In memoriam Robert D. Hickson (1942-2023)

Dr. Robert D. Hickson

Originally published: Miguel Ayuso, in Consejo de Estudios Hispánicos Felipe II


I remember the day I met Robert D. Hickson, Bob Hickson. Mariano Castañeira, an Argentinean friend who was then in the United States as a professor at Christendom College, founded in 1977 and presided over by the historian and friend of Carlism, Warren Carroll, had been telling me about him for some years. There he had met Hickson, who was then head of the Latin and Literature Department. However, after seven years, disillusioned by the change in leadership when Damian Fedoryka replaced Carroll, he returned to the field of military and strategic studies, which had been his original field after graduating from West Point in 1964 and before receiving his Ph.D. in Classical and Comparative Literature from the University of North Carolina. For Major Hickson, a U.S. Army officer, had a previous and brilliant record of service in the Special Operations Forces, including courses in Parachute and Ranger School, as well as time spent in Vietnam. His first assignment was as a professor of Asian affairs, military history, and irregular warfare at the J.F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg. And after his time at Christendom College, he would return to teach strategy and moral philosophy at the Joint Military Intelligence University in Washington, and finally at the Joint Special Operations University in Tampa.

I say I remember the day well, because even though it was early April 1987, a heavy snowfall hampered our movements and caused us to eat a roast in Pedraza at a time more appropriate for an early dinner. It didn’t matter, because the many hours we spent together that day and the days that followed, talking with Mariano and a priest friend of his who would also become a dear friend of mine, Luciano Gómez Antón, forged a close friendship and gave rise to a series of projects that, unfortunately, most of them did not come to fruition. First of all, the revival of the Christian Commonwealth Institute, founded by Brent Bozell and Frederick D. Wilhelmsen -both Carlists- after their Spanish experience, which would have its greatest successes in the magazine Triumph and in the summer campus of El Escorial. It was at El Escorial that Hickson established a relationship with the Traditionalist Communion. In connection with his Spanish memories, I was sorry to discover many years later some pages written by Bob that were as justly complimentary of Bozell as they were unjustly critical of Wilhelmsen, full of harsh judgments (mostly subjective and unfounded) about other people. It was also in El Escorial that he met the philosopher Josef Pieper, with whom he became a great friend and who largely determined his literary and philosophical career, which, as we have seen, paralleled his military career.

In the years following our meeting, we exchanged many letters. In 1989, I asked him to contribute to the special issue I was organizing for the journal Aportes on the occasion of the bicentennial of the French Revolution. More than twenty years later, when he was preparing a compilation of his writings, he reminded me of it, but I could only send him the Spanish translation, since I could not find the original in English. But between the two events, many letters and materials crossed the Atlantic in both directions. Often of strategic analysis and on the situation of the traditionalist world. He returned to Europe a few times, usually to visit Pieper in Bavaria and his friend Arnaud de Lassus in France. He introduced me to both. There is little to say about the former, since he was a world authority on twentieth-century Thomism. As for the latter, it was useful for us to re-establish contact with one of the most interesting lines of the primitive Cité Catholique that emerged from the matrix structure after the mutations and difficulties of the sixties and especially the seventies. But always militant in the founding spirit and close to the work of the Traditionalist Communion.

In 2012, on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, I was invited to participate in a seminar in his honor, which subsequently resulted in the volume A Catholic Witness in Our Time. A Festschrift for Robert D. Hickson: Essays and Remembrances in His Honor (Fitzwilliam, Loreto Publications, 2014). My contribution, in memory of his closeness to Carlism, was entitled Spanish Carlism. An Introduction.

In recent years we had little communication. Only his incredible physical strength kept him alive in the midst of serious health problems, cared for by his family and spiritually supported by Father John Carlisle, of the Fraternity of St. Pius X, and other diocesan priest friends. This Sunday, on the early morning of the feast of St. Pius X, he died at the age of eighty. May this old friend rest in peace.

Miguel Ayuso

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