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Political Discourse and Ideas
Congressional debates, whether about the impeachment of President Clinton or the war in Kosovo, leave us wondering about the political motives behind the words. Congressman Tom Campbell, a Stanford constitutional law professor known for his intelligence and honesty, supported impeachment and has pushed a debate on the role of Congress in declaring war. He seems to be motivated solely by a professorial devotion to the letter of the law and the constitution, which is almost the only ideological element in our debates.
A refugee from Castro Cuba now teaching in California, Manuel Fojo has sent me a printout of an 1849 speech given in the Spanish parliament by Juan Donoso CortÚs (1809-1953). It was a survey of Europe in the chaotic period following the French revolution of 1848. Donoso CortÚs called for Christian Europe to unite in the face of chaos. Manuel Fojo says the speech is timely today. It is long and difficult to read, since it is full of allusions and oratory, but it is striking that it is couched in terms of political theory. Donoso CortÚs, arguing against those who simply promote economic solutions, says that ideas are basic. My guess is that the ideologues of Spain┤s Partido Popular today rate Donoso CortÚs highly.
In any case, the history of ideas is basic in political history, even though politicians may be unaware of it. The problem is that it involves exacting reading, which is not a hot subject in our universities.
Ronald Hilton - 04/28/99