Just a few short weeks ago, Glenn Beck was voicing his concern about the potential effects Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sermonizing might be having on President Obama's policy toward Israel. Remember, Beck believes that the president is a racist who hates white people, so don't be surprised that Rev. Wright is still a hot topic of discussion on his program. Anyway, Beck asked former United Nations ambassador John Bolton: "Do you think it's possible to sit in the church with somebody who is as anti-Semitic as Jeremiah Wright is and not come away with an anti-Semitic view?" Beck went on to allow that Obama's Israel policy "may not be anti-Semitic," but the implication was clear -- Obama's thinking was influenced by Wright, and is therefore suspect. Beck clearly thinks the views and opinions of a person's mentors, if that's the proper word, are tremendously important when understanding the view and opinions of that person. So perhaps we should be taking a closer look at Beck's own "mentors."
Beck's affinity for the writings and theology of ultra-conservative activist W. Cleon Skousen is well-documented. Skousen's book, The 5,000-Year Leap, is at the center of Beck's 9-12 Project, and Beck called the book "divinely inspired" in the foreword he wrote for the 30th anniversary edition. But much of what Skousen wrote has been forgotten or never progressed far beyond the obscure fringes that Skousen himself inhabited. We've already explored Skousen's unique take on "the story of slavery in America," wherein slave owners were "the worst victims" of slavery, white children "envy the freedom" of slave children, and life in the antebellum South was a "nightmare" of fear for "white civilization." But a mind as fertile as Skousen's couldn't be limited simply to sympathizing with the owners of human chattel.
Take, for instance, Skousen's 1970 book, The Naked Capitalist. It's ostensibly a review of Dr. Carroll Quigley's Tragedy and Hope, and in it Skousen declares that Quigley is an "insider" in a grand "power complex" that will "eventually attain total global control." Skousen gets right to the meat of things on Page 6:
The real value of Tragedy and Hope is not so much as a "history of the world in our time" (as its subtitle suggests), but rather as a bold and boastful admission by Dr. Quigley that there actually exists a relatively small but powerful group which has succeeded in acquiring a choke-hold on the affairs of practically the entire human race.
This is what is known as New World Order conspiracy theorism -- the idea that the affairs of the entire globe are secretly controlled by a small group of extremely wealthy (and usually Jewish, though Skousen didn't seem to buy into that) cabal of individuals who are either Freemasons or Illuminati or Stonecutters or whatever. Of course, Skousen throws his own flourishes in, linking everything to the great communist conspiracy and the apocalypse as predicted by Revelations. Skousen continued on Page 6: "Anyone familiar with the writings of John's Apocalypse might have suspected that modern history would eventually contain the account of a gigantic complex of political and economic power which would cover the while earth." Put bluntly, the whole thing is stonking crazy.
But The Naked Capitalist is also completely dishonest. At least, that's the opinion of Dr. Carroll Quigley, who would be something of an authority on this issue. As Salon's Alexander Zaitchik noted in his handy-dandy Skousen round-up, a 1971 issue of Dialogue: The Journal of Mormon Thought contained Quigley's analysis of The Naked Capitalist, and, as Zaitchik wrote, his "judgment was not kind." Quigley accused Skousen of "inventing fantastic ideas and making inferences that go far beyond the bounds of honest commentary." According to Zaitchik, Quigley actually intended Tragedy and Hope to be a critique of far-right conspiracy cranks like Skousen. But as is the case with most conspiracy theorists, Skousen twisted the evidence before him into something that approximated his own worldview, and then proudly declared his own vindication.
If this sounds familiar, it should -- this is pretty much exactly what Beck does. It's the sort of fevered narcissism that compels Beck to cast himself as the embattled voice for truth who braves death to reluctantly do the job of complacent or complicit journalists who just won't connect the dots between the fascist artwork in Rockefeller Center and the president's speech to schoolchildren. If there's a difference between Skousen and Beck, it's that Beck at least sometimes acknowledges that he sounds like a lunatic as he tumbles down various rabbit holes.
Books like The Making of America and The Naked Capitalist elegantly demonstrate why Skousen never achieved much notoriety as a scholar -- his ideas were too whacked out even for hardcore conservatives. But he's enjoying a bit of a resurgence now as the gravitational center of the Glenn Beck universe.