Solet aristoteles quaerere pugnam
-Leo Strauss, 1949
In Part 6 of C. Bradley Thompson’s 8-part series recently published on The American Mind’s Substack, a comic book criticism of the Dissident Right is presented. (He also proves he is rather exercised by my essay at The American Mind, The Online Right and Natural Right.) Throughout his critique, Thompson, a disciple of Ayn Rand, purports to understand the Declaration of Independence and the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” better than those who have spent their entire lives studying the subject. But readers should beware, his Declaration is not the Founders’. In fact, his characterization about those who have for generations sought to preserve it are misleading at best, malicious at worst.
Before proceeding to the meat of his response, a few things about Bronze Age Pervert (BAP) and his so-called BAPists followers needs clearing up. BAP, the boogeyman in Thompson’s telling, is explicit about his belief in Natural Right. When BAP claims he does not believe in a “doctrine” of rights, he means the liberal/left rights not “natural rights.” In fact, BAP omits the word natural when he speaks of it for this very reason. The two definitions of rights are so different they don’t belong on the same coin. And this is where we find some fertile ground to begin rational discussion with our dissident friends. They are not pining to destroy the American regime, and certainly don’t desire to replace it with one in which only self-interested narcissism will reign. Only a normie or bugman would think such a thing.
Now, the most outrageous of the Thompson arguments is when he shoehorns me, BAP, and apparently the entire Claremont Institute into some sort of Nazi cult that has abandoned the Declaration of Independence in favor of history and power. Our new regime will allegedly be led by BAP himself and dedicated toward this goal. Thompson makes up things we didn’t write, illogically leaps to conclusions about what was never said, then holds us accountable for the very things we never said. It’s tiresome.
That he has not, in ways most spectacular, misunderstood his subject was pointed out by Bedivere Bedrydant:
…the Dissident Right is more than just a backlash against woke leftism (and limp-wristed conservatism). While members of the Dissident Right may have been little BoomerCon clones first (I was), before that, many of us were leftists (I was). If not committed leftists, then many of us were at least formed and shaped in leftist laboratories (public schools, the media, liberal churches, universities/colleges, etc.).
Why does this matter? Because the Dissident Right learned to love America after being taught America was evil. Not just the old stuff like the “extermination” of the Indians, slavery, and Jim Crow. We’re talking about modern stuff like Cointelpro, Mossadegh, the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, WMDs, and more. We had to recover from all of that programming in order to love America—which we eventually did. But once we became patriots, we never lost the sense that our institutions are terribly corrupt.
Those on the Dissident Right are quite capable of defending themselves, so they can have at it. Suffice to say, Thompson does not understand those he attacks as they understand themselves, but then again, he’s not a careful thinker.
The exoteric understanding advanced by Thompson of BAP’s following is that they have taken the red pill and want a regime ruled by some sort of superman, or Caesar (which are not the same, mind you!). Of course this pedestrian assessment may be turned on Thompson: perhaps the progenitors of Ayn Rand are jealous that BAP is superior to John Galt, and made him SUBMIT! They loathe BAP because he does not take any notice of their disdain. BAP is vastly superior in his understanding of Nietzsche and Aristotle than Rand. The added benefit is BAP does not believe in the subtext of her message, “to the gas chamber—go!”
Our regime—the Constitution—is now under great stress. How best to preserve the Founding and the immutable truths in the Declaration from what Harry Jaffa described as a “liberal ‘power elite,’” is the great political quandary of our time. So, if the regime is undergoing a transformation to something else, it is good to remind ourselves that the Declaration says nothing of the form of government per se. As Jaffa put it in How to Think About the American Revolution:
This does not mean, however, that the Declaration did not envisage that a variety of forms of government—including a variety of forms of republicanism—might from time to time receive the people’s sanction.
Since a change for the worse is undesirable, we ought to know what constitutes a change for the better. What might be the best of the available options in the future is unknown, but prudence dictates that we do not change government for “light and transient causes.” This means that governments may be modified for serious and ongoing abuses. How can anyone read the Declaration and miss the fact that the Founders justified their actions—their Revolution—as a prudent act! If our regime is transforming into something we have not yet contemplated, we will need prudence to light our path.
But the argument for a simple return to the Founding is limited and unpersuasive in the digital age. If it were persuasive, we would not be here. In the midst of our current disruption, we need to think about new ways to repackage timeless truths for a new generation and communicate them in a manner that recognizes this reality. THAT is prudence. The wisest will make appeals that ultimately fix the foundation of our political regime on a footing that regenerates, not destroys, liberty. That was the point of my piece. BAPists are open to that dialogue. We should welcome them to sit at our table.
Thompson, the Straussians, and Harry Jaffa
One final point: That this intrepid Randian would seriously write that Claremonsters are complete historicists is laughable. Jaffa and Strauss would utterly reject this libel because it leads to “unqualified relativism,” something both men believed was ultimately destructive to humanity. Now, really, for anyone who knows anything about me, Claremont, or Jaffa, is it reasonable to conclude we are nihilists?
It takes a willful misreading of “OK Boomer” proportions to misread others this flagrantly. That I have abandoned the Founding, as he contends, is a grievous misrepresentation given what I explicitly affirm. Thompson has made a cottage industry of excoriating Strauss and those connected to him. It is no shock he believes people at Claremont are fascists, for he has made that clear before:
Like the fascists, Strauss and the neoconservatives reject the values and principles associated with Enlightenment liberalism—namely, reason, egoism, individual rights, material acquisition, limited government, freedom, capitalism, science, and technology. They are repulsed by the moral ethos associated with liberal-capitalism, and they praise the nobility of the “barbarian” virtues such as discipline, courage, daring, endurance, loyalty, renunciation, obedience, and sacrifice.
There was no qualification in the above quote that neo-cons have misunderstood Strauss. He claims Strauss taught these things.
Moreover, it is remarkable to me that anyone can claim to know what Jaffa might scorn were he alive today. It might be true that Jaffa would not approve Mishima’s version of Sun & Steel, but he certainly would have approved of it in general. Every good Jaffa student knows that the man believed in health and vitality and he practiced it in his life. To understand Jaffa, you had to know his love for boxing was deeper than just sport. He was an advocate for fitness and manly pursuits. There are many stories about him taking his students out on long cycling road trips like he was the maillot jaune of the Tour de France. Try holding his wheel. Forget it, you can’t. Jaffa was an ardent lover of this country and its idea. In his personal and professional life he fought for it. He attracted the same. This response is in honor of that noble spirit.
Thompson is trying to steal the audience of the Claremont Institute, so much so he set up his own Substack at the exact moment he wrote these essays, piggybacking on the launch of the American Mindset. Let’s not allow him this usurpation. The matter is closed.