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Neo-conservatism: The Cult of American Ascendancy or Moral Bankruptcy?
"As has been demonstrated by their recent actions, especially the Libby case, there is no doubt that neocons don’t mind conning America to bring about their utopian ideals. It is they who are the greatest threat to the US and the rest of our planet. It is ironic that they have decided to conquer the world in the name of liberty and democracy, when they have so little regard for either."
It is said that the last two political philosophers who both influenced world events and shared many of the worldviews of today's neocons were Nicolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), who published "The Prince" in Italy in 1515, and Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels (who inspired a young Adolf Hitler with his magazine "Ostara"). Neo-conservatism, as a strategy and philosophy of government owes it to them.
The modern-day neo-conservatism comes from the far left - a group historically identified as former Trotskyites, and was introduced to America in the 1960s by Professor Leo Strauss of the University of Chicago. The ideas of President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09) were quite similar to many of the views of present-day neocons.
The old conservatism relied on tradition and history. It was moderate and slow or careful to change. The new or “neo” conservatism, under Straussians, is not slow or moderate, but dynamic, destructive, diehard and reactionary in every sense of the term. Thus, there’s nothing “neo” about neoconservative views, and surely nothing conservative. Yet today’s neocons have been able to hijack the conservative movement by claiming themselves as vanguards of a new or modern form of conservatism.
Both Paul Wolfowitz (who now runs the World Bank) and Abram Shulsky, director of the Office of Special Plans (OSP), received their doctorates under Strauss in 1972. [The OSP was created specifically to find the evidence of WMDs and/or links with Al Qaeda, piece it together, and seal the case for the invasion of Iraq.] During the Cold War, Shulsky’s area of expertise was Soviet disinformation techniques, which it seems he was able to modify zealously in the OSP in cooking up the case against Saddam.
Others closely linked with neoconservative views are: Richard Perle (Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and Member of the Defense Policy Board), Douglas Feith (former undersecretary of defense for policy at the Pentagon – and overseer of the OSP) and Elliott Abrams (special assistant to the president focusing on Middle East affairs) – all former aides to (late) Senator “Scoop” Jackson (d. 1983), who is considered an icon figure among neoconservatives. They are all ardent Likudnik Zionists who played major roles in designing America’s new strategy of preemptive war. Other notable neocons include: William Bennett (author of Book of Virtues); Michael Ledeen of the AEI; former CIA Director James Woolsey; Gary Schmitt [director of the influential Project for the New American Century (PNAC)], Norman Podhoretz, Samuel Huntington, Francis Fukuyama, Frank Gaffney Jr. (CSP); Robert Kagan (PNAC); William Kristol (editor of Weekly Standard); Stephen Cambone (Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence), “Scooter” Libby (Cheney’s former chief of staff, lately indicted on five counts), John Hannah (Libby’s former assistant, now promoted as Cheney’s national security adviser), John Bolton (US ambassador to the UN); (Defense Secretary) Donald Rumsfeld and (Vice President) Dick Cheney. The godfather of modern-day neo-conservatism is Irving Kristol, father of Bill Kristol, who set the stage in 1983 with his publication Reflections of a Neoconservative.
The neocon institutions and publications include: American Enterprise Institute(AEI), Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), Center for Security Policy (CSP), Hudson Institute, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Bradley Foundation, Heritage Foundation, Jamestown Institute, Smith Richardson Foundation, John M. Olin Foundation, Project for the New American Century (PNAC), Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies; Commentary, National Review, New Republic, National Interest, Public Interest, Policy Review, Washington Times, Weekly Standard and Front Page Magazine.
In order to understand today’s U.S. policies and the subsequent problems facing the nation for years to come, it is, therefore, important to recognize the philosophic connection between modern-day neoconservatives, Leo Strauss and Machiavelli.
In his book “The Prince,” Machiavelli describes two types of governments – monarchies and republics. His focus, however, is on the former. The most controversial aspect of his thesis is that some “virtues” will lead to a prince’s destruction, whereas some “vices” will allow him to survive. He also argues that it is better for a prince to be feared than loved and that the prince should know how to be deceitful when it suits purpose.
Leo Strauss was a Jewish émigré from Germany who arrived in the United States in 1938 and later taught political philosophy at several major universities before his death in 1973. Like many other philosophically-inclined German students of the time, he attended the lectures of Martin Heidegger, a very controversial philosopher of the Nazi era. Strauss was preoccupied with the goal of figuring out how to prevent America from falling into the same trap of a decline into fascism that Germany had. Ironically, he himself fell into the trap of “fascistic ends-justifies-the-means” thinking.
One of Strauss’s books was Thoughts on Machiavelli in which he approved of Machiavelli’s philosophy. Strauss believed that the person who whispers in the ear of the ruler is more important than the ruler. He was consistently suspicious of anything claiming to be a solution to an old political or philosophical problem. He was very skeptical of "progress.” He spoke of the danger in trying to ever finally resolve the debate between rationalism and traditionalism in politics.
Professor Shadia Drury of University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada is among the world's foremost scholars on the history, philosophy and politics of neo-conservatism. She is the author of the acclaimed books Leo Strauss and the American Right (1998) and The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss (1988). Her recent article “Saving America: Leo Strauss and the neoconservatives” is very useful to understand the subject. There, Drury also offers an insight into the minds of the disciples of Strauss: “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 - because liberal democracy is about as far as one can get from the truth as Strauss understood it.” Is it any difficult to understand why the neocons lied about WMDs to justify the invasion of Iraq?
Strauss was an unabashed critic of modern liberalism and was interested in governments taking a greater interest in the problem of human excellence and political virtue. Through his writings, Strauss constantly raised the question of how, and to what extent, freedom and excellence can coexist.
Drury says, “Strauss's disciples … are afraid to speak the truth openly, lest they are persecuted by the vulgar many who do not wish to be ruled by them. This explains why they are eager to misrepresent the nature of Strauss's thought. They are afraid to reveal that Strauss was a critic of liberalism and democracy, lest he be regarded as an enemy of America. So, they wrap him in the American flag and pretend that he is a champion of liberal democracy for political reasons - their own quest for power. The result is that they run roughshod over truth as well as democracy.” Strauss, According to Drury, was “the enemy of liberty in general. It was for love of America that he wished to save her from her disastrous love affair with liberty...”
Are we, therefore, surprised to see what neocons - Richard Perle and David Frum (former speech writer for President Bush) – advocated in their book "An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror"? Following the footstep of Strauss, they advocated establishing a government database (including national identity card with biometric data for everyone) and surveillance system that would dwarf the worst form of statism that the world has ever seen.
Strauss had a "huge contempt" for secular democracy, and so do his disciples. Drury says, "Secular society in their view is the worst possible thing, because it leads to individualism, liberalism, and relativism, precisely those traits that may promote dissent that in turn could dangerously weaken society's ability to cope with external threats.”
Strauss believed Nazism to be a nihilistic reaction to the ungodly and liberal nature of the Weimar Republic. He wanted religion to impose moral law on the masses who would otherwise be out of control. At the same time, he stressed that the rulers need not be bound by it.
In his approach to philosophical texts, Strauss taught that there was the distinction between 'esoteric' and 'exoteric' readings. He maintained that philosophers very often concealed their true thoughts beneath an exoteric teaching; only a careful study would reveal the true or esoteric teaching. Primarily, philosophers did this to protect their own lives, and to guard against the detrimental effects of philosophy upon people who cannot understand it fully.
Strauss, according to Drury, was not as obscure or as esoteric as his admirers pretend. There were certain indisputable themes in his work. The most underlying theme was the distinction between the ancients and the moderns. Drury writes, “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 ancients denied that there is any natural right to liberty. Human beings are born neither free nor equal. The natural human condition is not one of freedom, but of subordination. And in Strauss's estimation, they were right in thinking that there is only one natural right - the right of the superior to rule over the inferior - the master over the slave, the husband over the wife, and the wise few over the vulgar many.” This dichotomy requires "perpetual deception" between the rulers and the ruled, according to Drury.
In a 1999 essay titled "Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence (By Which We Do Not Mean Nous)" (in Greek philosophy the term nous denotes the highest form of rationality), Shulsky and Schmitt, two neocons, argue that Strauss's idea of hidden meaning "alerts one to the possibility that political life may be closely linked to deception. Indeed, it suggests that deception is the norm in political life, and the hope, to say nothing of the expectation, of establishing a politics that can dispense with it is the exception."
Strauss' attitude toward foreign policy was downright Machiavellian. "Strauss thinks that a political order can be stable only if it is united by an external threat," Drury wrote in her book. "Following Machiavelli, he maintained that if no external threat exists then one has to be manufactured." "Perpetual war, not perpetual peace, is what Straussians believe in," says Drury. The idea, in her words, simply translates into an "aggressive, belligerent foreign policy," of the kind, scripted by neocon think tanks like the PNAC and AEI, which has become the hallmark of the Bush Administration since 9/11.
Drury wrote, “Hitler had a profound contempt for the masses - the same contempt that is readily observed in Strauss and his cohorts. But when force of circumstances made it necessary to appeal to the masses, Hitler advocated lies, myths, and illusions as necessary pabulum to placate the people and make them comply with the will of the Fürer. Strauss's political philosophy advocates the same solution to the problem of the recalcitrant masses. … The trouble is that neoconservatives have zero tolerance for human vices or follies, and as a result, they are unwilling to give liberty a chance. … Strauss had no objections to democracy as long as a wise elite, inspired by the profound truths of the ancients, was able to shape, invent, or create the will of the people.”
Let us next look at the views Michael Ledeen, who is one of the foremost theorists of the neoconservative movement today. Like his spiritual mentor Leo Strauss, he is a great admirer of Machiavelli. His 1999 book - Machiavelli on Modern Leadership - offers some clue to his mind and why he thinks that Machiavelli’s iron rules are as timely and important today as five centuries ago. In his more recent book, The War Against the Terror Masters, he reiterated those beliefs. He specifically praises: “Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our own society and abroad… Our enemies … fear us, for they do not wish to be undone. They cannot feel secure so long as we are there.” Ledeen concludes: “They must attack us in order to survive, just as we must destroy them to advance our historic mission.”
In Machiavelli on Modern Leadership, Ledeen praises a business leader for correctly understanding Machiavelli: “There are no absolute solutions. It all depends. What is right and what is wrong depends on what needs to be done and how.” This is a clear endorsement of situation ethics.
Ledeen, like Strauss, believes man is basically evil and cannot be left to his own desires. Therefore, he must have proper and strong leadership, just as Machiavelli argued. Only then can man achieve good, as Ledeen explains: “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…we are rotten.” Ledeen argues, “It’s true that we can achieve greatness if, and only if, we are properly led.” In other words, man is so stupid that they are incapable of ethical, moral and spiritual greatness without being dictated by a powerful authoritarian leader.
Since the publication of his book Universal Fascism in 1972, Ledeen has been accused of being an apologist for fascism, which to him was the ‘Revolution of the 20th century.’ He said that the fascist state was “a generator of energy and creativity.” He criticized Mussolini not for being revolutionary enough; Mussolini “never had enough confidence in the Italian people to permit them a genuine participation in fascism.”
Ledeen and the neocons, like their mentors Machiavelli and Strauss, recognize the importance of exploiting religion for political means. According to Ledeen, religious zeal is especially necessary when force is used to promote an agenda. Ledeen explains why God must always be on the side of advocates of war: “Without fear of God, no state can last long, for the dread of eternal damnation keeps men in line, causes them to honor their promises, and inspires them to risk their lives for the common good.” Ledeen adds: “Without fear of punishment, men will not obey laws that force them to act contrary to their passions. Without fear of arms, the state cannot enforce the laws.”
Today’s neocons are mostly Likudnik Zionists. They are for legitimizing illegitimate, UN-defying claims of the Zionist state. They want entire Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria to remain with Israel. But such cannot happen without emotional support from Christian majority, especially its evangelical sector that now number 70 million in the USA. Following the Straussian strategy, therefore, they have tied their unholy knots with Christian evangelicals, who in turn have become their most passionate supporters in promoting the immoral doctrine of preemptive war. They are all agog for the US to use force to change regimes and altering the map of the Middle East. They are also the best supporters of the rogue state outside Israel.
Neocons crave for an external threat to bring into fruition their agenda of world hegemony. Following Strauss, Ledeen thus writes: “…of course, we can always get lucky. Stunning events from outside can providentially awaken the enterprise from its growing torpor, and demonstrate the need for reversal, as the devastating Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 so effectively aroused the U.S. from its soothing dreams of permanent neutrality.” Ledeen calls Pearl Harbor a “lucky” event for waking up the sleeping giant. The PNAC, as one may recall, as recently as September 2000, likewise, anticipated the necessity for a “Pearl Harbor” type event that would arouse Americans to back up their ruthless plan for global hegemony, while smashing any potential “rival.”
One can only ponder if there is any similarity between 9/11 and Parl Harbor. One thing for sure that 9/11 has revitalized the neoconservative movement and catapulted it to a brief but heady hegemony over the foreign policy of the United States. Soon after 9-11, Rumsfeld and others neocon hawks argued for an immediate attack on Iraq, even though Iraq was not implicated in the attacks. Michael Ledeen and other neoconservatives are already lobbying for war against Iran and Syria.
And there are those who see 9/11 as the 1933 Reichstag fire of our time. That arson attack on the Weimer Republic was blamed on the communists and not the Nazis. It eventually solidified Hitler’s hold on Germany.
To sum up, neocons: (1) want the US to be the world's unchallenged superpower; (2) share slavish and unwavering support for Israel and have close ties with the Likud Party; (3) support Likud’s agenda to retain Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel; (4) support American unilateral action; (5) support preemptive strikes to remove perceived threats to US security; (6) promote the development of an American empire; (7) equate American power with the potential for world peace; (8) seek to democratize the Arab world; (9) push regime change in states deemed threats to the US or its allies; (10) want the US to fight Israel’s proxy war to make the region safer for Israel.
Neocons also agree with Trotsky on permanent revolution - violent as well as intellectual. They venerate Leo Strauss. They are for redrawing the map of the Middle East and are willing to use force to do so. They accept the notion that the ends justify the means. They express no opposition to the welfare state. They believe lying is necessary for the state to survive. They believe pertinent facts about how a society should be run, i.e., by the elite (who would whisper into the ears of the ruler). They endorse attacks on civil liberties, such as those found in the Patriot Act, as being necessary. They believe neutrality in foreign affairs is ill-advised.
Neocons are the most powerful, the most organized, and the best-funded ideologues in the western world. They also run the most sought-after reactionary think tanks and foundations. That is why they have been able to occupy important positions since the Reagan days and continue to play a significant role within the Bush (Jr.) Administration and the Republican Party.
As has been demonstrated by their recent actions, especially the Libby case, there is no doubt that neocons don’t mind conning America to bring about their utopian ideals. It is they who are the greatest threat to the US and the rest of our planet. It is ironic that they have decided to conquer the world in the name of liberty and democracy, when they have so little regard for either. Their movement represents the epitome of fascism. Their ideology is based on flawed notion of ‘clash of civilizations’ – a sure recipe for more war, more violence, more death and destruction, and more disaster. It would neither make America any secure nor bring peace into our world. It would only rob us of our humanity. Sooner we dump the champions of this morally bankrupt philosophy the better we are to delay the clock of Armageddon from ticking.
Will America have the moral courage to dump these evil whisperers into the dustbin of history before it is too late?
. Irving Kristol wrote in 1983 that he was “proud” to have been a member of the Fourth International in 1940. Other former Trotskyites that are now neocons include James Burnhamd and Max Kampelman.
. See, Seymour Hersh’s “Selective Intelligence,” Fact: Annals of National Security, the New Yorker magazine issue of 2003-05-12.
. In his student days in Germany, Strauss was known as a Zionist.
. Strauss is also accused of being a life-long collaborator and promoter of Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt. (See, e.g., Jeffrey Steinberg’s article: “Synarchism: The Fascist Roots of the Wolfwitz Cabal,” Executive Intelligence Review, May 20, 2003.)
. Op. cit.
. Lately David Frum led media barrage against Supreme Court nomination of Ms. Miers, which forced her to withdraw her nomination (October 27, 2005).
. Op. cit.
. See also Seymour Hersh’s report on neo-conservatism in the New Yorker magazine, where he makes similar conclusions.
. Jim Lobe, http://www.alternet.org/story/15935/
. Ledeen says, “It’s been true throughout history and remains true today, each side of major conflicts invokes God’s approval. Our side refers to a “crusade;” theirs to a “holy Jihad.” Too often wars boil down to their god against our God. It seems this principle is more a cynical effort to gain approval from the masses, especially those most likely to be killed for the sake of the war promoters on both sides who have power, prestige and wealth at stake.”
. See Congressman Ron Paul’s analysis, op. cit., for a detailed analysis of these ideas.
. Norman Podhoretz argued “changes of regime are the sine qua non throughout the region.” He suggested that “At a minimum, the axis should extend to Syria and Lebanon and Libya, as well as ‘friends’ of America like the Saudi royal family and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, along with the Palestinian Authority.” [In praise of Bush doctrine, Commentary, September 2002]
. http://www.thelibertycommittee.org/neo-conned.htm (Ron Paul ‘s Neoconned’)
. See, e.g., Jeffrey Steinberg, op. cit.
. The Christian Science Monitor has an excellent piece “Neocon 101,” which is worth reading to understand this philosophy. Congressman Ron Paul’s addresses the U.S. House of Representatives –“Neo-conned” – dated July 10, 2003, is also very informative and useful.
by courtesy & © 2005 Habib Siddiqui
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