PROVO — Glenn Beck's radio show draws roughly 8 million listeners a day.
W. Cleon Skousen gave nearly 15,000 lectures and wrote close to 40 books during his lifetime.
But just because those two, politically conservative LDS voices are some of the loudest, it doesn't mean they speak for the entire conservative community, several BYU professors said during a panel discussion titled, "Glenn Beck, Cleon Skousen and LDS Conservatism."
"One of the fallacies about our political culture is that we've allowed Cleon Skousen and those on the right to dominate LDS political writing and to suggest that that's all there is," said BYU political science professor Richard Davis,"even though that is clearly not the case."
The discussion organized by BYU's Tocqueville Project included three BYU professors and Paul Skousen, the son of the late, prolific political writer who was formerly best known for his best-selling book "The Naked Communist."
However, Skousen has gained renewed interest since Fox News pundit Beck began touting Skousen's book "The 5000 Year Leap: A Miracle That Changed the World, Principles of Freedom 101."
"It's easy for me to see why (Beck) would have picked up on Cleon Skousen's book and found it inspiring," Davis said. "It fit in with his own performance."
And that's a lot of what Beck does — perform, the professors said.
"Most of the books of Beck's I've picked up … are like his manic, ADHD television personality," said BYU political science professor Ralph Hancock. "He's just throwing stuff out there. They're not meant to be read as discursive arguments. They're just thrown out there to try to entertain people who would rather be Twittering or playing video games."
Hancock said he agrees with some points made by Beck and Skousen but overall finds their arguments lacking in substance and scholarly research.
"I find in both a trace of anti-intellectualism," Hancock said. "My interest is to help connect a certain LDS conservative impulse or mood with a more deeply grounded intellectual conservatism. We can't enter the political field with the argument that all the bad, but smart people think X, but we good dumb people think Y."
Hancock told students that if they are serious about conservatism, they, and he, need to "study diligently to increase our confidence that our intense feelings are common sense … and can be rationally articulated."
Paul Skousen took the criticisms in stride and said his dad's entire life was focused on studying and asking tough questions.
"(He) would dig down as deeply as he could into a subject, uncover what it was, distill it, translate it and share it back with other people so they could understand," Paul Skousen said. "Of course, he got criticism for that, (that he was) a little too easy, too soft, too sophomoric, not intellectual enough."
In "The 5000 Year Leap," Paul Skousen said, his father tried to create a framework to understand the 28 principles upon which good governments are founded.
"He was trying to provoke people's thinking," he said. "Dad's invitation was, 'If someone can do better, please do, but until then, this is what I've been able to do.' "
Paul Skousen said his father knew Beck was pushing his book but only watched Beck's show once or twice before he died.
"Were Dad here today, I think he would enjoy visiting with Glenn Beck," Skousen said. "His counsel would be, 'You got to give us some more answers.' "
Hancock offered several scholarly books where those answers could be found.
"(There are many) superior alternatives to the kind of proof-texting, quote-listing approach that too many LDS stop with," Hancock said. "I wish (Skousen's books) would point a little more beyond themselves to this literature that is more substantial and sound and teaches us how to do battle with a certain intellectual mainstream in a more substantial and coherent way."
A bit of conservative reading
Reading recommended by BYU political science professor Ralph Hancock, which he says contains more scholarly substance on the American founding, government and conservative philosophy than books by Glenn Beck or W. Cleon Skousen.
"Vindicating the Founders: Race, Sex, Class and Justice in the Origins of America," by Thomas G. West
"Reading the Right Books: A Guide for the Intelligent Conservative," edited by Lee Edwards
"In Search of the Republic: Public Virtue and the Roots of American Government," by Richard Vetterli and Gary Bryner
"Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift," by Paul Anthony Rahe
"Roots of Freedom: A Primer on Modern Liberty," by John W. Danford
The Claremont Institute, www.claremont.org. Search for "The Rise and Fall of Constitutional Government in America," an essay by Thomas G. West and Douglas A. Jeffrey
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