Inside the Mind of Arnold Schwarzenegger

Posted by PrestoPundit on 02/23/2006

Arnold with Uncle Millton

California historian Kevin Starr provides a Schwarzenegger intellectual biography. Quotable:

When he was young and a comparative nobody, the governor galvanized himself through the pursuit of championship. He lifted weights and built his body to become a champion. Champions are solitary figures who achieve a bond with their audiences, individually and en masse. Champions also stand for things — the capacity of the human body for a Michelangelo-esque re-sculpting, for example — and are expected to exercise their championship on behalf of their admirers. Champions are by definition competitive, or they would never get to be champions in the first place.

Now Schwarzenegger wants to become a champion governor. That’s the way his competitive mind works, always seeking the best strategy for attaining clearly set goals. So, in his first months in office, he privately pondered the question: Who were the champion governors of California in times past, and what did they do to get that way?

Tom McEnery, the former mayor of San Jose, shared with Schwarzenegger the historians’ notion that Hiram Johnson, who reigned from 1911 to 1917, was California’s first champion governor. McEnery (a Democrat and a published historian) added to the catalog Earl Warren, Goodwin Knight and Pat Brown — each cut from instinctive centrist mold — and Ronald Reagan, considered in his own category as a reforming conservative capable of cutting a deal with Democrats.

The governor came to view Johnson, a reforming Progressive known for taking his case to the people, as all-time champion — the Mr. Universe of California government. And he was determined to emulate this champ’s approach. But Johnson’s progressive politics are not a natural fit with another keystone of the new governor’s self-made intellect. As Schwarzenegger has noted in a PBS series, economist Milton Friedman’s free-market theories helped spur his rise to wealth and Americanization. Friedman’s recasting of Adam Smith dovetails with those parts the Austrian mind already embedded with the conservative theories of Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek and the other economists of the respected Austrian School. These thinkers produced some of the 20th century’s most formidable theoretical resistance to socialist ideology, and set the stage for today’s free marketeers.

Not only was the governor born and raised in Austria, he remains an Austrian citizen, with his picture on an Austrian stamp. He is also a Catholic, as a matter of overall belief and cultural identity. And if Hiram Johnson-style progressivism is at all palatable to the laissez-faire-leaning Schwarzenegger, it may be because of a paradoxical aspect of the Austrian intellectual landscape: social democracy in the style of Western Europe as reinforced by Roman Catholic social thought. These traditions, including the Catholic emphasis on the public sector and commitment to distributive justice — the “safety net” in American — shaped young Schwarzenegger.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that Schwarzenegger spends his leisure hours conning Jacques Maritain’s “Christianity and Democracy,” “Man and the State,” or “The Person and the Common Good.” Nor is it likely that these tomes’ social democratic ideas are what he and his motorcycle buddies chat about over their two-way radios during road trips.

But by coming of age as a Roman Catholic in Western Europe, he couldn’t help but absorb a measure of social democracy, an orientation no doubt strengthened by his marriage to Maria Shriver, an informed and articulate Democrat of impeccable social democratic lineage, with whom the governor shares a powerful intellectual connection.

And so we have the oddity of a free-market-oriented governor — a self-made capitalist known to hobnob with such alter egos as Milton Friedman, George Shultz and Warren Buffett — who is possessed simultaneously of an almost instinctive respect for the public sector and its safety nets.


2 Responses to “Inside the Mind of Arnold Schwarzenegger”

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