The Weekly Standard last week revealed the name of the anonymous author of the highly influential “Flight 93 Election” essay as Michael Anton. He was a senior editor of American Greatness until he left to join the White House as communications director of the National Security Council. The progressive Left wasted no time in turning its fire on Anton. Jonathan Chait, writing in New York Magazine, called Anton “America’s leading authoritarian intellectual.” In Salon he was called a “dystopian prophet.” And mic.com described him as a “shadowy, far right figure.”
But leave it to Trump critics on the Right to go where even Leftist commentators wouldn’t. It was The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol who insinuated Anton was akin to a Nazi in a tweet analogizing him with Carl Schmitt, a German political theorist who wrote a defense of Hitler’s political assassinations after the Night of the Long Knives. None of Kristol’s colleagues at The Weekly Standard registered any dissent from Kristol’s descent into the reductio ad Hitlerum—the tendency to call your political opponents Nazis to undermine their legitimacy and shame them into silence. In this, Kristol has taken up the vile tactics of the Left with the reactionary zeal of the scorned.
Kristol dug himself into a hole with his fundamentalist NeverTrump crusade, but continues his campaign of public self-marginalization with remarkable diligence. The only public figure in recent memory to have such a public meltdown is Al Gore whose behavior in the years following his narrow defeat in the 2000 election can only be described as bizarre. Progressive billionaires cooperated to make Al Gore a cult figure on the Left and remarkably wealthy in the process. Such an outcome is unlikely for Kristol, who is not only a vocal opponent of a recently elected president who was supported by 92 percent of Republicans but who sinks to calling respected conservative intellectuals Nazis because they don’t share his neoconservative policy preferences.
Those preferences led to the foreign policy misadventures of the Clinton and Bush Administrations that cost the nation dearly in blood and treasure. They led to a bipartisan open borders fiasco that has seen the federal government refuse to enforce it’s own immigration laws and the predictable breakdown in respect for the rule of law. After all, if some people don’t have to obey the law, why should anyone? That, combined with globalist trade policy led to the deindustrialization of America, real wage stagnation, and declining prospects for young people. What’s left if you can’t come to terms with the fact that your ideas have failed in practice and were repudiated by voters? Lash out.
Neoconservatism is a fringe offshoot of mainstream conservatism that enjoyed outsized influence during and after the Bush years as its intellectuals flooded into the administration and then out and into the the archipelago of journals and think tanks known as Conservatism, Inc. when Bush left office. But its manifest failures have left its high priests discredited and powerless. It’s a new era, Kristol is in the wilderness, and he doesn’t like it.
He knows perfectly well that Schmitt was a brilliant thinker who helped Leo Strauss obtain the grant necessary to publish his first book. He knows, too, that Strauss respected Schmitt’s book, The Concept of the Political, though he noted its serious shortcomings. But when Kristol compared Anton to Schmitt in public, he was offering no esoteric praise. He just meant to suggest that Anton is like a Nazi stooge and President Trump, therefore, is like Hitler. What happened to the Bill Kristol of the ’90s who worked overtime to stop Hillarycare?
Compared to Kristol, the slanders from the Left look measured. Still, they are unwarranted and are, in fact, a supreme act of projection. When Jonathan Chait called Anton an authoritarian, he gave away the game. If we use the Wiki definition, “authoritarianism is a form of government characterized by strong central power and limited political freedoms”—that sounds more like the administrative state than anything Trump has proposed. The dirty little secret of American conservatism is that neoconservatives and reformicons have made their peace with the administrative state—that unelected and largely unaccountable arm of government—and don’t share much in common with historic American constitutionalism or the principles of the American Founding. This election brought that to light.
The realization is painful because Republican voters retain a higher view of the fundamental principles upon which this country is based than do many D.C. conservatives. In light of President Trump’s nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, let’s recall that during the campaign Bill Kristol said that he could live with Clinton’s nominees. Think how different the country would be if Clinton won the election and secured a solid hard-left majority on the Court that would ratify the expansion of the administrative state’s power and limitations on political and religious speech that the Left deems “hate speech”—a code for thought crimes against prevailing Progressive orthodoxy. That’s authoritarianism and that’s specifically what Anton argued for working to prevent in his famous Flight 93 essay. The essay bears re-reading by admirers and detractors alike. Far from being a defense of authoritarian government of the kind penned by Schmitt in the 1930s, it sounds an alarm against the statism of the Left and serves as an indictment of certain conservative institutions that have become the fellow travellers of these statists. These “conservatives” most consistent response to the Left’s relentless campaign to hand over the sovereignty of the American people to judges and bureaucrats is not “No” but “Not yet.” That form of conservatism is one of style and temperament, not principle, and ill-suits a free people who wish to defend constitutional government.
Decius’ overriding concern—and ours here at American Greatness—was and remains the restoration of the political: the reassertion of the ability of the people to control the government. The fear was that a Hillary win would have prevented that forever. As you see the massive freakout in the wake of the election over common sense reform that fear appears to have been a sensible one. President Trump’s executive order that has inflamed the radical Left and their media enablers has the support of 57 percent of voters and 82 percent of Republicans, according to Rasmussen. To listen to the media meltdown over the EO one would assume that the country is a state of uproar. But that reaction is limited to certain groups of people who are disproportionately represented in politics and the media. Common sense may be common, but it’s not evenly distributed.
The administrative state and its supporters view any deviation from their agenda as inherently illegitimate. This, too, is projection. It is the usurpation of the people’s sovereignty as described in the Constitution that is, in fact, illegitimate. That’s why they start a panic over a sensible, limited, and temporary provision to protect American citizens. It is this core issue that motivated Anton more than any: the desire to provide an affirmative defense of a system of constitutional government created to defend the natural rights of its sovereign citizens. That a Progressive like Chait would call that authoritarian and a conservative like Kristol would call Anton a Nazi is proof positive that the warnings he sounded were more timely and more necessary than his detractors would like to admit.