I can’t tell any more if the fanatical obscurantism of the left is due to malice, ignorance, or the long decline of teaching reading comprehension in our education system. These explanations are not mutually exclusive, of course, and perhaps they reinforce each other.
Since the Weekly Standard outed Michael Anton a few days ago as the notorious “Decius,” the left has been having a proverbial cow. Why, he’s even worse than Steve Bannon! Jonathan Chait says in New York magazine that Anton is “America’s leading authoritarian intellectual,” which is pretty rich coming from someone who just published a book singing hosannas for the “audacity” of Barack Obama. (This must also come as deflating news to Melissa Click and other campus authoritarian wannabes.) And somebody at a thing called “Policy Mic” calls Anton “a shadowy, far-right figure.” Shadowy? This is a guy who wrote a hilarious book about men’s fashion style. And never to be outdone, Salon calls Anton a “dystopian prophet.” (Again, liberals must hate it when anyone else intrudes on their dystopian turf.)
Now that Michael is suited up at the National Security Council and working 18 hour days, he’s not going to be able to defend himself against such calumnies. Chris Buskirk over at American Greatness has offered a rousing defense (including a sharp jab at Bill Kristol’s critical tweets—to paraphrase Orwell, it could appear that West Coast Straussians have always been at war with East Coast Straussians, even though a certain new book brokers a peace between them), but I’ll add a few observations of my own.
Starting with: Seriously? Authoritarian? Puh-leese. It is curious that Anton’s leftist detractors pass over entirely how Anton has come around to so many of their arguments, i.e., that the Iraq War was a blunder, that trade deals haven’t worked out for the working class, and that “Davoisie,” as Anton calls them, are out for themselves, etc. Maybe they’re scared that Anton is on to something that will put them out of business?
If you have a moment, go back and take in my Power Line podcast with Anton from last summer, and ask yourself if this person sounds like an authoritarian (let alone “shadowy”). Beyond this, the whole point of the Claremont project to which Anton is attached is to reverse the centralization of political power whose entire premise is authoritarian control over American life. The irony here is that Chait and other liberals approve of this authoritarian project. I think psychologists call this “projection”? You should go back and take in my Weekly Standard article from October on this very point. Here’s the key paragraph:
The political character of the administrative state is more important than the economic inefficiency or arbitrariness of bureaucracy that is the usual target of conservative ire, because it represents a new answer to the classic political question: Who should rule? The premise of the Constitution is that the people should rule. The premise of the administrative state, explicitly expressed by Woodrow Wilson and other Progressive-era theorists, is that experts should rule, in a new administrative form largely sealed off from political influence, i.e., sealed off from the people. At some point, it amounts to government without the consent of the governed, a simple fact that surprisingly few conservative politicians perceive.
Trump may or may not be the ideal president to take on this challenge (I’ll have more to say on this point in a separate post later), but he represents the most serious challenge to the administrative state since Reagan and he’s the only president we’ve got right now. And even Trump skeptics ought to be glad that Anton has a senior post in the administration. Thus I was also dismayed at this Bill Kristol tweet that references the Chait article:
In fairness to Bill, Anton did throw down some heavy blows on the conservative establishment, including its magazines, in several of his “Decius” posts, and while his authorship was widely known to most of his targets, they decently refrained from fully outing him at the time because they knew he’d be the next Brendan Eich at his Wall Street job if they did. (There were a few leaks, but the mainstream media never picked them up.) I was amazed his cover held as long as it did, and it is to be expected that he’d now get some overdo smacking around over this previous business.
In any case, I’m not sure whether this particular tweet shouldn’t be read in an ironic way, or with a double meaning. Surely Bill Kristol doesn’t think much of Chait’s analytical powers, and while the reference to Carl Schmitt is certainly inflammatory on the surface, is this possibly a subtle (too subtle) dig at the left’s infantile hysteria while cautioning Anton to take cognizance of how the style of his political argument can ignite the left’s calumnies? Chait and the other leftists attacking Anton are a farce, just as the simplistic leftist renderings of Schmitt are a farce. This is not the place to sort out Carl Schmitt, who is simple-mindedly described as a Nazi legal theorist, in part because the question is very dense. His criticism of the defects of modern liberalism and democratic institutions are in places profound. I’ve long thought his 1923 book The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy could be compared in some respects to Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, because both foresaw how democratic government might crumple before socialist challenges. But like Heidegger, Schmitt is hard to make out clearly because he wrote in German. ‘Nuff said. I haven’t asked Bill about this, but he does like to be mischievous, making friends think harder while spreading chaos among his enemies. Sort of like Trump.