W. Cleon Skousen
| Fiction over fact|
|How it didn't happen|
Willard Cleon Skousen (1913–2006) was a Mormon author, an FBI clerk (1940—1951), 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 became a bestseller 28 years after its publication because of heavy promotion by Glenn Beck and was thus 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. As of 2016, there were two additional publicly-funded Heritage Academy charter schools in Arizona, and the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools has refused to take action with regard to the obvious violation of Separation of church and state. A lawsuit has been filed against Heritage Academy by Americans United in US District Court.
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. Replace "Years" with "Lies" and you're probably about on the money.
The Five Thousand Year Leap
The Five Thousand Year Leap: Twenty-Eight Great Ideas That Are Changing the World was featured in the 2009 New York Times bestseller list, generating an unprecedented interest in this until-then obscure author. 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 5,000 years old at the time of the founding of the United States, and also that social and economic progress took a great 5,000 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 the conservative shift in American politics around the time of the election of Ronald Reagan, and more specifically in the context of the "Sagebrush Rebellion", a movement in the western US during the late 1970s and early 1980s that protested federal land policies, and 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 both merely manifestations of "ruler's law" (law dictated by a single ruler or party). He proposes that a more accurate political spectrum would be that "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, since it not only disregards the long history of left-wing anarchism (which far predates right-wing anarchism) and right-wing authoritarianism (the original "left wing" of the French Revolution defined itself in opposition to the tyranny of the Bourbon royals), but also because it ignores the vast ideological differences and mutual antipathy separating fascism and communism. Fascism, at least as Benito Mussolini practiced it, involved government intervention on behalf of business and defined its platform in terms of hardline nationalism, while communism (at least in theory) involves workers' ownership of the means of production and is fiercely anti-nationalist. The two movements fought violently with each other over these and other points in the early 20th century. This conflation of fascism/nazism with communism, and especially the redefinition of “far left” as basically meaning totalitarianism, is probably the part of Skousen’s nonsense that has most successfully entered US public discourse; at least on the right side of the political spectrum.
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 British Israelist writer Howard B. Rand as his source on this) and asserts that both were the basis of the United States 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 U.S. 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:
- Natural law as the legitimate basis of government (he defines natural law here as divine law derived from God)
- A virtuous and moral people
- Virtuous and moral leaders
- Without religion a government of free people cannot be maintained
- All things were created by God
- All men are created equal
- Equal rights, not equal things
- Unalienable rights
- To protect man's rights, God has revealed divine law
- Sovereignty of the people
- The majority of the people may alter or abolish a tyrannical government
- Republican form of government ("a republic, not a democracy")
- Protection of the people against the human frailty of their rulers
- Property rights
- Free-market economics
- Separation of powers
- Checks and balances
- Importance of a written Constitution
- Limited powers of government
- Majority rule, minority rights
- Strong local self-government
- Government by law, not by men
- An educated electorate
- Peace through strength
- Avoid entangling alliances
- Protecting the role of the family
- Avoiding the burden of debt
- The United States has a "manifest destiny" to be a blessing to the entire human race
A fascinating mix, that. Many of these principles few 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 (an idea with which Scandinavia would beg to differ), 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 and the idea of the United States as a Christian nation makes this book an early example of a genre of historical revisionism (of the pseudohistorical variety) 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 ultra-right 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.
The Naked Communist
The Naked Communist is a bizarre conspiracy text which reveals the ways in which communists are trying to pollute our bodily fluids and turn our pet kittens into saber-toothed Marx-spouting were-tigers. It has sold over a million copies. Ben Carson believes it is true, and fast on the way to being fulfilled, which should tell you about all you need to know about the book's accuracy.
The book contains a list of 45 supposed communist goals. These range from obvious strategic steps for achieving power like gaining control of political parties, the media, big businesses, and unions, and vague platitudes like world peace and nuclear disarmament, to other, stranger suggestions:
- "Control art critics and directors of art museums. 'Our plan is to promote ugliness, repulsive, meaningless art.'"
- "Continue giving Russia access to the U.S. Patent Office."
- "Discredit the American Founding Fathers. Present them as selfish aristocrats who had no concern for the 'common man.'"
- "Discredit the family as an institution. Encourage promiscuity and easy divorce."
- "Create the impression that violence and insurrection are legitimate aspects of the American tradition; that students and special-interest groups should rise up and use united force to solve economic, political or social problems."
This list was read into the Congressional record in 1963 by Democratic Rep. Albert S. Herlong, Jr. The fact that it's in the Congressional record is often touted by cranks as somehow being evidence of the list's legitimacy. Today, right-wingers are still busy checking the list and seeing how many entries have been ticked off.
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 and various libertarian and wingnut rags, including Human Events, Reason, and The Freeman, and creates books for Regnery Publishing.
- Joel Skousen: Popular figure on the survivalist circuit, runs survivalist retreats, including instructions on building fallout 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."
- 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.
- Zaitchik, Alexander: Meet the man who changed Glenn Beck’s life: Cleon Skousen was a right-wing crank whom even conservatives despised. Then Beck discovered him., Salon.com, September 16, 2009
- Haddock, Sharon (2009-03-20). "Beck's backing bumps Skousen book to top". Deseret News. Retrieved 2009-11-19.
- Lythgoe, Dennis L. (1974). "Political Feud in Salt Lake City: J. Bracken Lee and the Firing of W. Cleon Skousen". Utah Historical Quarterly 42 (4): 335. ""A major point of contention concerned a specific night at the Ambassador Club when Mayor Lee was in attendance. Part of the activities centered on a pari-mutuel horse race game, a clear violation of the law. After the game was over, police officers arrived to investigate, and the club owners frankly admitted the violation.""
- Troubling Textbooks: Americans United Takes Aim At Arizona Charter School Books That Preach Bogus 'Christian Nation' Doctrines, Bad History And Racism
- Heritage Academy: Campuses
- John Doe; and Rev. David Felten, v. Heritage Academy, Inc. et al.
- Skousen's Scandalous Schools: Americans United Files Suit To Stop A String Of Taxpayer -Funded Ariz. Charters From Preaching Religion by Rob Boston (October 2016) Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
- Skousen expressed the same ideas in What is Left? What is Right? in 1962. For a non- (or at least less) cranky version of the similarities between left and right wing totalitarianism, see horseshoe theory.
- See the Wikipedia article on The Naked Communist.
- Ben Carson's Longshot Presidential Bid Suddenly Looks a Lot More Realistic, Bloomberg, 15 October 2014
- The Communist Takeover Of America - 45 Declared Goals, rense.com
- 45 Communist Goals..., BeliefNet
- Naked Truth about Government, watchdog.org