Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice is not a virtue
I am not really equipped to write about conservative dogma. I consume a great deal of it passively like the cigarette smoke in the pubs of my teens but its not my nature milieu. However it is an important spot to visit on our tour. We may return to rubberneck at some point in the future.
Can I mention Donald Trump? I don’t think I have a choice. If any event ever suggested to me that the Western world had gone over the catastrophic fold then it was November 2016 and the resistable rise of the Man in Orange.
There were few intellectual defences of The Donald in 2016. It’s not like he had coherent policies to promote – he simply said whatever came into his head in front of a crowd. If they cheered, he’d say more of it. He’s not so much a man as a brute force reinforcement learning algorithm, presidential campaign as A/B test – the logical conclusion of years of focus group-driven policy development.
Are You Ready? OK. Let’s Roll.
There was one piece – The Flight 93 Election – published on the Claremont Institute web site. The piece was pseudonymously ascribed to Publius Decius Mus. It begins by painting the gloomiest picture of America, some of blend of Bosch and Munch with all the potential fun of that pairing removed:
Illegitimacy. Crime. Massive, expensive, intrusive, out-of-control government. Politically correct McCarthyism. Ever-higher taxes and ever-deteriorating services and infrastructure. Inability to win wars against tribal, sub-Third-World foes. A disastrously awful educational system that churns out kids who don’t know anything…
If that sounds like someone’s inaugural address then: SPOILERS.
What is the cause of this woe? Well, “virtue, morality, religious faith, stability, character and so on” is out and “paternalistic Big Government and its cannibalization of civil society and religious institutions” is in. And the author is particularly excoriating about conservatives. They are, at best, impotent idealists being crushed beneath the jackboots of a all-conquering Left. At worst, they are Quisling collaborators with Hillary Clinton.
And the answer: By “it” I mean Trumpism, broadly defined as secure borders, economic nationalism, and America-first foreign policy. Because:
2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. You—or the leader of your party—may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees.
Lets consider this analogy for a moment. Flight 93 is a reference to the Sept 11 2001 attacks. The most wrenching event in recent American history. Flight 93 did not reach its intended target because the passengers stormed the cockpit, losing their lives in the process. What does this mean? Well, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party are terrorists. The threat that they pose to America is so great that they must be stopped by any means necessary.
There is a difference between Flight 93 and the 2016 election. 44 people were killed on that flight on Sept 11. Simply looking at the GOP plans for healthcare, tens of thousands may die as a result of the 2016 election. The GOP seem unable to pass a repeal bill despite controlling all the arms of government but for how long can the US rely on the incompetence of its legislators? It is not clear how many deaths Donald Trump would ignore in order to remain president but I would not put my life in his hands.
And what of the American people? They are not to be trusted. The author notes that: If you haven’t noticed, our side has been losing consistently since 1988. Which is true and not true – the GOP has only won one plurality (2004) in a presidential election since 1988. However, following the 2016 elections, they control the presidency, both Houses of Congress, 33 State governorships and 32 State legislatures. Hell of a way to lose.
However if the GOP is losing, the author doesn’t question whether this indicates that the electorate doesn’t want what’s being offered – it’s simply a sign that conservatives aren’t pushing hard enough. Just one last rush towards the cockpit and either everything will be fine or everyone will be dead. Definitely no need to review the policies and the messages. Listening is for wusses.
Bracing For Impact
Michael Anton doesn’t matter much. Being the house intellectual in a milieu (or melee) that despises intellect, structured thought, and even basic reading is presumably as welcome as being a vegan at a slaughterhouse. But the Flight 93 essay matters because it demonstrates the visceral desperation and fear of democracy that many conservatives have.
It is a weird form of cognitive dissonance. The world is about to end. The foreign, gay, socialistic hordes threaten us from all sides. The true keepers of Western, Christian tradition are our last, best hope. And yet. Conservative parties rule in the US, the UK and Australia. Business interests face little in the way of regulatory control. Explicitly racist and white supremacist groups act in an ever-bolder manner. Mainstream conservatives may find them deplorable* but they are reluctant to call them out for fear of losing their votes.
Now to an extent, this is simply the discomfort faced by someone losing a privileged position. But it also allows you to position yourself as a victim. And it justifies an anti-democratic standpoint. With the nation so imperiled, whatever we do to save it must be right.
In America, this takes the form of widespread voter suppression activities by the GOP. There is little or no evidence that voter fraud occurs in the US. And yet a political party is using fear of voter fraud to deliberately disenfranchise social groups who it believes would vote against it. It does not seek to engage with them or change its policy framework. It seeks simply to ensure their voice is neither heard nor counted.
We can see an echo of this here in Australia, in the struggle over same sex marriage. Australians have gone from being moderately against the idea to moderately for it. We used to think it was a bit weird but then Steve and Troy invited us over for a barbie and, though Troy’s a Bombers fan, they seem like good blokes and why shouldn’t they be married, eh? Some conservatives have decided that this is all a bit much. They don’t want to thrash it out in parliament and so now we are stuck with some non-binding postal vote. The whole situation feels like a chase scene in an action movie where the fleeing villain throws ever more ridiculous items (chairs, tables, little old ladies) in the path of his pursuer. What next, a same sex marriage non-binding karaoke sing-off?
Losing Altitude – Random Notes
1. The author of the article is actually Michael Anton, a GOP speechwriter and finance communications guy. Likes: suits and ethnic homogeneity. Dislikes: San Francisco and non-conservatives. Now a major communications guy at the National Security Council. Anton’s apocalyptic style is fine with me but he should really grow a pair of balls and write “balls”, not “thymos”. I keep my lemongrass and ginger tea in something that sounds like that, not my martial spirit. One gets the sense that were he teleported back to Flight 93 on 11 Sept 2001, he would not storm the Al Qaeda-held cockpit for fear of ripping his hand-tailored jacket. “We may be freedom fighters, but we are not animals”.
2. Publius Decius Mus as pseudonym choice. PDM was, like the Flight 93 passengers, another martyr. This time a Roman general who rode his steed directly into the enemy Latins**, sacrificing himself for the cause of victory. It would be fair to say that Anton has an obsession with violent sacrifice in his writings – although whether he will continue to use the PDM analogy after a Neo-Nazi fatally drove his horse, er, car into a crowd of peaceful protesters remains to be seen.
3. The Claremont Institute itself is… interesting. There is an East Coast – West Coast feud in America that I was unaware of until last year. Not the one between Biggie and Tupac. No – while the participants of that battle had an equal predilection for expensive gentlemen’s clothing – this new one featured spats between white men. The disciples of Leo Strauss to be exact. Strauss was a Central European emigre philosopher to the US who influenced many individuals who became key figures in American conservatism. The disciples split into East Coast and West Coast grouping. Notable East Coast Straussians included Allan Bloom and Paul Wolfowitz. This group eventually became synonymous with the NeoConservative movement that reached its apogee during the reign of George W Bush – and the mess that was the invasion of Iraq.
Meanwhile, a West Coast group formed under Harry Jaffa, an academic ultimately based in California. Jaffa was linked to conservatives such as Barry Goldwater. Four students of Jaffa created the Claremont Institute. Apparently the Institute has been an abysmal failure as, according to its own website, “For over 100 years, conservatives have been losing the battle of ideas, and with it, our most precious freedoms“. And precious bodily fluids. Please give generously.
4. Apropos of nothing, last month there was some online argy-bargy about Chris Ulhmann. He slammed the Man in Orange (so, yay) but he had previously voiced his dislike of the Frankfurt School who “transmitted the intellectual virus to the US and set about systematically destroying the culture of the society that gave them sanctuary” (boo, apparently). Theodore Adorno (who perished shortly after an unsolicited Breast Action) was not the only German philosopher World War II refugee to the US. The legacy of Leo Strauss might equally merit Ulhmann’s words – esp. given that his followers promoted both a ruinous war in Iraq and also a president hell-bent on making George W Bush look good.
*Yes, I would like a basket of deplorables. Perhaps with a Christmas ham, a jar of chutney and some assorted nuts. And no brown bread or halal-certified tahini, thank you.
**Who were not, as I first assumed, the same as the Romans – ah, the narcissism of small differences. How reassuring to know that people remain petty throughout history.
This is part of the Into The Maelstrom series.