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Besides his original 4,300 word essay—the entirety of which Rush Limbaugh read on-air to an electrified audience shortly after it appeared in September 2016—Anton includes new material in the form of both a “pre-statement” and a “re-statement” of his original article. Those who were paying attention in 2016 will recall that Anton’s stark presentation of the consequences of a Hillary Clinton victory—charge the cockpit or die!—and the continuing failure of Conservatism, Inc. with its succession of Bushoisie, helped to galvanize Republicans and conservatives who were uncertain about whether Trump’s unorthodox political presentation was in line with their hopes for the country. Anton showed why Trump was not just the only choice but, in fact, a sound choice.
But the struggle that consumed us then remains today, and perhaps is more desperate than ever: the people must still repudiate a resurgent Progressive Left as well as the flabby accommodationist conservatism of Beltway denizens still pining for the days of the Bushes, Paul Ryan, John McCain, and the “gravitas” of Mitt Romney. Anton’s withering assaults on these so-called “conservatives” exposed their foreign policy of futile war, uncontrolled immigration, “free trade” dogmatism, and their meek submission to political correctness.
In the continuing civil war, the D.C. “conservatives” and their mainstream media allies snarl supercilious sneers at Anton, 49, who served 14 months on the Trump National Security staff. Nonetheless, even some on the Left cannot help but appreciate his wit. In his Flight 93 essay Anton gave the con-jobs plenty to be mad about, with his mockery of their Davoisie ways and his comparing them to the “Washington Generals” facing the “Harlem Globetrotters” of the Left, to name just two of his more cutting rebukes (because they’re true).
For a few months in the spring of 2016 Anton developed the arguments that would eventually become his “Flight 93 Election” essay in frequently hilarious posts for an online and pseudonymous blog, the Journal of American Greatness, which abruptly ceased publication as the increasing notoriety of its arguments threatened the anonymity of some of its contributors who feared professional repercussions if outed. But the work of JAG, nevertheless, was a major contributing influence to the magazine you are now reading, which was established shortly after JAG went dark.
The majority of Anton’s book consists of new material explaining the intellectual grounding of Anton’s spirited election rallying cry. In making his case for Trump, I regard his work as a spirited corrective to Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind, the late professor’s best-selling 1987 attack on the soft nihilism of the modern mind on campuses.
Likewise drawing from the great books, Anton makes his case for a rational patriotism, following the model in the Declaration of Independence and Aristotle. But Anton, unlike Bloom, wants to develop an “American solution” to form a shield against violent forces abroad and misguided or hostile critics from both the Left and Right at home.
Deploying these philosophic and practical texts, Anton, with his teachers such as Claremont Institute scholars Charles Kesler, the late Harry V. Jaffa, Thomas G. West, and John Marini, produces a “political argument” outlining and then defending “the essences of conservatism, Americanism, and Western civilization.” While the struggle for the controls in the cockpit of our hijacked republic required only desperate courage (together with an Anton shake of the shoulders), the ultimate political war cannot be won without intellectual clarity. But now in place of hijackers at the controls, America has a pilot. Whether our pilot can right the plane safely and continue flying is still an open question. Hijackers are still at the door and, besides, they’ve already damaged the plane.
“The fundamental choice we face in our time,” Anton insists, “is whether to maintain the consensus in favor of self-loathing and self-destruction or return to life and the conditions of life….” This is the “American solution”—the affirmation of a life of freedom, civilization, and the common good against the clamorous claims of imperious identity groups.
Thus Anton sees in Trump a defender of constitutional government—an anti-authoritarian advocate of limited government. Trump and his supporters are really advocates of self-government. Though just as Abraham Lincoln was falsely branded a dictator by his scurrilous opponents, so too Trump bears the scars of their latter-day successors.
In what way are identity leftists and NeverTrumpers the spawn of Confederates? Because at the heart of their objection to America is the notion that their wills should be unlimited, that government by consent is a joke, that the rule of some can be justified on the grounds of credentials, race, or purity of heart. In other words, legitimate government does not rest on the principle of human equality and the consent of the governed that it demands, as the Declaration of Independence maintains. Instead, these pretenders claim to rule legitimately by virtue of their status as “chosen” elites whose superior wisdom and understanding gives them title to it. Constitutionalism and the rule of law rest on principles which refute such tyranny.
As I noted in my own reflections on 2016, following Anton’s, “FDR in his First Inaugural address compared himself to Jesus Christ and anointed himself as commander in chief, with citizens as conscripts in his personal army. In his 1944 State of the Union address, Roosevelt characterized 1920s Republicans as fascists”—see the sixth paragraph from the end. Democratic presidents since FDR have accepted his view of the presidency. Today’s leftists are simply more intemperate versions of FDR.
Both Left and Right, liberals and conservatives—and Anton would gladly escape these outmoded and conventional labels—reject the notion that equality so understood is the American principle. President Obama regarded the Declaration of Independence as a justification for laws covering everything the leftist heart desires, while Anton would urge that the Declaration produced a government energetic but limited by the principle of consent of the governed in what it could rightly do. (The opinions of Justice Clarence Thomas are often the clearest brief analysis of this principle as applied to a particular situation.)
To emphasize Anton’s scholarly intentions, this review cannot close without mention of the several pages Anton takes to reflect on the meaning of names—in particular the pen name he used to write his blog posts and the original Flight 93 essay, Decius, which comes from Publius Decius Mus, the name of two Roman heroes described in Machiavelli’s Discourses. A scholarly objection to his using the name permits Anton to elaborate on his understanding of Machiavelli and the new “modes and orders” he wished to institute as an innovator and patriot. Machiavelli, he argues, uses the Decii in support of his view that republics (and religions) that wish to renew themselves must ever return to their beginnings.
The argument calls to mind Anton’s first book, The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men’s Style (2006). The brilliant satire about fashion, requiring its reader to compare these chapters with those of The Prince, bears as author the pen name Nicholas Antongiavanni. (Anton’s middle name is John.) Toward the end, he declares, following the original, “fashion is a harlot; and it is necessary, if one wants to protect oneself, to beat her back and spurn her enticements . . . .” In other words, “Young men, do not believe appearances!” His concluding, 26th chapter exhorts young Americans to “Seize Dress and to Free It from the Vulgarians.” For “if … American tastes have gone to hell, that only increases the glory, honor, and gratitude due to you for this marvelous deed.”
Michael Anton, defend us in battle!
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Photo Credit: Saint Michael the Archangel defeats Lucifer, 1656 Francesco Maffei 1605-1660. Oil on board. Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images