Dual Loyalties

My opinion on the people who shape our world

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Boston.com / Michael LeDeen / Man of the World

Boston.com / News / Boston Globe / Ideas / Man of the World: "Man of the World
Michael Ledeen's adventures in history
By Jeet Heer and Dave Wagner | October 10, 2004

MICHAEL A. LEDEEN enjoys writing about intellectuals who are also adventurers, thinkers who test out their theories in the din of political battle: figures like Gabriele D'Annunzio, the "poet-warrior" who led an insurrectionary Italian militia that captured the Adriatic city of Fiume in 1919; James Jesus Angleton, the Yale-trained literary critic who became the head of counterintelligence at the Central Intelligence Agency; and, especially, Machiavelli, the political theorist and would-be adviser to the Borgia clan.

"Nobody else has dealt with the political and moral requirements of leadership with such brutal clarity as Machiavelli," Ledeen argues in his admiring book "Machiavelli on Modern Leadership" (1999). ". . . He spent most of his time in combat, on the battlefield or in the courtroom or the legislative chamber. He did not expect or desire to be carried off to scholarly libraries.

"The same combination of worldly and intellectual activity can be seen in Ledeen's controversial career. In addition to penning more than a dozen books, contributing countless articles to various journals, and holding court on foreign policy issues as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Ledeen has often come out from behind the writer's desk to participate in the rough-and-tumble of politics.

During the Reagan years, he served as an adviser to Secretary of State Alexander Haig and national security adviser Robert McFarlane, in which capacity he helped arrange meetings between the US government and Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar, thus becoming a minor figure in the Iran-Contra saga. These days, according to The Washington Post, he talks frequently with Bush strategy guru Karl Rove. In the current debate over "regime change" in Iran, Ledeen is a major voice for an aggressive US policy to overthrow the mullahs, which he sees as but one small part of his vision of an American-led "global democratic revolution."

It's an impressive resume for a man who spent the early part of his career scouring Italian archives to research several serious scholarly works on European fascism. But what's the link between Ledeen the historian and Ledeen the swashbuckling advocate of a hard-line foreign policy?

Born in Los Angeles in 1941 to an engineer father and schoolteacher mother, Ledeen credits his upbringing as the source of his scholarly interests. "A fairly religious Jewish person growing up in the `50s inevitably did a lot of thinking about the Holocaust," Ledeen noted in a recent e-mail interview. "I spent 15 years studying fascism, trying to understand how something so awful could have happened, and obviously, resolved to fight it and similar things in the future."

After getting an undergraduate degree from Pomona College in Claremont, Ca., in 1963, Ledeen enrolled in the history program at the University of Wisconsin, where he studied under George Mosse, a giant in the field of European cultural history. A refugee from Nazi Germany, Mosse studied the manner in which fascists won mass support not through their ideas but through mastery of public spectacle. In addition, he traced the roots of fascist culture deep into European history. At the heart of Mosse's methodology was a commitment to historical empathy, to "seeing fascism as it saw itself and as its followers saw it.""

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