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Neoconservatism Bulletin, 2005

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[Nov 3, 2005] John Walsh the Philosophy of Mendacity Lies of the Neocons: From Leo Strauss to Scooter Libby

All governments lie as I. F. Stone famously observed, but some governments lie more than others. And the neocon Bush regime serves up whoppers as standard fare every day. Why this propensity to lie? There are many reasons, but it is not widely appreciated that the neocons believe in lying on principle. It is the "noble" thing for the elite to do, for the "vulgar" masses, the "herd" will become ungovernable without such lies. This is the idea of the "noble lie" practiced with such success and boldness by Scooter Libby and his co-conspirators and concocted by the political "philosopher" Leo Strauss whose teachings lie at the core of the neoconservative outlook and agenda, so much so that they are sometimes called "Leocons."

Leo Strauss (1899-1973) was a Jewish-German émigré from the Nazi regime who eventually landed at the University of Chicago where he developed a following that has achieved enormous prominence in American politics. Among his students were Paul Wolfowitz who has openly acknowledged that he is a follower of Straus as has the godfather of neconservatism, Irving Kristol. Irving Kristol begat William Kristol, the director of operation for the DC neocons, editor of the Weekly Standard and "chairman" of the Project for the New American Century, which laid out the plans for the Iraq War. (PNAC also opined in 2000 that a Pearl Harbor-like event would be necessary to take the country to war, and one year later, presto, we had the strange and still mysterious attack of September 11.) For his part Paul Wolfowitz begat Libby, in the intellectual sense, when he taught Libby at Yale. Others stars in the necon firmament are Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and lesser figures like Abram Shulsky, director of the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, created by Donald Rumsfeld. Shulsky, also a student of Strauss, was responsible for fabricating the lies masquerading as intelligence that were designed to get the U.S. into the war on Iraq. While the neocons have a passion for the Likud party and Zionism, they also count among their number not a few pre-Vatican II Catholics and an assortment of cranks like Newt Gingrich and John Bolton and crypto fascists like Jeanne Kirkpatrick. The list goes on and Justin Raimondo has documented it in great detail over the years on But it is enough to note that Cheney's alter ego was Libby, and Rumsfeld's second in command until recently was Wolfowitz. So both Cheney, the de facto president with an apparently ill perfused cerebrum, and the geezer commanding the Pentagon have been managed by younger and very prominent Straussians for the past five years.

A superb account of the ideas of Strauss, his followers and his influence is to be found in The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss (hereafter PI) and Leo Strauss and The American Right (hereafter AR), both by Shadia Drury, professor of politics at the University of Calgary. Her account of Strauss's ideas and the prominence they play in American politics today will give you chills or nausea, perhaps both. As she says in PI (p.xii), "Strauss is the key to understanding the political vision that has inspired the most powerful men in America under George W. Bush. In my view men who are in the grip of Straussian political ideas cannot be trusted with political power in any society, let alone a liberal democracy. This book explains why this is the case." For those who wish to understand the neocon agenda, Drury's books are essential reading. She is clear and thorough.

Of pertinence to "Scooter's" case and the pack of lies he was concealing is Strauss's idea that a "philosopher elite" (i.e., Straussians) must rule. Moreover they must do so covertly. As someone remarked before last Friday, "Who ever heard of I. Lewis Libby?" a man who shunned the spotlight and operated behind the scenes. The reason for such covert rule, or cabal, is that the "vulgar" herd, as Strauss liked to call the rest of us, cannot appreciate "higher truths" such as the inevitability and necessity of wars in relations between states and even the utility of wars in governing a state. So the covert elite must be certain that myths like religion or the glory of the nation are not weakened for these are among the best ways to rule over the ignorant herd and lead it into war. (Note that the Straussians themselves are not religious. They are "above" religion, capable of dealing with tough truths like man's mortality. But in their view, religion is a crucial factor in governing in their view. Irving Kristol, following Strauss, tells us that religion is "far more important politically" than the Founding Fathers believed and that to rescue America it is necessary "to breathe new life into the older, now largely comatose religious orthodoxies." (AR, p. 148). Any religion will do ­ except perhaps Islam, which is more or less verboten, given the affinity of all leading neocons for Israel. Hence the neocons readily embrace the ideology and leadership of Christian fundamentalism which can keep the crowd under control and get them to march off to war and death. The neocons are mainly interested in foreign policy, as was Strauss, but in exchange for the support of the religious Right in foreign affairs, the neocons line up behind the domestic program of the fundamentalists. It's a win win situation, from their point of view

But useful lies of the grand sort like religious myth or blind nationalism need support by lesser lies at crucial moments. And so we go to the "smaller" lies like "weapons of mass destruction," the "smoking gun that comes in the form of the mushroom cloud." And here too the elite has a role to play. They are to use their "superior rhetorical skills" to make the weak argument seem stronger. In other words the cabal not only has to protect myths and manufacture lies but go to work in selling them. What Strauss called "rhetoric," we call spin.

All of this comes down to one word: lying. But for Strauss, these lies are necessary for the smooth function of society and triumph of one's own nation in war. Hence for Strauss, the lie becomes "noble." This phrase Strauss borrows and distorts from Plato who meant by a "noble lie" a myth or parable that conveyed an underlying truth about morality or nature. But in Strauss's hands the "noble lie" becomes a way of deceiving the herd. Strauss's "noble lies are far from "noble." They are intended to "dupe the multitude and secure power for a special elite" (AR, p. 79).

One other idea of Strauss's bears on the situation of "Scooter" Libby. How is the Straussian philosophical elite going to get from the halls of academe to the corridors of power? This depends on good luck and the "chance" encounter between the powerful and the Straussian. Here the contemporary neocons go beyond Strauss and leave nothing to chance. It would even appear that they look for the stupid, gullible or those who are mentally compromised. So William Kristol becomes Vice President Quayle's chief of Staff, and Libby becomes the right hand man to the addled Cheney as well as assistant to the Quayle-like Bush. And there are many more.

Finally, Drury makes the point the Strauss and the neocons are not really conservative at all. They are radicals, at war with the entire modern enterprise which makes them turn to the ancients for their inspiration ­ and even there they need to distort the teachings of Socrates or Plato to make their case. But the Enlightenment comes to us with the advance of science to which Strauss is also hostile. He says that he is not against science as such "but popularized science or the diffusion of scientific knowledge.Science must remain the preserve of a small minority; it must be kept secret from the common man" (PI, p. 154). But this is impossible. Science by its very nature is a vast social enterprise requiring the widest possible dissemination of its findings. Any society that puts a lid on this will fail, and so by natural selection, the Straussian project is doomed to fail.

But before that happens the Straussians can do a lot of damage. As Drury says, they "cannot be trusted with political power." But we can learn from them the importance of boldness, not in the pursuit of the "noble lie" but of the truth. And we must be certain that we are vigorous as we hunt them down and get them out of power. In that effort Shadia Drury has done us a great service.

[Jan 29, 2005] Neocon Rhetoric and What It Portends

Jan 29, 2005 | Daily Kos

The Neoconservative Agenda, in 16 parts

I doubt even neocons know so clearly what they are about as we do this afternoon.

  1. Neocons equate violence in the service of unilateral American interests with moral right.
  2. To constrain American dominance is metaphysically wrong.
  3. Violence against those who oppose America is not only just, but compulsory.
  4. The preferred mode of diplomacy is implication of violent pro-American action should American interests be disregarded or defied.
  5. To disregard American interests is the same as defiance.
  6. Defiance must be confronted, decisive action taken in the context of pro-American moral clarity .
  7. Who decides what is pro-American and morally clear? Why, people who are pro-American and morally clear, of course. Who decides which are which? Those who support pro-American and morally clear action are the good guys, silly. What are pro-American and morally clear actions? Those which do not dissent or disregard American dominion. Drrr.
  8. Since all moral right derives from not only possession of might but application of same, we need a bigger defense budget, and a more aggressive stance vis a vis dissent and defiance, both at home and abroad.
  9. American interests are served by permanent military bases abroad.
  10. The carrier fleets sustain the illusion that America can come and go in response to threats to its interests, which encourages the dangerous policy of disengagement from the business of maintaining a pro-American, morally clear international order. Thus, we need to reduce the number of carrier fleets in favor of permanent land bases.
  11. We need to control the international commons. Freedom outside of pro-American, morally clear context is a nom sequitur, and that includes both access and use of outer space as well as cyberspace.
  12. Anticipatory violence against disregard and dissent to American interests is valid and serves to warn the international order of the price of even thinking about challenging America. See above - the expression of American military might is not only just, but compulsory.
  13. That which is pro-American and morally clear, per neoconservative doctrine, is mainstream. That which disgregards or dissents from neoconservatism, even to least letter, is extremism and must be crushed.
  14. "Promotion of freedom abroad" means the expanding and enhancing the decisionmaking space of America to assert its interests, and expand them as dissent and disgregard are crushed
  15. Making the world one with America through submission to American interpretation of right, law, justice and order is the sine quae non of not only American ethics, but of all ethics.
  16. To defy this agenda is terrorism, and renders the dissenter an outlaw, whether individual person or a federation of sovereign powers.
Pause for Reflection

Whoa. I had never taken the trouble to investigate the neocons so closely. These guys are spooky, and they are currently in charge. Their ethos is self-consistent and messiahanic. It requires neither deity nor religion, since it is an amoral, secular philosophy of control in which the moral actor is the state. I would argue that it is the mirror image of Stalinism -- anticommunism morphing from an opposition to communism into a totalitarian code all its own.

Being one for odd references, today I shall introduce to you the concept of the k'airth, compliments of science fiction and fantasy author C.S. Friedman from her novel In Conquest Born

In the story, there are two interstellar superpowers, Braxi and Azea, that have been deadlocked in a ten thousand year-long conflict known as the Endless War. Ostensibly, the Azeans are a peace-loving, freedom-loving, nonmilitaristic society, as opposed to the enthusiastically militarist Braxins. Regardless, over time militarism has crept into Azean culture, to the point that one dissenter in the Azean government speculates that Azea is so accustomed to war that it would fall apart without it.

The Braxins are more appreciative of both the dynamic and the danger to themselves, for the Azeans have evolved in response to the threat of Braxi by producing institutions -- and individuals -- capable of standing toe-to-toe in battle with its enemies. The k'airth is the process by which longlasting conflict changes the contestants to mirror one another, even to the point of attachment to the struggle. Victory or defeat is secondary to keeping the war immortal.

I suspect that the anticommunist origins of the neocons left them altered, such that the movement cannot exist save in apocalyptic contest with an evil worthy of its own vitality. Lacking Communism, the movement cast about right away, and identified Democrats as the next worthy opponent in their own Endless War.

Alas, the Democrats are a domestic adversary, and any violent objection to their existence would result in a second American civil war, something that would not enhance but rather diminish American power in the world for the duration, raising the cost of asserting control of the world later on.

Then along came Osama, and handed the neocons their golden goose, and the excuse to assemble their Golden Horde (a Mongol outfit that, coincidentally, put the smack down on Baghdad in the year 1258.

In Islam the neocons have an enemy that has shown, at least four times, the ability to strike at American territory to devastating effect, with potentially 2 billion recruits and no shortage of non-Muslim 'obstructionists' to American eminence. The US versus the World context is heroin for the neocons; it is a dream come true -- their dialectic imperative. All that remains is to fight back their own version of Trotskites (Buchanan) and counterrevolutionaries (that would be the Democrats), and armed with the excuse of foreign enemies engage in their own Great Purges and refine the United States into a revolutionary broadsword, pointed directly at the heart of the matter -- world dominion, perhaps not all bad in the ideal, but all decided by its own dictatorship, of its own proletariat.

History has shown how briefly ideals last when exposed to the hard radiation of absolute power; they mutate into excuses to kill without regret, without hesitation, without remorse.

The Neocons are anticommunist as compared to communist, alright; in the same way that antimatter is comparable to matter -- one the mirror of the other, and utterly deadly when placed in contact with reality.

Supplemental sources: Max Boot article here and Wiki article on PNAC here. Oh, and C.S.Friedman's In Conquest Born


This is not new (4.00 / 3)

Who are we without an enemy? Americans revel in what it is that makes them "American", but now we seem to be defining ourselves in relation to our apparent enemies.

We're not just doing this all of a sudden. The ideological shift to definition-by-opposition began with the FDR-sponsored propaganda program in WW2, and was smoothly transitioned from the Nazi enemy to the Soviet enemy at the dawn of the Cold War. American "conservatism" was for fifty years based entirely on opposition to the USSR and to its real and imagined sympathizers both foreign and domestic. When the USSR collapsed, they were left without a reason to exist. It is no coincidence that George Bush Sr. was caught off-guard by the fall of the Soviet Union; ideologues of his stripe were simply unable to conceive of a world without the USSR because that equated to a world in which they, too, would not exist.

I can't remember if it was Stewart Brand or Ken Kesey who said this, but "If you resist evil, when it's gone, you'll fold."

Like the priests without the devil, the whole conservative, anti-communist, military-industrial complex was in danger of walking off the stage of history along with Gorbachev. Amazingly, they managed to survive for a whole decade in the wilderness, looking desperately for a new enemy, before Osama bin Laden provided them with a fresh Reichstag fire.

The thing that has been just jaw-droppingly stunning to me about this whole sad affair is how transparently recycled the propaganda is. The Red Menace and the Terrorist Menace are one and the same. There's a terrorist behind every tree, poisoning the water supply, aided and abetted by the soft and sympathetic left.

The only difference is that the Soviet Union actually did exist as a coherent threat; the purported worldwide terrorist conspiracy, whatever it's called today, has the advantage of not actually existing except as an epiphenomenon of American political and economic policies abroad. It is a self-renewing enemy the conservatives can fight forever just by doing what they most like to do. The debacle in Iraq is a victory for the neocons because it spawns more enemies to fight and gives them the cover they need to disembowel our domestic liberties. The unwinnable war is the best kind of war, the kind of war they hoped the Cold War would be.

The popular form of American patriotism has for a long time ceased to be love of one's country; it is simply hatred of everyone else's. This isn't new either, but it is being propelled to novel extremes by the neocons.

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