Posted by Andreas from dtm2-t7-2.mcbone.net (126.96.36.199) on Tuesday, May 13, 2003 at 12:09PM :
Strong Must Rule the Weak, said Neo-Cons' Muse
by Jim Lobe
Thursday 08 May 2003
WASHINGTON - Is U.S. foreign policy being run by followers of an obscure
German Jewish political philosopher whose views were elitist, amoral and
hostile to democratic government?
Suddenly, political Washington is abuzz about Leo Strauss, who arrived
in the United States in 1938 and taught at several major universities
before his death in 1973.
Thanks to the "Week in Review'' section of last Sunday's 'New York
Times' and another investigative article in this week's 'New Yorker'
magazine, the cognoscenti have suddenly been made aware that key
neo-conservative strategists behind the Bush administration's aggressive
foreign and military policy consider themselves to be followers of Strauss,
although the philosopher - an expert on Plato and Aristotle - rarely
addressed current events in his writings.
The most prominent is Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, now
widely known as ''Wolfowitz of Arabia'' for his obsession with ousting
Iraq's Saddam Hussein as the first step in transforming the entire Arab
Middle East. Wolfowitz is also seen as the chief architect of Washington's
post-9/11 global strategy, including its controversial pre-emption policy.
Two other very influential Straussians include 'Weekly Standard' Chief
Editor William Kristol and Gary Schmitt, founder, chairman and director of
the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a six-year-old
neo-conservative group whose alumni include Vice President Dick Cheney and
Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, as well as a number of other senior foreign
PNAC's early prescriptions and subsequent open letters to President
George W. Bush on how to fight the war on terrorism have anticipated to an
uncanny extent precisely what the administration has done.
Kristol's father Irving, the godfather of neo-conservatism who sits on
the board of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) where a number of
prominent hawks, including former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard
Perle, are based, has also credited Strauss with being one of the main
influences on his thinking.
While the Times article introduced readers to Strauss and his disciples
in Washington, interest was further piqued this week by a lengthy article
by The New Yorker's legendary investigative reporter, Seymour Hersh, who
noted that Abram Shulsky, a close Perle associate who has run a special
intelligence unit in Rumsfeld's office, is also a Straussian.
His unit, according to Hersh, re-interpreted evidence of Iraq's alleged
links to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network and possession of
weapons of mass destruction to support those in the administration
determined to go to war with Baghdad. The article also identified Stephen
Cambone, one of Rumsfeld's closest aides who heads the new post of
undersecretary of Defense for intelligence, as a Strauss follower.
In his article, Hersh wrote that Strauss believed the world to be a
place where ''isolated liberal democracies live in constant danger from
hostile elements abroad'', and where policy advisers may have to deceive
their own publics and even their rulers in order to protect their countries.
Shadia Drury, author of 1999's 'Leo Strauss and the American Right',
says Hersh is right on the second count but dead wrong on the first.
''Strauss was neither a liberal nor a democrat,'' she said in a
telephone interview from her office at the University of Calgary in Canada.
''Perpetual deception of the citizens by those in power is critical (in
Strauss's view) because they need to be led, and they need strong rulers to
tell them what's good for them.''
''The Weimar Republic (in Germany) was his model of liberal democracy
for which he had huge contempt,'' added Drury. Liberalism in Weimar, in
Strauss's view, led ultimately to the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews.
Like Plato, Strauss taught that within societies, ''some are fit to
lead, and others to be led'', according to Drury. But, unlike Plato, who
believed that leaders had to be people with such high moral standards that
they could resist the temptations of power, Strauss thought that ''those
who are fit to rule are those who realize there is no morality and that
there is only one natural right, the right of the superior to rule over the
For Strauss, ''religion is the glue that holds society together'', said
Drury, who added that Irving Kristol, among other neo-conservatives, has
argued that separating church and state was the biggest mistake made by the
founders of the U.S. republic.
''Secular society in their view is the worst possible thing'', because
it leads to individualism, liberalism and relativism, precisely those
traits that might encourage dissent, which in turn could dangerously weaken
society's ability to cope with external threats. ''You want a crowd that
you can manipulate like putty,'' according to Drury.
Strauss was also strongly influenced by Thomas Hobbes. Like Hobbes, he
thought the fundamental aggressiveness of human nature could be restrained
only through a powerful state based on nationalism. ''Because mankind is
intrinsically wicked, he has to be governed,'' he once wrote. ''Such
governance can only be established, however, when men are united - and they
can only be united against other people''.
''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 maintains that if no external threat exists, then one has
to be manufactured. Had he lived to see the collapse of the Soviet Union,
he would have been deeply troubled because the collapse of the 'evil
empire' poses a threat to America's inner stability.''
''In Strauss' view, you have to fight all the time (to survive),'' said
Drury. ''In that respect, it's very Spartan. Peace leads to decadence.
Perpetual war, not perpetual peace, is what Straussians believe in.'' Such
views naturally lead to an ''aggressive, belligerent foreign policy'', she
As for what a Straussian world order might look like, Drury said the
philosopher often talked about Jonathan Swift's story of Gulliver and the
Lilliputians. ''When Lilliput was on fire, Gulliver urinated over the city,
including the palace. In so doing, he saved all of Lilliput from
catastrophe, but the Lilliputians were outraged and appalled by such a show
For Strauss, the act demonstrates both the superiority and the isolation
of the leader within a society and, presumably, the leading country
vis-a-vis the rest of the world.
Drury suggests it is ironic, but not inconsistent with Strauss' ideas
about the necessity for elites to deceive their citizens, that the Bush
administration defends its anti-terrorist campaign by resorting to
idealistic rhetoric. ''They really have no use for liberalism and
democracy, but they're conquering the world in the name of liberalism and
democracy,'' she said.
For more stories on: Neo-conservatives
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