Some of those who claim to be in the tradition of Leo Strauss--the Western Straussians connected to Harry Jaffa and Claremont McKenna College--are now supporting Donald Trump. I cannot imagine Leo Strauss supporting someone like Trump unless Will Altman was right about Strauss's Jewish Nazism.
The Straussian supporters of Trump are posting their manifestos at the website for the Journal of American Greatness. According to an article in this week's Weekly Standard by Fred Barnes, Charles Kesler at Claremont McKenna College says that the Journal of American Greatness is in the "Claremont and Hillsdale orbit," and represents "a subset of Western Straussianism."
In an article at VDARE, Hedley Wight has argued that in contrast to the globalist cosmopolitanism of the East Coast Straussians, the West Coast Straussians love America first, and they are now embracing the ethnic nationalism of the "Alternative Right," which recognizes the potential for Trump to become the leader of an American ethnic nationalist movement to defend the ethnic and racial identity of America. In doing this, the Trumpist Straussians admit that they are trying to understand Trump better than he understands himself. Or as one writer at the Journal of American Greatness has written: "we are far more interested in understanding his policy impulses better than he understands them himself, which means situating them within deeper historical and theoretical contexts, even those of which he never speaks and probably is not aware."
Isn't this exactly what Martin Heidegger did with Hitler in his Rectoral Address and other speeches for the Nazis, in which he tried to exercise "intellectual leadership" by making Nazism philosophically coherent, just as the Trumpian Straussians are now trying to make Trumpism philosophically coherent?
In the spring, 2016, issue of the Claremont Review of Books, one can see the debate among the West Coast Straussians over Trump. Kesler writes in defense of Trump. Martha Bayles writes against him.
Kesler speaks of Trump as a "strong leader" in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, which is strange given Kesler's critique of Progressivism. Kesler quotes Wilson's claim that "the President is at liberty to be as big a man as he can," and he quotes Wilson's declaration that "the personal force of the President is perfectly constitutional to any extent which he chooses to exercises it." Kesler observes: "'Personal force'--not far from Trump's praise of high energy, toughness, and strength in the ideal chief executive."
Kesler praises Trump for taking "a tough position in tough terms." After all, Kesler observes, "every republic essentially faces what might be called the Weimar problem. Has the national culture, popular and elite, deteriorated so much that the virtues necessary to sustain republican government are no longer viable?" In such times, the nation needs a "strong leader." Thus, Kesler implies that Trump is doing for the United States what Adolf Hitler did for Germany. Hitler promised to make Germany great again. Like Germany, the United States needs someone "to be as big a man as he can." After all, as Trump has said, in one of his favorite quotations from Mussolini, "it is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep."
Oddly, in affirming the need for a President acting as a "strong leader" who is free "to be as big a man as he can," Kesler, the West-coast Straussian, seems to be agreeing with Harvey Mansfield, the East-coast Straussian, who asserts the need for Presidents who show the "manly nihilism" of "one-man rule"
If this follows from the teaching of Leo Strauss, then Will Altman was right to argue that Strauss was promoting Nazism, because he saw classical liberalism as so decadent that it needed the spirited manliness of Nazism--or Donald Trump--to save it. One of the writers at the Journal of American Greatness, in an article on "Paleo-Straussianism," has said of Strauss that "the philosophic mind he admired the most belonged to a Nazi." Altman argues that Strauss's praise for Heidegger and his refusal to repudiate Heidegger's Nazism is good evidence for Strauss's acceptance of Nazism.
Altman cited Strauss's comments about how every healthy society is a "closed society" rather than an "open society." The Trumpist Straussians seem to conform to this by agreeing with Trump's claim that America must be a closed society not open to Muslims and immigrants from non-European countries.
By contrast, in the same issue of the Clarement Review of Books in which Kesler's essay appears. Martha Bayles disagrees with her "savy political friends" at Claremont who have found Trump "refreshing." Instead, she sees Trump's success as showing the morally degrading effects of "exhibitionist reality TV" on American political culture.
Can't we imagine that Strauss would have taken her side--in recognizing the vulgar demagoguery of Trump--against the Western Straussians? In his article in National Review rejecting Trump, Bill Kristol quoted Strauss as saying "a conservative, I take it, is a man who despises vulgarity." Kristol asked: "Isn't Donald Trump the very epitome of vulgarity?"
Or can some Straussians see the "inner truth and greatness" in Trumpism as a movement for American ethnic nationalism? If so, then was Altman right to see Strauss as a Jewish Nazi who scorned the openness of cosmopolitan liberalism?
Does this Straussian scorn for classical liberalism explain why the Trumpist Straussians prefer Trump for President over Gary Johnson? After all, Johnson and the Libertarians support free trade and open borders, which puts them in opposition to American ethnic nationalism.
"We have been given the gift of Trump and Clinton." That's what one of the libertarians at the Libertarian Party convention said, and he was expressing the thought that pervaded the convention: with the two parties nominating Trump and Clinton, Johnson has an unprecedented opportunity. If Trump and Clinton each win roughly 30% of the popular vote, Johnson could win with 40%, just as Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican president with less than a majority of the popular vote, because Stephen Douglas and John Breckenridge split the Democratic Party vote.
An alternative possibility is that Johnson wins the electoral votes of a few states (like New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah), while Trump and Clinton evenly split the other states, no one wins a majority in the Electoral College, and the election must be decided by the House of Representatives, with each state delegation having one vote. If neither Trump nor Clinton can win the majority of the state delegations, and if the Republicans favor Johnson over Clinton, and the Democrats favor Johnson over Trump, Johnson could win. Crazy? Yeah, just as crazy as this whole presidential election year.
Some of my other posts on Strauss, Nazism, and liberalism can be found here, here, here, here., here., and here.
My posts on Mansfield's "manly nihilism" are here, here, here, here, here, and here.
My previous posts on Trump are here, here, here., and here.
My previous post on ethnic nationalism is here.
My posts on the Nazi philosophers are here and here.