When the Iraq war started I did a profile of Bruce S. Kovner, then-chairman of the American Enterprise Institute, for New York Magazine. Kovner was the godfather of neoconservatism, having provided sinecures at AEI to the stargazers who made their visions real, authoring “A Clean Break” for Netanyahu, the “Axis of Evil” for Bush, and “Shock and Awe” for the people of Iraq. I tried to butter up Kovner, who is a tree-lover, by sending him photos of my chestnut tree in bloom (an increasingly rare sight in America) but he shrewdly decided not to give me an interview. Now he has given a long interview to Arthur Brooks of AEI (published in the Philanthropy Roundtable), an inside job in which he comes across as a committed conservative on economic issues and vague on foreign policy. He mentions it twice. He cares a lot more about the arts. So does his wife.
Kovner loves music. This part is very moving and eloquent:
Before my teenage years, I had no involvement in the arts. But at the age of 15, I had a near-religious experience when I heard a piece of classical music for the first time. It was “Mars” from Holst’s “The Planets.” My mother was driving me to school, and this piece of music came on the radio, and I remember stopping and saying, “What is that?” in wonder at the images it conjured up.
On that very day I began an exploration of classical music that never stopped. It has been the most consistent form of spiritual stimulation in my life for the past 55 years. Music increases empathy. It helps us think about devotion, brotherhood, tragedy, and loss. With Bach, you have a window into the transcendental. When looking for grace and beauty, it’s Mozart. For introspection, it’s Beethoven. When I want to feel the expansiveness of the world and the creation, it’s Bruckner. Shostakovich is about tragedy, and humor. Music is a universal language. It opens these experiences and ideals to everyone.
That’s the man who fostered the Iraq war! He has a soul, after all. It explains why Kovner has given so much to Juilliard and to young artists in NY.
Kovner and Arthur Brooks both sidestep the Iraq war mess that AEI helped create. There’s not much about foreign policy beyond this official statement–
I realized that AEI stood for two of the core principles in my life. First, defending the vision of America as a place committed to free enterprise and personal liberty. Second, the necessity of a serious and assertive military and foreign policy that would defend America in a dangerous world.
Yes, what was defensive about going halfway around the world to destroy an Arab society? Even Netanyahu admits now that Saddam Hussein was just a neighborhood bully.
And here is Kovner’s sharp, conservative insight about government:
In my view, complex coalitions lead to the most stable government, so I want a variety of opinions, ethnicities, and classes in each party.
This is precisely what is wrong with Israel, and why it is so unstable. It has an un-complex coalition with one ethnicity. Fully half the people who are governed by Israel are not represented in the government, in fact are discriminated against by the government. This is why so many of support democracy as a way out of tremendous bloodshed. If Palestinians were represented, everything would change: secular Palestinians would form a coalition with secular Israelis. Kovner knows this but he is doing nothing to effect it. He hasn’t told Netanyahu this, I bet, though they shared a table at the American Enterprise Institute the other night when AEI gave Netanyahu a big award. Kovner seems a bit offish, from the photo.