4 More Years? Of the Rule of the Wise?

If Bush is re-elected tomorrow, there is speculation that Colin Powell will step down and Paul Wolfowitz (currently Deputy Secretary of Defence and the most senior Neo-Conservative in the administration) will take his place as Secretary of State. If Bush loses (and I’m hoping he loses big – to avoid the Karl Rove strategy of litigating the result til it gets to the Supreme Court), the continued influence of the Neo-Cons will not just be a matter of historical interest or a moot question. The powerful American foreign policy establishment is littered with Neo-Cons, as a perusal of influential journals such as The National Interest indicates. The influence of Perle, Wolfowitz and their cohort on US foreign policy was clear in their activities in consulting for Netanyahu and their role preparing the way for Bushite Imperialism is well known. Unlikely to be daunted by electoral defeat, the Neo-Cons will continue planning and proselytising.

Recently, a lively discussion of whether the Bush administration could properly be considered to be ‘fascist’ took place at Tim Dunlop’s blog, The Road to Surfdom. I’m not sure fascist is at all the right term – rather, I think something more odd and perhaps more sinister (because of the layers of dissembling around the true objectives) is going on.

While working on my phd thesis, I’ve been having a read of the work of Shadia Drury, the leading expert on the current political influence of the philosopher Leo Strauss on US politics and foreign policy. Many of the Neo-Cons currently in power were students of Allan Bloom, most famous for his book The Closing of the American Mind and doctoral student of Strauss. What Drury has to say about Strauss’ philosophy is both interesting and disturbing.

Drury has written extensively on the Straussian influence on the Neo-Cons. A nice introduction to her work, and to the legacy of Strauss, is available on the Evatt Foundation website. I first became aware of Strauss when I did – as an undergrad at UQ – a subject in 1991 called “Philosophy of Economic Thought”. This was taught by Dr Richard Staveley, one of Strauss’ students. Interested by the course content, I was somewhat put off by the first Bloomian lecture on the greatness of Plato and the Satanic evils of rock music. Later, after being failed for an essay on Locke’s theory of property which didn’t take the Straussian line, I decided my only chance of passing was to write each exam essay in the vein of “As the great Strauss so learnedly wrote…”.

That worked – but all I really remembered from the course was that Strauss had believed that most works of political philosophy were written in code, as it were – that they had a surface meaning and a secret meaning. It’s well known of course (and part of the reason for the huge influence of his work – in that it could be interpreted in so many different ways) that Hegel disguised some of his political and religious thought in order to keep the peace with the Prussian authorities. Strauss’ claim however is a larger one.

Strauss saw the world through the lens of an ‘ancient’ confronting the decadent ‘moderns’. As Drury writes:

In contrast to the ancients, the moderns were the foolish lovers of truth and liberty; they believed in the natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They believed that human beings were born free and could be legitimately ruled only by their own consent.

The ancients denied that there is any natural right to liberty. Human beings are born neither free nor equal. The natural human condition is not one of freedom, but of subordination. And in Strauss’s estimation, they were right in thinking that there is only one natural right – the right of the superior to rule over the inferior – the master over the slave, the husband over the wife, and the wise few over the vulgar many. As to the pursuit of happiness – what could the vulgar do with happiness except drink, gamble, and fornicate?

There is still a sense in which Straussianism is a living tradition in political philosophy in the US. Issues of the prestigious American Political Science Review often feature Straussian articles on political theory. Yet, the importance of Strauss goes beyond scholarly discussions of the thought of Moses Maimonides. As Drury explains:

The neoconservative goal is reactionary in the classic sense of the term. It is nothing short of turning the clock back on the liberal revolution. And it will use democracy to accomplish its task. After all, Strauss had no objections to democracy as long as a wise elite, inspired by the profound truths of the ancients, was able to shape, invent, or create the will of the people. In his interpretation of Plato’s myth of the cave, Strauss maintained that the philosophers who return to the cave should not bring in truth; instead, the philosophers should seek to manipulate the images in the cave, so that the people will remain in the stupor to which they are supremely fit.

It is ironic that American neoconservatives have decided to conquer the world in the name of liberty and democracy, when they have so little regard for either.

Strauss was not a believer in either democracy or the rule of law. Nor, as Drury elsewhere suggests, are Straussians interested in classic conservative values. Rather, their agenda is about the preservation of the “rule of the wise” in opposition to the cultural and political tendencies of modernity. Explicit in this project is the art of the “noble lie” – an art spectacularly on display in the justifications for the War on Iraq.

Straussians are believers in glory and honour – pre-modern values. Francis Fukuyama, once a paid-up member of the Neo-Con club, has recently taken the Neo-Con approach to foreign policy to task in the pages of The National Interest (link subscriber only) in an article titled ‘The Neo-Conservative Moment’. Calling for more multilateralism, for a respect for an institutional basis for world order, and for an understanding that democracy has a cultural and social basis and cannot be created by “sheer political will” in Iraq and the Middle East, Fukuyama principally assails the Neo-Con hegemony for a fatal lack of realism. Few informed and objective observers would quarrel with that, I think.

If Kerry wins, a foreign policy ala Fukuyama is likely to prevail. If Kerry wins, not only the experiment in “big government conservatism” of Bush’s presidency will be up for re-evaluation in the Republican Party, but also the Neo-Con style of unilateralism. The difficulty is that the more traditional Republican internationalists are down but not out. If Bush wins, their last redoubt in the State Department will be under deep siege. Bush has indicated, despite around 33% of his likely voters desiring some degree of policy re-orientation in a second term, that he is not going to change tack. Can the world stand four more years of the “rule of the wise”?

About Mark Bahnisch

Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist and is the founder of this blog. He has an undergraduate degree in history and politics from UQ, and postgraduate qualifications in sociology, industrial relations and political economy from Griffith and QUT. He has recently been awarded his PhD through the Humanities Program at QUT. Mark's full bio is on this page.
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Cameron Riley
2022 years ago

The rule of the wise is repugnant, it devalues the natural wisdom of the people for the short sighted and special interests of the ruling few. Dan Deniehy named those same people the “Bunyip Aristocracy” in Australia during the 1850’s. They still exist today.

I know my good mate Adam sees parties as a vehicle to tack against the political wind of popular opinion. But with the Iraq debacle and the march to it, we saw the failure of the representative political system.

There is more wisdom in the people than there is in the special interests of representatives. For that reason I want to see any form of an Australian republic adopt ratification and sortition methods into the legislative and judicial processes as protection against the failure of popularly elected representatives and parliament.

The best way to ensure that the “bunyip aristocracy” or “neo-cons” don’t pervert the representative system is to have the statistical weight of the people through a ratification process temper them. I trust a South Carolinan plumber with the US debt more than I do the Bush Adminstration or DeLay’s Congress. Same for a ratifier in Australia with foreign policy. If there had beent he statistical weight of direct democracy there would not be Australians in Iraq.

Alan Green
2022 years ago

When GWB proclaimed that terrorists “hate freedom” in the aftermath of post 9/11, it struck me as an odd thing to say. Now I know where it may have come from.

Andrew Norton
2022 years ago

Though somehow I doubt Dubya or Rumsfeld spend too much time trying to work out the hidden meanings of famous political philosophers.

Mark Lilla has a couple of interesting articles on Strauss in recent issues of the New York Review of Books, but sensibly cautions against trying to draw too many links between his thought and current policies.

Jason Soon
2022 years ago

i have to agree with andrew here. the straussians are a sinister bunch but i think their power is overestimated, and you have distinguish between them and dubya himself and the more ‘hands on’ neocons like Cheney

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Thanks for the info regarding Lilla’s articles, Andrew – I’ll follow them up. I’m not arguing btw that the whole administration is inspired either by Neo-Cons or that there is a direct parallel between Neo-Con thought and Straussianism – clearly Neo-Con thought, such as it is, has its own nuances – but there very clearly is an influence. And I think we’d be wrong to discount the power of ideas.

Norman
Norman
2022 years ago

We on the “left”, certainly seem to have caught up with the right in one area they once dominated — the replacement of analysis by blind emotional labels. I guess there are situations in which this makes life more comfortable?

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Anyone interested in the strange relationship between the Bush administration and the truth might like to have a read of this New York Review of Books article by the excellent American writer, Joan Didion.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2022 years ago

“Anyone interested in the strange relationship between the Bush administration and the truth might like to have a read of this New York Review of Books article by the excellent American writer, Joan Didion.”

Well the wonderful thing about your recommendation, Mark is I feel like I already have.

Jason Soon
2022 years ago

Norman
spare us your faux-Zen inanities. Mark has just given us an exegesis of Straussian thought. How is calling a spade a spade emotional labelling?

Norman
Norman
2022 years ago

Clearly, Jason, I’m not as scrutable an occidental as I thought I was. My remarks were directed at such things as his implication that lengthy litigation re the U.S. Elections was a problem only if Kerry won, references to possibilities that the Bush Administration was “Fascist”, and suggestions that those around Bush were in fact more sinister than Fascists.
Is this merely, “calling a spade a spade”, as you suggest, Jason, or perhaps more a case of calling a spade a phalanx of bulldozers?

Stan
Stan
2022 years ago

Geez… Troppo just gets worse every day.

wbb
wbb
2022 years ago

Thanks Brian – the Bush thing that there are those doomed to be observers (the reality-based) and then there are those that shape that reality is very Straussian.

Brian Bahnisch
Brian Bahnisch
2022 years ago

wbb, I think you mean Mark, to whom my thanks also!

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Norman, Gore I think bowed out sooner than he could have in terms of litigating the result – given that he won the popular vote. I don’t want to go over the whole sorry story but he had several options he didn’t exercise before the Supreme Court ruled. His concession was also very gracious, given that he was robbed of the win. Nixon, famously, despite evident fraud in Illinois and Texas in 1960, declined to mire the (very close) election in legal challenges. The link I posted also demonstrated that Rove has extensive form in this department. So although I don’t think I said so explicitly, I’m happy to argue that the trend of recourse to the courts is part of the excessive partisanship which Republicans have brought to US politics since the American people had the hide to elect Clinton in 92.

My reference to fascism was not part of my own argument, but an allusion to a discussion on Tim Dunlop’s blog. I made it clear ages ago in a post at Catallaxy that this term can be tossed around too lightly. I don’t expect you to have read every word I’ve ever written, but I’m fairly confident that my reservations about the use of this term nevertheless came across in the post.

Nor do I resile from thinking in some ways that the Neo-Con agenda is more sinister than fascism because of its fundamental duplicity – again a point I think I made clear above.

Norman
Norman
2022 years ago

mark, my comments weren’t directed specifically at you. They were no more than reflections on what I have seen (rightly or wrongly} to be a trend in politics for the “left” to replace the “right” as the most enthusiastic proponents of recourse to labelling their opponents. In saying this, I’m referring to what is deemed, in admittedly vague terms, to be the democratic versions of both camps.
When it came to supporters of the totalitarian parties, be they Communists, Fascists, Nazis Falangists or whatever, labels ruled supreme.
But during the most of the third quarter of the 20th Century, I believe that in Western Democracies at least, it was primarily the right who replaced analysis with emotive labels. Then, in the final quarter, the left began to challenge the right’s previous dominance in this area.
In part at least, my reaction to this may result from feeling more strongly about those with whom I feel a kinship, using tactics [and again I stress, that whether I’m correct or not on this, it is my perception] which are reminiscent of the more rabid sections of the the right of the 50s here in Australia, and to an even greater degree in the U.S.A.
If John Birch were alive today, I’d hope he felt embarrassed by what was once said and done in his name; but I’d hope he wouldn’t want the other side to use his name in their cause either.
Think of it this way. It’s more of a disappointment when someone close to you strays, than when your enemies do the same thing.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Fair enough, Norman, but you still haven’t persuaded me that the contemporary democratic Left is guilty of name-calling.

Nick
Nick
2022 years ago

Find yer evaluations quite interesting Mark…there is something of the ‘wise rulers’ attitude in the neo-cons…& they definately have spent a great deal of time using the Churches, media & political campaigns…not to mention policies, attempting to wipe out the Liberal lifestyle, Social Democratic education & health system ideologies & policies, hesitant into war attitudes, secularist state laws & views that have prevailed in the Northern & West Coast chapters of the Democratic Party…since the fall of Johnson…they want to cover the ideals that came out of 60s Berkley, the beat & hippy movements, the San Francisco music & gay scene etc. with the permanent labels of of ‘hedonistic’, ‘irresponsible’, ‘anti-family’, ‘drug dealers to your kids’, ‘pro pedophile’, ‘no values’, ‘child killers’…& they’re succeeding to a degree as evidenced by the Bush win…the Libs are trying the same here.
It’s in the Bush admin’s interest to keep this fervour alight like a runaway train cause it gives them a solid base in the evangelicals & Christian tradiotionalists they can call upon via the Churches etc. whenever it’s required…but its all smoke & mirrors…most of these cruds in power utilise these issues as wedge politics…to ensure they are perceived as distinctly different than their opposition…let’s face it apart from the odd tax shift, the occas. bias towards public funding of schools, TV & health in the complimentary system, fair trade as opposed to free trade…the Dems & Repugs aren’t that different…both are puppets of their corporate masters…Nader’s been trying to wake the US public up to this for years. The Dems still play with their financial backers (ie: Clintons at a penthouse party thrown by the Rich family just before he gives a speech on helping the poor & disenfranchised…sigh)…I don’t believe the neo-cons in power are as complex (agree with Jason) as some might believe…nor as simple i might add…Cheney & Bush are salesman & gladhanders, go-between specialists…they have heaps of think tanks working overtime on how to manipulate the public so they don’t see the true financial/asset accumulation determinants behind them & their goals.

Norman
Norman
2022 years ago

What a relief, Nick, to learn that ” “, so none of it really mattered,
Mark, I’ll concede my remarks might be better directed at the various Parties’ true believers [and bloggers?] than their leaderships; but in Australia at least, the blinded followers all too often end up pushing their less emotionally blinkered elected representatives down roads they’d otherwise take. And after the inevitable defeat, demands issue that parliamentarians pursue those discredited goals even more vigorously next time, because they’re “winners”.

Nick
Nick
2022 years ago

Of course it mattered Norman…it’s ensured that the bigots, tight wads, hypocrites & haters that make up a significant part of the Right have revealed themselves in all their glory…what did the President announce as his priorities in a 2nd term?”

Norman
Norman
2022 years ago

Apologies, Nick, for not having inserted between my quotation marks aqbove, the excerpt from your earlier post of November 5th, telling us that when it comes to the Democrats and Republicams:
“both are puppets of their corporate masters.”
If that IS true, Nick, you can see why someone might think it doesn’t seem to be worth making that much fuss about the results?

Nick
Nick
2022 years ago

ahhh Norman, but that’s the point…by the Dems losing so dramatically, for some unexpectedly, it’s ensured that all & sundry are now aware that the Right are the preeminent force in the most powerful economic & militaristic nation in history…now the politically apathetic, the passive book worm, the armchair pacifist, the smoked into lethargy, the fence-sitters & those playing blissfully at the bottom of the garden have all been startled, looked up, heard the roar of change…forced to take notice…the clouds are gathering at a rapid pace, the great trees are falling with a thunderous noise, the wraith-like bombers & copters are circling above & picking off selected enemies & annihilating the innocent in the moment it takes to gasp for a breath of scorched air…the foundations of society are swaying, rumbling…the landscape of the media & the net altered drastically as the hunter programs & the accompanying black suited fascist army from the Dep’t of propaganda & censorship race to swallow freedom of speech & diversity of thought…dire times”

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Pleasure, Nick – catharsis is important! Thanks in turn for your thoughtful comments.

Nick
Nick
2022 years ago

…& gracias amigo Mark for a wonderful opportunity to say what needed to be said…we may have been buried six feet under but that ain’t that far to the light…plenty of tales still to be told in this city…lol…

np: The Gloria Record: Start Here

Red Peter
Red Peter
2022 years ago

Slightly off topic, but did anyone see Rudd on Meet the Press this morning?

Asked about family first, he seemed to pre-empt the possibilty of the right staking their claim on “values” and “family” the way that has happened in the US. Which, in my view, is exactly what will happen if the economy takes a nose dive. Abott et al are already chomping at the bit, and even if it’s not getting much traction within the party now, just wait till their economy meme loses its pulling power.

Anyway, Rudd basically made the blunt point that family first and their ilk in coalition hold a monopoly on “values” and “family” only insofar as they are interpreted from a narrow religous perspective. I hope his message cuts through and that a believable alternative is worked on. Although, I gotta say, the fornication over Hillary and Obama in the US smacks of a rejuvination of political correctness which would be sorely inadequate to the task.

Red Peter
Red Peter
2022 years ago

Oh, and Mark, I’m sure I’m not as well read as you are on the subject but calling Drury “the leading expert on the current political influence of the philosopher Leo Strauss on US politics and foreign policy.” seems a bit contentious. Maybe it’s just sour grapes on the Straussians behalf, but criticisms of her work are fairly wide-ranging.

Nick
Nick
2022 years ago

Where does Obama come into the ‘political correctness’ picture Red Peter?…Hillary I can understand, she’s shown signs of heading in that direction in the past…but it’s also a term i have heaps of probs with cause it’s been used deviously by the Right for years to paint the Left into a corner.

Mark Bahnisch
Mark Bahnisch
2022 years ago

Red Peter, yes – I’m aware of the criticisms of Drury’s work. She addressed some of these in an article for Open Democracy. Unfortunately, I’m unable to point to the link as parts of the site are now off-limits to non-subscribers. Her basic claim was that criticisms of her exegetical/analytical work on Strauss (to which she says she is open) were occluded by political attacks on her drawing attention to the politics as opposed to the political theory of Straussianism.

One interesting link I did find just then – for neo-con watchers – relates to the reasons why Francis Fukuyama didn’t vote for Bush. I referred in the post to his article on neo-con overreach – again unfortunately not available online – but the article was in the context of a critique of Charles Krauthammer’s work, and there is more context and detail available in the Open Democracy piece for any readers who want a sense of Fukuyama’s current position.

Nick
Nick
2022 years ago

Worthwhile links provided Mark…good one…as we await the sacking/levelling of Fallujah those articles gain in weight…

& what a co-incidence that Fox Classics has a week of classic (gung-ho) war films…beginning Monday…

Fukuyama’s sense that somethin’ is awry within the neo-con ranks & his critique of Krauthammer (a regular guest of Brit Hume on Fox News)leads one to suspect the Hawks are re-enacting the ‘night of the long knives’. The Fukuyama’s are now on the outside looking in…

The following article, in case ya missed it, linked to the ‘didn’t vote for Bush’ article is also worth a read:

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2003/0304.marshall.html

…demonstrates once again the ‘fog & mirrors’ aspect of the war in Iraq…that we are…as feared…in for a much wider conflict than ever imagined….sigh.

(np: Elliott Smith: From a Basement on the Hill…music helps the mind in its continual search for sense…to lift it beyond the clouds of irrationality that encompass our wobbling world…to once again find those steps that so often elude us…to enlightenment)

trackback
2022 years ago

Shadia Drury’s Straussian puzzles#2: Allan Bloom

As I’ve mentioned before the Australian reception of Shadia DrurysLeo Straus and the American right accepts her critique of Strauss’s conservative politics, the noble lie and the Washington neocons.A good example is Mark Bahnisch’s post at Troppo Armad…