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RIP Angelo Codevilla
One of the great fighting men of American politics has died, Angelo Codevilla. He was born in 1943 in Italy, came to America as a teenager, then became a citizen in spirit, not just in paperwork: He rejoiced & suffered in America’s virtues & vices, greatness & misery; he knew right & wrong, he knew the difference between courage & cowardice, & he acted unhesitatingly on his unusual knowledge of foreign affairs; more, he served America in the military, then as staff in the Senate, finally, as college professor & writer on political matters. He had a private life, but that belongs to his family; his public life concerns everyone who loves America, because it reveals better than almost anything now available to us the powers democracy summons & liberalism educates. More than most men, he lived up to his name.
He lived long enough in God’s beneficence to see his criticism of the catastrophe of our Middle Eastern wars come to a conclusion. He was right from the beginning, even though no one agreed with him who had any share of office or influence. It is true that he made the rest of us seem foolish, either unmanly or unwise, but he only did so in the process of educating us through his writing, to see the ugliness of what America was inflicting & incurring without flinching & without sentimentality. He believed that killing a man is a serious matter & that the political community cannot ask such things of citizens unless it takes seriously their sacrifice, since once a war is started, the changes it begins are no longer under our control. It doesn’t matter that politicians were uninterested, or that the psychopathic flatterers that animate liberalism’s political communications never cared for him; Mr. Codevilla was undaunted & never second-guessed himself. In our times, the experience of the judgment of such a man is of great worth because it is rarer than anything else. He is the example of a political man who is at the same time a Christian. He was a translator of Machiavelli & he wrote a treatise on war & justice.
Mr. Codevilla chronicled liberalism’s delusions on foreign affairs since the 1970s & his seriousness about political science comes across even more than his expertise in his various tracts & policy papers. Read his investigation of the French Fifth Republic or of the politics of Switzerland in WWII & you will learn from him how to be serious about serious things. His writing on America is much harder to learn from, since he was unpopular & perpetually contemptuous of the silly people that find favor with our cowardly elites, always teaching his audience to show no respect to the intellectually corrupt. If there is beauty in justice, in the requirement of the punishment of the offensive, there was beauty in his anger.
It was the misery worse than tragedy of his life to live long enough to see a necessity to speak about American domestic affairs. Only something as ugly as the potential for civil war could make him speak about the problems of our own affairs. He understood too well that we do not even call America a regime before we are ready to tear it apart. He never ceased blaming elites & never ceased encouraging citizens to share in his great spirit, that they may be free & at the same time respect themselves. This was the theme of his advice to me in our conversation, which you can hear below. In this time, when many immoderate & immodest young men show off their contempt or hatred for liberal elites, Mr. Codevilla showed how a citizen who is proud treats those who deny him his merits—he never stooped to sentimentality or self-pity, he never showed weakness, & he never faltered in his damnation of those whom he deemed corrupt beyond irresponsibility. His writing against the Pentagon, the FBI, the CIA & other national security bureaucracies has the potential to educate a new political elite.
We cannot thank providence for the misery that brings forth men of such spirit & such clarity of political judgment. But while America has such teachers, there is no necessity to despair. Angelo Codevilla spent all his life fighting & eventually he was proven right—today, it is obvious that people either turn in cowardice away from our political drama or, if they want to face it, they lose their judgment or their humanity. This is the test of souls & Codevilla prepares us for it.
War we can only judge coolly, for we can neither know the outcome of events nor simply predict the actions of men. The belief that knowledge is good is proved only when we learn from the greatest evils. The spirit of Codevilla is the spirit of daring & we now can come to know that we need it, as we always did.