Uncommon Knowledge
The World According to Thiel

The World According to Thiel

February 11, 2020

Recorded on January 17, 2020

Peter Thiel, the cofounder of PayPal and Palantir; early investor in Facebook, LinkedIn, and SpaceX; and the founder of the Thiel Fellowship, which encourages young people to drop out of college to start their own businesses, is interviewed live on stage in front of the members of the Mont Pelerin Society. This wide-ranging conversation covers globalization, the continuing and ever-growing threat from China and what the United States can and can’t do it about, what the rise of Bernie Sanders means for the future of US capitalism, the “derangement” (Thiel’s phrase) of Silicon Valley in the last decade, the scourge of political correctness on campuses and in society at large, and why Thiel thinks we should rethink the doctrine of American exceptionalism.

The Impeachment Handbook with John Yoo & Richard Epstein

The Impeachment Handbook with John Yoo & Richard Epstein

January 17, 2020

Recorded on January 15, 2020

The impeachment proceedings against President Trump has now reached the Senate and to help our viewers navigate the legal and political issues surrounding it, Peter Robinson sits down with the Hoover Institution’s Visiting Fellow John Yoo and Senior Fellow Richard Epstein, two of the foremost legal scholars in the country. We cover the Articles of Impeachment submitted by the U.S. House of Representatives, the pluses and minuses of calling witnesses, the role of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts in the proceeding, and whether or not President Trump should testify on his own behalf. Finally, Peter asks Epstein and Yoo for their vote predictions on conviction and acquittal and gets their predictions for the election in November.

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

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

December 2, 2019

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.

Jimmy Lai and the Fight for Freedom in Hong Kong

Jimmy Lai and the Fight for Freedom in Hong Kong

October 23, 2019

Recorded on October 20, 2019

In this special edition of Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson recorded in front of a live audience at the Hoover Institution, Peter interviews Jimmy Lai, the entrepreneur and leader in the fight to preserve democracy in Hong Kong. Lai describes the struggles he has endured including having his home fire-bombed, his family harassed, and his business threatened by the Chinese Communist Party. They also discuss the Trump administration's response to the Hong Kong protest movement, how the NBA and other American businesses found themselves in an awkward position between their business interests and their politics, and what Lai believes to be China’s ultimate goal: to make Hong Kong just another city in Communist China. Finally, Lai asks Americans to keep Hong Kong at the forefront of their thoughts and not to give up on them.

The Death of Europe, with Douglas Murray

The Death of Europe, with Douglas Murray

October 7, 2019

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.

 

Peter Thiel on “The Straussian Moment”

Peter Thiel on “The Straussian Moment”

September 23, 2019

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.

Jim Mattis on Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead

Jim Mattis on Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead

September 3, 2019

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

Why Here, Why Now? Why Did United States Enjoy Dramatic Improvements in Living During the Last Century?

Why Here, Why Now? Why Did United States Enjoy Dramatic Improvements in Living During the Last Century?

August 26, 2019

Recorded on April 18, 2019

Peter Robinson opens the session by discussing the major improvements that happened over the last one hundred years in the United States, between 1919 and 2019. For example, the GDP per person rose by 760 percent, life expectancy improved from 59 to 79 years, and various other automotive, technological, medical, and quality-of-life advances were achieved.

Robinson then starts the discussion with former secretary of state George Shultz, who encourages a broader vision as we look for the reasons for prosperity. Shultz discusses some of the major events that occurred during the 20th century, e.g., the Great Depression, currency manipulation, World War II, and the Holocaust, whose negative impacts framed the mindset of Americans to question the institutions underlying society. Robinson then asks John Cogan about these institutions—private property, the rule of law, free markets—and the importance of these for prosperity. Cogan explains those institutions are necessary for sustained prosperity, which demands conditions that are stable in order to fuel economic growth.

Robinson asks Terry Anderson about the importance of property rights. Terry says that property rights are the key to providing people with incentives to care for and maintain the property they own. Anderson notes that nobody washes rental cars, because they don’t own them.

Robinson asks Lee Ohanian about the role of immigration in prosperity. Ohanian says that the United States has been fortunate in attracting the best talents from all over the world, which has played a major role in sustaining prosperity. Ohanian notes that having an inflow of immigrants like Sergey Brin from Soviet Union, Elon Musk from South Africa, and others has helped the United States stay on the cutting edge of innovation with new and fresh ideas.

David Kennedy, Andrew Roberts, and Stephen Kotkin Discuss the Big Three of the 20th Century: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin

David Kennedy, Andrew Roberts, and Stephen Kotkin Discuss the Big Three of the 20th Century: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin

August 5, 2019

Recorded on July 18, 2019

What did Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin want at the beginning of the Second World War? Peter Robinson starts the discussion by why the “big three” came together as allies in response to Operation Barbarossa during the war. What did the leaders of the “grand alliance” of Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union want? What were their national interests?

Robinson asks Roberts if Churchill aimed to preserve the British Empire. Roberts explains that Churchill’s interests were just in national survival. As Britain was under the threat of massive invasion from Germany, he wanted to make sure that the Russians stayed in the war until the Germans were wiped out completely. Roberts also notes that Churchill wanted Russia to ensure that the Americans, when they did finally enter the war in December 1941, were guided toward a Mediterranean strategy.

Kennedy discusses Roosevelt’s motive for joining into an alliance in the aftermath of Operation Barbarossa, before officially entering the war. Kennedy says that Roosevelt wanted to make the world safe for the democratic practices and institutions that had already been established, but he did not seek to expand democracy throughout the world. Next, Robinson asks Kotkin about Stalin’s aim for allying with Britain and United States as well as why Stalin did not quickly respond to Hitler’s actions in Soviet Union despite having one of the biggest armies in the world. Kotkin replies that there was misinformation that made Stalin think that Hitler would not actually attack, that Hitler was only amassing the troops to blackmail Stalin into giving up Ukraine and other territories without actually having to fight. Lastly, Kotkin explains, Stalin also joined the grand alliance for national survival.

Robinson then continues the discussion with Roberts, Kennedy, and Kotkin by asking how things turned out for the three allies after the war. They examine who won and who lost over both the short term and the long term, as well as how the postwar world set the stage for the emergence of new strong powers, particularly China.

This event addresses these and many other important lessons and questions:

  • What happens when an international system that is supposed to keep the peace among nations breaks down?
  • How do nations deal with the breakdown and rebuilding of international order?
  • How can Western civilization remain strong?
  • What are the defense resources required to protect free countries from unpleasant predators in the world?
Mathematical Challenges To Darwin’s Theory Of Evolution, With David Berlinski, Stephen Meyer, And David Gelernter

Mathematical Challenges To Darwin’s Theory Of Evolution, With David Berlinski, Stephen Meyer, And David Gelernter

July 22, 2019

Recorded on June 6, 2019 in Italy.

Based on new evidence and knowledge that functioning proteins are extremely rare, should Darwin’s theory of evolution be dismissed, dissected, developed or replaced with a theory of intelligent design?

Has Darwinism really failed? Peter Robinson discusses it with David Berlinski, David Gelernter, and Stephen Meyer, who have raised doubts about Darwin’s theory in their two books and essay, respectively The Deniable DarwinDarwin’s Doubt, and “Giving Up Darwin” (published in the Claremont Review of Books).

Robinson asks them to convince him that the term “species” has not been defined by the authors to Darwin’s disadvantage. Gelernter replies to this and explains, as he expressed in his essay, that he sees Darwin’s theory as beautiful (which made it difficult for him to give it up): “Beauty is often a telltale sign of truth. Beauty is our guide to the intellectual universe—walking beside us through the uncharted wilderness, pointing us in the right direction, keeping us on track—most of the time.” Gelernter notes that there’s no reason to doubt that Darwin successfully explained the small adjustments by which an organism adapts to local circumstances: changes to fur density or wing style or beak shape. Yet there are many reasons to doubt whether Darwin can answer the hard questions and explain the big picture—not the fine-tuning of existing species but the emergence of new ones. Meyer explains Darwinism as a comprehensive synthesis, which gained popularity for its appeal. Meyer also mentions that one cannot disregard that Darwin’s book was based on the facts present in the 19th century.

Robinson then asks the panel whether Darwin’s theory of gradual evolution is contradicted by the explosion of fossil records in the Cambrian period, when there was a sudden occurrence of many species over the span of approximately seventy million years (Meyer’s noted that the date range for the Cambrian period is actually narrowing). Meyer replies that even population genetics, the mathematical branch of Darwinian theory, has not been able to support the explosion of fossil records during the Cambrian period, biologically or geologically.

Robinson than asks about Darwin’s main problem, molecular biology, to which Meyer explains, comparing it to digital world, that building a new biological function is similar to building a new code, which Darwin could not understand in his era. Berlinski does not second this and states that the cell represents very complex machinery, with complexities increasing over time, which is difficult to explain by a theory. Gelernter throws light on this by giving an example of a necklace on which the positioning of different beads can lead to different permutations and combinations; it is really tough to choose the best possible combination, more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack. He seconds Meyer’s statement that it was impossible for Darwin to understand that in his era, since the math is easy but he did not have the facts. Meyer further explains how difficult it is to know what a protein can do to a cell, the vast combinations it can produce, and how rare is the possibility of finding a functional protein. He then talks about the formation of brand-new organisms, for which mutation must affect genes early in the life form’s development in order to control the expression of other genes as the organism grows.

“Intelligent design” is something only Meyer agrees with, but Berlinski replies that as a scientific approach, one can agree or disagree with it, but should not reject it. Meyer talks about the major discovery in the 1950s and ’60s concerning the DNA molecule, which encodes information in a somewhat digital format, providing researchers with the opportunity to trace the information back to its source. Gelernter argues that if there was/is an intelligent designer then why is the design not the most efficient, rather than prone to all sorts of problems, including the mental and emotional.

Robinson quotes Gelernter: “Darwinism is no longer just a scientific theory but a basis of a worldview, and an emergency . . . religion for the many troubled souls who need one.” Gelernter further adds that it’s a fantastically challenging problem that Darwin chose to address. How difficult will it be for scientists to move on from Darwin’s theory of evolution? Will each scientist need to examine the evidence for his or herself? These are some of most important questions facing science in the 21st century.