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Thorner: The late Michael Uhlmann’s inspiring message in dark times


Michael-Uhlmann-600x600By Nancy Thorner - 
Joseph A. Morris, partner in the law firm of Morris & De La Rosa, with offices in Chicago and London, alerted me to the death of Michael M. Uhlmann, 79, on October 8, 2019. Initially, I wondered who Michael M. Uhlmann was and why his death was reported with sorrow by Mr. Morris?
In the announcement Morris noted that Michael Uhlmann was a Professor of Government in the Division of Politics and Economics at the Claremont Graduate University. He was also an alumnus of the Reagan White House, where Morris and Uhlmann became good friends.  Uhlmann had also served at the Department of Justice under President Ford.

In addition, Uhlmann had been teaching at Claremont since 2002, where his work concentrated on the American Presidency, including processes of national security decision-making, and the separate of powers with a focus on the role of the judiciary in the maintenance of the constitutional structure.
Lastly, Morris described Uhlmann as "a man of deep learning, especially in history, which he would bring to bear on current policy discussions.  He was also a man of principle, which he could articulate clearly and to the point in its applications to practical matters.  He was also possessed of an easy and delightful sense of humor.  His personal grace and spirit of charity made it a pleasure to be his friend or his colleague in government, in the classroom, or at the bar."
It wasn't until I had read the acceptance talk cited by Mr. Morris and  given by Michael Uhlmann on October 27th, 2018, when presented the Henry Salvatori award by the Claremont Institute after a half-day Master Class on the Scholarship of Harry Jaffa, Uhlmann's man's long-time friend and a student of Jaffa's, that I understood why the death of Michael Uhlmann was such a personal loss to Joseph A. Morris, as it should be to all who are concerned about the direction this country is headed and how this crisis came about.
Excerpts from Uhlmann's acceptance talk, The Struggles Ahead, are included below.  It would behoove all to read Michael Uhlmann's entire talk. 
"Back in 1967 when Henry and I first met and talked, the country was in the throes of heated, not to say raucous, domestic turmoil, not unlike today. In those days, most of the sound and fury was occasioned by the war in Vietnam. Other forces were at work, to be sure, but their effects were for the time-being quarantined. Although the sexual revolution had been launched, for example, it had not fully eroticized the culture; the sybaritic eruptions of Woodstock were yet a few years away. The same held true for the ideas of thinkers like Herbert Marcuse, Antonio Gramsci, and Saul Alinsky, whose radical ruminations were for the most part celebrated in obscure journals. And while college students, as many adults said at the time, were certainly revolting, their passionate enthusiasms had only partly infected the larger body politics.  All that and more would descend upon the nation in short order.
But in 1967 a rational observer could still believe that American institutions were basically sound and that electoral politics would return to normal once the adults returned from vacation. 1968 saw the election of Richard Nixon, who would be re-elected four years later by one of the largest landslides in American history. His successor, the former nuclear submarine commander, Jimmy Carter, hardly personified the spirit of Woodstock. And after he left the scene, his successor declared to great applause that it was “Morning in America” again.
For a while it was. But following the demise of the Soviet Union (accomplished largely through the courage and determination of President Reagan), we turned our gaze inward. There we discovered, as Hamlet’s mother said, dark and grained spots that would not leave their tinct. While America busied itself in the noble work of taming the Soviet bear, cultural decay had gnawed at the vitals of the civilization that men like Ronald Reagan celebrated and defended so often and so well. The so-called “holiday from history” that began in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall and ended on 9/11 with the fall of the Twin Towers, was not only a wake-up call to redefine American foreign policy. It also laid bare the relativism, now bordering on nihilism, that had infected American political culture, indeed the culture of the entire Western world.
We can see much more clearly now the decadent path on which Western culture had been descending for the better part of the Twentieth Century. To one who reached his maturity in the ‘Fifties, when God was in His heaven and all seemed right with the world, perhaps the most surprising fact is the speed with which cultural decay has undermined seemingly solid institutions. Here is one measure: In the ‘Sixties and ‘Seventies the chant of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civilization’s got to go” was the more or less exclusive mantra of coddled college students with too much time on their hands and too little in their heads. That same slogan today has infected the bloodstream of the entire Democratic Party and appears to be the very raison d’etre of its dominant wing. Similar sentiments, mutatis mutandis, are echoed by many liberal interest groups, the professoriate, and the news media. The barbarians, in a word, are not only inside the gates; they are far more numerous, dispersed, and powerful than they once were.
First, I think it beyond argument that we do face a genuine crisis, that it is very deep, and that it is essentially moral and intellectual rather than merely political in the narrow sense of that term. I also think that conditions are likely to get worse before we see improvement. But when and if the denouement arrives, I believe the resolution will strain our constitutional order as nothing before. I say this because a significant percentage of the population seems to have lost faith in the foundations of the American constitutional order. That should not be altogether surprising, inasmuch as they have been badly tutored. The loudest and most influential among their instructors have argued for two generations or more that the Founders’ Constitution is not merely mistaken in this or that feature, but is fundamentally flawed, even illegitimate. For many if not most left-wing intellectuals it is seen as an anti-democratic plot foisted upon naïve citizens by corrupt white males. This disposition, once the more or less exclusive property of hot-headed pamphleteers, agitators, and the professoriate, has surfaced increasingly in the rhetoric of prominent public officials, who disparage the Constitution they have taken a solemn oath to protect and defend.
The Constitution of their oath, however, is not the constitution that attracts their loyalty. Their constitution does not derive from the laws of Nature and Nature’s God; and it is certainly not devoted to securing natural rights and limited government. Theirs, rather, is a constitution in thrall to the prospect of perpetual change and ever-expanding government. This view of constitutional things in the United States was born over a century ago in the writings of leading Progressive thinkers and politicians. They set about to alter the foundations of the American regime, and to a remarkable degree they have succeeded. Their teaching dominates schooling at every level, book publishing, the news media, and popular culture. Despite occasional setbacks, the Progressive chattering class seems confident that its agenda will remain in the vanguard of American political culture. The election of Donald Trump, however, and now the prospect of a conservative Supreme Court, appear to have sapped their self-assurance and triggered a heavy bout of “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” Something seems to have gone awry with History’s inexorable march toward a Progressive utopia. That explains, I think, why so many Progressive thinkers and politicians have recently become bolder and nastier in expressing negative opinions about their country.
The Court is not the only object of the left’s battle against the Constitution’s rules, institutions, and customs. A few years ago, a majority of congressional Democrats wanted to alter the First Amendment in the belief that campaign finance laws favored Republicans. They would do away with the Electoral College tomorrow morning, if not sooner, if they could. Many of them are now prepared to abolish state equality in the Senate. And some are willing to interfere in presidential elections."
Despite Uhlmann's concerns and his realization that this nation is in a crisis situation, he was able to say about himself: "So be it. It may not be morning in America, but until darkness becomes a permanent feature of our life, put me in the camp of Little Orphan Annie: the sun will come out tomorrow."
Offered by Uhlmann were two large public policy recommendations that share a common difficulty.  Absent a remedy, one will deprive us of the financial means to secure our freedom; the other will destroy legal institutions that sustain the rule of law.
“First, take back the government from the spend-spend, tax-tax, elect-elect crowd by saving us from the entitlement abyss. Yes, the attainment of that goal will be threatened by all sorts of political third rails. But God made economists for a reason, and there are many sophisticated remedial plans to engage your thoughtful attention.”
“Second, the administrative state can and must be tamed. The immediate salient here is to get Congress back into the constitutional game, which is to say that those who exercise regulatory power must be made accountable to the people.”
As Michael Uhlmann concluded: "That’s a beginning of sorts, is it not?  And enough work to keep you busy until your children are ready to take your place. By then, of course, if you do your work well, perhaps a statesman may arise who will have earned his reputation talking about sunshine and ladders. Now, go and do your duty before darkness covers the earth."
Hadley Arkes and the James Wilson Institute remember Michael Uhlmann here:
http://commentary.jameswilsoninstitute.org/2019/10/michael-martin-uhlmann-in-memoriam-1939-2019/ Claremont Review of Books published a number of Mike Uhlmann's essays over the years and has collected them at this site: https://www.claremont.org/crb/contributor-list/446/
The national office of The Federalist Society remembers Mike today here:


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  1. Clearly this was a man far ahead of his time with so much knowledge and wisdom of the history of America’s founding. Here’s another excerpt from his speech: Looking at the Judge Kavanaugh hearings as the current example of the newspeak of fevered leftist politicians. They have abandoned the decorum of the past and now proudly and loudly spew their hatred of America’s founding principles. To them the Constitution is an evil document because it places limits on the power of government and requires the government to respect the natural rights of its citizens. Those rights do not come from government but, as set forth in the Declaration of Independence, they are endowed upon us by our creators.