The Claremont Institute, a West Coast Straussian institution founded by Harry Jaffa, is philosophically dedicated to small government and traditional values; many of its chief voices were strong proponents for President Trump during the 2016 election. It’s that latter fact that led to outsized focus on an incident that took place last week on an Institute email listserv connecting alumni of the Institute (full disclosure: I’m a former 2006 Publius Fellow at the Claremont Institute, though I’m not on the listserv). Apparently, Darren Beattie, a speechwriter for Trump, was fired after CNN reported that he spoke at a 2016 conference of the H. L. Mencken Club; other speakers included Peter Brimelow, creator of the white-supremacist site VDare.com. He then asked the listserv for help defending himself.
One of those who replied was alt-right uber-troll Charles Johnson, a former Publius Fellow. Johnson wrote, “Beattie’s offense is that he spoke at an event where — gasp! — there were white nationalists afoot! Heaven forbid that some thinkers — like the American founders who favored our country be majority white — think that the US of A should stay majority white! Perish the thought. Can’t have that.”
Immediately, members of the list asked to be removed. Within an hour, the Institute killed the listserv altogether. Politico’s Eliana Johnson reported on the story within days.
The story prompted spasms of glee from the left-leaning press. “Trump-loving think tank wracked with white nationalist controversy,” chortled Jeet Heer, official village idiot of The New Republic. “The problem is so persistent that it can’t be seen simply as fringe individuals trying trying [sic] to jump on the Trump bandwagon.” Nick Confessore of the New York Times tweeted, “Apparently the Claremont Institute ran a listserv of conservative thought leaders that included Charles Johnson.”
Claremont Institute, it turns out, had been a secret repository for white nationalism for years. That was the story. Not that a conservative group shut down a listserv to prohibit the dissemination of white-nationalist nonsense. That the group had been riddled through with white nationalism (never mind that Eliana Johnson, the original reporter of the Politico article, was one of my fellow Publius Fellows — the true representative of Claremont is Charles Johnson).
All of this is rather telling. It’s telling because, time and again, mainstream institutions on the right are slandered as homes for racism, sexism, and miscellaneous other bigotry, even when those institutions work to root out such bigotry. Take, for example, National Review itself. William F. Buckley spent an enormous amount of political capital with his own base — and with his own funders — when he decided to throw the John Birchers out of the house. National Review took another hit with many of its fans when the publication decided to throw out John Derbyshire in 2012. None of this stops the Left from maligning National Review as a home for right-wing evil, or from portraying nefarious characters like Kevin Williamson as indicative of that evil.
Yet the Left almost never throws out thinkers for ideological reasons. Leftist institutions will occasionally oust people who openly promote violence or involve themselves in outright fabrication. But when is the last time you saw a leftist outlet say of a leftist columnist, “That view is simply outside the mainstream”? Open Communism is fine; pure identity politics is fine. It’s not difficult to imagine a leftist listserv celebrating Charles Johnson’s words with the races reversed: “Heaven forbid that some thinkers . . . think that the US of A should become majority minority!” That position is actually rather mainstream on the traditional Left. The same is true with regard to hot-button issues such as abortion (Shout Yours Today!) and the First Amendment (it’s being weaponized, so we must curb it!) and anti-Semitism (see Sarsour, Linda). The Left doesn’t throw its radicals out. It mainstreams them.
The institutional Right, however, spends an inordinate amount of time self-policing. That’s a good thing. This isn’t a call to silence people — Charles Johnson has his own outlets for his particular brand of bile. Nobody is calling for government censorship of voices, nor should we. But it is up to serious conservatives to decide with whom they associate.
One of the tragedies of the recent past is that the Left’s refusal to acknowledge that self-policing has led too many on the right to begin tolerating the intolerable — to begin making common cause with those they should have thrown out of the tent long ago. That’s not entirely the fault of the Left, of course: Good people should always attempt to disassociate from evil, no matter whether others acknowledge such attempts. But the Left’s refusal to acknowledge good-faith efforts on the part of conservatives is an ongoing problem.
So too is the Left’s refusal to excise its own cancerous voices. It is a reminder that when it comes to policing the boundaries of a political movement, the modern-day conservative movement far outpaces the Left.
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