Monday, March 21, 2022

Jaffa on Jaffa: The Trumpian Isolationism, Nativism, Protectionism, and Nihilism of the Claremont Institute

Philip Jaffa has written a comment on my March 9th post ("Appeasing Putin"). Since his comment is an instructive statement on how far the Claremont Institute has departed from his father's thinking, I thought I should republish it here as a post:

Larry … Philip Jaffa checking in here. I would like to say that you are absolutely correct on this issue. My father would have rejected Angelo Codevilla’s latest work in its entirety. Angelo abandoned my father’s views pretty much across the board—quite some time ago.

Angelo was a personal friend. We hung out together, starting when he was in graduate school and continuing through the time his oldest kids were in High School. His views were always quirky—never quite matching up with my father’s. But everything changed after his heart transplant. He went through something of a personality transformation. He had always had a tendency towards conspiracy theories. After the transplant, every time I talked to him, he had gone down another wacky rabbit hole. Of course, this just made him increasingly popular in conservative circles. Conservatism today appears to be nothing but rabbit holes.

I like to say that when Angelo and I began hanging out together I was Methodist and he was Catholic. I converted to Catholicism and he converted to libertarianism.

My father lost influence at the Claremont Institute, starting around 2005. He had zero influence … and I mean that literally … after 2010. My father’s exact words, which he repeated over and over again, were: “They did not wait to bury the teaching with the teacher. What they are trying to do is put a top hat on Jefferson Davis and call him Abraham Lincoln … and put the dust cover of the Nichomachean Ethics on Atlas Shrugged and call it Aristotle.”

My father loathed libertarianism and isolationism—both before and after Angelo adopted those views.

At any rate, to turn back to the matter at hand, my father was a stern critic of the America First movement, including its latter day nativist descendants. The Claremont Institute has become one of the leading voices for immigration restriction. My mother and father were the most pro-immigration people you ever met in your life. They dug into their own pockets on several occasions to hire legal representation for illegal immigrants. No one ever dared to say a bad word about immigrants in our household. I remember my first visit to New York City, when I was 16. We visited the Statue of Liberty. When my father read aloud the plaque with Emma Lazarus words … “Give me your tired, your poor, your hungry, yearning to be free” … he broke down and cried. It was the first time I had ever seen my father cry. I didn’t know how to respond. I remained silent, as did he, until we were on the boat back to shore. Then he turned and pointed to the Statue of Liberty. “That,” he said, “is Europe’s version of the Lincoln Memorial.” My father then launched into a lecture on Lincoln’s immigration bill of 1864, which set the stage for the huge flow of European immigration that was to transform this country. And he added that the Civil War needs to be seen not merely as a fight over slavery but also as a fight over immigration. The same racial theories that were applied to blacks also were applied to immigrants. My father liked to point out that one quarter of the union army was foreign born, and if you include soldiers who had at least one parent who was foreign born, the number was 40%. After the Civil War, the fight to restrict the rights of black was matched by a movement to restrict immigration, culminating in the Johnson-Reed Act of 1923. My father referred to the Johnson Reed Act as “An Act to Prevent the Contamination of the Gene Pool from Jews.” Tom Cotton’s immigration bill is just Johnson-Reed revisited. 

Donald Trump (with a little help from the Claremont Institute) has reconstituted the Republican Party around four core principles: isolationism, nativism, protectionism, and nihilism. My father opposed all four.


Larry Arnhart said...

David Bahr has asked me to post this as a comment:

The Claremont Institute does not take institutional positions. What you are stating are the views of the organization is incorrect; it is the view(s) of individuals.

Please make that clear.

Larry Arnhart said...

I understand David's point--that "the Claremont Institute does not take institutional positions" when it publishes "the views of individuals."

But I would point out that it often publishes essays in which individuals do claim to speak for the Claremont Institute. For example, in his essay "'Conservatism' Is No Longer Enough" (The American Mind, 3/24/21), Glenn Ellmers says: "Claremont was one of the very few serious institutions on the right to make an intellectual case for Trumpism. . . . Trump voters are essentially 'Claremont conservatives'."

Les Brunswick said...

Larry, I had been thinking for a while of asking you if you thought that the Claremont Institute's support of Trump was because of a deficiency in Jaffa's thought, or because it had distorted that thought. It seems that the latter is what actually happened.

Larry Arnhart said...

Yes. I have contacted various people associated with the Claremont Institute and asked them for evidence that Jaffa would have agreed with Claremont's Trumpism. The response has been mostly silence, which must mean that they know they are no longer loyal to Jaffa's thought. There was one response from Glenn Ellmers, who referred to Jaffa's letter to Commentary criticizing the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But this is not evidence that Jaffa was a Trumpist isolationist. And as Jaffa's son makes clear, Jaffa's scorn for the 1924 immigration law shows that he would have shown the same scorn for Trumpist anti-immigrationism.

Les Brunswick said...

Interesting. But would you say they are still Straussian? East coast, West coast, Midwest? Or some new version of Strauss, or something else all together?

Larry Arnhart said...

That's a good question. But I don't have a good answer. Someone on the inside--like Charles Kesler--would have to answer that question.