Charles Correll III, Publius Fellow 2018
What is your current position?
I am a staff assistant for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
What inspired you to choose this career path?
To paraphrase President Lincoln, I’ll claim not to have controlled events, but for events to have controlled me. I had not considered working for a congressional committee until my senior year of college. But ultimately, my love of the Constitution and the Federalist Papers, my interest in Congress and the bureaucracy as institutions, and the opportunity to gain practical experience in the realm of lawmaking and public policy inspired me to pursue working in Congress.
What are you currently working on?
Broadly speaking, I work on technology and regulatory policy. I help prepare Committee members for congressional hearings by conducting research, writing guidance documents, and drafting suggested questions. Because of our jurisdiction and member interests, I’ve recently worked on topics ranging from artificial intelligence to social media filtration practices to forced technology transfers by China. Additionally, I contribute to the Committee’s legislative work and have a small legislative portfolio covering cloud-computing security in the federal government.
How did you hear about the Claremont Institute?
During college, I noticed that many of the writers and scholars I most admired shared a common affiliation with the Claremont Institute. Claremonsters won my admiration because they thought seriously about the American regime and modern intellectual conservatism. Along the way, I was very fortunate to study under and work with alumni of Claremont Graduate School and the Institute’s fellowships. In fact, many of the alumni I met were the same people who initially attracted me to Claremont. I would particularly like to express my gratitude to Lucas Morel, David Azerrad, Arthur Milikh, Ian Tuttle, and Nat Brown for their mentorship and encouragement. In my mind, they exemplify the unique ability of Claremont scholars and fellows to address both practical political concerns and deeper questions of philosophy and history.
What is your fondest memory of the Claremont Institute?
This is a tough question because I made so many fond memories at Publius. Like many alumni, I enjoyed the late-night discussions with the teachers and other fellows, the movie nights with John Marini and Michael Uhlmann, and the gun range with Ed Erler and fireworks on the Fourth of July. But if I had to choose one, I would say my fondest memory is the closing dinner. Not only was Matt Peterson’s roast of the fellows hilarious, but we all shared a few words about what the program meant to us. The evening was the right mix of humor and thoughtfulness—a great example of why I enjoyed the fellowship so much.
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?
Claremont fellowships seek to deepen the human capital of conservatism by teaching how to think about America and then how to apply those lessons to practical politics. The Institute’s location in Southern California, over 2,500 miles from Washington D.C., aids this development by allowing fellows to escape the immediate considerations of the 24-hour news cycle and giving them the opportunity to cultivate their capacity for sustained reflection through close study and conversation. Claremont doesn’t pretend to promote political activism, certainly not one rooted in stock refutations of strawman arguments. But it emphatically acknowledges the need for politics and encourages fellows to connect the arguments raised by assigned readings to contemporary challenges. In short, the Claremont Institute is unique among educational programs for young conservative professionals because it develops both their intellectual and professional sides, strengthening the connection between the two.
If you could have a fireside chat and drink with an American Founder, or any great thinker, who would it be, why, and what would you order and discuss?
No disrespect to the Founders, but, without a second thought, I would choose Bill Buckley because he is my intellectual hero and was by all accounts a wonderful conversationalist. Our discussion—over scotch, neat—could go in many directions. It would be interesting to pick his brain on current events, pop culture and high culture, and the effects of the internet and social media on the quality of popular writing. But most of all, I would like to ask him why he never finished writing Revolt of the Masses. Revolt was meant to build on Up From Liberalism by making the deeper political case against democracy. It is often described as his “big book,” similar to what The Managerial Revolution was for James Burnham. Buckley stopped writing Revolt in the mid-1960s when he became busy running for mayor and hosting Firing Line. Events such as the Berkeley campus riots also called his thesis into question. Notably, Buckley biographer and former New Republic senior editor John Judis suggests that Buckley never finished because he discovered insurmountable contradictions in postwar conservative thinking. I’d like to know whether, in Buckley’s view, his experience writing Revolt suggests that conservatives are well served by trying to write the big book. Though I don’t agree with Judis’s assessment, I’m not convinced that conservatives benefit from publishing big books because they can encourage the writer to rely on dogmatism rather than soundly analyze contingency. I would love to learn more about Revolt, ask if recent events have vindicated its original thesis, and debate the pros and cons of writing “the big book” with one of the cleverest debaters of all time.
Who was more important for their time, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? Why?
Washington, for several reasons: (1) his courage and command enabled the Americans to win the Revolution; (2) his presence at the Constitutional Convention allowed the Framers to draft Article II with the powers necessary for an energetic executive (energy, it should be said, Lincoln would need to save the nation); and (3) his example as president set the precedent for prudent, honorable, and public-spirited executive conduct. Lincoln understood that last point particularly well. In his Lyceum Address, he warned that great men prefer to create, not perpetuate, new institutions, even if it means destroying what came before them. Washington distinguished himself from the great men about whom Lincoln worried because his statesmanship focused on setting the foundation for the success of the government under the Constitution. He was unique among great men because he chose to emulate Cincinnatus, not Caesar Augustus; a “pillar of the temple of liberty,” to use a line from Lincoln. Through his moderation, he made the American presidency a truly republican institution both by the example he set while in office and by voluntarily relinquishing power, which may be the most important act of any President in history.
In which one of the original 13 colonies, looking back on history, would you have wanted to live and why?
Virginia because it produced so many of our great early Presidents and other great Founding Fathers.
What would the artifact be, if you could hold one piece of history from the early founding of our country and why?
An original copy of Federalist 63, my favorite Federalist Paper.
What qualities do you think are needed to achieve great statesmanship in this century and why?
The great statesmen of this century will need to draw on the eternal qualities of great statesmanship and adapt them to the information age. They will need to possess the intellectual confidence necessary to exercise independent and decisive judgment, the curiosity to question stale consensus and explore alternatives, the courage to do their duty and what is right, the humility to admit not only their own limitations but also the limitations placed on the state by the Constitution, and the prudence to prevent the perfect from overruling the good. As if these perceptual characteristics weren’t enough, the statesmen of this century will also need quick wit and the ability to present themselves authentically over social media, the dominant medium of communication. These needs stem, in my mind, from the effects of a connection between instant, uninterrupted connectivity and what Tocqueville described as democracy’s conflicting prejudices for uniqueness and equality. Without naming names, I would argue that some politicians have mastered the former but not the latter while others show unrivaled skill in appealing to the latter but less the former, and that no one has yet proved they can fully mix the two. I will concede that the eternal qualities of great statesmanship might be antithetical to the prejudices of democracy, but that remains to be seen. In any event, people should watch current events very closely and try to learn from the successes and failures of today’s statesmen. At the very least, the next generation of great statesmen will need to learn from those who came before them.
What is the greatest challenge facing the United States today?
The same challenge we’ve always faced: learning to think and speak truthfully, act responsibly, and pursue the common good without sacrificing the individual on the altar of majority opinion. Conservatives recognize this, or at least should recognize this, as the eternal challenge of self-government.
What are your thoughts on the looming emergence of Artificial Intelligence and how it will impact us in the 21st Century?
Contra Elon Musk and others, AI cannot be meaningfully separated from human decision-making because it cannot replicate the brain’s sensory processes, which endow man with intuition and creativity. Even in its most advanced forms, AI is limited to “narrow” tasks. Other “deeper” forms of AI have been theorized, but they remain years from practical application and may never receive enough connections to mimic the brain’s neural network. We can take comfort in the fact that Skynet will not become self-aware, much less take away the military’s job to vigilantly oversee our nuclear arsenal.
The question then becomes what combination of AI and human decision-making we can expect in the foreseeable future. So far, the answer is not reassuring. As it stands, the prevailing assumption is that man and machine are interchangeable and that algorithms will allow companies to scale otherwise expensive or impossible processes without sacrificing (and perhaps even improving) accuracy. But even the casual observer can see that accuracy is often lost at scale. As recent issues with social media filtration practices have illustrated, machines struggle to interpret content in the context necessary to render fair decisions. Even if we fed enough data into algorithms to improve their ability to process context, we’d run into additional problems raised by the loss of privacy. Perhaps most concerningly, tech companies have subtly but substantially shifted their metrics for determining what content one “should” see. As with policymaking generally, we cannot ignore the law of unintended consequences. Anyone interested in this topic should read Adam White’s excellent piece in The New Atlantis, “Google.gov.” Suffice to say, we should be concerned about the implications of mixing the mentality of the administrative state with the speed and faux-neutrality of algorithmic outputs.
In the final analysis, we should be sanguine enough to recognize that machines ultimately cannot replace mankind, and weary of attempts by our present-day futurists and utopians to try.
What would the argument be if you were to give a speech to a large percentage of left-leaning millennials in order to convince them the nation’s founding principles are still relevant and worthy of being preserved?
I’m fairly skeptical that large groups are conducive settings for persuading any generation to love their country and respect its principles and traditions. There are certain things only experience and personal reflection can accomplish. I tend to agree with Ian Tuttle that persuasion ultimately happens at the individual level.
What books are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading three: Bureaucracy in America, Joe Postell’s cleverly titled and excellent account of the rise of the Administrative State; Open to Debate, Heather Hendershot’s analysis of Firing Line; and The Cost-Benefit Revolution, Cass Sunstein’s new book. Though the books cover different topics, they all provide some insight into how the modern American elite act and have their assumptions about the role of government and the relationship between citizens formed. Postell examines the structure and history of the institutions that drive elite actions and assumptions; Hendershot uses Firing Line as a case study to examine the connection between the medium of exchange and political debate; and Sunstein attempts to affirm the value of the elites’ faith in the fact/value distinction. For what it’s worth, I’d recommend them all. But if you can buy only one, buy Bureaucracy in America. Postell was a Publius fellow too!
What book, film, or speech has left a lasting impression with you and why?
Rhetoric and public speaking are long standing interests of mine, so I can think of several speeches that left lasting impressions. But if I had to pick one, I’d say “Give me Liberty or Give Me Death,” Patrick Henry’s partially extemporaneous speech to the Second Virginia Convention in March 1775. Even setting aside its famous peroration, the speech is filled with lines that beautifully and persuasively make the case for joining the American Revolution. Conservatives often emphasize the need for caution and moderation, but those desirable qualities can sometimes betray freedom when they encourage what Henry described as “irresolution and inaction” in the face of tyranny. Fundamentally, “Give me Liberty or Give Me Death” is about having clarity to see the truth, the candor to speak it plainly, and the courage to defend freedom. I once had the entire speech memorized, and though I’m not sure I could give it perfectly today, I still remember many of the lines.
Do you have a favorite quote and if so would you share?
“Don’t just do something, stand there.” -William F. Buckley Jr.
What is the most distinctive attribute/character of the people in the state where you grew up that you genuinely admire?
I grew up in Texas and California, which most people, including residents of both states, assume are polar opposites. But they aren’t. Though they go about it in different ways, the people of both states care deeply about achieving the maximum amount of freedom consistent with community.
What is your favorite cultural/recreational pastime (or hobby) and why?
I got SCUBA-certified half-a-decade ago and have enjoyed diving ever since. I decided to get certified because my dad loves diving and my college offered the certification course as a PE. Diving is fun because it’s a bit dangerous (the point is to find the interesting, often dangerous animals and follow them around), takes you to exotic locations (e.g. Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, and western Mexico), shows you a world you couldn’t see otherwise (see first parenthetical), and never includes anyone who doesn’t want to be there (Jonah Goldberg once said he enjoys smoking cigars because it attracts, at most, other kindred spirits who share his passion. I like being on a dive boat for the same reason).
Disclaimer: These views are my own and do not represent the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform or its Chairman.