05 Oct 2016

The East Coast-West Coast Schism in Conservatism

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harryjaffaallanbloom1
Harry Jaffa — Allan Bloom

Jeet Heer has an interesting article, in the New Republic, on the coastal divide between Straussians.

Charles Kesler, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and the editor of the Claremont Review of Books, wrote in the spring issue of the journal that America may be facing “the Weimar problem”: “Has the national culture, popular and elite, deteriorated so much that the virtues necessary to sustain republican government are no longer viable? America is not there yet, although when 40% of children are born out of wedlock it is not too early to wonder.” It’s no accident that this question is raised in an essay making case that Donald Trump isn’t as terrible as mainstream conservatives like William Kristol fear he is. If you live in the Weimar Republic, Kesler implicitly argues, a figure like Trump could come as a relief.

A similar mood of crisis was voiced by Angelo Codevilla, a retired professor of international relations, in a recent online essay for the Review. Codevilla argues that regime change of a terrible kind has already occurred, with the American elite destroying what was great about the country. By this account, America needs a new revolution. Codevilla supports Trump but fears that he’s not up to the task of revolutionary change required:

    In fact, the United States of America was great because of a whole bunch of things that now are gone. Yes, the ruling class led the way in personal corruption, cheating on tests, lowering of professional standards, abandoning churches and synagogues for the Playboy Philosophy and lifestyle, disregarding law, basing economic life on gaming the administrative state, basing politics on conflicting identities, and much more. But much of the rest of the country followed. What would it take to make America great again—or indeed to make any of the changes that Trump’s voters demand? Replacing the current ruling class would be only the beginning.

Kesler and Codevilla are West Coast Straussians, one of two rival factions of intellectuals who revere Leo Strauss, the German-born political philosopher who died in 1973. Whereas East Coast Straussians have been heavily oriented towards establishment Republicans like George W. Bush, and thus tend to be #NeverTrump—Kristol’s Weekly Standard has been sharply anti-Trump and Paul Wolfowitz has said he might vote for Hillary Clinton—there’s considerable support for Trump among West Coast Straussians. They justify their support of Trump by saying that America is in such deep trouble it needs regime change. To borrow a Trumpian phrase: “What do you have to lose?”

In these West Coast Straussians we see the emergence, for the first time since the Southern secessionists of the 1850s, of a group of conservative American intellectuals who advocate overthrowing the existing political order. Under Bush, Americans saw what Straussian ideas of regime change could do abroad. Under Trump, we might see the same urge for regime change applied to America itself. …

After Leo Strauss died in 1973, his followers divided into two factions, creating the infamous “Crisis of the Strauss Divided.” And the best way to understand the divide between West Coast and East Coast Straussians is through the quarrel between Harry Jaffa and Allan Bloom, who were the respective heads of the rival schools. …

The disputes between Jaffa’s West Coast Straussianism and Bloom’s East Coast Straussianism can be discussed along philosophic lines: Is America, as Jaffa believes, grounded in ancient philosophy or was the American founding, as Bloom would have it, built on the low but solid ground of early modern philosophers like Hobbes and Locke? Does the survival of America depend on the virtue of the people, as West Coast Straussians believe, or in the maintenance of constitutional norms, as East Coast Straussians believe? But the dispute can also more easily be understood in terms of the familiar social divide in the Republican Party. West Coast Straussians are the grassroots activists, grounded in social conservatism and ultra-nationalist in foreign policy. Sociologically, East Coast Straussians are more aligned with the party elite, and tend to be found in Washington think tanks and serving as career bureaucrats.

Read the whole thing.

I’m not a Straussian myself, but the nomination of Donald Trump has certainly similarly divided me from a long-time blogging kindred spirit who, coincidentally perhaps, lives on the West Coast, and many others.

I’d say, “If you live in the Weimar Republic,” you had better be pretty damned careful about allying with the ignorant and resentful mob to put into power a demagogic populist and narcissistic strongman determined to supplant previous legitimate sources of leadership and authority and contemptuous of traditional ethics as well as of constraint on the basis of theory and ideas. They elected somebody of the sort in 1932 in the real Weimar Republic, and the results were not pretty.

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16 Feedbacks on "The East Coast-West Coast Schism in Conservatism"

DP

With all humility it claims to argue about the matter at hand:

I don’t believe “replacing the current ruling class” is the solution, be it “revolutionary” or not since many often consider revolution as an obviously noble, romantic and unselfish escape to political change. For there is a need for “foxes” in any form of government, indeed, regardless whether it is a tyranny, a sophisticated oligarchy or the best form of democracy with recurrent popular referendums about anything the people would be pleased to decide (even though the course of History truly triger referendums and make their “yea” and “nay” as well; not the people who believes or wants to believe “he decides” what the obvious decides for him, of course).

Seldom a new ruling class, typically made of “lions” exclusively or so, is doing everything good for the people who heartily supported it. And this is why a revolution is not necessarily the best solution to a said-to-be decaying old ruling elite or to a spiraling situation, gone out of any control or on the verge to.
The true best solution is a balanced ruling elite, with as many lions and foxes. That is an equal proportions or so of these two very different and divergent kinds of personalities. Which must not be the appearance of a balanced ruling elite, with one of the two groups truly leading the whole and deciding about everything unbeknownst to the people thus taken in hostage. And which does not mean that “conservatives” are all lions, and “liberals” all foxes obviously.

But that is perfection in politics, which is very hard to reach, especially in a time of harsh rivalry and permanent deceit between countries, all afraid of losing some ground it failed to see somewhere (well, we always have been getting through times of harsh rivalry anyways).

To put it simply, today’s ruling elite must find how to renew itself properly and conspicuously if it wants to avoid for the country a costly revolution fuelled by irrational popular discontent. That’s why I believe that Obama, with Clinton as head of the State Department, together have not been at all a bad thing in the history of the United States; they had to make difficult decisions perhaps a Conservative would have found unacceptable. And that’s why I believe that, thus, Clinton has shown us that we can be confident in the quality of her leadership at a particular moment of our history that is happening right now. Those who can understand that will equally and quietly understand that Liberals and Conservatives can mutually help themselves along the course of unpredictable events and ordeals no country on earth and in History could be sheltered against. Sparta disappeared because it was ruled by stubborn Lions, exclusively. Athens knew the same fate because it was ruled by unreasonable Foxes, exclusively too.



Seattle Sam

What I hear from most Trump supporters is that regime change is an end in itself. We’ll sort out the “to what” later. But the “what” is critically important. Regime change occurred in France in 17th in Russia in 1917, in Germany in 1933 and in Venezuela in 1998. All were pretty disastrous. Regime change (of a sort) took place in the US in 1981 and in the UK in 1983 with far better results. It’s not clear that even Mr. Trump has thoroughly thought out the “to what”.



Scullman

“That’s why I believe that Obama, with Clinton as head of the State Department, together have not been at all a bad thing in the history of the United States.”

“And that’s why I believe that, thus, Clinton has shown us that we can be confident in the quality of her leadership…”

My God.

Beyond belief.



Pensans

Just old men saying that keeping the country stable until they die is worth enslaving their grandchildren.



BrianE

“I’d say, “If you live in the Weimar Republic,” you had better be pretty damned careful about allying with the ignorant and resentful mob to put into power a demagogic populist and narcissistic strongman determined to supplant previous legitimate sources of leadership and authority and contemptuous of traditional ethics as well as of constraint on the basis of theory and ideas. They elected somebody of the sort in 1932 in the real Weimar Republic, and the results were not pretty.” – JDZ

I assume this is hyperbole on your part– just some random venting, and you don’t seriously ascribe to any part of what you wrote.

And quite frankly, even as hyperbole, it doesn’t benefit anyone to go there, since the two situations haven’t any parallels– none, not even in your wildest blogging imagination.

Are you really a conservative or what used to be called a country club republican?



BrianE

By the way, when Trump was willing to name the unspeakable at the first debate– that uneasy fact we are in a stock market bubble.
That alone qualifies Trump to be president.
Corporate profits continue to be concentrated among fewer companies, which doesn’t bode well for the economy or the stock market.



JDZ

Where does your quotation come from, and what has it got to do with that Claremont article?



BrianE

It’s the last paragraph of your post.



JDZ

No, I was inquiring about Scullman’s pro-Hillary, pro-Obama quotation.

As to the Weimar Germany comparison, try reading this one of mine from back in May:

https://neveryetmelted.com/2016/05/06/trump-is-running-as-a-fascist-not-a-republican/



BrianE

After reading the article, I can understand why people who claim to be conservative are supporting Hillary, since the “East Coast Straussians” are just as much statists as the left.
At this point, can we even slip a dime between them?
Open borders. Check.
World governance. Check
Constitutional norms. Check (Once the norms they favor are divined)
Intellectual superiority. Check

How do they even consider themselves Staussian?

The Republican Party is dead. I didn’t leave the Republicans. They left me.



JDZ

I’m a libertarian and the grandson of Lithuanian immigrant coal miners, so I’m pro-Hispanic immigration useful for providing low-skilled cheap labor which the country needs. I’m not in favor of admitting unassimilable Asian and African refugees or immigrants from hostile cultures. My views or anybody else’s views notwithstanding, the US is experiencing a wave of anti-immigration hysteria, so there is undoubtedly going to be a 1920s-style closed-door policy whichever party is in office.

Lefties like Obama love world government. There are no non-total-RINO Republicans that like world government. You could not accuse John Kasich or Jeb Bush of being for world government.

Ted Cruz is a classic strict constructionist Constitutionalist. Donald Trump has never read the Constitution. If he did, he wouldn’t understand it. And Donald basically doesn’t give a rat’s ass about that kind of intellectual, theoretical kind of stuff. Donald is a pragmatist and an opportunist.

I’m an elitist. I do think our so-called community-of-fashion pseudo-intellectual establishment elite is a bad joke, but I do not buy into that Alt-Right crap that contends that all Conservative Movement intellectuals are part of a conspiracy allied with the left, nor do I believe that the way to win is to nominate the noisiest, most offensive clown you can find.

People who spout this kind of stuff about the Republican Party not meeting their exalted standards, so they are going with Donald Trump are obviously sadly, miserably ill-informed, and they are making an absurd argument.



JDZ

Trump is not a statist? There’s a laugh. Donald Trump is the perfect crony capitalist.



BrianE

“…I’m pro-Hispanic immigration useful for providing low-skilled cheap labor which the country needs. I’m not in favor of admitting unassimilable Asian and African refugees or immigrants from hostile cultures. My views or anybody else’s views notwithstanding, the US is experiencing a wave of anti-immigration hysteria, so there is undoubtedly going to be a 1920s-style closed-door policy whichever party is in office.”- JDZ

Back to the basic question whether the fundamental philosophy is anti-immigration or anti-illegal immigration.
If Trump has called for a complete halt to immigration, I haven’t heard. Much of our immigration policy doesn’t make sense. The diversity lottery for one.

I agree that we need cheap labor for certain industries (especially seasonal industries like agriculture) but that can be handled through temporary visas. It’s even as much cheap labor, but labor that’s available for short seasons.

I think immigration should be tied to GDP growth. The country has changed in the last 100 years and the opportunities and need for unchecked immigration is gone.

Whether or not it’s hysteria depends on the part of the country you live in, I suspect.

I think the unfortunate part of this argument is the hyperbole expressed by the open borders crowd– you know the racist, xenophobe accusation.

You’re notion that Mexicans are assimilable while Asians and Africans are not ignores the reality of what’s happening. State run schools are failing at assimilating students, instead providing two-track programs. In fact the notion that our culture is superior to other groups is making assimilation impossible.

Open borders is just a method of pursuing world government. Granted people like Kasich or Jeb are moving the marker at a slower pace, but they are short-sighted as to what the ultimate result is.

And as to the notion that Trump will govern as a crony-capitalist is projection on your part. The fact that he has identified some of the excesses of Wall St. is encouraging.

We know exactly the sort of facist governance we will get with Hillary. We’re seeing it now with Obama. What is an interesting wrinkle is that instead of rallying around a nationalist pride, they’re actually rallying around an anti-nationalist pride. So we may need to coin a new definition– maybe Anti-National Socialism.



Scullman

Hey, Zincavage, do you read your own blog posters?

Did you read the first submission from “DP”?

That’s where you would find what I quoted, if you bothered to read what the guy said.



JDZ

Ah! Sorry, I thought you were quoting some blog posting. DP has a wildly different perspective being European, I expect. I’m afraid I do not myself understand his thinking.



Scullman

Ah, good. Glad you cleared that up.
I was wondering what kind of a person has his head so far up his ass, that eight years of Obama, four of them teamed with Clinton, hasn’t been “a bad thing in the history of the United States”.

Answer? The kind of asshole that doesn’t live here, spouting off on the results of the Obama era (my favorite part so far has been all the racial harmony).
What’s next, his take on the New York City Council?



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