Mike Anton Interviewed

Six Thoughts On Political Conflict In America

A while back, I had a long conversation with Michael Anton about the peculiar political drama now going on in America. The situation is unique because a new political opposition is tied up to new, digital communications, but largely not represented politically & institutionally. This leads to much confusion & yet may lead to the emergence of a coalition, out of shared enmity to what we increasingly refer to as "the regime,” a name from political theory that is always a sign of danger in politics—it shows we are no longer all together, it suggests a conflict between different principles of justice is arising. Political strife of this character is new within living memory & of course new to the young people involved, so we turn to the author most interested in political strife, Machiavelli.

1. Youthful Recklessness

Titus: Mr. Anton, people on the Right today, especially young men engaged in political discourse, like to say very harsh things, but rarely well thought out or coherent. You recently wrote an essay on Machiavelli called The Art of Spiritual War, arguing how aspects of his thought can be applied to today’s discourse. What do you think today’s youth can learn from Machiavelli?

Michael Anton: Well, Machiavelli’s harshness is always very calculated & controlled. As you say, young, usually very online types generally like to shock & say witty things, & I worry about that. Despite the fact that, underneath the shock, they’re often very insightful, they often end up diluting their own influence & in a few cases even jeopardizing their own careers. We’re not yet at the point where the regime is just going to drag you to jail for tweeting or posting the wrong thing, although this happens in other Western countries & there are signs of it coming to America. But if at age twenty-five you use such imprudent rhetoric that you find it impossible to maintain any kind of institutional affiliation or earn a living, it might not be the equivalent of being jailed or getting shot, but it does in a way jeopardize your life. One of the reasons Machiavelli appeals to the young is because he knows young people are inherently more rash than the old. However, if we’re going to be Aristotelian for a moment, although rashness is akin to courage, rashness isn’t courage, nor an excess of it; it’s a defect—and there’s a tendency for that amongst the young. This is what Strauss means when he says that Machiavelli appeals to that taste in the young “which is not the best taste.” There is a tendency among certain younger people to think that holding back one’s rashness out of prudence is inherently cowardice. As an older man with gray hair, I feel like giving a little bit of advice: That’s not true! It is possible to be prudent & courageous at the same time. In fact, we might go as far as to say it’s impossible to be courageous without being prudent. Courage without prudence ends up being rashness, which ends up harming you. We all know people who have made real contributions to our side & then went out & said stupid & unhelpful things. That’s nothing but a gift to the Left, which will now be able to guilt other people by association. So if you won’t be prudent to protect yourself, you should at least do it to protect your friends.

That’s true, daring by itself is not enough. The times call for it, but people must learn to be smart about it. It’s very tempting to simply ‘dare’, both because it’s something that appeals to the young, as you said, but also because that’s how modern things work. We look for change, & its pursuit requires a degree of daring.

Yes. Look, there’s no point in charging the enemy’s machine-gun nests when you know you’re going to get shot. It might be brave, but courage without a purpose, without an end, in the sense of an intended result, is rashness, foolishness, worse than imprudence. All you’ve accomplished is taking yourself practically out of the game when we could use all of the talent we can get, & not only that, but all the people you’ve once associated with are now going to have to deal with the Left’s attempts to go after their reputations as well. & you can complain that this guilt-by-association is unfair & meaningless all you want, but they will do that. So let’s stop giving them ammunition. The enemy is quite strong as it is, it doesn’t need our help.

There’s a coupling of forms of irresponsibility in this sort of rhetoric: On one hand, people feel that, as you say, this isn’t Soviet Russia, & you’re not going to get shot, so you should speak up. & of course free speech is your right, & you should occasionally run your mouth. But there’s another form of your irresponsibility there: If you feel you can’t really be part of an enterprise & don’t have a future in general, maybe you also feel your country doesn’t have a future, & then why not just run your mouth? Maybe desperate, even nihilistic courage is all that’s left! So there’s this lowest level where one feels ‘protected’, in the sense that the gov’t can’t just shoot you for saying the wrong thing, & there’s this highest level, where you feel we’re all doomed anyway, but there’s no in-between.

2. The Long Term Of Modernity

So there’s a spiritual danger here: Machiavelli would call it the dangers of leisure, & the peculiar cruelty it leads to, which is why I thought people should hear your thoughts on him. There’s a reason his reputation is, in a sense, very bad, but at the same time everlasting. No other modern philosopher causes people to immediately react the same way they do when they hear Machiavelli’s name. They know that in him lies danger, but also power. He discloses things that lead to success. Perhaps this is what’s missing in the ‘anti-woke coalition,’ the knowledge that success is possible.

There’s a lot missing from the anti-woke coalition. But let me first address this: Machiavelli played a long game. He didn’t even publish his books until after he was dead. He left them to heirs, literary executors. So he was never going to be around to see the reception or what impact they may or may not have. He had no idea what his spiritual warfare was going to accomplish, if it was going to accomplish anything, & I’m pretty confident that he went to his eternal rest not thinking he’d be up there watching it all unfold. No way to prove that, of course, but I think that’s what he believed. His books were kind of a parting gift to humanity. Now, when I wrote that, some people thought that by that I was implying we have the same time span, that I was telling people not to worry, we have another one hundred & fifty years to fix this. But that’s not what I meant. I don’t think we do. I’ve reached the tentative conclusion that we have nowhere near that much, which ultimately means we have to be even more careful, because some of us are going to have to be able to effect real change within our own lifetimes, & that’s not going to be particularly easy.

As for the anti-woke coalition, there’s an even bigger question here that must be addressed: What is the end state that the pro-Western, ‘anti woke’ movement seeks? I don’t think we’ve figured that out. I’ve had this argument with three categories of people with whom I share enemies, but still differ in terms of what the end state should be: One is the ‘quasi-monarchists’, or techno-monarchists who are associated with Curtis Yarvin (who is also a friend). They have an end-state in mind. Another are the paleo-conservatives, who I think implicitly have an end-state in mind, even though I don’t think they’ve ever stated it. & lastly, are those gathered around the famous internet figure, Bronze Age Pervert (BAP), whose book I reviewed in the Claremont Review of Books in 2019. I think he does have an end-state in mind, which I’ve criticized as LARPing & unrealistic, but in our written exchanges, I also questioned whether it is meant seriously or rhetorically, to which he did not answer, & in fact even said he wasn’t going to. The sort of vision with which he closes his book, that of “high piracy & men of valor living at the edge of the world,” is it really what he thinks we ought to be striving for? Or is that a rhetorical device to get the youth stirred up? Because if it’s for real, then I have some serious criticism, as I don’t think it’s very realistic, nor do I think it’s particularly desirable. If it’s rhetorical, on the other hand, then I think I get why he’s doing it, but the question remains all the same: What’s a serious end-state that he could come up with?

Whatever happens to the current regime, & I’m not convinced it has long to live (this is another place where I differ with Curtis by the way, who has said to me he thinks it can go on for a hundred or two hundred years, while I’m starting to think it could be more like ten), there’s going to be hundreds of millions of people alive who will need to reorganize & form some kind of political association. On what basis are they going to do that? That, to me, is the question that must be addressed, & that I’m trying to address in my writing. & I do think Machiavelli can be a useful guide to that. He might not be the ultimate guide; at the end of the day, the circumstances that he was trying to overcome differ from ours, & I also have different metaphysical, moral, & religious presuppositions than he does. But even for someone like me who believes in natural right more or less as Aristotle defines it, I believe there’s value to Machiavelli’s work & lots to learn from it. That’s not to say that if we all find ourselves in a post-collapse situation & someone (and I expect this not to happen, by the way) asks me to be in charge of reorganizing society, I’m going to just follow Machiavelli to the letter.

I think you could say the more interesting & thoughtful people on the online Right have a lot in common with Machiavelli, if only partly. BAP does sound like Machiavelli; he seems to be telling young men: Be Cesare Borgia! That is, be a Condottiere, a great spirited man: You will conquer, you will achieve things. Don’t worry about how many people you need to kill on the way, you will be applauded for your success, because what everybody wants is some peace of mind & they’ll pay a high price for it, willingly. That is to say, be honored for your ruthlessness, don’t let morality get in your way. “High piracy.” Machiavelli does say that to some degree, as he also reminds people that everything starts with violence: You want your own piece of land? You want your own peace of mind? You will have to violently secure it, & occasionally maintain it. & since people are no longer satisfied with the social order, this thought naturally recurs. But there’s very little to speak to it, at least in a way that young men will listen to. I think that’s what BAP understands, & why, as you say, he doesn’t want to answer the question, because it would destroy the power of the rhetoric.

BAP certainly has something in common with Machiavelli. Both Machiavelli & BAP deliberately calibrate their rhetoric to appeal to the young, or specifically to rashness, that taste in the young which Strauss indeed considers “not the best taste.” This is also why I don’t have a following among the young in that respect, because I am, & I write like, a fifty-one-year-old college professor normie who believes in natural right! & so twenty-year-old kids, utterly dissatisfied with the putrid state of the regime, for good reasons, just find the kind of thing that I write boring & out of touch, & I understand that. As for BAP’s rhetoric, I think there’s both danger & value to what he’s doing. Like Machiavelli, you have to understand that you have to pay a price, & put your reputation at risk for doing great things. Machiavelli—& I got criticized for just pointing this out—deliberately sacrificed his name for what he thought was a good cause.

Yes, Machiavelli is the first & perhaps the only philosopher to make his name as a friend to criminals. There were many philosophers before him, but none of them did that. Hobbes was called ‘The Monster of Malmesbury’, but he insisted on law & Leviathan; his reputation does not hinge on bloodthirsty conquerors. So that’s indeed part of the problem: You can tell people to read Machiavelli, & they’ll like it, but it is much harder to tell them, especially young men, to read him & learn from him, which takes the kind of thinking you’d put into any serious teaching. Therefore, aspects of Machiavellianism always emerge, but are never put together. There’s bloodthirsty rhetoric that invites you to the spirit of action on the promise of glory, but there’s also, as you pointed out, Curtis Yarvin’s notion of a techno-monarchy, itself a Machiavellian notion that what really counts is acquisition, the understanding that everybody is the same: Out to get something. Some succeed & some don’t, but they all have that in common. & with one of the typically Machiavellian, or shameless, things to say, “a man is quicker to forget the death of his father than the loss of his patrimony.” After all, do we not see now a generation of young men incapable of acquiring property, feeling dispossessed & incredibly furious?

3. Political Cruelty To Young Men

Yes, & not only that, these young men are also told by the regime that it’s their fault & that they’re worthless, & that they should be in mom’s basement, or something. The complaints they have are not only ignored, but dismissed, deemed trivial & not real. In another recent piece I wrote for American Mind, I list seven of the regime’s most common tactics for propaganda: One of them is called the “Enmity Counter-Accusation,” which refers to the harassment & bullying the regime does to people. As soon as one of the regime’s targets tries blocking an incoming punch, the regime is outraged: “How dare you!”, they’ll say to you, “you’re divisive.” You see this everywhere now. They make it all but impossible to have a decent life, & the more difficult they make it, the more dispossessed & angry young men feel. But if a young man so much as mentions that this is a problem, the regime’s fury will come down on him: “Your people have been privileged for hundreds, if not thousands of years, how dare you make one single complaint about anything?” Today, all a twenty-five-year-old has to do is imagine what life was like for his older brother or father or uncle, & see how different it is for himself. & so I think it’s only natural that young people are going reach the conclusion that this system isn’t working on their behalf anymore. Yet they get brutally savaged, at least rhetorically, so far, just for daring to notice that out loud. That’s one of the regime’s favorite tactics: As I wrote, “every punch in the face must be rationalized by the victim as a massage.” Meaning, as they’re beating you, you’re supposed to say thank you.

Yes, there was a time when this sort of humiliated young man could get cultural & political support, but as you say, that’s not possible anymore, because there’s this passive-aggressive attitude that won’t allow people to state their complaints, even though the problems are clearly very real & millions of young men are suffering. The only good news, in a way implied in what you’re saying, seems to be that the regime is full of half-measures: They humiliate these young men, but they don’t destroy them, not completely at least. & so the oligarchy creates way more enemies than it can deal with.

Yes, it’s not destroying them yet. Professor Leo Paul De Alvarez, a teacher at the University of Dallas, wrote a great commentary on Machiavelli’s The Prince, in which he says that a lot of Machiavelli’s harshest advice is a trap to see who’s paying attention, because if you tried to do everything Machiavelli says, as he says it, you’ll end up dead—so in a way Machiavelli is testing which readers are fools & which are not. But let’s say you were to read it & try to operationalize exactly what he says to do: It’s not enough to have the intellectual sense of understanding Machiavelli’s thought & to be willing to apply it because you see a justification for it. To perform those kinds of deeds requires a certain type of heart & soul that most people don’t have. I know that I don’t have it. In The Prince for example, Machiavelli rather unobtrusively, but distinctly says: If you take over a neighboring country with similar laws & customs, all you have to do is keep most of the laws the same & make sure you eliminate the line of the prince, which means, if you think it through: Be ready to kill babies! If the prince has a nine-month-old child that could potentially be installed on the throne as the legitimate heir, & you leave that kid alive, you’re making a mistake. Personally, I know that I don’t have the heart to kill a baby. So if that’s what it takes to be the prince, I’m not cut out for it. The point I’m trying to make is this: The regime is evil. The regime hates us. It wants to do harm to us. But how many people in the regime would really have the heart & soul to kill babies? I’m not so sure. Some folks I know personally, & some others on the Right I’ve read or encountered online, would surely say, yes, don’t kid yourself, they’d do it. But I’m just not sure they would, at least not yet.

I guess we can take some comfort in the certain knowledge that our enemies are mortal, like us, & that they have limits & suffer failures, too.

4. How The Regime Fosters Rebellion

Yes. However, that said, I actually think that to make people unemployable by cutting them out of the financial system, to ostracize them, to make them quasi-gulag inmates, perhaps not locked behind a fence, but still not able to do anything aside from wandering around, is pretty evil in & of itself. Not being able to be part of an organization, to use a whole lot of services, or be in contact with people, etc., all of this can be devastating to the human soul—& I think it might even drive addiction & suicide rates, among other things. So if the regime’s rationale is, “we’ve left you alive! How bad could it be?”, I don’t take much comfort from that. I still think what they’re doing is evil enough to justify heavy resistance, even if they’re not actually locking people up, or directly killing them.

Indeed. It seems somewhere along the way we went from saying: “This is America, a free country where people can live their lives the way they want to” to: “Be careful what you say, because we can make catastrophic economic & social decisions & you just have to put up with it & deal with it without any help.” & at that point it does become incredibly cruel. & it is hard for people to say no, that this is different, that this is a very wicked thing to do.

I had this conversation recently with some friends, & I asked them this question: Will there ever be a point at which the regime’s cancellation & exclusion system works in our favor? By which I mean, & here I quote Strauss again from Thoughts on Machiavelli, “the highest art has its roots in the highest necessity.” Granted we’re not talking about art, but if we really get to a point where millions of people will be deplatformed, demonetized, put on the no-fly lists & locked out of the financial system, we’re going to see the following play out: You can’t get a bank account anywhere. You’re forced to live in the all-cash economy, but then they eliminate cash. So if you don’t have a credit card or access to the banking system or an electronic payment system, you can’t actually buy anything. Well, what are you supposed to do then? As you say, they leave you & everyone else alive! Well, the harder they make it for people, the more incentive there’s going to be for people to build alternatives.

In other words, the problem that the regime will face is that people won’t feel the necessity until it starts to pinch them. When it really starts to become impossible for millions of people to literally eat & earn a living, you’re going to see new attempts to build parallel structures. So in that sense, is the regime inadvertently making it easier on us? I think that might be the case, & my friends think so as well.

They’re forcing us to do what we ought to do by prudence, but we’ll only do it under the press of necessity. We’re not at that stage yet, but that’s where we’re headed. If you listen to the regime’s rhetoric, to its attempts to paint you as a moral degenerate & deny you access to services & resources for having said X or Y & having associated with A or B, you ultimately see the logic leading to having all of America’s deplorables—to borrow a term from beloved Hillary Clinton—locked out of key institutions of society, which will ultimately make it very difficult for them to make a living & simply support their lives, & at which point they’ll have no choice but building these parallel institutions.

Now, if the regime wants to stop them, it will have to use its power. But by then, if it really attempts to, the people will truly revolt, as the regime would be essentially saying: “We want you to die. We’re not going to kill you, just make conditions such that you starve to death!” The logic does point in that direction. If you think people are morally illegitimate, that their very existence is morally illegitimate so that you are not only justified in locking them out of the financial / employment system, but also morally obligated to lock them out of the financial / employment system, then aren’t you also justified & morally obligated to prevent them from creating their own systems? & doesn’t the logic of that inevitably lead to these people don’t have a right to make a living? To eat? To exist? It sounds insane, but that’s where the logic of their position leads.

Yes. As you say, follow the consequences & they’ll lead you to conclusions. But the problem is that nobody’s willing to state them upright. So they don’t carry any conviction. But then there’s another problem: If you wait until people are suffering in their bodies, out of things like hunger, they might feel to alone & weak, at which point it might be too late for them to react. So prudence & necessity have to be put together before it’s too late. Foresight is not enough, but pain is not enough either. & that’s again a reason to read Machiavelli, as he reveals that prudence & suffering in your body are the same thing: Necessity. If you don’t eat now, later you’ll be hungry, & such pain in your body will teach you. Sometimes the body is its own mind, forcing you to pay attention, but you should learn to think ahead.

How do you do that? On the one hand, by reminding people that they can feel humiliated. One of the worst things, as you were pointing out about the double-talk of the regime, the passive-aggressive attitude, is that the people have come to accept all sorts of humiliations & all sorts of inflicted damage as though it were a cosmic dispensation! It’s not somebody doing it to you, it’s not elites in politics or in finance or in tech destroying your rights or denying you services, it’s a cosmic dispensation! You just have to accept it! So we have to remind people that they’re not only being denied the right to free speech or to property, they’re also being humiliated. Without that feeling of humiliation, people will not stand up for themselves. & that to me is a great use of Machiavelli: To remind people that they should feel humiliated, then that they should look for a way to avenge themselves & defend themselves, not simply suffer their beatings.

5. Propaganda

I’m writing a kind of parody pastiche of Plato’s Republic called ‘Beto’s Republic’, or ‘The Woke Republic’. The figure of Socrates is represented by a diversity consultant who has changed her name to Wōkrates. It’s a parody, but it’s meant to be both a joke & serious, an attempt to crystallize the regime’s inner logic, where it leads: If they could build their perfect city, what would it look like? As of now, the regime doesn’t have its perfect city. It wants it, but doesn’t have it. So I’ll try to figure out what it is their hearts desire. As I said before, they don’t always take their logical points to the end, because if they were to bluntly state them, they’d sound horrible & alarming, & so they lie, obfuscate, & hold back. But I think I can tease out what they really want.

Now, when the time comes, I expect the regime to both deny that it’s part of their plan & also that it will be glorious if & when it will be implemented! This is what in my book The Stakes (read the IM—1776 review here) I call “the celebration parallax.” Its logic is the following: The same fact pattern is either true & glorious or false & scurrilous depending on who states it. Its most famous manifestation is on immigration: When the Right says—to a borrow a phrase from the Great Replacement theory—“they’re trying to replace us,” it’s a conspiracy theory, in other words, not happening. But if a leftist writes an op-ed in the New York Times literally entitled “We Can Replace Them,” then it’s wonderful news! It’s basically an outgrowth of something once described by Rod Dreher, who called it “The Law of Merited Impossibility,” which basically reasons like this: That will never happen, & when it does, boy will you [homophobes, transphobes, racists, sexists, whatever] deserve it! Take these together with “The Law of Salutary Contradiction,” which holds: That’s not happening, & it’s good that it is—I call them “the unholy trinity of the ruling class.” The latter, by the way, the law of salutary contradiction, is probably better represented by what happened recently with Tucker Carlson. As he was lamenting that he was being spied on by the NSA, he was called a paranoid & a liar by the mainstream media at the same time that they were thanking God the NSA found out that he was planning an interview with Putin. So once you understand the pattern, you start to see these things everywhere. As Strauss would say, there’s a taxonomy to their lies, & it’s becoming easier to see through them.

Yes, that’s one task. We have to figure out what’s wrong with this elaborate rhetoric & these contradictions. As you say, they may be involved in such contradictions or outright lies, but that doesn’t mean they are not planned. If you think through the rhetoric, it leads to something that is not merely rhetoric: It leads to politics, to a certain end-state. But until we can put a name to it, we can’t fight against it.

For now, the regime doesn’t primarily rely on force, not yet at least, & my hope is it never will. But whatever the future may bring, right now the regime’s primary instrument of rule, as I write in The Stakes, is propaganda: It’s gaslighting, lies, & censorship. In the book, I call these the Megaphone, the Narrative, & the Muzzle. The Narrative is the approved version of events, & this includes the things that they want said, & the things that they don’t allow to be said. The Megaphone is the means through which it blasts out the narrative, i.e. the media. & lastly, what I call the Muzzle, is the use of social media to support the regime. This works in actual news, newsworthy events, trends, & things that simply are not allowed to be talked about, but mostly censorship, the kind that companies like Facebook, YouTube, & Twitter impose on users. One of the reasons why the state has no interest in breaking up or controlling monopoly power today is, not for ideological principles, but because they actually belong to the same team. & so the regime sees breaking up or doing anything to these social media giants as essentially a way to harm itself—& it’s right.

6. Ugly Truths Are Necessary For Justice

We have looked both at issues in political philosophy & theory, but also at what it means to look at politics in a way that we could call Machiavellian: To be willing to see the ugly truth & to say the ugly things that are happening. We don’t have to pretend that all sorts of attacks on the rights of the ordinary people of America constitutes justice. So this is a good concluding thought: As a matter of fact, if what we’re seeing is not injustice, then nothing is injustice. But as we’ve said, we must begin by knowing what we’re fighting, before we’re fighting it.

You said it, if that’s not injustice, nothing is. That’s to me crystallizes an important thought. This is why I’m not an East Coast Straussian, nor a BAPian, or a Nietzschean: I actually believe justice is real. It exists in nature. It is knowable to the human mind—natural right. It’s not an exoteric window dressing-concept invented by Aristotle, it’s real.

As to knowing the enemy: What the regime is trying to do & trying to be, fundamentally, is anti-natural. But if there is such thing as human nature, then what they’re trying to do is impossible, & an impossible thing can’t work. It doesn’t mean that it’s going to fall today or tomorrow, but it does mean that it ultimately will. It’s already not working. I now live in a country that, by almost every core metric available, functions much more poorly than it used to do, & I think that’s in part because the regime is operating against nature. It’s operating on false premises & using faulty means to do things that can’t be done. & such a thing can’t go on forever, so it won’t. This does not mean, as I’ve said before, that you should charge machine gun nests. Don’t do that. Be careful about what you do, be smart about how you take it on. Also, don’t be fatalistic, & don’t be complacent. Just because this thing can’t go on forever, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a push. Just be careful. &, remember, the first step to resistance & surviving is disciplining your mind.