Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Using democracy to destroy freedom: Leo Strauss and neocons in the spotlight.

This post will be based heavily on an article written by Shadia B. Drury on Sept. 11, 2003. This article is titled Saving America: Leo Strauss and the neoconservatives. This article studies the philosophy of German immigrant and professor Leo Strauss, who is widely credited as being the inspiration of modern day neoconservatism.

The first point I wish to address is the difference between traditional conservatism and neoconservatism:
...the old conservatism relied on tradition and history; it was cautious, slow and moderate; it went with the flow. But under the influence of Leo Strauss, the new conservatism is intoxicated with nature. The new conservatism is not slow or cautious, but active, aggressive, and reactionary in the literal sense of the term. Inspired by Strauss's hatred for liberal modernity, its goal is to turn back the clock on the liberal revolution and its achievements.
It is my opinion that when discussing issues between advocates of these varying forms of conservatism, while I may not agree with the traditional conservative on many issues, I find them more intellectually honest and just generally more respectable than the neoconservative proponents. The libertarian form of conservatism offers many appealing and honest arguments for it's perspective, but the neoconservative approach I (and Ms. Drury) find is simply dishonest, and in most cases intentionally so.
The trouble with the Straussians is that they are compulsive liars. But it is not altogether their fault. Strauss was very pre-occupied with secrecy because he was convinced that the truth is too harsh for any society to bear; and that the truth-bearers are likely to be persecuted by society - specially a liberal society
The concept that the little people can not handle the truth explains why neocons love the Fox News channel. But is it not just a bit odd that attempting to disseminate the truth by other news outlets brings forth the wingnut crowd in full cry about the liberal media. One of my posts from very early in this blogs existence regards why factual reporting by news outlets is determined to be liberal by these folks. Quite simply facts support liberalism, and thus are of no use to those who wish to have their ideology spoonfed by the news they ingest. Thus the overall point is that neocons, believing the masses can not handle the truth, attack those who wish to enlighten us as to the true state of affairs.
According to Strauss, ancient philosophers (such as Plato) were wise and wily, but modern philosophers (such as Locke and other liberals) were foolish and vulgar. The wise ancients thought that the unwashed masses were not fit for either truth or liberty; and giving them these sublime treasures was like throwing pearls before swine. Accordingly, they believed that society needs an elite of philosophers or intellectuals to manufacture "noble lies" for the consumption of the masses. Not surprisingly, the ancients had no use for democracy. Plato balked at the democratic idea that any Donald, Dick, or George was equally fit to rule.
Hah! Methinks Ms. Drury threw a humorism in here. Normally it is Tom Dick or Harry, but she tosses in the first names of three luminaries in the current administration. Three luminaries busily carrying forth the neoconservative agenda where-in they are the priveliged few who can be trusted with the truth and liberty to carry forth their wishes, without that meddlesome interference of the great unwashed masses.

Furthermore, the world of Plato, and the world of Strauss have far greater differences than similarities. One may argue that the historically recent enlightenment of mankind, something Strauss decries, scientifically, politcally, and in most other ways one can think of on a societal level has resulted in the unparalleled growth and expansion of mankind. In many ways this has been harmful, but in many more ways it has led to our benefit. And one may only hope that the continued enlightenment of mankind on a grand scale will lead to the solution of what currently seem to be intractable problems, much as it has led to the solution of previously impossible problems, like human flight, medical discoveries and on and on. The advancement of humankind through enlightenment is simply to valuable a goal to be left in the hands of the elite few.
Praising the wisdom of the ancients and condemning the folly of the moderns was the whole point of Strauss's most famous book, Natural Right and History. The cover of the book sports the American Declaration of Independence. But the book is a celebration of nature - not the natural rights of man (as the appearance of the book would lead one to believe), but the natural order of domination and subordination.

In his book On Tyranny, Strauss referred to the right of the superior to rule as "the tyrannical teaching" of the ancients which must be kept secret. But what is the reason for secrecy? Strauss tells us that the tyrannical teaching must be kept secret for two reasons - to spare the people's feelings and to protect the elite from possible reprisals. After all, the people are not likely to be favorably disposed to the fact that they are intended for subordination.
What Strauss is saying here is that dominion and subordination is the natural state of mankind and that that system should not just be acknowleged and lived with, but perpetuated and celebrated by those who know the truth of the matter. This is a myopic view that sees no possibility for the evolution of the human condition. America itself is a lesson in history that proves Strauss wrong. We have grown to be the wealthiest and most powerful society on the face of the planet, not through the Straussian perception that the natural order of humankind is determined by dominion and subjugation. It certainly is the case that America has struggled through out our existence with the question, and we were wracked by a terrible civil war that had much to do with that question. Yet we have striven to rid ourselves of this ideological burden and have prospered for the attempt to progress. It is no wonder that Straussian theory found a receptive audience with many traditional conservatives, leading to the near death of old style conservatism. He literally called for the clock to be turned back on thousands of years of human societal evolution. He thus found an audience with many in what could properly be termed the American Taliban movement. For both Muslim and Christian fundamentalists decry the progression of society and wish for a return to the simpler days of moral absolutism and religious rule by cleric.
Of course, Strauss believed that the wise would not abuse their power. On the contrary, they would give the people just what was commensurate with their needs and capacities. But what exactly is that? Certainly, giving them freedom, happiness, and prosperity is not the point. In Strauss's estimation, that would turn them into animals. The goal of the wise is to ennoble the vulgar. But what could possibly ennoble the vulgar? Only weeping, worshipping, and sacrificing could ennoble the masses. Religion and war - perpetual war - would lift the masses from the animality of bourgeois consumption and the pre-occupation with "creature comforts." Instead of personal happiness, they would live their lives in perpetual sacrifice to God and the nation.
Leo Strauss must be applauding from the grave as America has been led down the path of perpetual war by the Bush administration. To say that the invasion of Iraq killed two birds with one stone misses about ten other birds that were killed by the stone of invasion. And not one of the goals this administration claimed as a reason for war with Iraq has been shown to be true, or worth the cost to America in terms of lives lost or treasure spent. Perpetual war will be the result if wiser heads do not step into the breach of American leadership soon and begin to make intelligent peace in the middle east. I believe with all my soul that the west must be victorious in the war on terror, and fully support our mission in Afghanistan. But the invasion of Iraq was a strategic military blunder on a grand scale and one that we will not soon recover from. A blunder which in an earlier post I described as leading to generational conflict. Perpetual war is indeed an apt moniker.

The first part of the title of this post is: Using democracy to destroy freedom. That is literally the goal of the neoconservative movement.
How can America be saved from her dangerous fascination with liberty? Irving Kristol came up with the solution that has become the cornerstone of neoconservative policies: use democracy to defeat liberty. Turn the people against their own liberty. Convince them that liberty is licentiousness - that liberty undermines piety, leads to crime, drugs, rampant homosexuality, children out of wedlock, and family breakdown. And worse of all, liberalism is soft on communism or terrorism - whatever happens to be the enemy of the moment. And if you can convince the people that liberty undermines their security, then, you will not have to take away their liberty; they will gladly renounce it.

In an essay entitled "Populism Not to Worry," Irving Kristol argued that Americans should embrace populism, or the rule of the majority, despite the reservations of the Founding Fathers. The latter feared the tyranny of the majority, and institutionalised safeguards to protect the liberty of individuals and minorities. But Kristol and the neoconservatives want to dismantle these very safeguards against majority rule. Kristol tells us not to worry. Why not? Apparently because the neoconservatives believe that America has been ruled by an unwise liberal elite for over two hundred years, and they are willing to gamble that the people will be wiser, which is to say, more likely to endorse conservative policies.
The goal of this movement is intrinsically un-American. This is a dangerous time for our nation as we have grown to understand ourselves. Secrecy, lying and the abuse of power by the current leadership in Washington D.C. are eroding the foundations this nation was founded upon. Who would have predicted in 2000 that in 2005 we would have a debate on the use of torture for unlawful combatants? The notion that American leaders could possibly conclude that torture may be necessary would have been equivalent to the notion that the white house would be beamed into space by aliens before the current administration took the reins. They must not be allowed to make America into their image.

Information is the key to fighting them. They rely upon the ignorance and dogmatic beliefs of the populace to allow them to rule as they have. Now the nation is slowly waking up to the true state of affairs, and the wheels are coming off. One can only hope that we hang on by the skin of our teeth until 2006. If we could see the emergence of a truly traditional conservatism to take the Republican party back from this movement, it would be truly helpful to this nation. In the meantime I believe that anyone who is not a died in the wool Koolaid drinker would be wise to vote a Democratic ticket in 2006.

Finally if you are inclined to believe that Ms. Drury must be some liberal who is not really interested in accurately portraying Mr. Strauss, here is a link to his entry in Wilkopedia. I believe it will give further backing to Ms. Drury rather than proving her an idealogical hit person in regard to Mr. Strauss.

Bhfrik, I really enjoyed your entry regarding Strauss and the Neocons. Some of the things you mentioned are precisely why I am no longer a Republican and went Libertarian.

There is the "American Taliban" and their brand of Domination/Subjugation revolves around religion. There is another offshoot in the Republican party that is truly more Neocon. These individuals take a truly eliteist approach and is quite secular. They believe in a "food chain" among the ranks of humanity. It flys in the face of truths our founding fathers saw as self-evident. That being we are all created as equals. However, I would like to point something out. The Democrats also have their own established form of secular elitism. Political Correctness is not about respecting the rights of others. It's about control. It's every bit as vile as the "Moral Correctness" of the Religious right or the dreams of Plutocracy found in......yes.....both parties. After all, John Kerry and George Sauros know no more about living paycheck to paycheck than Cheney or the Bush family.
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