The Stakes: America at the Point of No Return
by Michael Anton
500 pp., $32.99
Michael Anton attracted widespread public notice in Sept. 2016 as the author of a pseudonymous article in the Claremont Review called “The Flight 93 Election.” It became one of the most widely debated and disseminated articles of the election after Rush Limbaugh devoted an entire show to its contents.
Anton described the then-upcoming election in stark terms: Elect Hillary Clinton and the American experiment comes to an end; elect Donald Trump to stave off the death of the republic—at least temporarily. “A Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto,” Anton wrote. “With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.” His advice: “Charge the cockpit or you die.”
Large numbers of Middle Americans did indeed charge the cockpit, especially in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, catapulting Trump into the Oval Office and Anton into a position as National Security Council spokesman, after which he was a lecturer and fellow at Hillsdale College.
Anton has returned with a somber but illuminating expansion of his “Flight 93” thesis. He argues that every election for the foreseeable future will be a crisis until:
Either the left achieves the final victory it has long sought…or the Republican Party—or some successor—leads a realignment along nationalist-populist lines that forces the left to moderate and accept the legitimacy of red-state/flyover/“deplorable” concerns.
A West Coast Straussian and Francophile with a love for fine wine and men’s fashion, Anton was an unlikely advocate for a president with a well-earned reputation as a vulgarian. He is among the few prominent conservative intellectuals who are not simply Trump apologists; he is also a nationalist and populist working to build a foundation for a “Trumpist” political movement that will endure, regardless of The Donald’s future political fortunes.
The Stakes begins by describing the sad decline of Anton’s home state of California into an incompetently managed hellhole. In barely a generation, California has been transformed from a middle-class paradise where millions flocked to raise their families into a woke technocracy, a one-party regime riven by economic and social inequality. High-tech and entertainment oligarchs and their lackeys in the political class and bureaucracy manage a balkanized populace and neo-feudal economy while hiding in gated communities guarded by private police, protected from the crime, congestion, and squalor they have unleashed on everyone else.
Anton identifies four causes for this transformation. First, millions of Third World immigrants flooded California, straining social services and labor markets. The demographic tsunami also created a feedback loop whereby the state became more Democratic and, in turn, more pro-immigration. Second, anti-Western multiculturalism replaced the melting pot, while the institutions driving assimilation stopped working. Third, the infusion of billions of big-tech dollars led to a concentration of wealth, creating a rich and powerful elite that exempt themselves from the ramifications of their policies. Fourth, the middle class was decimated by high taxes, crime, exorbitant real estate costs, terrible schools, and lousy infrastructure.
California’s metamorphosis has benefited only the elite, but it demonstrates that an overclass-underclass political alliance can seize and wield power. It is a template for what the left has in mind for all of America. Democrats now speak openly of packing the Supreme Court, eliminating the filibuster and Electoral College, and adding states to ensure one-party rule.
Anton then contrasts “Californication” with an account of the American founding and asks an intriguing question: Is California’s dystopia the inevitable product of egalitarianism and universalism written into the founding documents? Anton doesn’t think so. With a nod toward his teacher, Harry V. Jaffa, Anton articulates a vision of the founding and its “sacred parchment” that includes a “limited” philosophical commitment to human equality and natural rights. “In America,” writes Anton, “Equality is not merely the central claim of our founding document; it’s in our political DNA.”
The careful Chronicles reader may pause at Anton’s vision of the founding. If, in fact, the Founding Fathers’ commitment to equality was “limited,” then can it be their work’s “central claim”?
Anton also attempts to defend against conservative critics the concept of civic nationalism as a necessary glue to hold together a large, multi-ethnic polity. To his credit, Anton concedes that civic nationalism is not a replacement for the bonds of kinship, shared history, common language and faith, but a buttress to strengthen those loyalties and sources of identity.
Despite important and foundational disagreements with traditionalists and paleoconservatives, Anton labors to reach an accommodation with these allies on the right. He explicitly praises Sam Francis and Pat Buchanan and implicitly repeats many of their arguments, while firing rhetorical jabs at neoconservatives such as David French, Jonah Goldberg, Bret Stephens, and even at the patron saint of fusionism, William F. Buckley, Jr.
Anton proceeds to contrast his historical account of the prior dispensation of American constitutionalism with the realities of post-constitutional, ruling-class politics. He provides a taxonomy and description of our elite and the techniques by which it governs—particularly through the widespread dissemination of propaganda and media narrative.
The present regime is a three-headed monster that synthesizes group rights, administrative rule by experts, and ’60s radicalism that sneers at tradition and Christianity while casting whites as the archvillains in a Manichean power struggle.
The elite is technocratic and managerial, connected to coastal cities, colleges, and resort towns in “blue” America. “Our elites are increasingly hereditary,” Anton writes. By this he means the shift in the American and global economy to reward intelligence, combined with assortative mating practices, has created an increasingly narrow caste, recalling similar arguments developed by Charles Murray in The Bell Curve and Coming Apart.
The secular aristocracy Anton describes is more credentialed than truly meritocratic and is governed by a “hive mind.” It has simple objectives: stay in power, maintain its status, and preserve its wealth. It does this through the imposition of neoliberal ideology and the use of state power to enforce the movement of capital, goods, and labor in ways that benefit the oligarchs. The elite aims for a populace of consumers, rather than free citizens, that is homogenized, pacified, centralized, and demoralized, and thus more easily ruled.
This elite is supported politically by three groups of clients. First, the freeloaders, the slothful and greedy rabble that want free stuff from the state. Second, the wokerati, the true believers with an unconstrained vision of justice powered by sanctimony. And third, the avengers, whose principal concern is to punitively punish beneficiaries of “privilege.”
Another group of leftist foot soldiers are immigrants. Anton unpacks the devastating economic, cultural, and political consequences of unchecked immigration. He critiques the myths of immigration enthusiasts and demonstrates the primary beneficiaries of immigration are not legacy Americans but bureaucrats, Democratic politicians, and financial, big tech, and agricultural corporations.
If the elite is able to keep its coalition together, Anton predicts an intensification of anarcho-tyranny: more porn and drugs, cheek by jowl with more censorship, and an end to constitutional protections; more outsourcing and immigration, alongside more incompetence from every power center of American life. The end result, if we’re lucky, is Brazilianization.
Anton also considers ways the present neoliberal edifice can be cracked and brought down, spanning from the mild (geographic sorting along political and ideological lines) to the apocalyptic (civil war). He describes the unlikely possibilities of secession and Caesarism and even speculates the West itself may be exhausted and on the verge of collapse.
Unlike other recent conservative tomes, the author concludes with a positive agenda designed to restore some semblance of American unity and forge a political realignment. Anton’s prescriptions resemble those of the 2016 Trump campaign on steroids, with more nationalism, populism, and “law and order.” Such an agenda will necessarily include a vigorous use of state power on behalf of the historic American people, industrial and trade policy, immigration control, and pronatalist policies.
The Stakes has gone largely ignored by establishment organs of opinion, for obvious reasons. Anton is clearly familiar with and sympathetic to the ideas, fighting spirit, and tactics of the dissident right. Chronicles readers should be heartened that many arguments made in these pages over the course of decades are now echoed by a man with very different institutional connections, who nevertheless strays far beyond the well-policed precincts of Conservative Inc.