When articles are written about the American Enterprise Institute, space is frequently devoted to cataloguing the eccentricities of its president, Arthur Brooks. Brooks is not a stereotypical, or even typical, conservative. In his 20s, he was a professional French hornist in the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, and politics was far from his mind. He changed tack a few years later, earning an economics degrees by correspondence and entering academia. Now he is president of a Washington institution that is working to recast conservatism in both its practice, and its perception.
More than three decades ago, a professor of mine commented about the futility of learning about the horror of the Josef Stalin years in the Soviet Union by reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. “The numbers are mind-numbing,” he said. “It’s like reading a telephone directory [this was back in an era when we all still had those monstrosities with a yellow cover] because you cannot comprehend the numbers of victims—millions of them. If you want to understand the Stalin years, read One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich, because it is a story based on one person and that person’s single day in a Soviet Gulag—this is something that we can all relate to.”