my mentor there, a fellow named David Rao, full professor, had been on the faculty for 20 years, 30 years maybe. And he had his office right next to the administrative office for the political science department. And one day he went to his office and the door was closed and he asked, “What’s going on? He said, “Well, we’re expanding into your office because we need to expand the administration office, and yours is the adjacent space. So we’re expanding into your space. He said, “Well, where’s my office?” “Well, your office is in the basement of one of the university colleges and oh, by the way, you’re going to share it with a graduate student from Uganda. Now this is how a full professor was treated at Yale in 1960. Come on. That was 1960. All right? Continues to go on.

How is our Cultural Left affecting us?

Ross Mackenzie:

So the hegemon is a reality in the sense that it is there from the pulpit, from the newsroom, from the movie screen, from the university lecture hall. It is shaping those who come after or those who are affected by it. And it’s a largely leftist product that these people are being given. And it’s affecting in terms of the resistance to it, is affecting the mainline churches whose pews are empty or emptying. I remember when I used to write about, when I was writing professionally, that I used for the Episcopal Church, I wrote that the national number of communicants were 2.9 million. Now, they’re 1.9 million. And of course, we’ve had population growth during that period. And so you’re seeing resistance to this by this hegemon, this leftist hegemon preaching from the pulpits or the newsrooms or wherever it may be.

How are Americans resisting the Left?

Ross Mackenzie:

You’re seeing resistance by people leaving. You’re seeing the newspaper circulation diminishing. You’re seeing more and more parents are saying, “Why do I need to pay $60,000 a year of after tax money to have my child propagandized by some wacko professor who’s going to turn him into something that I don’t want my child to become.” You’re seeing resistance to this. You’re seeing it now in the schools, partly because of the virus, enhanced by the virus. Parents are saying if they’re going to shut the schools down, I don’t necessarily like the way things were going in the schools anyway, we’re going to start building blocks or basically going into small school units where we’re going to get six families with the children from six families.

And we’re going to get in a teacher or two and hello, one room schoolhouse. We’re going to get a teacher in or two. And we’re bring in, if one parent is good at science and another’s good at math and another’s good at reading, we’re going to have the parents begin to participate in the education of their kids. And these are acts of revolution on the part of people who are saying, “We don’t want this stuff anymore.”

So that’s a long answer, maybe.

Comments on Elitism

Doug Monroe:

No, I got you. I’d love to read just the last paragraph I read this morning before hopping in the car, would agree totally with what you’re saying. So in this again, just editorial comment. It’s because, one, I think smart, elite people like to control others. Number two, it pays, today particularly. People are intimidated by whatever the cultural fat is. And I do think there’s, a lot of them believe that they’re helping others, the oppressed, the poor and so on. So there’s some legitimacy to it, but the more we don’t find babies running around without clothes on, everyone’s fed, everyone has shelter, the more that kind of goes away as a reason, I think.

Ross Mackenzie:

So, you know-

Doug Monroe:

In the United States anyway.

Comments on Elites in Government

Doug Monroe:

It was a guy named Auguste Comte. I don’t know if you know who he was.

Ross Mackenzie:

I sure do.

Doug Monroe:

Who is the father of sociology?

Ross Mackenzie:

Am I right?

Doug Monroe:

Father of sociology. And he said, what government is about is the improvement of society. So if you’re talking about the improvement of society, what does that mean? What it means is that you have a concept or an image about how you can make things better. So we want government to make things better. Better from whose perspective? Mine. I know better what’s- I know best what’s better for you than you know for yourself. Essence of leftism, it’s the essence of leftism. And if you go to that wonderful quote by Orwell, who says at bottom, people who want to get to government to purportedly make things better, become corrupted by the power they have. And so what happens? The rationale for torture becomes torture. The rationale for terror becomes terror. The rationale for power becomes control.

Ross Mackenzie:

And as Alexander Hamilton said is evidence, “I submit all of human history.”

Ross Mackenzie:

Okay?

Doug Monroe:

Yes.

How is illiteracy influencing America?

Ross Mackenzie:

I think one of the things that it’s doing is it is disallowing us to focus. I think the lack of focus or lack of our ability to focus is one of the great cultural changes that we’re confronting right now. So what happens when you sit down with your newspaper is you focus on what’s going on, what you’re reading, anything you’re reading, in this room, any book, it’s requiring you to focus. But as we move away from the printed word to the electronic view, we are allowed to look around and not focus so much, we become distracted. And maybe this goes back to my love of writing alone. You can focus on what you’re saying and how you’re saying it, as opposed to being bothered by that noise or that person or that distraction that’s off there on the periphery. I think our change from the printed word in newspapers or in books, the printed word is under siege in almost all its forms, newspapers, magazines, books.

As we move away from the printed word and the focus it gives us, we’re becoming a more active people and not able to, in the newer phrase, which to hone in on what is really the important thing at hand. And I think that’s what it’s doing to us to answer your question. What is it doing it to us? It’s making us more distracted and consequently not as effective and in our behavior as human beings and taking care of ourselves, which is what we ought to be doing.

Doug Monroe:

Exactly. And finding solutions, and also just being friendly and sociable toward each other.

Too much debt? Inflation? Balance the budget?

Ross Mackenzie:

Sure. Yes, we need to balance the budget. It’s one of the great oughts. Yes, we ought to balance the budget. Will we ever balance the budget with a currently $25 trillion dollar national debt? The answer is no, we’re never going to repay that. Are we coming into a sort of a new economic nirvana where we never have a collapse? I don’t think so. I think we’re looking at some time down the road, heaven knows when that’s going to be, but I think we’re looking at potentially very bad times with this kind of extravagance, beyond extravagant. Extravagant is not an operative word here, but I don’t know of a better one right now. But profligacy, maybe. We’re just throwing money all around and we will have to pay for it at some point. And yes, we should be balancing the budget. Families balance budgets, states such as Virginia are required to balance budgets. And yeah, it’s the way to go.

What size Government is best?

Ross Mackenzie:

Smaller government is better government. That was what was envisioned by the founders. I’m for it, but government efforts to cut government have always been only partially successful. I don’t think ultimately Ronald Reagan, even Ronald Reagan cut the government. He cut its growth by a certain percentage, but he didn’t cut the bottom line numbers. I’m not sure about what Trump did. Certainly at some of the higher levels, he couldn’t fill his positions. So they weren’t filled. I think we’ll probably see them filled now and government will. I think it’s inexorable. I think government grows.

Doug Monroe:

Got you. That’s not hopeful. I’m glad I won’t be around for the long term trend on that.

What about the 2020 presidential election?

Ross Mackenzie:

So I think the election was marred by fraud in the sense that we allowed mail-in voting. I think it’s going to become the new norm. Vote harvesting, unwitnessed vote harvesting is going to become part of the new norm. Both are contained in the new HR1, which is Nancy Pelosi’s most important legislative effort to get HR1 passed and they embrace this whole concept of vote harvesting and mail-in balloting. I think the… Whether fraud was the cause of Trump’s defeat or not, I think the jury is… My personal jury is still out on that one.

I think that it’s important to me that none of the examinations of fraud that went to the courts was sustained. So I think we’ve always had fraud. We had fraud in 1960. We had fraud in 1800 in the Adams Jefferson election. We’ve always had fraud. Whether the fraud is decisive in the outcome I’m not sure that I can say. As we go forward I think that the example of the 2020 election means that we are probably consolidating democratic control in Washington for the foreseeable future. I do not see a good prospect for the Republicans winning, at least at the presidential level, anytime soon.

Do you still support mandatory public service?

Ross Mackenzie:

The answer is yes. It was one of my many campaigns that failed, editorial campaigns. I think it’s… So I always… Mandatory public service. I always had a… It was a two component deal. One was you start with six months basic training, basic military training, boot camp. So everybody gets six months of military service compulsory. The voluntary enterprise has worked where it’s been tried.

I think the public also feels that public service is important to the extent that if you’re a high school student, you don’t have a very good prospect for getting into college if you can’t show your sincere multitude-ness volunteer hours showing that you are interested in public service and serving your fellow man. And you’re not going to get into college unless you can show that. You’re not likely to get into college unless you can show that.

So we have out there a sense in the public that public service is good. Voluntary public service is good. That yeah, it would be a nice thing to serve in the military, but we don’t need the military right now. And so I come down to the fact that public service would be good for the nation if it became part of our cultural fabric, where we said to the young, “Look, you’re going to have the opportunity to serve and do your one, call it one year of service,” either directly after you finish high school, before you go to college, or we’re going to let you postpone it until you leave, either through flunking out or needing a gap here or graduating from college. You’re going to do it at that point when you leave a four year undergraduate program.

And when it’s required, when everybody does, it’s going to be part of the discussion among the young. They’re going to say, “Well, when are you going to do it? Are you going to do it right after college? Or are you going to do it after high school?” And, “Gosh, what are you going to do for your non-military component? You going to work in the jails. You’re going to escort little old ladies across the street? Are you going to work on the drug houses? What are you going to do?” I think it’s important to infuse this into the culture. It would be a comparatively easy thing to do. The military component also is important to me because I do think we need to build, within this country, a sense of the need to defend it. And all of those come together in still believing in the importance of a mandatory year for service with a military component. Yes.

Doug Monroe:

I think it would also get us treating our young adults like they’re adults again. So that would be quite helpful.

Is China the New Soviet Union?

Ross Mackenzie:

The answer is yes, I do have a view. I think that the future has Chinese reality in it that we are hardly even aware of right now. China is the big guy on the block. They’re going into outer space, they’re building their military. They are invested heavily in the American economy and in the economies of Western countries, large and small. They’re building ports. I mean, from Zoom to TikTok, they’re all over the internet.

They are a tyrannical state. Call them communists, call them whatever you want to, it’s tyranny. They’re enslaving their people. They’re killing off the Uyghurs and selling them, selling their body parts. They’ve shut down Hong Kong, they’re anti-liberty, they’re anti-anybody who disagrees with them. We need to recognize that this is happening and we need to prepare for it, and I’m not sure we adequately are. I hope we are, but I don’t feel that we are. Yeah.

Doug Monroe:

Gotcha. Strong statement there. I think Obama was… That’s one of the right things he did, is try to change this a little bit more toward China.

Ross Mackenzie:

Yeah.

Doug Monroe:

He didn’t do it that seriously, but all in due time.

What about climate change?

Ross Mackenzie:

I think it’s our new religion. I think it’s ironic to note the change in the phrase itself from its former, global warming. Scientifically, I don’t think that there’s any doubt that we’re getting slightly warmer. I think the data sustain that. I think what the data don’t sustain is why we’re getting warmer. I think we are probably most likely in a sun spot cycle, which is giving us warmer temperatures. I’m not sure that anything we can do can affect it much.

I think it’s interesting to think about the great piece of land called Greenland. When the Norwegians arrived there, they gave it that name. For a long time it hadn’t been very green because we went into a cold spell. Now we’re coming out of that cold spell into a warm spell. I think these are much more likely to be natural cycles that we can’t affect much. To base so much of our economic policy on affecting climate change, I think is a heavy dose of misdirection.

Have traditional Christians lost America?

Ross Mackenzie:

… have as traditional Christians and as so called conservatives, are we losing the game? I think we are. I think if you look at Europe and the great cathedrals of Europe, they’re empty, virtually empty, except a bunch of old ladies in some of the rare pews and their museums. It tells you what’s happening to Christianity in Europe. I think here in America, the seeming collapse of the mainline churches is another indicator that their influence is diminishing rapidly. They’re becoming pulpits before the proselytizing of leftist doctrine.

The religious scene, to my mind, one of the bright spots on it is what I think is another great awakening, there have been basically four in sort of the historic annals, but this may be a fifth, or it may be a continuation of the fourth, where we’re seeing the growth of the megachurches. I think the reluctance of the more established mainline churches to get particularly excited about the more fundamentalist megachurches is an indicator that the mainline churches really don’t like what they’re seeing in this flocking to a new, more biblically-based religion.

That’s where the enthusiasm is, in the megachurches, not in the mainline churches. And so I think that the mainline churches are lost. Whether the megachurches are lost, I think the jury’s still out.

I think conservatism, so called, may be lost as well because of what’s happening in the political sphere. I think these two elections, 16 and 20, are dramatic turning points in the political success of a cultural development, which goes by the name of conservatism. I think that conservatives have probably largely lost it. And now that the Democrats, the leftists have the power of all three, well, at least of both houses and the presidency, not the courts, but while they have these three political entities in their control, they’re going to do as much as they can to secure that for the long term. And I think that that means in that securing means that the more moderate conservatives are going to be frozen out and these changes are intended to make sure that they are frozen out.

How do Americans know when we are at the end of an era?

Ross Mackenzie:

I think you get it. I think you learn, you see, that you’re at the end of an era in two ways. One is by the mere fact of looking around, the anecdotal evidence that things are not the way they ought to be or the way you would like them to be or the way they have been all along, education, the churches, the economy, the mere fact that we can spend all this money and figure we’re never going to have to pay it back. These are big changes. The fact that now we’re not taking much pride in military service anymore. That’s an anecdotal datum that is very troubling that something here is going on. So, that’s one way. Looking around. Seems simple, but it’s the aggregate of the sign posts you see on the landscape to mark, hey, we may be getting at the end of the road here and we may be going somewhere else. That’s one.

The second is this area, this zone, of optimism versus pessimism. I’ve been an inveterate optimist all my life, but I see here, now… And, that optimism may be… Let me say this, that optimism is in whether I think, whether I have felt, that things would get better long term. It’s almost that cliche, will my children and grandchildren be better off than I am? The question has often been asked from the sense of monetarily, but I ask it not only monetarily, but otherwise. And I think when you could say, “Yes, they will be,” that’s one place in the culture, on the road. But when you begin to say, “I’m not so sure. The way these indicators over here are speaking to me that I see when I look around, I’m not sure that this road we’re going down is going to be better for them than it was for me.” I think that may be the other part of this marker, that there’s a growing sense of pessimism out of what used to be an optimistic point of view.

What is the Left really after? How does it fail?

Ross Mackenzie:

I go back to August Comte. I think that the left at bottom wants to make things better. I think it would be wrong of me to suggest otherwise. I think that they’re sincerely motivated, at least originally. But I’ve read too much of what can happen about people who want to make things better. They get into positions of power and they don’t like to give it up. And I think one of our great writers, great novelists was Orwell. And to read his story is so telling about what happens in a fascist communist state, which is what big brother presides over, and how to make his life better or make life better within Oceania for people like Winston Smith.

To make life better for him, you have to destroy him. You have to make him confront his greatest fear, and then you have to control him. Once you’ve broken him, you have to control him by keeping him drunk all the time so he won’t resist is the literary equivalent of what Orwell says in 1984. Which is if you want a picture of the future, think of a boot grinding on the human face forever. Now the left wants to make things better, but I’m enough of an act tonight to know that to believe that power does corrupt and absolute power corrupts, absolutely.

And Orwell again, Orwell says, in such modes, in such circumstances, people get power for power. They torture for the purposes of torturing. There is no other rationale. And I then go to that wonderful by Mel Roe. I think it’s Mel Roe, who had talked to a woman who was jailed and she had gone into communism believing in its many virtues. And then she gets put in jail and she says to him, “And then one night I heard screams.” That’s the picture that Orwell says of a boot grinding on the human face. And I think although liberalism Comteans, August Comteans, J. Allen Smith is a political behaviorist, 1902, something like that.

Spirit of American government, great influence on American political science. I think these people want to get into it to make things better. In their defense, that’s what they want to do. But in making things better, they have to tinker and keep tinkering and ultimately they become fascinated with their ability to tinker and control. And it’s a bad trip the rest of the way. This gets also into, you mentioned, we talked about Strauss a little bit. How Strauss is sort of referenced and either revered or detested as one of the fathers of neoconservatism, so called, and it’s led to bizarre, obscure, weird logical explanations to blame Leo Strauss for the Iraq War.

Come on. But anyway, that’s the way it went. As the left wants to make things better, it wants to change our institutions because it is seen our institutions here to four as corrupt, or it sees them as they exist now as corrupt. So it wants to change them and make them better, and that leads to more tinkering and that me leads to the collapse of public education. So I think that it’s after wanting desperately to make things better in according to their definition of what better may be, but in the process only makes them worse.

Is the Left better at narrative or language?

Ross Mackenzie:

So this is a fascinating question; whether the left is better rhetorically than non-leftists. Of course, leftists never have an enemy to the left [foreign language 00:00:21]. Never is there an enemy to the left. They’re always to the right. Okay.

I think the rhetoric of liberalism today is grounded in pity, and in guilt. And that is a language that is very hard to argue against. And so that gives them a rhetorical advantage going up to people whose rhetoric is not grounded in pity and guilt.

Your favorite historical figures?

Ross Mackenzie:

So I’ve done a lot of college admissions, and that was a great question. Who would you like to have dinner with?

Doug Monroe:

Yeah.

Ross Mackenzie:

Right. Jesus, Socrates, Shakespeare. Churchill, in the 20th century. Lincoln, maybe the greatest American of all. In the 20th century, I think maybe John Paul and Solzhenitsyn, towering figures.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about America?

Ross Mackenzie:

I used to be optimistic, but I’m increasingly pessimistic. I came to my views, maybe if there was a moment that I can identify, I read Whittaker Chambers. Wrote one of the great autobiographies in the American language. The only other great one is, the only one on the same level is, maybe, “The Education of Henry Adams.”

Chambers, when he left communism, believed deeply that he was leaving the winning side for the losing side. This was in the 1930s. He was never a high ranking communist. He was only a courier and he was this magnificent writer who had happened to be a courier to a guy named Alger Hiss. And it was his testimony, it was Chamber’s testimony about Hiss, that led Hiss to jail. And Hiss went to jail, not for being a communist, but for lying, saying that he didn’t ever know Whittaker Chambers, where they’d been great friends. I would defy anybody to read that part of Witness, his autobiography, called A Letter to My Children, I would defy any reader to read that without tearing up. And when I read Chambers, it introduced me to anti-communism, albeit he was an American communist, and really my sensitivities went to non-American communists. But he had a marvelous quote that I’ve had on my wall for a long time. And, I might be able to give it to you right now.

“It is idle to talk about preventing the wreck of Western civilization. It is already a wreck from within. That is why we can hope to do little more now than snatch a fingernail of a saint from the rack or a handful of ashes from the faggots, and bury them secretly in a flower pot against the day, ages hence, when a few men begin to dare, to begin again to dare to believe that there was once something else, that something else is thinkable, and need some evidence of what it was, and the fortifying knowledge that there were those who, at the great nightfall, took a loving thought to preserve the tokens of hope and truth.”

It’s not a very optimistic statement, but I fear that it may, he may, it may be true.

Three Quotes and Dialogue

Ross Mackenzie:

This is a quote by Lincoln, and I had this on my wall during my years as editor. Jenny used to say to me when she would pick up the paper and read some letter from somebody ripping me, and she would say, “Why do you let these people say this about you?” I go, well, “That’s part of the game. You need to let them vent.” I had this quote, which is a marvelous quote from Lincoln. Whenever you’re ready.

Videographer:

We’re rolling. Anytime.

Doug Monroe:

Ready.

Ross Mackenzie:

Lincoln said, “If I were to try to read much less answer all the attacks made against me, this shop might as well be closed to any other business. I do the very best I can and the very best I know how, and I mean to keep on doing it until the end, and if the end brings me out, all right, then what they say against me won’t amount to anything. But if the end brings me out wrong, then 10 angels swearing I was right. Would make no difference.”

Doug Monroe:

A lot more eloquent than saying I’m toast anyway.

Ross Mackenzie:

Here’s another Chambers quote. I don’t know if you haven’t read “Witness.” You read “Witness.” Another Chambers quote. “It is part of the failure of the West to understand that it is at grips with an enemy having no moral viewpoint in common with itself, that two irreconcilable viewpoints and standards of judgment, two irreconcilable moralities proceeding from two irreconcilable readings of man’s fate and future are involved, and hence, their conflict is irrepressible.”

Doug Monroe:

Exactly. Right. Any ones you’ve got like that, we’ll take them.

Ross Mackenzie:

All right. Now the last one is by T. S. Eliot, and it’s about writing, and it goes back to a little bit toward the Lincoln quote, and it’s in response to why are you such a contrarian? Why are you always going against the tide? Why are you always leaning in against the wind? Nobody else is saying it this way. Why don’t you say it this way? Or why don’t you say it that way or whatever? This is a response to that.

T. S. Eliot. “I confess that I am not very much concerned with the question of influence, or were those publicists who have impressed their names upon the public by catching the morning tide and rowing very fast in the direction in which the current was flowing, but rather that there should always be a few writers preoccupied in penetrating to the core of the matter, in trying to arrive at the truth and set it forth, without too much hope, without ambition to alter the immediate course of affairs, and without being downcast or defeated when nothing appears to ensue.”

Doug Monroe:

In other words, the truth. Thank you.

Ross Mackenzie:

That’s it. That’s all I have.

Doug Monroe:

Wow. That’s beautiful. Thank you so much for that.

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