A "Bronze Age Mindset" Won't Save Us From Leviathan
In a recent article in The Claremont Review of Books, Michael Anton says that conventional conservatism does not appeal to American youth. “It’s been evident for a while, at least to me, that conventional conservatism no longer holds much purchase with large swaths of the under 40, and especially under 30, crowd. Tax cuts, deregulation, trade giveaways, Russophobia, democracy wars, and open borders are not, to say the least, getting the kids riled up.”
Anton reviews with great care a book by “Bronze Age Pervert” called Bronze Age Mindset. Although he does not agree with the book, Anton understands its appeal to dissatisfied young people. “The reason this book is important is because it speaks directly to a youthful dissatisfaction (especially among white males) with equality as propagandized and imposed in our day: a hectoring, vindictive, resentful, levelling, hypocritical equality that punishes excellence and publicly denies all difference while at the same time elevating and enriching a decadent, incompetent, and corrupt elite.”
How does Anton propose to appeal to youth in a better way than the author of the Bronze Age Mindset? This becomes much clearer in his book After the Flight 93 Election than in the article. In it, Anton argued that the 2016 election was the last chance to stop the Left’s efforts to remold America. “2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. You — or the leader of your party — may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees. Except one: if you don’t try death is certain. To compound the metaphor: a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.”
Anton Embraces the Jaffa Myth
Anton strikes effectively at Clinton and her leftist allies, but his own program is far from satisfactory. He embraces every detail of the myth of American history concocted by Harry Jaffa, a student of Leo Strauss who devoted much of his career to hagiographical accounts of Abraham Lincoln. Jaffa, who possessed literary gifts of no mean order, saw nineteenth-century American history as a battle between the philosophies of Lincoln and John C. Calhoun. According to Jaffa, Lincoln wanted to carry out the promise of the Declaration of Independence, which said that “all men are created equal.” They were not, Jaffa hastened to add, equal in talent, but equal in the sense that no one was naturally the ruler of another. (Actually, Jaffa teaches rule by wise philosophers like himself, but that is another story.) The equality clause of the Declaration is inimical to slavery, Jaffa tells us, and Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration, hoped that slavery would end, though terminating it required patience and care. Despite its compromises to secure Southern acceptance, Jaffa assures us the Constitution is also a fundamentally anti-slavery document.
Against this vision stood the nefarious Calhoun. He believed in “group rights,” and in order to guarantee that slavery, for him a positive good, continued, he supported the right of states to nullify laws passed by the majority of the legislature of our constitutional republic. Fortunately for us Americans, the Jaffa myth continues, Abraham Lincoln — far more than a politician but a thinker of genius — saved us.
The Nazis held exactly the same view of group rights as Calhoun — or so the myth goes — and World War II was a struggle between the principle of equality and Calhoun’s legal positivism. Fortunately for the world, Jaffa concludes, great leaders including Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower enabled our country to survive.
A Powerful Centralized State Won't Save Us
Can this account succeed in winning over disaffected American youth? Anton is right that young people are repelled by political correctness. But what does he offer them? A powerful central state that destroys the rights of states and local communities, doing so in merciless wars like the Civil War and World War II. Anton finds some value in federalism, but it must be strictly subordinate to the central government’s efforts to enforce equality. In like fashion, religion is allotted its place, but it is subject to suppression if clergy dare to contradict the “civil religion” of equality that everyone must profess. Once more Lincoln is the model here, and his speeches become our new Holy Writ. Is this what young people want? Surely they want to be left alone so that they can raise their families in peace. Surely they wish to practice their own religion without supervision by the state. Anton does not favor a Wilsonian quest to make the world safe for democracy, and he praises Ron Paul for his opposition to our futile efforts at social reform in Iraq after the invasion. But, unlike Ron Paul, he does not support a consistent policy of nonintervention.
Anton is a skilled Straussian reader of texts, and he offers a careful account of Bronze Age Mindset. Anton is right that the author is a man of considerable learning, but the “philosophy” that he offers in the book will have little appeal to those ordinary Americans who wish to cultivate hearth and home in their local communities. “Bronze Age Pervert” disdains localism and regards the expansionist James Polk as our greatest president.
Instead of our own American customs and traditions, BAP offers to readers an account of Greek warriors as godlike beings. His homoerotic fantasies are accompanied by hatred of the “filth” of the actual world and an especial hatred of the “Great Mother” appealed to by theorists of primitive matriarchy from Bachofen to Klages to Gimbutas. He says “The great ‘Earth Mother,’ originally some kind of half-humean [sic] half-cockroach creature resplendent with horrid eggs like big Amazon centipede … this seeks to reabsorb you.” Anton has an essentially rhetorical conception of philosophy, and imaginative appeals impress him. His considerable skill in textual analysis is not matched by skill in philosophical argument. Here he resembles once more his master Harry Jaffa. Neither he nor Bronze Age Pervert can effectively appeal to those fed up with the Leviathan State.