Leo Strauss' Philosophy of Deception by Jim Lobe

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Rootsie:
reprinted from  http://www.alternet.org/module/printversion/15935

"Because mankind is intrinsically wicked, he has to be governed..."

     What would you do if you wanted to topple Saddam Hussein, but your intelligence agencies couldn't find the evidence to justify a war?

A follower of Leo Strauss may just hire the "right" kind of men to get the job done – people with the intellect, acuity, and, if necessary, the political commitment, polemical skills, and, above all, the imagination to find the evidence that career intelligence officers could not detect.

The "right" man for Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, suggests Seymour Hersh in his recent New Yorker article entitled 'Selective Intelligence,' was Abram Shulsky, director of the Office of Special Plans (OSP) – an agency created specifically to find the evidence of WMDs and/or links with Al Qaeda, piece it together, and clinch the case for the invasion of Iraq.

Like Wolfowitz, Shulsky is a student of an obscure German Jewish political philosopher named Leo Strauss who arrived in the United States in 1938. Strauss taught at several major universities, including Wolfowitz and Shulsky's alma mater, the University of Chicago, before his death in 1973.

Strauss is a popular figure among the neoconservatives. Adherents of his ideas include prominent figures both within and outside the administration. They include 'Weekly Standard' editor William Kristol; his father and indeed the godfather of the neoconservative movement, Irving Kristol; the new Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, Stephen Cambone, a number of senior fellows at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) (home to former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle and Lynne Cheney), and Gary Schmitt, the director of the influential Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which is chaired by Kristol the Younger.

Strauss' philosophy is hardly incidental to the strategy and mindset adopted by these men – as is obvious in Shulsky's 1999 essay titled "Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence (By Which We Do Not Mean Nous)" (in Greek philosophy the term nous denotes the highest form of rationality). As Hersh notes in his article, Shulsky and his co-author Schmitt "criticize America's intelligence community for its failure to appreciate the duplicitous nature of the regimes it deals with, its susceptibility to social-science notions of proof, and its inability to cope with deliberate concealment." They argued that Strauss's idea of hidden meaning, "alerts one to the possibility that political life may be closely linked to deception. Indeed, it suggests that deception is the norm in political life, and the hope, to say nothing of the expectation, of establishing a politics that can dispense with it is the exception."

Rule One: Deception

It's hardly surprising then why Strauss is so popular in an administration obsessed with secrecy, especially when it comes to matters of foreign policy. Not only did Strauss have few qualms about using deception in politics, he saw it as a necessity. While professing deep respect for American democracy, Strauss believed that societies should be hierarchical – divided between an elite who should lead, and the masses who should follow. But unlike fellow elitists like Plato, he was less concerned with the moral character of these leaders. According to Shadia Drury, who teaches politics at the University of Calgary, Strauss believed 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 inferior."

This dichotomy requires "perpetual deception" between the rulers and the ruled, according to Drury. Robert Locke, another Strauss analyst says,"The people are told what they need to know and no more." While the elite few are capable of absorbing the absence of any moral truth, Strauss thought, the masses could not cope. If exposed to the absence of absolute truth, they would quickly fall into nihilism or anarchy, according to Drury, author of 'Leo Strauss and the American Right' (St. Martin's 1999).

Second Principle: Power of Religion

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.

Third Principle: Aggressive Nationalism

Like Thomas Hobbes, Strauss believed that the inherently aggressive nature of human beings could only be restrained by a powerful nationalistic state. "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."

Not surprisingly, Strauss' attitude toward foreign policy was distinctly Machiavellian. "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 maintained that if no external threat exists then one has to be manufactured (emphases added)."

"Perpetual war, not perpetual peace, is what Straussians believe in," says Drury. The idea easily translates into, in her words, an "aggressive, belligerent foreign policy," of the kind that has been advocated by neocon groups like PNAC and AEI scholars – not to mention Wolfowitz and other administration hawks who have called for a world order dominated by U.S. military power. Strauss' neoconservative students see foreign policy as a means to fulfill a "national destiny" – as Irving Kristol defined it already in 1983 – that goes far beyond the narrow confines of a " myopic national security."

As to what a Straussian world order might look like, the analogy was best captured by the philosopher himself in one of his – and student Allen Bloom's – many allusions to Gulliver's Travels. In Drury's words, "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 of disrespect."

The image encapsulates the neoconservative vision of the United States' relationship with the rest of the world – as well as the relationship between their relationship as a ruling elite with the masses. "They really have no use for liberalism and democracy, but they're conquering the world in the name of liberalism and democracy," Drury says.

Jim Lobe writes on foreign policy for Alternet. His work has also appeared on Foreign Policy In Focus and TomPaine.com.

three_sixty:
"The distinctively Straussian approach to political philosophy is, quite simply, to take premodern philosophers seriously, and to try to understand them as they understood themselves. This is, by itself, a radical challenge to modern historicism (i.e. historical relativism), which holds that the thoughts of premodern philosophers are "outmoded" and irrelevant; they were mental prisoners of their epoch -- usually ignoring the implication that we, too, are mental prisoners of our own epoch, so that contemporary prejudices are no better than "outmoded" ones.

But this is only a prelude to an even more radical challenge to modern thought: the Straussians believe that premodern philosophy is better than modern philosophy. This turns the whole "progressive" view of history topsy-turvy, and provides a very distinctive point of view, and line of criticism, about modernity. The Straussians are pre-modern and anti-modern, not in the name of religion (like the various forms of religious fundamentalism all over the world) or of tradition (like conservatives since Edmund Burke), but in the name of reason, of philosophy: an understanding of reason and philosophy different from the Enlightenment's.

The teaching of Leo Strauss is "political philosophy" in a very special sense: his primary, if not exclusive, concern is the relation of philosophy (and the
philosophers themselves) to society as a whole. Moreover, he imputes this primary concern to the premodern and early modern philosophers.

The lesson of the trial and execution of Socrates is that Socrates was guilty as charged: philosophy is a threat to society. By questioning the gods and the ethos of the city, philosophy undermines the citizens' loyalty, and thus the basis of normal social life. Yet philosophy is also the highest, the worthiest, of all human endeavors. The resolution of this conflict is that the philosophers should, and in fact did, keep their teachings secret, passing them on by the esoteric art of writing "between the lines." Strauss believed that he alone had recovered the true, hidden message contained in the "Great Tradition" of philosophy from Plato to Hobbes and Locke: the message that there are no gods, that morality is ungrounded prejudice, and that society is not grounded in nature.

With Machiavelli, however, there came a shift in emphasis. He was the first to deviate from the esoteric tradition that began with Plato, thereby initiating the Enlightenment. Machiavelli de-moralized political philosophy, and thereby created "political science." Virtue, whether defined in classical or Christian terms, was dethroned, because no regime could live up to its demands. Instead, a new regime could and should be created, by accepting, understanding, and harnessing men's lower, self-interested nature.

The modern world is held to be the deliberate creation (with some unintended consequences) of the modern philosophers -- namely, the Enlightenment, which gave birth to both scientific-technological progress and the liberal ideology of social- political progress. The Enlighteners argued (though still covertly) that instead of hiding philosophy, philosophers should reform society to make it more hospitable to
philosophy: in particular, by undertaking the "project" of modern science, by which reason masters nature and provides material gratifications -- safety, health and wealth -- to common men, bribing them into acquiescence to philosophy. Physical science and technology would provide the know-how, while a new kind of regime, liberalism, would provide the conditions of liberty and equality enabling men to pursue their self-interest.

The problem with this (in the Straussian view) is that it exposed philosophy once more, and ultimately prostituted philosophy itself into the service of common men. The esoteric tradition was forgotten, and with it philosophy as such. At the same time, philosophy inadvertently exposed men to certain hard truths, truths too hard for them to bear: that there are no gods to reward good or punish evil; that no one's patria is really any better than anyone else's; that one's ancestral ways are merely conventional. This leads to nihilism, epitomized by the listless, meaningless
life of bourgeois man, or to dangerous experiments with new gods -- gods like the race and the Fuehrer.

Strauss, an ethnic Jew and refugee from Nazi Germany, looked at the regnant liberalism of mid-century America, and saw the Weimar Republic: morally weak, incapable of self-preservation. His prophecy was fulfilled by the ignominious collapse of the liberal establishment, both political and academic, in the face of the New Left.

Now, this unique interpretation of Western history depends on the existence of a "hidden agenda" in the history of philosophy. If there was, in fact, such an esoteric tradition, it has escaped the attention of most scholars. Of course, that might only prove how well-hidden it is ... which goes to show how seductive esotericism can be, once you start flirting with it. But in the end, what really matters is the philosophical questions Strauss raised, whether or not he was correct in ascribing them to the historic philosophers.

There are several problems with his "teaching." First, is the philosopher (in the original, literal sense: a "lover of wisdom") really a superior type of person? I think that he is -- but not that he is a superior being. The difference between the philosopher and the ordinary person is one of degree, not of kind. His impulses are the same, but ordered differently. No matter how rational he is, he is still a rational animal: a sexual one, for instance, and a social one. His curiosity is more fully developed than theirs, but unless his other faculties are at least as well developed as theirs, this one trait does not make him better than they are.

The ancient philosophers did believe that the philosophic life is the highest and best, but only a few are suited to it. The Straussians concur, and go on to imply that the major evil of modern egalitarianism is that it makes philosophy impossible, by devaluing anything that is not accessible to the common man. But philosophy is not the only thing that suffers: so do creativity, heroism, authority, and all other "elitist" qualities."

 from: http://www.gongfa.com/shitelaosihexuepai.htm

three_sixty:
dropping hints like U.S. bombs on innocent people.

_________________

The Pillars Of Hercules

On the threshold of the world,
By the angry Theban hurled
        From their long embrace asunder,
Stood of old those pillars high,
O'er their somber heads the sky,
        At their feet the surge's thunder.
 
And the men who sailed that sea,
Awed before its mystery,
        Saw beyond, as in a vision,
Shapes of more than earthly kind,
Heard upon the charmed wind
        Laughter from the realms elysian.
 
Once I voyaged tired and late
In world-regions ultimate,
        When before me rose that portal;
But I saw beyond no light,
Heard no voices through the night
        Of a revelry immortal.
 
Only down the sea asleep
Crept a wind and crisped the deep,
       Touched the sails and shook them
            slowly,
And from out its bosom fell
Land-born scents of asphodel,
        Lilies, and the mountain moly.
___Arthur Graves Canfield


"Mythology -- (Fiction)

The Pillars of Hercules, in Homer's legend, were the two pillars on which Heracles, the original Greek form of the Roman mythical Hercules, mythically, fictitiously, pressed to separate Europe from Africa, and are today accepted as being two mountains at the mouth of the Mediterranean, where it meets the Atlantic Ocean, namely one on either side of the Straits of Gibraltar. (This is perhaps a Greek repetition of the Story of Sampson in Middle Eastern mythology, who was said to have brought down the building he was in by separating and shearing two of its columns.) Another myth concerns Hercules' theft of the Golden Apples, placing the giant, Atlas, and his task of supporting the weight of the world, at the "Pillars of Hercules"

source: http://phoenicia.org/gibraltar.html

"The image is of a ship passing through the pillars of Hercules, which symbolized for the ancients the limits of man's possible explorations. The image represents the analogy between the great voyages of discovery and the explorations leading to the advancement of learning. In The Advancement of Learning Bacon makes this analogy explicit. Speaking to James I, to whom the book is dedicated, he writes: "For why should a few received authors stand up like Hercules columns, beyond which there should be no sailing or discovering, since we have so bright and benign a star as your Majesty to conduct and prosper us." The image also forcefully suggests that using Bacon's new method, the boundaries of ancient learning will be passed. The Latin phrase at the bottom from the Book of Daniel means: "Many will pass through and knowledge will be increased."

source: http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/philosophers/bacon.html

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