Joshua Charles—co-author of Glenn Beck’s latest work, The Original Argument—never thought that at 23 he would be cast into the national spotlight for writing a book with his hero. A piano performance major at the University of Kansas, Charles spent most of his life planning to be a concert pianist. But last summer, he felt inspired to modernize the Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay so today’s generation would understand the underpinnings of our republic. Glenn Beck took an interest in the manuscript and turned it into a No. 1 New York Times best seller. Charles talked to HUMAN EVENTS editor Jason Mattera about his inspiration for the book and how he hopes it will impact conservatives, both young and old.
You’re 23 and you have a book co-authored with Glenn Beck. That’s not the usual course for many 23-year-olds. How did this all come about?
I saw the movie Amazing Grace, and then read about the abolitionist William Wilberforce. I was very inspired by it all. I had just finished reading the Federalist Papers for the second time, but it just wasn’t an enjoyable reading experience. It was very difficult, mind-numbingly boring. I just felt that if the language was simply updated, the amazing foundational, very powerful ideas the Founders were talking about could be brought to light in a much better way for a modern audience. I had decided to do it kind of half-heartedly. I sent a few examples to some friends, and they liked it. They thought it was easy to read, more enjoyable to read. Literally two or three days later, I was watching Glenn’s program on TV and he advocated someone doing the exact same thing. That was the point at which my resolve really increased and I decided that this really needed to be done. I decided to save money so that over the summer I could have the option of just working on this project, and in May, that’s exactly what I did. I finished the original rough draft on July 4—all 85 Federalist Papers.
How did you get connected with Glenn Beck?
Initially, I called into his radio show and was on hold for four hours. I almost got on, but it didn’t quite work. I sent manuscripts to Fox, to Glenn, letters, but nothing was getting through. I actually did get offers from two much smaller publishers and I almost moved forward with them, but in December some friends and I decided to take a trip to Wilmington, Ohio, which Glenn highlighted on his show as being absolutely devastated by the recession but came together in Christian love and charity. My main contact there ended up being the main contact for Glenn’s show, and she had told them about us because they were looking for updates on the Wilmington story. I knew then that there was more to this trip than met the eye, so I gave her the PDF of the book and asked her to show it to them. After the trip, they asked me to come to New York to do the show on Wilmington. Before we started recording on Tuesday, I handed Glenn a full manuscript. He seemed very moved by it, and said if it was any good he’d publish it. I got an e-mail from the head of publishing at Glenn’s company less than a week later, and the rest is history.
What went in to choosing the 33 Federalist Papers you eventually published out of the original 85?
All the Federalist Papers are important and interesting in one way or another, but there are definitely some that are more applicable to the time in which they were written. They focus much more on the actual problems with the actual Articles of Confederation. They focus much more on providing examples of the exact same problems being exhibited in history—in Belgium, and Greece, and the Holy Roman Empire, etc. So we tried to choose the papers that would be most directly relevant to the modern debate and modern issues we’re dealing with. And we explain it and give background and relevance to today, but when reading it, we wanted it to be pretty obvious so the reader could make the connection easily. Some of the topics that we felt needed to be particularly emphasized were federalism—what that really means—the difference between a republic and a democracy, taxation, American exceptionalism, and the balance between liberty and security, in light of the whole post-9/11 world we live in now.
Now that The Original Argument has been released, what’s next for you?
Right now I’m doing book publicity for Original Argument, public speaking, and working with Glenn Beck on other projects. I’m also finishing up my term as president of my fraternity at University of Kansas. Next fall, I’m planning on going to law school at Regent University Law School, hopefully in constitutional law. The last few months have been pretty crazy, so I’m hoping to do whatever Providence has in store for me.
What advice do you have for young conservatives?
One thing that strikes me about young people is that many of them have great intentions. Many can say the right words, but a lot of what they say is based in cliché. There’s not a whole lot of substance to it in terms of our founding, in terms of our history and in terms of the actual Constitution. Our dialogue has been forced into this mold of catchphrases and sound bites. If the conservative movement is going to survive in the way that it must survive for the country, people need to know the actual arguments, they need to know their basis in the Constitution, and their basis in the experience of the Founders themselves, historically. I love the Tea Party, but I’m also a little nervous about the cliché. You can believe in less government all you want, but I think very few people can really make the case for it. If someone provided one quote from Hamilton in a Federalist Paper that maybe lends itself to a bigger view of government, they wouldn’t be able to respond, because they would have no context, and they have to fall back on the same clichés. So I think young conservatives should strive to be more informed on these documents, beyond what they get in school about checks and balances and a living Constitution.