Risks & Answers: Hoover Fellows Brief Supporters on Pressing Threats to Our Free Society and How to Respond

Monday, April 23, 2018
Hauck Auditorium, Hoover Institution, Stanford University

Threats and opportunities, risks and rewards, and danger and hope for the future of our free society were in the spotlight for attendees at Hoover’s 2018 Spring Retreat.

In an idea-packed series of presentations, a line up of leading Hoover scholars gave attendees a sober assessment of imminent and long-term dangers to America’s freedom, security, and prosperity. They also offered specific—and at times, inspiring—recommendations on how the United States can enact policies to counter and overcome the hazards we face as a nation.


Speakers painted a clear picture of how two American rivals, China and Russia, are consolidating their power. Their discussions showed that Chinese president Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin each have ambitious agendas that challenge American interests.

Former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, speaking on “What Does Putin Want?,” shared historical and personal insights about the Russian president. McFaul analyzed Putin’s formative attitudes and dissected three major facets of his desires: (1) regarding democracy, McFaul contended Putin was an autocrat, not a democratically-elected leader; (2) regarding markets, McFaul revealed the turning point when Putin became more suspicious of free enterprise and moved toward state control; and (3) regarding the United States and the West, McFaul recounted Putin’s devolution from an ally to a rival. McFaul recommended that the US apply a modern version of Reagan-style containment and “get back in the game” of pushing back. He is encouraged by signs that the Trump administration shares his view of the path forward for Russia strategy.

Regarding China, Michael Auslin, the Williams-Griffis Fellow in Contemporary Asia at Hoover, gave a sobering look at China’s increasingly robust aggression. He asserted that President Xi Jinping was the most powerful single ruler in China since Mao Zedong and that his agenda includes deliberate challenges to the United States.

The three areas in which China is challenging the United States are, in Auslin’s words, “spying, stealing, and subordination.” China has unleashed a massive number of spies worldwide, including in America. At the same time huge, dedicated Chinese army units are successfully using cyber warfare to steal everything from major corporate intellectual property to cutting-edge US weapons technology for systems such as stealth bombers and ICBMs. They are also building a military to intimidate and subordinate Asian nations and expand their regional control.

Admiral Gary Roughead, USN (Ret.), the Robert and Marion Oster Distinguished Military Fellow at Hoover, complemented Auslin’s analysis by comparing the naval capabilities of the United States, China, and other Pacific Rim stakeholders. W. Glenn Campbell Research Fellow Kiron Skinner capped the foreign policy presentations with a cost-benefit assessment of the “permanent war” America has been fighting since 9/11. She advocated a reallocation of US military strength—consistent with what she believes are the Trump Administration’s policy goals—that will give the United States a more efficient, effective, and secure position in the international arena.


One of the most emphatic motifs to arise at the retreat was the increase in attempts to use intimidation, shame, and intolerance to silence ideas responsible for freedom and prosperity in our society.

In a Monday dinner address that detailed the partial collapse of robust history curricula to the forces of politicized opposition, Milbank Family Senior Fellow Niall Ferguson stated that the political correctness movement is “killing history as a field undergraduates want to study.” He pointed out that the rate of history degrees is declining; as a result, historical knowledge among American citizens will also decline and our policy makers will make decisions devoid of historical insight.

This will be disastrous, Ferguson warned, as “a citizenry that does not know its history will ultimately betray the ideals of its founders.” He asserted that the Hoover Institution will push back, rooted in Herbert Hoover’s founding intent for the institution “as a temple of applied history” that will safeguard America.

In the same vein, Robert J. and Marion E. Oster Senior Fellow Shelby Steele called on conservatives to shake off false “moral accusations” regarding race. Instead, Steele argued, they should champion their ideas as the only hope for restoring opportunity and prosperity to minorities who have been “exploited” by liberalism’s “false dreams.” Political philosopher and 2018 Spring Retreat guest speaker Sir Roger Scruton also called upon advocates of freedom to vigorously sustain America’s “public spirit” of private associations and charities, which have declined in Europe as government has assumed an ever larger role in all aspects of life.


All of the speakers above, along with many other insightful Hoover fellows who presented at the retreat, offered hopeful answers and strategies in their areas of expertise. John Taylor, a leading monetary economist and the George P. Shultz Senior Fellow in Economics at Hoover, surveyed economic policy areas containing promising reforms. Research Fellow Adam White positively assessed the Trump Administration’s game plan for deconstructing and reforming the federal administrative state. Research Fellow Abbas Milani’s presentation revealed the fragility of the Iranian regime.

The Hoover Institution, as the 2018 Spring Retreat made clear, is vitally needed now more than ever. The collision of visions for America’s future and the world’s is intensifying. Ideas are pivotal—and Hoover possesses the scholars and authority needed to actualize the right ideas in public policy. Thank you for supporting Hoover and for your vital role in the unfolding struggle for freedom.