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Mon Dec 30, 2013, 09:07 AM

So why does searching behind the throne feel so necessary to so many? Notes on the Straussian in US [View all]

So why does searching behind the throne feel so necessary to so many?
Notes on the Straussian in US policy

... There is a growing awareness that a reclusive German émigré philosopher is the inspiration behind the reigning neoconservative ideology of the Republican Party. Leo Strauss has long been a cult figure within the North American academy. And even though he had a profound antipathy to both liberalism and democracy, his disciples have gone to great lengths to conceal the fact. And for the most part they have succeeded... This picture of Strauss as the great American patriot, who was a lover of freedom and democracy is pure fabrication. Nothing could be further from the truth.

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.

Strauss's disciples have inherited a superiority complex as well as a persecution complex. They are convinced that they are the superior few who know the truth and are entitled to rule. But they 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...

- Shadia B. Drury: Saving America: Leo Strauss and the neoconservatives

... This paper concentrates primarily on the 'why' questions concerning the neoconservative ascendency — questions of why it understands the world the way it does — of why it is committed to radically changing both liberal and (traditional) conservative approaches to US foreign policy and the traditional systemic order. The paper suggests that intrinsic to this understanding and commitment, for some of the most significant of contemporary neoconservatives, is the work and legacy of Leo Strauss (1898–1973). There is contention associated with precisely what Strauss' dense and (consciously) ambiguous writings sought to convey to his readers. In this paper, I propose that for Straussian inspired neoconservatives his meaning and its implications are clear enough, in the (interpreted) injunction to wrench political and cultural power from the (perceived) liberal establishment in the US, and to forcefully and unapologetically impose American power, values and hegemonic design upon the global system, for the long-term good of that system. More precisely, I argue, neoconservatives have drawn from Strauss a thematic agenda of sorts which emphasizes; the re-invocation of strong nationalism and cultural unity in modern western societies; the value of a simple religious and philosophical morality, and (ultimately) of a 'war culture' as the basis of maintaining such unity; the use of maximum force by the Western democracies in the face of endemic threat; and of a more general 'peace through strength' approach to foreign policy by the US, the political and ideological leader of modern Western civilisation. From Strauss too has come the notion that elite rule is crucial if post-Enlightenment liberalism is not to further threaten the (classical) democratic model of governance, and that the neoconservative elite has the right and indeed the obligation to lie to the masses in order that the 'right' political and strategic decisions be made and implemented...

- Jim George: Leo Strauss, Neoconservatism and US Foreign Policy: Esoteric Nihilism and the Bush Doctrine

I have been working for many years on the aetiology of commander in chief power in American politics, and in particular, the influence of pro-Nazi lawyers and philosophers, Carl Schmitt and Martin Heidegger, via Leo Strauss (an acolyte of Heidegger’s) on the neo-cons. The vehicle for this was especially Robert Goldwin, Strauss’s confidante – and a man operating behind the scenes. Most Americans have not heard of Bob Goldwin. Goldwin was eulogized, however, by Donald Rumsfeld as a “one man think-tank who transformed the Republican party” particularly on executive power - and through Goldwin (Rumsfeld's "special confidante" in Goldwin's words), President Gerald Ford and chief of staff Dick Cheney. Many political Straussians - those who seek reactionary public influence - have echoed Goldwin’s thought. Michael Malbin and Gary Schmitt, students of Herbert Storing and Walter Berns (the latter were students of Strauss), were also influential in the Iran-Contra minority report for Congressman Richard Cheney – Malbin wrote it; they, too, assert the necessity of so-called commander in chief power to undergird Reagan’s illegalities. Gary Schmitt and Bill Kristol were to become two of the three principals of the Project for a New American Century which gave America the aggression in Iraq. And Kristol, who in the Weekly Standard, now dottily hopes Netanyahu will bomb Iran and "save the West," drones on...

... As the first non-Straussian admitted to the Strauss archive in Regenstein in 2008, I discovered much striking correspondance which shows how Strauss and Goldwin networked for segregation against Brown v. Board, for taking out Cuba after the Cuban missile crisis (the likely result would have been nuclear war and extinction) and strengthening “prerogative” or arbitrary executive power...

... Perhaps one might take note because America has fought so many long-lasting and morally bankrupt aggressions - strengthening Iran, its supposed enemy. But the last shift of a scoundrel, fortunately abandoned by Obama, is to invoke "commander in chief power." This paper spells out how this tyrannical, self-destructive, and isolating - internationally and domestically - doctrine had been taken up not only by Bush, but by Obama. There is now, however, a chance, with Russia, Iran and Syria to move in a different direction. Ordinary people have been pressing for this from below.

The establishment is divided but still mainly and sickeningly wants to assert America’s power, as the supposed “good guys” to intervene anywhere in the world. Ask who wants American power asserted in this way – do the British people who stopped Cameron from intervening? Do we Amerians, Barack, support you and Samantha Power in trying to right the world’s wrongs by a force which often has other purposes (even Obama spoke too baldly yesterday about an alleged core "national interest" in stealing Middle East oil – "keeping the oil lanes open." This brief statement was far too near an explicit cause of the aggressions/preemption in Afghanistan and Iraq – an imperial one, the elephant, along with military bases, in the room – and one which does the US no honor...

- Alan Gilbert: 'Leo Strauss, executive power and the Bush-Obama "regime,"'

... Now I will tell you the answer to my question. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing.

All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just around the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal.

We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me...

... Winston made for the stairs. It was no use trying the lift. Even at the best of times it was seldom working, and at present the electric current was cut off during daylight hours. It was part of the economy drive in preparation for Hate Week. The flat was seven flights up, and Winston, who was thirty-nine and had a varicose ulcer above his right ankle, went slowly, resting several times on the way. On each landing, opposite the lift-shaft, the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.

Inside the flat a fruity voice was reading out a list of figures which had something to do with the production of pig-iron. The voice came from an oblong metal plaque like a dulled mirror which formed part of the surface of the right-hand wall. Winston turned a switch and the voice sank somewhat, though the words were still distinguishable. The instrument the telescreen, it was called) could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely...

- George Orwell: 1984

Abram Shulsky is a neoconservative scholar who has worked for U.S. government, RAND Corporation, and the Hudson Institute. Shulsky served as Director of the Office of Special Plans, a unit whose function has been compared to the 1970s Team B exercise. In the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Shulsky approved OSP memos with talking points about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction and terrorism. Shulsky is critical of the traditional intelligence analysis, which is based upon the social-scientific method, and of independent intelligence agencies. Shulsky favors a military intelligence model which can be used support policy as, in Shulsky's words, "truth is not the goal" of intelligence operations, but "victory"...

- Wikipedia: Abram Shulsky

... Shulsky received his doctorate from the University of Chicago studying under Strauss, who attracted a cult following of neocons with his theories about politics and human nature. Shadia Drury, author of several books on Straussian political philosophy, said that Leo Strauss believed that "truth is not salutary, but dangerous, and even destructive to society--any society." ...


According to Shulsky and Schmitt, for the United States to operate with good intelligence, it should stop being a naïve player in a very cruel world. Given that adversaries aim to deceive, these two Straussian intelligence analysts warned that astute intelligence experts "can rarely be confident of the solidity of the foundations on which they are building; they must be open to the possibility that their evidence is misleading." Hence, effective intelligence should rely more on analysis of the intentions of adversaries rather than on details and uncertainties.

In her book Leo Strauss and the American Right, Shadia Drury elaborates on Strauss' view that a political aristocracy must necessarily manipulate the masses for their own good. The Straussian worldview, according to Drury, contends that "perpetual deception of the citizens by those in power is critical because they need to be led, and they need strong rulers to tell them what's good for them."...

- Leo Strauss and Intelligence Strategy

... Just as conservatives were contracting their Alinsky obsession, liberals were getting over a remarkably similar obsession with our own intellectual bogeyman: the philosopher Leo Strauss... The similarities between the Alinsky and Strauss fixations can tell us a great deal about Americans’ conflicted relationship with intellectuals in politics, our common suspicions of the presidency, and how (and how not) to be a constructive opposition party.

The fixations do start from a kernel of truth. Alinsky did preach an influential brand of activism founded on realpolitik, not appeals to idealism: As he was fond of reminding his students, “You want to organize for power!” Obama practiced and taught Alinsky’s methods as an organizer in Chicago; Hillary Clinton made Alinsky the subject of her undergraduate thesis. On the other hand, a well-connected network of Straussians (including William Kristol; Paul Wolfowitz, a former student; and Abram Shulsky, a Strauss scholar who led the Bush Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans), rose high in neoconservative circles. A number of liberal thinkers, such as Alan Wolfe, managed to intelligently explore Strauss’s influence without descending into hysteria.

In their partisan parodies, however, both thinkers are painted as masters of deception, authorities who bless lies of every kind. References to Alinsky or Strauss may add an empty show of intellectual sophistication to the usual talking points, but they can almost always be crossed out with no damage to the argument. In one typical case, an Obama critic uses a mention of Alinsky to make the mundane sound sinister: “An Alinskyite’s core principle is to take any action that expands his power”—as if all politicians aren’t concerned with expanding political capital, and as if Alinsky himself were out for nothing more than personal power. On the other side, the last decade saw claims that Bush’s habitual use of terms like “regime” and “tyranny” were directly traceable to Strauss’s influence. But that’s hardly proof that Bush was invoking an entire philosophy every time he used those words.

As entertaining an exercise in self-righteousness as it can be, the search for hidden influences is a distraction from an opposition party’s strongest possible case. Liberal complaints about esoteric Straussians were themselves an esoteric exercise, and they did little if anything to strengthen the case against war. Inflating the power of sinister thinkers behind the throne is not just anti-intellectual. It turns the thinkers in question into flat caricatures and wipes away the complexity that makes any thinker worthy of the name—ignoring, for instance, that Alinsky was a strong critic of “big government” from the perspective of bottom-up organizing, or that Strauss was deeply skeptical about America’s ability to promote democracy abroad. The image of two Jews exerting a shadowy power over the powerful also plays into some uncomfortable stereotypes.

So why does searching behind the throne feel so necessary to so many? I’d argue that it has to do with a sense that our leaders are unaccountable, that the decisions that matter are made somewhere out of sight, subject to pressures we can see only hazily...

- Rob Goodman: Behind the Throne: Alinsky, Strauss, and the Paranoia of Influence

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