Claremont Institute

January Alumni Spotlight


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William Haun, John Marshall 2013
Associate Attorney at Shearman & Sterling LLP


What is your current position?

I am an associate attorney at Shearman & Sterling LLP, where I focus on trial and appellate litigation, as well as antitrust.

What inspired you to choose this career path?

In college, especially after reading Democracy in America, I realized that being a lawyer would be an ideal way to preserve our Founding’s blessings. Lawyers should have a unique appreciation for the rule of law. Appreciating the rule of law requires, as Thomas Jefferson observed, a deep understanding of human nature, the social and physical sciences, philosophy, as well as the source of our rights and their contours: namely, God. The lawyer has the task of applying that deep understanding to daily life’s myriad intricacies. That is a great honor and a fun challenge.

What are you currently working on?

I recently had my first oral argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and received the great news that my client won in a per curiam decision. I’m also writing a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, working on an interagency appeal, and helping manage some large antitrust litigation in federal district court. I am profoundly grateful for so many interesting opportunities.

How did you hear about the Claremont Institute?

Back in college, I took a course called “Edmund Burke and the American Revolution” taught by Professor Alan Levine. The course introduced me to Straussian thought, and from there it was just a short trip from the East Coast of Straussian thinking to the West.

What’s your fondest memory of the Claremont Institute?

It is hard to have only one, as I am grateful for both the intellectual development and relationships I credit to Claremont (saying nothing of the gratitude I have for introducing me to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, which I now show to my children). A few memories are particularly important to me: First, the many opportunities Claremont afforded me to get acquainted with the work of someone I had the honor of clerking for and deeply admire: Judge Janice Rogers Brown. Second, no work of political philosophy has ever resonated with me more than The Political Philosophy of a Young Whig within Crisis of a House Divided by Harry Jaffa, which I could not put down on the plane ride back from the John Marshall Fellowship. Third, I will always remember watching John Yoo shout a critique straight out of Seinfeld when Michael Uhlmann dipped his potato chip into salsa twice: “It’s like you put your whole mouth in the dip!”

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?

The Claremont Institute’s greatest contribution to its fellows, in my view, is the Institute’s encouragement of free thinking about what it means to conserve the American Founding. Claremont’s emphasis on statesmanship gives one both the courage and intellectual foundation necessary to think anew about how to apply our founding principles to present problems—even if that approach is not a repeated refrain of established conservative institutions or thought leaders. That kind of intellectual vibrancy is a gift to the Right, and Claremont keeps giving it.

If you could have a drink with an American Founder, or any great thinker, who would it be, why, and what would you order?

John Adams, for a two reasons. For one, I have a soft spot for frosty New England lawyers that possess a sober view of human nature, recognize the unique role of religion in protecting our fragile civilization from man’s ceaseless desire to play God, don’t mind being independent minded, and—perhaps where we relate the most—is married to a wife smarter than you are. For another, I could learn a lot from his fortitude. Adams sacrificed a great deal, and endured much personal tragedy, in service of a country that never loved him back with the same intensity. That level of devotion to what is right, regardless of what it costs you personally, is inspiring. As for what to drink, I suspect it might offend him but I’d probably ask for a seasonal take on his cousin’s beer.

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

That’s easy—the one I grew up in, Connecticut. The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, the writings of Roger Sherman, the patriotism of Nathan Hale, the formative experiences of Jonathan Edwards, and the wonderful story of the charter oak tree are all demonstrative of Connecticut being a land of steady habits that set an example of self-government for the nation. If only it stayed that way.

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

This is akin to asking me to pick my favorite child, as George Washington is my favorite Founder and Abraham Lincoln is my favorite president and expositor of America’s ancient faith. But since you asked, I would take His Excellency. It may seem counterintuitive, but Washington is, in my view, an underappreciated Founder. Intellectuals tend to gravitate toward the “smarter” Founders like Madison, Hamilton, or Jefferson. But Washington was not only no simpleton, he was the only indispensable man—the only one who garnered the respect and approbation of all the Founders despite their deep and sometimes personal disagreements. Why? In my view, it is because Washington shows the genius of America: true leadership is not the result of being well-heeled or well-schooled, it comes from having a character beyond reproach and the corresponding courage to both know what is right and do what is right. Best of all, Washington had the courage to preach what he practiced. He knew that the American project of self-government ultimately depended upon the people to be self-governing, i.e., to have the moral confidence to know and choose the good. So, that’s what he told Americans to do. He remains our Cincinnatus.

What is the greatest challenge facing the United States today?

Lacking what Washington possessed: moral confidence in the goodness of America’s principles. Lincoln recognized every generation’s need to possess this moral confidence anew when he charged his time to find “our Washington” in his Lyceum address. Instead of heeding that call, however, Reagan’s warning within his farewell address has proved prescient: a generation of parents abdicated their responsibility to teach moral confidence to their children. I think the fruits of this bad seed explain the radicalism we see on college campuses, our corroding public square, an economy increasingly divorced from genuine community, growing secularism, and expectations for government that flirt with failed ideologies that misrepresent the nature of man. In my view, conservative political victories will never be more than pyrrhic unless and until a civic culture that is truly self-governing is restored. As Reagan pointed out, that restoration will not begin in the halls where power is sought and draped with good intentions—political reforms will only go as far as the culture allows, and in my view, our current culture does not seem particularly interested in thinking critically about its trajectory. The real restoration will begin at home, raising the next generation to learn from our mistakes and those of our parents’ generation. So, at the Haun house, we are doing our bit to restore moral confidence in what produced the principles articulated within the Declaration of Independence. We read about the Saints and heroes of the God of the Bible. We read about the Founders. We limit screen time. We have tried to build a genuine community of friends and families who share our Founding’s values. We develop relationships between our children and their neighbors, local businesses, the homeless, and our church. We keep routines—like dinner together as often as possible, reading the Gospel when we wake up, grace before meals, and evening prayer. We aren’t afraid to speak and seek the truth and, correspondingly, spurn and shun lies. My wife and I place our careers in the perspective of how to best uphold our respective vocations to one another and to our family. And if either one of us fails to instill moral confidence in our kids, they know they can and should do what Reagan encouraged them to do when this happens: “let ‘em know, and nail ‘em on it.” That is, after all, a very American thing to do.

What books are you reading right now?

The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise by Robert Cardinal Sarah. It is an excellent explication of a point C.S. Lewis once made: Hell is ceaseless noise.

If you had the opportunity to present a case before the US Supreme Court, what would you hope it would be about and why?

Our religious freedom. Working as a research and teaching assistant to Law Professor—and Becket Senior Counsel— Mark Rienzi while in law school was a formative experience for me. I learned firsthand how the government tries to conflate itself with (and ultimately supplant) genuine community. That effort starts with interfering with the sovereignty of the soul. For if those with a monopoly on force can direct your soul’s thirst for the transcendent, what can’t those with a monopoly on force do? It would be an honor to devote my legal training to that truth.

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

My favorite is America’s favorite: Baseball. The game is a great explication of our national values. While it allows an individual to soar on his own, the individual is nothing without the team making it possible for the individual to possess a game-winning platform. Unlike other sports where whole swaths of the team can be disconnected from the game even when on the field, in baseball, every player must know what to do whenever the ball is hit to a particular point on the field. That is the kind of vigilance it takes to be a self-governing citizen. Competition is not violent in baseball; like the separation of powers and the free market, man’s desire to prevail is channeled into a system that rewards talent rather than violence. Baseball, like life, possesses both marathons (the regular season) and sprints (the playoffs); to truly be the best, you must excel at both, just like in life. The game is not post-modern, thinking that a game (like a civilization) should be punctuated by fleeting thrills. It is slow and steady, requiring you to appreciate harmony if you want to appreciate the game (just as civilization requires careful appreciation). There’s no crying in baseball (as there are crocodile tears in soccer over “fouls”), and no matter how long it takes, you endure to victory; there are no ties.

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

Well, as I intimated above, Connecticut is (unfortunately) no longer the land of steady habits. That said, I had the good fortune of growing up around people that took pride in where they were from. I am a better person for having had that example, and am refreshed in it even today as I stay in touch with friends from Connecticut that have gone on to be leaders in their respective home towns and in their families. I hope to give a pride of place to my children. That way, when the world’s mirages tempt them, they can remember where they came from and the truths they learned there.


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