R.R. “Rusty” Reno is the editor of First Things, an ecumenical and conservative religious journal that seeks to advance what it calls a religiously informed public for the ordering of society. In this episode, Reno joins Geoff Kabaservice to discuss his book “Return of the Strong Gods: Nationalism, Populism, and the Future of the West,” religion, ideological passion, and the way forward for American politics. 

“So how do we get through this current rough patch in our politics? There’s no guarantee we will. Partly we need good leadership, a little bit of luck.”


R. R. Reno: We’re drowning in a world of limitless openness, and reconsolidation is the essential conservative project. Moderate conservatism, when it’s not just a rule-and-ruin protest movement, is actually an effort to reconsolidate pre-modern institutions.

Geoff Kabaservice: Hello. I’m Geoff Kabaservice for the Niskanen Center. Welcome to the Vital Center Podcast, where we try to sort through the problems of the muddled, moderate majority of Americans, drawing on history, biography, and current events. I’m delighted to be joined today by R. R. Reno, who’s the editor of First Things, an ecumenical and conservative religious journal that seeks to advance what it calls “a religiously informed public for the ordering of society.” He is a graduate of Haverford College and received his doctoral degree from Yale University in the area of religious ethics. He was a professor at Creighton University, a private Jesuit university in Omaha, Nebraska, from 1990 to 2010, and has been editor of First Things since 2011. He is on the board of advisors of the Edmund Burke Foundation as well as the author of numerous books including, most recently, 2019’s, Return of the Strong Gods: Nationalism, Populism, and the Future of the West. Welcome.

R. R. Reno: Great to be with you, Geoffrey.

Geoff Kabaservice: I should also add, he is widely if not universally known by his nickname “Rusty,” and I hope it will be okay if I refer to you as Rusty in this discussion.

R. R. Reno: I wouldn’t know who you were speaking to if you didn’t say Rusty.

Geoff Kabaservice: Okay! Rusty, have you and your family returned to some semblance of post-pandemic normality by now?

R. R. Reno: We were not all that disrupted. My wife worked at home for about a year and she’s back in the office full-time here in New York. She’s an attorney. I was media, so media Governor Cuomo deemed to be essential services — and rightly so. And so I was really in the office every day throughout the pandemic, alone for a number of months, but around August 1 I told the staff to come back in full-time. We have a lot of young people who live in microscopic little apartments in New York, and they were very gratified to be able to come back to work.

And I traveled… I started traveling in, I think, at the end of May of 2020, to visit some people. I had the disease early on in the New York experience, so I wasn’t worried about getting it. And then I took a road trip in July of 2020, spending a great deal of time, eight days, to get from New York to Omaha. And that involved a couple days in western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota. I wanted to take the temperature of the country, especially in those crucial battleground states that were so important in the 2016 election. It was a great experience, a very interesting process. And then in the fall and so on, there were just more activities. First Things has hosted some in-person events — whatever the Governor will allow.

Geoff Kabaservice: In broad strokes, what did you see on your journey?

R. R. Reno: Everybody’s angry about something, about many things. Angry about the lockdowns, angry about the masks, angry about the Pope, angry about Trump, angry about people who are opposed to Trump. It really was interesting. Mark Henry — I don’t know if you know Mark — is a friend of mine, a long-term friend. He observed that this is the first time we’ve had anger politics on the right in — potentially ’68, with Wallace, there was an anger politics on the right that Richard Nixon benefited from, probably benefited dramatically in ’72 when he won a landslide. But it’s just not typical. Typically, the anger politics flows on the left. Anger against exclusion is how I would describe it.

And people on the right now feel anger against betrayal, anger about what they perceive to be betrayal. Oh, I remember that one conversation, so angry at the mainstream media, this one guy: “They have no idea what we’re really thinking,” he said. Which of course is actually true, or at least partially true. And it was a sobering experience. And I came away thinking that the polling was wrong and that Trump could very well win, and which he came close to winning. If you look at the actual swing of votes in some key states — were pretty small. Just as he barely won in 2016, he barely lost in 2020. And that was evident to me on my drive, that the anger on the right was going to drive turnout.

Geoff Kabaservice: I hope to read more about that trip. If I have your biographical background correct, you were born in Baltimore and grew up in Towson, Maryland.

R. R. Reno: Yes. I grew up… born in 1959 in Baltimore, Maryland.

Geoff Kabaservice: Does Baltimore play a significant role in your reading of American history and society, or does it just happened to be the place you grew up?

R. R. Reno: I think it can’t help but play a role. I went to the same elementary school, high school, and college that my father went to. I went to the same church that he was confirmed in, that my grandparents and my cousins all went to. So the roots run deep in Baltimore. And I think it affected my sense of the country inevitably, as opposed to… You know, your dad could get a job transfer and you could grow up in the San Fernando Valley of California, and while it’s part of who you are it doesn’t have the same formative experience. I would say yes.

It certainly affected my thoughts about race in America. So I grew up in the time of transformation of race relations in a formerly segregated state. My junior high school was the former all-black high school in Towson. It was built under the separate-but-equal doctrine to replace the extremely shabby school for blacks in Towson with something that was really a genuinely modern building. And it was probably completed in 1950, and then Maryland integrated. It was the George Washington Carver High School, and it was integrated. Maryland conformed to Brown rapidly after 1954 without incident. But nevertheless, the city of Baltimore still had Jim Crow laws. When I was a small child, black women couldn’t try on gloves or dresses at the expensive department stores in downtown Baltimore. And the city of Baltimore maintained very ruthless lines of housing segregation, enforced by baseball bats and things like that.

The big riot, I think, was ’68 after the assassination of Martin Luther King. So that was a time of dramatic change. So by the time I graduated from high school in 1978, it was as if you were in a different country in terms of what the social expectations were as well as, obviously, the actual laws of the state.

Geoff Kabaservice: And of course, Maryland’s Governor Spiro Agnew’s angry response to black leaders in Baltimore after the riot was part of what inspired Nixon to choose him as his vice-presidential candidate in that ’68 election.

R. R. Reno: He was elected governor because he ran against a segregationist, a kind of viciously racist Democrat.

Geoff Kabaservice: Whose motto was “Your home is your castle — defend it!”

R. R. Reno: Yes. [Agnew] had been county commissioner in Baltimore County where Towson is located. I remember as a child — it was another formative experience — I was pedaling my bike and the Presbyterian church a few blocks away was hosting the wedding of Spiro Agnew’s daughter. And of course, ever the politician, he couldn’t avoid having a stage where he’d give a speech. And so there were probably a thousand people gathered to hear the Vice President speak, and this included some hippies with signs to stop the bombing in Cambodia. And so I must’ve been 10. Cambodia was 1970, the bombing of Cambodia?

Geoff Kabaservice: Right.

R. R. Reno: I must’ve been 10, I’m on my Stingray bike with the banana seat and just idling… And out of the corner of my eye, I see this rush of policemen that basically, with their billy clubs brandished, beating these hippies over the head, blood spurting everywhere as they drag them down the street to these paddy wagons that were waiting. And I thought, “Wow, I thought the police were supposed to be our friends!” I look at the events of 2020, and I think that… I mean, having seen police brutality up front and personal, and to see the discipline of the New York City Police Department during the Black Lives Matter marches… We just live in a fundamentally different society than 1970, at least at that level. I mean, no police force is perfect; I believe in the reorganization of evils rather than progress. So no doubt the perversions have gone elsewhere. But the brazen use of violence by police in order to assert their authority over the public is a thing of the past.

Here in New York, stop-and-frisk was basically an attempt to use a strategy of intimidation to impose the authority of police over crime-ridden neighborhoods. And it was resented for that reason, because it really wasn’t serving… I don’t think it was serving a particular crime-prevention purpose. Instead it was taking the gangsters and saying, “Look sideways at me buddy, and you’re going to get your asshole examined under… ” Which is different from getting beaten over the head by a billy club, don’t get me wrong. But anyway, go ahead, you were going to intervene.

Geoff Kabaservice: Well, I was just struck by the difference between the 2015 Freddie Gray riot in Baltimore and the police response to that, as opposed to what the police response was to disturbances under Spiro Agnew. It’s really a significant difference over time and in police philosophy, which goes along with a whole lot of other things.

R. R. Reno: I refer to it as the… It’s basically, to think of our other theme that we want to touch on… I was out of town when George Floyd was killed and the initial protest started in Minneapolis, and it wasn’t until I was hiking in Colorado and then I became aware of it: “Whoa, something’s going on.” And on Saturday night of that weekend, I was back in New York. On Monday morning I got on my bike and I peddled up to Harlem. And you would never know that there were protests in New York — not a single broken window. I mean, sort of white people and black people… Harlem at 125th and Lenox Avenue is now an integrated neighborhood. And then I pedaled down Fifth Avenue, and when you got below 59th Street was all the broken class, and then I caught up with a 10,000-or-so-person march around Union Square and watched them all march by as the whatever the top uniformed officer for the police department was walking behind the big group with a few battalions of policemen and a helicopter overhead and all that kind of stuff.

My takeaway was: 1968 it wasn’t. Like I say, it wasn’t like this was a riot. And secondly, I went back and my wife said, “What do you think?” I said, “Oh, Bank of America sponsorship by week’s end.” Which was true. Actually, I overestimated how long it would take for the corporations to flood the movement with money. So I take that to be the Ivy League solution to radicalism on the left. And the Ivy League solution is: When the student radicals take over the president’s office, you express sympathy for the aims — spirit of the aims, maybe not the particulars. You show great patience. You are careful not to force any confrontation with police. You give it time, and as the blood pressure goes down, you find ways to meet the demands. You co-opt. And eventually you give them tenure and they become part of the establishment. I saw this now being played out on a national scale in 2020. It’s now best practice when it comes to extremism on the left.

Geoff Kabaservice: This is a theme to which we will return. I wanted to ask you, how you describe yourself politically these days?

R. R. Reno: Conservative, certainly a social conservative. I find people who question capitalism, I say: As opposed to what? Although I do think that our post-Cold War economy has become more and more hostile to high school-educated Americans and that we need to rejigger our policies so that more of the benefits of the global economy flow to middle-class Americans. And if that makes me right or left, I don’t really care what label you would put on me. I’m a populist with respect to economics. I’m certainly a social conservative when it comes to culture.

Geoff Kabaservice: You referred to your childhood church — was that the Church of the Redeemer up on North Charles Street?

R. R. Reno: That’s right.

Geoff Kabaservice: Which is an Episcopal church.

R. R. Reno: Very much so.

Geoff Kabaservice: And you converted to Catholicism in 2004?

R. R. Reno: Yes. I was active in the Episcopal church. I got a Ph.D. in theology and was put on various national committees. I was part of the rump of Episcopalians trying to defend orthodoxy in an environment where the church was really making a complete capitulation to the sexual revolution. And I think I was realistic, along with my friends, as we prosecuted this lost-cause struggle. But I became very bitter and angry, and that’s not a healthy basis on which to base your spiritual life. So I defaulted to the Catholic Church. I collapsed into the Catholic Church — where I had no illusions about the problems there either, because I taught at a Jesuit university.

Geoff Kabaservice: I find it interesting that the founder of First Things, Father Richard John Neuhaus, was himself a convert from Protestantism (in the form of Lutherism) to Catholicism before founding First Things in 1990.

R. R. Reno: No, he became Catholic in ’91, a year after First Things was founded, and then was ordained into the priesthood a year after that. I think if you look at the DNA of First Things magazine, it is a mainline Protestant magazine, not a Catholic magazine in its DNA. And why is that? That’s because mainline Protestantism is the governing form of Protestantism in America. And Christianity Today and evangelicalism… Carl F. H. Henry and these figures who founded Christianity Today, I think in 1948… They founded it to challenge mainline Protestants as being the voice for America, which they assumed was a Protestant nation.

Now in the ’50s, that became more capacious. You have people like Will Herberg, with Protestant, Catholic, Jew. And Neuhaus would have been formed in the era that talked about “the religious conscience of America” rather than “the Protestant conscience of America.” But nevertheless, it was people from the mainline tradition who could draw upon many generations of reflection on how to make Christianity relevant to the governance of this country, in a way that Catholicism only recently… John Courtney Murray’s We Hold These Truths is a late ’50s (maybe early ’60s) publication. And it really wasn’t until after Vatican II that Catholics began to function as, if you will, public intellectuals in the mainstream of governing debates.

I mean, William F. Buckley was a prominent Catholic, but I don’t see much of an overlap between his Catholicism and what National Review stood for as a magazine, as a pillar of the rule-and-ruin conservatism of that era. Do you think that? There were articles about these things in National Review, but they were separate compartments.

Geoff Kabaservice: I think the success of fusionism was vastly overrated. But I think that both Buckley and even people like Frank Meyer, his sort of chief theoretician, knew that fusionism was a doctrine to keep together otherwise contradictory strands of conservatism. And it was necessary to stick together.

R. R. Reno: Yes. So I think mainline Protestantism, and certainly the church I grew up in in Baltimore, it was liberal. It was liberal Protestantism and establishment liberalism in America, and those two things reinforced each other. And so in that sense, a mainline Protestant is… I mean, Reinhold Niebuhr would be a kind of centrist. You could even call him center-right by today’s terms. But nevertheless, it was about a kind of plastic social and political imagination rooted in Christian sources. It wasn’t natural law. It wasn’t preaching from the Bible to “Trump is the next King Darius” or whatever. This is the problem with evangelicalism: it doesn’t have this intermediate language that allows you to get from Biblical truth to social policy.

Catholicism and the natural law tradition, and its own Catholic social doctrine tradition, has principles that are more immediately applicable to actual policy questions. And so Neuhaus envisioned a fusion of this orthodox mainline, these mainline voices, with this Catholic tradition. This is what he envisioned for First Things magazine. But Robert Jenson was an early voice, George Lindbeck was an early voice, Robert Wilken (who’s still on our board), Richard himself… Stanley Hauerwas was somebody that Neuhaus always held in very high esteem even though they disagreed about many things; he’s in the pictures of the planning meetings for the magazine. George Weigel and Avery Dulles were the only Catholics, really, who were prominent in the early group. And Avery was a mainline-Protestant-become-Catholic. George is the only sort of cradle-Catholic in our original group.

Geoff Kabaservice: Well, in that sense, your magazine is actually fairly close to National Review, which had an awful lot of converts from other religions to Catholicism. Neuhaus rather famously went through a radical period in the late ’60s and early ’70s. He helped to found Clergy and Layman Concerned About Vietnam. He talked about “the coming revolution.” He at one point even declared that the North Vietnamese forces were “God’s instrument for bringing in the American empire to its knees.” Did you ever go through any kind of similar period of radicalization in any way before coming to your current position?

R. R. Reno: Oh, I was the student leader at Haverford for CISPES, the Committee in Solidarity with the Peoples of El Salvador. But I was basically a kind of moralistic person as an undergraduate rather than a political person. So for me it was… Religion and morality were the big driving questions in my life, not politics. And in fact, the experience of doing the CISPES thing, which really caused me to go to these meetings in downtown Philadelphia for all the Philadelphia-area campus leaders… And that’s when I discovered this is just basically a front organization for the CPUSA and that all of the leaders, hardcore leaders of the group, were just — they were communists. And they had no interest whatsoever in El Salvadorean peasants being killed by death squads. This was purely just something that could — a match that maybe could light the dynamite that would blow up the capitalist system. Their moral indifference — or worse than indifference, their Machiavellian amorality — horrified me. And it prevented… In fact, it was an important experience in moving me to the right politically.

And also moving me to the right politically was my encounter with the at that time very soft — believe me, very soft compared to today — soft censorship at Haverford College of the questions like affirmative action. I was not opposed to affirmative action, but I wanted to know at what percent of the student population was black — what would be the right percent? And these kinds of questions were kind of taboo. Affirmative action was meant to serve… It had all the prestige of the civil rights movement, but it was not allowed to actually say anything precise about its purpose and ambition, because that ran afoul of the conceit that there would be no reverse discrimination. And the diversity language that… I think it was Lewis Powell who wrote the controlling opinion for the Bakke case, where he affirmed diversity as a legitimate educational goal.

Then I went to grad school at Yale and it was an even more… Haverford was a very soft, very soft environment. Everyone in it was warm and congenial in so many ways. Yale was more ideologically sharp, in the way you would expect with the early-stage postmodernism in the humanities and stuff like that. And there I encountered the same thing — just the unreality of it…

There was a strike of the workers, service workers at Yale. And I remember sitting at lunch with one of my colleagues: “The service workers are just as important for the educational mission as the professors.” And I thought… Look, I was all in favor of them making more money —Yale’s a rich school. I supported the strike, I wasn’t opposed to the strike. But just the insanity of thinking that somehow the person cleaning the bathrooms is as important as the faculty for the educational mission of the school…

And so I became more radicalized by what I saw to be the lies that people were telling themselves in order to reconcile themselves with the rising orthodoxies in higher education. That made me… I was a religious conservative before I was a political conservative, and then I became politically conservative almost solely because of higher education and what I saw as the — well, as I said, the lies that people had to tell themselves in order to sustain these positions that didn’t really make any sense. They had to be purist positions. Obviously the positions can often make sense on their own.

Geoff Kabaservice: First Things under Neuhaus, and I believe under you as well, has really put a lot of importance on culture. A key Neuhaus dictum was that politics is at the heart of culture, and at the heart of culture is religion. So therefore, in his view, it was important that American politics, society, and culture should be open to religious perspectives and persons rather than devolving into militant secularism — which is what he called “the naked public square.” Is that more or less your position as well?

R. R. Reno: Yes. I do think that Neuhaus was inclined to accept the politics-is-downstream-from-culture argument, which I don’t think is true. I think actually they interact with each other in profound ways and complicated ways. But I certainly agree with him that religion is the animating core of any kind of cultural project. And I think I accept Josh Mitchell’s… I think Josh can sort of be overdetermined in his interpretation of how wokeness is a religion, but there’s something to it: the idea that there’s a kind of anxious guilt with no place to go, that there needs to be a kind of profound and powerful transcendent purpose to our lives. And so a certain kind of woke progressivism can provide a deep sense of purpose to a young person, and I think it fills the void that traditional religion might otherwise play.

So it’s not clear to me that you can have a religion-less society. You’re going to get it one way or the other. And my argument, in our pages at a number of different times, has been that better that you get… Even if you’re a secularist — if you don’t believe, let’s say, in the existence of God — you ought to want to encourage the old religions because they’re more humane than the new ones.

Geoff Kabaservice: One of Neuhaus’ consistent positions was that liberal democracy and religion, including Catholicism, are compatible. So I kind of wonder what he would have thought of the radical Catholicism of someone like, let’s say, University of Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen, which really does disagree with most of the basic premises of liberal government, or the integralism of someone like Adrian Vermeule of the Harvard Law School, who believes essentially in a religiously-conceived highest good that takes precedence over individual autonomy. Do you ever speculate about that?

R. R. Reno: Neuhaus had a subtle view. He was smart enough to know that you couldn’t say that liberal democratic order is the only order compatible with Christianity, because then you’d wind up condemning almost all of Christian history as some kind of political heresy. But he liked, I think, a Winston Churchill sort of “democracy is the least worst option.” He loved these kinds of formulations that would allow him to guard against a too-easy fusion between what Christianity teaches and what the American creed teaches. But I think it is fair to say — at least to talk about “the American experiment.” Now, I know I can’t remember which founder talks about “the American experiment.” I always hated it when he used to talk that way, because I think I live in a country, not an experiment. But I understand what he said.

Also, he was a liberal in a way that I’m not. He was a liberal theologically in his youth. He was raised in the Missouri Synod Lutheran tradition, which I’m sure could have done with some opening up and expanded horizons, which he certainly did in his adult life. Whereas I never suffered from inadequate openness. On the contrary, my quest has been for trustworthy roots, trustworthy foundations.

And I remember at a meeting we had here in New York in probably the early aughts or something, and I think it had to do with whether or not the Vatican has to actually have temporal sovereignty. And Father Romanus Cessario was arguing that yes, it was a necessary condition for papal authority to have temporal sovereignty, not just spiritual sovereignty. Thus the importance of the Vatican City: however nominal that sovereignty is, it’s an actual, temporal sovereignty. And Richard would have nothing of this argument. He really believed that spiritual sovereignty was sufficient.

And in the break, I said, “You know, Richard, you really are liberal at heart, aren’t you?” He goes, “Yes I am, and I’m proud of it!” And I would say too, early on in the history of the magazine, I was working with Jim Nuechterlein, who was senior editor at its founding. And Jim said… We were publishing something by James Kalb, you know Jim Kalb’s work. But Jim is a sort of deep critic of liberal modernity, as is Pat Deneen and others. And Jim said, “We’ve always been a conservative liberal not a liberal conservative magazine.” And I think that that historical moment has passed, is my sense, and that I am more inclined to be a liberal conservative than a conservative liberal.

Again, it has to do with what you see as the besetting problem of our time. My sense is… I get the Zygmunt Bauman liquid modernity thesis, I find persuasive: we’re drowning in a world of limitless openness, and that we need reconsolidation. And reconsolidation is the essential conservative project. Modern conservatism, when it’s not just a rule-and-ruin protest movement, is actually an effort to reconsolidate pre-modern institutions: church, family, university. Those are all three pre-modern institutions. Any kind of sense of local, the place, belonging — as opposed to a limited liability corporation, which is the great invention of modern liberals.

And modern liberalism has been a removal of… As a 19th century project, at least as in the Anglo, English-speaking world, liberalism was primarily a removal of pre-modern limitations to market freedom as well as providing greater access to the political process for a broader range of citizens. So it was both. You had the Reform Act that allowed Catholics to vote and expanded the franchise, and allowed Catholics to serve in public office and expanded the franchise.

But then you get Benjamin Disraeli. He was the one who really introduced the universal franchise in England, and I think he did it in order to re-buttress the nation as an organic reality that unified the interests of different social classes. So I see that as a classic conservative agenda: to restore pre-modern institutions, pre-modern reforms of life, to ensure that there’s ballast in the modern, highly-marketized system, fluid, dynamic. So in that sense, I’m a conservative liberal. I don’t want to get rid of the fluidity and the dynamism. But I put conservative ahead of liberal because I think that the main problem we face is a lack of stability and anchors in life. And so we’ve got to restore those anchors.

And then my grandchildren will curse me for having gone too far, and they’ll reverse the poles, probably. It is the case that in politics, I think, in any kind of realistic view of politics, there are no solutions. There are only ameliorations of the problems that face people, and that the solutions always give rise to the next generation’s problems. And I think Reaganism is a kind of classic example of that: very much needed in the ‘80s and really relatively successful in terms of its stated aims. But it laid the foundations for the problems we have now, which is there’s really no home for sort of the middling-talented, middling-educated American in a hyper-fluid, now-globalized economy.

Geoff Kabaservice: At one point in your book, you were writing about James Burnham, who was a key figure at National Review in the ‘50s and ‘60s. His perspective seemed fairly close to yours as you were writing about him. And at one point, you wrote that Burnham, “as an American conservative, was concerned to defend the American liberal tradition broadly understood.” Is that how you see yourself as well at this point?

R. R. Reno: Yes. I mean, he was worried… He doesn’t quite know what he’s up to, I think, actually, in Suicide of the West, but he’s got a kind of key passage where he worries that liberalism undermines a willingness to fight for the freedoms that we have. So he worried that we weren’t going to really resist: “Better red than dead,” which I think was actually an unrealistic worry in 1964. And I think he was just overdetermined by his fears about what the rhetoric of the liberal establishment would really mean. Now, maybe we’re getting there in 2021, but at that point I think he was mistaken about what the dangers were.

But nonetheless, he saw that there have to be… A culture of freedom requires firm foundations. And so as I see it — again, we’re back to my point about being a conservative liberal —faith, family, and flag, the three F’s, that they’re actually all three integral to give people solid place to stand, in which they can resist what in the Bible is known as the principalities and powers that tell us that they rule the world.

And so you have to have strong loyalties in order to be a free person, to be able to say no to the people who are more powerful. And I think those three domains, he intuitively saw that those were being weakened by the postwar liberalism. And they were actually being weakened, and they’ve been further weakened. And so I’m very much committed to preserving the American culture of freedom. But to do so, we have to re-buttress, as I say, these core non-liberal institutions.

The nation is not in itself liberal. Orders are not liberal. Faith is not liberal. And the family is not liberal. You can have liberality as a father or as a parent. You can have a society that is capacious, as I believe that ours is, or you can have a faith that is capacious. But they’re all intrinsically consolidating rather than opening institutions. They consolidate people’s loyalties and they establish a “we,” which is other than… The “we” is exclusive. You can’t have a global “we.” In fact, I’ve argued with some of my optimistic friends —not argued, I’ve queried them: Can there be a global common good? And they’re a bit stymied. They think it probably is possible but they can’t come up with any examples.

Geoff Kabaservice: Your mention of the liberal establishment calls to mind one of your recent editorials in First Things earlier this year, which was “Government by Grandees,” which essentially responds to my 2004 book The Guardians: Kingman Brewster, His Circle and the Rise of the Liberal Establishment. I have to say that it is tremendously gratifying to have someone review one’s book 17 years after its appearance, so thank you.

R. R. Reno: It was a very good book.

Geoff Kabaservice: Thank you. But more than that, it’s also extremely gratifying when someone who does not wholly share your views finds something in there that helps them clarify and articulate their own thinking. So for those who may not be aware of my great bestseller, which achieved literally double-digit sales, it was centrally a biography of Kingman Brewster Jr., who was the president of Yale University from 1964 to 1977. And in broad strokes, it looked at how he brought modernity and meritocracy to that institution.

But it also attempts to be a collective portrait of Brewster’s peers in what used to be called the liberal establishment: people like McGeorge Bundy and Cyrus Vance and John Lindsay and Elliot Richardson, all of whom once were household names, now obscure. I still struggle with how to define the establishment, as you and others who listened to my podcast interview with Aaron Renn will know. But essentially they were the WASP elites of the Greatest Generation. They fought in World War II, and they were more or less junior partners in the forging of the American-led global order after the war. But unlike the Wise Men, their elders, it fell to them to try to govern their way through the social upheavals of the 1960s — with mixed success.

Rusty, I seem to remember that when I met you 10 years ago, you had a rather different take on the book than you had in your piece from earlier this year.

R. R. Reno: As you point out, they navigated the ‘60s and early ‘70s with mixed results. I was fixated on their failures because I had to live with their failures. Now that I’m 61 years old and looking back in the distance of time, I’m more sensible of their successes. But I did have to live with their failures.

Geoff Kabaservice: Can you be a little more explicit about both their failures and successes as you see them now?

R. R. Reno: They underestimated the importance of a certain kind of cultural homogeneity to create the conditions under which you could sort of be magnanimous and gracious in positions of power. Because you have to have a high degree of trust if you’re going to take the risks of letting your critics speak, for instance. It’s not an accident that we are now moving into a phase of higher education where it’s highly punitive of any dissent. And that’s because that elite educational culture no longer enjoys the relative homogeneity that those men were raised in and benefited from.

So I just thought I could see their naivete in my own experiences at Yale in the ’80s, for instance. Because that was the early stage of the disintegration of higher education into… it’s hard to know what it is. I mean, it’s a credentialing factory. It used to be a place that was elite because elite people went there, and now people are elite because they went to Yale. And that change is really very, very important. It’s important because it means that Yale is now more important. Instead of being an institution that serves a social reality, it’s an institution that serves itself now — which is one reason that they’ve become so dysfunctional, because there’s no accountability.

And in Brewster’s day, he was accountable to his own social set, and that social set of men felt accountable to both their parents and to their children. And I’m not saying that the president of Yale, whose name I can’t even remember at this point — which tells you something about the state of higher education… But Kingman Brewster was on the cover of Time magazine, he was widely published… I mean, I think any educated person in America knew who Kingman Brewster was in 1970. I doubt that anybody can tell you who the president of Princeton, Harvard, or Yale are right now. I can’t. I mean, if I really work on it, I can come up with the names. Peter Salovey is the president of Yale now, Eisgruber is the president of Princeton. And I don’t remember who the president of Harvard is — it’s a new person…

Geoff Kabaservice: Bacow, I believe.

R. R. Reno: But we don’t expect anything from these people, it seems to me. And rightly so, because these institutions have become these kinds of self-perpetuating entities rather than the kinds of mobile, plastic institutions — with great histories, but nonetheless that in the hands of a responsible leader like Brewster could be, within limits, reshaped to meet the challenges of the time. Whereas I look at Yale now and I think it’s a totally immobile institution. It’s hard to see what… And if it’s going to change, it’s going to change in exactly the opposite direction.

I mean, if we look at… One of the things, I think, you and I… While we disagree about many things, we certainly agree in analysis, which is that one of the great threats to our society is polarization and the inability to unite to do the obvious things that we need to do as a country to meet the challenges. And higher education is the single greatest cause of polarization. It has systematically destroyed the possibility of being the exemplary atmosphere where talented young people learn how to talk to people with whom they disagree. And it’s only getting worse.

So one of my goals is that I think responsible leaders should… Just as we did everything we could to destroy the racist foundations of… I know that when my father was assistant attorney general in Maryland, the question came up of where to put I-95. And the natural place was to replace Route 40 with I-95, but the hotel owners, motel owners were not going to integrate their hotels. And so the governor of Maryland said, essentially, “Screw you.” And they put the highway five miles away from I-40, and it effectively destroyed all those businesses. And it was the right thing to do. You’ve got to punish people whose basic practices undermine the health of our society.

I think we should destroy elite higher education. It is doing more to undermine the future of our society on precisely that issue. It is an engine, it has made… I mean, you wrote a book, Rule and Ruin, another very fine book. And I’m in the conservative movement, I run a certain publication and I can look back and see that Dartmouth Review was created at the beginning of this process of destroying any kind of civil conversation by people on the left. And so it created a bomb-throwing, a talented bomb-throwing conservative journalistic class — which has also exacerbated polarization. But that’s a natural outcome. You’re denied a voice on campus, and so what do you do? You found that rebellious student publication and you lob grenades at the president of the university.

Geoff Kabaservice: Part of my view is that leaders like Brewster and other institutional leaders of that late ’60s period, a few of them, were actually pretty good when it came to retaining one foot in an older world of real, bedrock dedication to civil rights and civil liberties, and making sure that that played out on the campus even while they were trying to bring in new constituencies, new ideas — to modernize in certain ways. It seems to me that their successors in many ways have fallen short of the mark that they set. But it did seem to me that part of your thesis in Return of the Strong Gods was that in a sense the American Century was laid upon shaky foundations to begin with — that the whole idea of the open society was in some sense misguided.

R. R. Reno: Well, I would say that it was always unstable. So I think Brewster… I agree with your assessment, by the way, and that’s why I’m more positive towards him than I was when I first met you, is that I’m just more aware that there is no solution, so to speak, to the tension between continuity and openness. And so what you get in the post-war consensus is that they want continuity: kind of your Great Books of the Western canon — combined with openness: people can bring their own questions and make up their own minds. And this actual balance lasted for quite a long time. And someone like Brewster, I think was a particularly… He innovated, if you will, within that balance is how I would describe it. And you’re right, the later generation, why didn’t they try to balance this? It’s because they took the continuity element for granted and assumed that what always needed to be buttressed was the freedom to question.

And again, I’m a conservative because I see that the impoverishment of our time is not an impoverishment of the freedom to question, although it seems that way in the woke censorship. Our pedagogy is one of content, not of love, and what we need is a pedagogy of love. And love is not liberal, love is a matter of devotion. It always carries with it the risk of a kind of fanaticism and loyalty to the one thing, to the exclusion of all else. And we have to take that risk, it seems to me in the 21st century, just as the men who fought, as did Brewster in World War II, to recognize that they had to take the risk of openness in a world torn apart by ideological passions.

I think we’re not being torn apart by ideological passions, were being dissolved in a passionless world. And the ideological, woke stuff is a kind of compensatory, to my mind, a kind of compensatory effort, desperate effort to find some cause worthy of our devotion. So as I say in my book, we have to offer people strong gods worthy of reason and of our humanity, otherwise we’re going to wind up serving these dark gods.

Geoff Kabaservice: If there is any similarity between your view and that of the people like Brewster that I wrote about, it was that they regarded themselves as balancers between essential forces that were in tension — between the ideas of liberty and freedom on the one hand and community on the other, for example, just to raise one of the obvious ones. So again, I don’t want to mischaracterize your argument in Strong Gods… Is it that there was a tension there that successive leaders have failed to maintain or balance the proper way? Or is that the openness of that post-war order was always going to undermine the foundations upon which it rested?

R. R. Reno: I’m with you. I mean, maybe we’re just balancing as… I’m against solutions, so I’m opposed to solutionism. One of the things working on the book… I don’t think we can underestimate how devastating 1914 to 1945 was for the West, and that we were thrown way off balance by those events. And that’s what, again, has made me more sympathetic to people like Brewster and Cy Vance and McGeorge Bundy — it’s hard to be sympathetic to McGeorge Bundy given his acerbic personality and his arrogance. But I’m way more sympathetic to them because, I mean, what are you going to do after a civilization engages in this frenzy of self-destruction — and not just for a year or two but for an entire generation? So I look back, and I think… I talk about James Conant, the president of Harvard, and other figures like Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and I think I would have been on that side for sure at that time — in a fundamentally different moment than those men did. And one of the things that frustrates me is that our leadership class seems desperate for the 20th century to continue forever.

And we’re talking about fascism all the time as if it’s 1939 all over again. Whereas I look outside my window and think, again, populism emerges when people lose trust in the people who lead the country to actually look out for them. And they’re not wrong to think that. There’s all kinds of ideologies to explain why we don’t need to actually take responsibility for each other. If diversity is our strength, then nobody needs to actually unify the country. And if you have a certain kind of free-market ideology and everybody pursues their self-interest, then miraculously everybody’s good is going to be promoted. So we have two ideologies, one left and one right, that basically tells elite people that they need not worry about the common good.

Geoff Kabaservice: Yeah, it’s interesting that you would indict both Karl Popper and Friedrich Hayek, both left and right figures, as being essentially part of what you refer to as the same consensus.

R. R. Reno: Yes. I mean, it just became obvious more to me, between the Obama administration and it really probably even goes back to Clinton and Bush, that there was a fusion between center-right and center-left, and that they just kind of took turns. The Democrats said, “We’re going to do economic liberalization, but with greater care and attention to you working-class people.” And the Republicans — basically the establishment center-right people — said, “We’re going to do the cultural deregulation, but we’re going to protect your religious freedom.” They both agreed that the deregulatory project needed to go forward. And on the left, people like the Clinton people wanted the globalization and liberalization of financial markets and repealing Glass–Steagall…

I can understand, looking back: “How are we going to stay on top of the global economy if we don’t have financial institutions that are at scale? How can they possibly get to scale unless they have access to depositor capital? So we’ve got to take banks with the huge deposits and link them up with the investment-savvy entrepreneurship of the investment banks.” And it worked: our financial institutions are still at the center of the global economy. The problem is that they came at the cost of building up these leviathans that function now completely independently of any concern for the national interest.

One of my friends who’s very, very involved in financial affairs said, “Any conversations, political conversations about China have to exclude Silicon Valley billionaires and Wall Street titans, both of those aspects of our economy.” And now their interests are so intertwined with China, with the globalization project with China at the focal point, that they just cannot be trusted to actually think clearly about what’s good for the country, no matter how patriotic. It’s just impossible.

But again, that’s my philosophy. I don’t like looking back at Bill Clinton and damning him for signing Glass-Steagall. You couldn’t see this as the future necessarily. What’s damning is that a conversation about what to do now is being so heavily policed by center-right and center-left establishments. And so somebody like Trump who… I mean, I’m not a defender of Trump, but if it weren’t for him, I fear we would still be in the same world of self-delusion that we were in before he wrested control away from the Republican establishment in the 2016 primaries.

Geoff Kabaservice: One of the best articles published anywhere on the opioid epidemic was Christopher Caldwell’s piece “American Carnage” that appeared in First Things, I think in 2017. And that really did get at how this vast swath of the lower middle class and working class were ignored and forgotten by many of the elites in both parties.

R. R. Reno: No, they weren’t ignored, Geoffrey, they were derided. They were “takers,” “deplorables.” It’s bipartisan. Our problem is that we have a ruling class that would rather rule some country other than the one we have. And I get this in conversations where I’ll say, “Well, we need to rebalance in the direction of jobs for the high school-educated.” Well, I’ll be at fora with other conservative intellectuals: “Well, working-class Americans don’t really want to work anymore.” And just… my jaw drops. Basically, I’m talking to people who think that the typical American is, if you’ll excuse my French, a piece of shit, and that they don’t deserve their leadership. I mean, they don’t ever say that quite out loud, but the Trump voters were getting the message.

And then somebody comes along and basically says, “These people have lied to you.” And that’s where I think… “Bush lied about weapons of mass destruction,” Trump said in one of the early debates, and my jaw dropped and I realized he wasn’t… I mean, Bush did not lie — that’s a calumny, and a typical Trumpian calumny. But what he was saying is that George W. Bush really fucked up, and we were not allowed to say that in respectable conservative circles. And he was the first one to say it really emphatically in his typical blunt, stupid way that could be as counterproductive as it is productive.

But now, I mean, it’s widely discussed now, the mistake of the invasion of Iraq. And we need to have that discussion. Same thing again with Glass-Steagall, same thing with globalization and our offshoring and manufacturing to China. These are now open discussions. I say, “Okay, good. Let’s have the discussion, and we’ll see whether there can be a right-left agreement on a few things.”

It seems as though we’re going to get an agreement about infrastructure. We may not get a bill because of… You know, it’s the nature of DC that, especially in this highly polarized time, that you fight everything to the bitter death. But there is, it seems, some movement now, and that the Republicans are putting forward not just $10 or $20 billion but $600 or $700 billion worth of infrastructure spending. This is a sea change for us. And Trump was in favor of that. But that’s a sea change for the country. And so how do we get through this current rough patch in our politics? There’s no guarantee we will. Partly we need good leadership, a little bit of luck. China may give us some luck — nothing like an external enemy to unite the American people.

Geoff Kabaservice: True. At one point, about midway through your book on the Return of the Strong Gods, you wrote that populism “is not anti-modern, anti-free market or anti-liberal. It rebels against the decadent dogmatism of the postwar consensus.” But then a bit later on, you actually wrote that “in the open culture, the lives of ordinary people become more disordered and less functional.” So again, I come to the question: Was it a decadence of the original idea of an open society that has resulted in where we are now? Or was the idea of flawed from the start so far as working people, ordinary people are concerned?

R. R. Reno: “Open” should be used as an adjective and never as a noun. “Liberal” should be using an adjective and not a noun. It becomes a kind of flesh-eating ideology when it becomes the main object of a society. So the problem with the open society consensus is, certainly if you look at Popper, it is an all-encompassing… It’s the one ring that rules them all. And the same thing for Hayek. Now, The Constitution of Liberty is more nuanced by Hayek; he recognizes the need for non-market institutions. But The Road to Serfdom is his war book, and it’s the most anguished about the need for… Anything that has the power to unite people has to be rejected by The Road to Serfdom.

And that’s true of Popper’s Open Society and Its Enemies. I mean, Popper is more conceptually ramified. He endorses nominalism and other theories that would get rid of metaphysics that would create the danger that people might actually believe things. He says, “When people start believing things, they’re going to not be open. They’re going to be committed to the truth. So you have to devalue truth.” It’s all there in Open Society and Its Enemies, the anti-metaphysical relativism which I think is motivated not by metaphysics but the political and moral goals of the open society. And also liberalism in general, it’s a deflationary movement, has always been. It’s always a: “Take down the temperature. If nothing is worth fighting for, then no one will fight. Civic life is only about the allocation of utilities, it’s not about anything metaphysical.”

Geoff Kabaservice: Though, of course, you’ve written a lot about Arthur Schlesinger and his book The Vital Center, in which he was trying to make liberalism “a fighting faith,” in his words.

R. R. Reno: Yeah. I think it’s a rhetorical book, not a conceptual book. And I think he got that the center, the “vital center” thing, is that kind of balance between the human need for solidarity — which he primarily interpreted in terms of equitable distribution of economic goods — and the need for freedom, which he primarily interpreted in cultural terms. And that seemed to me to actually define the Democratic Party well up until… well, still to this day. “Solidarity is primarily an allocation of utilities, and if everybody gets an equal share in the bounty of our postmodern economy, then we’ll all feel like we’re in it together” — which I think is not true. Actually, people unite around shared loves not around private utilities, no matter how equitably allocated they are.

But in that sense, I think the establishment left neglected the faith, family, flag motifs, the solidarity motifs, the ones that are the warm solidarity motifs rather than the cold ones. We united for a long time where… Obama was always very good on this. We could unite around “We are ever more inclusive as a country,” which is kind of to say, “We’re ever more open.” And because of the unique nature of our country’s history, that can kind of work — up to a point. But it’s hard to work… The 1619 Project sort of takes that, and it undermines the effectiveness of that rhetoric. Because it says in effect that, “Well, there’s really no aspect of our founding documents or founding fathers that actually embody this ideal.” And so… Obama was good. He could balance between “We’re loyal to a certain past for the sake of a certain future” — it’s a very American way of thinking, I think. And I didn’t like it. I thought he was too good of a rhetorician. But I kind of admired his ability to work that balance. That seems to be lost.

Geoff Kabaservice: When I read your work and other of thoughtful conservatives, it seems to me that you actually correctly diagnose the problem on the left now, which is that they tend to hate American history and its past. But I also look at a lot of the right and it seems to me that, at the very least, they fear America’s future. Is there any way to balance between these two? One of the reasons I like reading you is you’re a very acute critic of moderation and, I suppose, the liberal establishment. Do you think it’s salvageable if they were to take a different approach?

R. R. Reno: Well, at the end of Return of the Strong Gods I warn against the mirror image of a kind of progressive narrative of some kind of inevitable victory. And the conservative mirror of that is inevitable defeat. And I’m very impressed by Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s observation that progress, which can neither be denied nor resisted, should be understood as an infinitely complex test of our freedom — which is, What are we going to do with these realities that are presented to us?

And I think that insofar as the country regresses — and I think it’s perfectly possible for us to regress. I think we suffer from many debilities, and people have nostalgia for an earlier, more united country. And nostalgia is not a bad thing, because it brings to mind the things that have been lost. But that’s also a test of our freedom. And I think it’s one of the perversions of the modern political imagination to believe that the events of man are determined by deeper forces, be they economic or social Darwinism or even instinctual forces. And I think, no, no. I have a classical view of politics. The affairs of men are deeply shaped by all kinds of forces, but they finally turn on our decisions.

Geoff Kabaservice: You had another interesting editorial in First Things in February of this year called “Anger Politics on the Right.” And, toward the end of it, you wrote that the 20th century liberal, progressive establishment quote, “neutralized left-wing and revolutionary radicalism by addressing many of its legitimate demands” — which does sound a lot to me like Brewster and company in the 1960s. “But the 21st century,” you continued, “Is different. Our problems arise from experiences of economic, cultural, and spiritual homelessness that now affect wide swathes of the American population.” And so you went on essentially to call for “an active and confident conservative/reactionary establishment that can accommodate right-wing and group politics, just as the liberal/progressive establishment accommodated left-wing anger politics in decades past.” What would that conservative/reactionary establishment look like? And what would it stand for in your thinking?

R. R. Reno: Yeah. I think that part of what it would look like is that it would stop policing the right, just as the liberal establishment doesn’t police the left. So I think Kevin McCarthy’s approach to Marjorie Taylor Green is a good one: don’t endorse QAnon, but don’t denounce QAnon. I mean, don’t endorse QAnon people, but don’t denounce them either. Root causes… Do all those sorts of things that Brewster did with respect to Black Panthers. He didn’t endorse the Black Panthers, but at the same time he didn’t get on some moralistic high horse to denounce the Black Panthers — certainly not in a moment that was fraught with all kinds of tension. At the same time, people on the right — they should not be endorsing QAnon obviously. But at the same time, they ought not to be denouncing it either.

And you have to discipline yourself to figure out, “Well, why do tens of millions of people believe such crazy things?” Just as why were black Americans willing to countenance violence and rioting the streets in the 1960s? So we have to ask ourselves, “What is going on?” ‚— those of us on the right, “What is legitimate about this anger and frustration on the right? And who are its leaders? How can those leaders be brought into the mainstream? And how can the anger be directed towards saner objects?”

And this is where I think someone like Josh Hawley is an important figure, right? He’s probably the most sort of visible kind of anti-elite, populist rabble-rouser in the Senate. Tom Cotton maybe too. These are important people, because they’re allowing people to find leaders who speak for them, so to speak. Whereas the typical approach in the politics of that right has been to, as Buckley did with the John Birchers and so on, is you draw a cordon sanitaire and you expel them. And then they drift off into oblivion. And I just assess the historical moment we’re living in, in 2021: it ain’t going to drift into oblivion. That anger will build, not dissipate. It’ll find paladins one way or the other. It did already in Trump, who was by no means the ideal representative in terms of what I think is good for the country, however much I was entertained by his… I kind of like his style in some ways. But I don’t think he was a very competent president of the United States.

Geoff Kabaservice: The obvious historical counterargument to what you’ve just said is that Buckley, by marginalizing the Birchers (and to some extent, the Ayn Randians as well), gave conservatism the kind of respectability needed to take hold with the vast majority of the electorate — which in turn allowed Ronald Reagan to become president, which in turn allowed conservatism to reset the terms of the American debate. Might that not apply in the present day?

R. R. Reno: I just think we’re in a different social and cultural situation. And I think that the Birchers… They felt betrayed, right? I mean, the anger on the right comes from anger over being betrayed. “Who lost China?” McCarthy exploited people’s suspicion that the East Coast elite had sold them out with respect to Russia and China and all those kinds of things — which, by the way, was not an irrational worry, however exaggerated it became. There were in fact spies. My wife’s grandfather was a communist spy who was blackballed and worked in the State Department. And many people had made up their minds in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s that communism was the winning team. Whitaker Chambers thought that that was the case, that he was joining the losing team. So this was not unreasonable.

But I think we live in 2021 when the concerns about betrayal are much more widespread and they’re much more grounded in fact. I mean, the way in which the mainstream media… First the Russian collusion, then the incredible propaganda during the campaign, and now it turns out that they were completely, whether through corruption or its simple gullibility, wrong with respect to the COVID-19 and the Wuhan lab.

And so, like I say, I was talking to one politician who was very agitated that his constituency was upset about how the media treated Trump — this was back in 2017. And basically they saw the CNN attacks on Trump as attacks on them. I mean, Trump was their proxy, so to speak. And so by attacking Trump in such blatant ways and such partisan ways, they saw that the people who speak for the country, so to speak, or used to speak for the country, even if they disagreed with them, treated them with respect.

And now they’re living in a situation where you have tens of millions of people who are, if you read the New York Times, they are white-supremacist racists. And that’s the only reason why they could have voted for Trump, 71 million people. Now, I’m being hyperbolic myself here, and I apologize for that. But that sentiment, the hyperbole I just expressed, which has a tone of bitterness in my voice… It’s not unreasonable that a college-educated person on the right living in Des Moines, Iowa might not have been very radicalized over the last four or five years.

And it’s not just Orange County people or whatever. I don’t think that’s going to go away because it’s rooted in very powerful realities that, if they’re not addressed, will become worse. And so in that sense, we’re in the same boat that Brewster was in with respect to… He accurately saw… When I was growing up in Baltimore, Agnew’s followed through on this, “The black leadership needs to get their people under control.” That was the line of the white grandees in Baltimore in 1965. And Brewster was smart enough to see, “That’s not going to work. The problems run much deeper. And yeah, they can regain control tomorrow, but this is going to come back again and again, and worse and worse each time, unless we actually face it, and listen, and try to figure out how to deal with it in.” And he dealt with it in some ways, I think, on principle, in other ways with a kind of pragmatic calculation about what was necessary to sort of buy some time — which I honor, by the way. That’s called leadership.

And so, I feel the same thing is going to have to happen for the establishment right with respect to the extreme right, and that Buckley’s strategy won’t work because we live in a very different time.

Geoff Kabaservice: One last question then, Rusty. You recognize at a few points in your Return of the Strong Gods book that a reconstitution of social trust is really the prerequisite for a more unified society. And yet I don’t see Trumpism or anything like it as taking us back toward that kind of social trust that used to prevail and maybe reached its zenith in the mid-1960s. I see it taking us further down toward division and disunity.

R. R. Reno: He’s sort of Malcolm X, Huey Newton. He’s not a Martin Luther King, Jr. So in that sense, I agree with you. But every man for his moment. He’s certainly not going to be the person to unify anything. I think that what will come is… I mean, I think the China thing is going to be the big breaking point for our elite. Some are not going to make it across that Rubicon because they’ll be too deeply implicated in what will turn out, I think, to be an existential challenge to our country.

And those who are not implicated and were able to… So someone like Mike Pompeo might wind up being able to function as a relatively unifying person on the right, because of the fact that he just happened to be in the right place at the right time to say the right things about China. But it’ll be something like we’re heading towards a… And I say that, at the end of my “Anger Politics” piece, we need an FDR on the right. Because I think my social analysis is that the liberal establishment just simply cannot be the leading establishment for addressing the problems of the 21st century, because it’s just too deeply invested in solutions to the problems of the 21st century — I mean the 20th century.

And so we’re going to have to have a center-right establishment that’s plastic enough and mobile enough and able to actually sort of be in a position, in the lead position, in a left wing partnership. And I do think it will probably turn on China, because one of the great successes of the liberal establishment in the post-war era was that they got Russia right. And they prosecuted the Cold War. For all of the mistakes with Vietnam, they prosecuted a multi-decade struggle to a successful conclusion. And so whoever can get on top of the China thing I think will win the trust of the American people.

Geoff Kabaservice: Rusty, in my moderate way, I have faith that part of the way forward is through conversations between people of good faith who disagree. So, on that note, it’s been a very pleasant time and I really appreciate talking to you.

R. R. Reno: Great to be with you.

Geoff Kabaservice: And thank you all for listening to The Vital Center podcast. Please subscribe and rate us on your preferred podcasting platform. And, if you have any questions, comments, or other responses, please include them along with your rating or send us an email at contact@niskanencenter.org. Thanks as always to our technical director, Kristie Eshelman, our sound engineer, Ray Ingegneri, and the Niskanen Center in Washington, D.C.

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