Michael Anton’s newest book is titled The Stakes: America at the Point of no Return but may have well been called The Steaks because Anton still just wants to grill for God’s sake. Joking aside, America’s not-quite-dissident Claremont air traffic controller does seem to be eyeing the blackpill across the room from his writing desk with some measure of morbid curiosity. The book is largely doom and gloom but strives not to be a complete downer, which is where some of the problems arise. To explain what I mean and give the reader an in depth but by no means exhaustive review of the work, I will move through each part chronologically to provide a synopsis of the themes and arguments of the book before concluding with an overall assessment.
Anton begins with a Victor Davis Hanson-esque tour through the stagnating and smoldering state of California. He focuses mainly on the economic issues that have plagued the state in the recent years, hitting many classic Republican gripes: cost of living, woke liberal political monopoly, business smothering regulations, environmentalism run amok, out of control illegal immigration, and refusal to assimilate new immigrants into a cohesive and constructive culture. Our parents and grandparents lived so much better in these same places did they not? This is probably the weakest part of the book. We all know that California is a basket case and that all the other blue hell urban zones are going the same direction.
Things get more interesting in the second chapter. Anton begins a discussion of the Constitution and what he believes are the sources of many of the disagreements we have dealt with for at least half of the nation’s history. The man is after all a constitutionalist, so a robust defense of “the parchment” is necessary. One of the sticking points is the Founders’ language of equality and whether it could have or should have been extended to people who were not like the founding stock of the nation in race, religion or culture. Naturally this moves to a discussion of civic nationalism and its limitations. Anton admits that forging different groups into the American identity is extremely difficult without a rigorous process of assimilation. He adds that, while immigration can be desirable in some cases, there must be careful determination of who is brought into the country. It seems that Anton is a civic nationalist but a sort that is no longer socially acceptable or politically feasible.
In his refutation of criticisms of the Constitution from the right, some cracks begin to form. Anton, like most civic nationalists, is a utilitarian when it comes to tradition and governance. To quote the man himself: “Traditions become established not because they don’t work or run counter to reality and human nature, but precisely because they do work, or at least don’t undermine or contradict human nature.” This seems a very secular humanist way of viewing tradition. While it may be in the same line of thinking many of the founders used, it does not set up a convincing bulwark to oppose subversive cultural currents. I would wager many tired and disillusioned Americans on even the moderate right do not want to hear that they should defend what their forefathers did because “it’s worked so far” but because it was fundamentally and unassailably right. The Founders themselves said that rights were inalienable and God given, not just things that have worked so far in liberal societies. The “it’s worked so far” argument does not even work in the slightest when confronted with leftwing minority coalition accusations that it worked so far but only for whites.
The somewhat one sided argumentation continues as Anton debates the “LARPing” (his word not mine) of those who say that the founders ought to have relied on a more substantial or centralized leadership system such as monarchy. He writes: “To turn one’s back on the American past, way of life, all in the name of ‘tradition,’ is a massive self-contradiction. To what tradition are Americans supposed to appeal if not our own?” The short answer would be thousands of years of western tradition in which the United States is but a tiny blip. In fact, I would argue that many who look for what he may call “unamerican” solutions to our current predicaments do so precisely because they have not turned their backs on America’s past and way of life. This brings us back to the weakness of the “it’s worked so far” argumentation. Can we honestly say an expanded franchise and multi-ethnic civic nationalist project works? If we look back further than America, the prospects are rather bleak. The only way you could argue that America has a healthy future ahead of it is to forget most traditions that came before it.
In another interesting turn, Anton goes on to make the argument that the Southern slaveholders’ attempts to insulate the institution of slavery from the majority will of the people, laid the groundwork for minority group rights in opposition to majority rule. To quote: “What are sanctuary cities and other efforts to flout federal law and popular will but revivals of ‘nullification’? In this sense, among Calhoun’s most faithful adherents today are Gavin Newsom and Bill de Blasio.” I will not dwell on this argumentation, since I am not an expert on pre-civil war political history, but I do wonder if Anton’s sentiments about majority rule and minority nullification would change once the founding stock and their first wave European brethren are a minority of the population.
In the third chapter Anton moves on to identifying the myriad problems of our current regime. He points out that many of them are not based on American legality or tradition. Some examples are protected classes, the grievance hierarchy, inequality before the law based on intersectional race and gender identities, equality of result etc. This is where the book takes a decidedly skull decorated facial covering trajectory. He argues that we no longer have a government by consent and discusses anarcho-tyranny and the media’s campaign of demoralization against law abiding Americans. He even touches on the idea that many of the force-fed media memes that Americans are required to believe are a form of humiliation (a ritual perhaps?). Anton surprisingly gives the example of the media decrying the “racist conspiracy theory” of the great replacement while also publishing articles celebrating the disappearance of whites in America.
Chapter four is a discussion of who the ruling class really is in America. In short, they are the increasingly tech oriented financial elite and their minions in the education system. What is their goal? To quote Anton: “Their solution is, first and fundamentally, to transform the United States into a deracinated economic administrative zone with one-size-fits-all ‘rules’ whose impartiality masks an unbending bias toward capital over wages, management over labor, words over actions, ideas over things, the new over the old, cosmopolitanism over the familiar, foreigners over the native-born.” Now we are getting somewhere. He identifies the concept of Globohomo (My term not his) and the demand for interchangeable consumer and producer units the world over.
How does the ruling class seek to accomplish this new world class of consumers? Anton writes that it is largely though pacification in the form of mass entertainment, pornography, drugs and demoralization. Demoralization largely takes place early in the education system. A campaign of new history and inversion of traditional narratives breaks up any strong consensus of American pride or identity. In one example of these inversions, Anton treads on very dangerous ground, writing: “The real story of World War II is first and fundamentally America’s indifference to and inaction over the Holocaust.”
He argues that conservatives themselves have been complicit with this takeover, admitting that he and others were wrong about championing the infallibility of free markets. Conservatives also cede cultural ground at nearly every turn. “Nothing makes a ‘conservative’ squirm more than being confronted with explicitly anti-white rhetoric. They try to pretend they didn’t hear and, if that fails, forbid any mention of what they heard.” Anton also criticizes conservatives for being the originators of “cancel culture” by over-policing their own ranks, such as Buckley purging the birchers.
At this point, Anton pivots to immigration and devotes an entire chapter to the subject. He writes that the massive waves of newcomers are closest resembling “the fourth-century invasions of the Western Roman Empire.” Well why are they coming? They have been invited as a political and economic tool to help transform America into that compliant interchangeable economic zone with low wages and debt addled consumption. They do jobs American’s will not do! Well of course Americans will not work those jobs, Anton replies, for an unlivable wage. Most native born Americans will not accept poverty.
He addresses the other common argument of declining fertility rates by utilizing some surprisingly un-civic nationalist argumentation. Anton uses the example of replacing a diminishing family with outside members in order to keep the current number the same: “In a certain sense—legally, and perhaps even emotionally—they would indeed be part of your family. But how far can that principle be stretched?” And then he goes further: “But stipulate the immigration booster case: native born fertility never recovers and the only way to keep people living and working on the land is immigration. Then—by the logic of their own argument—’the Great Replacement’ is true.” Later, he does point out that there are many examples of great immigrants who have contributed significantly to the nation, but that their potential is squandered without limits and strict assimilation. Anton makes it clear that he believes a complete moratorium on immigration is necessary at this time.
Anton turns to a discussion of the future in the sixth chapter. What might happen to America if the current ruling class remains in power? One potential outcome is the failure of Trump style pushback and a return to the shiny veneer of Obama era neoliberalism. If things accelerate to where they were already going in 2015, then we would see tech industry further melding with government, the return of multilateral trade deals like TPP, more overseas adventures for the sake of “norms” and “values”, and perhaps even a social credit system to ensure we never see a return of the racists who gave us a Trump presidency. Anton predicts an intensifying of anarcho-tyranny and the transgender kids movement, the abolishment or severe restriction of ICE, and an intense persecution of Chrisitanity. Of course there will be legislative changes to ensure another nationalist can never be elected. With an effectively one party state and continued unchecked immigration, quality of life will only continue to decline. At this point one would bring out the Brazil analogy for what we will look like eventually, but Anton writes that it will inevitably be worse than that. The brazil prediction relies on the a priori definition of “Brazil” in our current world as an ally to America along with all the support and aid that status brings. Once we become Brazil, who would be our American hegemon ally if things get rough? Nobody? China? Anton makes the point that a brazilification of the US would in fact be far less stable than Brazil in its current state.
The penultimate chapter covers predictions of what could happen if trends continue but the currently ruling class does not remain in power. Antons sees five main possibilities: the neoliberal project hits natural political limits with a refusal by elites to alter course, leftist coalition infighting, dissident opposition revolt, natural disaster, or national collapse. We may see self segregation by regional politics to avoid the most immediate pains of elite tyranny. Anton muses that this could lead to red zones where conservatives are able to get some breathing room by selectively enforcing regime dictates and keeping enough solidarity in their own regions to make a mass scale Waco operation impossible or at least so costly that the feds will hold back. Secession is another possibility, although unlikely and could come from the left or the right. The sadistic nature of the left makes this outcome less probable. As Anton describes: “Perhaps the deepest reason, though, that blue America won’t want to let red go is that the blues are hell-bent on punishing the reds. To the left, letting red America, or any part of it, go without forcing it to answer for its ‘crimes’ would be fundamentally unjust.”
Another major possibility for the future is caesarism. Before any reactionaries get too excited, Anton makes the claim that we would be more likely to get a blue caesar than a red. Especially in light of the riots and other political street action, all the momentum seems to be on the left. If any side demanded a strongman to ensure their protection, then it is those who loudly proclaim in the streets that they are being killed by their enemies, whether imagined or not. A woke Caesar is possible, but more likely is a semi-moderate who promises protection for the whole leftist coalition. It would not be that difficult with all the financial institutions, major corporations, military brass and intelligence agencies on their side. As for a red caesar, Anton remarks: “I see and have not seen any evidence whatsoever of anyone mounting any such effort anywhere.”
Is there anything to be done to prevent these outcomes? In the final chapter, Anton endeavors to take a step back and lay out the possibilities. His first exhortation is to re-elect president Trump. To those who would say that Trump’s first term has been a disappointment, Anton argues that Trump has good instincts but has never had the support of the Republican party machine. The members of the party overwhelmingly love him, but the party leaders refuse to help him enact his policy of the 2016 election. What is needed is a complete overhaul of the Republican party in order to match the will and needs of its voters and the ability to survive the coming electoral winter. The party could move in this direction by dropping the free-trade and low tax mantras of the past few decades, focusing on worker friendly pro-wage policies, actually growing a spine when it comes to morals and preserving traditional American culture. Anton writes: “If they cannot, then the party will have to be destroyed or replaced.”
These goals are impossible without reaching out to non-white voters who share those same concerns. In order to move some of those voters away from their lockstep Democratic vote, a new message and platform are required. All immigration must halt for the foreseeable future, end birthright citizenship along with lotteries and chain migration, end dual citizenship, focus on infrastructure and conservation, promote trade protectionism along with buy American initiatives, enact a nationwide public health plan that covers injury and disease, support civil service reform, institute pro-natal tax policies, champion law and order, put an end to unequal justice by race or identity, and stop pointless foreign intervention. If the party can accept these tenets, then how can the uphill battle be waged in the meantime? A cultural assault is necessary, whether through new media sponsored by wealthy conservative allies or legal action against tech monopolies and leftist institutions. Anton advocates: “Get involved. Run for office. Lead. Your country—your people—need you.”
As for the “principled conservatives” who dig in their heels, Anton says that they have conserved nothing but libertarian economic policies. Even the excuse of conserving the Constitution is meaningless if the citizenry is subverted and disenfranchised. “The Constitution is a means—an exalted means, but still a means, not an end. The people are more important than the Constitution, which exists to serve the people and not vice versa.” In probably the best line of the book, he sharpens the point: “If the Constitution is what you care about most, then you should have been far more concerned with helping the American people remain fit to be governed by it.” He closes with a final possibility to keep hope alive: reshuffling borders within the country. Why should red areas be ruled by the blue metropolis because of state lines. State boundaries could be redrawn in order for people’s votes to matter more and have representation that actually represents their interests. “Perhaps paradoxically, it is through greater pluralism that we can achieve greater comity. Today, every little thing turns into a bitter red-blue fight. We could live together a little better if we could give each other a little more space, become a little more willing to leave one another alone.”
There are positives and negatives to Anton’s book and his thinking overall. I will focus on the negative first. Anton, by his own admission at times, appeals to wishful thinking for goals that have no clear path to accomplish. He rightly points out that we no longer live in a state governed by consent, and that the left controls almost completely the financial, media and tech sectors along with the education system. In enumerating methods of pushing back against this system, the phrase “I don’t know how to do this” comes up more than once. I would argue that this is his placeholder phrase for “This needs to happen but there is no political solution.” His advocation for legal and cultural pushback against these institutions fall a bit flat with the realization that there may be no majority or even plurality will or stomach for these actions. Where are the mass movements against child drag shows? Where are the legal actions against woke private sector companies that force their employees to choke down critical race theory training seminars under implicit threat to their livelihoods?
In his efforts to present possible solutions to the coming eclipse by leftist anarcho tyranny he paints things as better than they really are. He fears that the Constitution will be thrown out leaving us no protection from the liberal elite’s sadistic appetites. This has already happened in two ways. First, the language of the founders has been reinterpreted by replacing their words with politically charged changelings that look the same on paper but offer no traditional structure of original intent. Second, that redefinition game will not even matter once even the watered down words are rejected wholesale as the words of slaveholders. We are already there. Judges and district attorneys already do not enforce the law based on public pressure. That influence will and at times already has been carried on up to the supreme court level, no matter how ostensibly “conservative” they are. The Constitution does not need to be thrown out, merely tactically redefined or ignored. The left in America does what it wants without regard for legality. If they actually get caught by someone with the spine or resources to call them on it, the news ignores it or lawfare makes stopping them an impossible slog. Even if the legal slog can be managed, the left begins a dozen new initiatives in the meantime. It is not feasible to play legal defense against them on every front.
It is impossible, working only within the confines of the law, to defeat an enemy who acts extrajudicially when one does not hold institutional power. Anton gets close to the needed level of reaction with his admission that the Constitution should not be held up as the end all. The truth is that conservatives have failed in America for so long precisely because they appeal only to Constitutional American tradition. Any revitalizing movement that will actually stir up the will of the people to act against the unelected regime must also be extrajudicial. The left does not rally their troops with appeals to reclaiming the system from within the system. The animated lumpenproletariat hordes in the streets are an, albeit very ugly, expression of pure will. As much as people liked Trump in 2016, it was only partly due to his platform. It was also due to his naked will-to-power.
How did we get here, to where things are so bad? Pointing to California can be helpful, but not primarily as an example of barely managed decline. California got so leftist because of sustained leftist street action that eventually forced laws and policies to change. Where is the Weather Underground now? One teaches at Columbia, one is a judge, others are involved in foundations and NGOs, and one is on a college board of trustees. They were integral to the leftist swerve of generations of leftist intellectuals, academics, and politicians and they acted outside of and directly in defiance to the legal system. They either got what they wanted politically or are in the process of getting it. None of that will be reversed without a newtonian equal and opposite reaction in the other direction. I’m not advocating for such action, but to think anything less would reverse trends is foolhardy.
Anton urges pushing back against media narratives by forming new institutions that can message more effectively and exert some cultural pressure. While this is necessary, the question remains whether the founding myth of America is a strong enough story to animate some kind of revival that could effectively push back. Does shouting “1776 will commence again!” appear that effective currently? Anton traps himself again here by only drawing from the American tradition for inspirations that could animate people to action. Just as action must be supra-legal in order to move the machinery of government, the message must be supra-American. The left points to the history of European colonization and atrocities halfway across the planet to stoke the zeal of their supporters because it places them in a human tradition of defiance against injustice that lasts for as long as recorded time. The white devil is eternal. Without an appeal to a myth of equal or greater scope, there is little hope of animating the already demoralized and atomized people that could make up the new American right.
While I agree with Anton that any survival of a political movement on the American right is dependent on either a reformation of the Republican party or the creation of a successor party which leaves behind the ineffective libertarian leanings and free market mantras of the last few decades, I am not sure how effective political action can be at this point. To put it another way: we did not vote ourselves into this situation, so it is unlikely that we will vote ourselves out. Let me explain. Nobody voted for offshoring manufacturing, mass immigration, repeated interventions into the middle east or the financialization of the US economy, but we got all of that. We were lied to or simply ignored by those we voted for. They instead turned to the lobbyists of corporations and foreign powers for policy direction. The idea that we can fix the problems that were created despite our voting with more voting seems, again, rather wishful and unrealistic.
All of this being said, Anton’s book was a pleasant surprise to me at many points. His willingness to engage with the more controversial memes and arguments of the dissident right are refreshing and his use of many memes and terms of reactionary thought show that he has engaged with the thinking at least tangentially. His analysis of and identification of globohomo as the true transnational power that directs American policy and seeks to “transform the United States into a deracinated economic administrative zone” is especially needed in more mainstream discussion on the right.
For the right audience, this book is effective as well. It would provide a good initiation to moderate boomers or right leaning centrists who are unacquainted with the dire prognostications of more radical rightwing thinking. While I have my doubt about the feasibility of many of Anton’s proposed remedies for the future, they are much better than what people will see on Fox news, and his warnings for potential future outcomes are much more sobering than anything most conservatives will admit. The hardened twitter reactionary may find it to be ground traveled long ago, but for that friend or relative on the edge of realizing the stakes, it might be just what they need to take that next step in the right direction.