News and Events
Introducing Victor Davis Hanson
Pepperdine Welcomes the New William E. Simon Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Public Policy
As a scholar of classical civilizations, author, columnist, and historian Victor Davis Hanson often recalls the old adage that there is nothing new under the sun. From Julius Caesar and Abraham Lincoln, to George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Western leaders have been both vilified and deified by some of the best minds of their time. It is one of the many unique facets of the West: the freedom to criticize.
Hanson compares America's outgoing President George W. Bush to Ajax, the ill-fated character of Homer's Iliad, calling him a "tragic leader." In his opinion, "Bush tried to do the right thing after 9/11, but was not able to communicate very well amid a sophisticated and often postmodern, hostile press."
Only time will tell the true legacy of the Bush presidency, but as someone with an insider view of the fundamentally Western freedom to criticize without censor, Hanson will touch upon the unique ideologies of the West as the 2009 William E. Simon Distinguished Visiting Professor. He joins the Pepperdine community this semester to teach "Global Rule of Western Civilization?" as part of the International Relations faculty at the School of Public Policy.
His class will explore, in his own words, "why the world has been following the American and European lead, and to what degree Western exceptionalism is sustainable."
"It is the age old dilemma of the West: will the free, affluent citizen possess enough restraint-due to his family, religion, sense of shame, or tradition-to control his appetites and not do what he is otherwise in theory legally and economically free and empowered to do?" Hanson continues. "Surfeit and decadence, not poverty and unsophistication, have been tradition the banes of the West."
He looks to philosophy from the West in its infancy, and notes that great thinkers in 2009 are still asking the same questions. "The West began with classical cultures in Greece and Rome, and very astute self-critical thinkers-Aristotle, Plato, Euripides, Sophocles-wrote in depth about the strengths and dangers of personal freedom coupled with economic prosperity," he says. "Given that human nature is unchanging, their observations still hold true."
Hanson is both a prominent academic and best-selling author. In 1984 he established the classical languages program at California State University (CSU), Fresno, and is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in classics and military history at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, from where he received his Ph.D.
As an author of both historical and contemporary nonfiction, he often writes about controversial subjects employing his historical knowledge to gauge and interpret current issues. Take, for example, the title of his 2003 book Mexifornia: A State of Becoming - "part history, part political analysis, and part memoir" - or the 2001 book Why the West Has Won: Carnage and Culture from Salamis to Vietnam.
"There is a fine line of using the past in a way that is disinterested and populist without pandering," says Hanson of his particular niche of the writing market. "That said, the public is thirsty as never before for historical knowledge."
After earning his bachelor's in classics from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1975, he attended the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. Naturally, Hanson visits the ancestral home of the West as often as he can. "Since I first arrived in 1973, I have come to know Greece well. I have always been most fond of the Peloponnese, especially Arcadia."
The William E. Simon Distinguished Visiting Professorship gives the School of Public Policy the opportunity to invite a series of nationally recognized and highly respected individuals to be in residence each year. Each visiting professor leads a class or seminar, devotes significant time as a resident mentor to student scholars, and leads presentations for the entire campus community.
Raised as a fifth generation orchard and vineyard grower in Fresno, California, - Hanson still owns the forty-acre farm, on which Sun-Maid raisins are grown - he began writing in the 1990s about issues of farming, immigration, and education, until 9/11 expanded his literary horizons and he began writing about terrorism, radical Islam, and wars abroad. "I tried to offer some solace to the reader that we could learn from the past. Some found that reassuring, that we were not alone."
A frequent contributor to the political National Review magazine and its corresponding Web site, Hanson is also a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He's currently finishing a historical novel about the fall of Sparta, and is looking forward to future projects. "I will start in March a book on great generals from ancient to modern times who were called in to save hopeless situations-and how they did so, and why."
In the meantime, Hanson notes the "problematic" and "complex" challenges facing incoming President-elect Barack Obama as the leader of the free world. Both vilified and deified by different factions of the free press, his actions as President will both reflect, and affect, Western Civilization. With democracy in action this month, it is the perfect time for Hanson and his students to reflect on the founding ideals of the West, and look to the future of Western Civilization.
By Sarah Fisher