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Reclaiming Our Lost Republic

books and culture

Reclaiming Our Lost Republic

In new books, Claremont Institute scholars tackle the administrative state. May 10, 2019
Politics and law

After the Flight 93 Election: The Vote that Saved America and What We Still Have to Lose, by Michael Anton (Encounter Books, 104 pp., $14.99)

Unmasking the Administrative State: The Crisis of American Politics in the Twenty-First Century, by John Marini (Encounter Books, 352 pp., $27.99)

The Rediscovery of America, by Harry V. Jaffa (Rowman & Littlefield, 350 pp., $44.00)

In February, President Trump tweeted a glowing recommendation of Michael Anton’s new book, After the Flight 93 Election: The Vote that Saved America and What We Still Have to Lose. Critics were quick to pan Anton’s book as a hollow attempt to “impose a rational framework” on Trump’s agenda, but After the Flight 93 Election isn’t a sui generis defense of Trump. It’s part of a broader conception of politics that predates the Trump presidency. In fact, the book is one of a handful of new releases from scholars associated with the Claremont Institute that attempt to chart a course for the American future.

Anton, who served in the Trump administration as a national security official, defends the “charge the cockpit or you die” argument that he made in “The Flight 93 Election,” a memorable 2016 essay in which he argued that Trump was a necessary alternative to a Hillary Clinton presidency that would put “pedal-to-the-metal on the entire progressive-Left agenda,” and perhaps change the country irrevocably. He attempts to sketch a vision of politics and the good life in support of his earlier arguments. He criticizes other conservatives for failing to fight against progressives and the so-called administrative state, or at least for thinking that these forces pose a lesser threat to the country than Trump.

Anton defines the administrative state as “government of the people, by left-liberal experts and oligarchs, without consent.” But a fuller exploration of this bureaucratic boogeyman can be found in John Marini’s appropriately titled Unmasking the Administrative State: The Crisis of American Politics in the Twenty-First Century. In a career-spanning collection, Marini, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada and, like Anton, a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, cogently traces the growth of the administrative state from the executive overreach of the 1960s. According to Marini, Congress attempted to contain executive sprawl through its committees, but the plan backfired, turning Congress into the “reluctant defender of the administrative state.”

Marini notes that the administrative state is not harmful simply because “big government” is bad but also because administrative overreach separates people from the political process. With power more centralized at the national level, the only outlet for Americans’ political participation becomes national elections. Yet even presidential candidates—Trump excepted—have been bound up in the administrative web.

But why shouldn’t the “best and the brightest” run the show? A new collection of essays by Harry Jaffa, the intellectual godfather of the Claremont school, offers an answer, providing the philosophical groundwork for both Anton and Marini’s books. The Rediscovery of America includes essays dating to the 1980s and spanning the last phase of Jaffa’s career.

One theme predominates: equality. For Jaffa, equality did not mean equality of outcome in the progressive sense, or even equality of opportunity. Rather, equality was defined by man’s natural right to rule himself. Building on a political tradition going back to Aristotle, Jaffa—along with the American Founders—held that nothing in nature entitled one man to rule over another.

Accordingly, the only legitimate claim to rule was election by one’s fellow citizens. That meant republican government, built on the mutual agreement of all citizens, bound by a social compact. Jaffa elaborates in the collection’s best essay: “Because men are not and never can become God . . . because unqualified wisdom is never available to human beings—only government by the consent of the governed . . . is intrinsically in accordance with the eternal order.” Finally, the danger of the administrative state becomes clear. The only just government is one chosen by the people, yet our government is increasingly appointed, not elected. On this view, we’re living in a tyranny, or at least some kind of technocracy.

While it’s rewarding to consider these books in tandem, each is worth reading on its own. Anton’s book is the most accessible, but Marini’s is just as engaging. The best parts of Marini’s book read like the concluding scene of a “whodunit,” where the hardboiled detective finally reveals how the crooks pulled off their heist. The Jaffa collection is more of a mixed bag. The best essays find him engaging in illuminating ways with the ideas of the Founding and the parlous condition of higher education. The worst are where he rages against foes and former friends—a trait for which he became notorious. All three scholars, though, deftly articulate the Claremont vision.

Donald Trump may help loosen the grip of the administrative state, but he will not singlehandedly reinvigorate republican government. Perhaps the person who does will have learned statesmanship from one of these books, or from one of the Claremont Institute’s educational programs. Yet the urgent tone of these volumes suggests that we may not have time to wait for the next Lincoln to work his way up through the ranks.

Photo: Javier_Art_Photography/iStock

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