January 6th and the Authoritarian Temptation

David Frum in The Atlantic on January 6:

“January 6 was the last exit. If you can shrug it off as no big deal, just another incident of Trump talking too much, then you have already signed up for the next incident—and the one after that.”

As Frum notes, in the wake of January 6 the authoritarian temptation, with increased calls for violence, has become more evident on the right.

“The yearning for a Caesar to repress the woke mob is expressed more and more explicitly, hence the appeal to even the highest-toned of today’s conservative intellectuals of Hungary’s Viktor OrbánPoland’s Law and Justice party, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Some even have favorable words for some of the fascists of the 1930s, such as Portugal’s António Salazar.”

In light of this, it’s worth looking again at Laura Field’s excellent piece in The Bulwark on the Claremont Institute. Pair it with Damon Linker’s essay in The Week. And go back to Ken Kersch’s essay in The Atlantic, arguing that this longing for an authoritarian leader “who will restore the constitutional republic to its forsaken natural-law foundations” has deep roots in these conservative circles. As Kersch argues, this framing was “forged by Jaffa and the West Coast Straussians and the evangelical, fundamentalist, and Roman Catholic right during the postwar conservative movement’s formative years.” I am not sure Ken is altogether right on Jaffa. Sure, Jaffa wrote a lot of silly things. But he also offered a powerful defense of Lincoln as redeeming the promise of America against neo-confederate defenders of racial apartheid like Wilmoore Kendall. (Yes, there’s more to Kendall than that.) It’s worth considering, as Ken argues, whether Jaffa’s understanding would justify an authoritarian president. But Lincoln was not that figure. He held an election in 1864! And was prepared to lose. But there’s no denying that many of Jaffa’s followers are tempted by the authoritarian turn. The irony is that they’ve embraced it while flirting with neo-confederate thought and the denial of human equality

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