Michael Anton’s The Stakes: America at the Point of No Return is the best “current politics” title I have ever read. Most such books are, of course, written to influence elections, and any insight they may contain does not exceed what is useful for that purpose. But we live in exceptional times that unavoidably raise fundamental political questions, and Mr. Anton is a rare author up to the challenge of illuminating them.
Mr. Anton, for anyone who has forgotten, came to public attention as the pseudonymous author of “The Flight 93 Election,” an essay published four years ago in the Claremont Review of Books. He envisaged the then-upcoming election as a stark dilemma: either we elect Hillary and the American experiment in self-government ends, or we elect Trump and the Republic might limp along for another four years.
In other words, certain and immediate death, or probable but at least delayed death: a grim but not exactly difficult choice.
In the Preface of his new book, Mr. Anton reports that the question most frequently put to him these days is whether the 2020 election will be another “Flight 93 Election.” His answer is yes, and he adds:
…so will every election until and unless one of two things happen. Either the Left achieves the final victory it has long sought, and the only national elections that matter are the Democratic primaries. Or the Republican Party—or some successor—leads a realignment along national-populist lines that forces the left to moderate and accept the legitimacy of red state/flyover/ “deplorable” concerns. Then real politics—voting, ruling and being ruled in turn, compromise, acceptance of the other side’s legitimacy—can return, and the “normal” that so many long for can reemerge. [Links added]
The Stakes begins by describing the decline of Anton’s native California from the middle-class paradise where The Brady Bunch lived the American Dream on a single income to today’s neo-liberal hellhole where sanctimonious oligarchs barricade themselves in gated communities for protection against the crime, congestion, filth, and grinding poverty they have inflicted on everyone else.
The architects of this disaster have learned exactly nothing from it; they cannot wait to do the same to the rest of America and, eventually, the entire world. Such are “the stakes” of contemporary politics.
The book then turns to an account of controversies over America’s Founding. Is today’s Californian dystopia the inevitable product of philosophical errors written into the founding such as egalitarianism, universalism, or rationalism? Mr. Anton covers a lot of ground clearly and elegantly. One valuable point he makes is that “civic nationalism,” properly understood, is not a replacement for the bonds of kinship and shared history, but an important supplement whose proper role is to strengthen those primal sources of identity and loyalty. He also argues that the disastrous concept of “group rights” so critical to the multicultural Left can be traced back to John C. Calhoun’s doctrine of the “concurrent majority,” originally formulated to defend the South’s peculiar institution.
In Chapter Three, Anton describes “our present regime” as the bastard progeny of three harmful tendencies: the aforementioned belief in group rights; Progressive rule by administrative so-called experts; and “Sixties radicalism,” under which heading he subsumes
…liberation from all restraints, sneering disdain for tradition and Christianity, contempt and hatred for America and its history, [and the] recasting of whites as the archvillains of their country’s story.
The focus then shifts to a description of the ruling elite’s aims, viz., a homogenized, pacified, demoralized populace of consumers ruled over by a centralized technocracy.
The elite is aided in its pursuit of these aims by three overlapping categories of clients whom the author calls 1) the freeloaders, i.e., the slothful and greedy; 2) the “wokerati,” that sanctimonious crew of true believers which monitors the subject population for dissent; and 3) the avengers, whose principal concern is to make whitey pay.
Immigrants are a fourth important client group of the neoliberal regime, of course. Mr. Anton’s discussion is clearly informed by VDARE.com and other dissident sites—which he prudently refrains from naming—making it both far superior to most such treatments and unnecessary to summarize for our readers.
One chapter is devoted to outlining what the future holds if the other side wins. It amounts, in short, to more of everything: more immigration, foreign wars, censorship, outsourcing, drugs, porn, etc. Mr. Anton notes a trend which deserves more attention:
Certain elite intellectuals, led by Mark Zuckerberg’s sister, have noticed that some young autodidacts have taken to reading the Great Books and listening to classical music. The elites see this as a threat. There are serious calls not merely to police how the canon is taught but to attack its “misuse” by “bad actors.”
This is a step beyond Communism: in Stalin’s Russia, people were still allowed to read Pushkin.
Another chapter is devoted to consideration of various ways—some frightening, some hopeful—that the present neoliberal regime might be brought to an end.
And the book closes with a proposed electoral program for a Trumpier-than-Trump national populist party which might or might not be a continuation of the Republican Party.
Yet there is an obvious and problematic asymmetry here—similar to the one immigration patriots identify when they observe that their enemies only have to win once, while they themselves have to win every time. The Left is playing for keeps, while our side aims only at “ruling and being ruled in turn.” (This is Aristotle’s definition of “political rule,” as opposed to the despotic power exercised over a slave.)
What sort of outcome does Mr. Anton expect from an asymmetrical struggle wherein one side seeks the permanent enslavement of the other, while the other limits itself to attempting to educate the first into preferring alternating political rule over despotism? Is not the Left likely to enslave us long before we are able to complete (or even begin) their education?
Hillary Clinton is already talking openly of the Democratic Party refusing to concede the November election under any circumstances. Some of her comrades want to strongarm the Electoral College and perhaps involve the military.
America appears to be entering what the German jurist Carl Schmitt called a “state of exception” in which ordinary constitutional politics is no longer possible. If we fail to recognize this, we may commit the fatal mistake of trying to employ persuasion against enemies (and they really are enemies, not mere political opponents) who only understand force. As Schmitt understood, such a situation demands decisive action on the part of the sovereign authority. Yet in the above-quoted passage Mr. Anton does not so much as mention the logical possibility that our side might try to preempt the Left by doing to them what they so clearly want to do to us.
To be sure, like the author, I would prefer to rule and be ruled in turn under a system that allows for the concept of loyal opposition (=opponents who are not enemies). A right-wing despotism is not my ideal. But Aristotle’s “political rule” presupposes a certain degree of moral health which today’s America may no longer possess. Some type of authoritarian rule may be the ineluctable fate of a corrupt people, but it still matters very much in whose hands that power rests.
An apt historical analogy (not discussed by Mr. Anton) might be the Tsarist government’s successful suppression of the 1905 Russian Revolution. This dress rehearsal for the catastrophe of 1917 featured a wave of crime and terrorism worse than anything America has witnessed this summer. Yet it was defeated once the authorities realized that, the tougher they were to begin with, the fewer lives would be lost in the end.
An eight-month period of martial law was imposed to permit expedited justice against the worst offenders. Violence began to decline the instant the new courts-martial were introduced. Within a couple years, the same Prime MinIster who had instituted martial law was able to establish, on a limited franchise, the first regular legislative assembly Russia had ever enjoyed. His previous “authoritarian” measures did not contradict this achievement, but were an indispensable precondition for it.
When the other side triumphed twelve years later, the resulting horror lasted 74 years and cost 100 million lives—so no, not all forms of authoritarian rule are equally bad.
The primary task of a patriotic government under a state of emergency must be preemptive defense: rendering our enemies unable to harm us. This means removing them from positions of authority. While the President cannot directly fire federal employees, he can put hostile Deep State forces in charge of administering Alaskan national wilderness areas. What else is “draining the swamp” supposed to mean?
Case in point: Pres. Trump has just banned the practice of indoctrinating federal employees in critical race theory. This is being celebrated as a great victory. But the people responsible for imposing these Maoist struggle sessions still have their jobs. In the event of a Biden presidency, they will resume their activities next January 21st—a reprieve of less than five months! How much of a celebration does this deserve?
As long as our leaders are unwilling to purge our enemies from the Civil Service, the Judiciary, and the Military, we will never be more than one election away from finding ourselves at their mercy. Eventually, ways must be found to remove such people from the heights of education, communications, and corporate management as well.
Note, however, that the purge I envision differs somewhat from those familiar to us from the history of 20th Century leftist regimes. Rather than ship Cultural Marxists off to any sort of Gulag, I would propose merely to confine them to private life.
In other words, instead of forcing the rest of us to bake gay wedding cakes they would have to be content to work and raise families, i.e., to do what most normal people have always found most satisfying in life anyway.
We know they will never be this generous with us if they win. Is such a proposal unacceptably cruel?
Read The Stakes yourself. Current events titles of this caliber do not appear often.