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W. Cleon Skousen

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Willard Cleon Skousen (1913-2006) was a Mormon author, an FBI clerk (1940-1951)[1], and a professor at Brigham Young University from 1951-1955 and 1967-1978. In between he had a brief stint as police chief of Salt Lake City until he was fired for being overzealous in cracking down on poker games and busted one that the mayor just happened to be a participant in.

His 1981 book The Five Thousand Year Leap has recently become a bestseller 28 years after the fact because of heavy promotion by Glenn Beck. It was recently republished in a new edition with an introduction written by Beck. In 2014, the book was being used in at least one publicly-funded charter school, Heritage Academy in Mesa, Arizona, which is run by Skousen's cronies.[2]

He was otherwise best known for several books on Mormon theology, and for two books, The Naked Communist and The Naked Capitalist, which were popular in John Birch Society circles and promoted a conspiratorial view of Communism. The latter of those books was Skousen's interpretation of Carroll Quigley's Tragedy and Hope and asserted that wealthy capitalist families such as the Rockefellers were in league with an international socialist conspiracy to control the world. Quigley has distanced himself from Skousen's interpretation of Tragedy and Hope as inaccurate and saying things Quigley never meant.

Among the most popular of Skousen's Mormon books are a series setting out the history of the world through what is essentially a Mormon version of young earth creationism: The First Two Thousand Years, The Third Thousand Years, and The Fourth Thousand Years.


[edit] The Five Thousand Year Leap

Since this book was all over the New York Times bestseller list in 2009, and generated an unprecedented interest in this until-now obscure author, it deserves an extended discussion. The book is an analysis of the Founding Fathers of the United States and their political and economic beliefs, written from a decidedly conservative (in the modern American sense) point of view, but the content is not particularly explicitly Mormon to the degree that would alienate readers of other faiths. The title of the book refers to both the author's belief that the earth was about 5000 years old at the time of the founding of the United States, and also that social and economic progress took a great 5000 year leap forward nearly instantaneously upon the founding of the United States after centuries of slow progress and stagnation. The book was originally published in the wake of a conservative shift in American politics around the time of the election of Ronald Reagan, and more specifically in the context of a western U.S. protest movement against federal land policies circa 1981 known as the "Sagebrush Rebellion" which was especially strong in the "Mormon belt" of Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and Wyoming.

The book begins with a discussion of the political spectrum. Skousen asserts that the view of the "far right" as Fascism and the "far left" as Communism is erroneous and that Fascism and Communism are really the same thing: "ruler's law" (or, law dictated by a single ruler or party). He proposes that a more accurate political spectrum would be: "far right" is anarchy or no government, "far left" is any form of "ruler's law" or totalitarianism, and the political center is a limited representative government of, by and for the people. (This is of course complete nonsense both since it disregards the long history of left-wing anarchism, which far pre-dates right-wing anarchism, and because it conflates Fascism and Communism, which are on exact opposite ends of the economic spectrum: Fascism, at least as Mussolini practised it, involves government intervention on behalf of business, while Communism, ostensibly, involves government or worker ownership of the means of production). The first section moves on to a discussion of the Founding Fathers and places both the Jeffersonian Democrats and the Hamiltonian Federalists in the political center of their day. He draws parallels between the laws and government of the ancient Israelites and Anglo-Saxon common law (and, although Skousen shows no sign of believing in British Israelism himself, cites a British Israelist writer - Howard B. Rand - as his source on this) and asserts that both were the basis of the U.S. Constitution. He believes the first attempt at forming a United States government in the Articles of Confederation failed because they erred too far toward his definition of the right (anarchy), while the strong-central-government faction of the Federalists and most European monarchies erred too far to the left (ruler's law). The United States Constitution, on the other hand, was right in the center where it should have been. He attributes this to "28 principles" which he believes the Founders held to, and make up the second portion of the book:

  1. Natural law as the legitimate basis of government (he defines natural law here as divine law derived from God)
  2. A virtuous and moral people
  3. Virtuous and moral leaders
  4. Without religion a government of free people cannot be maintained
  5. All things were created by God
  6. All men are created equal
  7. Equal rights, not equal things
  8. Unalienable rights
  9. To protect man's rights, God has revealed divine law
  10. Sovereignty of the people
  11. The majority of the people may alter or abolish a tyrannical government
  12. Republican form of government ("a republic, not a democracy")
  13. Protection of the people against the human frailty of their rulers
  14. Property rights
  15. Free-market economics
  16. Separation of powers
  17. Checks and balances
  18. Importance of a written Constitution
  19. Limited powers of government
  20. Majority rule, minority rights
  21. Strong local self-government
  22. Government by law, not by men
  23. An educated electorate
  24. Peace through strength
  25. Avoid entangling alliances
  26. Protecting the role of the family
  27. Avoiding the burden of debt
  28. The United States has a "manifest destiny" to be a blessing to the entire human race

A fascinating mix, that. Many of these principles nobody would argue with; they are foundational to liberal democracy and representative government. Many of them however try to make the case that liberal democracy (Skousen prefers them term "republic" over "democracy") and representative government can only exist when they are rooted in religion, specifically Christianity; and that the Founders were God-fearing Christians and this (rather than, say, the values of the European Enlightenment, freethought, and liberal views on religion such as Deism) were what guided the Founders. This attempt at shoehorning liberal representative government together with essentially theocratic views makes this book an early example of a genre of historical revisionism that has since become a staple within the religious right, such as the books by David Barton. Glenn Beck is a Mormon convert and it is likely that this is the reason that out of all the thousands of possible books he could have picked, he chose to bring Skousen's book out of obscurity as a sort of manifesto; much of the religious right has instead been promoting the more recent books by David Barton. Beck seems to have picked up on the cue and now frequently has Barton on his television and radio shows to promote his nonsense views. Beck's promotion of Skousen's work has led many ultraright conservatives to embrace Skousen's distortion of the political spectrum, mainly for the purposes of blaming both Communism and Nazism on the left.

Among other things, he seems to miss the fact that historically governments claiming a basis for their governance in divine law and religion have tended -- by his own definition -- toward "ruler's law". The principle of "divine right of kings" is a good example, as are modern Iran and the Taliban, not to mention the religious devotion expected of subjects in North Korea. Liberal democracy and human rights have historically thrived when church and state are separate.

[edit] Family

Skousen's nephews have made minor names for themselves:

  • Mark Skousen: Austrian school economist, gold bug, Federal Reserve conspiracy theorist. Has written for the Wall Street Journal, various libertarian and wingnut rags, including Human Events, Reason, and The Freeman, and cranks out piles of books for Regnery Publishing.
  • Joel Skousen: Popular figure on the survivalist circuit, runs survivalist retreats, including instructions on building fall-out shelters.
  • Royal Skousen: Linguist at Brigham Young University, expert on the textual history of the Book of Mormon, creator of a linguistic modeling system called "analogical modeling."

[edit] See also

  • We Surround Them. A more in-depth analysis of what degree Glenn Beck's "Nine Principles" and "Twelve Values" are derived from Cleon Skousen's "28 Principles" is in order.

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Meet the man who changed Glenn Beck’s life: Cleon Skousen was a right-wing crank whom even conservatives despised. Then Beck discovered him.
  2. Troubling Textbooks: Americans United Takes Aim At Arizona Charter School Books That Preach Bogus 'Christian Nation' Doctrines, Bad History And Racism
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