How the Claremont Institute became a nerve center of the American right

Some of the sharpest critiques of Claremont’s recent prominence have come from scholars with similar backgrounds. “I think there’s a story here about the insularity of the conservative world,” says Laura Field, a political philosopher and scholar-in-residence at American University, who has published several scathing reviews of Claremont over the past year. in The Bulwark, a publication launched by the “Never Trump” conservatives. Claremont has been “pretty much unchallenged by the wider academic world,” Field told me, because many academics, liberals but also other conservatives, tend to view political engagement in general, and ideas and the public manners of Claremont in particular, below them. By contrast, Claremont scholars “understand the power of a certain type of approach to politics that is sensational,” she said. Field told me about a recent exception, a small roundtable in July in Washington that Kesler attended. Kesler defended the rise of populism as “pro-constitutional”, and so, he said, “even if it takes an angry form in many cases”, it was difficult to “condemn it simply as an eruption of ‘democratic irrationalism’. Bryan Garsten, a political scientist at Yale, replied that it was very generous to interpret current populism as “flashing in favor of an older understanding of constitutionalism”, but even if this was partly true, he wondered whether populism could “expect to generate a new appreciation of constitutionalism” or whether it would not “do the exact opposite”. It is, says Garsten, “a dangerous game of trying to ride the tiger.”

Nonetheless, Claremont’s recent successes have enabled effective fundraising. Klingenstein, the chairman of Claremont, who runs an investment firm in New York, was as recently as 2019 Claremont’s biggest donor, providing $2.5 million, roughly half of its budget. at the time. Claremont’s budget is now around $9 million, and Klingenstein no longer provides the majority of the funding. “They’re less and less dependent on me, and that’s a good thing,” Klingenstein said. (On Steve Bannon’s “War Room” podcast on July 15, he noted that the budget continues to grow.) Other major recent donors, according to documents obtained by Rolling Stone, include the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation and the Bradley Foundation, two of the largest conservative family foundations in the country.

Many Claremont scholars still support Trump, but have also cultivated relationships with other figures of potential future significance, particularly Ron DeSantis, perhaps envisioning a day when Trumpist conservatives find a more reliable and effective leader. Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, which has many Claremont graduates on its faculty and a strong presence in Washington, hosted an event with DeSantis last February at which he called DeSantis “one of the most important who live”. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Hillsdale aided DeSantis in his efforts to reshape Florida’s education system, participating in textbook reviews and reform of state civics standards. But the Claremonters aren’t quite ready to reject Trump. “Trump is loved by a lot of Americans,” Kesler told me, “and you’re not going to be able to put him away and keep the party going, keep the movement going and win.” He said the future was “probably with Trumpism, some version of Trump and his agenda, but not necessarily with Trump himself. And that’s because I don’t know if he could win. The argument in 2016 was, “We’re taking a chance on this guy, we’re taking a flyer,” Kesler said. “And I just don’t think they’re ready to take a second flyer.”

Harry Jaffa used to ask what American conservatism kept. The answer was usually ideological – American conservatism was not about preserving a social structure, as in ancient European societies, but rather the American idea, a set of principles laid down in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. What seems unstable in Claremont is “the hazy question of whether a republic is too far off to be kept,” William Voegeli, the editor, wrote in the spring issue. “Which would be the bigger mistake – to continue to fight to preserve a republic which proves irrecoverable or to give up defending one whose vigor could still be restored?” Voegeli, 67, sides with the “central conservative impulse”, which is that “because things of value are easy to break but hard to replace, every effort should be made to keep them as long as they can be.” But he acknowledges that some of his younger colleagues seem ready to “abandon conservatism for counter-revolution” in order to “restore the founding principles of America”. Kesler was optimistic. “We need some sort of revival of the spirit of constitutionalism, which then has to be fought, through laws and trials and all the normal day-to-day concessions of politics,” he said. “That’s what I’m in favor of. And it’s going in the right direction. »

Tom Merrill of American University has also studied Jaffa’s work and believes his teachings contain much for appeal to liberals and conservatives. “I think the country is so divided right now that if you had a Republican candidate saying, ‘You know, we got it wrong in a lot of ways, but we’re pretty good for the most part,’ I think there’s would have a great middle way, and that would defuse some of that anger.The American right right now, Merrill argued, needed guidance and leadership that couldn’t come from the mainstream establishment, that voters had rejected. “There’s a movement out there that’s not the Republican Party, that needs people to speak up and shape the message,” he said. the movement’s conservatives were blocking far-right anti-democratic and anti-American elements. Claremont could have filled that role, he argued, but “the central challenge facing the right is: can anyone take these themes and articulate them in an adult way?”

Some in Claremont have expressed a desire to work with the Liberals, but their strategy seems to suggest otherwise. When I asked Williams what Claremont’s ideal future would look like, he cited the deconstruction of the administrative state. He told me recently that the June Supreme Court decision binding the EPA is “a step in the right direction” and that he would like to see “Congress get back to the act of lawmaking” instead of delegating the rule-making to bureaucracy, a “long, complicated process involving lawmakers learning rules they haven’t used in 30 years. Caution, he added, dictates that change must be incremental “Although I can anticipate your next question, which is, you talk like counter-revolutionaries,” Williams said. “One of the purposes of the more polemical stuff is to wake up our fellow conservatives.”

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