Angelo Codevilla, Our America First Champion

Angelo Codevilla was a giant of the conservative movement, an author and commentator, expert on matters of political science, international relations and diplomacy, security and intelligent, political science and governance issues.  He wrote his last book as a product of that expertise, focusing on modern day mistakes in governance and foreign affairs, and showed that that wisdom of Washington and John Quincy Adams has continued to be appropriate in modern day foreign relations. 

The America First policy of Trump was actually just his rejection of modern progressive interventionism, globalism, democratization activities, all a departure of the wisdom of the founders.  Codevilla used his penetrating knowledge of international relations, domestic politics, and the dynamics of current political affairs and gave us this last book of his more than a dozen for consideration: America's Rise and Fall Among Nations: Lessons in Statecraft from John Quincy Adams, by Angelo Codevilla, 288 pp, Kindle 24.78, Hard cover 26.08.  ISBN-10 ‏: ‎ 1641772727 (Encounter Books 2022).

Codevilla’s posthumous book (he died in an auto accident September 20, 2021), was commissioned in a way by the Trump administration to provide a comprehensive and insightful outline for the Trump’s America First policies, both domestic and foreign. Codevilla took on the task with his typical energy and intensity.  I am just a witness to his assessments and advice that are startling and energetic in content and common sense in view and focus.  The thing that will surprise you is the evisceration of modern progressive interventionist foreign policies and bad war making that the author highlights and the prominent modern personages that he eviscerates.  The man did not have good things to say about the pretentious Henry Kissinger, for example.

Angelo Codevilla was born in Italy in 1943, became a U.S. citizen in 1962, served in the Navy as an intelligence officer, then did stints as a Foreign Service officer and later as an aide to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He was educated at Rutgers, then Georgetown and finally received his PhD at Claremont.  His academic career at a number of positions was capped by a final long term at Boston University, ending with appointment as Emeritus Professor of International Relations.

His retirement from active academics did not stop his prolific work as an essayist/author, and he took a prominent role at the Claremont Review of Books while he tended to a vineyard in Plymouth, California, just west of Sacramento. In his career as a writer, he was a prolific essayist and author of more than a dozen books on international relations and politics that were leavened with is deep knowledge of history, social science and politics.

Dr. Codevilla’s books on international relations are many, informative and enlightening, to include highly recommended  Informing Statecraft: Intelligence for a New CenturyThe Character of Nations, War: Ends and Means, To Make and Keep Peace Among Ourselves and with All Nations

My interest in Codevilla began with his 2009 essay in American Spectator entitled “Scientific Pretense vs. Democracy” that put on display his scholarship and raised the serious question of the problems of an unelected administrative state staffed by an army of elite “experts” that had begun to dominate Western democracies.  These states were becoming less democracies ruled by the citizen and more oligarchy, with rule by an unelected elite.

Codevilla provided insight into the influence of Otto von Bismarck, who was the father of the administrative bureaucratic state peopled with “experts” who were essential to government control and power.  He pointed out that historically only Switzerland and the United States properly adhered to and promoted self-governance and avoided administrative state overgrowth, but warned of the change in the US.

I knew Codevilla was on to something important in 2009, but his role as a prominent public intellectual conservative burgeoned with the 2010 summer issue of American Spectator with a magisterial long essay “America’s Ruling Class and the Perils of Revolution” that expanded on his theory that a non-elected self-designated class of elites were increasingly creating an oligarchic autocracy and destroying America.   I got the hard copy of the AmSpec issue on a Thursday, read his essay and got plenty excited, sent a link to all my many email friends and allies with my accolades.  On Saturday I called him at Plymouth, CA, his semi-retirement vineyard outside Sacramento, startled his wife, asked to speak to him and offered to be the president of his fan club since he was going to be a conservative celebrity based on his essay.  He politely declined, but lo and behold, Rush Limbaugh was so impressed he read the from the essay at length on his Monday show. I was right—Angelo did become a star power conservative figure. There’s a good reason: he was a remarkable man and we will miss him just like as we miss Breitbart and Rush.  Sometimes an individual makes a difference.

Angelo Codevilla was a scholar’s scholar, fluent in all the romance languages; his writing included a translation of Machiavelli’s Prince. His book America’s Rise demonstrates his position that to know good American Foreign Policy you have to go back to Washington, Hamilton, and John Adams, and their mentee John Quincy Adams, Secretary of State under Monroe and President.  The Founders’ modest hands-off nationalist parochial interests approach to foreign policy was the rule until Woodrow Wilson, who was our first meddling globalist utopian manipulator and started a movement that have impacted the State Department and government until today.

The Founders’ nationalist, modest and non-manipulative approach contrasts with the later ambitious progressive intrusiveness now so much a part of American government posturing, State Department/Military conduct and policy making.  The Founders asserted that alliances and pacts were just another word for entanglements and that America should pursue its course avoiding interfering with other countries, but protecting, by force if necessary, American interests.  Period.  Codevilla agrees and condemns with strong words the progressive globalist aggressive foreign policies that dominated most of the 20th century and the first 2 decades of the 21st.We have apparently no respect for the admonition Mind your own business, and Codevilla is of that mind.

Angelo Codevilla speaks clearly, doesn’t hesitate to identify malefactors and is extremely adept and accomplished at identifying nonsense and those who would propose nonsense and progressive claptrap as a foundation for both domestic and foreign policy methods and strategy.   He is a fearless writer who calls the game with no hesitation and exposes the idiots, the poseurs and the malignant influencers who deserve to be exposed as malfeasant and sometimes mendacious and malicious.  But Codevilla also goes past the players to discuss the trends that portend a terrible decline of American international status and asserts that the proper choice is a return to the wisdom of Washington and JQ Adams. 

In his final book Dr. Codevilla displays a startling instinct for exposing terrible behavior in matters of foreign policy and the magnitude of the negative impact those mistakes have had for American stature and security for its citizens.   He does not spare the rod in regard to the pretentions of the State Department and Diplomacy Corps.  The details of his arguments are supported by the evidence he assembles.

Codevilla, in addition to his insight on America’s problem with a malfeasant ruling elite, makes important observations on two things. One is the increasing secrecy and deception of the government and private ruling class and the other is the problem of the ruling class affection for prolonged wars and lack of clear objects that results in muddled conduct and no will to win.  He expanded on his condemnation of ambitious globalism, secrecy, and deviousness along with the nonsensical approach to war with the lack clear objectives in his 2014 book, To Make and Keep Peace Among Ourselves and with All Nations

America’s Rise continues the argument against the elite use of secrecy and Plato’s “noble lies.”   For example, he posits that the premises and goals of the War on Terror were based on a basic failure to follow the advice of SunTzu: Know Your Enemy.  At the time we were arming up and ramping security we hadn’t even identified the enemy, for example.  Of course, political correctness and globalist attitudes were the real reason for failure to name and identify the enemy promoters of world-wide terrorism. It was no secret.

Codevilla was committed to sensible and rational America First policies at home and abroad, and we can only hope others will continue the effort to promote the Founders’ wisdom. We have lost a great and good man at a time when we are still very much in need of his wisdom and guidance. We will now have to settle for his voluminous writing over many decades. We must keep his memory and ideas alive so that future generations of students and statesmen seek him out, in dark and trying times, to the benefit of their country.

America’s Rise in 288 pages provides the 18th and 19th century history of modest, non-meddling but energetic nationalist foreign policy.  The turn to progressive aggressive interventionist foreign policy adventurism exemplified by Wilson and others became a full blown mistake, according to Codevilla, in the years of FDR and after, and Codevilla is not gentle in his criticisms.  You may be surprised at the harsh criticisms Codevilla has for prominent diplomats and foreign policy doyens. Kissinger is eviscerated for serial foreign policy malfeasance, for example. One statement that made me burn was Kissinger’s assertion that superpowers can afford to lose wars. Kissinger’s treaties and post war arrangements clearly show that bias and his globalist outlook that sometimes was just anti American.

Codevilla argues that no war should be entered without assessment of the goal and commitment to that goal: winning.  He has a lot to say about Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East missteps.  He also provides some thorough insights into our enemies or problem areas that make the book worth the read; his insights on our current threats are invaluable.    

Codevilla was a patriot and man of wisdom and erudition. You will enjoy his book; sometimes you will be grateful he was alive to provide so many valuable insights.

Victor Davis Hanson can say it better; Codevilla was a fellow at the Hoover for a time with Hanson:

“The late polymath Angelo Codevilla spent a life-time warning Americans about the dangers of their growing and unaccountable military-industrial-intelligence-investigatory complex. In his final work, Codevilla has left us a chilling analysis of how the radically egalitarian impulse of the elite does not just erode human freedom at home, but when nation building abroad ensures tragedies for almost everyone involved. In his gripping account of America’s Rise and Fall Among Nations, he reminds us that ‘America First’ was not just the cachet of Donald Trump, but the driving impulse of the Founders themselves.” —Victor Davis Hanson, Chair, The Military History Working Group, The Hoover Institution, Stanford University

John Dale Dunn MD JD is a retired emergency physician and inactive attorney

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