That tiny army has been dominated for the past four decades by “Straussians”—students of Leo Strauss (and students of students of Strauss), Straussians are generally identified with the GOP’s neoconservative intelligentsia.
But not all Straussians are created equal. There are, very roughly, two major schools:
The Weekly Standard and Commentary Magazine are bastions of East Coast Straussianism. Bill Kristol studied with Harvey C. Mansfield at Harvard, but speaks at the Claremont Institute’s APSA panel every year. Powerline is probably the most well-known Claremonster blog. Hillsdale College’s president, Larry Arnn, used to be the head of the Claremont Institute, and most of Hillsdale’s political science department is influenced by the Claremont school.
But there’s a new split in the Straussian world—and that split has come about over Donald J. Trump.
To understand why this is happening, you have to understand what made the Jaffa school of Strauss distinctive, beyond his particular philosophic precepts. The East Coast Straussians are primarily global in focus, despite lip service to America and its founding. The West Coast Jaffaites always spiritedly defended the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration, natural law, and the whole nine yards. While the East Coasters preferred to focus on “universal values,” the Claremont students loved America as America, although they always tried to justify their love on the basis of philosophical principle. Perhaps tellingly, nearly all of the prominent East Coast Straussians remained secular Jews, while Jaffa’s students—although he himself was Jewish—tended to be or to become Catholic.
While both schools seem like unlikely sources of support for Trump, if one had to guess which wing would begin to slowly embrace the golden Don, it might be surprising that it would be the Claremonsters, those advocates of the principle of equality and the Proposition Nation. And yet, they have.
Or at least, many of them: and those, mostly anonymous. That’s correct: some Claremonsters have begun to mimic the methods of the Alternative Right. They too have something to lose.
My guess as to why it is students from the Jaffa school who have begun to embrace Trump: they love America. They love America as she was founded, as she was intended to be. And they’ve begun to see what VDARE.com Editor Peter Brimelow explained in Alien Nation 20 years ago: it’s all well and good to have a nation based on principles, but the principles the nation espouses depend upon the people of that nation. And even more fundamentally, you have to actually have a nation, an organic ethno-cultural community, before you can even talk about principles.
The patriot Leo-Cons’ most important expression is the Journal of American Greatness, founded only in February, where the author Decius writes what Steve Hayward calls “very smart pro-Trump pieces.”
Where does the nom de guerre “Decius” come from? The pseudonymous Friar of the Catholic Reason and Revelation blog explains:
The writer(s) at the Journal of American Greatness has chosen well. Publius Decius Mus, was, as Livy wrote… an appointed official, and served with distinction in the Samnite Wars. His most honorable act was as consul. In the Third Samnite War, at the Battle of Sentinum he received word from an oracle that he and the opposing general would go to their deaths. As the battle proceeded badly for Decius and one of his flanks was faltering, he inquired to the pontifex maximus what should be done. After engaging in a religious ritual called the devotion, is was revealed that he should sacrifice his life to save his army. Heading into the battle, Decius fell, and as the battle proceeded, not even the opposing army would go near his body. This allowed the flank to reform, and it was a pivotal moment in saving the Roman army from certain defeat. Rome lost about 8,700 while the Samnites lost 20,000 this day. It was a decisive battle.And who is the modern Decius? A few think they know, but one thing is certain: like Friar over at Reason and Revelation, Decius is a Claremonster.
The aftermath of the war cannot go unremarked: It forever extinguished the Latins (see Latin War) and Samnites from being a thorn in the side of the Romans, and it paved the ground for the eventual defeats of Pyrrhus and the Carthaginians. The Roman Republic was saved on this day by the heroic act of a noble actor in Roman history.
The lesson here is this, we think: The Journal of American Greatness (JAG) represents a sacrificial attempt, should it be needed, to save the Republic by its courageous defense of the Trump candidacy and what it brings, which are greater than the man himself.
Steve Hayward was probably the first to call this trend to public attention with his post at Powerline, where he wrote:
If you’re a “Leo-Con” (i.e., a follower of Leo Strauss), the first rule of interpretation is to try to understand thinkers as they understood themselves, before you try to understand them differently or better. I’m wondering if these interpretations of the Trump phenomenon aren’t trying to understand Trump better than he understands it himself.But, as JAG writer Plautus explains in a response to a critique by Richard Reinsch at the neocon Library of Law and Liberty blog, that’s exactly what JAG is trying to do:
Reinsch opens with the well-worn complaint that I am "more intent on making Trump to be the candidate he wants, as opposed to the vulgar brute that he is." To which we say, yet again, that is exactly what we are doing and thanks for noticing. We are far more interested in understanding Trump as the phenomenon that has exposed the destitution of Reaganite conservatism rather than boosting or opposing his or anyone else's actual campaign. Likewise, we are far more interested in understanding his policy impulses better than he understands them himself, which means situating them within deeper historical and theoretical contexts, even those of which he never speaks and probably is not aware.Plautus, citing Spengler (the real one, not the pseudonym) Sam Francis, and Carl Schmitt, goes on to re-explain to Reinsch the absurdity of defending “Constitutionalism” or “limited government” given the existence of James Burnham’s managerial state. He concludes this JAG essay, “Small Government Dogma is the Problem,” with this parting shot:
In this vein I would state that contemporary conservatism, both in its managerial and antiquarian forms, exists today only as a grudge, and that returning to the limited government institutions of the Founding, absent the overcoming of today's managerial culture, is both impossible and useless.JAG supports what it calls “Trumpism,” which it briefly (and regularly) defines as “secure borders, economic nationalism and America-first foreign policy.” When it comes to immigration, the JAG vehemently opposes the globalist oligarchs who have brought about the current crisis in American identity, referring to them as the Davoisie (a portmanteau of Samuel Huntington’s term “Davos Man” and bourgeoisie coined by Walter Russell Mead). They liken the Davoisie to the Slave Power of the 19th century: a powerful oligarchy which exists to promote “sources of cheap labor to squeeze out the working class and enrich a few.”
As Decius puts it, “Thrasymachus to Stephen Douglas to George Soros and Paul Singer. Plus ҫa change.”
Whether or not one agrees with the analogy, Decius uses it to promote the arguments of the Dissident Right, including an explanation of virtue-signaling that even confirmed older Leo-cons might understand:
The fundamental similarity is however undeniable. A trans-partisan and trans-regional, numerically small but economically and politically powerful elite—in our case, financial, technological and corporate—essentially control political debate and get their way on everything important, in defiance of popular will, in order to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else.(Emphases added). Thus as far as I can tell, reading between the lines (and the historical and philosophic allusions), the JAG shares the same basic immigration policies as espoused by VDare.com. (Decius has favorably mentioned Peter Brimelow twice: here and here).But they frame it through the lens of their interpretation of the history of political philosophy.
We know how it ended the last time. How will it end this time?
What makes our current overlords slightly more insidious (if only in one way) than their slave-master predecessors is their risible moral preening. 19th century slaveholders really did have a difficult time affirming the justice of their “peculiar institution.” In addition to the obvious injustice of owning other human beings like animals, they knew from experience what Xenophon teaches in the Anabasis and Shakespeare in the Tempest: “when difficult things are commanded, harshness, and not sweetness, is needed in order to bring about obedience.” Concerned to shield its reputation from intrusive, revealing sunlight, the Slave Power was not eager to advertise this necessity and the harsh treatment it necessitated.
By contrast, our overlords never tire of lecturing us about how virtuous they are. I know of no record of a plantation owner claiming that his recent purchases at a slave auction show his goodness. But every new immigrant—legal or otherwise—who takes an American job at a fraction of the recent wage, our masters trumpet as a sign of their superior morality. Every American laid off and every job outsourced gets the same self-congratulation. Recall the words of that hedge-fund high priest:[Quoted anonymously in the Atlantic] “if the transformation of the world economy lifts four people in China and India out of poverty and into the middle class, and meanwhile means one American drops out of the middle class, that’s not such a bad trade.”
No Claremonsters have come out under their real names quite so vehemently for Trump and against Conservatism, Inc. However, Ken Masugi, who was highly influential on Clarence Thomas and his natural law philosophy and who remains a Senior Fellow at the Claremont Institute, has authored an article praising “Trump’s Constitution”:
“Trump defends the fundamental principle that legitimate government proceeds only by the consent of the governed. The people remain sovereign.”And while Larry Arnn, now president of Hillsdale, has not endorsed Trump, he recently vehemently denounced the #NeverTrump movement on Hugh Hewitt’s March 10th podcast, saying “I can’t find any evidence since 2000 that Donald Trump is not a supporter of limited and Constitutional government.” [Transcript]
Trump's Constitution, By Ken Masugi, March 22, 2016
Dr. Arnn also contends that Trump wants to restore executive restraint, and the balance of powers. Perhaps Arnn has been listening to some of the professors at his college.
The patriot Leo-Cons are not, unlike some on the Alternative Right, ready to move joyfully past the precepts of the Constitution. But, like their youthful fellow rebels, they are ready to move beyond the present political party paradigm. They’re also able to explain what’s happened to modern, liberal America in philosophic way—whether by referencing Sam Francis, Machiavelli, or Aristotle’s cycle of regimes.
But as Friar points out, there’s a need for a new fusionism. It’s entirely possible that the alt Right could find some allies amongst these older dissidents. After all, as Decius says:
Beyond this, in the memorable words of this Journal’s Mission Statement, what difference, at this point, does it make? Cruz is not going to Save the Constitution. Trump almost certainly won’t either. We’ve explained some of the reasons why. To recap in brief: mass immigration, radical modernity, and the cycle of regimes. All you most opposed to Trump are a big part of the first and second. You’ve not so much as stood athwart history yelling stop as stood beside the left whispering “not quite that fast, OK? Also, we’re not racists! Please like us!”In the end, the Dissident Right is united by the knowledge that the Trump moment is a great deal bigger and more important than Trump the man.
The agenda—secure borders, economic nationalism and America-first foreign policy—is what matters. We have our doubts whether that—or anything—can save us now. Since nobody has any better ideas, or anything better to do (in the political realm), why not try it? Same-old is a sure loser, electorally and pragmatically.
Decius has openly admitted sympathy with the Alternative Right, on “immigration, trade, and the foreign policy disasters of the past two decades.” It seems quite clear that the Alt Right has influenced these members of the old Straussian school.
The Trump tsunami has cleared a tremendous amount of political space. The neocon/ Conservatism Inc. Establishment is on the way out. Someone will replace them.
America will be well served if its new intellectual leadership turns out to be a prudent alliance of the young Right and these thoughtful members of the old.
Hedley Wight [Email him] has a PhD in Conservatism, Inc, and a Masters in the alternative Right with a concentration in Trump. He enjoys Gilbert & Sullivan, and is constantly in search of a decent martini.