"At Georgetown [University] . . . a professor I had named Carroll Quigley . . . said America was the greatest country in the history of the world because our people have always believed in two great ideas: first, that tomorrow would be better than today; second, that each of us has a personal, moral responsibility to make it so" -- Bill Clinton, accepting the Democratic Party's nomination for president.
WHAT a group that was at Harvard long ago: some 15 graduate students specializing in modern European history just as World War II began. Bill Bundy's father had been assistant secretary of war. H. Stuart Hughes' grandfather had been chief justice. James P. O'Donnell's half-brother was a Roosevelt-baiting New York columnist. Rumor listed the tallest and maybe brightest fellow of all, whose English was accented, as Hermann Goering's nephew. Jack Kennedy, son of Joe the ambassador, was one more of the undergraduates milling around.
But there was scant socializing. We got together one evening a week at the house of the faculty seminar leader, but only for work. The first semester's topic was 19th-century France. One by one we lectured (from whole boxes of note-cards) on our particular topic, and then braced against the assault. Who would have the daring to go first, after only a fortnight's research? The German.
A tall, slender Boston Irishman sat in. He already had his Ph.D., but he thought some of the papers might be helpful in his own research. He was pleasant, if formal; very bright. Carroll Quigley.
Spring came, and 1940's France fell to the Reichswehr. Soon after, the second semester's leader, William L. Langer, was off to Washington to help run OSS. Most of us went into the armed forces. Ultimately, Bill Bundy was an assistant secretary of state; he had a younger brother named McGeorge. Marshall Dill, with his elegant manners, married the English novelist Rosamund Lehmann. Jim O'Donnell, born in Baltimore, became European correspondent for the Saturday Evening Post. Robert Byrnes, settling in at Amherst, produced maybe a dozen books. The German, whose name I cannot recapture? No word.
But, in wartime Washington, I did run into Carroll Quigley.
In 1943, D-Day still not in sight, the Army had more people than it could use -- so many of them from college that campuses were starting to close. The answer, to occupy enlisted men and to rescue colleges, was the Army Specialized Training Program. Soon a unit of 200 or so was sitting down to nine peaceful months at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. On a slow summer's day from a third-floor window in Healy Hall, you could wonder who at the Pentagon, down the Potomac just a bit, was returning your look.
The largest component came from Brooklyn and the Bronx: sharp, vocal, leftist. The administering Jesuits may have groaned, but they never flinched. The curriculum included foreign language, area studies, current history -- this last from Professor Quigley.
One day, the professor addressed the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), in which Francisco Franco's victorious fascists had had fervent Catholic Church support. Professor Quigley said the wrong side had won.
Then came 1966 and "Tragedy and Hope." From a mind as energetic as Professor Quigley's, and as individualistic, something in print was bound to come. Staying on at Georgetown down to his death 15 years ago at age 67, he wrote several books. The one that matters is the 1,311-page tome (all text, no pictures) subtitled, "A History of the World in Our Time." Its publication justified a journey back to Washington for a reunion and book-column interview.
The historian who would delineate fixed patterns amid current or recent events is, of course, foolhardy. Professor Quigley conceded this. But he was a furious researcher; more than that, he held that it wasn't ideology but instead an interlocking, big-money axis between London and Wall Street that dominated the world power structure in the 1900s down to World War II.
Later, he equated power with weapon design and manufacture. Yet Professor Quigley was ever alert to swirls and shifts. Listening to him in the 1960s must have been heady stuff for an undergraduate from Arkansas.
Today's Democratic candidate could well quote additional language from such an interpreter of our common course:
"The hope of the 20th century rests on its recognition that war and depression are man-made, and needless. They can be avoided in the future by turning from the 19th century -- with its laissez faire, materialism, competition, selfishness, nationalism, violence and imperialism -- and going back to other characteristics that our Western society has always regarded as virtues: generosity, compassion, cooperation, rationality and foresight, and finding an increased role in human life for love, spirituality, charity and self-discipline."
Long sentences? Carroll Quigley could, and did, also reduce the ideal to two words: inclusive diversity.
James H. Bready is a retired Evening Sun editorial writer.