The America First Weekly: Vol. VII

Every edition of The America First Weekly includes Five Questions (a Q&A with an interesting figure, pseud or otherwise), Links & Screeds (all editors get to weigh in on anything they choose), and a friends-link to an original Featured Article by one of the AFW editors.

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Five Questions

We’re finally back and this week we highlight a conversation we had with Spencer Klavan, @SpencerKlavan on Twitter, just after the Capitol “Insurrection.” He’s the Associate Editor for The American Mind and the Claremont Review of Books, host of the Young Heretics podcast (check it out), and his Twitter bio says to get off Twitter and follow him here, but I’m not even sure what it is. Anyways, he talks about lifting, cigars, and whiskey a lot, which seems pretty straight, but he also posts lots of selfies, went to Oxford, and loves the Greeks so who knows.

Cassian Stylus: To begin, how many Twitter followers have you lost since The Purge? And what do you see as the future of conservative's ability to utilize digital media? Is Parler the answer? 

Spencer Klavan: As of this writing (Sunday night, January 10—four days after the events at the Capitol)—I’m 2,200 followers down. As I said on Twitter itself, I am taking it as a kick in the pants: this was always going to happen, albeit more slowly and subtly. Now that they’ve got an excuse, they’re helping themselves to the most brazen and unmodulated forms of censorship. Never underestimate the arrogance of the powerful: Jack, Zuck, and the rest really do seem to feel at this point like they can be as transparent as they want about their bias without facing retribution. 

In the short term, that may be true: the oligarchs of our new regime have accrued to themselves something like a monopoly on America’s major channels of communication and, perhaps more importantly, though less measurably, on most Americans’ habits of attention—where they go for their information, and where they spontaneously feel the impulse to log on in their off hours. This is going to require a long, gradual, dedicated, and most of all sly response from conservatives. Parler is a good stopgap measure. So is Locals, so are Signal groups, and so—at the level of the OS—is Urbit. I’ve been favorably surprised with the success and resiliency of all those endeavors in this moment of crisis. 

If Parler manages to survive the present consolidated attack on its hosting, it will be a big coup for us and teach us a lot about how to work around our enemies. Ditto, potentially, if we can get a case about this to the Supreme Court before it gets packed with libs. Anyway, I’ll be transferring as much of my work and efforts over to those and a few other platforms as I can in the coming days (I’m @spencerklavan everywhere, by the way). I do think that creating our own secure channels of communication should be such a high priority for us that we can put our eggs in multiple baskets—any platform, any server, any government entity that pledges a commitment to genuine freedom of speech merits our time, effort, and attention. We’ll see which ones flourish most and consolidate accordingly. 

Eventually, though, once these individual platforms become robust enough, we’re going to have to circle the wagons. I’m not enough of a technologist to know what the logistics of that are going to look like—I’m closely following guys like James Poulos and Mike Solana in an effort to learn from them what it looks like to genuinely build a new internet. I think it can be done, and at this point we don’t have a choice. That’s another reason I’m glad, in a grim sort of way, that our total lack of other options has been made so suddenly, visibly clear by Big Tech—which in this moment has come of age politically and made itself known as a paragovernment regime in possession of as much power as is held by the leftists in office with whom the technocrats collaborate. 

A final note: this is the sort of thing that always accompanies a revolution in communications technology. The Printing Press had its attendant Inquisition, the digital revolution has its woke despots. They always fail in the end because the medium itself has other plans, plans which favor the likes of John Milton in the case of the Printing Press and, in the case of the digital revolution, us. But the enemies of freedom can do a lot of damage before they eventually go down in flames. At this point I think we should view it as our job to limit the extent of that damage as much as possible—that’s where I think we are, historically speaking. We may suffer for it. But we will be thanked by generations yet unborn, who I unironically believe will view us as having been, in retrospect, the victors. Blessed are you when you are persecuted—you can’t say you weren’t warned.

Stylus: In reference to the new conservatism, you wrote that "we must not be precious about whom we take on board." In light of the 1/6 "storming" of the capitol, what do you think is the proper response from those looking to become leaders of the new right? Ted Cruz called them "terrorists," which seems counterproductive. But do you think conservative leaders should cover for them in the same way liberals covered for the BLM riots?

Klavan: This is a tough one. I have to be honest that I view the break-in at the Capitol as a disastrous move, and an amateur one at that. This sort of thing is bad mojo—it hurts people we want to befriend, like the cops, and it plays right into the hands of all the worst people, like the tech tyrants discussed above and the radicals in Congress. Besides,  it was in itself an inappropriate response to the problem at hand—namely, concerns about election integrity. That is not the sort of thing over which you meddle haphazardly with the highest functions of U.S. government, which are bigger and nobler than the putzes currently about to take office and which will, I still believe, outlast them. 

But I think there’s a way to address the people who did this—and those who would have had they been there—with a mixture of both understanding and reprimand. Personally, at least, I could imagine genuinely saying to the folks who were there on Jan 6, “Look. I get it. I empathize, truly. You have been locked down, shut up, and told to go away and languish to death while your supposed betters laugh all the way to the bank. I understand that you feel you have no means of redress, like only Trump hears you and only he will fight for you. I get that this makes you feel desperate to do something, anything, to make your presence felt. But you know, for those ends, this was a counterproductive thing to do. It hurts America more than it hurts your true foes, and it will lead to ugly forms of escalation. Let’s talk about how to fight back more seriously, in a political way that recognizes the stakes of this conflict but also the gravity of political violence. Unlawful outbursts of force are bad news bears—that’s why we found them so appalling when the Left let them run unchecked in our cities for months. We can beat our enemies and keep a hold of our souls too.”

I think that might be a winning message for a conservative politician right now too. It avoids histrionic condemnation while still taking a hard line against rioting.

Stylus: The Trump-as-Caesar meme fizzled out pretty fast. Victor Davis Hanson has compared Trump to Athenian tragic heroes, such as Sophocles' Ajax. With your knowledge of antiquity, what seems to be the most apt comparison for what Trump has done for America and the legacy he is leaving? 

Klavan: Trump-as-Caesar was always nonsense. Our historical era—and I’ll write about this more—in the next CRB—bears the most obvious resemblance to the 130s BC in Rome and shortly thereafter. That’s the era of the Gracchi brothers, the populist tribunes who rose up in an era of elite sclerosis and fell prey to political violence which both they and their opponents did a fair bit to instigate. History never repeats itself, it only rhymes—which is why I don’t think Trump himself has any exact analogue in any other one figure. But as far as America goes, this is our 130’s moment: we are flirting with a complete crackup by disregarding the economic concerns of our native sons, whose work the elites are selling downriver in the name of their own enrichment and completely unmerited power, which they use to fail ever more bigly while justifying their failure in high-flown terms of imaginary virtue. This sort of thing—whether you or I condone it or not, and again, I don’t—is a recipe for riotous unrest of all kinds. Now that both the Left and the Right are taking to the streets, I think we are notching the possibility of demagoguery and despotism up to an 11.

Stylus: If you had to pick one text from antiquity for readers to engage with to understand the coming four years what text would you advise and why?

Klavan: Read your Polybius. Book 6 especially. Understand how regimes rise and fall, and know both what you can and can’t do to stop it. You are not personally going to muscle the cycle of regimes backward to a more favorable notch on the wheel. But you are in the business, as Polybius indicates, of attributing honors to the good and shame to the bad. If you can find ways to do that coherently just in your immediate circle—to speak as if the truth mattered and refuse to apologize for calling a spade a spade—you may be doing the best you can at this point.

 Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy are also good, because they will help you to understand that—contra our American mythos—social class absolutely does and must exist in a republic, and in fact it’s an important driving force in American life. The last decade or so has shown that—Machiavelli will help you to understand it.

Stylus: What advice would you give to younger readers (or older readers' college bound children) about how to navigate the problem of where to go to college given the pedagogical insanity happening on college campuses?

Klavan: I think it is time to repudiate the Ivies utterly. We have to start putting our money where our mouths are here just as much as in the tech sector. Homeschool, or any school that counts itself part of the Classical Education Movement, are good options to start, then look for higher education at places like Hillsdale and Thomas Aquinas College that follow the same sort of curriculum at the college level. But consider seriously, also, whether you can do what you want to by pursuing alternative forms of online trade education. That’s a movement that’s still in its infancy, though, and in the end we are going to have to circle our wagons in this arena too. By that I mean, we will need standardized testing (the Classical Learning Test is making great inroads here) and new forms of accreditation, and a whole ecosystem of reliable lecturers and researchers. That will come with time as well, if we put some elbow grease into it starting yesterday.  Read your Inez Stepman on all of this, by the way. 

A final final word: one of the themes that keeps coming up for me these days is festina lente, or speude bradeōs in Greek. According to Suetonius, that’s what the emperor Augustus said to rebuke impatient military commanders who did sloppy work: hurry slowly. We must be about the work of building new media and tech now, and we have absolutely no time to lose. I will hear nothing of despair on this point: what profits it to speculate that the hour is already too late? Your job is the same nevertheless: make your stand. But. You will do nothing good if you work rashly, out of desperation and fear. Urgency need not equate to panic. Be deliberate, decide based on conversation with trusted friends how you can organize in your area and where your personal efforts are best invested given the particular gifts you have been given by God, who by the way is on your side and will help you. Then work on it the exact same way you work on getting swol, or should: consistently, walking through the gym doors every damn day and chiseling away at your own body like a Greek sculpture, rep after rep, set after set. Work every day, be careful, and don’t stop till the job is done. That’s what we’ve got to be about now. We have no other choice.

Links & Screeds

Every week, each AFW editor comments on the news, shares links, talks about what he’s reading, or just rants. Presented in the order they arrive in the Managing Editor’s inbox…

Ulysses S. Musculus

The most disturbing thing that happened this month was the rebrand of Burger King. Gone is the 90’s chic shiny blue circle. In its place is a bulging top and bottom bun with fat red bubble letters hailing the king. 

Given the ever so slight bulge on the bottom bun the logo, turned on its side, looks like nothing so much as a labia majora. And this, we find out, is not unintentional. While many Twitter wags have sounded off that this is a callback to the logo that the monarch was using in the late 90’s when looking closely, subtle changes emerge. The font, most noticeably, is different. The bulging roundness on the letter tips. The slightly thinner inner connection on the K, N, and B. And the entirety of the G stands out. Its interior summoning to mind the top of a “?”, or perhaps a chili pepper, or a silicon dildo.

The designer, when commenting on the new font, described it as “gooey.” Puffy, gooey letters are there for a reason. What do they tell us?

We are being taught to love and worship the ever fatter American body. We are offered puffy letters that are supposed to be seen “dripping,” as if all engorgement were equally pleasurable. It isn’t just the logo; the app’s new images leave little to be wondered at.

The finger going through the rings. The sauce dipped fry stands erect as it is delicately grasped. Sex sells, even when it sells onion rings. I am aware that this “rebrand” is not a big deal. All such rebrands are non-events, as are all protests. But I meditate on it to think about why a family-oriented fast food restaurant would even bother with these relatively mild gestures towards the pornification of food. What is happening to us as a people? From where does such strangeness arise?

The origin of appetitive desire is identical whether for food or sex. It is in the body. And our society is in the process of hurling itself ever further into the pursuit of the fulfillment of these desires. Modern design rarely bothers to consider whether you are more than “want” has made you. Thus the stripping away of all else that stands in your way. The shortening of the hedonic cycle. The design elements that attempt to bring together your perception and fulfillment of your most carnal desires.

It is not for nothing that in their new restaurants, on top of the flat lines, the non-decoration, you see the open kitchen with a glass allowing you to watch the meat broil. 

I remain thankful that the new uniforms are not so transparent. But mind you if that’s what you want to see while you wait in line for a whopper—there’s an app for that.

Untameable Native King

So we are back??? I had no fucking idea. As low man on the totem pole, not only do I end up holding the rest of these fools up, I have no idea when they are ready to move.

Be that as it may, let me give my rant. My screed into the sultry sea of a cisgendered barge launch. “Ah for just one night…” I sing into my pillow as the NSA intelligence team cuffs me.

What for? Probably being a religious extremist. You know what that means in 2021 America? It means being Barack Obama in 2008. It means I believe that marriage is only between a man and a woman, that boys and girls are sex determined at birth at the chromosomal level.

It means I believe that abortion is an evil that should be outlawed. It means I hold the same beliefs Christians have held for two millennia.

And I’d be happy to reconcile the security state to my current position, but like the Irish, I have so many children that I don’t know they will enjoy the same reconciliation into mine. At what point do one's children decide that death is a better fate than captivity and (hypotheticals to follow) what will it take to convince the establishment that negotiation is better than enforcement? It’s a question one might find answers to in the life of Michael Collins.

Now, before people get all crazy and start assigning blame for the Capitol Hill incursion or the GME stock inflation, let me ask you, “What is being unheard by those who are choosing to riot?” What do I mean? I mean that a riot is an irrational act by those who have less power seeking to place pressure or gain power over others. What was the power being sought? Were they actually able to execute it? These are things I cannot know.

What I do know is that at least a half-dozen ministers in my community, alerted to the GME short, got first hand experience of elite institutions manipulating situations to increase their influence, money, and power.

That shit will preach. 

And when churches begin to preach against economic exploitation usually people get upset. Not common folk. People who own multiple houses. The ones who build bigger barns. Those who should truly be scared.

Cassian Stylus

Now is the time for study. Since October or so, when the election news-cycle was in full swing, I could do nothing else but follow the constantly breaking news.

 I haven’t watched professional sports in over a year. In many ways, the election filled the void. But now that my team is unable to pull off the 9th-inning comeback, barring divine intervention, I’m turning off the feed. I’m exhausted and don’t want to think about what’s happened the last few months anymore. 

I think of all the books I haven’t read and want to read. A friend recently gave me a copy of Douthat’s The Decadent Society, but I need something more remote, something that will provide enough distance to provide a new perspective on our current catastrophes. 

C.S. Lewis recommends reading old books, for  “every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.”

To read only modern books, to stay only within the modern world, leads to blindness. “The only palliative” for such blindness, “is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds.” 

To gird the loins for the next bout, I will be hitting them old books hard the next few months. Douthat will have to wait. In my Q&A this week, Spencer Klavan suggests reading Polybius. Maybe I’ll start there. Or finally crack open the forgotten used-copy of Thucydides. Or Livy. Doesn’t matter where, I guess.

To read our own times, we need to read the past. I suggest you all join me. 

Bedivere Bedrydant

Since my New Year’s Resolutions contain nothing about modesty, I shall brag a bit. A paragraph I dashed off in an earlier edition of this newsletter fell on relatively fertile ground. Erik Root quoted it appreciatively in his essay contra C. Bradley Thompson for The American Mind’s own Substack newsletter, and Baldaccio d’Anghiari ruminated on the same words of mine on Twitter.

I wrote:

So, the young Dissident Right is very different from the Pollyanna-ish, Morning in America conservatives not just because we’ve seen the BoomerCon Right totally fail to win any important battles against the Left. We’re starting from an entirely different point of view, that America is lovely despite the fact that most of our institutions are evil. And this “pessimism,” if that’s what you want to call it, is fundamentally different from Reaganesque suspicion of the federal government. We’ve been propagandized to believe that corruption (moral and intellectual) is the hallmark of all institutions, not just governmental. Of course, widespread institutional corruption is not all that hard to propagandize when your lying eyes see it all around you.

Baldaccio appended his own thoughts, thoughts which have troubled me ever since:

It’s a loathsome thing to hate your country. It’s also loathsome to pretend that a return to “normalcy” wouldn’t produce great evil.

This is a hard thing to do, to love your country while recognizing that none of its institutions are good or healthy or legitimate. It creates tensions that can drive you insane. Only a free mind and noble heart can achieve this.

Baldaccio is correct: Such a thing can drive you insane; it is only to be attempted by a free mind and noble heart. I am afraid I doubt my own abilities to do so. I had not properly counted the cost before penning the words.

As a lifelong Golden State Warriors fan (even back in the bad old days), one day my love for that team suddenly vanished like a middle school infatuation does when you see the beloved object of your imagination pick her nose. All those long years of patient suffering, of small victories and greater humiliations, of “We Believe”—it all evaporated in an instant. 

It was the day they announced they were signing Kevin Durant. Suddenly, the ludicrous super teams I had created while playing PS2 passed through the blood-brain barrier that separates the virtual from the real, and entered into actual, waking life. Obviously, the evidence of such an opening was there for anyone to see, had long been there, but love is blind and Miami was far enough away to ignore. This was too near, too real. Soon enough KD’s wingspan graced the airport parking lot barrier.

Cities and regions and teams are all a sham—what is the point of local loyalty when players can connect, disconnect, and reconnect to teams like Legos? Loyalty—fandom—is for sentimental suckers. (After the SF Giants blocked the Oakland A’s from leaving Oakland and moving into San Jose, the A’s rebranded with a new slogan: “Rooted in Oakland.” What a sick joke.)

Can I avoid something similar relative to America? I’m confronted with two barriers to actually loving my country: First, the virtual character of the nation-state that Benedict Anderson elucidates in Imagined Communities. People who’ve only read the title of the book imagine that Anderson is penning a takedown of nationalism. Not true—he actually goes to great pains to emphasize he finds the “imaginary” character of nationalism laudable and impressive.

But can I actually be a fan of something when I know that that thing attains its coherence only in my imagination? Like the GSW?

Perhaps if I fall back on the integrity of the institutions that help give cultural shape to the imagined community—the political system, the civic associations, and above all (as Anderson says)... the media. 

And thence the second problem: These institutions are so corrupt they’re incapable of generating love.

So what am I left with? Folksy poetry and Tocquevillian generalizations about the American character and landscape? With cheesy patriotic songs and national fables? I wonder if neocons prove so dogged in their insistence on projecting American power abroad at least in part in order to salvage patriotism from their cynicism?

Featured Article

Normally we at AFW use this space to promote an article from our own editors. But this week we decided it was bromotion time. Sometimes we can’t get something written, or we stumble across something that is wonderful and deserves a wider readership, or both. In this essay Spencer Klavan is at his best teaching us about the enduring value of Antigone by Sophocles and explaining how it has been read in the recent past and what it might have to teach us in our present troubles.

Idolatry in Lockdown

The real drama unfolding is much closer to that of the real Antigone: traditional believers, in their efforts to fulfil their duties to God, have met opposition from a new form of civic religion—one whose practitioners are as zealous in their own faith as they are oblivious to its existence.

As I’ve said on Twitter, Antigone is about the war of νόμος (custom/man’s law) and φῠ́σῐς (laws of nature). The one thing I would push readers of Klavan to consider is whether we need a new addendum to Antigone. What happens if the US attempts γῠνήσῐς?

Enjoy the reading: Idolatry in Lockdown