Leo Strauss Philosophical Father of the Neoconservatives

Because mankind is intrinsically wicked, he has to be governed Such governance can only be established, however, when men are united - and they can only be united against other people.

Those who are fit to rule are those who realize there is no morality and that there is only one natural right — the right of the superior to rule over the inferior The people are told what they need to know and no more.

— Leo Strauss, thoughts on government and the wise elites' need for secrecy, Natural Right and History and Persecution and the Art of Writing18

Everybody sees what you appear to be, few feel what you are, and those few will not dare to oppose themselves to the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them Let a prince therefore aim at conquering and maintaining the state, and the means will always be judged honourable and praised by everyone, for the vulgar is always taken by appearances ..

— Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, 151319

In order to achieve the most noble accomplishments, the leader may have to 'enter into evil.' This is the chilling insight that has made Machiavelli so feared, admired, and challenging. It is why we are drawn to him still.

— Michael A. Ledeen, leading neoconservative at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), advisor to President Bush's political strategist Karl Rove, as quoted in his book, Machiavelli on Modern Leadership: Why Machiavelli's Iron Rules Are As Timely and Important Today As Five Centuries Ago, 199920

It is widely acknowledged that the Bush administration was not honest about the reasons it gave to the public for the invasion of Iraq. Paul Wolfowitz, former deputy secretary of defense, acknowledged that the "intelligence" used to justify the war was always "murky" and that the main rationale for the Iraq War, "disarming Saddam" of a supposed reconstituted WMD program, was in essence a "bureaucratic decision."21 Wolfowitz's neoconservative colleague Richard Perle admitted that the war was in violation of international law but nonetheless stated it was the "right thing" to do.22

This philosophy of governance openly advocates an end-justifies-the-means mentality, allowing deception, violence, and the abrogation of international law. Many Americans have difficulty believing the Bush administration purposely engaged in a campaign of diversion and deception to convince the public that an invasion of Iraq was urgent and necessary. However, while the idea is disconcerting, it is hardly surprising, given the self-proclaimed philosophical underpinning of neoconservative ideology.

In 1938 German political philosopher Leo Strauss arrived in the US, an ethnic Jew and refugee from Nazi Germany. As a professor at the University of Chicago, he specialized in philosophical analysis of the classic Greek tradition and basic philosophical questions, including the structure of society and whether it can be governed on rational principles. Wolfowitz, a leading advocate of neoconservatism, was introduced to Straussian ideology while earning his PhD under him at the University of Chicago.23

Shadia Drury, professor of political theory at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, wrote an extensive analysis of Straussian ideology in two books, The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss24 and Leo Strauss and the American Right.25 She deftly argued that the use of deception and manipulation in current US policy flows directly from the doctrines espoused by Strauss, including the philosophy that deception is the normal process in politics. Therefore secrecy is a paramount goal of government, especially regarding foreign policy issues.

According to Drury, Strauss believed that society comprised three classes of people, of which only the "wise elite" were capable of governing. He proposed that the elites were required to engage in "perpetual deception" over those that were to be ruled.

There are indeed three types of men: the wise, the gentlemen, and the vulgar. The wise are the lovers of the harsh, unadulterated truth. They are capable of looking into the abyss without fear and trembling. They recognise neither God nor moral imperatives. They are devoted above all else to their own pursuit of the "higher" pleasures.

The second type, the gentlemen, are lovers of honour and glory. They are the most ingratiating toward the conventions of their society — that is, the illusions of the cave. They are true believers in God, honour, and moral imperatives. They are ready and willing to embark on acts of great courage and self-sacrifice at a moment's notice.

The third type, the vulgar many, are lovers of wealth and pleasure. They are selfish, slothful, and indolent. They can be inspired to rise above their brutish existence only by fear of impending death or catastrophe.26

In Strauss's framework, "those who are fit to rule are those who realize there is no morality and that there is only one natural right — the right of the superior to rule over the inferior The people are told what they need to know and no more."27 While the elite are capable of absorbing the absence of any moral truth, Strauss thought, the masses could not be exposed to the truth or they would fall into nihilism or anarchy. His ideology of governing via secrecy, deception, and the imperative of a broad external threat to "inspire the vulgar many" provides a tragic parallel to the neoconservative strategy regarding Iraq.

Strauss was openly contemptuous of secular democracy — he stated that religion is absolutely essential for imposing moral law on the masses (or vulgar many). At the same time, he stressed, religion is to be reserved for the masses, as the ruling elite need not be bound by it. He argued it would be illogical for the rulers to be bound by religion, since the truths proclaimed by religion are in his words "a pious fraud."28 Hence, secular society is the least desirable situation because it leads to individualism, liberalism, and relativism.

Ironically, while these traits are those the founders of the United States viewed as most desirable, in the Straussian ideology these ideals only promote dissent, which weakens society's ability to cope with external threats. Strauss was ambivalent as to which religion was needed to facilitate social control of the masses, only that a religion was required.

Strauss also believed that the inherently aggressive nature of human beings could only be restrained by a powerful nationalistic state: "Because mankind is intrinsically wicked, he has to be governed .. Such governance can only be established, however, when men are united — and they can only be united against other people."29 [emphasis added] Drury observed that the requirement of "perpetual war" in the Straussian political framework and an "external threat" must exist, even if it is manufactured. She concluded with this foreboding analysis of how Straussian philosophy permeated the underlying neoconservative political strategy:

In short, they all thought that man's humanity depended on his willingness to rush naked into battle and headlong to his death. Only perpetual war can overturn the modern project, with its emphasis on self-preservation and 'creature comforts.'

This terrifying vision fits perfectly well with the desire for honour and glory that the neo-conservative gentlemen covet. It also fits very well with the religious sensibilities of gentlemen. The combination of religion and nationalism is the elixir that Strauss advocates as the way to turn natural, relaxed, hedonistic men into devout nationalists willing to fight and die for their God and country.

I never imagined when I wrote my first book on Strauss that the unscrupulous elite that he elevates would ever come so close to political power, nor that the ominous tyranny of the wise would ever come so close to being realized in the political life of a great nation like the United States. But fear is the greatest ally of tyranny.30

Straussian ideology regarding foreign policy, plainly Machiavellian in orientation, was expanded and formally articulated by neoconservative groups, such as the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Karl Rove, President Bush's political advisor, boasted that he read Machiavelli's The Prince for insights into his political strategy.31 Straussian governing philosophy requires strict secrecy, and this was certainly the case with the preplanned invasion of Iraq.

In January 2003, the Washington Post reported that six days after the 9/11 attack, President Bush approved a 2%-page document marked Top Secret outlining the plan for a war in Afghanistan. Interestingly, according to "senior administration officials," this document also contained a footnote that "directed the Pentagon to begin military options for an invasion of Iraq."'2 [emphasis added]

In his second book on the Bush administration, Plan of Attack, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward revealed that President Bush privately asked Donald Rumsfeld to create a secret war plan for Iraq on November 16, 2001." According to Woodward, on that same day General Franks received a formal request from Rumsfeld to draft a "commander's estimate," basically the notification to prepare a specific plan to invade Iraq. Franks, occupied with the one-month-old war in Afghanistan, was reportedly shocked and incredulous at this request. After settling down, he remarked, "Man, I just can't imagine this is something we're going to be doing anytime soon."34

Woodward's book and a subsequent interview with CBS News reinforced that Bush decided to invade Iraq well before he received congressional permission on the Iraq War Resolution. In the summer of 2002 Bush approved, without congressional authorization or notification, the secret reallocation of $700 million designated for Afghanistan to be secretly spent on "preparatory tasks" in the Persian Gulf region (i.e., 30 projects that included upgrading airfields, bases, fuel pipelines, and munitions storage depots to accommodate a massive US troop deployment).35 Setting aside the Constitutional and legal issues raised by this abuse of power, these decisions exposed intentional obfus-cation in the fundamental decision-making process in the executive branch. During this time the Bush administration continued to deny that a decision had been made regarding an invasion of Iraq, but the facts speak for themselves.

As Straussian theory requires, an "external threat" was created during the autumn of 2002. This campaign was designed to create the requisite societal fear so the "wise" rulers could pursue a strategy kept secret from the "vulgar masses." Religion has often been invoked as a divine force guiding our political leaders in a battle of "good versus evil," while the mantra "United We Stand" created the necessary hyper-nationalism to drown out critical analysis of the facts surrounding the coming war. Under the threat of mushroom clouds, our prime nemesis, Osama bin Laden, was skillfully transformed by the Bush administration into our old-yet-new public enemy number one, Saddam Hussein.

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  • Tobold
    When did the petrodollar come into existence?
    9 years ago

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