Although I rarely find myself agreeing with neoconservative foreign policy adviser Elliot Cohen, it happened last week, when Cohen in a controversial tweet inveighed against the pro-Trump Journal of American Greatness. Let me admit that I usually read this website publication with pleasure; and although, unlike its contributors, I am not a Straussian of any stripe, I concur with much of what I see there. The Journal’s defense of Trump against the hollow but widespread charge that he’s a “fascist” or a “menace to constitutional freedom,” typically coming from the Never-Trumpites, and its invocation of the Middle American patriotism of the mid-twentieth century (when I grew up in a country that I generally embraced) both resonate well with me. But Cohen is correct that much of the Journal’s operation goes on under the cloak of “anonymity.” Although the editors in response to Cohen claim that the contributors have already identified themselves, all I could discover on the website were the names of three hired editors. These employees, not surprisingly, have some association with Claremont University and/or with the mother shrine of the West Coast Straussians, the Claremont Institute.
Several months ago I was in communication with two distinguished former students of the late Harry Jaffa who expressed their enthusiasm for the Journal but who refused to name names. One of them (whose name I won’t divulge because he wouldn’t want me to) underlined the grave professional danger faced by anyone in his group if it became known that he or she wrote for the Journal. He made the website sound like an underground operation being carried on by endangered dissenters. Now one might understand why the multitude of Never-Trumpites attached to foundations or the academy would be more eager to have their names out there than someone who backs a figure now associated with the populist Right. This is especially true of some people of my acquaintance who ostentatiously display their hatred for Trump at the drop of a pin. Not at all coincidentally, these professional Trump-haters are living from the largess provided by neoconservative donors and think tanks. Perhaps if someone had offered me these plums when I was younger, I too would have sounded shrilly sycophantic. Fortunately for my integrity nobody did.
But what struck me last month while putting together a statement to be signed by scholars for Trump, is how few academics seconded my efforts. In the end, we landed up taking any professional who would append his signature, including a very enthusiastic physician from India who does emergency medicine in Miami. When History-Network recently provided a list of academic historians who were for or against Trump, only three of us, two septuagenarians (including me) and one octogenarian, declared themselves for the GOP presidential candidate. The other historians on the list, some of whom were establishment Republicans, went on a rampage tearing into the Donald. Needless to say, no West Coast Straussian historian threw in his lot with us; nor did anyone in this group offer his name to our publicized declaration of support, which History Network had no trouble discovering, thanks to Lewrockwell.com.
Now it’s entirely possible that some readers of and contributors to the Journal didn’t know of our efforts, while others may have been sitting on the fence in the matter of Donald J. Trump. But I suspect something else is at work here. Disciples of Jaffa of my acquaintance are not professionally endangered. They work at the Claremont Institute or at Claremont University or at such sympathetic institutions as Hillsdale College, whose president Larry P. Arnn is a fervent West Coast Straussian. It would seem that no group has less reason than these Straussians to feel insecure about where their next dollar is coming from. These people have their own well-heeled institutions and, perhaps even more significantly, have access to neoconservative publications and foundations. But that may be the rub. For many decades a cooperative relation has existed between West Coast Straussians and their now deceased mentor and mainstream Republican and neoconservative personalities and foundations. Claremont Review features almost exclusively writers drawn from this pool as well as their own coterie, while Hillsdale invites guest speakers from the same groups.
As a member of the Old Right I have never enjoyed access to either of these institutions; nor would I expect to. The connections of West Coast Straussians are entirely with the GOP-neoconservative establishment, and its members are treated generously by those with whom they network. Their names are seen again and again in National Review, Weekly Standard, and Wall Street Journal; and in all likelihood internships and entry level jobs in neoconservative foundations and publications are made available to young West Coast Straussians. Their basic teachings, e.g., that democratic equality is a foundational conservative principle and that the heroes of the Right should be the Great Emancipator, the anti-Nazi English leader Winston Churchill, and the Civil Rights champion Martin Luther King, are fully compatible with ideas that are now in fashion in the conservative movement. Although members of this group or sect keep insisting that they are somehow different from others in the movement (and perhaps more closely aligned to the Old Right), I’ve seen no evidence of this claim—until now.
The fact that some West Coast Straussians have broken from the fold and back Trump, however surreptitiously, represents a cataclysmic break from the neocon-GOP establishment party line. It places the rebels on the same side as paleoconservatives, paleolibertarians and the populist Right, the same groups that the neocons loathe and have worked tirelessly to defame. But where exactly do the West Coast Straussians (aka Jaffaites) go from here? They are bound at the hip with those they’re apparently beginning to break with. Personally, I doubt their present insurgency has much of a future, but I’d be delighted to be proven wrong.