“Let me start big. The mission of the Claremont Institute is to save Western civilization,” says Ryan Williams, the organization’s president, looking at the camera, in a crisp navy suit. “We’ve always aimed high.” A trumpet blares. America’s founding documents flash across the screen. Welcome to the intellectual home of America’s Trumpist right.
As Donald Trump rose to power, the Claremont universe—which sponsors fellowships and publications, including the Claremont Review of Books and The American Mind—rose with him, publishing essays that seemed to capture why the president appealed to so many Americans and attempting to map a political philosophy onto his presidency. Williams and his cohort are on a mission to tear down and remake the right; they believe that America has been riven into two fundamentally different countries, not least because of the rise of secularism. “The Founders were pretty unanimous, with Washington leading the way, that the Constitution is really only fit for a Christian people,” Williams told me. It’s possible that violence lies ahead. “I worry about such a conflict,” Williams told me. “The Civil War was terrible. It should be the thing we try to avoid almost at all costs.”
That almost is worth noticing. “The ideal endgame would be to effect a realignment of our politics and take control of all three branches of government for a generation or two,” Williams said. Trump has left office, at least for now, but those he inspired are determined to recapture power in American politics. My conversation with Williams has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Emma Green: What do you see as the threats to Western civilization?
Ryan Williams: The one we have focused on at the Claremont Institute is the progressive movement. [Progressives think that] limited government, in the Founders’ sense—checks and balances, robust federalism, a fairly fixed view of human nature and the rights attendant to it—all has to give way to a notion that rights evolve with the times.
The biggest institutional part of [the progressive movement] is this large bureaucracy or administrative state, which is insulated from control by the executive or even, increasingly, by Congress.
I would say the leading edge of progressivism now is this kind of woke, social-justice anti-racism. It’s a threat to limited government because it seems to take its lead from scholars like Ibram Kendi, who has proposed a Department of Anti-racism that would basically have carte blanche control over local and state governments. His definition of racism is any policy that results in disparate outcomes for different groups. And we take issue with that. You always have different outcomes between different groups. Human nature is varied. We all have different talents. The pursuit of equal results is only going to be successful in a new woke totalitarianism. I realize that sounds a little hyperbolic, but that seems to be the road we’re on.
Green: We’re going to unpack “woke totalitarianism” in a second, but I want to make sure I’m understanding your starting point correctly. When you say Western civilization, it sounds like you’re not necessarily describing people situated in geography or time but rather a set of ideas that you believe are falling out of fashion or are being actively destroyed by various forces in society. Am I getting you right?
Williams: You can never really divorce a set of ideas and principles from the people in which it grew up. America is an idea, but it’s not just that. It’s the people who settled it, founded it, and made it flourish.
Green: Just to ask the question directly, do you mean white people?
Williams: No, not necessarily. I mean, Western civilization happens to be where a lot of white people are, historically, but I don’t think there’s any necessary connection between the two. The ability to believe in natural rights and a regime of limited government the way the Founders did is not reserved only to white people.
Green: So you believe that there are American citizens of other backgrounds who belong in Western civilization—not just white people.
Williams: No. I think “white” is a pretty arbitrary category—
Green: People of European descent.
Williams: Okay, fair enough. No, it’s not an exclusive inheritance of that.
Green: One beef in the Claremont universe is what you all call “Conservatism, Inc.”: the professional-class conservatives who do panel discussions and run multimillion-dollar think tanks that produce white papers that ultimately don’t lead to anything, in your view. You guys are basically a think tank too. Why aren’t you just a slightly different version of Conservatism, Inc.?
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Source: the Atlantic