Each day brings a new NYT discovery of this strange ‘Alt Right’ phenomenon happening. Today, we have “‘Charge the Cockpit or You Die’: Behind an Incendiary Case for Trump” by Jennifer Schuessler, where she delves a bit into the formerly-mysteriously, now-unveiled Publius Decius Mus (aka Mike Anton):
Decius’ apocalyptic vision — “Charge the cockpit or you die” — stirred intense rebuttals from the overwhelmingly anti-Trump conservative intellectual establishment. Then The Weekly Standard revealed that Decius was Michael Anton, a senior staff member at the National Security Council, and a news media stampede was on.
The Intercept called his writings the “intellectual source code of Trumpism.” Salon put him alongside Stephen K. Bannon and Stephen Miller in the administration’s “white nationalist ‘genius bar,’” while the conservative writer (and staunch Never-Trumper) William Kristol, writing on Twitter, compared him to the Nazi theorist Carl Schmitt.
It certainly added up to a publicity coup for a small West Coast institute known for summer seminars at which young conservatives immerse themselves in the Federalist Papers and other classics of American political thought. Suddenly, The Claremont Review, an erudite journal with a mere 13,000 subscribers, was being hailed as the bible of highbrow Trumpism — “crucially important,” as the journalist Damon Linker wrote, “for anyone seeking to understand the evolution of the Republican and conservative movement.”
Not that the journal is pro-Trump, mind you. Charles R. Kesler, the editor, said that he had sought out “robust debate,” publishing some Never-Trumpers alongside pro-Trumpers and those who call themselves “anti-anti-Trump.”
The institute’s president, Michael Pack, also noted that Claremont’s affiliates — who include the former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo (a strong Trump critic) and Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas (“one of Trumpism’s leading voices,” as a headline in The Washington Post recently put it) — were of many minds about the new president.
“The Claremont Institute stands for deep, serious thinking about American founding principles,” Mr. Pack said. “We are not simply in the partisan fight.”
But some Claremont-watchers take a darker view, saying the institute’s intellectual principles have been, to continue the aviation metaphor, left on the runway.”…
Always the ‘darker view’ with these people.
The piece briefly explores Anton’s indebtedness to political philosopher (and proud Jew) Leo Strauss:
Strauss’s intensely close readings of Plato, Maimonides and Machiavelli can seem remote from contemporary politics. But during the Bush administration, much ink was spilled over the subterranean influence of Straussians like Mr. Kristol, who championed the war in Iraq. And now some see the Claremont crowd’s rising profile as revenge of the so-called West Coast Straussians, as acolytes of Harry V. Jaffa — the Claremont McKenna professor and Claremont Institute patriarch who died in 2015 — are known.
The Straussian lineages, and their fierce schisms, are notoriously complex. But Mr. Kesler, who studied under the Straussian Harvey C. Mansfield at Harvard but came to Claremont in 1983, gamely summed up the West Coast view as hinging on a more optimistic take on America.
“The East Coast view was that America was a Lockean nation, purely modern, based on radically individual and almost selfish rights: your life, your liberty, your property,” he said.
But Mr. Jaffa, a deep student of Abraham Lincoln, “thought that America was a heroic country,” Mr. Kesler continued. “Not always, maybe only when it had to be. But it could be.”
The tension between Athens (reason) and Jerusalem (faith) was one of Strauss’s great themes.
As far as the ‘anti-Semitism’ canard, in a recent interview at the new American Greatness site, Anton elaborates:
Q: HuffPo and The Intercept basically say you’re an anti-semite, or something close to it. What do you say to that?
It’s completely outrageous but sadly typical of the slander culture perfected by the modern Left. They can’t debate ideas anymore and don’t even want to try. They just look for any way to connect their enemies—that’s what I am to them, an enemy—to some scurrilous person or outlook. Once that taint is on you, they then work to make it impossible to scrub out.
What’s especially risible about this is that I’m a Straussian. It’s metaphysically impossible to be an anti-Semitic Straussian. My great teacher, Harry Jaffa—a man I revere more than any other I’ve ever known—was Jewish. I will go to my grave with my two greatest intellectual influences, the two people who more than any others formed my mind, being Jewish. Anti-semite? Give me a break.
But that’s the modern Left for you. They will turn that around and say, “Oh that’s just the old ‘some of my best friends are Jewish’ line.” Which in my case, happens to be true. The point is, nothing you can say is considered a valid defense. Once they have the chance to smear you, they will do it and continue the smear because it serves their interests. The human damage that they cause, the destruction of reputations—they don’t care about that. Actually, they do care, but they see it as a positive. Enemies are to be destroyed by any means necessary.
Of the larger ‘white nationalism’ question, Publius notes that he is not, in fact, anything close to a Richard Spencer-style white identiarian:
Q: What about the broad charge of “white nationalism”?
Just another lie/smear. Though I cop to “nationalism,” but I do wonder what is the difference between nationalism and patriotism? I am open to being educated on that point if someone wants to make a case why “nationalism” is so awful but “patriotism” is OK. If I am a nationalist, I am an American nationalist. I am also an American patriot and I don’t see the difference.
As for the “white” part, where do people get that? It’s just a convenient way to destroy and smear and not have to deal with the argument.
Actually, one of my great hopes for a Trump Administration and Trump economic policy is that he will build class solidarity among the working classes of all races. I think that would be good for the country and put salutary pressure on the political system. That sounds sort of Marxist of me, but I can live with that.
I know there are people who call themselves “white nationalists” but they strike me as a fringe. I don’t think “white nationalism” per se is actually possible or viable. The root of “nationalism” is “nation.” A race is not a nation. Nations come together and cohere in various ways. There is the French nation, the Chinese nation, the Navajo nation and so on. Nationalism exists on that basis, of “peoplehood” for lack of a better term. This goes back to the ancient distinction between friend and enemy, citizen and foreigner. This is the way humanity organizes itself and always has. Individual nations do not exist by nature but the impulse to form nations is natural. There will always be nations, but it has never been done on a racial basis—that is, by trying to unite an entire race into one nation—and I don’t think ever could be.
In any event, American nationalism is transracial because the American people are multiracial.
The ‘Alt Right’ is a Big Tent. There are differences of opinion between its members, sometimes profound differences of opinion. However, these differences are relatively small compared to their collective distance from Conservatism, Inc.