Listen: Arthur Milikh on High Noon with Inez Stepman
This interview, along with the transcript, was published on the High Noon podcast on May 27, 2022. Inez Stepman works for the Independent Women’s Forum.
Welcome to High Noon, where we talk about controversial subjects with interesting people. This week I’m pleased to have on Arthur Milikh. Arthur is the executive director of The Claremont Institute Center for the American Way of Life. Previously he was in the Center for American Studies, so a lot of American in his titles. And before that he was at the House Committee of Armed Services, so he’s been thinking about these subjects for quite some time. His works appeared in The Claremont Review of Books, National Affairs, City Journal, and many other aghast places. Welcome, Arthur, to High Noon.
Thank you very much, Inez, for having me. It’s a pleasure.
So I have a totally easy and no pressure first question for you. You’re at the Center for the American Way of Life, which is a Claremont Institute organization, or I don’t know if you technically classify yourself as a think tank. But the title is the American way of life, and the mission is preserving it, so totally easy, no pressure question. What is the American way of life?
Well, it’s a good question. It’s a good place to begin. It has to do with republican self-government. As much as many people on the far left and the far right wish that we were a different kind of country than we are, the truth is that our only identity is really based in us being a self-governing people. And what it means to preserve that way of life, I’ll put just very broadly, means preserving not just the institutions. That’s what kind of institutionalized D.C. does well on, or it talks a lot about at least, but what it really means is preserving the habits of character and mind that are prerequisites to preserving that way of life, to preserving political liberty.
We’re really seeing those two things pull apart now, I think, and that’s created a real problem for people who consider themselves small-c conservative, this institutional preservation, and then any kind of content to what it means to be an American. So no matter how 10,000-foot or broad your conception of what our regime in America really is, it seems that our institutions writ large are engaged at some level of attacking that idea and trying to destroy it.
Where does this leave conservatives? Because it seems like small-c conservativism would be the same people who would be interested in the importance of institutions, the importance of mediating institutions between family and government, and these are all like sort of basic small-c conservative principles that now seem to be working against the underlying content that the American right seeks to preserve. So how are those two things pulling apart and how should the right deal with that?
Well, I think that the main mission of the right is recapturing space, recapturing territory for itself. That means two things. It means it has a physical manifestation, obviously. It means states, primarily, a place where the right can make itself autonomous from woke world. And not just autonomous in the sense of hiding in the woods.
I’m in a way sympathetic to people that want to homeschool; I’m very much for homeschooling, but the one psychological element beneath homeschooling that I think a lot of people experience is that we will pull our kids out of woke world and we’ll go off into the woods and they’ll never find us there. And I’m sympathetic to that sentiment; the trouble is, they will find you in the woods. It’s not okay to just cede ground and cede space, thinking that that will be a kind of romantic panacea. It won’t. So part of it is recapturing space, and states will be that power source that protects the right and allows it to expand itself into territories that it didn’t thought was possible just 10, 15 years ago.
I mean, just as one example of that, we are going to get into this situation where states begin to enforce illegal immigration. That is coming. That’s already at the cusp of it, and I suspect that dam at some point will be broken. And I give you that as just one example of building space, of expanding the influence of the right under the auspices of the state. So that’s one element.
The second element, however, is a kind of psychological expansion. And I think everybody feels it in the air already, but a relinquishing from the hold that leftist concepts have over us. The kind of proud throwing off of them. I think you already see this with CRT. This was the big kind of very popularized push but that’s only the first level. There are many, many more things that the right will have to throw off of itself mentally if it’s going to go on. So that’s a kind of very brief general answer but I think that that’s where things are going, and I encourage it.
I think you’re right about…. And this is kind of an unfair shorthand for Rod Dreher’s book, but I do use his phrase as a shorthand for this, The Benedict Option. The idea that you can withdraw and create, like, a space away from society, what you call running off into the woods. The problem is, at least in the school context that I’ve always sort of argued to folks who are maybe more libertarian than I was in education policy, I’ve always argued, as long as 90% of kids are still going through, largely, public school and now even some percentage of woke private schools, those ideas are going to affect society. And there’s no place for your kids to go once they leave the woods. There’s no company that will not be operating under these pernicious ideas. There’s no sort of ecosystem for them to exist. There’s nowhere for them to meet other people who think like them, like largely speaking. Obviously, these things still exist to some degree, but if everyone in the right runs off into the woods.
So I think you’re right to say that we need a staging ground but isn’t that just a different level of running off into the woods? I’m of two minds about this sorting. I think some of it is inevitable, but I also have a kind of feeling that…. In our federal structure, particularly post-right progressive era, the fact that we have a very, very powerful national government, a federal agency can overrule the states and state law on such a huge swath of important things that even that doesn’t seem to me to be like a permanent solution, it just seems like a larger form of running off into the woods to some extent.
Inez, that’s a really important point. Look, the way I think to analyze it is that you have to figure out the extent to which — in what ways precisely are the states dependent on the federal tentacles. And here you get into, let’s say, two or three broad categories. One is just budgetary. Now, the budgetary category is…. I know that this is boring and it feels like old hand stuff, the kind of stuff that the right has been talking about for so long and never really done anything on, but it’s actually interesting in a very new way. If you take the state of Florida, you see that about a quarter of its budget comes from the federal government, and a huge majority of that is Medicaid and Medicare. So the question is, if the goal is to de-wokeify yourself, not with a view to hiding, but with a view to actually creating a very strong barrier and independence, how do you start to chip away at those dependencies? And I think that there are ways.
The other form of dependency on the federal government is the laws, various laws, especially anti-discrimination laws. That’s one of these firm holds that the federal government has. Now you’re right that, in a way, you can’t really do anything about them right now. On the other hand, there are nine states that already have laws on their books against affirmative action, for example. Why aren’t those states suing? Why aren’t there enterprising state attorneys generals that are starting to chip away, to chip back, to roll back that kind of authority that the federal government has illegitimately over some of those states? So there are things that can be done.
I will say, though, that my view is that rolling back federal power out of the states will have less to do with actions like that, I think, and more with the federal government humiliating itself and continuing to discredit itself, which it’s made a great deal of progress on doing but needs another push. The way that we all know the intelligence agencies have behaved for the past five and probably more years. And these are incredible things that really are third-world level intrigues against the American public. I’m from Russia. I was born in Russia. This is Russia-level stuff. The Russiagate, for example. The creating a board to oversee the freedom of speech. I don’t think that there’s actually….
Look, it could go one of two ways: either the right submits to these kinds of things, or it becomes more and more rebellious. And I see that spirit much more in the air than the spirit of submission. And so pushing these things further and further to humiliation, to making them morally collapse, because they see that the American public really is unwilling to submit to these kinds of things, I think that that, coming back to the states, that’s the way to push this out, or that’s one way anyways to push this out, which is why I don’t think that this is actually a romantic project of hiding in the woods. The problem of hiding in the woods…. And I don’t mean to implicate Rod Dreher in this. He’s a smart guy. I know that he gets a bad rap for that. I suspect he actually means something different or maybe —
Yeah, that’s why I qualified it. I suspect that he is kind of getting a Francis Fukuyama kind of vibe, where everybody just says the end of history when in fact that essay was very much not how it’s interpreted. So I don’t mean to impugn his work generally, but I think that phrase has caught on as a description of a certain kind of withdrawal from public life.
It has, and whether it’s deserved or not, I just can’t comment, but I do think that there are a lot of people who have that sentiment, irregardless of Dreher’s position, that think that they can hide. And what I’m hoping to advise for is a spirit that is precisely the opposite. A spirit that says, certain territories, certain moral positions, certain institutions have been taken from us illegitimately. We have been either defrauded into thinking one way or another or through various kinds of leftist frauds, these institutions have been taken away from us without our consent, like our schools. And we are simply not going to submit to that. And so what I’m talking about is a kind of attitudinal disposition. One that wants to reconquer and thinks of itself as a reconquest rather than one that says, “Well, so long as my life, liberty, and a little bit of meager property in the woods is granted to me, I can be happy there.” I’m advising to become much more political rather than private.
It strikes me…. People are certainly doing that with regard to schools. We’ve seen this mass movement of parents in the last two years start to develop. There have been movements like that in the past, for example, against Common Core. My question for you is, what is the time scale of this kind of, I guess, you can call it rebellion? Because it seems to me that right now there is a lot of that spirit. There seems to be, whatever…. The vice I think called it the vibe shift. There seems to be a certain amount of rebellious spirit against a lot of these doctrines from the left.
What I’m worried about is that there’s a very narrow window where that’s true because if you look at survey results there’s a big fat line between Gen X and millennials in terms of how they feel about patriotism, how they feel about men and women, basic facts underlying about the American system. I guess the phrase to use here is the American way of life. And here I get kind of frustrated with a certain type of person who says, “Oh, the kids will always rebel.” Yeah, the type of person who says that is frequently a contrarian, and that’s frequently true about them, but overall if you look at these survey results, the Long March works.
There’s a reason that all Year Zero movements try to capture the education system, they try to capture all of these institutions, it’s because it works. If you look at the underlying views of at least a generation and a half of Americans now, they are radically different and I think incompatible with what the American way of life means to even somebody who’s, for example, in their 40s or 50s today. So what is the time scale of this and how is this sort of generational turnover factor into your strategic thinking about this?
Yes, no, that’s exactly right. There is a pressing necessity to all of this. That attitude that you described, the kind that we’ve heard in Washington for a couple of generations that, well, the kids in the end, they’ll get into the system, and they’ll be okay, or a species of that is that…. Oh, assimilation on immigration. Assimilation will just churn its course and everything will be fine. And the truth is, I don’t think that that’s the case at all. It’s exactly for the reason that you said: that what will these people assimilate into? And it’s very clear that they are going to assimilate broadly, not only but broadly into blue America.
So this kind of immediate push is absolutely what we need, and it’s what the moment demands. I don’t mean to say “let’s just wait and see; things will end up being okay,” but on the other hand…. Look, what we have right now is more moral authority than we’ve had in my kind of lifetime of following politics, and that’s on the issue of groomers. It’s really an astonishing thing how many people have very immediately come to our side on that issue. And this is the kind of inertia that we cannot relent on. We always like to say, “Well, okay, we have this one little victory; let’s be moderate. This is good enough for now.” No, it’s not. We have to play for keeps, and playing for keeps means keeping the inertia going and having very powerful, successful examples of points on our side. Just like with DeSantis with Disney, he won. He’s going to win that. More examples like that need to follow because people like victories.
And you see how prepared the public is for victories. We had a conversation about this recently when the mask mandate went away. Given what the press had been reporting, what you see from the blue check maniacs on Twitter, you’d think that like half of the country at least is demanding mask mandates. The second the mandate went away, 95% of people took off masks. And what you end up seeing is that there’s a lot less fanaticism in a way on the other side, at least in concrete numbers. And you see the same thing with the groomer issue. And so continuing to press that, to root these things out, and to rev up the punishments. I think that there should be criminal punishments in the states assigned to doing these kinds of things to children. It’s not okay. And I think that there’s a huge constituency of people that will support these things.
That process not only gives our side confidence, but it also clarifies the sides. If people don’t want to live in a red state that criminalizes advocating for the chemical castration of children, they can go to another state. There are plenty of other states where they can find a home where they can support chemical castration, but not in a handful of states. Building out that sphere of influence of those states, building out that self-confidence is what we’re going after. And I think that this stuff can be done pretty immediately. I don’t think this is a 40-year project or even a 20-year project; this is a several-year-long project.
Yeah. I mean, I think Florida really is the test case for this, and especially because it’s a big once moderate state. It’s not a small, super, super rural, super red state. For all intents and purposes, five years ago, Florida was an exceedingly purple state. DeSantis won election by a very small number of people, so the fact that he can, as you say, really push this agenda and take it to its logical conclusion.
I’m so encouraged by the Disney stuff, especially when…. There was this article that came out in The Wall Street Journal that just made me smile just reading it. I had this ridiculous grin on my face while I was reading it. The subhead was something along the lines of, board meetings taking place all across America discussing what happened to Disney and Florida. That gave me a lot of hope in that specific arena that, actually, a lot of this stuff is sort of very, very broad and powerful but also the commitment to it is quite shallow.
But in other institutions, like in education, I’m much less sort of optimistic just because I think the rot is much deeper in a way…. There’s a reason that we are talking about woke capitalism, and only have been for the last few years, and that’s because there have been enough graduates now in every institution, including the Fortune 500, who are true believers, and it’s starting to shape the culture. It’s the opposite of what the right said would happen. The blue-haired maniacs would graduate from college. They would go off into the “real world”. Lo and behold, we find that the real world is being remade in their image and not the other way round.
The beating heart of this whole web, it seems to me, is the academy. And you’ve written extensively on universities and what ought to be done with universities. Both pragmatically, what do you think are sort of some good ideas we may not have considered in terms of dealing with the woke academy? And in a more deep way, how do we build alternate pipelines? Because it seems to me, as long as there’s no alternative to this certification treadmill — which is now completely and almost perfectly enmeshed as an ideological credentialing system. It was once just a credentialing system and now it’s an ideological credentialing system. How do we build an alternative? How do we go about guaranteeing or not, to the extent that anything is guaranteed in life, that you don’t have to go to one of these institutions in order to have the good things in life, to have a happy family, to be able to make a decent income, to be able to pay your bills and live life?
Well, my view is that this experiment of the right effectively funding institutions that openly, relentlessly seek to do the country harm should end. The time has come to end it. And the time has come by ceasing to fund these institutions. The right has an enormous amount of leverage over them through that. And what I would like to happen is for the number of graduates to be reduced by, I don’t know, 50%, 60%, 70%.
In a certain way, mechanically, this is not very difficult to do on the level of the states. If we win the White House, it can be done from the White House, too, or it can be pushed from the White House. But on the level of the states, look at the University of Florida. It has about a billion-dollar budget annually. About a third of that comes from the state of Florida. Why? Why continue to pay for these kinds of programs? So often the circumstances that these are decent kind of red-America parents who are patriotic, probably religious, they send their kids off. Those kids are educated on their dime because their tax dollars are supporting those institutions. And then their children come back four years later, strangers to them, maybe even hate them and hate the country. It’s an unacceptable thing. The left would never tolerate such a thing. So taking away their money is one of the first order of things that absolutely can be done.
The second question that you ask in a way is a more important one, which is what do you do about young people who want to be happy and want to have normal lives? And I think that a lot of alternatives are already emerging, but my view is that the states should take that money, that $300 million or so that they take away from the University of Florida — I’m not picking on the University of Florida in particular, they’re all like this — and use it to create effectively a jobs training pipeline. So that same guy or gal, but especially guy, who was going to go to the University of Florida, sink a bunch of money into it and the state was going to use a lot of money to fund that, should essentially be enrolled into an HVAC program, a carpentry program, or many, many skilled programs, skills that we actually need, that we say we need to open up our borders because there are no U.S. citizens that have those skills, and allow them to be trained up for three, four, or six months to develop those skills.
This is a very promising…. The left is always pointing to Europe for examples, and our side often kind of sneers at that, but the Europeans do do this. Germany has far fewer universities than we do, and part of it is that they have these kinds of apprenticeship programs. I just don’t think that anybody believes anymore that you need a four-year degree while everybody knows that that degree is largely bunk, given what you learn to do basic jobs. I think that era should be pushed over the edge.
We’re thinking about going the opposite direction though right now. We’re talking about essentially helping the universities by bailing out students from student debt that as you say…. Part of the reason that people are realizing that the degree is bunk is because they are graduating with sometimes a six-figure debt and they are not finding employment that is commiserate with the debt that they’ve taken on, which of course is a huge pain point. You’ll actually never hear me say the line about…. I really do think this is kind of generational on the right; like the essentially pull yourself up by your bootstraps line that doesn’t acknowledge that student debt is a problem. 20 to 30 years ago, you were talking about taking on a minuscule amount of debt, something that might even be possible for someone to work their way — which is always what you hear from boomers — work your way through college. The average university now costs about per year what the median salary is for the entire country. The idea that an 18-year-old can work that off is ludicrous financially. It’s simply not the deal anymore.
So you’ll never hear me say that it’s not a problem, but what I’m worried about is this…. Essentially the university system has caused this problem, our subsidies have caused this problem, and what we’re talking about doing is bailing out one generation from this problem and not changing anything underlying about the product that universities are offering. So does the center…. Or do you have any hope that Republicans are going to find some kind of spine on this issue because…. I’ve almost lost hope on this because it seems like something that is actually not “new righty,” in the sense that if you’re a libertarian you should also think that these massive subsidies to universities are inappropriate. They are inappropriately putting the thumb on the scale in terms of what paths to success are endorsed by the government.
So there’s no real ideological problem with doing this, and yet not only does it not happen in any substantial way, but I haven’t…. There hasn’t even been an attempt. So it’s not even that you can get half the Republican senators to vote for a bill that would do something substantive about cutting this flow of cash to universities. You can barely get like three Republican senators to say anything about it. So do you have hope that that is changing? Not in the nitty gritty of the law but what kind of 10,000-foot policy proposals do you think the right should be coalescing around? And the most important question, how do we make our representatives actually follow through on any of this?
The way that you described it is really great and it’s true, to take a step back and look at what has happened. As student loans have become backed by the federal government, all the universities have just increased how much money they’re taking in. It’s an astonishing thing. $70,000, $80,000, $100,000 a year for a kid to get an education. It’s incredible. And you know what’s happening is that the universities have felt nobody is going to say no to them, and so what they’ve spent that money on is effectively enriching themselves. Hiring their friends, hiring administrators, expanding their absurd buildings, as if you need any of that nonsense to get an education. In fact, it shows how little education is taking place, given the amount of buildings. It shows that that’s not what the university is about; it’s about amusement and other kinds of foolishness.
So what I would be interested in is — and I’m not proposing this as the letter of the law — but I’d be interested in some kind of compromise. I agree with you, Inez, that this money that young people are settled with is an enormous burden. I’m not exactly sure that it really prevents them from living their lives fully. Maybe it does. I don’t know. I haven’t looked into it, and I’m quite open to that. I’d be interested in some kind of compromise. Say, okay, we’ll pardon student debt in exchange for no more funding from the federal government of student loans. Something along those lines. And a massive part of that debt that the federal government is going to pay all the holders of that debt will be paid for by the universities, who are immensely rich.
Harvard is a kind of hedge fund with a couple of laboratories attached to it. Their endowment is worth something like, I don’t know, last time I checked, 30 some odd billion dollars. They should pay for some of those things. They are the ones that sent the kids into the system while enriching themselves, gave them largely a bad education, and now the taxpayer is going to bail them out. I don’t think so.
I would be open to some kind of compromise along those lines so long as federal backing of student loans goes away, so that if you’re a student and you want to go to a university, you have to go to a private lender, and that private lender has to look at your grades, has to look at what you’re going to major in, and say, “Yeah, I think you’ll be able to pay back this debt,” or, “No, you won’t be able to.” If that goes those ways — and I’m not naive, I don’t think that it necessarily would — there’s way too much money to make off of this, but if it would, enrollment in universities would drop by, I don’t know, 60%, because lenders would never give money to do a grievance study major at Wellesley. They just wouldn’t.
It’s funny because here we find it, and Arthur is usually telling me that I’m a squish, and I’m too beholden to conservatism of the past or whatever, but here I think you’re being naive. I think we’ve gone way past that point. I think, absolutely, it’s a lucrative thing to get a gender studies degree because you go straight into this ideological compliance industry where every Fortune 500 has a huge DEI department, and Michelle Obama makes 400K to be the diversity coordinator for a hospital system. There’s enormous amounts of money now in this.
That’s what I’m afraid of, actually: that even with withdrawing these loans, that we may be too late, we may have passed this point. And I don’t know. It’s totally possible that the scenario you just laid out is actually how it would go. Still, there aren’t enough of these DEI positions to make it sort of worthwhile. That’s what I’m afraid of, that a lot of the solutions that I’ve advocated for my entire life, that I firmly believe in, a lot of these small-l liberal solutions, that they won’t work anymore. That once there’s an entire apparatus constructed in the economy to actually make this lucrative that it’ll be very, very difficult to unwind.
Let’s go on that track for a little bit. There’s some debate about the extent to which class and ideology are intertwining here. That there seems to be a sort of a monoculture that is not shared perhaps by a strong majority of the country but is shared overwhelmingly by people in positions of power, whether those are public or private.
So you have, let’s say, the VP of a Fortune 500 company and the top career official in a government agency and, the third part of this, a research professor. They’ve all gone through a lot of the same schools. They are all subject to a lot of the same…. They have a lot of the same views, frankly. Your chances that those three people not only vote the same way but are sort of all committed to the same underlying ideology is extremely high. So to what extent is this sort of an economic or class problem and to what extent is this a culture problem? Because I find I go back and forth in this.
On the one hand, my sort of anti-woke Marxist friends, they seem to actually have a point in a way that 10 years ago I thought they didn’t have a point about the class lines hardening, and then, on the other hand, they want to say that everything is sort of downstream from economics, that the economic structure has determined it. And it seems to me that that’s missing the huge influence of essentially the cultural revolution in the ’60s and ’70s. Which side of that battle do you fall on? Do you think that it’s more economic, our problems are more economic and structural in that way, or do you think that they are primarily cultural?
Well, my view is that a lot of these questions become economic once you don’t really believe that you belong to a country anymore. In other words, everything can be analyzed according to one’s interests as part of a class. Once you see that these people are not acting as citizens of a country, as religious people. In other words, I actually think that it’s becoming more and more true that people act according to their economic interests as that backdrop that we used to have, which is being citizens, goes away. Still, I think that it’s not a wrong way of putting the matter that these people, these elites do belong to a class. On the other hand, the reason that that breaks down is that, you know, a junior staff writer at The New York Times and a senior vice president at a Fortune 500, there’s a huge difference in how much they make, how much their net worth is. So they’re not just part of one economic class, they’re clearly linked ideologically.
Look, I like to analyze things by the psychology of people. I think that that’s more interesting and more true, and what links them together is this twofold view. One is that there’s this belief that the future is with them, that the future is a moral future that they through their actions will bring about. And the core belief of that is, effectively, that all of the so-called liberated peoples in America — the gay, the trans, African Americans are really the sacred people, by which I mean that their happiness, their health, their wellbeing is how you measure whether this is a good country or not. So in other words, if African Americans are doing badly, that means that this is a despicable evil country that is systemically racist. Even if we can’t point to individual instances of racism in law, in speech, in practices, you have to point to the broad, invisible, super structures that have caused that. And until that group or other groups are happy and feel fully themselves, this is an evil country. That’s the kind of linkage that connects those two disparate economic classes into one psychologically.
On the other hand, to go back to your original question, there is some kind of monetary analysis here too. This entire growing industry of blaming everything on structural racism, blaming everything on structural sexism, or whatever, now there are careers in that that are not just a counselor or a professor, but ensconced in the economy. And that makes matters worse because that class of people, their bread now depends on the perpetuation of those kinds of things. They must always have something to point to and say, “Look, racism. Look, sexism. Look, anti-trans phobias.”
People are motivated by these kinds of things, by these kinds of material interests, but overall there is this fundamental religious hope that they are a part of a class that will finally restore the world to justice. I don’t think that there’s altogether that much cynicism in the mid part of that group. At the higher levels, I think there’s cynicism. At the higher levels of the CEOs of BlackRock, Blackstone, there’s a lot of cynicism about those things. They are just taking a side. They are taking a side because, on the one hand in the past 10 years, they’ve been pressured into it, but on the other hand, I think some of them think that the left in the end is going to win, win over the country once and for all, and they are going to have a huge seat at the table once that victory takes place. So it’s this mixed bag of motives.
If you want to analyze this psychologically, which I think is probably one of the better ways to think about it, are you prepared for the backlash in a sense to the backlash? Because I think a lot of these folks, they really have dedicated…. I mean, it is what is sort of driving them as people. It’s how they see themselves, as you just said. What’s going to happen, not only when their bread is taken away, to your point that you just made, if, for example, what you just said comes true, and 40% of the universities are shut down, when there aren’t enough DEI positions, where the diversity consultants have to…. The industry shrinks by, let’s say, 50% or whatever it is. So not only is there going to be, actually, people losing their jobs and being upset about that.
This woke ideology, which is not a great terminology but it’s all I’ve got, it’s fundamentally at odds with a bunch of things about reality. And what I’ve found is, as soon as some element of reality creeps in, inevitably there’s this psychological backlash against it and almost, like, hysterical. You can make fun of the screeching blue-hairs or whatever — there’s a lot of memes like that — but there’s a reason that people psychologically react that way. I think what you mentioned before about the groomers and the groomer discourse around in K-12 sometimes misses this element that actually, in large part what these kids are being groomed to do is less, actually, at least in the vast majority of cases, fortunately not have sex with adults, but to become activists and to reflect back to their teachers or the adults sort of their own delusions about the world. Because kids don’t know how the world works yet so they are a very convenient sort of bureau for people who really need to keep these psychological commitments that are at odds with reality.
If the right starts to succeed in a real way, how do you deal with the psychological backlash from people who did think that they were just on the march of history and that, to the language you just used, their place at the table, the new dawn was sort of assured?
Yes, well, this is how they reacted for four years with Trump. So in other words, they thought that once and for all they had won in this country, and anything implying that there’s either a change of power or ruling and being ruled or taking turns, or that there’s doubt in the American public, that that program is for them, the program that the left is proposing, there is all-out, not just hysteria, but immense institutional power that will be used to sow doubts, to humiliate, will be used for subterfuge. The amount of leaks from inside the intelligence agencies against the president is just one instance of that. And they largely got away with it. Nobody was punished, and it worked. So your point is very well taken.
On the other hand, I am heartened by what DeSantis is doing with Disney. Disney has shut its mouth, and I don’t think it’s going to pipe up anytime soon. Now the question would be, well, has anything actually changed? Will anything change there in Disney on account of these actions? Maybe, maybe not. We don’t yet know. It’s an open question. But there are circumstances where your thesis is totally right and there are circumstances that are more hopeful than you imply. More broadly —
I definitely agree with that. That’s why generally I tend to be way more pessimistic about the education system and much more optimistic now especially post-Disney about scaring capital straight in a way.
But you are totally right. There’s a class in the country whose lives depend on these kinds of activities, and my view is that they don’t belong in the space that traditional America owns, and they can find greener pastures where that kind of employment is possible in other states that are friendly to these kinds of things. I see calls on Twitter, recently actually once this Disney situation was developing, where people were saying, “Your pro-trans,” just to use that example, “opinions will be supported in Illinois, California, New York; you should go there.” And I agree. I totally agree. You should try and rebuild those post-industrial states that are not doing very well, those cities that are not doing well. I’m afraid that it won’t be through those means that they think it’ll happen, but you should live among the people that support you and respect you, and the right should have the right to do the same thing without being relentlessly antagonized and persecuted on its own territory. To answer your question, Inez, there will be an outlet where these people can find employment.
I guess the worry with what you just said would be, what’s the end state of this? Is it some kind of national divorce? Because even though our federalist system allows for plenty of sort of variation…. And I think that’s a good thing. I think it’s one of the strengths of the federalist system, that it does allow people with somewhat different values to kind of live amongst their own, and that generally turns down the temperature and not up on national politics when you can control, for example, your kids’ school versus…. You care a lot less about what is being set in terms of national education policy if your kids don’t have to follow whatever that is.
It’s generally a good thing but at what point are we just two separate nations? Obviously, we’ve faced this problem before. We couldn’t exist as half-free and half-slave. Are some of these questions so fundamental to the concept of nationhood and citizenship that in sort of putting off these national bottles and creating these two centers of a bunch of states on each side, two centers of power over the left and the right, and encouraging people to sort into those directions. What’s the end state here? Don’t you fear that, ultimately, that that must rent the house apart eventually?
Well, yes and no. I actually think that this is the way to turn the temperature down. The right, as long as I can remember, has wanted, has hoped that it can live in this, you know, don’t tread on me, which means leave me alone attitude. It has seen that that does not work. The left, in principle, as it is structured now psychologically, cannot relent on this expansive imperialism that it has. To go to every school district, to get into every household to talk about sexuality, to talk about race, et cetera. It’s a psychological necessity of what the left is now.
And so the way to turn the temperature down is by having spaces that are unconquerable, because it will never be through just convincing the left that, you know, you guys need to take your foot off the gas pedal that you’ve been mashing down for the past 10 years. It’ll be because they see that this line of attack isn’t working and there’s going to be backlash from the right. So I actually think, as I say, that this will turn down the temperature.
They have contempt for the right, and the right in many ways deserves their contempt because they have been successful over and over and over again. And that tickles their fancy to think that…. 50 years ago, the left never would have thought like they did after Obama leaves the White House that, like, this country is locked down. Their mania, their irrationality on these questions is because of their successes, and the way to stop that success is to actually have genuine barricades on our side that prevent their expansion. That I think will be one way that the temperature is cooled off.
I’ve noticed this over time talking to you, not just on this podcast, but the word humiliation and contempt, those two words factor large in sort of how you think about the political landscape. What would you say is the importance of using…. Because those aren’t terms that you often hear. Like humiliating, for example, the other side. That’s not a term…. Even people are more likely to say things like enemies versus opponents, but not humiliation, so why do you use the words contempt and humiliation so often?
Well, the left has perfected humiliation. It is a core of their power right now. I think it can go away, but the core is to find you, you dissident thinker. And you’re not a special…. You’re not devoting your life to this. You are just a normal American who has opinions outside of the mainstream, and the core of the left psychological transformation of the nation has been to find you, to isolate you, and to feel how weak you are, to feel that you are a nothing. And the only way that you can feel like a something is if you take on our opinions, in which case there are all these benefits open. And the way you deploy that psychology is by humiliating you. By showing you that, if you dare think like this, we will take everything from you. We will deploy our dogs. We will deploy our activists on your house, at your place of employment, on your friends. Your friends will turn away from you because you have wrongthink. That is how humiliation works in our contemporary political circumstance.
So I think that the reverse of that is by encouraging people to think in a freer way, by which I mean to have for them support, to not shoot the right, that is to your right, relentlessly in the back, and to protect them from this kind of humiliation. On the other hand, to reverse this, I think that there is a great deal of…. There’s a lot of disgusting people in any country, but there are a lot of people who have made a lot of money exploiting this system, who have hurt a lot of people using this system, using this psychology, and they should be exposed and humiliated in their own term to get them to stop, and as a warning to others that if this keeps going on, it’s not going to be a pleasant circumstance.
Contempt is different. Contempt means that you no longer have respect for something or somebody. You think that it’s beneath your regard. And that is another psychological attitude that I want the right more and more to have vis-à-vis all of the national institutions that claim to govern you. The easiest example is — and I think that the right is kind of halfway there — are the major press organs on the left. To have contempt for them means that they have no spiritual power over you. They’re beneath your regard. You know that they are full of small fraudulent people who are running some kind of hustle while claiming to be moral and saviors. And I want us to accept these kinds of terms because I think that that’s actually closer to the real psychology of politics rather than just talking about institutions, or economics, or something like that.
It seems to me that part of what you’re saying about having contempt for these institutions…. The harder part is not to have contempt for The New York Times. I think, as you say, Republican politicians are halfway there. The Republican base has been there for a decade. The harder part would be to have contempt for the institutions that are actually connected to real honors. I really like how Spencer Klavan talks and writes about this, that are connected to the real honors that our society bestows.
Are we at the point, for example, where Republicans, independents, people who are generally against the ideology that has become the reigning ideology in these institutions, start to choose not to send their kids to Harvard? That’s a much more difficult question than laughing about the fact that The New York Times wrote a profile on Chris Rufo. That seems to me to be an important sort of advancement for the right but nevertheless a much easier one than when you’re talking about….
You have kids. What are your kids’ futures going to be without attachment to these institutions for which you have contempt, and I think, rightfully, have contempt? So how would you advise young people at this juncture? Let’s say they are conservatives, a 16-year-old boy in high school who has the grades and the scores to apply and have a shot at some of these incredibly elite institutions that still do pipeline people into top positions all over in virtually every industry in this nation. What’s your advice to that 16-year-old young man? Do you forego those institutions and the honors that come with them because they have essentially been hollowed out and turned into something that has all of the honors but none of the substance for which the honors were once bestowed? What’s the alternative? What is your advice to that young man?
Well, I actually think that the more we become psychologically a regional country, the less there will be a pull on some of those institutions to attract us. So, for example, when we were growing up, the posh thing to do was you go to a top school and then you move to New York, or San Francisco, or whatever. As those places become more and more rotten, you less and less need that pipeline of going to an elite school to find the elite job in one of those cities because you don’t want to go there. And I encourage people more and more to stay in their state or to stay in their region. Talent should not be pulled off, siphoned off to these big, rotting cities. That’s a partial answer, but that’s not enough.
Look, this is one of these difficult questions. What if you have a kid that really does belong at MIT, and really does need to be with the best mathematicians in the world? Well, they should go, I still think. On the other hand, when you look at some of these recent statistics about admissions, you saw this, there was some girl who was from like a white Midwestern middle-class family who had perfect scores on everything and, because she’s not diverse, did not get in. So I actually think that another element of this is that the hope of getting in to one of these institutions will become dampened because it’ll become more and more evident to people as they see that you are just not getting in because of the color of your skin. Those institutions are not for you any longer. A person that deserves to be there by merit alone.
But look, it’s hard to stop these kinds of things. It’s hard to persuade every parent, “Don’t send your kid to Harvard,” and maybe they should, especially if they’re going to study a hard science and do something like that, they do belong there. I think over time that the reputation of these places, the reasons to go there, to want to attend there, are going to attenuate more and more.
Yeah, it’s one of those things where I’ve gotten more deeply cynical over time, but perhaps unjustly, I don’t know. The shorthand that I used when we had Aaron Sibarium on the podcast was planes falling out of the sky. If you hire your pilots on diversity metrics rather than competence, you would expect to see over time plane crashes go up as pilots make errors. And somebody recently argued this to me, and it was really depressing because I was like, okay, there has to be some final barrier, just like ultimately in the Soviet Union, or in Chernobyl, where they had to…. I think they really showed that well in a series they did on Chernobyl where you…. At some point you’re reporting the political number, at some point like sort of edifice of falsity meets reality. But it can take a very long time for that to happen.
And in my examples of the plane falling out of the sky. What do we have, one sort of air disaster for an American airline every 10 years or whatever. I don’t actually know the statistics on airlines, but let’s say for the sake of argument it’s one airline disaster a year. What percentage of those are due to pilot error? Maybe it’s half, maybe it’s a quarter. I don’t know. Versus mechanical failure. Does that get associated immediately with the policies of how pilots are hired? That could take a very, very long time.
And similarly, like in a big law firm, for example. They just dropped the LSAT, or at least the ABA is now encouraging law schools to drop the LSAT as an admission requirement. It’s going to take quite some time before the quality of new associates suffers in a way that’s actually pegged to the policy that created it. If that happens 10, 20 years down the line…. I guess, how long do you think this is going to take to actually associate some of these hollowing out of the meritocracy with the inevitable results of doing that? Because it seems to me it won’t be a one-to-one very simple kind of line that people can draw and say, “Oh, well, we changed the policy, and the next year the planes fell out of the sky.”
And more importantly, the regime will do everything to suppress any kind of evidence that points to the truth of that, if that’s the case, because that is what the regime is. The regime has become basically anti-white hatred. It’s said in various forms; they like to say it sometimes, they like to pretend like that’s not true sometimes. It’s ambiguous. It’s not a very popular thing to run on after all, but I think that that’s regrettably become its core.
Nobody’s going to admit what the real problem is. And as you say, Inez, by the time that anybody sorts through it, these things have happened. And the problem is, especially in, for example, the sciences, you need a pipeline of graduate students who learn from their professors, who renew the generations, and who push scientific progress further and further. That’s a steady process that, once you interrupt it, it’s very hard to recreate and push forward if the previous generation is not up to snuff. So it’s very dangerous. I suspect that it’s still…. I don’t mean to overemphasize, overplay this kind of state strategy, but I just see that there is space there still for university departments, for corporations to do real scientific research, for them to hire based on merit alone, and wherever the cards fall is where they fall.
So I still think that that’s one of these things that, if we start talking about it, there is a political victory to be had there, that Americans still believe in competence. The generations of Americans that are alive right now are still used to good supply chains, good roads; bridges don’t just collapse. There is always some kind of medical scientific innovations. And to start speaking about that directly, publicly without any shame, like this is…. The left may stand for a lot of moral things that maybe we disagree with, but the one place that we will absolutely not compromise on is competence. That’s still a political card that has not been played fully. It’s been danced around at the edges but has not been presented in a full-throated way.
Yeah, I actually find myself largely agreeing with you, and that last answer you really convinced me about the state’s thesis. We really do need a place for competence, and that’ll provide the thing that…. Without Florida, for example, there would have not been a counterpoint to how to deal with COVID. There would have not been a control group, a baseline against which to measure, and because Florida, under good political leadership, was able to carve out a space for that, now I think you do have a lot of people comparing these things and looking at the numbers in New York and Florida and saying, look, they didn’t have any like larger excess death from this pandemic in Florida, and yet they did not suffer all these other consequences that, for example, in New York we did. You finally convinced me in this final about the importance of having a baseline for competence meritocracy and all the things that we’ve come to expect from the American way of life.
Arthur Milikh, thank you so much for coming on High Noon. You can find more of Arthur’s work and that of his compatriots over at the Claremont Institute’s Center for the American Way of Life. And thank you to our listeners. High Noon with Inez Stepman is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. As always, you can send comments and questions to [email protected]. Please help us out by hitting the subscribe button and leaving us a comment or review on Apple Podcasts, Acast, Google Play, YouTube, or iwf.org. Be brave, and we’ll see you next time on High Noon.