Steven Benen blogged the other day at Washington Monthly about Rick Perry and his interest in a book called ‘The 5,000 Year Leap’. At the 2009 Values Voter Summit in Washington D.C., Perry was quoted as saying, “Lately, I’ve found myself going back to a book that’s titled ‘The 5,000 Year Leap.'”
The Washington Independent says of this incident,
There were head nods and noises of approval from many members of the audience. That book, written by the late ultra-conservative scholar-cum-conspiracy theorists Cleon Skousen, had been rescued from 28 years of obscurity by Glenn Beck. Perry gave an accurate summary of its content, telling the audiences that Skousen “shares his views of the foundational elements of our nation, placing a special emphasis in faith in God-I think undeniably a source of America’s remarkable success. He asserts that natural law, God’s law, is the basis of our nation’s laws.”
Cleon Skousen was a crackpot, as you can probably guess already; like National Socialism, Republican political theology seems to attract this type of fringe thinker, an ultra right-wing extremist on the order of Alfred Rosenberg, whose Myth of the 20th Century (1930) preached the awakening of the “race soul” to eager right wing fanatics of an earlier generation.
Conservatives might take note that the FBI kept a 2,000 page file on Skousen and his activities, observing that he was affiliating with an “extreme right-wing” group which was promoting “anticommunism for obvious financial purposes”. As Alexander Zaitchik said in a 2009 article on the subject, “Cleon Skousen was a right-wing crank whom even conservatives despised. Then Beck discovered him.” Rescuing him, as the Washington Independent put it, from “28 years of obscurity.”
In fact, Skousen was so extreme (he died in 2006) that his own Mormon church wants nothing to do with Skousen’s foundation (which published pre-Beckian editions of “The 5,000 Year Leap.”).
As Zaitchik explains, Beck’s 912 movement was really about selling Skousen, that “In reality, however, the so-called 912ers were summoned to D.C. by the man who changed Beck’s life, and that helps explain why the movement is not the nonpartisan lovefest that Beck first sold on air with his trademark tears.”
“The disaffected, paranoid Palin-ite “death panel” wing of the GOP,” says Zaitchik, are “those ideologues most susceptible to conspiracy theories and prone to latch on to eccentric distortions of fact in the name of opposing ‘socialism.'” The National Socialists were another group big on selling conspiracy theories in order to oppose the political left. Zaitchik goes on to say,
In that, they are true disciples of the late W. Cleon Skousen, Beck’s favorite writer and the author of the bible of the 9/12 movement, “The 5,000 Year Leap.” A once-famous anti-communist “historian,” Skousen was too extreme even for the conservative activists of the Goldwater era, but Glenn Beck has now rescued him from the remainder pile of history, and introduced him to a receptive new audience.
It’s no surprise to anyone that Beck drank (and eagerly) of Skousen’s necter of anti-intellectual paranoia, but Rick Perry is being sold to the American public as a mainstream candidate for president. How many of you know Rick Perry, darling of Protestant fundamentalism, is reading Mormon eschatologist Skousen? It’s not something the so-called liberal media elite is advertising. This oversight is something that perhaps should be explained to us.
The 5000 Year Leap was originally published in 1981 and as Zaitchik explains, “is a heavily illustrated and factually challenged attempt to explain American history through an unspoken lens of Mormon theology” and “an early entry in the ongoing attempt by the religious right to rewrite history.” Mormonism isn’t mainstream Christianity; it certainly isn’t Protestant evangelicalism, but then the group this nonsense appeals to, reconstructionists and dominionists, is pretty far removed from mainstream Christianity as well.
That month, a new edition of “The 5,000 Year Leap,” complete with a laudatory new foreword by none other than Glenn Beck, came out of nowhere to hit No. 1 on Amazon. It remained in the top 15 all summer, holding the No. 1 spot in the government category for months. The book tops Beck’s 912 Project “required reading” list, and is routinely sold at 912 Project meetings where guest speakers often use it as their primary source material. At one 912 meet-up I attended in Florida, copies were stacked high on a table against the back wall, available for the 912 nice price of $15. “Don’t bother trying to get it at the library,” one 912er told me. “The wait list is 40 deep.”
This is David Barton stuff before David Barton. What was once too “out there” is, like fundamentalism itself, becoming mainstream these days. Goldwater Republican had too much sense to buy into this crap; Perry Republicans have no such sense of discernment. Tell them a plate full of crap is steak and they will gobble it up and ask for seconds.
As Zaitchik explains, “‘Leap’ argues that the U.S. Constitution is a godly document above all else, based on natural law, and owes more to the Old and New Testaments than to the secular and radical spirit of the Enlightenment. ”
Again, this is Barton stuff. It’s not true; there is no evidence at all that any Old or New Testament thinking went into the very secular U.S. Constitution.
It lists 28 fundamental beliefs — based on the sayings and writings of Moses, Jesus, Cicero, John Locke, Montesquieu and Adam Smith — that Skousen says have resulted in more God-directed progress than was achieved in the previous 5,000 years of every other civilization combined. The book reads exactly like what it was until Glenn Beck dragged it out of Mormon obscurity: a textbook full of aggressively selective quotations intended for conservative religious schools like Utah’s George Wythe University, where it has been part of the core freshman curriculum for decades.
The 28 fundamental beliefs our Founding Fathers supposedly held to (Skousen devotes a chapter to teach of them), are, according to Skousen:
- The only reliable basis for sound government and just human relations is natural law.
- A free people cannot survive under a republican constitution unless they remain virtuous and morally strong.
- The most promising method of securing a virtuous and a morally stable people is to elect virtuous leaders.
- Without religion the government of a free people cannot be maintained.
- All things were created by God, therefore upon Him all mankind are equally dependent, and to Him they are equally responsible.
- All men are created equal.
- The proper role of government is to provide equal rights, not equal things.
- Men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.
- To protect man’s rights, God has revealed certain principles of divine law.
- The God-given right to govern is vested in the sovereign authority of the whole people.
- The majority of the people may alter or abolish a government which has become tyrannical.
- The United States of America shall be a republic.
- A constitution should be structured to permanently protect the people from the human frailties of their rulers.
- Life and liberty is secure so long as the right to property is secure.
- The highest level of prosperity occurs when there is a free market economy and minimum of government regulations.
- The government should be separated into three branches—legislative, executive and judicial.
- A system of checks and balances should be adopted to prevent the abuse of power.
- The unalienable rights of the people are most likely to be preserved if the principles of government are set forth in a written constitution.
- Only limited and carefully defined powers should be delegated to the government, all others being retained by the people.
- Efficiency and dispatch require government to operate according to the will of the majority, but constitutional provisions must be made to protect the rights of the minority.
- Strong local self-government is the keystone to preserving human freedom.
- A free people should be governed by law and not by the whims of man.
- A free society cannot survive as a republic without a broad program of general education.
- A free people will not survive unless they remain strong.
- Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations—entangling alliances with none.
- The core unit which determines the strength of any society is the family; therefore, the government should foster and protect its integrity.
- The burden of debt is as destructive to freedom as subjugation by conquest.
- The United States has a manifest destiny to be an example and a blessing to the entire human race.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) says of The 5,000 Year Leap that “Leap is an illustrated recipe for turning the United States into 50 little theocracies, each dictating morality according to its own religious ethics. These ethics, argues Skousen in Leap, should be transmitted through “extensive Bible reading” in public schools.”
Skousen claims that the Founding Fathers were on a divine mission, moreover, that they understood it to be a divine mission. But this is not at all what the Founding Fathers thought, or intended, as we can see through their words and actions both.
It’s probably wishful thinking but I will second Steve Benen’s suggestion that “Maybe some enterprising campaign reporter can ask Perry if he’s still impressed with Skousen’s work.” More specifically, somebody needs to ask Perry if we’re going to have 50 little theocracies when he is done “restoring” America.