The Dissident Interviews: Michael Anton on the Founding, the failures of Conservatism, Spiritual Warfare, and more
Michael Anton is an American conservative essayist, speechwriter, and former senior national security official in the Trump administration. In 2016, under the pseudonym Publius Decius Mus, he wrote The Flight 93 Election, an influential essay in support of Donald Trump’s campaign which was subsequently credited by various media as the one that made the argument that got the President elected.
A senior fellow at the Claremont Institute and a professor at Hillsdale College, a careful student of Leo Strauss by way of tutor Harry V. Jaffa as well as a dedicated scholar of Niccolò Macchiavelli, Anton is considered by many as the leading thinker of the ‘New American Right‘. Because of his willingness to engage with thinkers outside of the Overton window and usually ignored by mainstream conservatives, he’s also one of the most appreciated figures by the online dissident Right.
As part of a series of interviews which will see various ‘dissident’ thinkers featured on our pages, we decided to reach out to Mr. Anton for an exclusive interview. What follows is an edited transcript of a conversation between Anton and founding editor Mark Granza, recorded on September 9, 2021.
— The Editors
“Normie-cons would howl and stomp their feet and insist that principled loss is the noblest thing of all. They are in love with losing, it seems, it feeds some deep psychological need of theirs.”
— Michael Anton
Mark Granza. Mr. Anton, you’re not a very online person, and yet the New Right is a very online movement. How do you understand the contemporary political importance of social media and why do you avoid it?
Michael Anton: Well, for one thing, I’m too old. Social media is a young man’s game and I am too out of it to really get the flow of it. There is something sad and, as the kids say, ‘cringe’ about older people trying to mix it up with the young on equal terms as if we are still ‘cool’ or ‘hip’. When I was younger, but even more so the generation before me, the kids wanted to fit in with the adults, not the other way around. I guess that started to change with the ’60s but it became a full-blown thing after I had grown up. I see a lot of prominent older people on Twitter making, I think, absolute fools of themselves and I just don’t want that for myself. I think social media, especially Twitter, brings out the worst in people, or some people. You just see their unvarnished id, and it’s not pretty. Also, when I write I say some controversial things and I try to be careful about the way I say them. Twitter just allows you to fire off whatever’s in your head and that’s not a good or a safe way to express myself. I have a sort of ‘band of brothers’ — friends, colleagues, editors — who protect me from myself and our mutual institutional interests. I have to think about the College, for instance, and not bring any unnecessary trouble onto it. That said, I recognize that many people are doing great things online and I have no problem with that, and I see its value. It’s just not my role. I’m a long-format guy. There is an order of battle to spiritual warfare and my role is not shock infantry.
Mark Granza: In a recent essay you wrote that: “It is at least theoretically possible that the [American] founders got it right but that their arguments, and the regime based thereon, were too fragile to survive for long because one or both were (are) eminently susceptible to corruption.” Where do you think the founders’ arguments might be most corruptible or fragile?
Michael Anton: Well, I said it’s possible, so I’m not necessarily taking that position. But I basically derive that from the ancient political philosophers, who argue essentially that you cannot rationalize politics. So I think it’s at least possible that they might consider the American founding as a project that can’t work, because it presumes a level of rationality amongst the people that, in their view, doesn’t and can’t exist. Politics, they’d say, is contentious and irrational and it involves the passions. So you have to come up with another way to base the regime that doesn’t rely on these rational arguments. On the other hand, it’s also possible that, if Plato and Aristotle were transported to 1776, they’d say that their arguments were for the circumstances of an ancient world, which is fundamentally different from our world, and that therefore their solutions don’t work anymore. Whether that would lead them so far as to admit that the basic rational truths of the Declaration of Independence could be accepted by the citizenry at large is another question. Another way to put this, is to say that basing a state on the acceptance of certain “self-evident” truths is not the same thing as the full rationalization of society, which certainly the ancients would always regard as impossible. But is there a sort of ‘middle way’ that would not have worked in the ancient world but that could work in the modern? Would they admit that? Because that is essentially the claim of the American founders: we’re not trying to rationalize society fully down to the last detail, but there has to be at least a bedrock of rational principles that all normal citizens can agree on. It seems that if the ancient teaching is simply that no level of rationality in politics is ever possible, then not merely the US but all of modernity is doomed. However, books such as Plato’s Laws more than suggest that the ancients thought politics was at least partly rationalizable, or that the worst irrationalities could be sanded off and replaced with laws closer to the rational truth. What I was trying to say with that remark is that, even though the strict ancient presupposition of the unity of civil and religious law, the gods tied to the existence of the city and so on, doesn’t work in the modern world, it’s likely that they’d have said that some new mythos had to be founded as the basis for a new type of regime, rather than one based on rationally deductible propositions. Basically, the invention of new gods a la Nietzche, which carries its own particular problem in that, as Nietzche admits, his new gods or ‘values’ will be self-consciously made-up and known to be made up. Now I don’t know the answer to that question. What I do know is that once the polis has gone, once the ancient pantheon has gone, once Christianity emerges and separates civil from religious law, and then divides into sects, the specific solution that Aristotle lays out in Politics or Plato in the Republic, certainly, and even in the Laws, is not possible anymore. And I think both of them, if you could transport them to modern times, would have to admit that. Now whether that means they’d have endorsed the founders’ project or not, that’s a question I cannot answer. My great teacher, Harry Jaffa, thought the answer was “yes.” He took a lot of flack from friends and former friends for that. I tend toward his conclusion but am more circumspect. I’m certainly a lesser mind!
Mark Granza: It seems that the composition of the American people has changed beyond anything the founders would recognize. Is it possible that the United States has changed to such an extent as to make the founder’s vision unattainable for America today?
Michael Anton: I guess when I get gloomy I worry about that. But then when I’m feeling optimistic, I think no, some of that spirit is still there, and we may see it emerge and push back against some of the craziness that’s going on today. But that’s another kind of unanswerable question, and I don’t think we’re going to get the answer until there’s a real test, which we may be hurtling toward. As bad as things are now, my sense is that they’re still not yet bad enough for ordinary people to take risks or even to fully admit to themselves that the country that they grew up in and that they believed in is lost. But it could get there. And when it does, then that’s when we’re going to find out if any of that spirit that animated 1776 is still in the American character.
Mark Granza: You made a consequential intervention in 2019 when you reviewed the controversial book Bronze Age Mindset by Bronze Age Pervert (BAP) in the Claremont Review of Books. Before we get into a few crucial differences between your thought and his, why did you conclude it was important to review his book and how do you understand BAP’s influence?
Michael Anton: I think his influence is enormous. It’s even greater today than when I reviewed the book. And that’s the reason I wrote the review: to tell the more ‘conventional conservatives’ this is going on among today’s youth and you need to know about it. When I went off to college in the late ’80s, Ronald Reagan was still president and his kind of rhetoric still appealed to young people on the Right and motivated them throughout that era. Throughout, let’s say, the Gingrich era through the following decade. But there came a point where, to people half a generation or more younger than me, it stopped appealing altogether. The Heritage Foundation and National Review and all the conservative legacy organizations, were just not speaking to young people anymore. And they didn’t realize young people stopped listening either. They thought that the same rhetoric and policy proposals etc. still enjoyed support among them. It got so bad that a friend of mine showed me a book that came out in the late ’90s or the early 2000s by a prominent think tank president which basically said in the introduction that liberalism was over and the conservatives had won the intellectual battle so the only thing left was to figure out specifically what to do amongst ourselves, but that we don’t have to pay attention to the left. I thought, wow, talk about being out of touch. And so along comes this book, which I admitted in the review I was not even aware of myself until Curtis Yarvin gave it to me. And I looked at it and it seemed ridiculous, like a pastiche of Nietzsche written by an autist. But I asked around and they said, “That’s a great book, you must read it, people under a certain age are gaga over it.” And so I decided to have a look and when I did I thought that it was interesting and it deserved attention. I also find disagreeing with BAP, and with Yarvin for that matter, infinitely more fruitful than engaging with the entire ‘conservative establishment’ combined. They are dull, uninteresting, repetitive, conventional, predictable, and have nothing to say. BAP and Yarvin on the other hand offer real alternatives, without elisions or cut corners.
Mark Granza: In one of your exchanges with BAP you write that the founders “sought to build a regime that honors strength, virtue, and justice simultaneously, recognizing some tension among those ends but seeing no inherent incompatibility.” This was in response to BAP’s contention that equality is always the enemy of excellence, and vice versa. Why do you think he’s wrong and the founders are right in believing the two notions are compatible?
Michael Anton: I don’t want to speak for BAP, but having read his book carefully I think there are some fundamental differences. First of all, he does not seem to believe in natural right the way I believe it, or the way I think Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Cicero, Aquinas, basically all the ancient pagan, Christian medieval and Jewish philosophers believe in the theory of natural right, as did the founders. That is to say, right and wrong, good and bad, justice and injustice, legitimacy, and religious illegitimacy exist by nature and can be discerned by the human mind. I think he believes, as Nietzsche does, that all of that was a value-created construct, the product of human will, now impossible to believe in, having been exposed as fake. In the book, BAP also says there’s a straight line from this notion of modern natural right, or even ancient as Nietzsche would probably say, to the current mess that we’re in now. That’s the “iron prison,” as BAP calls it, and it can be traced directly to the acceptance of these propositions. I don’t believe that. And I think the founders wouldn’t agree either. So when you ask me: can strength and virtue and equality exist in the same state? The founders would say that not only they can, they must. What is Valley Forge, or any of the other many heroics of the Revolution, if not strength and virtue emerging in the service of the stable political order? The founders would say Last Men could not found the United States of America, nor any other state. You must have the heroic virtues of courage and self-sacrifice and strength in order to do the great things that they wanted to do. And these virtues, the very ones BAP praises, are not merely necessary for founding but for the preservation and perpetuation of the state. There are some virtues everyone must share, and some that will be the preserve of a few. So the question of equality for the founders is not the absence or the leveling of these virtues, it’s simply a matter of the equal natural rights of people of various talents and capacities. I don’t have any doubt in my mind that George Washington is an example of magnanimity out of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. That is, the person who knows himself to be worthy of great honors and who behaves accordingly. Washington knew he was a superior man to those around him, that he was a better general, that he was a greater statesman. And in so many ways he was such a superior person. But he also believed that his superiority did not entitle him to rule over others without their consent. This is why, sort of like that scene in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, if my biographical recollection is correct, he rejected at least twice and with abhorrence when he was asked by people to consider becoming King. My friend and colleague Tom West wrote a great book on the principles of the American founding where he draws this out: The founders are very clear that America cannot survive without certain virtues distributed unequally or unevenly throughout the population, but the existence in abundance of those virtues in certain individuals does not make them natural rulers nor others natural ruled. So that’s why the founders saw no contradiction.
Mark Granza: So would you go as far as to say that, not only equality and greatness are compatible, but there cannot be one without the other?
Michael Anton: Well, I think it would be easier to argue that there can be greatness without equality, because we’ve seen examples in history. The regime of the American founders is not the norm. I’ll just take one author: Plutarch. Everyone he writes about is a great man. None of these men however lived in a regime of equality as the founders understood it, nor probably would they have accepted the founding principles. So certainly there can be greatness without equality. The question ultimately is if there can be justice without equality, especially in the modern world, after the end of the polis, after the end of paganism with the rise of Christianity and its splintering into Protestantism, Catholicism, and then numerous varieties of Protestantism. Can we have justice without equality in that sense? My reading points me to a qualified yes, but only in a degraded state. I’ve talked about this in my book The Stakes, the so-called concept of “Caesarism.” I’m very much with Leo Strauss on this point: we have to remember there may be circumstances where Caesar is necessary, but it’s always second-best. Strauss likens it to “deserved punishment.” It is just in the same way that deserved punishment is just, i.e. not desirable for its own sake. It’s only desirable out of temporary necessity because of the exhaustion or the impossibility of alternatives. The question becomes how long the deserved punishment is necessary. When can or will the heroic virtues once again emerge and help create a better society?
Mark Granza: BAP claimed in his response to your review that “mainstream and traditional conservatives have refused to abandon the generally leftist social sphere in which the conservative intellectual establishment lives,” either out of fear or loyalty, and of discrediting themselves by “failing to oppose the violent racial hatred and other forms of unprecedented insanity coming from the new left.” [Emphasis added] Do you agree with this assessment?
Michael Anton: Yes, I definitely think he’s right about that. Conservatives oppose the racial hatred so weakly and ineffectively that it amounts to non-opposition. That said, I think it’s less true today than it was even a year ago. The events of last summer along with the exposure of CRT since were so horrific that they stirred the Right and caused it to be more active against this stuff. I’ve read this great column by Pedro Gonzales recently [a very similar one by Scott Greer appeared in American Greatness a few months prior], in which he said that if we keep dancing around and refuse to say that much of what the left is spewing is simply anti-white hatred, we’re going to lose. Conservatives have been afraid to say such things because they don’t want to be called racists, and so on and so forth. But I think they’ve become less scared over this past year and more willing to just say to the left “No, that’s what you said. I’m gonna call it as I see it honestly.”
Mark Granza: Do you think this refusal to be straightforward might be due to a “respectability problem” among conservatives, in the sense that they’re too worried what the left and the mainstream thinks of them?
Michael Anton: Strauss once said of a famous intellectual, “He never wrote a sentence without looking over his shoulder.” By which he meant, there’s a certain type of person who never says anything without first considering how it’s going to be received. Now, we should all consider how what we say is going to be received. But what Strauss meant is that this person wasn’t trying to tell the truth, or make an argument, or push a position, or anything. He was solely thinking in terms of how it would be received in a way that either enhanced or detracted from his reputation. And so yes, many conservatives do have a respectability problem in that sense. They never write a sentence without looking over their shoulder. “How is Harvard going to take this? How is The New York Times going to take this? How are all the elite power centers going to take this? Is this going to upset them? Wait, let me trim and write it in a way that my social betters don’t get offended.” This is why I believe one of the great strengths of what a lot of younger people are doing is they don’t care about those institutions anymore and they’re deliberately flouting them, even at personal cost. Now my advice for them is pretty consistent on this: don’t charge machine gun nests. Don’t just say something for the sake of being edgy. Don’t write just to impress your bros. That’s just another form of always writing sentences while looking over your shoulder. Always “keepin’ in real” is a one-way ticket to somewhere bad. Try to combine boldness with caution. But the yearning for elite respectability by our side does need to be broken.
Mark Granza: The left today is ruthless in advancing its agenda. As you point out, the current regime “can lie and contradict [itself] within the same sentence, and there’s nothing you can do about it. In fact, if you object, or even notice, [it] will use [its] power to crush you.” We agree that the beliefs and practices the left is trying to impose are immoral and destructive. But if the Right ever manages to regain power and control of the institutions, does it have something to learn from the left when it comes to their determination in general?
Michael Anton: Well, even before we regain power, one of the things we could learn from the left is this: the Right is obsessed with self-policing to such a degree that even parking infractions are cancellable by our own side. Nobody is worse on this than the clowns and the sissies at National Review. They think that the most heroic act of the 20th century was Buckley purging the Birchers. They just spend every day searching through what people on the Right write for some little minor thing they can disagree with so they can accuse them of being evil, racists, etc., and oust them from the conservative movement. They do the left’s bidding for the left. It’s such disgraceful treason that these people pat themselves on the back for it and think that it’s high morality. Now I’m not saying we should give our side a pass for any rhetoric, no matter how outrageous. But the left will do that. They never ever throw one of their own overboard, no matter how disgusting, violent, and vile they get. So we could learn from them to be maybe a little bit more self-supportive of our own side, instead of constantly looking for ways and reasons to stab our own in the back for jaywalking. That’s the first thing I’d like the Right to learn.
Mark Granza: Yes. This was a point also made recently on Twitter by Zero HP Lovecraft. “If someone is further right than you, say they are maybe too idealistic but their heart is in the right place,” instead of calling them out, which is a form of virtue-signalling. The left indeed never does that, in fact it always draws its ideas from its more extreme factions.
Michael Anton: Right. Well, it ties back to the respectability problem. When Jonah Goldberg tries to say “This is anathema and you should be canceled,” he’s basically saying to those on the left and in the power centers, “Please like me, I’m a good guy!” Or at least, “Eat me last.” It comes down to this hunger, this deep hunger for mainstream elite respectability. And unless we can get over that, we’re always going to be at a serious disadvantage.
Mark Granza: Absolutely. Since we’re here, I’d like to talk about the role of Free Speech, which is in a way ties to this problem. Now that the left enjoys monopoly control of institutions it has completely abandoned a pro-free speech position, and the Right has embraced it. This embrace however has also led to contradictions including a kind of idealization of speech as something in itself. So, first: what do you think it’s the role of Free Speech in society?
Michael Anton: For the founders, Free Speech is essential for two reasons. The First Amendment covers speech and religion, and I don’t think those two concepts are divisible for the founders. You own your body and you own your mind. So you have to be free to believe what you believe, or the society you live in is fundamentally a tyranny. This was a very live issue back then. In Europe, there was no principle of religious liberty, and this is why you get all these religious wars. So the founders were trying to avoid that specifically, to take these matters of conscience out of the political realm and rule them out of bounds as political matters. But ultimately that notion extends beyond religion to political opinions. The only way to have free government, they thought, is through elections. And you can’t have elections without deliberation. And you can’t have public deliberation without free speech. And so without free speech the very foundation of the republic goes away. And I think they’re right. I just don’t see a counterargument to that.
Mark Granza: Here’s one perhaps. Either naturally or through necessity, some limitations on speech seem to always be present in society. As Benjamin Roberts writes in one of our essays “[in every society] at its metanarrative heart, there will always be something beyond criticism, justified by itself alone.” Blasphemy laws are today de facto in place, just in favor of the left instead of of the Right, such as in the case of minority rights, ideas of equality of outcome, etc. Does that count as a counterargument?
Michael Anton: I might get this slightly wrong, but there’s a quote by Nietzsche in The Gay Science that says, “every complete society necessarily recognizes something about which it is absolutely forbidden to laugh.” This is the same thought that you’re stating here, I think.
Mark Granza: Yes.
Michael Anton: Ok, well, Nietzsche is saying that merely as an observation. So there are two ways to look at this: 1) As an observation: Is this the way the world works? And 2) Politically: do we need to pass laws accordingly? Now the ancient had no problem with blasphemy laws. In fact, we all know Socrates is put to death for blasphemy, or a combination of blasphemy and heresy. This is kind of a rabbit hole, but in a sense the founders universalize the ancients’ conception of philosophic freedom. For the ancients, the freedom of the mind may be the most important principle, but they are not that worried about laws regulating religion, first because that’s fundamentally a matter of outward practice or conformity not inner belief, and second because in their view the only free minds are the philosophers’, whose minds will be free no matter what the laws say. The founders had no problem regulating speech in ways that support virtue, and that support religion, broadly understood. So they were quite fine with obscenity laws and so forth that target and suppress vice. And they had no problem with public support of churches. The original Constitution only bans that at the federal level. That said, the question again is: is regulating belief via the law a viable solution today? Ok, any society is always going to have things at which it cannot laugh. As of now, all the pieties in the West are the left-wing pieties. So you and I and anyone on the Right who doesn’t like these left-wing pieties don’t want to see laws in place that make it illegal to criticize the tenets of the regime. And I do think one of the reasons we are in this crisis is because the basic foundational principles of the West are no longer held up as true anymore, having been subjected to withering assault for so many centuries by our elites. Now, does that mean that the wise thing to do would have been to outlaw questioning any of the fundamental tenets of the DOI, or Locke, or whatever you think is the foundation of our particular society? I’m doubtful about that. In Greek, the word nomos covers both law and customs; it doesn’t make the distinction. Only in later thought does it emerge that, as a matter of prudence, certain things should be outlawed, and other things become simply a matter of custom that it’s best to not have the law touch but rather some kind of authoritative tradition that people hold sacred. For instance, open expressions of atheism were long considered anathema in the US. There was no law against it, of course, but there was a strong taboo. We’ve lost that part in America and in the West, and it’s costing us a great deal. Whether we could get it back simply by legislating is another question, and I’m skeptical.
Mark Granza: So to tie back to the initial question, “does the Right have something to learn from the left,” would you say that in the case of speech your answer is no? In the sense that if the Right were to regain power and control of the institutions it shouldn’t try to further its goals and mantain control by silencing the opposition?
Michael Anton: Well that’s a good question. And a very hard one to answer. So let me try to answer it this way. I suppose the two poles to the answer are, on the one hand, “Absolutely not; we must be principled in all that we do and never stoop to what they do, lest we sully ourselves, become like them, or win a hollow victory only to become that which we claim to hate.” And the opposite pole would be, “Absolutely yes. Until and unless we become as ruthless as they are, we will always lose. You can’t implement a positive program until and unless you have power, and the only way to gain power against an entrenched, ruthless enemy is to be just as ruthless, if not more. Dying on principle may be noble but you’re still dead.” So it seems to me these are both bad answers. The question then becomes, to which of the two above is the correct answer closer? And it seems to me, in present circumstances, it’s closer to the latter. Normie-cons would howl and stomp their feet and insist that principled loss is the noblest thing of all. They are in love with losing, it seems, it feeds some deep psychological need of theirs. Even though the things they claim to admire most are not exactly spotless. I mean, read a history of the American Revolution, and some rough stuff went on. This was not Marquess of Queensbury rules across the board. If you take Normie-con purity literally, then the Patriots would either have to be condemned for much of what they did, or they should have refrained from doing it, and deserved to lose. None of the normies think it through that fully, but if you accept their logic, that’s where it ends, with a kind of endless turning the other cheek that never results in any victory but rather in one noble, principled loss after another. The point is, we have to be tougher, more clever, and yes, more ruthless, but somehow without losing our souls. To a normie-con, your soul is lost the second you even contemplate fighting fire with fire. We have to be more tough-minded than that without simply become amoral predators. We want to be neither the Melians nor the Athenian ambassadors to Melos. We need to combine the coolness, determination and calculation of the Athenians with the justice and self-respect of the Melians. Obviously that’s not easy, but hard things by definition are not easy.
Mark Granza. Absolutely. I’d like to move from there to the ‘anonimity issue’. You wrote your Flight 93 essay under a pseudonym. The authors of the Federalist Papers also published anonymously. There’s currently an online debate on the Right (or at least an attempt to start one) about the role and use of anonymity in fighting the Regime and its narrative. What do you think is this role and how useful (or not) can it be?
Michael Anton: I think it can be very useful. I’m in a few chats and friends send me lots of links, and among those I see also tweets by anonymous accounts. I don’t know who they are but I think they’re very effective. They’re making good points, or making fun of the enemy in an effective way. My disagreement here with BAP is that he has said more than once that all writing under anyone’s own name is “worthless,” that it will not be remembered. Now this could easily be just me taking it personally since I write it under my own name, but I think it’s obviously ridiculous. If all the Right had was nothing but a hundred percent of anonymous writers, we would be much more easily dismissible as kooks, cranks and fringe, and so on. This goes back to the respectability problem. There are lots and lots of people in the middle, ‘Normie types’, who are persuadable and who will not be persuaded by anons simply because that person is writing anonymously. So we need people writing under their own name, just to put that veneer of respectability that a certain class of reader needs in order to even open their mind to the argument. Lastly, I think one of the dangers of writing anonymously is that you tend to be a little reckless. You want to be edgy and want to push it, and you end up saying things that discredit your own side and that you otherwise wouldn’t have said for fear of blowback. And so that’s one of the arguments against anonymity: when you’re accountable for every single word it forces you to be careful with what you say.
Mark Granza: Lomez argues in his essay Our Generation’s War that meaningful insurgencies are downstream from their capacity to “imagine.” In his view, “direct action politics will flail and follow, rather than lead, if it is not tethered to the kind of self-understanding that can only be achieved through art.” Is this spiritual warfare?
Michael Anton: I get the term “spiritual warfare” from Strauss describing Machiavelli’s project. It’s a war of ideas to win over the population from a set of other ideas, or to wake them from torpor and get them to embrace yours. And that’s certainly what we need to do. I think we’ve got a hard core of the population that is in the grip of bad ideas. The woke are probably out of our reach. But can we win over others? I think that’s possible, and that will have to be done through a combination of arguments, memes, art, jokes, ridicule, you name it. Spiritual warfare is vast and varied, and we’re probably just getting started. Conservatives are not really engaged in the culture. And to the extent that they are, they’re engaged in reactive battles, such as for instance the defense of the Boy Scouts, a fight that is now sadly lost. We try to fight the leftist encroachment, try to stop it, but don’t engage positively in a manner that actually influences culture. Conservatives don’t make movies, write books, and do all the things that the left does, certainly not on the scale that they do. And when they do, they do it in a kind of lame, cringey way — Christian movies being a great example of this. Now, I hope I’m soon proved wrong about this, and that conservatives start to actually make good art. Unfortunately it just hasn’t happened yet. Tom Wolfe to me is a standout example of a conservative, patriotic artist in the 20th century. He was definitely right of center. Just go read The Bonfire of the Vanities. All of his lessons are still unbelievably applicable to the world we live in. But you know, these kind of people don’t grow on trees. They’re rare. I wish I knew how the Right can find them, cultivate them, produce them and educate them.
Mark Granza: Don’t you find the Right’s inability to produce good art a little strange though, given that (some might say) art itself is inherently right-wing?
Michael Anton: People have made that point before. It is strange. Some of it may simply be the patronage or the pay structure inherent in our time. That is to say, if you want to make it as a novelist or as a screenwriter or just makes movies, etc., you have to go through the established systems, and then you’re basically locked out. This is partly a failure of the conservative donor class. They’re only interested in short-term electoral and policy victories. Nobody on the Right would invest to support the writing of somebody over the course of a decade as he publishes short stories and builds a reputation which may lead to a breakthrough down the line or not. The Right would immediately say, “That’s a waste of money!” Conservative donors need to think more like venture capitalists. Venture capitalists invest in all kinds of things that never go anywhere. But they’re looking for those unicorns, and you never know who the unicorn might be. If conservatives invest in one hundred young writers or artists, maybe only one of them ever really hits it big, but that jackpot could be so big that it’s truly transformative for the culture. But they don’t think that way, they just absolutely don’t. They want something very concrete that they can put in a report to say, we’ve got this bill passed or this thing defeated. And they want it in six months. It’s a huge failure on our side.
Mark Granza: In a recent podcast with PostModern Conservative you talked about the Regime’s rhetoric, and how its attempts to exclude increasing numbers of people from the systems will eventually lead to the point where so-called “Deplorables” will have no access to resources left. At which point, you said, they will be forced to revolt and start building parallel structures. Do you think that’s the only scenario where people will revolt?
Michael Anton: I don’t think that’s the only thing that would get people to revolt. I do think though that that surely will. Certain folks will howl at this, but if you listen to the woke left, they think it’s not merely fine for banks to cancel customers over political beliefs, but even morally obligatory. So if a customer of the First National Bank gets his account closed for wrongthink, then the left’s view is, it’s immoral for the Second National Bank, and so on down the line, to take him as a customer. Ditto for credit cards. Ok, well, extend this out. Why should stores sell to immoral people, to “racists” and “insurrectionists” who threaten “our democracy”? Isn’t the store committing an immoral act by selling to immoral people? There was an article recently in The New York Times which described farmer’s markets and food coops as “white supremacist.” Why? The stated reason was that communitarians and religious people and home-schoolers and the like are increasingly buying food from them, and as we all know, these are Bad People. But part of it is the awareness that these kinds of markets are ‘off the grid’, outside the distribution system that the regime controls or has leverage over. Combine all this with the regime’s dream of a cashless society. What happens to a person who, because of some Facebook post from 2013, got fired, can’t get a job, lost his bank account, can’t get another, was getting by in the ‘gig economy’ paid in cash, but it’s increasingly harder to be paid in cash. So he’s broke or has very little money, no credit card, no way to e-pay for anything, and the ‘racist’ farmer’s market is shut down. How does that person live? How does he eat? Now, if the regime wants to continue to stop them, it will have to use its power. But by then the masses will truly revolt, as the regime would be essentially saying “We’re not going to kill you, just make conditions such that you can’t live.” I think both the left and the fake Right deep down believe such an outcome would be morally just, but also realize how sinister it sounds, which is why they are not quite ready yet to admit publicly this is where their logic leads.
Mark Granza: Is there another scenario though that you think might lead to an uprising?
Michael Anton: I draw a few scenarios in chapter seven of The Stakes. I actually use mandatory vaccines as an example, and this was pre-Covid. I can see a revolt arising if not with this vaccine then with the one down the line. I point back to Ruby Ridge in 1992 and Waco in 1993, in which federal agents besieged compounds and killed a lot of people for dubious, at best, reasons. The USA was very different in the early ’90s. There was a great deal more unity, a great deal more residual goodwill, more trust of the federal government and so on. Were something like one of those events to happen today, with mistrust and ill-will piled up like kindling, you could get a very different outcome. I always point to the Arab Spring. Do you know what provoked the uprising there? A 26-year-old street vendor had routinely been harassed by authorities, they would confiscate his goods and so on. They would ‘fine’ him even though there was no official fine on the books. Basically, they were demanding bribes. Well, he thought it was outrageous. It was interfering with his ability to make a living. Now, this is not something I’m encouraging any Americans to do to be clear — but he poured a can of gasoline over his head and set himself on fire. As he did so, he reportedly shouted, “How do you expect me to make a living?” And within days the entire Arab world was blown up politically. You never know what might happen. There is no moderation on the left today. There is not even awareness of the necessity of moderation, or how moderation might serve their interests. They are just pedal to the floor, no, through the floor all the time now.
Mark Granza: How we can we start to organize ourselves to prevent any of those radical scenarios?
Michael Anton: Well, I’m not much of an organizer, so I think I’m the wrong person to ask. But here’s a couple of things you can do in the meantime. Build friendships; build little networks of people that you can completely count on. Disconnect as much as you can from the system. If you’re in a corporate job where they’re going to ramp up the conformity and you have another way to make a living, get out now, or start planning your exit. I’m not much of a prepper or a survivalist, but if you can start to learn how to grow food and be as independent and self-sufficient as you can, I would do that. I would start working on that right now.
Mark Granza: One last question Mr. Anton. It’s 2040. Ten years ago the Regime, like the Soviet Union before it, fully collapsed under the weight of its lies and delusions. The Right has regained power and now controls the institutions. You, having played a noble role along with others decide to finally retire from political life, as it were, to your farm, and decide to take a long vacation. You start your car and begin driving, first across California, but eventually across America, smiling and proud to be an American by simply looking outside the window of your car… What are you seeing?
Michael Anton: Well, first I’m seeing a functioning border, both at the Southern border, at the airports, and all ports of entry where we’re keeping track of who’s coming in. There are only lawful entries. And workplaces throughout the land are required to check a worker’s legal eligibility. Personally, I’d like to see no immigration for the foreseeable future — America does not now need more people. But if that can’t be achieved, then at least much, much less. Then as I drive around the country, I’d like to see factories open. You know, not burnt-out small towns. Actual thriving, small towns with real work opportunities for people at all social classes. Not just bankers and lawyers and coders on the coasts making money and a kind of empty middle or despairing middle. I’d like to see schools filled with patriotic teachers leading the students in the pledge of allegiance, not telling the white kids that they’re born evil and the non-white to hate their white classmates. I’d like to see teachers actually teaching core subjects in a competent way that prepares the students to function as citizens, as workers, as mothers and fathers in an economy that serves their interests, not just those of an oligarchic elite. Same for universities. As I stop by the major cities of America, I’d like to find a patriotic elite acting in the common good, not bleeding wealth out of the countryside and of the middle class to concentrate it in their own hands. In Washington, I’d like to see politicians acting in the same way, consistently in the national interest, not selling out to corporations or foreign interests. I’d like to see more married couples, more babies born to them, fewer people fighting in the streets, and more American flags on people’s balconies and porches. A lot more American flags…
Moments after publishing this, news of Angelo Codevilla‘s passing reached us through Twitter. This publication would like to dedicate this interview to him.