Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Insane teacher be there reminded of the rhyme

Joseph from MartiniRepublic's invitation to discuss the spiritual world recently led me to post about religion. As well, we saw interesting responses from RJ Eskow and Pamela at TheDemocraticDaily.

Followng in that proud tradition, I'm going to attempt, without a net, a multi-part mini-series about spiritual and religious issues facing the Left today.

Today, let's consider Leo Strauss.

Often both praised and reviled as the Capo to the Neo-Conservative movement, Strauss is indeed a complex figure. While teaching philosophy at the University of Chicago's Department of Poli Sci, he made many lofty pronouncements, and excited both admiration as well as revulsion in many who delved into his works. Think Noam Chomsky of the Right.

Many graduates of U of Chi made their way into public service, as well as prominence in conservative politics, among them John Ashcroft, Paul Wolfowitz, Ahmed Chalabi (!) as well as authors Saul Bellow and Allen Bloom.

While reading Nicholas Xenos' "Leo Strauss and the Rhetoric of the War on Terror" at www.logosjournal.com, we find more information.

Other devotees of Strauss include William Krystol, Nathan Tarcov, a University of Chicago professor and a former student of Strauss, and Carnes Lord, who was a member of the National Security Staff, and Paul Wolfowitz. Later on, William Kristol and Carnes Lord were part of Vice President Dan Quayle’s staff.

As Xenos continues:

Straussians have been around Washington for twenty years. In a sense, they invite the criticism of being a cult or a conspiracy by the networking that they do, by their purposive replication, and by the use of a certain kind of coded language. (For example, whenever Strauss talked about someone’s theory he referred to his “teaching,” and this is a term similarly deployed by all Straussians.) Strauss and his descendants use all kinds of stilted, oftentimes archaic language, and some of that language has found its way into the rhetoric of the so-called war on terror.

The most obvious place where one sees it is in the administration’s use of the term “regime.” Some people were surprised by what it turned out “regime change” meant, but one would not have been surprised if one were familiar with Leo Strauss’s writings or those of the Straussians. “Regime” is the term that Strauss used to translate the Greek politeia, an Aristotelian category, and Strauss understood it to mean—what it more or less does mean in Aristotle—the form of a city; that is, its essence as opposed to the unformed humans, the matter, that the city forms. Aristotle, in Book Three of the Politics, makes the case that there are different kinds of polities—democracies, aristocracies, and so on—and that in each case, if one changes into another one it changes essentially; it changes its form into something else. And the citizens are different, they are changed—the citizen of a democracy is not a citizen in an aristocracy—so it is a total transformation of the city’s essence, a formal transformation. Thus Strauss wrote that “a change of regime transforms a given city into another city,” into something totally different. So to talk about “regime change,” which was a relatively new term in the discourse of international relations, meant a total transformation of the model of the society in question rather than a simple change of government in the narrow sense. This has had immediate effects in the policy in Iraq.

Sounds about right. But let's look back into Strauss' history for some context. Xenos again:

He wrote a book on Spinoza published in 1930 and left Germany in 1932 on a Rockefeller Foundation grant for research on Thomas Hobbes in Paris and London. He was thus in Paris when the Nazis took power. However, Strauss should not be confused with the anti-Nazi refugees who soon arrived in the French capital, because at this time he was a committed anti-liberal, in the German sense of anti-liberal, which is to say, among other things, an anti-parliamentarian. Also in 1932, he wrote an extended review of a book by the German legal and political theorist Carl Schmitt entitled The Concept of the Political, in which Schmitt articulated his notion that the core of the political problem is the distinction between friends and enemies. Schmitt later became a member of the Nazi party and a leading figure in the main legal organization of the Third Reich. In Strauss’s review, he criticized Schmitt from the political right. He argued that “the critique introduced by Schmitt against liberalism can . . . be completed only if one succeeds in gaining a horizon beyond liberalism. In such a horizon Hobbes completed the foundation of liberalism. A radical critique of liberalism is thus possible only on the basis of an adequate understanding of Hobbes.”[ii] His point was that Schmitt was, in his criticisms of liberalism, working within the bounds of liberal society because liberalism had become so dominant that it was difficult see beyond it anymore, and it was thus necessary to go back to Hobbes to see what was there before. What was there before was a very strong sense of the absolute dichotomies of good and evil. For Strauss, Hobbes represents the foundation of liberalism and modernism in the claim that these notions of good and evil are nominalist; they simply do not exist in anything other than our judgment about them. So Strauss was suggesting that you had to go back before liberalism to reconnect with the sort of absolutist distinctions upon which Schmitt was attempting to ground the political.

. . .

Strauss wrote to Löwith in May 1933, five months after Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor and a month after implementation of the first anti-Jewish legislation, that “Just because Germany has turned to the right and has expelled us,” meaning Jews, “it simply does not follow that the principles of the right are therefore to be rejected. To the contrary, only on the basis of principles of the right—fascist, authoritarian, imperial [emphasis in original]—is it possible in a dignified manner, without the ridiculous and pitiful appeal to ‘the inalienable rights of man’ to protest against the mean nonentity,” the mean nonentity being the Nazi party. In other words, he is attacking the Nazis from the right in this letter.

That's an especially detached and de-personalized assessment of the Nazi Party. I would conclude from that that Strauss had an established agenda, and found support wherever he could, damn the inconveniences.

Two months later, in July 1933, he wrote to Schmitt—he did not realize that Schmitt had joined the Nazi party, or seemed not to fully understand what the regime was about in terms of its anti-Semitism—asking for help in getting entrée to Charles Maurras, the French right-wing Catholic leader of the Action Française. What all of this suggests is that in the 1930s Strauss was not an anti-liberal in the sense in which we commonly mean “anti-liberal” today, but an anti-democrat in a fundamental sense, a true reactionary. Strauss was somebody who wanted to go back to a previous, pre-liberal, pre-bourgeois era of blood and guts, of imperial domination, of authoritarian rule, of pure fascism. Like Schmitt, what Strauss hated about liberalism, among other things, was its inability to make absolute judgments, its inability to take action. And, like Schmitt, he sought a way out in a kind of pre-liberal decisiveness. I would suggest that this description of fascist, authoritarian, imperial principles accurately describes the current imperial project of the United States. Because of this, examining the foundational elements of Strauss’s political theory helps us to see something important about our current situation, independently of any kind of Straussian direct influence, although there is certainly some of that.

Regarding his tenure at U of Chi, Francis Boyle, Professor of Law, University of Illinois School of Law and graduate of U of Chi has this to say:

It is now a matter of public record that immediately after the terrible tragedy of September 11, 2001, U.S. Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld and his pro-Israeli "Neoconservative" Deputy Paul Wolfowitz began to plot, plan, scheme and conspire to wage a war of aggression against Iraq by manipulating the tragic events of September 11th in order to provide a pretext for doing so. Of course Iraq had nothing at all to do with September 11th or supporting Al-Qaeda . But that made no difference to Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and the numerous other pro-Israeli Neo-cons in the Bush Jr. administration.

These pro-Israeli Neo-cons had been schooled in the Machiavellian/Nietzschean theories of Professor Leo Strauss, who taught political philosophy at the University of Chicago in their Department of Political Science. The best expose of Strauss's pernicious theories on law, politics, government, for elitism, and against democracy can be found in two scholarly books by the Canadian Professor Shadia B. Drury: The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss (1988); Leo Strauss and the American Right (1999). I entered the University of Chicago in September of 1968 shortly after Strauss had retired. But I was trained in Chicago's Political Science Department by Strauss's foremost protege, co-author, and literary executor Joseph Cropsey. Based upon my personal experience as an alumnus of Chicago's Political Science Department (A.B., 1971, in Political Science), I concur completely with Professor Drury's devastating critique of Strauss. I also agree with her penetrating analysis of the degradation of the American political process by Chicago's Straussian cabal.

Chicago routinely trained me and numerous other students to become ruthless and unprincipled Machiavellians. That is precisely why so many neophyte Neo-con students gravitated towards the University of Chicago or towards Chicago Alumni at other universities. The University of Chicago became the "brains" behind the Bush Jr. Empire and his Ashcroft Police State. Attorney General John Ashcroft received his law degree from the University of Chicago in 1967. Many of his "lawyers" at the Department of Injustice are members of the right-wing, racist, bigoted, reactionary, and totalitarian Federalist Society (aka "Feddies"), which originated in part at the University of Chicago.

Although miseducated at Yale and Harvard Business School, the "Ivies" proved to be too liberal for Bush Jr. and his fundamentalist Christian supporters, whose pointman and spearcarrier in the Bush Jr. administration was Ashcroft, a Fundie himself. The Neo-cons and the Fundies contracted an "unholy alliance" in support of Bush Jr. across the board. For their own different reasons, both groups also worked hand-in-hand to support Israel's genocidal Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, an internationally acknowledged war criminal. Strange bedfellows indeed.

. . .

It was the Chicago Straussian cabal of pro-Israeli Neo-cons who set up a separate "intelligence" unit within the Pentagon that was responsible for manufacturing many of the bald-faced lies, deceptions, half-truths, and outright propaganda that the Bush Jr. administration then disseminated to the lap-dog U.S. news media in order to generate public support for a war of aggression against Iraq for the benefit of Israel and in order to steal Iraq's oil. To paraphrase something Machiavelli once advised his Prince in Chapter XVIII of that book: Those who want to deceive will always find those willing to be deceived. As I can attest from my personal experience as an alumnus of the University of Chicago Department of Political Science, the Bible of Chicago's pro-Israeli Neo-con Straussian cabal is Machiavelli's The Prince.

As for the University of Chicago overall, its Bible is Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind (1987). Of course Bloom was another protege of Strauss, as well as a mentor to Wolfowitz. In his latest novel Ravelstein (2000) Saul Bellow, formerly on the University of Chicago Faculty, outed his self-styled friend Bloom as a hedonist, pederast, and most promiscuous homosexual who died of AIDS. All this was common knowledge at the University of Chicago, where Bloom is still worshipped and his elitist screed against American higher-education still revered. In Ravelstein Wolfowitz appeared as Bloom's protege Philip Gorman, and Strauss as Bloom's mentor and guru Professor Davarr. Strauss/Davarr is really the eminence grise of the novel. With friends like Bellow, Bloom did not need enemies.

As to Strauss' feeling about religion, my primary reason for writing this, we turn to Jim Lobe writing for Alternet:

According to Drury, Strauss had a "huge contempt" for secular democracy. Nazism, he believed, was a nihilistic reaction to the irreligious and liberal nature of the Weimar Republic. Among other neoconservatives, Irving Kristol has long argued for a much greater role for religion in the public sphere, even suggesting that the Founding Fathers of the American Republic made a major mistake by insisting on the separation of church and state. And why? Because Strauss viewed religion as absolutely essential in order to impose moral law on the masses who otherwise would be out of control.

At the same time, he stressed that religion was for the masses alone; the rulers need not be bound by it. Indeed, it would be absurd if they were, since the truths proclaimed by religion were "a pious fraud." As Ronald Bailey, science correspondent for Reason magazine points out, "Neoconservatives are pro-religion even though they themselves may not be believers."

"Secular society in their view is the worst possible thing,'' Drury says, 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. Bailey argues that it is this firm belief in the political utility of religion as an "opiate of the masses" that helps explain why secular Jews like Kristol in 'Commentary' magazine and other neoconservative journals have allied themselves with the Christian Right and even taken on Darwin's theory of evolution.

Aligned thus with Marx, at least in re: religion (Religion is the opiate of the masses), we understand Strauss as a devotee of Machiavelli. At a time when the Right is seeking domination of both US policy and World influence, it makes sense that Strauss' ideology would attract folks who believe these goals to be worthwhile.

Keep in mind that while the Radical Right pundits have made a talking point of the words "Liberal Elite," in Straussian philosophy it is a Right-wing elite who rule. Apologists for Strauss contend that he offers wisdom to all who chose to follow his path, and that no one is denied knowledge. Perhaps, but his contention still stands that, like "The Prince," a "wise" class will rule, not that the ruling class be wise. Big difference, in my opinion.

To be continued.


MJS said...

Excellent post.

"Secular society in their view is the worst possible thing,'' Drury says, 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.

That observation speaks volumes: the outward form of a society must be manipulated to keep an actual, organic society from growing: it's Ayn Rand on crystal meth. Let us take from Hamlet his head, and leave only the body.

It's as though "religion" has no usable content at all, so to actually speak to the poetic view of existence would be seen as pointless by Straussians and their ilk. Life seems to be very Adlerian, and very nasty, brutish and short.

The truth is one, the sages call it by many names.



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