Playing Pretend With the Founding Fathers

In a remarkably disjointed, bombastic defense of “the liberal order,” C. Bradley Thompson writes in American Mind about the dangers posed by “Pajama-Boy Nietzscheans” and the supposedly surging “neo-reactionary movement on the Right.” According to Thompson, “radical Left and Right have now merged” in a virulent form of anti-Americanism—the essence of which consists of not agreeing with Thompson’s idealized regime.

The true America that Thompson claims to be upholding “was forged when the ideas of Thomas Jefferson passed through the Cumberland Gap and were put into practice by men like Daniel Boone and women like Annie Oakley.” It seems that our pioneers in the early 19th century read Thompson’s mind centuries in advance while trekking out West.

According to Thompson, anti-Americanism is raging across this land, and its scariest representatives are on the far right:

Much more interesting than the ho-hum anti-Americanism of the progressive Left, though, is the rise in recent years of a rump faction of former Paleo or Tradcons, who have come out of their ideological closet and transitioned from pro- to anti-Americanism. The recent rise of the radical Right in America is distinguished from all previous forms of conservatism and libertarianism by its explicit rejection of the founders’ liberalism.

The Vanishing Traditio... Buy New $22.95 (as of 10:15 EST - Details) The names on Thompson’s list of bogeymen, from which my name was astonishingly kept out, includes such nasty hombres as: “Joseph de Maistre, Louis de Bonald, Georg Friedrich Hegel, Friedrich Nietzsche, Carl Schmitt, Martin Heidegger, Julius Evola, Giovanni Gentile, Leo Strauss, and the Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima.” Moreover, neo-reactionary “political heroes include Charlemagne, the Stuart monarchs, General Franco, and Viktor Orbán.”

The folks poring over these poisonous thinkers are exemplified by the Catholic writer Patrick Deneen and the populist Michael Anton. Some anti-American rightists are also apparently getting high on Curtis Yarvin’s reactionary website, which disparages the American Revolution and its ideals. Deneen has apparently behaved in a particularly reprehensible way by challenging the classical liberal principles behind the American experiment, as interpreted by Thompson. Thompson is equally upset that some of his fellow Jaffaites at the Claremont Institute have interpreted the master and his defense of democratic equality in an improper manner. These supposed deviationists from Claremont orthodoxy, according to Thompson, have strayed into “anti-Americanism,” which, by the accuser’s circular reasoning, amounts to not agreeing with his dogmatic theology.

It may never have dawned on Thompson that perhaps not all his targets are on the same wavelength. Anton, for example, may think quite differently from Yarvin, Nietzsche, Heidegger, etc., and may also have significant differences with Deneen. The fact that these people are not thinking the same as what Thompson imagines the early American pioneers were thinking as they “passed through the Cumberland Gap” does not mean they are dangerous or worthless. These scorned social critics may have interesting and even valid things to say.

Multiculturalism and t... Paul Edward Gottfried Best Price: $14.51 Buy New $25.00 (as of 06:40 EST - Details) The conclusion of Thompson’s article, in which all the baddies are indiscriminately thrown together, makes careless use of historical comparison. “So, this is where we are in 2020,” Thompson writes. “Like antebellum Southern slaveholders and postbellum Progressives, today’s radical Left and Right share a common disgust for the principles of the American Founding.” And, lest we miss the aforesaid questionable comparison, there is this: “Reminiscent of the early Weimar Republic, the radical Left and Right are intentionally driving the United States to the point of crisis.”

Perhaps I missed something. As far as I can tell, neither the Catholic distributist Deneen, nor Yarvin, writing as the pseudonymous Mencius Moldbug, are inciting crowds to occupy the streets of Portland and Seattle. Nor are they causing young rioters to beat up senior citizens on street corners or to shoot policemen, black and white. And who are the antebellum Southern slaveowners against whom we are supposed to be on guard? Have they occupied the American media yet?

Despite Thompson’s dubious accusations, there is much that one might rightly criticize about the American right, of which Thompson is a now widely honored member.

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