Memo to POTUS:
    Some Thoughts Concerning the College Curriculum

UCLA isn’t the only place where disrespect for the Commander in Chief and the War on Terror is taught. The problem is much bigger.



RE.: Curriculum

Dear Sir,

It has come to my attention that a work attacking the terrorist surveillance program is widely taught in American colleges and universities—sometimes in mandatory introductory classes that conservatives may not opt out of. It contains specific remarks clearly intended to cast doubt on my demonstration that your recent actions compare to those of Presidents Washington, Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt.

We could consider censoring this kind of thing by executive order, either open or secret, but it would be wrong. Maybe we could have Karl call Dave Horowitz and stir up some state legislatures against professors who teach this stuff? We are at war, and when some Latin-quoting Oxford professor is taught in place of real Americans who worked their way up from nothing through sheer hard work and flattery, some action must surely be taken.

Anyway, here’s the piece. I’ve highlighted the most biased and offensive parts.


And therefore they have a very wrong notion of government, who say, that the people have encroached upon the prerogative, when they have got any part of it to be defined by positive laws: for in so doing they have not pulled from the prince any thing that of right belonged to him, but only declared, that that power which they indefinitely left in his or his ancestors hands, to be exercised for their good, was not a thing which they intended him when he used it otherwise: for the end of government being the good of the community, whatsoever alterations are made in it, tending to that end, cannot be an encroachment upon any body, since no body in government can have a right tending to any other end: and those only are encroachments which prejudice or hinder the public good. Those who say otherwise, speak as if the prince had a distinct and separate interest from the good of the community, and was not made for it; the root and source from which spring almost all those evils and disorders which happen in kingly governments. And indeed, if that be so, the people under his government are not a society of rational creatures, entered into a community for their mutual good; they are not such as have set rulers over themselves, to guard, and promote that good; but are to be looked on as an herd of inferior creatures under the dominion of a master, who keeps them and works them for his own pleasure or profit. If men were so void of reason, and brutish, as to enter into society upon such terms, prerogative might indeed be, what some men would have it, an arbitrary power to do things hurtful to the people.

But since a rational creature cannot be supposed, when free, to put himself into subjection to another, for his own harm; (though, where he finds a good and wise ruler, he may not perhaps think it either necessary or useful to set precise bounds to his power in all things) prerogative can be nothing but the people’s permitting their rulers to do several things, of their own free choice, where the law was silent, and sometimes too against the direct letter of the law, for the public good; and their acquiescing in it when so done: for as a good prince, who is mindful of the trust put into his hands, and careful of the good of his people, cannot have too much prerogative, that is, power to do good; so a weak and ill prince, who would claim that power which his predecessors exercised without the direction of the law, as a prerogative belonging to him by right of his office, which he may exercise at his pleasure, to make or promote an interest distinct from that of the public, gives the people an occasion to claim their right, and limit that power, which, whilst it was exercised for their good, they were content should be tacitly allowed.*

P.S.: Did I tell you today how manly and commanding you are when you assert that no act of Congress can limit your powers? I try to emulate you in all things, and I always remind myself that you are my client and that my job is to write briefs supporting whatever position you’ve decided to take. Sam was very good on this.

*John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, Chapter 14, sections 163-4.

Author: Andrew Sabl

I'm a political theorist and Visiting Professor (through 2017) in the Program on Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. My interests include the history of political thought, toleration, democratic theory, political ethics, problems of coordination and convention, the realist movement in political theory, and the thought of David Hume. My first book, Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics (Princeton, 2002) covered many of these topics, with a special focus on the varieties of democratic politics and the disparate qualities of mind and character appropriate to those who practice each of them. My second book Hume's Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England was published in 2012; I am currently finishing a book on toleration, with the working title The Virtues of Hypocrisy, under contract with Harvard University Press. A Los Angeles native, I got my B.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. Before coming to Yale I taught at Vanderbilt and at UCLA, where I was an Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor; and held visiting positions at Williams, Harvard, and Princeton. I am married to Miriam Laugesen, who teaches health policy and the politics of health care at the Mailman School of public health at Columbia, and we have a twelve-year-old son.

One thought on “Memo to POTUS:
    Some Thoughts Concerning the College Curriculum”

  1. A Memo to George

    Andrew Sabl at “The Reality-Based Community” has posted a little memo from Alberto the Inquisitor to the ever so kingly George.
    The Reality-Based Community: Memo to POTUS: Some Thoughts Concerning the College Curriculum

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