Will the case for a sober U.S. foreign policy win over the nation builders?
Fasten Your Seatbelts
This essay, by Modern Age editor Daniel McCarthy, appears in its entirety in the Spring 2019 issue of the Claremont Review of Books.
A measure of Michael Anton’s success in “The Flight 93 Election” is the envy that his essay continues to elicit to this day. Writing for the CRB’s website in September 2016, Anton did what his legion of critics are well paid to do, yet routinely fail to achieve: he correctly analyzed a momentous turn in American political life. And his shocking recommendations actually mattered to the presidential election that fall: he gave nerve to voters who were already in revolt but who saw only fear and shame when they looked to conservatism’s princes for leadership. More than any other contribution to the debates surrounding the 2016 election, “The Flight 93 Election” made support for Donald Trump morally and intellectually credible—even imperative.
Anton did for Trump what no one had been able to do for Hillary Clinton or the battalion of contenders for the Republican nomination earlier that year. Writing as Publius Decius Mus, Anton changed men’s souls by the action of his words. However great or modest that change may have been, it was more than anything the institutional punditocracy had been able to accomplish in living memory. So the reception he received from the opinion-dispensing classes was not a warm one. They accused him of cowardice for writing under a pseudonym. They charged him with bad taste for co-opting the memory of the Flight 93 martyrs. They said he was irresponsible to press his case in such stark terms. To make any argument at all for Donald Trump was crime enough, a deed as deplorable as the man himself and the rabble that supported him.
None of this would have been worth saying if the essay had not had an explosive force that critics recognized instantly. Anton was not just a heretic, he was one who would be heard and heeded. He was also one who was prepared to confront his accusers. A week after the original essay, he published a “Restatement on Flight 93” in reply to his critics. And now he has gone further, combining both earlier pieces with an extensive “Pre-Statement on Flight 93” and “A Note on ‘Decius’” in this slim yet well-honed enchiridion from Encounter Books.
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But we’re now three years past the showdown between Trump and Clinton. Is there really a need to read Anton’s essay again in 2019, even with 60 pages of new material to introduce it?
The answer is yes, for the simple reason that a single election, a single revolt, is only the first skirmish in a long war to retake our institutions and re-establish their principles. The New Deal was only consolidated after four consecutive presidential elections, three under Franklin Roosevelt and one under his successor, Harry Truman. Some would say even then the acquiescence of the next president, two-term Republican Dwight Eisenhower, was necessary to entrench the welfare state beyond possibility of repeal. What’s more, while Donald Trump won the last election, there is a sense in which Flight 93 is not yet diverted. Electoral success and policy transformation are two different things—to say nothing of establishing a new spirit behind all policy. Anton’s analysis therefore has the same urgency today as it did when it was first published. The country is still in a moment of peril.
Founded in 1957 by the great Russell Kirk, Modern Age is the forum for stimulating debate and discussion of the most important ideas of concern to conservatives of all stripes. It plays a vital role in these contentious, confusing times by applying timeless principles to the specific conditions and crises of our age—to what Kirk, in the inaugural issue, called “the great moral and social and political and economic and literary questions of the hour.”
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