Michael Anton deftly skewers the loathsome, treacherous snake in the grass Bill Kristol, among several others.
One astonishing feature of the present era is that it is now common for former friends to hurl the vilest insults, to make the wildest accusations, and then honestly expect to be treated in return like an old pal. This is not the Washington slogan “We’re all friends after five o’clock,” Ronnie and Tip getting a drink in the Oval as the sun sets (which anyway never happened). This is viciousness expecting to be reciprocated with oblivious graciousness.
Who does this? The answer turns out to be: a lot of people. Did people used to behave like this? Not in my experience, nor do I find examples in literature. I have experienced a few, however, in my own life.
This fall, I gave a speech at the Philadelphia Society, a notable conservative gathering founded in the wake of the 1964 Goldwater defeat. I was asked to answer the question “what do the founding principles require of us today?” I discussed my proposed talk in advance with Society President R.J. Pestritto, a longtime friend and now colleague. He and I agreed that I would address the increasing tendency of conservatism, or at least of conservatives, toward historicism: the idea that political right is contingent on its historical situation. In particular, I planned to criticize what I consider conservatism’s tendency toward so-called “rational historicism”: the notion that history has an upward direction, that “progress” somehow makes awful calamities in the human past impossible to recur in the future. The American founders, I would claim, did not believe this. They may have hoped that their revolution would, mirabile dictu, turn out to be permanent,
Not so, actually, at least in Thomas Jefferson’s case. In his justly renowned letter to William Stephens Smith, which I shall never tire of re-quoting here, he explicitly spelled it out:
God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people can not be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13 states independant 11 years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half for each state. What country before ever existed a century and half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
Sounds a lot to me like Jefferson, for one, far from hoping for permanence, would be appalled at the American nation he helped create stagnating for so very long under the same ever-expanding, ever-more-oppressive central government. Clearly, the concept of a fundamental right to revolution is manifestly indispensable to the preservation of “the public liberty,” in Jefferson’s estimation. The two ideas are inextricably entwined; absent the former, the latter cannot long endure. Onwards.
but they did not assert that human nature had (or could) permanently change for the better, or that tyranny could never recur. Hence they claimed that the right of revolution—the right of the people to alter or abolish tyrannical government, and establish a new one—is the most fundamental of all political rights, the one on which all the others rest.
I predicted to R.J., and then predicted in the speech itself, that the right of revolution would be denounced simply because I cited it, and that I would be accused by “conservatives” and former friends of calling for violence. Right on cue, both predictions came true. Leading the charge was America’s foremost former conservative, Bill Kristol.
I have, or had, known Bill for almost 30 years. We were quite a bit friendlier than Gabe and I ever were. When Bill turned on me, he turned hard. No consideration was given for all that time, all those conversations, all those prior agreements. I know I am not nearly alone in this.
Despite Bill’s constant insults, calumnies, and attacks over the past six years, I’ve never once said or written a public word against him. I hesitated for many reasons, of which I will mention two. First, I admire his parents, both of whom I consider to be high intellects and benefactors of the nation. I even had lunch with his father when I was 23, a high point of my young life as a wannabe Washington intellectual.
My placidity began to give way when Bill first called me a Nazi—and then did it again, and again after that. As I have explained elsewhere, people who call you a Nazi are not your friends. They are your enemies. They mean to hurt you.
About two years after that, I attended a conference where Bill was present. I had not seen him at all in the intervening time. He greeted me with a big grin as though nothing had happened and said that, since he was sick, he would understand if I didn’t shake his hand. Of course I didn’t, but—the chutzpah! As if I would! More to the point, why would Bill himself want to shake a “Nazi’s” hand?
Bill is a double Harvard graduate—A.B. and Ph.D. He was, as noted, a student of one of the three or four greatest conservative minds of the past 100 years. He wrote his dissertation on the Federalist. He ought, therefore, to know something about the American founding.
Why, then, does he deny the right of revolution? Actually, he didn’t—not explicitly. Granted, 280 characters doesn’t give one the latitude to say much. But that’s the clear implication of his attack. If my speech were so objectionable, it could only be because the assertion that the right of revolution exists—the only assertion I made—is objectionable.
Did Bill always feel this way about the right of revolution? Or is he only now against it because I’m for it? Does he think it wasn’t present in the founders’ thought? How then does he explain away the two specific explications of it in the Declaration of Independence?
In fact, I can find almost no position Bill used to hold that he hasn’t since repudiated. He was against abortion and Roe before he was for them. He used to be against the normalization of homosexuality. Do his new leftist allies know that? In almost every respect—from criminal justice to taxes and spending to the culture war—Bill not very long ago was not merely a Republican but a conservative Republican. He has not merely abandoned all these positions without explanation; he attacks with venom all his former friends who still hold them.
The only issue over which Bill has been consistent over the last 20 years is war. He’s for it! Here again is a grave issue where honest men can disagree. But Bill is not content to disagree, much less to give the benefit of the doubt to any of his former friends who question the wisdom of the last 20 years of war. You are either for maximalist interventionism—in the present context, that means arming Ukraine—or you are a wicked person. No leeway is allowed for genuine differences of opinion, or even prudential miscalculation. Bill is entirely Manichaean on this (and every other) topic.
This is perhaps understandable. Bill is best known for his vociferous support of the 2003 Iraq war. “Support” is really too mild a word because, while it may be hard to remember, Bill was extremely influential back then. More than anyone else outside of government, he made that war happen.
Full disclosure (which I have disclosed many times): I supported it, too. One difference is that by 2007, I saw clearly that it had been a horrible mistake. Bill never has. Not that he (or anyone) should repudiate a position he sincerely holds.
But it is reasonable to ask how anyone can still sincerely hold that position. The Iraq war was a catastrophe. It failed to accomplish its stated ends. It killed thousands of Americans, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and crippled many more from both countries, many of them women and children. It cost trillions of dollars. It destabilized the Middle East for a generation and counting. It intensified deep divisions in the American public and the Republican Party. It got Barack Obama elected twice (against Bill’s stated wishes both times).
Even partial responsibility for a disaster of this magnitude is enough to break the psyche of anyone possessed of a modicum of introspection. If that’s what happened to Bill, he should have our pity. Not that he’s behaved in a way to deserve any.
Bill’s hit squad aside, my biggest criticism of him is his blinkered field of vision. Bill enjoyed one of the greatest gifts anyone of an intellectual bent could wish for: a great teacher and exposure to the greatest books.
What has he done with all of that? Uncritical support of Biden, Kamala, Fauci, Mark “White Rage” Milley, “Admiral Rachel” Levine, COVID lockdowns, BLM riots, pre-dawn raids, pre-trial detention, pre-teen genital mutilation. This is where reading the Bible, Thucydides, Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Montesquieu and the founders led him?
The great thinkers whom Bill once claimed as sources of inspiration were all dissidents—dissidents, especially, from the prevailing orthodoxies of their times. Bill, by contrast, is a supporter of orthodoxy, an enforcer of leftist pieties, a (well-paid) regime hitman.
The rest of Anton’s piece is precisely the kind of taut, well-reasoned rhetorical bloodletting we’ve come to expect from the man. His arguments are air-tight and entirely unassailable, impervious to the juvenile pokings and proddings of capering mental dwarves like Kristol for one reason above all others: those arguments are constructed upon an intellectual foundation laid down by America’s Founding Fathers themselves. For all their posturing, their puffery, their vanity and self-regard, that sturdy foundation presents an obstacle big enough, powerful enough that the conniving grifters of Conservative, Inc can never hope to overcome it.