Roundtable with Charles Hill

by Lauren Beversluis

This evening YIRA hosted the Professor Charles Hill for a roundtable discussion. Dr. Hill, who has held numerous positions in the US Foreign Service, worked as a special consultant in the UN, written several texts on international relations, and taught at various universities worldwide, now serves as an International Studies lecturer and diplomat in residence at Yale.

Charles Hill (Hoover Institute)


Dr. Hill opened with a discussion of the current deterioration of the international system and world order. This deterioration, he said, is happening on three major fronts: Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, as evidenced by the economic crisis in the European Union, the Arab Spring, and the seeds of a burgeoning armsrace in Asia. According to Dr. Hill, it is essential that we acknowledge and understand the complications in this deterioration because the problems are only going to escalate beyond control if we do not.

The discussion was far from optimistic. Dr. Hill’s experience with human horrors was very much in evidence, having seen years of conflict and human brutality. His analysis of these conflicts and his ideas about policy, therefore, were fascinating. He offered the dichotomy that people in the intellectual world often live in a sort of “dreamland” of optimism and idealism, against the reality that the world is an incredibly harsh place that is difficult to understand and harder to improve.

Conversation then turned to foreign intervention. Hill described the U.S. as the only state able and willing to successfully intervene in foreign conflicts like those in the Middle East. For this, he dubbed the U.S. exceptional and portrayed it as a benevolent actor with its policies deriving from Christian doctrines of those like St. Augustine. He noted that the United States is withdrawing from these interventions, however, and turning its focus inward. The problem with this is that there is no nation-state that could take the place of the U.S. in its current global position. Other states simply do not have the power or the desire to do so.

What can the U.N. do? asked one of the students. Dr. Hill said that the U.N. is only able to do what its members agree to do. Essentially, it cannot take care of most major crises because there will always be disagreement. The only powers big enough to make change on a large scale are military powers like the U.S.

Hill was then asked his views on religion. He turned to history in his response, a frequent resort of his in the discussion. After the Thirty Years’ War in Europe between the Protestants and Catholics, an agreement was made to put aside religious differences when governing, effectively establishing the separation of church and state. This had never been done before, but it worked pretty well, and has continued to be the model for the present governments of the Western world.

In the end, Dr. Hill told us to study the Classics. The direction of educational policy these days is one of career preparation, he said, vapid and lacking real education. We are becoming trained rather than becoming learned. He recommended not studying Global Affairs in order to become a mid-level policy-maker, but instead studying History, Philosophy, and Literature and the like in order to become an educated person and understand how the world works. We must build the present on the past, and not seek simply to replace it.

Although Dr. Hill’s ideas certainly do not have a universally positive reception, all can certainly gain from listening to him and engaging in discussion with him about important global issues facing us today.

Lauren Beversluis is a freshman in Calhoun College. Contact her at