* Know Your Enemy Podcast: Midnight in the Garden of American Heroes

Matt and Sam explain West Coast Straussianism, the school of thought behind the Trump Administration’s “1776 Report.” Matt and Sam explain West Coast Straussianism, the school of thought behind one of the last acts of the Trump administration: its publication of the “1776 Report,” the Right’s shabby response to the 1619 Project and blueprint for how the American Founding should be understood and taught. What are the origins of this school of conservative thought? Why are its adherents so enthusiastic about Trump? How do they understand the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and U.S. history? And why are they obsessed with “identity politics”?

Harry Jaffa, “American Conservatism and the Present Crisis,” Claremont Review of Books, Spring 2003

Publius Decius Mus, “The Flight 93 Election,” Claremont Review of Books, September 2016

Steven Smith, “Hidden Truths,” New York Times, August 23, 2013

John J. Miller, “The House of Jaffa,” National Review, January 12, 2015

Kathryn and Michael Zuckert, The Truth about Leo Strauss: Political Philosophy and American Democracy (University of Chicago Press, 2006)

5 thoughts on “* Know Your Enemy Podcast: Midnight in the Garden of American Heroes”

  1. Jaffa was a critic of originalism, right? Because he was a proponent of what, I don’t know if he gave it this name, or if it’s just what it came to be called. But he was a proponent of declaration ism. Meaning like what undergirded the Constitution, was the moral and philosophical principles of the declaration. And so you had to read them into the Constitution. It was kind of like a not a natural law reading of the Constitution. There was this morality, so to speak, that, yeah, the Constitution was based on and you should figure that into your rulings. And he thought originalism was a kind of angle positivism, you know, there was no morality underneath that it was just words you were hanging on to interesting.

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  2. they wrote this book in 2006, called The Truth About Leo Strauss, political philosophy and American democracy. And it was partly a reaction to all the bush neoconservative straussian books that came out around that time to articles you that that part of the discourse, so they were trying to kind of clear Strauss’s name. But but one of the things they really did that was interesting is they set up the syllogism, which is according to Strauss’s thinking about the United States. America is modern. But modernity is bad. And America is good. So how can America both be modern and good? And kind of the straussian conception? If this, you know distinctly modern country was good, right? If it is bad, how could this modern country be good? So that’s kind of the dilemma they set up and the basically the West Coast Strauss Ian’s give their own distinctive answer to it, which is you might put it this way. The different syllogism, modernity is not all bad. Only progressives are bad. Right? America was good. But then the progressives happened. The third prong would then be make America great again. Right. Right. So the question is like, how do they conceive of that? Why was America originally good? And where did progressives in the early 20th century? Where did they go wrong? And what was so vicious about them? And that’s like the problematic that shows up in this report, the 1776 report, it’s basically saying this is what America’s founding really means and why it’s good. And this is where things really went wrong is with the progressives. Yeah. And then where they go with that is really deranged, because progressivism is listed as in the set of challenges to the founding like our to our constitutional order. And so they begin by talking about slavery as an example, which is true, right? Slavery, posed a challenge to our constitution with our country almost fell apart over it. Right, it causes war. But then you get to progressivism, and then they move to fascism. Yeah, then they get to communism, and then they get to identity politics.

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  3. Now, here’s the key thing to understand I think about westco straussian ism i and this is makes sense if you think back to what I just said about Harry Jaffa and the Declaration, which is there read the founding, to places the declaration at the center of it, and and then they provide a very distinctive reading of the declaration. So it’s very declaration centric. Well, let me read something from it. This will be Have you flame cabinet? The declaration did not merely assert that the founders dislike British rule. And so we’re replacing it with something they like better. They wish to state a justification for their actions and for the government to wish it would give birth. That is both true and moral, moral because it is faithful to the truth about things. And this is, this is the key part. Such a justification could only be found in the precepts of nature, specifically human nature, accessible to the human mind, but not subject to the human will. Those precepts, whether understood as created by God or simply as eternal, are given that man did not bring into being and cannot change. Hence, the declaration speaks about the laws of nature, nature’s God, it appeals to both reason and Revelation is the foundation of the underlying truth of the documents claims, and therefore the legitimacy of the new nation. So well, you can see a few things going on there. One is, let me know if this makes sense. Okay, nature is treated as like a foundational belief, right? Like nature is a foundation that can be appealed to, by human reason. And so the idea of natural rights, the idea of consent of the governed, all that that’s laid out in the declaration as being kind of natural, you know, accessible to reason, nature, and nature’s God, all that it’s the thing that routes are moral arguments and debates. It’s non relativistic, there’s some standard that is timeless, that does not change with history, that does not shift over time. And so it’s a foundational concept. In that sense. It’s the building block of all moral disputes and arguments.

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  4. They said this, progressives believe there are only group rights that are constantly redefined and change with the times. Indeed, society has the power and obligation not only to define and grant new rights, but also to take old rights away as the country develops. Based on this false understanding of rights, the progressives designed a new system of government, instead of securing fundamental rights grounded in nature, government, operating under a new theory of the living Constitution should constantly evolve to secure evolving rights. In order to keep up with these changes, government would be brought more boy more by credential managers, who would direct society through rules and regulations, that mold to the currents of the times. So you can see in that passage, the germ of the idea of a bureaucratic state, right, the administrative state, the administrative state, yes, micromanaging people’s lives, disrespecting individual rights grounded in nature, to kind of impose on the American people. This both form of government and moral ends, which were repugnant to kind of the original constitutional system in the sense of the American people,

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  5. John C. Calhoun, is perhaps the leading forerunner of identity politics. It’s just, I mean, oh, my God. I mean, it’s really idiotic. But they say, by rejecting America’s common political identity that follows from the declarations principles, Calhoun argued that the American polity was not an actual community at all, but was reducible only to diverse majority minority groups. Calhoun saw these groups is more or less permanent, solely evolving products of their race, in particular historical circumstances. And they pitch Calhoun, which is not totally wrong, is a critic of kind of rational deliberation and political compromise, because it was all based in these, you know, group interests. And so, you know, the Calhoun kind of theory of interposition is that, you know, these groups, there should be checks on majority rule by minorities, including, like the states could check, you know, federal legislation, which means check, any kind of anti slavery move made by the national government. Yeah, right. But that emphasis on group interest, which, in the context of Calhoun, it just does not map on to identity politics at all, as we understand the term. But that is what they take from Calhoun and emphasis on group rights. So therefore, he is the progenitor of identity politics.

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