Sunday, May 07, 2006

Leo Strauss (1893 - 1973)

It was very difficult to read Leo Strauss (1). But I did manage to wring out some ideas. He says if political philosophy wants to do justice to its subject matter, it must strive for "genuine knowledge" of "true standards" (2). This absolutist idea may be at least in part the reason Straussians (and neoconservatives) are willing to force a political system on countries, using war, lies, and the like.

He begins to discuss Machiavelli (3) and says Karl Marx was a Machiavellian, which moves me toward the edge of my seat (even though this is no surprise) and this movement continued as I read more of Strauss on Machiavelli. The latter continually made me think of Bush and his neoconservatives.

Does this mean I can connect the dots between Bush and Marx? We'll see. Every libertarian understands that all authoritarian regimes, ranging from the Bush administration to the Hitler and Stalin regimes, have in common the principle that the needs of the state supersede the rights of the individual. But to get non-libertarians to see this will take a lot of dot-connecting.

I am not so sure I can do it satisfactorily, but I am pretty sure it can be done.

Leo Strauss fled Hitler and came to the United States in 1938. He taught political science at the University of Chicago, and his teaching spawned a large number of Straussians, as his followers are called, who are in powerful positions today (4). He seemed to think that philosophers cannot cut to the chase and say what they mean. Shadia Drury seems to believe he thought the truth was dangerous, even destructive to society, and had to write in a secretive manner (5). Maybe his views were incompatible with the prevailing views of the time and place, which Drury describes as "liberal." I am not sure whether this means "liberal" in the sense of classical liberal (libertarian) or modern "liberal" (leaning toward socialism). Either way, his elitist and anti-democratic views would not have been well regarded. Drury describes his following as "cultish" (kind of like the Skull and Bones?), and Strauss and his followers did not like open discussion of their ideas. I have to agree, since many of these Straussian students are now in high government posts working for a Bush-style New World Order.

Speaking of liberalism, Drury seems to think that modern "liberalism" is an advancement of classical liberalism (6). Classical liberalism was the "negative" liberty, i.e. you have the right not to be interfered with by government. (I would settle for that any day of the week.) But, she thinks, this does not help the great diversity in wealth, and hence "freedom"; therefore, liberty is furthered by "liberal" welfare and social programs through the government. FDR took great strides in "correcting" these market "flaws." Three Enemies, my earlier post, shows how far these programs went to enhance individual rights.

Strauss hated liberal democracy (7) for many reasons but the one that stuck in my mind was that it puts the individual first, and the private sphere was bigger than, and superior to, the public (government) sphere. We need to be part of a group, he believed. He believed, as did Marx, religion is the opiate of the people but, unlike Marx, that the people need it to coalesce into groups, and to give a people its moral values. This seems to be one of the things that influenced Irving Kristol, who said that religion was needed, with law reflecting it, to prevent moral decline. Strauss did not think that it matters which religion is embraced. A people needs its moral and legal code, and religion is something to base that on. Its "truth" need not be the real truth, since the little people are not capable of handling the real truth. The real truth is for the paternalistic elite, who will spin myths for the common people to believe in to keep them in line (8).

Neoconservative economics definitely reflects this. The great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, whom most libertarians revere, refutes this (9). He says economics is important in every facet of life to every person. It is the study of human action. All human action. Therefore it is the proper study of every person. I certainly agree with this great economist on that point, and on almost other point. If there is one thing other than the Word of God that must not be elitist and must be open to all, it is economics. And, since it covers all action on the part of all humans, not only must economics be for all to study, but so must all other areas of life as well. In my opinion, this in itself causes the wall of elitist exclusion to tumble. Leave it to Ludwig von Mises. In fact, the section of Human Action Chapter XXXVIII called "Economics and Freedom" showed that Mises really had the neoconservatives' number (10).

Now, Leo Strauss was very intelligent. So, didn't he realize that people can and do congregate into groups based on something they hold in common, without being told to? Of course he did. But the idea of individual initiative just does not serve his or his neoconservative followers' purposes.

Because he escaped Hitler (presumably) and because he was a Jew (11), his thoughts were on why the Holocaust happened and how it could be prevented from happening again. He seemed to think "modernity" brought about the Holocaust. One way to avoid a repeat, he thought, was to keep the general populace from thought and confine thinking to a trusted elite. The National Socialists (Nazis) were not part of that elite, but were brutes. I agree with that. So, who would be part of the elite? I don't know but I would guess that the man he saw in the mirror would be included.

Strauss was influenced by Martin Heidegger and Carl Schmidt, both of whom enthusiastically aligned with the National Socialists (12). He refuted Heidegger for his National Socialist philosophy. Heidegger was an existentialist, but messed up when he applied that individual independence to groups. Maybe this is what led into National Socialism. I got the idea that possibly because he was anti-Nazi, Strauss condemned existentialism because of this. If so, that could have led to his anti-individualism. Drury believes that Strauss should not have refuted Heidegger, since they actually did have much in common (13).

A Web search on Schmitt revealed, in addition to the Drury book, a lot of things. Schmitt was a strong believer in hierarchy (14), with the State's sovereign on top and not subject to the laws that apply to those below (kind of like Pres. Bush?). Politics is above moral and ethical law and has an autonomous domain. Democracy is wrong, per Schmitt, because the people do not know what they want and need to be led. However, democracy is better than individualistic and/or egalitarian liberalism (15). Such classical liberalism destroys politics, he thought, but introduces covert, dirtier politics because liberalism puts politics in the private sector (read marketplace).

This is not all on Carl Schmidt. He wrote a book in 1932 called The Concept of the Political that identifies the Friend/Enemy distinction as the essence of politics (16). I will be saying more on this subject later.

Strauss believed that lying and deception on the part of authority would protect the great unwashed from nihilism and becoming uncivilized. His mentor, Friedrich Nietzsche, said basically the same thing. In politics today, such thought is business as usual, thanks to the Straussian neoconservatives.

Drury considers this lying as authoritarian, and I think she is understating it. Inadvertently (maybe), Strauss, who was so anti-national socialist (maybe), has prepared the way to national socialism (17). The elite uses the preservation of western civilization as an excuse to create a sense of crisis and to aggrandize its own power at the expense of moral limits. There is something really familiar about this in the actions of the Bush administration people. They lie and they trot out crises (real and imagined) in order to gravitate power to the executive branch.

She points this out about Carl Schmidt: He realizes that liberalism (classical, I gather) and democracy are not necessarily found together. A majority can be as ruthless as any dictator. In fact, possibly it can be worse. You can implore a dictator to change something, but a majority is hard to deal with. The people's (majority's) will is shaped by an elite, and just try getting someone in that elite, a politician or a bureaucrat, to admit to being the source of a problem. You will get the runaround.

Drury points out that this is exactly why the Straussian neoconservatives like democracy. The individual is swallowed up as insignificant. Of course, perpetuating the myth that democracy equals freedom, as exemplified by the Bush administration's Iraq policy, is helping them develop colonialism abroad and despotism at home.

Schmitt was a Hobbesian (while most libertarians are Lockeians; you compare) and thought that only a sovereign with absolute power could bring about order and peace (18). The almighty state, as I see this, swallows up individuals and makes them part of this whole, so order and peace occur because everyone is of like mind. Of like mind, that is, as opposed to of free or open mind. In a free society, order and peace occur because individuals leave each other alone and observe the boundary between "mine" and "not-mine."

This liberalism, according to both Schmitt and Strauss, was why the Weimar Republic was destroyed and National Socialism began. That is why these people were so concerned with keeping politics alive. Schmitt became enthusiastically supportive of Hitler. Schmitt regarded politics as a "glorious affair," and royal absolutism, not the relatively libertarian pre-Lincoln America, as the "pinnacle of western civilization," with the sovereign above the law, free to act outside the bounds of the law (sounds like Bush to me), with no obligation to be rational (19).

So, what is this "politics" about? It is about the survival of the state and, again, this is why these people are so concerned about keeping politics alive. Strauss especially thought that (classical) liberalism was dangerous to politics, and thus to the absolute state which Schmitt advocated.

To Strauss, politics was a fact of life. Regretfully, I agree. The best I can ever hope for, at least for the next few centuries, is a decentralization of power beginning with the dismantling of the United Nations, and such wastes as the World Trade Organization and NATO. Of course, these are not governments, although the U.N. is a wannabe government, and the New World Order crowd wants some sort of world government. This dismantling I hope would be followed by a renewal of the Republic per the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. This will transfer the bulk of political power to the state level. People in the states can then decide how much power the state will keep and how much it will transfer to localities. This will empower individuals who can confront their officials personally, and thus keep them in line. It was like that here at one time; why can't it be like that again?

Human nature being what it is, there will always be politics, ranging from civil government to gangs to cliques. Too bad. At least in the absence of powerful centralized governments I can decline to participate in the back-biting.

Strauss not only shares Schmitt's views, but goes even farther in his desire to save politics (20). Politics needs to be combined with morality and religion, he says, if people are going to be persuaded to do the most asinine thing: to sacrifice their lives for the collective.

Beginning with Drury's Chapter 4 I get the idea that possibly it is the Straussianism in the neoconservatives that is causing them to soft-pedal, even eliminate, the teaching of the Founding through the Civil War, especially the Bill of Rights, in the public schools (21). The Straussians do not agree on the roots of the Founding, but they all oppose the classical liberalism that we know the Founders cleaved to and founded the country for. They would have us believe that the Founding was based on "ancient wisdom" (or a form of authoritarian domination). This, I think, is one of their lies in their quest for domination.

In cooked-up crises they cry gloom and doom, or take advantage in the cases of real crises, then claim problems are curable by the end of liberalism (what little classical liberalism has not been supplanted by modern "liberalism").

Some Straussians decided to make the most of a bad (as they see it) situation and lay the groundwork of neoconservatism.

Drury points out a very interesting observation regarding education I had not quite thought of (22), but it appears to me to be true. I had caught on that there really isn't much difference between the neoconservatives and the Left and that really hit home when I wrote, for the Badnarik campaign in 2004, the pamphlet "Two Points to Consider" that I distributed during the anti-Bush demonstration just prior to the GOP Presidential Nomination Convention (read rubberstamp) in New York (23). They both favor big government, top-down decision making, and very little individual freedom. Now, I am learning how little regard the Straussians have for the real truth, or any "truth." They want to confine truth to the elite and keep us little people in blissful ignorance. Their attitude towards education reflects this. Meanwhile leftist educators deny that there is any absolute truth (24).

The difference between these two educational ideas is not very great. And they explain why real educators like Joe Enge and Hans-Hermann Hoppe (25) are in trouble with the establishment. Teaching students how to think independently, which I think is the real purpose of education, is not conducive to the left/neoconservative goal of cementing individuals together into the group, with just a few handpicked elitists who lead.

So, how does the Straussian philosophy apply today? What are the neoconservatives doing to achieve the goal of ending classical liberalism and "modernity"?

I have not forgotten that the purpose of this piece is to trace neoconservatism to its authoritarian roots. But it is necessary to touch on their method to achieve their goals. I wrote in Three Enemies the blows the Bush administration is dealing to liberty.

One thing I did not write about in Three Enemies, although I did touch on it in a few spots, is that the neoconservatives are gung-ho for science. Now, I really do not have a problem with this; after all I was a science major and my career was in science. Science has always been a major interest. However, the neoconservatives in their push to get more science into the schools and colleges, are "crowding out" (as economists put it) the humanities. Students are not being taught ideas or how to think about ideas. Public funding is allowing government to worm its way into higher education and oversee how subjects are taught.

Scientific research is something the neoconservatives are interested in furthering. The Left would like government to do research since they believe Big Business has an agenda. I concur, but does not government also have an agenda? The neoconservatives would like government to direct and fund research that is done by non-government entities, so it is worming its way into that area, too.

This devotion to science spills into a devotion to anything that is "natural." (26) And what is natural? Of course it is what the neoconservatives say is natural! Certain things are "natural" and "nobody will question" them. Of course this is true. The law of gravity, the need to consume organic material to remain alive and the like are a given. However, the neoconservatives extend this to human behavior. Now, I agree that there is absolute in the difference between right and wrong. The Bible is clear in certain areas about this, and the correctness of this is evidenced in some ways, particularly in that Biblical admonitions work. My life is working and it is because I make it my business to obey God. The neoconservatives have many of the same moral beliefs. However, they claim that such values are "natural." I am not so sure. Some do come naturally to me and others require varying degrees of self-discipline. Some are natural to you that might not be the same ones.

Then, having said that right morality comes naturally, they turn right around to say that we need laws to enforce it! If it is so natural, why does it have to be legislated?

I wonder if they would pass a law saying that we have to breathe. The police will stop you and write you a ticket if they think you are failing to comply. That's nuts, but I would not put it past them.

The reason they want to pass such laws is precisely that morality is not necessarily natural, and this is a way for them to increase the wealth, size, and scope of government, concentrating power in one place. It goes along with everything else the Bush administration is doing, and if the shoe fits …

They know as well as we do that morality is a settled issue. People who believe in a different morality or no morality at all will still be what the neoconservatives believe is immoral no matter how many laws, police, and jails there are. We cannot even keep drugs (as an example) out of maximum-security prisons, so how are we going to enforce morality in the homes and the streets?

Even if we could, what good is morality if it is coerced?

They are undermining the great principles of the Founders. They do not believe (or say they do not believe as a way to fool us all into not believing) that the Founders held the great libertarian principles. Of course, the Founders were not purely libertarian as, say, Murray Rothbard nearly was and as I aspire to be. But, they were by far and away more libertarian than almost anyone else at that time, or really any other time. The Straussians do not think so. In a way, Strauss was right. We have not adhered to the libertarian vision very well in some ways. But, still, the country was founded very much on the concept of individual freedom.

Furthermore, Strauss, in his day, and his followers still believed (or pretended to believe) that classical liberalism still ruled here. It didn't, as has been pointed out, and has not for decades. They seem to equate modern "liberalism" (as in leftist) with classical liberalism as I pointed out early on. Modern "liberalism" does rule, and with an iron hand.

They want to replace that with their own ironhanded rule. To do this, they turn to, of all things, democracy. They do realize that democratic rule can be as despotic as any, and can have the unquestioned orthodoxy they want, without freedom of speech or thought. Only the elite is privy to the real truth because the common people cannot withstand it.

This is very much the philosophy of Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, who was, to Leo Strauss, wisdom incarnate. He and Plato were Strauss' authorities, although neither one was inclined to endorse lying, not overtly anyway, in the sense that Strauss endorsed lying in order to manipulate people. But government authority was the hallmark of their philosophies.

(1) Strauss, Leo, What is Political Philosophy?, Free Press, Glencoe (Ill.), 1959 was the book I got from the library.

(2) Ibid. P. 12.

(3) Ibid. P. 41.

(4) Norton, Anne, Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2004, P. 7-9.

(5) Drury, Shadia, Leo Strauss and the American Right, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1997, P. 1. See also P. 150.

(6) Ibid. P. 24-27.

(7) Ibid. P. 37.

(8) Ibid. Chapter 1.

(9) Mises, Ludwig von, Human Action (Scholar's Edition), Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn (Ala.), 1998, P. 874-875.

(10) Ibid. P. 875-876.

(11) Drury, P. 65-66

(12) Ibid. Chapter 2.

(13) Ibid. P. 73.

(14) Ibid. P. 82.

(15) Ibid. P. 83.

(16) Trask, H. Arthur Scott, "Fanatics at Home and Abroad." Also see Drury P. 23.

(17) Drury, P. 81.

(18) Ibid. P. 88.

(19) Ibid. P. 82.

(20) Ibid. P. 91.

(21) The saga of Joe Enge, history teacher in Carson City, Nev., illustrates this. See .

(22) Drury, P. 117-118.

(23) The two points: 1. Reasons to vote for Michael Badnarik (The war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, government intrusion in marriage, medical marijuana, and the possibility of the draft), and 2. Reasons to financially support Badnarik even if you are still voting for John Kerry.

(24) To say that there is absolutely no absolute truth begs one to ask, "Absolutely none?" This paradox shows right there how wacko such an idea is.

(25) Hoppe, Hans-Hermann, "My Battle With the Thought Police." Dissident professors are subject to discipline while universities claim to value academic freedom.

(26) Norton, Anne, Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2004, Chapter 5, "Getting the Natural Right." I had time for only that chapter, but this book appears to be very informative.

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