Jace Yarbrough

2020 John Marshall Fellow

Disclaimer: I prepared these interview responses off-duty and in my personal capacity. The views I express here are solely mine and do not reflect those of the Department of Defense or Department of the Air Force.

What is your current position?

By day I’m a litigator in the Dallas office of Baker Botts L.L.P. My practice is mostly intellectual property and securities suits, but I also represent clients in general commercial litigation.

I’m also an Air Force reservist, currently assigned to Headquarters, Space Operations Command at Peterson AFB.

By night I help my wife raise our four small children.

What inspired you to choose this career path?

After graduating from college, I studied for a time at the John Jay Institute for Faith, Society and Law. That program gave me space to read and reflect about the people and ideas that shaped Western man. Odd as it may sound, I sensed an obligation to serve in the military while reading and studying the Patristics. I ultimately joined the Air Force in 2011, separating from active duty four years later to attend law school. I’m committed to service in the reserves for the foreseeable future. I can’t image not putting on the uniform in some way.

As to the decision to become an attorney: after our first child was born, my wife and I realized that we didn’t want to spend our years raising children away from our family back in Texas. So, I started thinking seriously about what I might do post-active duty. Other than providing for my wife and kids, one thing I wanted from my work was a chance to sharpen my skills in oral and written persuasion. Being a litigator seemed like a great way to do that.

How did you hear about the Claremont Institute?

My best buddy from law school participated in the Marshall Fellowship soon after we graduated. He loved his time at Claremont, spoke very highly of the Claremont team, and strongly recommended the program to me. I put it off for a bit due to demands back home. But as my wife and I continued to grow our family, the window for me to participate in something like the Marshall Fellowship, i.e., anything that required a week or more away from home, was closing.

There are all sorts of educational programs out there for current and rising conservative professionals. What do you think makes the Claremont Institute’s Fellowships unique?

Some on the right think our political task is to make ourselves as palatable as possible to leftists and progressives. They urge conservatives to participate in the theater of public denunciations and apologize for the unsavory views of fringe groups with whom almost no one agrees. If we were just smarter, more winsome, more gracious and accommodating, if we would simply refrain from exercising duly acquired political power for policies we think promote the common good, then we could build capital with our political foes such that they would stop defaming us with baseless allegations of bigotry and phobia. Independents and reasonable people would be won over by our good faith. Unity and moderation would reign. So the thinking goes.

The Claremont Institute is different because it sees clearly the naivete of that approach and directly opposes the school of “Lose now so we can win later!” Conservatives should focus our influence and authority on the political objectives we believe are best for our neighbors and communities. To its credit, Claremont is under no illusions about whether, just maybe this time, Lucy will let Charlie Brown kick the football.

What do you believe is the greatest challenge facing the United States today?

One problem that worries me is our militant disregard for truth. And I’m not referring here to puffery about crowd size. What concerns me is that regular Americans lose their livelihoods for daring to say, “men can’t birth babies,” or “men and women differ biologically, and those differences are independent of preference or understanding.” These are intuitive, basic facts about the world. They cannot be avoided in everyday life, by everyday Americans. So, denying these facts requires constant, maybe even continuous, self-deception on a national scale. When we keep silent about the lies we see (whether to keep our jobs or merely to avoid uncomfortable situations), we bury the lie inside ourselves; we habituate ourselves to dishonesty.

Systematic deceit is and has been the salient characteristic of Communist countries. It’s no coincidence that those regimes killed millions. Nor is it coincidence that the question of truth is explicit and central in the most cosmic crime in history: the murder of Christ. As we know, Pilot asked of Christ, “What is truth?” But either scoffing or in despair, he didn’t stay for an answer. The result? Whips, savage beatings, taunting mob rule, and the death of Truth itself.

What qualities do you believe will make outstanding statesmen/women in this century?

If our greatest challenge is a mob-enforced disregard for truth, then perception and courage are the virtues of the day. By courage I don’t mean eagerness to pick fights or a habit of hyperbole. Telling the truth is not simply, or even primarily, a matter of the will; we first have to see and intuit. Our elites and their institutions lie flagrantly and frequently, which frustrates understanding and knowledge among citizens. For example, I’m sure many Americans still think Officer Brian Sicknick was murdered by rioters on January 6, and there are no doubt plenty of Kevin Clinesmiths left in the federal bureaucracy.

But there is a more pernicious kind of lie, all too common in our society, which Orwell described in “Politics and the English Language” as “euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.” These lies do not contradict the truth, so much as neuter it. They name real things, to be sure, but their inflated phrasing does not prompt in our minds mental pictures of those real things. For example, much doublespeak today strains to advance radical leftist ideas about gender and sexuality. Chemical castration of minors is called “transgender medicine”; mothers are called “birthing persons”; and women are called “people who menstruate.”

As the totalizing claims of progressivism devour more and more of common life, the woke mob has framed non-participation in the lie as affirmative confrontation (“silence is violence,” etc.). As a result, refusing to go along with the insanity feels more impolite than productive, and it’s easy to slip imperceptibly into the lie out of a false sense of courtesy, making it both harder to spot and harder to resist.

Solzhenitsyn confronted doublespeak head on. He did not set out to be a statesman, he was just trying to live rightly as a man. But his admonitions to all men are appropriate for would be statesmen:

“To stand up for truth is nothing. For truth, you must sit in jail. You can resolve to live your life with integrity. Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me. The simple step of a courageous individual is not to take part in the lie. One word of truth outweighs the world. In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.”

What regimen do you follow when writing a brief that requires a great deal of research and thought?

If I may caveat the following by saying that I’m an average writer; I don’t do it near enough to be good at it, so take this with a grain of salt. A mentor once advised me, “If you’re going to speak, you might as well say something worth hearing.” Whatever I’m writing, even if it’s about a fairly dry subject, I try and find something meaningful that bears on a few core issues common to both life and the matter at hand. This is not something I check off a list, but something I’m doing throughout the drafting process.

On a more tactical level, I can organize my thoughts more easily if I can physically move them around and reorder them in space. So, I often write up different ideas, pieces of evidence, case summaries, etc. on note cards and then lay them out on big desk and piece together an outline in that way.

Do you believe the United States can retain a strong, dynamic military given the current political climate? Why?

I’m not sure we can retain a strong, dynamic military because I’m not sure we have one. I’m from a place that has the highest regard for our military. I served on active duty and continue to serve as an active reservist. There’s almost no place I’d rather be than on a team with a bunch of enlisted men and women getting the mission done. I cannot imagine not wearing the uniform in some capacity as long as I am eligible. But conservatives need to recognize that the DoD is riddled with woke totalitarians. There is no part of our society that has not been infected with the totalizing claims of the radical left, and the military is no exception.

Progressives bring the culture fight to the DoD because they know that if they can capture the top brass, the lower ranks will salute smartly and execute. The problem is not our enlisted corp., but us, the officers.

Going through the recent DOD-wide extremism training confirmed this for me. My teammates recognized that training for what it was, a thinly veiled flex of political power. I find myself thinking often about one comment from a senior non-commissioned officer regarding this training. He said, “It’s weird. Usually the generals and colonels would discuss this sort of issue and resolve it at that level. This feels strange that it’s being pushed down to the Airmen. It’s almost like they’re sending us a warning.”

When I think about that comment it reminds me of Lewis’s Abolition of Man when he said:

Hitherto the plans of educationalists have achieved very little of what they attempted and indeed, when we read them—how Plato would have every infant ‘a bastard nursed in a bureau’, and Elyot would have the boy see no men before the age of seven and, after that, no women, and how Locke wants children to have leaky shoes and no turn for poetry—we may well thank the beneficent obstinacy of real mothers, real nurses, and (above all) real children for preserving the human race in such sanity as it still possesses.

In so far as we have a strong, dynamic military, it’s because of the “beneficent obstinacy” of that SNCO and others like him. I hope their resolve is enough to keep us through our current insanity.

What book, speech, or movie has left a lasting impression with you and why?

The Lives of Others is a 2006 German film about a Stasi officer assigned to monitor an East German playwright suspected of subversion. Though a dedicated and sincere socialist, the officer is moved by the artist’s life as he navigates the horrors of totalitarian rule. It’s a film about beauty, how it can inspire even the most reluctant ideologue and persuade him back to reality.

Americans, of course, prize autonomy. But of late this preference has gone berserk. “Truth” shouldn’t constrain us, nor should “the good,” so we think. We’re too busy defining our own concept of existence, meaning, and the universe to consider whether our chosen beliefs are coherent or whether our behaviors are moral. But we are drawn to the beautiful. This might be because beauty is less threatening, but another explanation might be that we’re drawn to beauty because we’re exhausted. Exhausted from inventing ourselves, manufacturing outrage at those who reject our latest addition to our “complex and layered” existence, only to be disappointed when we get our way. Beauty speaks to the tired soul in a way truth and goodness maybe can’t.

Honorable mention goes to the Coen brothers. The Big Lebowski is a national treasure, especially the Jeff Bridges limousine monologue.

What books are you currently reading?

Reading is something my family does together, so at any point, I’m usually working through three to four books on my own or with them. Right now these are The Man Who Knew: the Life and Times of Alan Greenspan, Sebastian Mallaby; The Confessions, St. Augustine; When the Going was Good, Evelyn Waugh (with my wife); The Warden and the Wolf King, Andrew Peterson (with my older children); The Grouchy Ladybug, Eric Carle (a fitting favorite of my “threenager”). I’m also reading a few twentieth-century essays that might loosely be categorized as concerning human nature, truth, and authoritarian regimes. These include Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard Address, Vaclav Havel’s “The Power of the Powerless,” and Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language.”

Do you have a favorite quote?  Why does it resonate with you?

“It is idle to talk about preventing the wreck of Western civilization. It is already a wreck from within. That is why we can hope to do little more now than snatch a fingernail of a saint from the rack or a handful of ashes from the faggots, and bury them secretly in a flowerpot against the day, ages hence, when a few men begin again to dare to believe that there was once something else, that something else is thinkable, and need some evidence of what it was, and the fortifying knowledge that there were those who, at the great nightfall, took loving thought to preserve the tokens of hope and truth.”

Whittaker Chambers wrote that to Bill Buckley in response to Buckley’s exuberance about National Review and what his magazine might accomplish. I find myself returning to them often because I’m a melancholic and it’s easy for me to despair. But despair has no place in the life a Christian. For us, there is always hope. In fact, we’re supposed to be the vehicles through which God brings hope to the world.

People with hope live differently. I don’t remember that enough, but Chambers, his life, and his words, they help.

What is the most distinctive attribute/character of the people in the state where you grew up that you genuinely admire?

I’m a proud, seventh-generation Texan, and I admire my fellow Texans for loving their home state. Burke was right that we ought to be suspicious of anyone who professes love for “mankind” but is rude and neglectful of the people he can reach out and touch. I want to live in a place where citizen sacrifice to fulfill their duties and obligations to one another. I think love of home is essential for that kind of behavior and life together.

What is your favorite cultural/recreational pastime (or hobby) and why?

As is likely common of the Claremont crowd, I enjoy reading; mostly history and biography, but also theology, philosophy, cultural commentary, and fiction. On less platonic fronts, I like lifting weights. I grew up in a dusty town in West Texas where much of a young man’s worth and identity is based in his performance on the gridiron. So, I spent a lot of Texas summers in a field house trying to beef up my admittedly average build. I feel at home there.

I’ve also recently taken up hunting. I come from a family of very good marksman, but I did not take much to firearms growing up. My dad was always working two jobs, so he couldn’t take us hunting, and, frankly, my little brother was always a better shot than I was. Of course, I hated that. But then I learned in my late twenties that though I’m right handed, I am left-eye dominant (just like my grandfather, who could shoot with either hand, but always favored his left when he had to make a tough shot). Aiming with my dominant eye has made shooting enjoyable. I like to deer hunt not only because it requires silence and gets me outside in the early morning, but also because it provides my family with good, healthy meat. My brother has a few acres out near San Angelo, Texas, and he lets me hunt for free, so the price is also right.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Some of my most fulfilling professional experiences have been in the court room or while taking a deposition. In a world that seems to grow more insane by the minute, it feels good to establish at least a few pieces of truth that everyone has to admit, if reluctantly. In those moments “on my feet” I’ve lost myself in the work; time slows down a little; it’s exhilarating. Part of me would love to spend the rest of my professional life becoming a good trial attorney.

But I’m also drawn to politics and the questions communities have to answer as they build a shared life together. I don’t know what my participation in that world will be over the next ten years, but I imagine it’ll be more formal and official than it is now. I think one of the most important fronts in the culture war is primary education. One way my interest in public life might manifest is by starting a Classical Christian school, which my wife and I have considered.

I don’t want to be histrionic about our times, and I am of course not the only one to make this observation, but the late-Roman aesthetic is undeniable. The fire in my belly to push back against the decadence and insanity in our society is growing.