Rush Limbaugh’s Favorite Political Thinker: Angelo Codevilla
Stream editor John Zmirak has regularly pointed readers to the writings of political philosopher Angelo Codevilla, who in fact wrote a piece for the Stream some years ago. A staunchly “realist” man of the Right, Codevilla diagnosed the profound corruption of America’s elite, and pointed out how our governing classes have abandoned not just Christianity, but patriotism and even democracy.
Instead, they govern as a hostile and toxic Oligarchy — a fact that TIME magazine admitted, when it boasted about the “Cabal” (TIME’s own term) that strove to fix the 2020 election. We urge readers to delve into the richness of Codevilla’s thought, both online and in his books. Prof. Codevilla was scheduled to do an email interview with John Zmirak for The Stream in October. Before that could happen, Codevilla died at age 71 as the victim of a drunk driver. May he rest in peace.
To commemorate Prof. Codevilla, The Stream is excerpting from a biographical sketch by one of his old friends, Richard Bishirjian, who studied with him in graduate school. The full version of the sketch appears in Bishirjian’s new book about great thinkers of the Right whom he has known, Ennobling Encounters.
Meeting a Great Young Mind
In September, 1965, Gerhart Niemeyer, Professor of Government at the University of Notre Dame, mentioned to me that a new graduate student from Rutgers University in New Jersey had arrived and that I had seen him the day before as Niemeyer and he had passed me walking on campus.
I told Niemeyer that the person that was walking beside him couldn’t be the same person. “The person you were with was a European.”
That young graduate student was Angelo Maria Codevilla. Codevilla was, like me, a Goldwater conservative and was attracted to Notre Dame because he had been introduced to the university by Richard V. Allen at an Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) Summer School in 1963.
In our own way, we … Goldwater conservatives … had reacted negatively to the secularization of America that was apparent in the 1960s, the difference being that I was a Missouri Synod Lutheran and Angelo Codevilla was an Italian from Italy with typical Italian attitudes toward the “-ism” of “Catholicism”— and a Lutheran. … Let me permit Dr. Codevilla to tell his story.
I arrived in America at age thirteen in 1956 without knowledge of English but with an excellent Italian education that put me ahead of my American cohort. I also came with some set attitudes: a disposition to love America, commitment to academic excellence, anti-communism (my gang used to fight a gang of commie kids, and our family — which worshiped work — despised the commies as lazy and violent.
Like many Lombards, I was a devout Christian but aggressively anti-clerical. The Lutheran pastor next to whom we lived had no trouble convincing me that Luther was more Catholic than the Pope.
David Samuels writes of being “an attentive reader of Codevilla’s book Informing Statecraft, which together with Norman Mailer’s novel Harlot’s Ghost offers a fair guide to the karmic evolution of the U.S. intelligence community.” The interview is worth reading because it reveals Codevilla’s deeply rooted commitments and his willingness to offend, even David Samuels.
Our “Meritocracy” Is Faking It
One of Codevilla’s commitments is to “meritocracy” by which persons are advanced based on merit, not whom you know or your parentage. Gifted in mastery of language (Italian, French, English), Codevilla “tests well” and when given the opportunity to advance by testing he is at the “top of his class.”
Drafted after leaving Notre Dame, Codevilla became a naval officer and tested upward into the ranks of the foreign service. Sheer ability enabled Codevilla to serve as an intelligence specialist under Malcolm Wallop (R-WY), for whom he served on the professional staff of the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence. Serving as Sen. Wallace’s designee saved him from being removed from the Committee’s staff by Sen. Barry Goldwater who fired him only to have him reinstated within a day.
To David Samuels, Codevilla comments on merit and how what he calls the Ruling Class subverts advancement on merit:
In living memory, and I’m an example of that, it was for a time possible for nonliberal Democrats to get into the American foreign service, and if they did as I did, and scored number one in their class, they would have their choice of assignments. But now, you have all sorts of new criteria for admission into the foreign service, which have supposedly ensured greater diversity. In fact, what they had done was to eliminate the possibility that the joint might be invaded by lesser beings of superior intelligence.
Codevilla’s fascination with higher education’s connection to the Ruling Class is also revealed:
the defining feature of the ruling class is a certain attitude. And that attitude developed in the academy, and that attitude became uniform throughout the country because of the uniform academy. The uniformity of the academy transformed itself into the uniformity of the ruling class.
A Sharp, Insider Critic of Our Bloated, Blind Intelligence Agencies
Though his reputation as a political philosopher commands our attention, he is the author of several studies on U.S. Intelligence and a critic of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Two studies were published under the auspices of the National Strategy Information Center. NSIC was led by Frank Barnett, who favored tough-minded experts in such fields as U.S. national security policy, strategic studies, Soviet studies, and arms control. Angelo Codevilla was one of Barnett’s “tough-minded experts.” Underlying his studies of “Intelligence,” though, is his awareness of the intelligence community’s prejudices:
[A] whole bunch of prejudices.
So, the straightforward political prejudices are, in no particular order: liberalism, prejudice in favor of the Arabs. You probably are not aware of the corporate prejudices that existed in the favor of the Soviet Union. And they were very, very powerful at CIA, as opposed to DIA or NSA.
In an essay Codevilla published in The Tablet for March 24, 2021, entitled “American Exodus,” he expresses his disdain for “Cancel Culture.”
[I]solating and alienating anybody, let alone half the country, is the proverbial two-edged sword. Anytime you isolate and alienate someone else, you do the same to yourself. The boundaries that the oligarchs have drawn, are drawing, separate them from the American people’s vast majority, whose consciousness of powerlessness and defenselessness clarifies their choice between utter subjection and doing whatever it might take to exit a system that no longer seems to allow for the prospect of republican self-government.
On education he observes:
[T]he schools are teaching their children less than they had been taught. They have been mortgaging the house to pay for college. Their children’s student loans mortgage their future. But the colleges have produced mostly worthless degrees while credentialing a generation of oligarchs who pretend to control other people’s lives.
Around the country, Americans are fleeing public K-12 schools as fast as they can. This exodus accelerated during the COVID affair as parents observed online the poor quality if not outright dysfunctionality of much that the schools teach. The teachers’ unions stimulated it by showing their priority for their material and ideological interests. Only because most Smiths don’t have the resources for private education or for home schooling is that exodus not accelerating faster.
Simply “search” for the name “Angelo Codevilla” at Law & Liberty, the American Spectator, the Claremont Review of Books, the Hoover Institute Working Group on Military History, National Review, the Washington Times and American Greatness, and you will appreciate why I am ennobled by his friendship.
A Pilgrim to the United States
In order to get to the pinnacle of his successful career, Codevilla had to leave Lombard, Italy, at a young age and emigrate to “the New World.” If you’ve been to Milan, Italy, you can appreciate the difference between Milanese and southern Italians. As a colleague once remarked, “Codevilla is a Goth.” Indeed, Codevilla is as tall as I imagine some Goths were, much like Alaric who was compelled by invading Normans to abandon his traditional homeland and invade Rome.
Codevilla’s fluent Italian, French, and English assured his growth as a scholar and point to a serious deficiency in American higher education that can be traced to our isolation from non-English speaking cultures and especially to the limits of the American system of “public” education. Into this cauldron of declining culture, Codevilla quickly sized up what was happening and, like a good Goth, began to attack!
Codevilla attacks the stupid, incompetent, self-serving, and delusional among us, but not with abandon. In each phase of his career: a) as an intelligence authority and during service on the Congressional staff of the Select Committee on Intelligence, b) as a member of the professional staff at the Hoover Institution, c) as a professor of International Relations at Boston University, and d) as an essayist on every area of professional expertise he has mastered, Codevilla conveys fear and admiration.
The CIA Paid to Silence Him
So great was the Central Intelligence Agency’s fear of his criticism that the CIA gave a one million dollar “grant” to stop publication of Codevilla’s last volume on the CIA’s intelligence failures. That view of CIA incompetence and bureaucratic self-interest is expressed in Codevilla’s review of two books about the CIA where he writes:
Former CIA Director “George Tenet’s At the Center of the Storm and John Prados’s Safe for Democracy show, each in its own way, that the CIA serves not the national interest of the United States but its own corporate interests and its partisan vision. It will continue to do so until a president who understands this remakes U.S. intelligence from the ground up.”
The elite journal The Atlantic also came under criticism in an essay entitled “The Ever Shallower Atlantic.” One need not ask what The Atlantic’s Editor in chief, Jeffery Goldberg, thought when he read that “The Atlantic treats ordinary Americans’ religiosity as a problem, and calls all who do not share its worldview racist, sexist, homophobic, any affected by whatever psychosocial disease the class happens to invent.”
How must Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., have felt when Codevilla referred to Schlesinger’s War and the American Presidency that historian Robert Dallek called “a book for all seasons … an American classic” as “a sad indication of how partisanship has crushed academic standards.”
Of our professional bureaucrats at the U.S. Department of Defense, Codevilla asks, “How and why have latter-day American statesmen and soldiers so fouled the relationship between military means and political ends that … they have managed to lose wars despite winning battles?”
Rush Limbaugh Read Codevilla
In the interview with David Samuels that Codevilla gave to The Tablet, he observes:
[T]here is no such thing as America anymore. In place of the America that is described in history books has arisen something new and vast and yet distinctly un-American that for lack of a better term is often called the American Empire…the Democrats were the senior partners in the ruling class. The Republicans are the junior partners.
Published in 2010, The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It contains an introduction by Rush Limbaugh. As Limbaugh explains, he saw Codevilla’s essay on this topic in The American Spectator and devoted an entire program to reading passages for his audience.
Few scholars of Classical political philosophy achieve celebrity by endorsement of a dominant Talk Radio host. Codevilla did not go out of his way to become famous. He just attacked in the 20th century as a Goth like Alaric attacked in the 5th century AD. That’s what Goths do best.
The Ruling Class is an indictment of an oligarchy constituting itself as “Rulers” of others who, though of equal citizenship, pray to God and whose lives may be characterized by devotion to “marriage, children, and religious practice.” Believed by the Ruling Class to be less intelligent, these others are the target of a campaign to reduce “American families intellectual and moral subordination to science.” Published in 2010 before the Coronavirus pandemic released feelings of negativity toward “experts” whose expertise gives them unelected power to restrict the lives of the great majority, a target of Codevilla are these very “experts” who confuse their own opinion with “science.” This Ruling Class has undermined marriage and has taken “as much authority from parents as it can.”
An American Caste System
Lest we miss what Codevilla intends, early in the introductory pages he proposes that “doing away with the Ruling Class’ power and perquisites is the prerequisite for saving America’s prosperity, civility and morality.” America’s rulers have become “a self-contained, self-reverential class.” Both “Republican and Democratic officeholders … share a similar presumption: to dominate. . . . They think, look, and act as a class, almost a caste.”
Codevilla asks, “How did America change from a place where people could expect to live without bowing to privileged classes?” Once upon a time, “America’s upper crust was a mixture … who were not predictably of one mind on any given matter.” Back then, our schools and universities “had not imposed a single orthodoxy about the origins of man, about American history, or about how America should be governed.” Our “Founding Fathers” believed in equality due to an understanding that “all men are made in the image and likeness of God” because they yearned for equal treatment under British rule or “because they had read John Locke.”
The Progressives rejected that and held that man is “a mere part of evolutionary nature.” Their belief in “progress” gave the early Ruling Class an expectation of peaceful change (under their direction). Today’s Ruling Class, however, is arrogant and condemns what Codevilla calls “the Country Class.” Obama apologized for America’s failing to meet its responsibilities. Clinton apologized to Africans for slavery in America, and George H.W. Bush told Gorbachev that Reaganites are “dummies and blockheads.”
Is there a solution by which “to untangle such a corrupt knot?” Yes, Codevilla believes, “only by mobilizing … on a principled moral basis … being willing to dispense with whatever threads of it they hold.” It won’t be easy, but by taking up the responsibilities of citizens, fathers, and entrepreneurs, the Ruling Class can be deposed. At issue is whether the Country Class is “willing to shoulder the responsibilities that their grandparents bore as proud badges of American citizenship.”
Richard J. Bishirjian is the founder the American Academy of Distance Learning, Inc. He earned a B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh and a Ph.D. in Government and International Studies from the University of Notre Dame.
Dr. Bishirjian was Gerhart Niemeyer’s teaching assistant at Notre Dame. He was an assistant professor in the Department of Politics at the University of Dallas in Texas, chairman of the Political Science Department at the College of New Rochelle in New York, and founder of Yorktown University, where he served as President and Professor of government from 2000-2016.
He served as a political appointee in the Reagan Administration and in the administration of George H. W. Bush.
He is the editor of A Public Philosophy Reader and author of three books: The Development of Political Theory, The Conservative Rebellion, and The Coming Death and Future Resurrection of American Higher Education. His most recent work, Coda, is a novel published by En Route Books and Media. His three most recent scholarly studies are Ennobling Encounters, Rise and Fall of the American Empire, and Conscience and Power.