It was ten years ago that I wrote a controversial feature in the Washington Post lamenting that the conservative intellectual world was not producing significant serious books that attracted large public notice. With only a very few exceptions conservative best-sellers of the aughts seemed to be the frothy polemics from Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, and such.
Lately however there are a large number of new conservative books that are making a big splash (and also selling well), such as Patrick Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed(even President Obama had to admit the book was a worthy challenge) and Yoram Hazony’s The Virtue of Nationalism. Just about every day I seem to get the galleys of an important new book (most of them from our friends at Encounter Books, the sainted publisher of one especially important recent title now available in paperback!), and it is hard to keep up. I keep meaning to post mini-notices of most of them here, but my stack keeps falling over into an unmanageable heap on my office floor.
I just want to mention two right now. The first is John Marini’s very timely Unmasking the Administrative State: The Crisis of American Politics in the 21stCentury. Marini has been writing on the deep philosophical, constitutional and political defects of the administrative state long before the term came into wider use (or merged with the “deep state,” which is not exactly the same thing). In fact, I went back and dusted off his 1992 book The Politics of Budget Control, which is unlike any book on the federal budget you’ve ever seen. Here is the first place he lays out the argument that the administrative state, the conscious product of Progressivism that did not become fully operational until the Great Society, undermines constitutional self-government. As Marini puts it in the introduction, “In a constitutional system, the powers of government are thought to be limited; in the administrative state only resources are limited.”
He returns to all of these themes in depth in Unmasking the Administrative State. Michael Anton has an in-depth review in the new edition of the Claremont Review of Books. For now I only want to share one brief excerpt from Marini’s essay “Donald Trump and the American Crisis” included in the book.
Few serious policy analysts took Trump seriously. Like the Soviet experts who did not foresee the collapse of the Soviet Union, policy experts have failed to anticipate, or even detect, the crisis of America. Trump’s success has revealed that one of our fundamental tasks—a task he has addressed when no one else would—is the need for political rule to be reanimated in a way that allows public opinion, understood to arise in the creation of constitutional majorities, to establish the legitimacy of politics, policy, and law, in a manner compatible with the rule of law and the common good. That requires revitalizing the meaning of citizenship and reaffirming the sovereignty of the people and the political branches of the government, so that both can become defenders of the Constitution and the country.
The second book at the top of my stack right now is The Rediscovery of America: Essays by Harry V. Jaffa on the New Birth of Politics, edited by Edward J. Erler and Ken Masugi. This collection includes a number of previously unpublished essays and lectures from Jaffa, along with a few hard-to-find pieces. One piece in particular recommends itself for our current moment of identify politics, “The Reichstag Is Still Burning.” Jaffa recounts how, following an arson fire at Claremont Mens College (as it was called in its pre-coed days), the administration capitulated to radical demands that a special black studies department be established, for reasons that are now very familiar on every campus—education itself is said to be a function of race. The proposal came before the faculty, which was naturally inclined to appease it for the same reason Chamberlain appeased Hitler—to keep the “peace” on campus. Jaffa put the matter to the faculty as follows:
In the course of the ensuing debate, I asked repeatedly whether it was true that CMC, providing a “white education” taught white mathematics, or white economics, or white biology, or white physics, or for that matter white political science. Was there anything in Plato’s Republic, I asked, that indicated it was “white justice” that Socrates was seeking to define or discover. Was there anything in the Nicomachean Ethics, I asked, to indicate that it was “white happiness” that Aristotle sought as the summum bonum? Was there anything in Locke’s Second Treatise of Government (or in the Declaration of Independence) to indicate that taxation without representation was unjust only for whites? Was there anything in in Locke’s Letters on Toleration (or in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom) I asked, to indicate that it was only the case of white human beings, that “our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than on our opinions in physics or geometry”? Although I hammered away on these questions, the opposition was uninterested in debating them.
That’s because the opposition can’t debate their positions, and why we should believe them when they say that everything is about power relations. Because they want power. “Justice,” with whatever adjective-hyphen you want to add to it, is just a fig leaf. Not much has changed in 50 years since the episode Jaffa wrote about, except that everything has gotten steadily worse.