Clinton, Quigley, and Conspiracy: What’s going on here?
by Daniel BrandtFrom NameBase NewsLine, No. 1, April-June 1993
When Bill Clinton delivered his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention on July 16, 1992, it didn’t contain any surprises, nor were any expected. There were the usual feel-good platitudes: he wanted to talk with us “about my hope for the future, my faith in the American people, and my vision of the kind of country we can build…. This election is about putting power back in your hands and putting the government back on your side…. It is time to heal America.” Any speech writer could have pulled boiler-plate from the files and pasted together something similar. Speeches for occasions like this one aren’t meant to be long on specifics.
Toward the end of the speech Clinton mentioned that “as a teenager I heard John Kennedy’s summons to citizenship. And then, as a student at Georgetown, I heard that call clarified by a professor named Carroll Quigley, who said to us that America was the greatest country in the history of the world because our people have always believed in two things: that tomorrow can be better than today and that every one of us has a personal, moral responsibility to make it so.”
This was not the first time that Clinton had paid tribute to the memory of his Georgetown professor. A few days earlier, a story on Clinton’s background mentioned that he had never forgotten Quigley’s last lecture. “Throughout his career he has evoked [this lecture] in speeches as the rhetorical foundation for his political philosophy,” according to the Washington Post, which offered another Clinton quotation praising Quigley’s perspective and influence. A kindly old professor appreciated as a mentor by an impressionable, idealistic student? This is how it was interpreted by almost everyone who heard it, particularly since Quigley’s name was not exactly a household word.
But in certain rarified circles among conspiracy theorists, Clinton’s reference to Quigley was surprising. Now that Clinton had one foot in the White House, the conservative Washington Times soon ran an item that tried to clear matters up. Professor Quigley, according to the Times, specialized in the history of a secret group of elite Anglo-Americans who had a decisive influence on world affairs during the first half of this century. Quigley, in other words, was a conspiracy theorist — but one who had an impeccable pedigree as “one of the few insiders who came out and exposed the Eastern establishment plan for world government.” These words belong to Tom Eddlam, research director for the John Birch Society. As someone who had sold two of Quigley’s books, Eddlam knew plenty about Quigley. But we can’t have a Democratic draft-dodging liberal candidate who admires a Birch Society conspiracy hero, so the Times quickly resolved the issue by noting that Quigley wanted the conspiracy to succeed, whereas the Birchers wanted it to fail. Thus the Times summed matters up, in six column inches.
Clinton’s supporters depict him as an intellectual, someone whose heroes traffic in solemn ideals. If so, Clinton presumably read Tragedy and Hope, Quigley’s best-known book, which appeared while Clinton was at Georgetown. At any rate, Quigley’s work is well worth looking at, along with Clinton’s early career, for its possible clues to Clinton’s thought.
Reading Quigley may turn you into a student of high-level conspiracy, which is exactly what many influential people around Clinton and elsewhere say you shouldn’t be. Almost all of the 3,000 members of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) will go on record ridiculing any of the conspiracy theories that, according to all polls, are taken seriously by large majorities of average people. CFR member Daniel Schorr will tell you again and again that Oswald was a lone nut, and CFR member Steven Emerson will write article after article debunking Pan Am 103 and October Surprise theories. It’s not that people in high places know better, it’s simply that they have more to protect and cannot afford to be candid.
As new research is published about the JFK assassination, for example, it becomes clear that virtually all the high-level players, from LBJ on down, assumed it was a conspiracy from the moment the shots were fired. It took until recently for dedicated researchers to dig this fact out. But thirty years later many journalists still find it useful to defend the Warren Commission or belittle its critics.
Carroll Quigley was a conspiracy historian, but he was unusual in that he avoided criticism. Most of his conspiracy research concerned the role of the Rhodes-Milner Round Table Groups in Britain from 1891 through World War II. His major work, Tragedy and Hope (1966), contains scattered references to his twenty years of research in this area, but his detailed history of the Round Table was written in 1949. The major reason he avoided criticism is because his work wasn’t threatening to people in high places. Quigley’s research was too obscure, and too much had happened in the world since the events he described. Quigley was also an insider, so his criticisms of the groups he studied are subdued. He did his undergraduate and graduate work at Harvard, where he received a doctorate in 1938. He later taught at Princeton and Harvard before settling in at Georgetown’s conservative School of Foreign Service in 1941, where he remained for the rest of his career. He was a consultant for the Brookings Institution, the Defense Department, the State Department, and the Navy, and taught western civilization and history. In 1962 the Center for Strategic and International Studies was established on the Georgetown campus, where it maintained close ties with the School of Foreign Service. CSIS included a number of people on its staff who had high-level CIA connections. Quigley moved in these circles until his death in 1977:
I know of the operations of this network [the Round Table Groups] because I have studied it for twenty years and was permitted for two years, in the early 1960s, to examine its papers and secret records. I have no aversion to it or to most of its aims and have, for much of my life, been close to it and to many of its instruments. I have objected, both in the past and recently, to a few of its policies, but in general my chief difference of opinion is that it wishes to remain unknown, and I believe its role in history is significant enough to be known.
In his 1949 detailed look at the Cecil Rhodes – Oxford – Alfred (Lord) Milner – Round Table nexus, published posthumously in 1981 as The Anglo-American Establishment, Quigley was more forceful with his criticism. While endorsing this elite’s high-minded internationalist goals, Quigley wrote that “I cannot agree with them on methods,” and added that he found the antidemocratic implications of their inherited wealth and power “terrifying.” This is as tough as he got with his comments:
No country that values its safety should allow what the Milner Group accomplished in Britain — that is, that a small number of men should be able to wield such power in administration and politics, should be given almost complete control over the publication of the documents relating to their actions, should be able to exercise such influence over the avenues of information that create public opinion, and should be able to monopolize so completely the writing and the teaching of the history of their own period.
Quigley also avoided criticism because his books are the product of years of painstaking research into primary diplomatic sources. To qualify as a critic of his analysis, someone would have to duplicate that research — and so far no one has. It also helped that Quigley was doing most of his work at a time when conspiracy theories were considered curious and quaint, but not threatening. Clinton, at any rate, had no reason to feel uneasy about citing the virtually unknown Quigley in his convention acceptance speech.
But serious researchers can hardly afford to pass over Quigley’s potential significance so lightly. The Washington Times, to begin with, is clearly mistaken to brush Quigley off as simply one more liberal elitist one-worlder. Certainly he is no streetcorner agitator, whether of the right or left. But his understated critique of his elite colleagues is nevertheless a searching one.
In the years following the publication of Tragedy and Hope in 1966, writers on both the right and left began to recognize this. For example, New Left writer and activist Carl Oglesby came to realize that some of his ideas about elite power in the U.S. had been anticipated by Quigley. On the far right, meanwhile, Quigley found a convert in W. Cleon Skousen, a former FBI agent who later became a star of the John Birch Society’s lecture circuit. In 1970, Skousen published a book-length review of Quigley’s Tragedy and Hope that was titled The Naked Capitalist. It quoted so heavily from Quigley’s work that Quigley threatened to sue for copyright infringement.
Skousen chose to emphasize Quigley’s mention of subterranean financial arrangements between certain Wall Street interests and certain groups on the U.S. left, in particular the Communist Party. Oglesby, meanwhile, shared Quigley’s interest in the challenge posed to Wall Street’s Eastern elite by newer oil and defense-aerospace money concentrated in the Southwest. But as Oglesby recognized, Quigley’s meticulous research into elite power shaded insensibly over into the study of “conspiracy”:
Am I borrowing on Quigley then to say with the far right that this one conspiracy rules the world? The arguments for a conspiracy theory are indeed often dismissed on the grounds that no one conspiracy could possibly control everything. But that is not what this theory sets out to show. Quigley is not saying that modern history is the invention of an esoteric cabal designing events omnipotently to suit its ends. The implicit claim, on the contrary, is that a multitude of conspiracies contend in the night. Clandestinism is not the usage of a handful of rogues, it is a formalized practice of an entire class in which a thousand hands spontaneously join. Conspiracy is the normal continuation of normal politics by normal means.
But it’s a bad word for polite editors, so the issues surrounding the “C” word are almost never discussed in print…………