For more than two decades the Hoover Institution has been producing Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson, a series hosted by Hoover fellow Peter Robinson as an outlet for political leaders, scholars, journalists, and today’s big thinkers to share their views with the world. Guests have included a host of famous figures, including Paul Ryan, Henry Kissinger, Antonin Scalia, Rupert Murdoch, Newt Gingrich, and Christopher Hitchens, along with Hoover fellows such as Condoleezza Rice and George Shultz.
The show started life as a television series in 1997 and is now distributed exclusively on the web over a growing network of the largest political websites and channels. To stay tuned for the latest updates on and episodes related to Uncommon Knowledge
Newest videos are on the bottom of the playlist list.
Discrimination and Disparities with Thomas Sowell
Rich or poor, most people agree that wealth disparities exist. Thomas Sowell discusses the origins and impacts of those wealth disparities in his new book, Discrimination and Disparities in this episode of Uncommon Knowledge. Sowell explains his issues with the relatively new legal standard of “disparate impact” and how it disregards the American legal principle of “burden of proof.” Sowell and Robinson discuss how economic outcomes vary greatly across individuals and groups and that concepts like “disparate impact” fail to take into account these variations. They chat about the impact of nuclear families on the IQs of individuals, as studies have not only shown that children raised by two parents tend to have higher levels of intelligence but also that first-born and single children have even higher intelligence levels than those of younger siblings, indicating that the time and attention given by parents to their children greatly impacts the child’s future more than factors like race, environment, or genetics. Sowell talks about his book in which he wrote extensively about National Merit Scholarship finalists who more often than not were the first-born or only child in a family. Sowell and Robinson go on to discuss historical instances of discrimination and how those instances affected economic and social issues within families, including discrimination created by housing laws in the Bay Area. They discuss unemployment rates, violence, the welfare state in regards to African American communities, and more.
George F. Will is the umpire on politics and baseball
Washington Post columnist and author, George F. Will, sits down with Peter Robinson in Austin, Texas to chat about the current administration and America’s favorite pastime—baseball. They discuss politics in the age of polarization and the future of America. Will argues that Americans need to stop looking at presidents as moral exemplars and instead focus on the president as the head of the executive branch. Will and Robinson discuss a quote from his 1984 book, Statecraft as Soulcraft: What Government Does, “The United States acutely needs real conservatism, characterized by a concern to cultivate the best personas and the best in persons. It should express appreciation for the ennobling functions of government.” They use this quote as a launchpad to discuss the future of American politics. The discussion turns to young adults and teenagers, and Will argues why history should be a required class for all college students. They also discuss the rise in birth rates of illegitimate children and what that means for society. They talk about family as the transmitter of social capital and that when the family fails, free society fails too. In the end they discuss baseball as America’s favorite pastime, and George Will argues it is the sport of America’s future as parents stop letting their children play football because of the dangers of lifelong head and body injuries
About the Guest
George F. Will is a Washington Post columnist and a commentator on NBC News and MSNBC. He is the author of numerous books on politics and baseball, including Statecraft is Soulcraft: What Government Does, Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball, and A Nice Little Place on the North Side: A History of Triumph, Mostly Defeat, and Incurable Hope at Wrigley Field. He became a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1977 for his commentary.
“To Change the Church” With Ross Douthat
Recorded February 27, 2018 What do Catholics think of Pope Francis’s changes to the Catholic Church? Ross Douthat explores that question in his new book, To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism. Douthat joins Peter Robinson on Uncommon Knowledge to discuss his new book, his thoughts and critiques of Pope Francis, and the changing conception of divorce under Pope Francis’s ambiguous teachings. Douthat and Robinson spend a large portion of the episode discussing the Catholic teachings surrounding marriage, divorce, and communion. They examine the history of Catholicism and divorce, going back so far as to understand the lessons of the New Testament on divorce and how those lessons were radically conservative for the time. They talk about how problematic the terms “conservative” and “liberal” are when used in the context of the Church as the political leanings do not necessarily correlate with moral leanings of religion. They go on to discuss the future of the Catholic Church under Pope Francis and how the Bishops can handle all of the changes.
About the Guest
Ross Douthat is an author and New York Times Op-Ed columnist. He received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in 2002. He is the author of several books including, Privilege, Grand New Party, Bad Religion, and most recently, To Change the Church.
Fear No Evil With Natan Sharansky
Recorded on November 9, 2017. Natan Sharansky sits down with Peter Robinson to discuss Soviet communism and its impact on his personal life. He discusses his book Fear No Evil: The Classic Memoir of One Man’s Triumph over a Police State, which details a compelling account of his time in a Soviet prison and the inspiration he found in himself, the Tehillim, and Ronald Reagan’s speeches about freedom. Sharansky realized through KGB interrogations and his time in prison that nobody but himself is responsible for his own human dignity. Sharansky also becomes fully aware of how important freedom is—especially the freedoms included in the US Constitution and that Reagan often refers to in his speeches. Sharansky’s interview should open eyes and minds to the lessons learned from silencing people we disagree with. The examples of silencing dissent, resulting in the empowerment of Stalin and the strengthening of the former Soviet Union, should be a lesson for all of us: to listen to ideas and views we may not agree with, and to speak up when we believe our friends and country are going in the wrong direction.
Shelby Steele On “How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country”
Recorded on January 25, 2018 – Shelby Steele, a Hoover Institution senior fellow and author of Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country, joins Peter Robinson to discuss race relations in the United States. Steele tells stories about growing up in segregated Chicago and the fights he and his family went through to end segregation in their neighborhood schools. He draws upon his own experiences facing racism while growing up in order to inform his opinions on current events. Steele and Robinson go on to discuss more recent African-American movements, including Steele’s thoughts on the NFL protests, Black Lives Matter, and recent rumors about Oprah Winfrey running for office.
About the Guest
Shelby Steele is the Robert J. and Marion E. Oster Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He specializes in the study of race relations, multiculturalism, and affirmative action. He was appointed a Hoover fellow in 1994. Steele has written widely on race in American society and the consequences of contemporary social programs on race relations. Steele holds a PhD in English from the University of Utah, an MA in sociology from Southern Illinois University, and a BA in political science from Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
- A Sick Hunger for Racism
- Black Protest Has Lost Its Power
- The Exhaustion of American Liberalism
- End of the Line for the Shame Train
Niall Ferguson’s “The Square and the Tower”
Recorded on November 9, 2017 – With social networks like Facebook and Twitter in abundance, the effects of networks on society in the twenty-first century are inarguable. However, Niall Ferguson, author of The Square and the Tower, argues that networks are not a new phenomenon and have been impacting human culture from the beginning of history. Niall Ferguson and Peter Robinson discuss networks and hierarchies throughout history in this episode of Uncommon Knowledge. Ferguson breaks down what he means by networks and hierarchies using the imagery of the Piazza Del Campo in Siena, where the Torre del Mangia, representing the hierarchy, casts a long shadow over the Piazza Del Campo, representing the network. Ferguson argues that this powerful imagery invokes the essence of his book and the intertwined nature of networks and hierarchies within society. Ferguson goes on to discuss the importance of networks in social movements throughout history, including Martin Luther and the Reformation, Paul Revere and the American Revolution, Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union, and social media and Donald Trump. He argues that a networked world is a dangerous world, in that it allows movements and societies to advance in unexpected ways.
Defending the Nation With Secretary of Defense James Mattis
Recorded on Friday, May 11, 2018 in Washington DC. In his first televised interview in almost a year, Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis sits down with Peter Robinson to discuss a wide range of issues facing the United States Armed Forces at home and across the globe. Earlier this year, Secretary Mattis published the National Defense Strategy, the first such document in a decade. Secretary Mattis describes why the document is an important blueprint for the Armed Forces and what he hopes to accomplish by publishing it. After a moving story about a captured Iraqi suicide bomber, Secretary Mattis describes the complicated nature of our relationship with China and the possible flash points in the South China Sea. A discussion follows about Europe and how political controversies with Russia affect our military relationship and why Secretary Mattis believes NATO is not a threat to them. Moving on to the Middle East, Secretary Mattis defines our mission in Syria, comments on the use of chemical weapons, and explains why that theater is the most complex security conundrum he’s seen in his forty-year career. He says that the refugees coming out of Syria are more traumatized than refugees he’s seen anywhere else in the world. He discusses the need to work with the international community on the refugee crisis as, “It is a tragedy much worse than anything BBC or CNN can show.” In the Far East, Mattis describes how a coordinated effort across different departments of the US federal government and allied countries have achieved a dialogue that may lead to the denuclearization of North Korea. Secretary Mattis also makes the case that the Iranian regime and the Iranian people are different constituencies with different priorities and agendas. He relates how he is reforming the Pentagon’s provisioning and spending policies and why it’s important for the military (the seventeenth largest economy in the world) to be a responsible steward of the nation’s tax dollars.
Senator Portman on Why the New Tax Bill Helps the Middle Class
Recorded on February 25, 2018 “On Election Day in 2016, Donald Trump carried Ohio by eight percentage points. Our guest today carried the state by twenty-one. Senator of Ohio Rob Portman joins Peter Robinson at a special live taping of Uncommon Knowledge. They discuss the 2018 tax bill, the opioid crisis, the Parkland shootings, North Korea, and much more. Senator Portman stands by his decision to vote for the new tax bill as he has seen the benefits right in his home state. He recounts several anecdotes of his constituents who have already seen benefits from the new tax bill. He tells the story of one small-business owner who is finally able to offer health care to her full-time employees because of the tax breaks for small businesses. He also discusses meeting with microbrewers who are now able to expand their facilities and grow their businesses because of the tax cuts. Portman also discusses how the new federal budget helped the Department of Defense and the US military to build out their forces in order to project strength abroad. He explains ways that the Republicans and Democrats were able to compromise on increasing domestic discretionary spending so that they can also spend equally on defense. He recounts examples of bipartisanship in order to help Congress get work done. Senator Portman goes into great detail about the opioid crisis a huge issue in his state. Portman is working hard to increase treatment programs for addicts to end the crisis. He tells a story about one young man he met who will be able to become sober and regain his life back because of the new treatment programs. Peter Robinson takes the interview into a lightning round near the end of the program, asking Senator Portman quick questions for quick answers about his thoughts on the situation with North Korea, the Parkland shootings, conservatives and Donald Trump, and why Portman continues to be in public service. Portman ends the interview by explaining why public service matters to him more than making significantly more money in the private sector. About the Guest: Senator Rob Portman is a junior senator for the state of Ohio. He has served as a senator since 2011. Senator Portman previously served as a US Representative, a United States Trade Representative, and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
Why Does Joseph Stalin Matter? Part 1
Recorded on January 25, 2018. “Joseph Stalin, Soviet dictator, creator of great power, and destroyer of tens of millions of lives …” Thus begins this episode of Uncommon Knowledge, which dives into the biography of Joseph Stalin. This episode’s guest, Stephen Kotkin, author of Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941, examines the political career of Joseph Stalin in the years leading up to World War II, his domination over the Soviet Union, and the terror he inspired by the Great Purge from 1936–38. “Why does Joseph Stalin matter?” is a key question for Kotkin, as he explains the history of the Soviet Union and Stalin’s enduring impact on his country and the world. Kotkin argues that Stalin is the “gold standard for dictatorships” in regard to the amount of power he managed to obtain and wield throughout his lifetime. Stalin stands out because not only was he able to build a massive amount of military power, he managed to stay in power for three decades, much longer than any comparable dictator. Kotkin and Robinson discuss collectivization and communism and how Stalin’s regime believed it had to eradicate capitalism within the USSR even in regions where capitalism was bringing economic success to the peasants, with the potential of destabilizing the regime. This led to the Great Purge, a campaign of political repression that resulted in the exile and execution of millions of people.
Joseph Stalin: Waiting For Hitler Part 2
Recorded on January 25, 2018. “If you’re interested in power, [if] you’re interested in how power is accumulated and exercised, and what the consequences are, the subject of Stalin is just unbelievably deep, it’s bottomless.” – Stephen Kotkin In part two, Stephen Kotkin, author of Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941, discusses the relationship between Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler leading up to and throughout World War II. Kotkin describes what motivated Stalin to make the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Hitler and the consequences of his decision. Kotkin dives into the history of the USSR and its relationship with Germany during WWII, analyzing the two leaders’ decisions, strategies, and thought processes. He explains Stalin’s and Hitler’s motivations to enter into the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact even without the support of their respective regimes. Stalin’s goal was to defeat the West and he saw the pact as an opportunity to do so by driving a wedge between Germany and the capitalist West. Kotkin analyzes Stalin’s decisions leading up to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union and the disinformation Germany was feeding soviet spies to prevent Stalin from moving against Hitler first.
How to Get the Best from Brexit with Daniel Hannan
Recorded on June 22, 2018 Will the United Kingdom really follow through on Brexit? British politician Daniel Hannan believes that Brexit is happening and cannot come soon enough. As a staunch proponent for the “Vote Leave” side, Daniel Hannan has been ready for Brexit since the referendum vote in 2016. He sits down with Peter Robinson to chat about what Brexit means for the UK, how soon it’s coming, and the likelihood of compromise between the now polarized British parties. The United Kingdom became a member of the European Union in 1973. In June 2016, in a close 52 to 48 vote, UK citizens voted to leave the EU. Two years later and the UK is less than a year away from their deadline to leave by March 2019. Guest Daniel Hannan explains that while Brexit will ultimately be a good thing for the UK, arguments in Parliament have dragged out the question of if Brexit will happen, even though it’s already been settled by a referendum. Hannan argues that polarization amongst parliamentary parties is preventing real negotiations from taking place that will allow the UK to find the best compromise and regain their voting powers that citizens feel were diminished by membership in the EU. Hannan explains where the Brexit process is at in Parliament and what he feels is the best course of action for the EU moving forward.
About the Guest
Daniel Hannan is a British writer, journalist, and politician. Since 1999, he has been a Conservative Member of the European Parliament for South East England. He is the founding president for the Initiative on Free Trade. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.
Uncommon Knowledge in Copenhagen: Revitalizing Democracies Around the World
At the Copenhagen Democracy Summit, Peter Robinson moderated a panel discussion featuring prominent politicians from some of the world’s leading democracies as they discussed why democracy is declining around the world and what the prospects for democracy are in the future. They discussed how we can build friendships that will support our ambition of bringing together an international alliance of democracies for a freer and more prosperous world. Participants include José María Aznar, former Prime Minister of Spain; Felipe Calderón, former President of Mexico; Nick Clegg, former Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom; Stephen Harper, former Prime Minister of Canada; and Toomas Hendrik Ilves, former President of Estonia and Hoover Institution fellow.
Russia, China, and the Future of Democracy
Recorded on June 22, 2018 – In a special edition of Uncommon Knowledge at the Copenhagen Democracy Summit, Peter Robinson interviews former presidents and prime ministers on one subject: democracy. Following a unique format, Robinson asks each of the guests the same questions to get their distinctive perspectives on issues such as the rise of authoritarianism in Russia, communist China, and the prospects for democracy. The guests include the former deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom, Nick Clegg; former president of Mexico, Felipe Calderón; former president of Estonia and current Hoover visiting fellow, Toomas Hendrik Ilves; and former prime minister of Denmark, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. The guests analyze economic growth in China and how that growth did not lead to the democratic country predicted by economic experts in 90s. They dive into why China does not truly have a free market, nor does it follow traditional Leninist/Marxist communism’s disdain for material goods. The guests go on to analyze changes in Russia in the last thirty years under President Putin and how foreign policy with Russia has affected their respective countries. They discuss the future of Russian and Chinese relations and how they believe those two countries are trying to shape the world.
About the Guests:
Nick Clegg was the deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom from 2010 to 2015.
Felipe Calderón was the president of Mexico from 2006 to 2012.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves was the president of Estonia from 2006 to 2016. He is currently a Hoover visiting fellow.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen was the Prime Minister of Denmark from 2001 to 2009. He was the Secretary General of NATO from 2009 to 2014.
Judging Brett Kavanaugh and the Supreme Court with John Yoo
Recorded on August 28th, 2018 – Is Brett Kavanaugh ready for the Supreme Court? John Yoo, Yale Law alumnus and Hoover Institution visiting fellow, breaks down Kavanaugh’s law career in the U.S. Court of Appeals. Yoo argues that the United States has concentrated too much power in the Supreme Court since the New Deal era legislation and that the Supreme Court is now more powerful than Congress and the President. Based off of Kavanaugh’s past career, Yoo predicts that Kavanaugh will help reign in the power of the Supreme Court and give it back to the states. Yoo argues that based off of the Constitution, power to decide social issues should reside with states rather than the court. According to Yoo, prior to the New Deal era, the Supreme Court focused on regulatory issues rather than social issues. He argues that momentous social legal decisions like Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges are meant to be left to the individual states to decide. Yoo analyzes the records of the current conservative justices and predicts that Kavanaugh will side more often with Justice Thomas and Justice Gorsuch, interpreting the Constitution as it was written by the founders, rather than by the changing will of the people.
About The Guest
John Yoo is a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and a professor of law at the University of California Berkeley school of Law.
George Gilder: Forget Cloud Computing, Blockchain is the Future
Recorded on August 28, 2018 – Is blockchain the technology of the future? George Gilder, author of Life After Google, argues that bitcoin and blockchain technology is revolutionizing the Internet. He sits down with Peter Robinson to discuss technology, cloud computing, big data, and the growing role of blockchain in innovating new technologies. Gilder argues that cloud computing, while it was the hot new technology ten years ago, has reached its limits as the physical limitations of big data storage centers maxes out. Improvements in parsing big data are incremental at this point, and it’s time for the next big technology to take its place. Gilder points to blockchain as the technology of the future, with its ability to prevent corruption and manipulation of transaction data and the infinite uses it could have in third world countries. Gilder also discusses the history of technology, artificial intelligence, and the revolutionary bitcoin. He argues that artificial intelligence can never replace human intelligence and creativity and that in principle, it is impossible for machines to take over.
What is Blockchain? George Gilder Explains
Ever wondered what all the fuss about bitcoin and blockchain technology is? Watch George Gilder explain blockchain technology. Clip from Uncommon Knowledge: George Gilder: Forget Cloud Computing, Blockchain is the Future
How the World Recovered: The 2008 Financial Crisis Ten Years Later
Recorded on September 28, 2018 – Ten years ago, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression hit the United States and spread to other countries, including the United Kingdom. Here to discuss what happened then and where the world is now are former Federal Reserve governor Kevin Warsh and former chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne. Kevin Warsh and George Osborne discuss the 2008 financial crisis, how they dealt with it at the time, what they would have done differently, and whether the economy is headed toward another downturn. Warsh discusses how the United States failed to realize how bad the crisis was until it was already too late. The crisis had a huge impact on Europe and the United States and set off a global panic. However, within two years the economy was already growing by 2 percent and the quantitative easing used by the Fed was no longer needed as the world changed. Warsh and Osborne analyze the state of the US and UK economies today and the trade war with China. They argue that there are two ways to approach China: either try to contain it or co-opt it. Innovation and growth in the United States are necessary to prevent China from gaining more purchasing power and greater influence on the international market. Osborne analyzes the effects Brexit could have on the single market and trade with the UK’s geographically closest trading partner, France, and airs his concerns about what Brexit means for the UK’s future. He argues that Margaret Thatcher, who helped create the single market in the EU, would never have voted to leave it. While a future financial crisis is always possible, Warsh and Osborne end on optimistic notes: that there is still room for growth in the two countries’ economies and that a better financial future for many Americans and British is still possible through good economic policies, including lower taxes and less regulation.
John O’Sullivan: Brexit’s Past and Future Paths
Recorded on September 26, 2018 – As the Brexit deadline of March 2019 draws near, John O’Sullivan discusses the status of Brexit today and the history of Britain’s decision to enter the European Union in 1973. He explains how Britain’s entry into the European Union first came about under Margaret Thatcher. He argues that British citizens had objections to joining the European Union back in 1973 and those objections never went away. Over the past forty-five years, the British have become increasingly more skeptical and frustrated with the European Union and resent the degree of its interference in the government’s decision making. O’Sullivan and Robinson talk about the upcoming March 2019 deadline set by Theresa May for Brexit to officially occur. They talk about the state of the government as it stands, its preparedness for Brexit, and the opposition to Brexit by some parts of the government and the younger citizens.
A New Afghanistan with H.R. McMaster and Janan Mosazai
Recorded on October 23, 2018 – Former National Security Advisor H.R, McMaster and former Afghan Ambassador to China Janan Mosazai analyze the state of affairs in Afghanistan today. They discuss the role that terrorist groups Al Qaeda and the Taliban have had in the formation of the country, the United States’ military action in the country, and where Afghanistan is headed. Interested in exclusive Uncommon Knowledge content?
Thomas Sowell on the Myths of Economic Inequality
Recorded on November 15, 2018 Thomas Sowell discusses economic inequality, racial inequality, and the myths that have continued to falsely describe the system of poverty among different racial and economic classes. He explains the economic theories behind these pervasive myths and proposes fact-based solutions for seemingly intractable situations. Sowell discusses his early life as a high school dropout and his first full-time job as a Western Union messenger delivering telegrams. He admits to flirting with Marxism in his early twenties as he first tried to grapple with the housing inequality he saw across the neighborhoods of New York City. Marxism, he says, was the only explanation he could find at the time. He went on to serve in the Marine Corps before continuing his education in economics at Harvard and earning a master’s at Columbia and a PhD at the University of Chicago. Sowell’s first job after his receiving his PhD in economics was working for the Department of Labor, and he says it was there that he realized Marxism was not the answer. He argues that the government has its own institutional interests in inequality that cannot be explained through Marxism. He began to be discouraged by Marxism and the government in general and began searching for better economic ideas and solutions (the free market). Robinson and Sowell discuss Sowell’s written works, his ideas of racial and economic inequality, the state of the United States today, and much more. Interested in exclusive Uncommon Knowledge content?
Remembering President George H. W. Bush with Chase Untermeyer and Andrew Ferguson
Recorded on December 5, 2018 – On November 30, 2018, forty-first president George H. W. Bush passed away. Andrew Ferguson and Peter Robinson both served as speechwriters for Bush during his tenure in the White House as both the vice president and president. Chase Untermeyer served as the ambassador to Qatar under the forty-first president. The three men gather to remember the man they knew and the legacy he left behind. Untermeyer, Ferguson, and Robinson reminisce about their experiences with George H. W. Bush. Robinson relates a fond memory he has of meeting with Bush, who was vice president at the time, to discuss Robinson’s career as a speechwriter or as a law student. They discuss Bush’s amazing military career as a pilot in WWII. Bush postponed his university studies at Yale after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and enlisted at age eighteen. By the age of twenty, Bush had flown fifty-eight combat missions and had been shot down once. After the war Bush finished his education and went on to become an expert in foreign policy as ambassador to the United Nations and then as director of Central Intelligence. Bush was president during the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and oversaw the nonviolent transition period from the Cold War to peacetime. They remember the former president’s graciousness, kindness, humility, and desire to help others (and not hold grudges), and they discuss how those qualities translated into his life and political career. Interested in exclusive Uncommon Knowledge content?