Jennifer Bryson, Lincoln Fellow 2019
Visiting fellow from the Hudson Institute. Founder of the Zephyr Institute and of LetAllPlay.org.
What is your current position?
I am a Visiting Fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC.
What inspired you to choose this career path?
Spending my sophomore year of college, 1986-1987, in what was then East Germany, studying Marxism-Leninism was a shock for me as a naïve 19-year-old from California. This was no socialist Disneyland. In this environment in which trust was almost impossible, the few friendships I made had deep meaning and I met some individuals, Christians, who were profoundly courageous. I learned a lot from them. Since then I think my life, and within this my career, has been a story of trying to understand how to live in a way that opposes evil while appreciating and trying ever more to be informed by, to draw near to, and to serve that which is good.
What are you currently working on?
Most of the time right now I am developing projects to support the Claremont Institute’s “Defend America, Defeat Multiculturalism” (aka identity politics) initiative. Also, I’m trying to write a book about my experience as an interrogator at Guantanamo from 2004 to 2006. On the side I’m running an international petition I started to FIFA against political symbols, such as the LGBT rainbow, on soccer uniforms and I’m involved with a women’s alliance against transgenderism.
How did you hear about the Claremont Institute?
In 1987 when I returned from East Germany to finish my undergraduate education at Stanford, I was horrified when students told me how “Cool!” it was that I had studied in a socialist country. That’s when I met Angelo Codevilla, who was at the time a Fellow at the Hoover Institution on the Stanford campus. He was the first, and nearly the only, person I met at Stanford who understood why I was so troubled by what I experienced in East Germany, so he left a deep impression on me. I heard about the Claremont Institute from him. Over 30 years later I learned about the Lincoln Fellowship via Twitter.
What is your fondest memory of the Claremont Institute?
Sitting on the porch of Tom Klingenstein’s cabin in Maine, chatting with Tom, Michael Anton, Chris Flannery, John Fonte, Brian Kelly, R.J. Pestritto, Matt Peterson, James Poulos, and Ryan Williams about the current tensions in our country and the nation’s future. Along with that, the view of the lake was wonderful, the weather was nice, and my dog seemed quite happy lounging at my feet as we talked. It was delightful and also gave me a dose of hope for the future.
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 Lincoln Fellowship is both more intellectually rigorous and more practical than other mid-career programs I have encountered. Learning more about the founding of America and American history, and meeting others who care about these topics, was wonderful. Also, the fellowship has had a direct practical application, helping me to understand the turmoil around me in America today and to discern how I, as an American citizen, should respond.
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?
I would like to spend an evening with some of the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement, such as Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Victoria Woodhull. If my father were still living, he’d barbeque fish for us. He was a great cook.
I would want to tell them about feminism, which I think is often very anti-woman, not to mention anti-man too. For one thing, the pioneers of women’s suffrage were opposed to abortion, quite to the contrary to feminists. They understood that abortion is bad for women and children. It seems like they were trying to forge a path for women to thrive as women, not to create a culture like today in which feminists generally want to structure society as if we all had male bodies while looking down on men or denying that sex (male and female) even exits.
While my father worked his magic at the barbeque, I would want to ask the early suffragettes to explain their vision in more detail. I wonder what they might have done differently, given how things have turned out. I wonder what we might learn from them to help us forge a path for America’s future such that we would welcome women as women and men as men – recognizing the broad and diverse capacities of each -- in a way in which all flourish together.
Who was more important for their time, George Washington or Abraham Lincoln? Why?
Abraham Lincoln. The challenge of trying to hold the union together while pursuing that which is right and true was staggeringly difficult. George Washington had no easy task, but I think Lincoln’s was more difficult and we are lucky as a nation that he lived and led in his era.
In which one of the original 13 colonies, looking back on history, would you have wanted to live and why?
Rhode Island because Roger Williams is one of my heroes. If the suffragettes were unavailable for dinner, he’d be my second choice to invite.
What is the greatest challenge facing the United States today?
Today even the most basic consensus about what kind of a country we are eludes us.
What has led to our established culture redefining itself in the 21st Century?
The best insights I have seen on this question are in a collection of essays by the Italian philosopher Augusto Del Noce published as The Crisis of Modernity, translated by Carlos Lacelotti. Also helpful is Charles Kesler’s short history of progressivism in America, I Am the Change.
What books are you currently reading?
The Wild Orchid by Sigrid Undset and Return of the Strong Gods: Nationalism, Populism, and the Future of the West by Rusty Reno. I'm re-reading Old Mortality by Sir Walter Scott.
What are your favorite cultural/recreational pastimes (or hobbies) and why?
Walking my dog, a Pekingese named Poppy, helps keep me happy and fit. I’m a big fan of bicycles as day-to-day transportation. Throughout the year, no matter the weather, I get around DC by riding my bicycle. This is fun, healthy, and cheap transportation. Badminton is my favorite sport to play, but right now I live in a city that, alas, does not have even one single badminton court. My favorite composer is William Byrd.