It would be difficult to think that a man based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania could be considered the most interesting person in the Keystone state, never mind beyond that, but after reading Encounters: My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and Teachers by Paul Gottfried, I feel confident in calling Gottfried the Most Interesting Man in the World (Paleoconservative Divison).
In his memoir, he reports on his graduate study at Yale under the Marxist Herbert Marcuse, his helping Richard Nixon compile an invitation list for a Nixon dinner party and his discussion about Mafia hits with an accountant for the mob.
Gottfried is a scholar who has not fooled himself into thinking that he is going to have any significant present day, or perhaps not even future, influence.
He writes early on in Encounters:
I also continued to write books, with the hope that some later generation would take my thought seriously. But most importantly, I sought out those people of substance who could bear my company.Yet, despite not expecting any immediate impact, he has played a role in the emergence of the alt-right movement, while himself not a member of the curious group.
And his book, The Search for Historical Meaning: Hegel and the Postwar American Right, of which he tells us "I did not expect my ruminations to reach very far. The book had been printed in a run of fifteen hundred copies, which I assumed would be purchased for the most part by university libraries," somehow fell into the hands of Richard Nixon, who said that the book was "the most important he had read in years." It was the start of a relationship between the two that continued until the end of Nixon's life.
On their first meeting, Nixon sent him home with one of his own books with the inscription to Gottfried,"with great respect, to someone who knows the real world."
Later in the relationship, upon arriving late for a dinner at Nixon's residence, Gottfried tells us that Nixon "exuded good will [despite the late arrival]. He insisted on mixing for me his favorite cocktail, which contained lots of gin, which he said he prepared for world dignitaries, and which he was sure I would appreciate. I swallowed about half the drink with one great gulp. Thereupon the room began to whirl....I spent the rest of the night trying to collect my wits..."
He tells us that in his class with Marcuse, he volunteered to argue against Karl Marx's interpretation of the Paris uprising of May 1848.
Gottfried then reports, "It brought forth a powerful reaction from my Marxist adversary...and...perhaps to underline his magnanimity, [he] gave me the highest grade in the course."
Of course, such a man would not be complete without being bounced from several professorships for his stubborn principled ways. In Gottfried's case, this included exits from Case Western University and New York University.
Gottfried also was a friend of the philosopher, Will Herberg, who was once a Marxists and later became a conservative and also spent time as a Mafia accountant. Gottfried reports:
During Will's transition from his Communist past to what he later became, he had obtained a job, somewhere on the fringes of legality, working as a bookeeper for a Mafia capo in Northern New Jersey...
When that capo died (apparently of natural causes), Will was understandably grieved. Whenever we passed the restaurant near his apartment where they had dined, he reminisced about the time they had spent there, "The last time we ate in this place," he once pointed out, "it was a really a sad thing. They were about to execute someone who was with us and the poor fellow knew exactly what was going to happen."
"Why would they kill this fellow?" I asked indignantly. "He probably had a family and possibly some small kids."
Will looked at me in a puzzled way and then responded:"I'm sure they had their reasons. My boss didn't make these decisions lightly."There is plenty more in the book, including more reports on intellectual luminaries he rubbed shoulders with, including the great libertarian Murray Rothbard.
Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of EconomicPolicyJournal.com and Target Liberty. He also writes EPJ Daily Alert and is author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics and on LinkedIn.Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of EconomicPolicyJournal.com and Target Liberty. He also writes EPJ Daily Alert and is author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics and on LinkedIn.