Michael Knowles

2020 Lincoln Fellow

What is your current position?

I host The Michael Knowles Show at the Daily Wire, The Book Club at PragerU, and Verdict with Senator Ted Cruz. I also recently published Speechless, my second book and first with words.

What inspired you to choose this career path?

I’ve worked in politics and media since I was a teenager. When asked if an actor could be president, Ronald Reagan famously asked, “How could the president not be an actor?” Most people would cite vanity and dishonesty as the shared traits among actors and politicians, but at their best, politicians and actors share an interest in the truth—the given circumstances of a play and the political realities of a society—and a love for people, without which one could never build a character or represent a constituency.

What are you currently working on?

Now that my book tour is coming to an end, I’m refocusing my attention on my podcasts, speeches, and radio show, and I will soon be embarking on a campus college tour with Senator Cruz.

How did you hear about the Claremont Institute?

The Claremont Review of Books is, in the words of Charles Kesler, a “high-capacity magazine,” and its reputation preceded my friendship with many Claremonsters.

What is your fondest memory of the Claremont Institute?

The lecture and lunch with John Marini during my Lincoln Fellowship stands out in particular, though one struggles to select just one memory, as the Claremont Institute continues to shape my day-to-day understanding of politics through its publications as well as the conversation over drinks and cigars I share with its members as often as possible.

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?

In a word: relevance. There are many wonderful programs for young conservatives out there. Few if any matter as much to the present discourse on the Right as those offered by the Claremont Institute.

Who was more important for their time, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? Why?

Lincoln has had the greater influence on America’s trajectory. Through his assassination, Lincoln came to be viewed as the deity who defines the nation, much as Julius Caesar did in ancient Rome. Washington gets an obelisk, but Lincoln sits as Zeus in a temple on a throne.

What would the artifact be, if you could hold one piece of history from the early founding of our country and why?

I would like to hold the Bedford Flag purportedly flown at the Battles of Lexington and Concord—mostly to know whether or not it actually existed. American conservatives would do well to heed the flag’s message, written next to an armored arm wielding a sword: vince aut morire—that is, “conquer or die.” If the flag really did fly at the first military engagement of the Revolutionary War, we could make a stronger case for bringing it back.

In which one of the original 13 colonies, looking back on history, would you have wanted to live and why?

Two Knowleses not only lived in the original colonies but fought in the Revolutionary War: John and his son Simon. Both fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill, where John incurred mortal wounds. Simon went on to fight with George Washington at the Battle of White Plains, among other engagements. He spent the winter at Valley Forge and after the war retired to Maine, then part of Massachusetts—a difficult historical fact for his descendant, a native New Yorker.

Who would it be, if you could have a conversation with any great thinker and what would you discuss?

Dante. I suppose I would begin, “Hey, Divino Poeta, tell me more about that love that moves the sun and the other stars.”

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

Epistemological realism, virtue, and courage—the prerequisite for all the other virtues—would be a good start.

What do you believe the current President of the United States can learn from Lincoln?

There is a transcendent moral order, authored by God, whose judgments “are true and righteous altogether.”

What do you see as the greatest challenge facing the United States?

Radical skepticism worries me the most. Today even many conservatives refuse to make moral judgments. But self-government demands that we discern between right and wrong, good and bad, true and false.

What form of activism do you see as the road to reestablishing the concept of individualism in this country?

Ironically, I think greater comfort wielding political power would go a long way toward helping to reestablish a saner sense of individualism in America. For at least the past half century, the Right has made an idol out of the individual when it comes to money; the Left, when it comes to sex. As a result, we have lost “the spirit of an exalted freedom.” To reestablish a healthy respect for the individual we must put him in his proper place within an authentically political order.

What do you believe can be done to preserve the integrity of our election process?

We must outlaw widespread mail-in voting, demand voter identification, and limit the window for casting ballots. Conservatives have had some success instituting and reinstituting these and other measures, but they will ultimately fail unless we persuasively challenge the misconception that more voting is always better.

What do you believe has led to our established culture (music, movies, etc.) being taken over by a liberal philosophy?

In the mid-twentieth century, the Left convinced the Right to abandon its standards and surrender its cultural hegemony for an abstract and absolute notion of free speech that has never existed anywhere in practice. Since nature abhors a vacuum, the Left moved in to reset the standards.

Do you believe that a course in ethics and integrity should be taught in every academic institution?  Why?

Of course. The purpose of liberal education is to train men to be free—to suppress their base passions and cultivate their rational will, which mediates between the appetite and the divine will. Education that neglects ethics and integrity is simply not education.

What do you see as the main difference in the acting profession in this country compared to England?

The Brits know how to enunciate! Many American actors, obsessed with “organic” acting, think that mumbling their way through every scene will make them into Marlon Brando. I am currently watching two TV shows: the British detective series Father Brown, of which I understand every syllable, and the American drama Yellowstone, which requires closed captions.

Do you have plans to release another “empty” best seller, if so what topics are you contemplating?

How about The Wit and Wisdom of Joseph R. Biden?

Do you have a routine you follow to keep your voice at optimum health as now you have become highly regarded with your commentary?

Since adolescence, a steady diet of black coffee, whisky, and cigars has deepened my voice considerably. I anticipate that by decade’s end elephants will be my only audience.

What have been some favorite moments living in the home of country/western music?

My colleagues—Ben Shapiro, Candace Owens, Jeremy Boreing, Andrew Klavan, and Matt —and I are scheduled to do a live show at the Ryman Auditorum. I can only hope our wardrobe will include cowboy boots and sequined chaps.

What books are you currently reading?

Donald Kagan’s Peloponnesian War and I See Satan Fall Like Lightning by René Girard

Do you have a favorite quote?  Why?

“All nature is but art unknown to thee; all chance, direction which thou canst not see.” —Alexander Pope

As my friend Fr. George Rutler, who introduced me to that quote, explains, “An evil generation seeks signs and wonders. But a stupid generation ignores signs and wonders.”

What book, film, or speech has left a lasting impression with you?  Why?

Owen Barfield’s Poetic Diction, which I read at the insistence of both Klavans—the Elder and the Younger—remains one of the best books I’ve ever read and a persuasive account of the relationship between language and consciousness.

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

New Yorkers are perhaps the most politically adept people in the United States. Despite caricatures of them as gruff and standoffish, they are in fact “people” people.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

The gulag.

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

Cigars. The body is a temple, and temples need incense.