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Carroll Quigley

It will be obvious to you that I have enjoyed my work, although at the end of my career I have no conviction that I did any good. Fortunately, I had a marvelous father and a marvelous mother, and we were taught you don’t have to win, but you have to give it all you’ve got. Then it won’t matter.
Professor Carroll Quigley

Quigley was born in Boston and attended Harvard University, where he studied history and earned B.A, M.A., and Ph.D. degrees. He taught at Princeton University, and then at Harvard, and then at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University from 1941 to 1976.

From 1941 until 1972, he taught a two-semester course at Georgetown on the development of civilizations. According to his obituary in The Washington Star, many alumni of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service asserted that this was “the most influential course in their undergraduate careers”.

In addition to his academic work, Quigley served as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, the Smithsonian Institution, and the House Select Committee on Astronautics and Space Exploration in the 1950s. He was also a book reviewer for The Washington Star, and a contributor and editorial board member of Current History. Quigley said of himself that he was a conservative defending the liberal tradition of the West. He was an early and fierce critic of the Vietnam War, and he opposed the activities of the military-industrial complex.

Quigley retired from Georgetown in June 1976 and died the following year.

After teaching at Princeton and Harvard, Quigley came to Georgetown University in 1941 and became an on-line resource for Washington. He lectured at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, the Brookings Institution, the Stare Department’s Foreign Service Institute and consulted with the Smithsonian and the Senate Select Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences.

In addition to his academic work, Quigley served as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, the Smithsonian Institution, and the House Select Committee on Astronautics and Space Exploration in the 1950s. He was also a book reviewer for The Washington Star, and a contributor and editorial board member of Current History. Quigley said of himself that he was a conservative defending the liberal tradition of the West. He was an early and fierce critic of the Vietnam War, and he opposed the activities of the military-industrial complex.

Professor Carroll Quigley
Professor Carroll Quigley

To those duties and to his teachings, he brought his holist philosophy: the belief that knowledge cannot be divided into parts, that the world can be viewed only as an interlocking, complex system. This philosophy complemented his life: he had reveled in the traditions and contrasts of his neighborhood, eschewed fame in favor of keeping his emotional and social development on track, and applied himself to science and economics as well as history. His passion to consider the “big picturenever cooled.

Quigley had no small regret that some of the best minds of his generation insisted on treating the world in a 19th Century fashion by tinkering with its problems as a mechanic looks at an engine: spreading the separate parts on the floor and considering each one to find the malfunction. “This reductionist way of thinking,” Quigley maintained, “had gotten Western civilization into all kinds of trouble.”

In an age characterized by violence, extraordinary personal alienation, and the disintegration of family, church, and community, Quigley chose a life dedicated to rationality. He wanted an explanation that in its very categorization would give meaning to a history which was a record of constant change. Therefore the analysis had to include but not be limited to categories of subject areas of human activitymilitary, political, economic, social, religious, and intellectual. It had to describe change in categories expressed sequentially in timemixture, gestation, expansion, conflict, universal empire, decay, and invasion. It was a most ambitious effort to make history rationally understandable.

Professor Carroll Quigley
Carroll Quigley, The Evolution of Civilizations

As such, in 1961 Quigley published the book The Evolution of Civilizations. It was derived from a course he taught on world history at Georgetown University. One of Quigley’s closest friends was Harry J. Hogan. In the foreword to The Evolution of Civilizations he wrote:

The Evolution of Civilizations expresses two dimensions of its author, Quigley, like for most extraordinary historian, philosopher, and teacher. In the first place, its scope is wide-ranging, covering the whole of man’s activities throughout time. Second, it is analytic, not merely descriptive. It attempts a categorization of man’s activities in sequential fashion so as to provide a causal explanation of the stages of civilization.

Quigley coupled enormous capacity for work with a peculiarly “scientificapproach.

He believed that it should be possible to examine the data and draw conclusions. As a boy at the Boston Latin School, his academic interests were mathematics, physics, and chemistry. Yet during his senior year he was also associate editor of the Register, the oldest high school paper in the country. His articles were singled out for national awards by a national committee headed by George Gallup.


In 1966, Macmillan Company published Tragedy and Hope, a work of exceptional scholarship depicting the history of the world between 1895 and 1965 as seen through the eyes of Quigley. Tragedy and Hope was a commanding work, 20 years in the writing, that added to Quigley’s considerable national reputation as a historian.

Tragedy and Hope reflected Quigley’s feeling that “Western civilization is going down the drain.That was the tragedy. When the book came out in 1966, Quigley honestly thought the whole show could he salvaged; that was his hope.

During his research, Quigley had noticed that many prominent Englishmen and outstanding British scholars were members of an honorary society:

[…] The powers of financial capitalism had another far-reaching aim, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole, this system was to be controlled in a feudalist fashion by the central banks of the world acting in concert by secret agreements arrived at in frequent private meetings and conferences. The apex of the system was to be the Bank for International Settlements in Basle, Switzerland, a private bank owned and controlled by the world’s central banks which were themselves private corporations….

It must not be felt that these heads of the world’s chief central banks were themselves substantive powers in world finance. They were not. Rather, they were the technicians and agents of the dominant investment bankers of their own countries, who had raised them up and were perfectly capable of throwing them down. The substantive financial powers of the world were in the hands of these investment bankers (also called ‘international’ or ‘merchant’ bankers) who remained largely behind the scenes in their own unincorporated private banks. These formed a system of international cooperation and national dominance which was more private, more powerful, and more secret than that of their agents in the central banks; this dominance of investment bankers was based on their control over the flows of credit and investment funds in their own countries and throughout the world. They could dominate the financial and industrial systems of their own countries by their influence over the flow of current funds through bank loans, the discount rate, and the re-discounting of commercial debts; they could dominate governments by their own control over current government loans and the play of the international exchanges. Almost all of this power was exercised by the personal influence and prestige of men who had demonstrated their ability in the past to bring off successful financial coups, to keep their word, to remain cool in a crisis, and to share their winning opportunities with their associates.

At the time, Quigley had no way of knowing he had just written his own ticket to a curious kind of fame. He was about to become a reluctant hero to Americans who believe the world is neatly controlled by a clique of international bankers and their cronies. Quigley learned of the country’s great appetite for believing a grand conspiracy causes everything from big wars to bad weather.

Tragedy and Hope is not all juicy conspiratorial material. Most of it is straight diplomatic, political, and economic history. All of it is brilliant. His insights on such otherwise ignored (and crucially important) topics as Japanese military history and its relation to family dynasties is fascinating. But it did not gain its notoriety or its sales because of these non-conspiratorial insights.

Carroll Quigley, Tragedy and Hope
Carroll Quigley, The Anglo-American Establishment

Quigley never claimed he was a conspiracy theorist; on the contrary:

You can’t believe what people think. Some believe it is all a Jewish conspiracy, that is part of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion which we now know were perpetuated by the Czarist Russian police force in 1904. And that this conspiracy is the same thing as the Illuminati, a secret society founded in 1776 in Bavaria. And that the Illuminati are a branch of the Masons. There are some people who say the Society of Cincinnati, of which George Washington was a member during the American Revolution, was a branch of the Illuminati and that’s why the Masons built their monument in Alexandria to George Washington, since he was a Mason and head of the Illuminati before he helped start the Society of Cincinnati.

I generally think that any conspiracy theory of history is nonsense for the simple reason that most conspiracies that we know about seem to me to be conspiracies of losers, people who have been defeated on the historical platforms of public happenings. Now, there is not the slightest doubt that the international bankers have tried to make banking into a mystery. But we are dealing with two different things. I don’t think that is a conspiracy; because something is a secret does not mean it is a conspiracy.

In essence, the message of Tragedy and Hope is that the last century was a tragedy that could have been avoided. Quigley believed that the tragedy could not have happened unless we had given diligent heed to the warnings of the professor. In other words, unless we carefully study his book and learn the untold history of the twentieth century and avoid allowing these same people, their heirs and associatesthe rulers of various financial, corporate and governmental systems around the worldto ruin the twenty-first century, his work and the work of countless others will have been in vain.

Tragedy and Hope received mixed, though generally favorable, reviews. Opined the Library Journal: “Mr. Quigley … has written a very remarkable book: very long, very detailed, very critical, very daring and very good… His coverage of the world is amazingly encyclopedic and well-balanced.” Saturday Review was less flattering: “For those who approve of this way of writing history, his rambling volume may have a certain excellence.” The New York Times: “The book provides a business-like narrative in which an incredible amount of information is compressedand in some cases presentedwith drama and distinction.”

After it sold 8,800 copies, and for reasons not clear to Quigley (but he did not attribute it to any conspiracy), Macmillan stopped publishing Tragedy and Hope and subsequently destroyed the plates:

The original edition published by Macmillan in 1966 sold about 8,800 copies and sales were picking up in 1968 when they “ran out of stock,” as they told me. But in 1974, when I went after them with a lawyer, they told me that they had destroyed the plates in 1968. They lied to me for six years, telling me that they would reprint when they got 2,000 orders, which could never happen because they told anyone who asked that it was out of print and would not be reprinted. They denied this until I sent them Xerox copies of such replies to libraries, at which they told me it was a clerk’s error. In other words they lied to me but prevented me from regaining the publication rights by doing so (on out-of-print, rights revert to holder of copyright, but on out-of-stock, they do not.) Powerful influences in this country want me, or at least my work, suppressed.

[…] Macmillan never got in touch with me offering the plates. I learned in March of this year [1971] that they destroyed the plates, of Tragedy and Hope. I learned in the summer, 1971, because my wife got mad and called Macmillan on the phone, every week, while I was in England, and finally got from them a letter in which they said the plates had been destroyed. They said ‘inadvertently destroyed.’

That, there’s something funny. They lied and lied and lied and lied to me. On everything. And I have letters to prove that.

Tragedy and Hope was never republished.

Carroll Quigley, Tragedy and Hope
Professor Carroll Quigley

In the last 12 years of his life, from 1965 to 1977, Quigley taught, observed the American scene, and reflected on his basic values in life. He was simultaneously pessimistic and radically optimistic. Teaching was the core of Quigley’s professional life and neither his craving to write nor his discouragement with student reaction of the early seventies diminished his commitment to the classroom:

For years I have told my students that I have been trying to train executives rather than clerks. The distinction between the two is parallel to the distinction previously made between understanding and knowledge. It is a mighty low executive who cannot hire several people with command of more knowledge than he has himself. And he can always buy reference works or electronic devices with better memories for facts than any subordinate. The chief quality of an executive is that he has understanding. He should be able to make decisions that make it possible to utilize the knowledge of other persons. Such executive capacity can be taught, but it cannot be taught by an educational program that emphasizes knowledge and only knowledge. Knowledge must be assumed as given, and if it is not sufficient the candidate must be eliminated. But the vital thing is understanding. This requires possession of techniques that, fortunately, can be taught.

[…] I am sure that you will enjoy teaching increasingly, as I do. It is the one way we can do a little good in the world. The task is so important, the challenge so great, and the possibilities for improvement and for variation as infinite that it is the most demanding and most difficult of human activities. Even a virtuoso violinist can be made to order easier than a good teacher.

[…] It will be obvious to you that I have enjoyed my work, although at the end of my career I have no conviction that I did any good. Fortunately, I had a marvelous father and a marvelous mother, and we were taught you don’t have to win, but you have to give it all you’ve got. Then it won’t matter.

Unlike his underlying faith in the efficacy of teaching, Quigley found little basis for optimism about the future of American society. A journal asked him in 1975 to write an upbeat article on the country’s prospects:

I told the editor that would be difficult, but I would try. I wrote it and they refused to publish it because it was not optimistic enough…

In 1976, Quigley wrote congratulating Carmen Brissette-Grayson’s husband for his decision to give up any idea of leaving state politics for the federal arena. Quigley concluded:

It is futile, because it is all so corrupt and the honest ones are so incompetent. I should not say this, as students said it to me for years and I argued with them.

It was more than the institutionalization of the American political system which concerned him:

We are living in a very dangerous age in which insatiably greedy men are prepared to sacrifice anybody’s health and tranquility to satisfy their own insatiable greed for money and power.

He feared that these values had virtually destroyed the roots of the Western outlook and had made the creation of a satisfying life in contemporary America a hazardous undertaking:

I am aghast at what selfishness, and the drive for power have done to our society… I worry as I find the world so increasingly horrible that I do not see how anything as wonderful as your life can escape.

Less than six months before Quigley passed away, he advised:

The best thing you can do is to keep some enclaves of satisfying decent life.

Professor Carroll Quigley
Professor Carroll Quigley

Much of the joy of teaching left Quigley in his last years. He complained bitterly that his 1970s college students were woefully under-educated and ill-prepared for college level work and that too many of them had their minds elsewhere, fixated more on bringing about a social revolution than on achieving an education.

Helen Veit, the person closest to Quigley during the last ten years of his life, wrote in reply to a student who had so strongly opposed Quigley’s “tough grading standards”:

[…] Impatient he may have been; arrogant he was not. His emphatic manner derived from his experience of teaching large classes and the need for catching and retaining their attention. But he never believed that he had “answers”; what he taught was methods of approaching problems. He often stressed how little we know about the important things of life, especially human relationships. What he sought above all was to help people to become mature, by realizing their potentials and understanding that material things, however necessary, should never be ends themselves, while what is important is seeking the truth in cooperation with others, with the knowledge that one will never find it.

Nor was he ever cynical, much as he deplored inefficiency and ignorance. His beliefs and principles were of the highest order; his greatest joy came from finding people who could meet his standards, and from whom he could learn.

Quigley’s impatience came from his deep awareness that a man who wants to do so much can never have enough time. He was a man in a hurryevents have proved him right.

Yet pessimism about American society did not weaken a radical optimism rooted in his essential values: nature, people, and God:

The need for others is present on all levels; the physical, emotional, and intellectual. Indeed, every relationship has in it all three aspects. The desire to help others experience these things and to grow as a result of such experiences is called love. Such love is the real motivating force of the universe and is, in its ultimate nature, a manifestation of the love of God. Because while God is pure Reason and man’s ultimate goal is Reason, it can not be reached directly and must always be approached step by step, not alone but in companionship with others, and thus through love. Thus love of others, ultimately love of God, are the steps by which man develops reason and slowly approaches pure Reason.

Professor Carroll Quigley