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Uncommon Knowledge

For more than two decades the Hoover Institution has been producing Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson, a series hosted by Hoover fellow Peter Robinson as an outlet for political leaders, scholars, journalists, and today’s big thinkers to share their views with the world.

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Thomas Sowell on the Myths of Economic Inequality

Recorded on November 15, 2018 Thomas Sowell discusses economic inequality, racial inequality, and the myths that have continued to falsely describe the system of poverty among different racial and economic classes. He explains the economic theories behind these pervasive myths and proposes fact-based solutions for seemingly intractable situations. Sowell discusses his early life as a high school dropout and his first full-time job as a Western Union messenger delivering telegrams. He admits to flirting with Marxism in his early twenties as he first tried to grapple with the housing inequality he saw across the neighborhoods of New York City. Marxism, he says, was the only explanation he could find at the time. He went on to serve in the Marine Corps before continuing his education in economics at Harvard and earning a master’s at Columbia and a PhD at the University of Chicago. Sowell’s first job after his receiving his PhD in economics was working for the Department of Labor, and he says it was there that he realized Marxism was not the answer. He argues that the government has its own institutional interests in inequality that cannot be explained through Marxism. He began to be discouraged by Marxism and the government in general and began searching for better economic ideas and solutions (the free market). Robinson and Sowell discuss Sowell’s written works, his ideas of racial and economic inequality, the state of the United States today, and much more.


3 Dec 2018

Rank #1

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Thomas Sowell on the Origins of Economic Disparities

Recorded on April 1, 2019 Is discrimination the reason behind economic inequality in the United States? Thomas Sowell dismisses that     question with a newly revised edition of his book Discrimination and Disparities. He sits down with Peter Robinson to discuss the long history of disparities among humans around the world and throughout time. He argues that discrimination has significantly less of a role to play in inequality than contemporary politicians give it credit for, and that something as incontrovertible as birth order of children has a more significant and statistically higher impact on success than discrimination. He discusses why parental attention is the most important aspect of a child’s intellectual development. Sowell goes on to break down different minority groups around the world who went on to have more economic and political success than their majority counterparts, such as the Indians in East Africa, Jewish people in Eastern Europe, Cubans in the United States, and the Chinese in Malaysia. He argues that there is an underlying assumption that if discrimination was absent equality would prevail, which historically has been proven wrong. Sowell goes on to discuss changes in crime rates and poverty since the expansion of US welfare programs in the 1960s and how this has had a huge impact on the success of African Americans. He talks about his own experience growing up in New York, how housing projects used to be considered a positive place to live, and his experience as the first member of his family to enter the seventh grade. Robinson asks Sowell his thoughts on the case for reparations currently being made in Congress, and Sowell presents an argument about why a plan for reparations is not only illogical but also impossible to implement, with so many US citizens’ ancestors arriving long after the Civil War. He also explains that slavery was common throughout the known world for thousands of years and that abolition movements didn’t begin anywhere in the world until the late 18th century. He reminds us that the United States was not the only country guilty of participating in slavery and yet is the only country debating reparations.


17 May 2019

Rank #2

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The Death of Europe, with Douglas Murray

Recorded on June 3, 2019 In this episode of Uncommon Knowledge, Peter Robinson is joined by author and columnist Douglas Murray to discuss his new book The Madness of Crowds: Race, Gender and Identity. Murray examines the most divisive issues today, including sexuality, gender, and technology, and how new culture wars are playing out everywhere in the name of social justice, identity politics, and intersectionality. Is European culture and society in a death spiral caused by immigration and assimilation? Robinson and Murray also discuss the roles that Brexit and the rise of populism in European politics play in writing immigration laws across the European Union.


7 Oct 2019

Rank #3

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Peter Thiel on “The Straussian Moment”

Recorded on September 5, 2019. Peter Robinson opens the show by asking Thiel’s views on his own essay “The Straussian Moment.” Thiel responds by saying that people today believe in the power of the will but no longer trust the power of the intellect, the mind, and rationality. The question of human nature has been abandoned. We no longer trust people’s ability to think through issues. Thiel notes that this shift began to take place in 1969, when the United States put a man on the moon; three weeks later Woodstock took place, moving the culture in the direction of yoga and psychological retreat.  Thiel further adds that there was still hope that things would open up for the world in 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union collapsed, but that the leaders of China and other East Asian countries did not accept that openness would solve their problems. Instead they learned the opposite lessons from those events: that if you open things up too much, then things fall apart. Thiel ends the interview by noting that there is nothing automatic or deterministic about how history happens, and he expresses his views that economic growth plays a vital role in a country’s future.


23 Sep 2019

Rank #4

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Victor Davis Hanson on Coronavirus, California, and the Classical World

Recorded on April 23, 2020 Victor Davis Hanson is both a classical scholar at the Hoover Institution and a farmer in the San Joaquin Valley of California. He’s also a defender of the president (his book The Case for Trump spent weeks on the bestseller lists in 2019) and a close observer of the scientific and medical communities. These disparate interests and fields of study give him unique perspectives and insights on the current COVID-19 crisis. We discuss the current situation with him in great detail, including the difficulties encountered by farmers and by research scientists and doctors, why some areas of the country are affected more than others, his theories about when the virus actually first appeared in the United States, and, finally, what plagues of the ancient world can teach us about how to best manage and get past the situation the entire world finds itself in.


24 Apr 2020

Rank #5

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The Importance of Institutions, with Yuval Levin

Recorded February 25, 2020 Yuval Levin is director of Social, Cultural, and Constitutional Studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the America Dream. The book and this conversation lay out the importance of institutions—from the military to churches, from families to schools—as these institutions provide the forms and structures we need to be free. Levin also explains why political correctness is rampant in the culture, why America’s elites have created a closed-off aristocracy in order to transmit privilege generationally, and why it is vitally important that we as a society recommit to rebuilding and maintaining the institutions that provided the foundation for American society for 200 years. Programming note: this interview was recorded before the COVID-19 crisis reached the United States, so it is not mentioned.


8 May 2020

Rank #6

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Victor Davis Hanson on “The Case For Trump”

Recorded on April 1, 2019. How did blue-collar voters connect with a millionaire from Queens in the 2016 election? Martin and Illie Anderson Senior fellow Victor Davis Hanson addresses that question and more in his newly released book, The Case for Trump. He sits down with Peter Robinson to chat about his motivation to write a book making a rational case for those voters who chose Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. Hanson and Robinson, the Murdoch Distinguished Policy Fellow, discuss how voters connected with Trump’s “personal authenticity” during the campaign and how the media has a “historical amnesia” of the bad behavior of past presidents when talking about President Trump. The president, Hanson argues, was always an outsider from elite society in Manhattan, which helped him to better to connect with voters who felt like outsiders. He analyzes President Trump’s platform agenda, which was composed 80% of traditionally conservative views with the remaining 20% being radical ideas that fit with many of the views of the midwestern states. He breaks down why, in the end, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich didn’t appeal to voters in the way that Trump managed to. Hanson turns to talk about his background and life growing up in California’s Central Valley and how different the area feels now compared to when he was younger. He talks about seeing the majority of the family-run farms being steadily replaced with large commercial operations and how that’s drastically impacted the workforce and economics of the region. He goes on to discuss issues of water protection and water quality in the Central Valley and how Bay Area elites prioritize their water quality over that of the rural farmers. For further information: https://www.hoover.org/profiles/victor-davis-hanson https://www.hoover.org/research/diversity-illegal-immigration


6 May 2019

Rank #7

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What’s So Funny about Corona, Politics, the Media, and the Culture? A Conversation with Andrew Ferguson and P. J. O’Rourke

Recorded on April 28, 2020 In this special plague-time episode of Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson, two of the nation’s most brilliant and accomplished humorists have a good time—and say some serious things. P. J. O’Rourke and Andrew Ferguson on COVID-19, their wasted youth, Trump versus Biden, the state of journalism, and why they’d both bet on the United States over China any old day.


2 May 2020

Rank #8

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Uncommon Knowledge and the Hoover Institution Commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Recorded on November 11, 2019 This week, a special edition of Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson joins the Hoover Institution in commemorating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989.To mark this event, which marked a significant moment in the ending of the Cold War, we produced a short video featuring an outstanding group of Hoover scholars and Stanford historians. We asked them to recall where they were when the wall fell, and their thoughts and impressions both at the time and now, with a 30-year perspective. After the video, Peter Robinson interviews Hoover Distinguished Scholar George P. Shultz, who served in the Reagan administration as secretary of state and was intimately involved in actions and negotiations with the Soviet Union that directly led to the wall being torn down. His insights and anecdotes are not to be missed. Our interview with Mr. Shultz—a remarkable conversation with someone who at the time of the interview was weeks shy of his 99th birthday—was shot at a small dinner at the Hoover Institution. After the interview, we open the floor up for some questions from the audience. You may recognize some of the participants, including the last guy, who just wants to eat.


2 Dec 2019

Rank #9

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Jim Mattis on Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead

Recorded on August 21, 2019 Peter Robinson opens the show by asking General Jim Mattis, former secretary of defense, to explain the word “chaos” from the title of his new book, Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead. (“Chaos” is an abbreviation for “Colonel Has Another Outstanding Suggestion.”) Mattis notes that chaos has been a part and parcel of his life growing up, in the marines, and traveling the world. Mattis further talks about how chaos has been introduced by organizations to disrupt order and keep opponents at the top of their game. But on the battlefield, it is better to introduce chaos early, in order to disrupt enemies’ plans and thus create problems for them and, ultimately, dominate them. Robinson asks about what led Mattis to join the marines and why he decided to serve so long. Mattis explains his love for the country and the great people he met in the service. The fellow soldiers kept him going and inspired him to jot down lessons he had learned that could help future generations learn to serve and lead in better ways. Mattis notes that it is the very high quality of the people whom he met in the armed services that kept him in the military for his career. Mattis talks about how soldiers are brave, rambunctious, and selfless, and how he would rather have crummy jobs at times and work with great people than have a great job and not work with the outstanding people Mattis encountered in the military.  Additional resources: https://www.wsj.com/articles/jim-mattis-duty-democracy-and-the-threat-of-tribalism-11566984601 https://www.cbsnews.com/news/gen-jim-mattis-on-war-and-trump/ https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/james-mattis-on-why-he-left-the-trump-administration-but-wont-criticize-it https://www.npr.org/2019/09/02/756681750/jim-mattis-nations-with-allies-thrive-nations-without-allies-wither


3 Sep 2019

Rank #10

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Heather Mac Donald on How the Delusion of Diversity Destroys Our Common Humanity and Open-Minded Curiosity

Recorded on February 25, 2019. Is the dedication to diversity undermining American culture? In her book The Diversity Delusion, Heather Mac Donald argues that the focus on race and gender diversity is harming society. Mac Donald and Peter Robinson discuss how she was protested off of school campuses by students because of her ideas. They discuss the collapse of free-speech ideals on college campuses in the United States and how the dedication to diversity doesn’t extend to a diversity of thought. Mac Donald also breaks down issues of gender and racial equality. She talks about how affirmative action has not had the impact that was intended and has in fact made attending college more difficult for minorities who are accepted to schools they are not ready for. She also goes on to analyze rape culture on college campuses and posits her theories as to why discussions of sexual violence have become more prevalent now than in the past.


22 Apr 2019

Rank #11

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Kicking and Screaming: WSJ’s Kim Strassel on the Media vs. Trump

Recorded on April 9, 2020 As a columnist for the Wall Street Journal and a commentator for Fox News, Kim Strassel is a card-carrying member of the mainstream media. But Strassel is appalled by the media’s treatment of Donald Trump, and not just by journalists from the left. She describes the “resistance” in detail in her recent book, Resistance (at All Costs): How Trump Haters Are Breaking America. She and Peter Robinson discuss the Trump administration's handling of the COVID-19 crisis and the way the media has covered it and disseminated the information to the public. They also discuss the upcoming presidential election (yes, we are still having one) and the politics of the $2 trillion stimulus bill, with more spending on the way, and the realities of restarting the economy in a post- or partial-post-COVID-19 world. Finally, they discuss the pluses and minuses of Donald Trump’s temperament, and the possibility of something good coming from this current crisis.


14 Apr 2020

Rank #12