Michael Anton opens his new book, The Stakes: America at the Point of No Return, in the manner of the old school: with an untranslated, unattributed passage from Niccolo Machiavelli. Scholars of the nineteenth century often quote famous passages untranslated and unattributed, knowing that their intended audience would both have the skills to read multiple languages and the education to immediately recognize the source. After the First World War destroyed the international classically educated population, however, it has been necessary to provide readers with more intellectual support if you want to be understood.
In large part, that dynamic explains Anton’s book. He describes it as an attempt to warn both left and right about where we are going, but the left no longer educates people who can translate his words into thoughts that might move them. They will hear what he says only as hostile, foreign speech. If any bother to try to translate it at all, they will hear the warning as a threat, and the analysis as some form of attempted oppression.
That’s a shame, because in many cases traditional Marxists ought to be best placed to understand some of his arguments. Traditional Marxists should easily grasp an argument that a ruling elite is using winked-at illegal immigration to create a population of workers they can exploit because they have no recourse to the law.
Such Marxists should also be able to see how this further serves the interests of that elite by reducing the political power of the working and middle classes. Yet because the left is now obsessed with “intersectional” cultural studies that insist race and sex have to be the lens for everything, even those inclined to Marxism end up being unable to hear a message they’re otherwise primed to understand.
The book is also an attempt to build a coalition outside the elite to defend the American project. That audience falls into three divided camps, none of whom are quite who he would like them to be. Two of these camps, paleo and neoconservatives, are bitterly divided on the very history Anton wishes to put before the third camp.
That third camp of young right-leaning Americans, including the so-called “Bronze Age Pervert” Anton wrote of recently, are not classically educated. They are autodidacts, products of our fallen school system whose knowledge of “the Bronze Age” was certainly not gleaned in high school courses in Ancient Greek. Unlike their ancestors, they were offered no such courses.
The Trouble With Oligarchy
Anton opens his book with a chapter on California, as a model for what is going wrong with the internationalist “blue state” program. California, at least, they can see with their own eyes. His analysis matches that which I have heard from my contacts in that state, especially Juliette Akinyi Ochieng, one of the original military bloggers. His warnings on the way prosecutors refuse to prosecute crimes except against citizens who dare defend themselves are also especially powerful in light of the present riots in blue America.
With the problem sketched out plainly, then, he attempts to address the bitter divisions – and, in the process, bring any interested young autodidacts along for an education into the Founding. He starts with the divisions on the right, especially between the paleo and neoconservatives. Anton has a problem here that he does not address, which is that the neoconservatives he is addressing may well be more comfortable with the international oligarchy he is fighting than he would like to admit. In fact, many of the architects of the Clinton, Bush, and Obama wars are currently endorsing Joe Biden.
Ultimately, the international oligarchy will need its wars, and it will need its warriors. There is good money to be made waging such wars, in making the weapons for the wars, and in selling the next one. It may well be that some of his opponents are not persuadable on philosophy alone.
There is another issue for his warning against the dangers of civil strife. He argues his opponents are really pursuing a kind of oligarchy, nationalizing the system of California. Yet when he speaks of the left’s interest in “distributive justice,” correctly linking the phrase to Aristotle, Anton doesn’t notice Aristotle’s concerns about how distribution and oligarchy line up. Aristotle holds that it is very important to protect the wealthy from having their wealth redistributed by taxation in a democracy. Otherwise, he says, the wealthy will raise armies and overthrow the state.
In an oligarchy, however, Aristotle claims that robust redistribution is necessary to stability. The poor will accept the power to enrich themselves, or they will accept being paid generously to accept a lack of power. Insofar as Anton has correctly diagnosed the problem as a successful shift to oligarchy, arguing against the redistributive designs of liberal political theorists such as John Rawls is more likely to encourage a civil war than otherwise.
That said, Anton is quite right that the Rawlsian understanding has perverted America’s traditional understanding of civil rights, creating a vast inequality of protected and unprotected classes. He is also right that “the past never becomes past” on this model so that those designated for protection must continue to enjoy it. For instance, colleges and universities continue to act as if women, designated a protected class close to Rawls’ heyday, must continue to be treated so even though they now obtain the vast majority of degrees.
Redistribution may be necessary in an oligarchy, but the oppression/victim narratives used to justify it have made it impossible even for the oligarchs to shift gears as necessary. Some of the hostility of the youth to these systems is coming from young men who are growing up plainly conscious of having the system stacked against them, yet being told that they are natural oppressors who must accept a lifetime more of such treatment.
The Trouble With Oligarchy
It is his final chapter, on the collapse of America, that will draw the most interest. It can be read separately from the rest of the book and should be read if you read only one part. It is the part of the book with the greatest passion and the most interesting ideas. Should the United States dissolve? Should red counties in blue states remove themselves from the states to join neighboring red states, or to form new ones? Are peaceful outcomes still possible?
Anton is praiseworthy in that he is at least still seeking peaceful outcomes. For those who would paint his work in a negative light, ask yourself who else is doing the same. Armed violence is in our streets, and cities are burning in the face of those Anton calls the Wokerati. The old solutions no longer work.
Both left and right say that the solution is to vote the other out of power at every level, but neither has the votes. War is the obvious solution, but not a good one. This book wisely tries to imagine a new working way.