Some conservative academics hope to install an authoritarian “Red Caesar” as the country’s leader — at least, according to The Guardian.
In a recent article for The Guardian, Jason Wilson claimed Hillsdale College associate professor of politics Kevin Slack and lecturer in politics Michael Anton were pushing a “far-right dictatorship” under the guise of “Red Caesarism.” This is blatantly false.
The Constitution, Republicanism, and Red Caesar
“I nowhere called for it,” Anton said in a phone interview. “I favor constitutional government. I favor the original Constitution. I favor what the founders gave us.”
Anton, a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute and former official in President Donald Trump’s administration, said he came up with the term “Red Caesarism” in his 2020 book The Stakes: America at the Point of No Return. He said he wrote on the idea while speculating about the consequences of continuously poor governance, though he ultimately supports republican government.
“I would strongly prefer we protect that and continue to preserve that. But you can’t assume just because you want something that you’re going to get it,” Anton said. “People on the left and in the ruling elite more generally are taking the United States in very dangerous directions.”
Anton said “Caesarism” was only one of seven possible future scenarios — eight including the continuation of current trends — about which he speculated in his book. And “Red Caesarism” is only one form of “Caesarism.” While he described these possibilities, he refrained from making predictions or endorsements.
“If you drive your car at 70 mph toward a wall, ‘You’ll probably crash’ is analysis. It’s not a recommendation,” Anton said. “Caesarism is an inferior regime, never desirable for its own sake.”
The Formerly Democratic United States
Slack said he refused to dignify the question of whether he would support a Caesar-like authoritarian leader.
“The idea that there is some school or movement supporting a ‘Red Caesar’ or ‘fascism’ is laughable,” Slack wrote in an email. “This is not a world I or anyone I know wants to live in. And yet, it is increasingly the one that those with real political power are leading us to.”
Wilson took Anton and Slack’s discussion of a “Red Caesar” completely out of context, claiming Anton meant “the U.S. might be redeemed by a Caesar — an authoritarian, rightwing leader.”
“Those who become hysterical over the phrase ‘Red Caesar’ do so in ignorance of historical imperial rulers, and they do so in bad conscience,” Slack said.
Anton responded in The Blaze, saying The Guardian never directly quoted him making this claim because it cannot. He claimed Wilson was on a “campaign to hurt the Claremont Institute, the college, and anyone associated with them.”
These critics are trying to force dissidents to affirm America’s current government as “democratic,” Slack also told The Blaze. To demonstrate the federal government’s disregard for self-government, he pointed to its election meddling, its support for “Big Pharma,” the military-industrial complex, the rule of unelected bureaucrats who disproportionately support the Democratic Party, the use of open borders “to import a different population,” and its funding of foreign wars like that in Ukraine.
“We cannot properly call our form of government democratic,” Slack said. “Congress members even admit that they do not write, read, or implement the important bills they vote for. Why don’t we fix our broken institutions and restore our republic instead of demanding we call them what they are not?”
Wilson’s piece cites Damon Linker, a senior lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania, as an unbiased expert. Yet Anton said the two have a “long history.” Linker claimed Trump’s loss of the 2020 election “radicalized” conservatives, so they had to adopt “Caesarism” to find another path to power.
If ‘Red Caesar’ Comes, It Won’t Be Trump
“If Trump wins in 2024, does he listen to people like Michael Anton about the need to perhaps cancel the next election?” Linker asked in the piece. Anton said Wilson’s decision to cite Linker showed partisan intent.
“You basically say, ‘Anton called for this’ — you get that wrong. Then you go to another guy, and you give him 10 paragraphs to denounce me,” Anton said. “The point is not to inform readers. It’s to do harm.”
And realistically, according to Anton, Trump would not play the role of Caesar.
“He wants to be a real president with authority vested in him by Article II of the Constitution and chosen by the voters,” Anton said. “It’s just a grotesque mischaracterization of who and what he is to say that he’s for ‘Caesarism’ or wants himself to be dictator.”
Slack agreed that Trump would not become a “Red Caesar.” He cited Trump’s history of obeying more than 70 court rulings that overturned his decisions, allowing Gen. Mark Milley to usurp his powers, and, in the left’s language, fomenting an “insurrection” at the Capitol without a real army.
Throughout history, the Caesar archetype was not an “outsider” like Trump but a general who emerged from an oligarchy of consolidating imperial forces, according to Slack.
“A Caesar today needs centralized law enforcement and a centralized economy: an intelligence state, militarized police, and monopoly capitalism,” Slack said. “The great irony is that the people who fret over a Caesar’s arrival are the very ones preparing the way for him.”
A ‘Blue Caesar’ Poses a Greater Threat
The Guardian also missteps in assuming that Slack and Anton are simply speculating about a “Red Caesar.”
“If we get to Caesarism, as opposed to all these other outcomes, then the question is who would be Caesar,” Anton said. “It could be a ‘Blue Caesar,’ could be a ‘Red Caesar.’ I specifically said the prospect of ‘Red Caesar’ is actually less likely.”
Anton said he considers a “Blue Caesar” more likely because the left holds more bureaucratic power than the right.
If a Caesar ever did rise to power, then he would do so during an economic or political crisis, claiming to save “democracy” by usurping power, according to Slack. A “Blue Caesar” might claim he needs to save the nation from enemies like “semi-fascism” or “whiteness.” He might, Slack argued, imprison political challengers, destroy constitutional protections, pack the Supreme Court, use intelligence agencies to “monitor and censor” Americans online, spy on religious groups, infiltrate and entrap right-wing groups, attack homeschooling as anti-democratic, force so-called “diversity, equity, and inclusion” trainings, and preserve open borders to buy votes.
“While Joe Biden cuts just as laughable a figure of a Caesar as Donald Trump,” Slack said, “in the above hypothetical, who has more ground to be worried — conservatives or liberals?”
Restoring Republican Citizenship
Both Slack and Anton said they would never prefer the rule of a Caesar, red or blue, to free republican government.
“We would be better off restoring republican institutions and trying to reunify the country under common citizenship,” Slack said. “But I suspect that anyone who questions the constitutional legitimacy of our current undemocratic order will simply be accused of supporting a Red Caesar.”