Tribute to my uncle, W. Cleon Skousen

by Mark Skousen on January 28, 2003

“There were giants in the earth in those days….might men which were of old, men of renown.” (Genesis 6:4)

My uncle, W. Cleon Skousen, turned 90 years old on January 20. Over 200 relatives came to Salt Lake City to honor him.

I speak and travel all around the country, and wherever I go, one of the most frequent questions asked is, “Are you related to W. Cleon Skousen?” He is known far and wide as a powerful spokesman for liberty, indomitable defender of the Constitution, and indefatigable critic of Communism. He is the author of several dozen books, including The Naked Communist, The Naked Capitalist, and The Miracle of America. He founded the Center for Constitutional Studies, famous for its constitutional seminars around the country. He is also known among Christians as the author of the “Thousand Year” series of lively histories and commentaries on the Bible from a Mormon perspective. Anyone who has read The First 2,000 Years is hooked and can’t wait to read the other volumes. I wished I had his felicity of expression.

W. Cleon Skousen was born in Canada in 1913, a terrible year in the history of freedom. 1913 is the year the federal income tax and the Federal Reserve were created. I can’t think of two events more destructive to our daily lives. I firmly believe our standard of living could be double or triple what it is today if it weren’t for the havoc the progressive income tax and central banking have done in this country and around the world. (War would be the third great destroyer.)

God sent us W. Cleon Skousen to counter the influence of these two evils. Maybe God will let him live until we see the end of these two relics of modern barbarism.

Uncle Cleon became a dad to me when my own father, Leroy B. Skousen, passed away at the young age of 46. My father loved Cleon. Leroy followed in his older brother’s footsteps in many ways, becoming an FBI agent and an attorney. Leroy also fathered a large family–11 children. We grew up in Portland, Oregon, until my father suddenly came down with lung cancer (though he never smoked) and died in 1964. My mother moved to Utah, ten surviving children in tow, so that we children could attend Brigham Young University without having to pay dormitory fees. It was a tough time, and my uncle, who lived in Salt Lake, helped us and gave us a lot of guidance. Ever since then, I’ve always been close to my Uncle Cleon, and sought his counsel throughout my career.

Let me tell you one recent example of his influence in my life. In 1995, I decided to write a history of the great economic thinkers, from Adam Smith to the present. All previous histories of economics had been written by socialists, Keynesians, and Marxists. A free-market perspective was long overdue. I had commissioned the libertarian economist Murray Rothbard to write an alternative to Robert Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers, but he only finished half the book before he died in 1995. So I decided to write it myself. In researching my book, I was heavily influenced by Murray Rothbard’s negative assessment of Adam Smith. Almost all conservatives and libertarians admire Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations, but not Murray. He chastised Smith for his defective value theory, which he said gave much ammunition to the socialists and Marxists. Murray was one of my personal heroes, and I was influenced by his view. My book was skeptical of Smith, and the whole tenor of my book was negative. My initial title was “The Propensity to Confuse” (a play on Keynes’s phrase, “propensity to consume”).

On a trip to Utah a year later, I took the first chapter with me when I visited Uncle Cleon in Salt Lake City, and told him about my project. He looked at me and made a statement, “You know, Adam Smith’s doctrine of the invisible hand is inspired of God.”

I was taken aback. If my uncle was right, Murray Rothbard was wrong–and my book’s entire approach was a mistake. But Cleon was not a professional economist. Perhaps Murray was right. I was in a quandry. I decided there was only one way to find out who was right. So I returned home determined to make up my own mind by reading page by page, cover to cover, the entire thousand page copy of The Wealth of Nations. A month later, I had come to a very firm conclusion: Murray Rothbard was wrong, and my Uncle Cleon was right. Despite committing some serious errors of analysis, Adam Smith’s development of his “system of natural liberty” was a brilliant vision of a free and prosperous society under limited government.

My change of heart caused a complete revision of my work, allowing me to write a history of high drama, with a plot, an heroic figure (Adam Smith and his system of natural liberty), and even a good ending (the triumph of free-market capitalism, at least temporarily).

I even changed the title of the book to The Making of Modern Economics. Published by M. E. Sharpe in 2001, it is now in its third printing and being translated into several languages.

Knowing the story above, you won’t be surprised to learn that the book is dedicated to my uncle, W. Cleon Skousen.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: