Michael Anton: The Dogma of the Modern University
The American Mind Podcast, Episode II
The American Mind Podcast is made possible in part by generous support from The Randolph Foundation.
In this podcast, Dr. Matthew Peterson, our Vice President of Education, is joined by Claremont Senior Fellow Michael Anton. Recorded Friday, August 31, 2018.
Michael Anton is a lecturer and research fellow at Hillsdale College, a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, and a former national security official in the Trump administration.
The American Mind Podcast Episode #2: The Dogma of the Modern University
“Welcome everyone, to the American Mind podcast, a production of the Claremont Institute. I’m Ryan Williams, president of the Claremont Institute and publisher of the Claremont Review of Books. This podcast is about ideas, principles, and American politics, usually hosted by yours truly or our vice president of education, Matthew Peterson. Our mission at Claremont has always been the recovery of the American idea—those timeless principles that have made America great since our founding. Visit our website for show notes, essays, editorials, debates, and more at americanmind.org and you can always reach us by e-mailing [email protected]. Don’t forget to subscribe to the American Mind on itunes or wherever you get your podcasts, spread the word to your friends and colleagues, and most importantly—thanks for listening.”
–Ryan Williams, President of the Claremont Institute
“I’m Matt Peterson, vice president of Education at the Claremont Institute and Editor of American Mind. We’ve all heard about the problems of Higher Education today and many of us agree that they lack true intellectual diversity. In fact, they practically celebrate an oppressive and puritanical adherence to the dogma of political correctness. But exactly how and why did they get this way? In the podcast you are about to hear, I catch up with Michael Anton, the author of Claremont’s “Flight 93” essay, which argued for the election of Donald Trump. This was perhaps the most influential and controversial essay of 2016 and people are still talking and arguing about it today. Anton is also a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute. Now the Claremont Institute sponsors multiple discussions at the American Political Science Association’s annual conference. We recorded this conversation this summer, after a panel Anton was part of called “Politics and the Modern University.” In our conversation, Anton traces the history and operating procedure of today’s leftism on campus. From the thought of John Rawls and the New Left of the 60’s and 70’s on to today, he claims that this mixture of Rawls and the New Left has led to the campus protests for so-called “social justice” in the headlines today. But he also identifies the problem with the Right in failing to stand up to the Left, when we discuss the Right’s cozy relationship with the elites who rule the universities. Finally, we talk about three areas that Mike thinks the Right failed to get right, which Trump did get right: immigration, trade, and foreign policy. Enjoy.”
–Matthew Peterson, Vice President of the Claremont Institute
Peterson: I’m here with Michael Anton, who is now with Hillsdale. What is your title?
Anton: Lecturer in politics and research fellow.
Peterson: And Mike is also a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute. So, we’re at the 2018 APSA panels, that the Claremont Institute puts on and one of them included you talking about leftism on campus. It’s an interesting panel. Why don’t you tell our listeners what you spoke about?
Anton: I tried to give something of the backstory both as I remembered it and as I’ve researched it of where today’s leftism came from. The theoretical part of my talk –I guess I tried to give an account of how it understands itself and I say it has two bases, one is sort of Rawlsian liberalism in a formal way from the early 70s from Rawls’ book, 1971 A Theory of Justice, which Rawls updated with a number of later books. And my argument is that the updates are all an exercise in retroactive continuity. That is to say the other or second basis of today’s leftism is what was originally the new left in the 1960s and now the movement calls itself Social Justice. A movement to press social justice, and I say that in every way – another way to look at it is I put it in an article that I’ve written but I haven’t yet published, you could say that the two bases of modern leftism. One comes from the faculty, one comes from the students.
The faculty are devising grand theories and 800 page books to explain everything and the students were just saying faster, faster, faster, more, more, more. In every case the faculty or the theorists tried to update the theory because the students were always ahead of them. The vanguard of the movement was always – as vanguards are by definition out in front, and those students – the faculty or the theorists would say, “Oh well, the students have discovered some new claim to justice that we hadn’t figured out before. Well, we’ll find a way to work into our theory.”
So even on the intellectual side, it’s of a piece of what actually happened in the 60s and 70s, where once challenged, faculty and administration almost always cravingly caved to the students, gave in, and remade the university in policy and affect, and manner, in every way in order to student demands. And universities are still doing that to this day as we saw a kind of eruption of campus craziness beginning in the fall of 2015 with the meltdown at Yale over Halloween costumes and other things. In every case where the students kind of go nuts and demand something crazy, the university cannot trip over itself fast enough to meet their demands and abase themselves and say, “Please forgive us and we’ll do everything you ask and more.”
Peterson: I just left Claremont McKenna College teaching there just before that exploded and I – what strikes me of the fear of the faculty and the part of the faculty, there’s a fear of saying anything that would offend someone unnecessarily, but this has been going on for a long time, and as you point out it never seems to stop. What’s driving it? What’s driving the vanguard do you think?
Anton: Some of it is just to be young is to want attention, to be young is to be in a hurry. This almost goes back to–poets and philosophers were recognizing this about the French revolution that there’s a sort of fervor in the young that just wants to push whatever you’re trying to do harder and faster.
Another example of that – a historical example is the abolitionist movement, which is always very impatient with Lincoln and with other statesmen who had the same goal. We were going to abolish slavery, but there’s always this spirit of the youth which says this is bad and we have to end it immediately, right now, one second longer is intolerable. Any concession to prudence or to practical matters or to tactical means or Lincoln was concerned about the constitutionality. All of that is just no, no, justice demands this be done instantly. If you want to delay and any concession or argument from a tactical or practical or prudential basis, the youth, the vanguard always sees it as craven betrayals of principle and mere excuses.
Some of it is just youth. Some of it I think is inherent in the principle, which I try to lay out that the basis of leftism is that society sort of has to be upended so that all the purpose of government instead of securing equal and natural rights and working for the common good, the purpose of government becomes to redress all inequality and sand off the edges is way too soft, but let’s just say eliminate by whatever means all disadvantage. Help the most disadvantaged. And redress all historic injustices, and right now—it can’t wait—right now.
So, the theory itself almost demands this sort of craziness. And some of it might just be a kind of turfism. I don’t know if that’s the right word, but you know college campuses they’re the kids’ turf in a way, right? They think that this is our safe – they use these terms now. I don’t make these terms up. “This is our safe space.”
So if it’s your safe space, if it’s your little utopia, it’s yours, then it should look the way you want it to look in every way, and ideas from the outside that say hold on, wait a minute, what about this, what about that, they almost view it kind of like a turf war. “You don’t get a say as to what goes on here. This is our special happy place. We get to design our little Plato’s republic exactly the way we want. Considerations from donors from whatever other people think they have some interest in the university doesn’t matter.”
Peterson: What is your personal experience like? I mean you were at Berkeley.
Anton: I was at Berkeley for a while.
Peterson: The people’s republic itself.
Anton: I was a Davis for a brief period so I sort of lived through the initial PC wars. When this first became a national issue in the late 80s and early 90s I was in college. And, it got on the cover of Newsweek. I’m pretty sure was 1990. I remember that cover, it had these giant block letters like they were carved out of stone if I remember it exactly. But it said “Thought Police” and it was a long article explaining, it was fair and dispassionate and then a bunch of critical books came out by conservative scholars and conservative intellectuals. And I think a lot of us thought, wow now that attention has been drawn to this phenomenon in such a way and the absurdity has been pointed out, it will have to get better. Stuff will have to start rolling back. Of course, that didn’t happen at all. We were all fools – or at least I was – for thinking so.
So, it sort of exploded into public consciousness, was talked about a lot and then it just went away. The topic got no longer discussed and the universities concluded rightly that we weathered that storm. We can just keep doing what we’re doing and that’s what they did.
Peterson: Until the late unpleasantness. So, why is this happening at the universities? I guess my question has always been do conservatives really take this problem with education seriously and maybe that’s an unfair question. But, I remember a lot of those books in the 90s. I remember Bill Bennett. I remember their effort to reform the Department of Education.
The idea that our colleges, our universities, there were big reports coming out that we’re failing our students when it comes to American history and civics, and there was this fear of the decline of the educational system in the 80s, certainly and probably going back before there has always been recurring fears of the quality of education, but the same problem has been pointed out by a lot of people for a few decades now. It doesn’t seem like anything changes.
Anton: No, I think though – I don’t want to give conservatives too hard a time about this, although I like giving them a hard time on other things. I don’t think – I think they don’t know what to do, and for the simple reason it’s not really easy to know what to do. These are very hard targets for conservatives to crack. These are almost impregnable fortresses that the universities have built themselves up into. It would be easier for conservatives to do something about public universities because conservatives in certain states, especially not so much in California, but in certain states, they actually have legislative majorities. They have say over how these schools get funded. They could use that say over funding to demand an exact real change. They could be smarter about appointments to boards of regions of public universities and things like that and they haven’t done that.
I don’t know how much that would change the overall issue because most of this stuff is driven by—that’s fair—most of this stuff is driven by elite private universities, and the public universities follow what they see coming from – to them the top is the top tier Ivy Stanford and a couple of other private. There may be a few blue-chip public universities like Berkley Michigan, Virginia Chapel Hill, UM Madison.
Think about that though, in all of those places, you’re not going to do anything about the University of California. Maybe Scott Walker could do something about the University of Wisconsin, maybe, but the university itself and its vast networks would rise up in opposition. The politics in Michigan maybe they’d have some chance there. North Carolina maybe. A few of these places, but for the most part it would be hard – you’d be better off starting in very red states and trying to build the movement out to reform the university.
I still don’t think that would change the behavior of the private universities. It might – who knows what might happen. It might create an actual gulf between public and private universities. That might actually turn out to be a good thing, although I think that the public universities wouldn’t like it because they would feel – they already have kind of an inferiority complex that has grown in the last decade because of pressure on state budgets. There have been funding cuts even in blue states, not out of attempts to reform the universities – out of necessity.
So they feel like they’re kind of falling behind whereas the elite private schools just get richer and richer. If they were then also forced by a conservative movement to adopt a less radical line, I think it would be psychologically very difficult for the public universities to bear because they would see their elite private counterparts becoming ever more important avatars of the culture war and themselves being forced into this lane of common sense mediocrity is the way they would see it. “Wow, we’re not even on the same – in the same movement with these guys anymore.” I think – to quote Bart Simpson, “It might break their brain.”
Peterson: Yeah, I agree with that. Let’s talk a little bit more about what the substance of the universities should be. I mean you went to St. John’s, you went to Claremont. Talk a little about that experience and about the problem of higher education, because I’m a big fan of just getting to the core of the real curricular problem that we face.
Anton: Well, you know a good person to talk to about this would be John Marini who’s thought about it very deeply. I remember that this year’s Lincoln Fellows program in his long talk on historicism and changes, he said something at one point, “Well the most important intellectual event in the United States in the last couple of centuries was in 1876.” And all the students were thinking what happened – I know what happened in 1865, but 1876. He said, “Yeah the founding of Johns Hopkins,” and they’re still puzzled, going what does that have to do with anything? So Marini’s point was that was the first research university on the German model founded in the United States.
Subsequent to that almost every university has reinvented itself to copy that model. What it did is it changed the focus of the university from teaching students education in character, education in the classics in a core. Jefferson for instance, go back and read Jefferson’s sort of mission statement as he founds the University of Virginia. He says this is what this thing is intended to do. He doesn’t say it’s intended to do a bunch of peer-reviewed research and STEM or in bean counting social science and all of that, and that all teaching will be sloughed off to graduate student teaching assistants and will turn the place into kind of a degree mill. And the real faculty will teach one course, maybe 1.5 courses a year and have sabbaticals to do research all the time. You would be lucky if the student ever sees them.
I mean I can remember going to – Berkeley was famous for this. There would be in some of the really big lecture courses one building we called it – LSB Life Sciences Building – this giant sort of Babylonian ziggurat at the center of campus. There was a humongous auditorium in the center, which probably held several hundred seats and then two very large ones flanking it. Depending on if you get there early enough you could sit in the very, very large auditorium and see the professor as a little fleck down on the stage. If you got there too late you’d have to sit in one of the ones on the wings and watch it simulcast. I mean this is the remoteness of the faculty to students at a major research university.
So the university –used to take the students and say “We’re going to teach you stuff,” and the faculty would have interests. They might keep writing things but the phrase, public or perish, I’m sure there must be some value to that but the universities has definitely changed its focus. It measures faculty not by what or how well it teaches, but by really how much it produces, and then to another extent the university is obviously happy when you produce stuff that gets noticed because it redounds to the benefit and prestige of the university.
Peterson: Well what was the – was there a moment when you were moving through your educational life where there was – your eyes were opened a few moments along the way when it comes to St. John’s, Claremont and this kind of education?
Anton: No, I chose to go to St. John’s. I don’t know exactly how it happened. I got the bug that I had to read the great books. I got that while I was still an undergraduate, and I took as many courses as I could. Berkeley didn’t have any kind of – no University of California campus has any kind of core curriculum in the great books, but at least back then you could still find courses that would teach you books that were great. And, I did that as much as I could and then I was lucky enough to find at Davis, actually, Larry Peterman who he subsequently – he died several years ago but was one of Harry Jaffa’s PhDs out of Claremont and a scholar who really just dug down to the roots of Aristotle and Machiavelli among others.
I read carefully Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics and Machiavelli and Dante with him. I knew that there was so much more that I had to read, and St. John’s had a program where you would read almost everything some of which, Iliad and Odyssey, I had already done, much of which I had not done. I went there and did the master’s degree and I’m very grateful for the experience and never would have read all of those books without it in all likelihood. I still felt something was missing because of their approach. They called the faculty tutors, not professors. The faculty as supposed to take a more relaxed or sort of step back approach and let the students carry on the conversation whereas I was more in a mode where if you know more about this book than I do tell me what you know. I’ll just sit here and listen and you can talk.
I wanted a more traditional education which is what I got in the end at Claremont. Where you go and your professors, you do old fashioned seminars or like our teacher, Charles Kesler would come to class every time well prepared with a real lecture. A thought out – I mean he didn’t read from a script but he read from notes and an outline that was clearly very, very structured and if you took notes and you paid attention to what he was saying you were going to learn something serious. Every class with him was like that.
Peterson: Those classes I remember walking in for the first time in one of his classes visiting before I started taking them and he was just working through his notes like that. I’d really never seen anyone do that before. So, when it comes to the left on campus, I mean why is it – I mean, put it this way why do they hate great books? Why is there this – it’s regarded as this low base thing to have this core curriculum or force people to read certain kinds of books as opposed to others. Why is that?
Anton: Well you know I would turn to another panel that I watched yesterday. What was not on, the one on identity politics and others, and I think two panelists, in particular, went into this David Azerrad and I’m blanking on the name of the second one –
Peterson: Peter Meyers.
Anton: Yes. Look, there’s a sense of which distributive justice requires that all groups, whether ethnic, racial, national, in the world have to be sort of represented curriculum. The old core curriculum that had been around for hundreds of years. The derisive phrase you’ll still hear all the time on college campuses, dead white males – sometimes you’ll see it abbreviated DWM. DWM’s.
And so at first, it was we’ll just diversify the core curriculum by adding stuff to it. We’ll add other writers and get more perspective. Okay. That’s hard to argue with that as long as the diversification doesn’t entail a dip in quality. But yes, maybe the core curriculum over the years has been too narrow and the idea could be expanded.
Then stage two is they start to move – these are the people that were not going to read anymore because they said something offensive or because of some – not even maybe something in their books, but because of they were part of this movement or they had this association with this person, and then stage three is this sort of an inexorable logic is we’re just not going to read any of that stuff at all because it’s all evil. Our tools utilized to maintain patriarchy and privilege and evil oppression and supremacy and that kind of stuff, and we’re just going to kick the pillars out from under that and the pillars happen to be these old books. So the books themselves become held to be bad or evil. Tools of oppression.
Peterson: It’s always the oddest thing to me that the way that collapses a variety of authors and texts that disagree that are radically different that are saying – they have very deep disagreements within the “western tradition” and also just to call – Aristotle is a dead white male along with Machiavelli and Luther I guess.
Anton: It’s kind of hilarious. In the early – I was talking to Charles about this yesterday and the late 80s and early 90s, so back in my college years there was a very popular – seems to have gone away – but a popular movement called Afrocentrism. The purpose of which was to claim as much of dead white male civilization and say, well actually these guys are all African or something other than a dead white male. So, I don’t know if this is progress or regress but 25 years ago parts of the left wanted to just say we can read Aristotle because in fact he wasn’t a dead white male. He was a dead some other type – he was still male probably but maybe he wasn’t white, and so, therefore, we could read him. But I guess that’s been forgotten and he’s back to being a dead white male and we can’t read him anymore.
Peterson: Yeah it would be even better to go back to calling him whatever color that allows people to read him.
Anton: I suppose. There might be – this is the old man in me. The older I get the more I start sounding like Grandpa Simpson, but it might be that just those books are hard and kids don’t want to work, and so the easier it is to find some excuse to say I don’t want to have to read these because they’re difficult and denounce them as evil rather than admit the truth, which is this is really hard and I don’t want to deal with it. I’d rather take blankety-blank studies and just super easy and get an A than read – some of that—Aristotle is had to read. Most of these books are actually hard and almost none of them are easy to read, some of them are harder than others.
Peterson: Yeah, there might be something to that. We could talk about the left a little bit more. The dichotomy is when it comes to the curriculum or what you’re actually learning at the university it’s completely on you, right? There’s no substance to it anymore so it’s completely to the individual, but when it comes to the way the left operates on campus, and when it comes to speech and everything else it is authoritarian, and we see this move. You gave us three steps for the university, right? We see this politically now too. We see a kind of authoritarianism that perhaps we hadn’t seen in the past in its full-fledged form.
Anton: No, it seems to be the logical working out of what I was witnessing in the late 80s and early 90s. As I said on my panel yesterday I was certain at the time that this was a craziness that couldn’t last. It would have to burn itself out and go away within a few years, a decade or something. That’s obviously not happened. As I also said everything that I thought was nuts at Berkeley in 1987 is in 2018 federal law, and everything just keeps kind of grinding inexorably in that direction.
Look, as I’ve said elsewhere also, though, if there is nature, and I believe there is nature then there are natural limits to madness and this movement will eventually have to break itself from its own internal contradictions, or to quote the words of Thomas Sowell, “The impossible cannot be achieved.” So, if what the left is trying to do is impossible, as I believe it is, then it can’t be achieved. There’s many quotes that make the same thought.
The late economist Herbert Stein who is the father of Ben Stein who is probably most famous for being the econ professor in Ferris Bueller’s Day off who asks the Hawley Smoot tariff question. Anyway, and he’s a funny guy. He’s done a lot of stuff, but Herbert Stein in a famous line, a very simple aphorism, “Anything that can’t go on forever won’t.” The question is how long can it go on and so it’s been going on for a while, and it seems like it’s not running out of gas yet. What damage will it do before it inevitably comes to an end? Those are important questions.
Peterson: So the way I have been looking at this with other wiser people talking to me, giving me hope before I had any – before really the last two years was people would say – a few people told me, look, nature pours a vacuum and if you can’t produce leaders people will find leaders. They may be good. They may be bad, but they’re going to find them outside of your pool, and one of the things that came up on that panel is the fact that as we all know, it doesn’t matter what classes you take and point of fact at the top universities because you’re not there to take classes.
There’s no classes in googling or Goldman Sachs-ing. Nonetheless, they’re going to come to campus and recruit because this is a giant filtering system whereby big corporate and big management knows they’ll get prospects who will work and they can teach, as someone said on the panel. So, that is a problem though that –
Anton: It’s also a giant irony in the following sense. One of those things that’s most denounced in the university today is any kind of research into IQ. That’s just considered a complete anathema- pseudoscience except that the university itself is totally based on standardized testing for filtering – that’s why the university system works is because elite employers, whether banks or tech companies or whatever know that when they go to Harvard and Stanford to recruit, they’re getting the smartest kids to come out of American education – come out of high school four years prior. They haven’t really been standardized tested since then and won’t maybe ever be again.
But they’re using that as a proxy for intelligence and that’s what they’re buying when they hire these kids. They’re buying raw intelligence, so I think the commenter in the audience said, one of his students or one of his children got a job with McKenzie Consulting. I said what do you do and the kid said, “Well, I go to big companies and I tell them what to do.” He said but you don’t know anything. He says, “Yeah I know.” “Well why do they listen to you?” He said, “They know that we don’t know anything, but they know that we’re smart. And so they know that we come out of an elite education which vouches for the fact that we’re super intelligent and they’ll just teach us what we need to know and then send us out in the world.”
That really is what it is. So you have to ask yourself – it reminds me in a way not that I follow it much, but of the NBA where some of these kids are so good at 18 they can just go right into the NBA and play pro ball, but we require them to play college ball for some period of time. I guess now the NCAA has loosened its rules. Some kids can do only one year and try to get into the NBA. But, if they’re so smart at age 18, and in fact, that’s the last time we tested them why do we put them through four years of whatever before they can go to McKenzie and tell Procter & Gamble what to do? Why don’t we just let them tell Procter & Gamble what to do when they’re 18 and skip the four years?
Peterson: I think there are a few people who have suggested that this might be a good idea.
Anton: I mean if we were teaching them something over those four years.
Peterson: Peter Thiel, we should mention is going to pay you to leave college and there have been lots of people who have left those universities and have access to capital and been able to create businesses, etc.
Let’s focus on the problem that this creates. You’ve criticized Right and Left but right I think especially on this point. It’s a uni-party sort of system where the people on top come out of these universities shaped in a vague way. It’s not politically – some of them are more political than others but vaguely politically goes in one direction mostly to the left and people have used all of these phrases recently that are just bubbled organically because we see the problem of leadership where we say this is the managerial cast, right? These are the technocratic elites, and what’s the problem with that? What problem has this created? Couldn’t I say, look okay so this is fine. What’s the problem, you’ve created a bunch of people at the top who they’re really smart, they have some kind of education. They go out and they rule the world and all these corporate jobs and managerial jobs, so what?
Anton: There’s a number of problems. For one thing, my friend Tom Joscelyn and I discuss this often. The failure of the American elites in the last couple of decades has been pretty staggering. I mean the managerial technocrat if it were as good as it said it was we wouldn’t have had a financial crisis, would we? You’d think we wouldn’t have. We wouldn’t have had the Iraq war and all the subsequent failures that emanated therefrom if the military intelligence and foreign policy elites knew what they were doing.
In all the subsequent disasters, Libya, the Obama Administration – I mean the failure of the elites are actually pretty staggering when you get right down to it, and it hasn’t caused anybody yet to fundamentally rethink the system. That’s because we weather these periodic crises, and when everything gets back to normal people think the system works rather well. Some people do.
Trump is an example of people recognizing the system has not worked rather well. There’s a massive number of people in the United States and all over the west – all over Europe, who are saying globalism does not work for me and does not work for my family and doesn’t work for my extended community or my industry, so we’re sitting here right now on the high floor of a beautiful hotel looking at Boston. One of the world’s global winner cities. If this is all you see of the world and this is a lot all people see of the world, Boston, you know what I call the Davos archipelago, the world looks fine.
Peterson: Davos archipelago, beautiful phrase.
Anton: The world looks fine, right. I used to warn kids who came out to The Claremont Institute stuff. If all you see is Newport Beach you think California is A-okay. Even if all you see is Claremont because Claremont I hadn’t seen it in a while and I spent a week there earlier this summer and wow did it look cleaner, sparklier, and prettier than ever. It’s a little So-Cal Palo Alto now. Not that it was ever bad but it just seems like the big sort of sort of winner towns and community and lower towns ever goes on and the bad ones keep getting worse and the good ones keep getting better.
So, in that sense, I’m not sure it is working out. Another point that I wanted to make is tangential is there’s a difference – so you learn. One of the things that you do learn university is sort of like a finishing school. We were saying it has no value. It has no substantive value but perhaps it has the following value. It’s like a finishing school that teaches you all the right opinions that you’re supposed to hold and the right way to express them.
So, if you’re a big bank or a big tech company like that, you want to hire someone who is imbued with the social justice ethos, but who’s not a tip of the sphere social justice warrior out screeching and pouring fake blood on themselves and lying in the lobby every day screaming about something. That’s bad for business. So, an elite education sort of teaches you how to hold the right opinions but not go nuts about it and still be able to do your day job. So maybe it has value for that and yet we know that elite opinion is actually, it’s formed by the screamers, not by the people who simply imbued it and know how to work it into their life without messing up their life or their place of business or their careers.
So there’s a symbiotic relationship between the two but big business, all the elite institutions that have to get stuff done sort of know that they have to keep the crazies at arm’s length, but maintain good relations because the crazies could also come after them and start boycotting them. It’s a delicate dance that they have to walk. So what they want to do is staff their ranks with people who fundamentally agree with the crazies, but aren’t super passionate about it and aren’t going to shut down or gum up the works over it, but also know how to appease the crazies, stay abreast of what the crazies are saying and doing and keep the crazies from coming and targeting their particular institution. All of that is complicated and maybe that’s one of the things that an elite education teaches you how to walk that tightrope.
Peterson: So it’s a respectable opinion that you’re able to – it’s modeled before you how to maintain these opinions without being one of the crazy activists or theorists.
Anton: Yeah. It used to be – one will hear this less and less but it used to be a very, very common trope among leftists who would talk about corporations, they’re all just about making money. We can’t trust them. No, they would view this more as a troll attack on conservatism and say you can’t say anything. Corporations they’re all on your side. This is especially where they would say there’s no such thing as liberal media bias because the media is all corporations. They all just want to make money. That means they’re conservative. And this was a stupid point, obviously false 20 years ago when it was being said more and more. It’s crazy false now.
All of elite corporate America has aligned itself with the progressive agenda. I think partly out of survival we want to avoid boycotts. We want to avoid denunciation, but partly because they’re just increasingly staffed by people who came out of universities who this is what’s in their heads and they know – management knows what an employee mind is like and it wants to reshape the company in order to be amenable to employees’ opinions.
Peterson: We should talk about that change a little bit too just briefly. The fact that – it wasn’t always the case in American life that the leaders all came from the same schools. Certainly, a lot of these schools have been around since the founding. They effectively are our national universities –
Anton: Or before– well before.
Peterson: Oh yeah, well before. The religious colleges set up to teach ministers.
Anton: I don’t know off the top of my head, but I think every single ivy league college was founded before the American Revolution and several others. I mean even St. John’s goes back to 1696 as King’s College in Annapolis.
Peterson: So these are effectively national institutions that have been here all along that have always produced leaders, but certainly in business at least, I do not think it used to be the case that you would see people with only ivy league degrees, or you have 40% of a class at Princeton going into finance, consulting, and economic stuff.
Anton: There was – I remember this anecdote from a book. I think it was Liar’s Poker when he talked – very early 80s is the Wall Street boom after an extremely long bear market as Wall Street was starting to wake up after the Reagan tax cuts and certain regulatory changes, so in 81, 82. You did see that where something like half the class of one college – I forgot the number but it was something staggering like half the class of the graduating seniors at Yale or Harvard or something like that applied to one investment bank. There was a sort of sense that this was taking off and that was the place to be.
What I noticed throughout my career is 10 to 15 years ago you’d look at the bios of this senior management committee of some company. It would always say where they went to college, and it was a mix. Somebody would be at Harvard, somebody would be from Yale but then somebody would be from Ohio State and another would be from some private college in the Midwest that you never heard of and that kind of thing.
As every year went by the range of schools compressed. I haven’t really done this but this could be an interesting research project for somebody who needs to do a study with methodology and some bean counting and some peer review and a sample set. Just go on the executive committee or management committee, whatever they call it, website of every Fortune 50 company. They’re all up there and public and count the number of members of the committee and show where their degrees are and track that over time. Take a 20-year time horizon and show what has happened. I wouldn’t be surprised if it does not show an increasing overrepresentation of the most elite schools over that period.
So hey there’s your free – if you need to get a peer review thing done for some career reason and you don’t mind clicking on websites and boring yourself to death doing that kind of counting—this is exactly the sort of political science that Matt and I shunned and fled from, but if you need to do it or want to do it there’s an idea for you.
Peterson: There’s plenty of there, there. There’s lots of stuff you could do in that realm. So, when it comes to the right – let’s shift to talk about the right a bit – so for the left you have your SJWs and your theory types who are real believers and then you have everyone else who is part of this managerial class who has respectable opinions that they gained in school, they know what they’re supposed to say and not supposed to say. So ostensibly if you’re on the right and you’re on the top or part of this class or an elite in some way, you would stand against – you would disagree with those respectable opinions, right? What’s the problem with the right and its relationship to this leadership class?
Anton: Well, it’s hard for me to talk about the right without being harsh so I’ll just be harsh.
Peterson: That’s okay.
Anton: I think the main problem with the right is it’s a parallel problem with the university. Universities don’t teach anything anymore so the right doesn’t really know anything anymore. It doesn’t have a firm foundation anymore. Maybe it never did.
I mean, this was always Harry Jaffa, our great mentor’s point – well how did Charles put it yesterday? That the future of America depends on the Republican party. The future of the Republican party depends on the conservative movement and the future of the conservative movement depends on me, Harry. Right? He did think that and he thought that because he thought, look, everything you’re trying do in the policy realm is fine. It’s good. It’s right or most of it but there’s no firm theoretical foundation for why you believe any of this. He was friends with Buckley, William F. Buckley all of his life and would write him these long letters, erudite letters explaining why something in National Review why he came to the right conclusion on a completely mistaken basis.
Buckley got exasperated with him and never broke up the friendship but was exasperated and famously said, “If you think it’s difficult to disagree with Harry Jaffa, try agreeing with him.” That to me is the core problem. It’s conservativism who doesn’t know – Jonah Goldberg has often pointed out I think correctly that conservative intellectuals have a better sense of development of their own movement than liberals have of theirs. They know the intellectual history of the conservative movement better than liberals.
And Jonah has also said I think also correctly that many conservative intellectuals know the intellectual history of liberalism better than liberals do itself. That’s true. However, the intellectual history of the conservative movement is insufficient for providing an intellectual foundation. In fact, for Jaffa, the reason to study the intellectual history of the conservative movement is to show its inadequacy. It’s to show all the things that conservatives have tried to say, okay this is the foundation on which we build that haven’t measured up.
And for Jaffa the only thing that measures up is the founding of the United States, founding principles of the United States, the core documents of the founding, the political philosophy that informed the founding, and the ways that the founders’ heirs, especially Lincoln, utilize that foundation to solve political problems in the here and now. So that sounds like a commercial for the Claremont Institute, which I suppose it is.
But that’s what conservatism most lacks. It’s always lacked that foundation. Jaffa made it his life’s work to try to provide it. At his funeral a bunch of us had lunch the day of the funeral before the funeral started. There was like 10 of us or 12 of us including Charles and we all agreed I think that there was a time 15 or 20 years ago when we thought it was great to learn all the stuff and it is the right cause but it’s probably not – it does not availeth. And yet by that point – this was 2015 we all though actually no. His reputation has only risen and his ideas have only more and more won over adherence. I think there’s still a lot of work to do especially among what I might uncharitably call the uneducated conservative intellectuals. Jaffa won all of his big fights with his big interlocutors and so now I think we have a pretty strong basis on which to go forward.
Peterson: So what are some examples of particular areas in which you see this applying? In other words what are some areas in which the American right has failed and Trump is a reaction to that? And principle and principle and purpose of the kind that Claremont would provide or Jaffa would teach would help inform actual policy and change the right?
Anton: Easy. Immigration, trade, and foreign policy. Those are the three – to me those are the three big failures of the right and those are the three gaping holes in the defensive line that Trump drove the truck though. So you can go back to the founders’ immigration policy, welcoming immigrants but always putting the needs of current citizens first. The founders make a prudential case for which they need some immigration at that time, because they say there’s only three million of us and we have this vast amount of territory and we have to settle it if we’re going to hold it, and we cannot settle it adequately with the numbers of people that we have now.
Then they also say having settled this fact – so unpack that for a second. So what they’re saying is there’s no natural right of foreigners to come to the United States. They’re saying this is something that we need to do because it’s good for the current citizenry, and we could have made a different determination. We deliberated about this politically and we decided that this was good to do. We could have thought about it and argued about it and come to a different conclusion and we would have had every right to do so. Then they go on to say but it’s important that we – basically that we select for people immigrants with republican, small r, traits. We want people who have a traditional liberty, who are going to assimilate into the society and either maintain or even strengthen its tradition of liberty.
So they say it’s okay to be selective about who you let in. It’s okay to have criteria. In fact, it’s necessary. It’s important. They would say it’s insane not to have criteria for who you let in because if you don’t, you’re changing the character of the country and the thing that they feared the most was to change the character of the country from republican to despotic or monarchical or something other than republican. They were very nervous about that.
Trade. The Republican party and the conservative movement convinced itself because it sort of let itself be taken over by PhD economists on this, and it would only listen to PhD economists on this. You had to have open trade. Despite the fact that there were tariffs from the founding era all the way through the 19th century, Lincoln’s party, the Republican party was a tariff party all the way through its ascendency and was broken by the New Deal coalition.
Again, this was a trade is obviously, to me, a prudential question. Not a matter of bedrock on yielding principle. So, the free trade consensus that we’re still sort of living under came to be in 1945 when it absolutely made sense for the US economy for various reasons, and it made sense through the 60s probably maybe even into the 70s. Ronald Reagan – people forget, Ronald Reagan played hardball in trade negotiations in a lot of different ways with the Japanese especially. The great free-market president, well, actually limited access to – either did limit or threatened to limit access to US markets to countries that were engaged in unfair trade practices.
Peterson: Yeah, the way the rhetoric with trade works is always a crack up to me because any one of these people who speak in the abstract, the free open trade, have they ever read a trade deal or looked at how they’re put together?
Anton: I used to make this point. Okay, if it’s a free trade agreement then the agreement needs to be one page. There shall be free trade from country A into country Band and from country B into country A. That’s it. They don’t need to be as thick as a phonebook. They’re by definition not free trade agreements.
And foreign policy. The conservatives – I include myself in this although I woke up and snapped out of it more than 10 years ago, but the conservative movement by and large still has a problem with this. They embraced a kind of unrealistic – a mission that was both unnecessary to protect the security of the United States and unrealistic as quoting Sowell again, the impossible will not be achieved. So, it was impossible to democratize the Middle East by force, and since it was impossible it has not been achieved.
It seems to be a fairly obvious lesson. I will give credit to Charles Kesler and Brian Kennedy and others at the Claremont Institute at the time who told me in 2003 when I was working for the Bush administration, they said this isn’t going to work. I said, oh no it’s all based on the principles of the Declaration of Independence, it’s going to be fine. And they said, uh-huh. Did you learn anything from us? They were right. I was wrong. The rest of the conservative movement though is still – or not at all of it, that’s unfair – but too much of it is still wrapped up in all of this stuff. And doesn’t really know what American foreign policy is for I think or insufficiently known.
Peterson: So objections to each of one of those three that would come up. The first thing we should say with immigration as soon as anyone relays these ideas, instantaneously the response, the knee-jerk response is to say in some way this is racist.
Anton: It is always said, but that – look so the left says that because it doesn’t want any limits on immigration for a number of reasons, but just the most prosaic one is immigrants vote 2 to 1 roughly democratic. Anyway, well over 50%. The more immigrants there are in an area the more blue it is, and the left knows this and they want to win elections forever so why not keep it going? Keep the borders open.
There’s another element that I kind of talked about in my panel yesterday that Azzerad and others also got at, which is the left fundamentally feels that America is at its core bad rotten evil for its past sins and that immigration somehow expatriates America’s sins, and that if we were to close the door or even partially close the door, place any limits on it, we have no right to do so that our fundamental past evil requires us to keep the doors as wide as open as possible for the expatiation of those sins.
So they get very emotional and name call. Some of the conservatives buy that argument wholesale whether unconsciously or consciously, I don’t know – hard to say in a lot of cases, but they will be among the first to say racist. I made an argument recently, pretty carefully argued case that nobody who ratified the 14th amendment intended it to allow birthright citizenship. There’s many specific quotes that I pointed out that show that they absolutely didn’t intend that. Several conservatives just left – nominal “conservatives” left up to say racist. That’s it. That’s all they add. Racist. So, for conservatism in 2018, birthright citizenship is the hill to die on. I mean that’s crazy.
Peterson: Yeah, explain that a little bit. What is birthright citizenship? How did –
Anton: It’s the notion that any child born on the soil of the United States or of a given country is de facto by that fact alone a citizen. It is practiced by a minority of the world’s countries. There are – I could go into the math of how you get to 197, but it’s boring. There are 197 countries in the world. By my count 33 offer birthright citizenship.
If you do the math and you count it up by population, I’m quoting myself from memory but it’s like 83% of the global population lives in a country that does not offer birthright citizenship. So only 17% of the world’s population lives in a country that offers birthright citizenship. So this is obviously not the global norm. It has never been the global norm. It’s the idea – especially in a democracy or a republic, based on a social compact. The social compact is derived from the consent of the existing members of the contract.
So, we have these crazy abusive practices in the United States right now, particularly from China and Russia, but the other countries do it too, where people will fly in from Southern California from China. They pay fairly large sums of money. They live for a month in a maternity hotel. They have their baby, they get citizenship papers and a US passport and then they go home and then the kid can come over at age 18 and bring the whole family under the existing immigration laws. The Russians do it in – Miami is the popular destination for Russia.
So I’ve said before well one of the things we know from the anti-Trump conservatives and the anti-Trump left for that matter is that Russia poses the gravest threat to the United States in the history of the world. It’s much more dangerous right now – the Russians are much more apt to destroy us all than they were in 1983 or 1962 or 1961 or whatever. Okay, granted let’s stipulate that. Doesn’t that mean we can stop the practice of Russian birthright citizenship in Miami and the maternity hotels in Miami, conservatives? Is that a limit that we can place on birthright citizenship or are we to have no limits whatsoever including our sworn enemies, the Russians who are about to nuke us into oblivion abusing our immigration laws. Conservatives don’t seem to be able to answer that question.
Peterson: And historically was birthright citizenship always a part of American thought and practice?
Anton: No. It was not. It wasn’t even an issue for the ratifiers of the 14th amendment. That whole debate was about what to do about freed slaves. So – I mean this gets complicated but look Dred Scott decision of 1857 said that no black person could ever be a citizen of the United States, including free blacks who were then understood to be citizens. So with one fell swoop the Supreme Court in 1857 took citizenship away from people who had always been citizens and never considered otherwise. Lincoln thought – Lincoln and many others thought that that was ridiculous and false. Lincoln made some very wise comments about that.
Another thing our conservatives would do well to heed. Every time you hear a conservative say the Supreme Court has ruled on that, so it’s either constitutional or not. It’s just what they say it is. Lincoln said no it isn’t. He’s made his ruling but we all take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the governing United States, and we have our say.
So after the Civil war Congress passes the civil rights act of 1866, which clarifies citizenship, but there’s still some who say, “Well, we set this Dred Scott decision out there so statute doesn’t obviate a ruling of the Supreme Court. We have to make this constitutional.” And others say, “In the same vein, the Constitution has never defined what a citizen is. Why don’t we do that now and not just have this in the statutes?” So they say okay, and they essentially take the Civil Rights Act of 1866 or some clauses of it and they make it into the 14th Amendment.
Then question arises, well wait a minute what about – so it says “anybody born here” because they want to clarify that no state can deprive a freed slave of citizenship. They want to make that impossible to do in absolutely clear language, so they say “anybody born here.” So others say, “Wait, if it’s just being born here, what about Indian tribes? They were born here but we’ve always considered them separate nations. We conduct treaties with them as if they were separate nations. Does this make them all citizens?”
So another senator says “No, it does not,” and another guy says, “well what about the children of diplomats?” “No, it doesn’t.” And then they go into all of these categories. Well, what about people here – they said, “look, the Civil Rights of 1866 very clearly says if you’re born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power.” So in other words, if you are the child, you happen to be born on US soil but you are the child of citizens or subjects of a foreign power, this does not count. You’re not automatically thereby a citizen of the United States.
Now, it’s true that people have attacked me on this point saying they only meant foreign diplomats. No, not true. You’ve got to go back and read the debate as I’ve done or you read my 10 billion word article clarifying this on the CRV website in which I take you through every jot and tittle of the argument.
Peterson: So, how do we get to where we are now though then?
Anton: We got to where we are now partly from the Wong-Kim Ark decision of 1898, which ruled that the child of legal permanent residents would be a citizen of the United States. Really we got to where we are now just from simple neglect. There wasn’t a lot of unfettered illegal immigration across the southern border. In 1865, 1866 or 68 when they were having this debate, so naturally they didn’t talk about it because it wasn’t the problem they were trying to fix at the time. It becomes a problem later and essentially the left decides this is working out in our favor, so we’re going to say that the “subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” clause of the 14th Amendment simply means – I mean there’s two types of jurisdiction, right?
So the jurisdiction thereof could mean if you and I were to go to Canada, cross the border to our north, we are subject to the jurisdiction of Canada for the remainder of our stay. We cannot break Canadian law but we are also protected by Canadian civil and criminal laws. Simply because we’re not citizens of Canada doesn’t mean someone can rob us and we have no rights. So that’s one meaning of subject to the jurisdiction.
But that’s a redundant meaning. You don’t need that clause if that’s all you mean by it in the 14th Amendment. They put it in there to mean the other meaning which is are you free of allegiance to any other foreign power. And in the debate when they ask – the senators say clarify, what does this mean? A couple of them say it means not owing allegiance to anybody else. Not subject to any other foreign power, and they say okay, I get it, that’s good. And then they vote yes.
Now, we’ve been living with this obvious mistake forever and we’re told that it’s the most sacrosanct thing in the history of American constitutionalism and it would be unconservative and evil to do anything about it.
Peterson: Yeah, and then, of course, they pile on the racist when it’s nothing to do with anything we’re talking about. But we’ve gone through some of the reasons for which the left is okay with open borders and also the right. Let’s move to the three things you talked about. Let’s move from immigration then to economic matters. One of the reasons for open borders, of course, big one is economic and that’s something that on the right quietly is a driving force, the idea that we’ll have this cheap labor pool that comes in here. And that leads to thinking about why does the right have this problem when it comes to free and open trade, right? And what can be done, how should we move forward?
Anton: I think because – especially you remember the conservatism before the end of The Cold War was defined as the fusionism war of a three-legged stool, free-market economics, anti-communism or strong defense and social conservatism or family values which is a much-spoken phrase in the 1990s. You take away communism, you take away a real serious – I don’t mean to downplay Al Qaeda and terrorism, obviously, it is a serious foreign threat, but it’s not of the magnitude of communism or anything that the United States faced before that. Economic conservatism grew its share of – tripartite conservatism grew and also conservatism came to be more and more about the economy and what’s good for the economy. People making the argument that, absolutely, we just need more labor. We need more people. They make it in two ways. The economy is so large there’s not enough people – to summarize by the slogan, the dumb slogan: Jobs Americans Just Won’t Do.
So there’s jobs Americans just won’t do so we need people to fill these jobs, and then they try to make a further case that the more people are here, the bigger the aggregate economy is. The people will show you studies that immigrants add to the – well the one guy who studied this more than anybody, George Borjas at Harvard I think has shown that, yes, what actually – the economic benefits of immigration in the United States are mostly to immigrants and to corporate executives.
So, companies and big farmers do better because they pay lower wages and they like to do that. Wages is always your number one cost in business – in almost any business. So they like that part and then another argument that gets made is we need immigrants to solve the social security crisis or the entitlement crisis because Americans weren’t having enough babies and so on. But if you think that logic through, you’re essentially accepting the mid-60s argument for social security. A famous economist said that yes social security is often been accused of being a pyramid scheme. A famous economist said it is a pyramid scheme, but it’s based on the greatest pyramid scheme ever devised by man: a growing country.
If you accept that logic it means the country has to grow forever, right? If that’s the way we’re going to finance social security where the pool of workers paying PICA always has to be numerically larger than every generation older than they are, then population growth never stops until everyone in the world has moved to the United States and then what do we do? Well, we’ve got to find another way to fix social security if that’s the way that people are saying it’s going to be done now. That’s obviously insane and yet pointing out something a simple truth like that you get yelled at and hectored.
Peterson: Well it seems like that’s been a bedrock principle almost of free-market conservativism or that strain of the party that internal growth, onwards and upwards into the future. We all just need to keep on buying stuff and we need – there’s something to always having a commercial engine.
Anton: I like something that Dan Mahoney said yesterday on – or maybe it was two days ago on the panel about liberalism and sort of indirectly about Pat Deneen’s book. Mahoney said that there’s this older conservative tradition partly agrarian, maybe not wholly agrarian, but that wants to see limits placed on growth or would even be happy with no economic growth with just a stable society. He says he can see the attraction of that for conservative thinkers but it’s not part of the American DNA. The American DNA is as a commercial republic. The American people since the beginning have had certain expectations of rising wages of economic betterment, especially from one generation to the next. That’s built into the American DNA and America needs to find a way to balance the needs of the two things. Our kind of societal stability on the one hand and a modicum of growth on the other hand.
I think Dan’s basically right about that. Conservatives don’t want to strike the balance. They just see any limits on growth as inherently – or any policy that – let me put it this way. If you were to say to a conservative that they were to say with open borders I can get you 5.5% GDP in the next quarter, and I say I can also limit immigration substantially and still get 4.5%. I’m just thinking out loud. The conservative would say that’s outrageous. Your policy is obviously wrong because you’re sacrificing the 1% on the GDP. I would say yeah, but look at all this other stuff that I get for that. I get more social stability. I get this. I get that. I’m thinking politically about the whole. They’re just thinking about the economy.
So if it’s better for the economy, that’s what they want and they see everything as illegitimate. Everything that might limit that is illegitimate. Whereas I think the Mahoney’s point about balancing that American expectation for betterment, especially generational betterment but with social stability and with other political goods I think that’s the right way to look at it.
Peterson: That makes a lot of sense, and I think that we see – I think there’s a much stronger case to be made in your three-part plan here. The three themes of really Trump. Immigration is the most controversial because they just throw race at it, they just say it’s racist. Economically they have to muddy the waters because a lot of people like what we’re describing right now. They like what you just described because it’s sensible and everyone realizes that on the right, the economic wing dominated – it’s not that there’s not truth to it, especially against communism we’re all for the free market. But that line of thinking I think is much more popular, right?
Anton: Well another point that’s important is to – if you just take the economic line, the highest growth is the highest good. Another thing that the conservative economists either don’t notice or pay insufficient attention to is that the track record in achieving the highest growth over the last 20 years or so has been almost all of it accruing to the top in a massive spread in income, wealth and inequality.
Conservatives say it’s illegitimate to care and orthodox conservativism says it’s illegitimate to care about income inequality that as long as the people at the bottom have their basic needs. And then they’ll cite statistics that are true, statistics that show poverty in the United States as compared to poverty in other places is a far different breed. Poverty in the United States doesn’t really mean that you’re starving. It doesn’t even mean that you don’t have a car.
Peterson: You say you have cable TV still or you have a cell phone now right?
Anton: I get that and that’s a great thing for the United States and for other developed nations to have achieved, but being a little more of an Aristotelian I see a political baleful of consequences of massive and sort of ever-growing inequality. I don’t think that’s good. I think if you want to hold the country together as a unified whole, as a political whole, you’ve got to do something to address inequality and sort of bring the top and the bottom back closer together.
You say that in front of a conservative economist and they go crazy and they call you a Marxist, and they think that you’re being a redistributionist, but look we’ve been here before. We had the Industrial Revolution created some massive inequalities. Now those inequalities, they built the transportation sector, communication sector, energy sector. They did great things for American industry, for the American – the fabric of American society itself. And then partly through government policy and partly through other means was trust busting. Sometime the government got in there and started to break up the massive wealth – at the top. I guess for our conservatives that’s impermissible forever. But it worked and we brought inequality down throughout the 20th century and now it’s rising again.
But another point I would make to the conservatives is just politically when wealth concentration at the top as a practical matter in 2018 and for the prior several decades and looking forward, it’s all going to people who don’t vote for conservatives, donate money to conservatives, who don’t support conservatives who are in fact conservatism’s active opponents. So, the conservatism that insists that we shouldn’t worry about wealth and income inequality are basically saying that, I don’t need to worry about my enemies and opponents getting ever richer and more powerful. And also, having monopoly power over communications media. So, I think they’re just kind of diluted on every level. On the theoretical level and practical level and on the political level – and even on the personal level.
Peterson: Yeah. Just one briefly to the economic issue. I do like to remind conservatives that the Constitution itself was a massive concentration on centralized power in regards to the economy – for the sake of the common good. So, it’s not as if – that doesn’t mean they were communists, right? They took massive power over the entire economy. So the last – we’re out of time – but the last thing we come back around to is foreign policy, but really, it’s fine that we only have a minute left because I think that’s the easiest one. There’s not a lot of serious – I don’t think the defenses of the neocon era – they ring hollow for most people. I don’t think that Max Boot, Bret Stephens have a large audience anymore. I think that sells itself.
Anton: I don’t think they do on the right. Whether they have one broadly speaking is another question.
Peterson: That’s true. The Uniparty rules and they might be moving to the left. Is that what you’re saying?
Anton: Well, they’ve moved to the left without question. They’ve said that they’ve moved to the left. I think Boots formally says he’s renounced the Republican party – maybe Stephens has too. I don’t remember. Others of the neocon foreign policy persuasion definitely have.
Look since we only have a minute, I’ll just say, this is where I think the most work needs to be done and maybe the greatest opportunity lies for conservative intellectualism. We really need and we don’t yet have something like a new conservative consensus around foreign policy. Maybe we even need a new institution. Maybe that could be something within the Claremont Institute or somewhere else, but conservatives first they have to come up with a theoretical construct that walks the line between paleo isolationism and neo adventurism. I think the theoretical construct won’t be difficult to do. It will take a little time, but it can be done.
And then we ought to do what everybody who does foreign policy does is find, train, hire, support people that work on all of the individual issues now under this umbrella. So that sensible conservatism has the answer when people ask, “Well, what do about Afghanistan? What should our policy toward India be? How do we do missile defense? What should naval strategy be?” Something like those think tanks that have an expert on every subject under a broad rubric umbrella of what their understanding of the world could be. Most other foreign policy schools have got that, and a more sensible conservatism doesn’t yet have it.
We probably need to come up with a name for what our new school – I don’t know what it would be, but things need names in order to become understood and popular. So it wouldn’t be paleo foreign policy, it certainly wouldn’t be neocon foreign policy, something uniquely American that’s consistent with the founders’ ideas, that’s consistent with the ideas that won our wars and protect our interests. And we’ve got to build that infrastructure and train those people so that anytime it comes up – part of the problem we have now is people ask obscure questions about obscure parts of the world. Well hey, the only experts who really know them in and out are people who have an ideological view or a worldview that’s different than the one that’s most needed now. So we’ve got to build that cadre. I don’t think that work has even yet begun, but it’s got to happen.
Peterson: It’s funny: the work that needs to be done has to be somewhere between endless war and isolationism. I mean –
Anton: It’s sort of obvious. That’s why I said that building out the theory is not going to be difficult, but then, building out an institution and a cadre of people who can represent that view so that the default isn’t just like, well, I either go to that side or that side. I can either go from Crazy A or Crazy B, no, what about Sensible C?
Peterson: Absolutely. And you saw, you were interacting with a lot of our Lincoln fellows this year who were very interested and active in that topic, and I think in the future we will play a role in facilitating that new movement. But I have to close out here. So thank you so much for being here.
Anton: Thank you.
Peterson: And we’ll talk again soon.
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Podcast Published: 11.14.18
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