July 5, 2004
(Swans - July 5, 2004) It is time to do Leo Strauss some more.
Previously, I have used two Straussian aphorisms or paraphrases: One, Lies are the Grease of Politics and, two, Enemies are Politicians' aphrodisiacs. I added that the core of Strauss's political philosophy is to do whatever it takes to seize power and, having seized power, do whatever it takes to keep power.
A simplistic view of Strauss is to take Orwell to the tenth power. From Animal Farm, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." Straussians acknowledge being unrepentant elitists. Orwell called them "pigs." In reference to 1984, Orwell was at least 20 years early. Orwell was reacting to Soviet Communism. Today, we have George W. Bush as supreme irritant.
The tsunami of adulation for Reagan is pure Strauss. The so-called "Great Communicator" was, in fact, the "Great Prevaricator." He rarely said what he meant or meant what he said. He mastered the mumble and made a virtue out of poor memory. He communicated most effectively by simply falling asleep to signal his cognoscenti. The avuncular and cockeyed smile along with affectations of cowboy boots was pure Hollywood.
Today, Santa Barbara morphs to Crawford. A spoiled brat rich kid from Texas via Connecticut upstages Paris Hilton without decorations. Tantrums, anyone?
Most observers and commentators see that Straussian political philosophy now guides the NeoCons and that the NeoCons now control the Bush administration. While I was too naive at the time to know how to name the processes involved, I will now date the Straussian accession with Goldwater's time. The design to seize first the Republican Party and then the US government on the way to world domination was the driving force behind Barry Goldwater and his legions. Goldwater mellowed with age. The legions stayed armed and formed into phalanx.
I can now add that the Straussians are the Wahabi of America, political and religious. As Craig Unger details in his book, House of Bush-House of Saud, these two dynasties run on pure Straussian principles. As I wrote previously, bin Laden and Bush are brothers. Move a step further and Carlyle Group is Strauss in business and finance. Move a pace rightward and find that fundamentalisms of any breed obey Strauss's political philosophies.
Trying to shed light on Leo Strauss using Leo Strauss runs immediately into Leo Strauss being Leo Strauss (which is a example of Straussian logics). Leo Strauss as an historical persona ends as an atheist with a Hebrew core who grounded himself in classical philosophies and twisted Plato's Republic into Rove's America.
Without ever knowingly pursuing Kabbalah (Hebrew mysticism of a type), Strauss imbibed the arcana of hidden meaning in elaborate constructions penetrable only by initiates. Without ever practicing Tibetan mysticisms, he developed mandala and mantra to put them to shame. Leo Strauss worked hard to confuse analysis while snaring devotees with golden chains of lusts imputed and greeds little satisfied as others might imagine. To place Strauss more concretely, the lusts and greeds he triggers focus almost purely on power. Notice the word "purely." Anyone hear echoes of Aryan racial purity?
Who was Leo Strauss and how did he become the NeoCon guru? Earl Shorris, writing in the June 2004 Harper's makes an attempt to probe Strauss and his imputed roles in contemporary politics. "Ignoble Liars: Leo Strauss, George Bush, and the Philosophy of Mass Deception." (pps. 65-71)
Historians, in attempting to judge the quality of an historical time, personage or event, rank order evidence starting with incontrovertible contemporary data and ending with latter day conflations which may or may not be useful other than as mythology. They use the term "argumentum e silentio" to describe clear cut contemporary corroboration whether physical (archeological), numismatic (a coinage dated exactly showing a ruler or artifact) or epigraphic (an inscribed stone). (1)
How, then, do we track Strauss's influences? We look at results and refuse to be decoyed by talk. Conservative icons, William Kristol and Steven Lenzer, provide an opening quote for Shorris's article:
"President Bush's advocacy of 'regime change' -- which avoids the pitfalls of a wishful global universalism on the one hand, and a fatalistic cultural determinism on the other -- is a not altogether unworthy product of Strauss's rehabilitation of the notion of regime." (Harper's June 2004, p. 65)
To put "regime" in Straussian senses into context, we need to bounce back to Plato's Republic and then spring forward into doublethink. I won't try to make that leap, just let it hang out for a while.
Strauss's epigrammatic fusions from The Great Books, in Shorris's view, ". . .attract very bright students, many of whom will remain in the academy, producing other Straussian scholars, writers, activists and members of government at every level, a cadre that will soon begin to think of itself as a class, that class for which Plato could find no other name than gold." (p. 67)
Shorris goes on to list his core perceptions of Strauss's political philosophy.
"The Greatest Clarity is a Contradiction"
Contradiction marks the Bush administration's communications. "Contradictions are not lies: they are nonsense. . . . nonsense appears to be the preoccupation of the state." (p. 67)
"Wise Men Tell Noble Lies"
"One of the great services that Strauss and his disciples have performed for the Bush regime has been the provision of a philosophy of the noble lie, the conviction that lies, far from being simply a regrettable necessity of political life, are instead virtuous and noble instruments of wise policy." (p. 68)
"All Men Are Not Created Equal"
"America's founders thought it self-evident that all men are created equal, and yet, increasing inequality has been the hallmark of the Bush Administration. . . .Donald Rumsfeld's primary task under Ronald Reagan was to rid the country of the Great Society Programs of the early 1960s. Irving Kristol, an early Straussian, advised Reagan and Rumsfeld and their staffs of the need to stop coddling hungry children, educating the poor, and helping the aged, the infirm, victims of prejudice."
Shorris quotes Strauss: "Liberal education is the necessary endeavor to found an aristocracy with democratic mass society." (p. 68) Strauss was using the word "liberal" before it was excised from world vocabularies in the sense of a liberal education, i.e., Classical. Yale, for example, once prided itself on providing a liberal education. 'Nuff said.
"Democracy is the Rule of the Unwise over the Wise"
Strauss again: "It would be absurd to hamper the free flow of wisdom by any regulations; hence the rule of the wise must be absolute rule. It would be equally absurd to hamper the free flow of wisdom by consideration of the unwise wishes of the unwise; hence the wise rulers ought not to be responsible to the unwise subjects." Strauss interprets Plato to mean that ". . . true democracy is an act against nature and must be prevented at all costs." (p. 69)
"Nature Abhors a Contract"
One characteristic of the Bush Administration has been abrogation of international contracts (treaties) ranging from the diddling of the UN through to Kyoto Protocols on Global Warming, the International Criminal Court, Anti- Ballistic Missile, land mines, chemical, biological warfare . . . to begin a long list. To Straussians, contracts, being the artifacts of men, violate natural law.
In his book, Persecution and the Art of Writing, ". . . Strauss advised his readers not to write in plain English. Strauss followed his own advice. Convoluted, contradictory, arcane, clubfooted writing was his game." (p. 68)
"The convenient thing about natural-law theory, as opposed to convention, is that you can simply make it up as you go along." Athens, the icon of a liberal education, lost to Sparta. Athens was inflexible and couldn't adapt adequately. (p. 70)
"The Best Friend is an Enemy"
Strauss lived in a Europe where Germany descended into the Nazi tyranny. He was there while Russia fell to Marxists, Socialists and then Communists, to Strauss another tyranny. To him, "Only strength could withstand the onslaught of these ominous forces, and the only way for a liberal democracy to remain strong was to have external enemies." (p. 70)
"The Study of History is the Road to Perdition"
"Strauss, buffeted by history in his own life, railed against historicism, which holds that meaning can only arise from within a particular historical context. See again 'argumentum e silentio.' The Straussians contend that historicism leads to relativism and thus to nihilism, finally to the crisis that could bring about the destruction of American liberal democracy -- a crisis, as Strauss himself said, that comes of the loss of the American sense of superiority." (p. 70)
"After One Comes None"
"Strauss had a great intellectual antagonist, Sir Isaiah Berlin. . . .polar opposites of political philosophy, the one and the many, the idealist conservative and the pluralist liberal. . ." To Berlin, "Liberty for wolves is death to lambs." He wrote, "Ends, moral principles, are many. But not infinitely many, they must be within the human horizon."'
"Strauss . . . believed that there must necessarily be no more than one true and unchanging answer to each of the perennial questions. Nature willed it so, even the superiority of the capitalist West over all the rest of the world. The crisis of our time is the failure of the West to believe in its own superiority."
"The Answer to the Human Question is to Avoid it"
"Strauss saw the human question exemplified in the Jewish question. And he believed it had no resolution. . . The Jewish problem, like the human problem, was insoluble. He offered no esoteric answer."
"Straussians have a plan: to usurp the power of revelation in the service of their idea of reason."
"To be a Nietzchean It Is Not Necessary to Read Nietzche"
"In the mind of George Bush, the ancient problem of the conflict between faith and reason found resolution. He learned the comforting character of power. In itself power poses no danger to the country or to the world. . . Faith, however, has a poor record in the exercise of power. . . The Bush regime relies on faith when it can and reason when it must, not in the cause of peace of justice but in the pursuit of power. In its use of violence and secrecy, the stick and the lie, it has no end in mind but power."
Strauss used Plato's name when he seemed more comfortable with Nietzche. "Straussian thinking agrees with Nietzche on historicism and trumpets the master- morality over the slave morality. The Bush Administration has progressed from Neitzche's 'death of God' to something more subtle, esoteric: the use of God." . . .
"The only alternative to the last man is the will to power, which Nietzche said is the will to life itself, the will to overcome, to control, to be master of all things. This is the will of the Bush Administration." . . .
"Most of us will not affect history in the role of great men, but in a society administered by men with Nietzschean dreams of power, our task is clear. We must resist." (p. 71)
Earl Shorris makes a noble effort to condense and to demystify Leo Strauss and present-day Straussians. I have now spent too many hours pondering Strauss and Straussians. Doing so is patently un-Strauss. Attempting to find reasonable or rational ways to understand the NeoCon Straussians is to seek relative comprehension of the arcana involved. The act itself remains most un-Straussian.
What is there to remember?
The core of Strauss's political philosophy is to do whatever it takes to seize power and, having seized power, do whatever it takes to keep power.
Our task is clear. We must resist! (2)
· · · · · ·
Notes and Resources
1. For this clarity, I am grateful to Nevo and Koren in the introduction to their excellent Crossroads to Islam. ISBN 1-59102-083-2. (back)
2. For those un-Straussian to the extreme, bedevil yourselves with a Google search on Leo Strauss. (back)
Read the Shorris article in full with this precis in hand.
Milo Clark has touched on Leo Strauss and the "Straussians" in three recent essays:
In Perspective, Parallel Lines Converge (February 2004)
Lies: The Grease Of Politics (January 2004)
Arianna's Huff (January 2004)
US Elections & Democracy on Swans
America the 'beautiful' on Swans
Milo Clark on Swans (with bio).
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