I picked up some Leo Strauss again, after having put the book down during some hectic weeks. But I think his ideas, particularly as they’re expressed in Natural Right and History, are undeniably insightful about the utopian, revolutionary drive in humanity.
Strauss is supposed to be the philosophical inspiration of the neoconservatives! you shout. And you do. Because it’s true, at least as far as popular discourse – the flows of punditry and political analysis throughout television and the internet – is concerned.
|Is this man a Straussian? No, he's Bill Kristol.
If I involve Strauss’ ideas in the Utopias manuscript, and it looks like I will, it’ll be as a demonstration. The idea that the intellectual leaders of the neoconservative movement that took the American military to Iraq are dedicated Straussians is an intellectual conspiracy.
I literally mean a conspiracy. This article traces the first appearances of the modern consensus Strauss-influenced-the-neocons meme to have begun with an article published by Lyndon Larouche. Larouche apparently claims in this essay that several figures in the Reagan Administration and their associates were followers of Strauss’ political philosophy.
Then Larouche makes an absurd claim that Strauss’ political philosophy is profoundly opposed to his Promethean nature as an engine of progress for humanity in the ever-progressing power of our technology to conquer nature.
Larouche, in his heyday, was an American communist revolutionary who attempted to build his new society on the recruitment model of a cult. Right down to allegedly brainwashing citizens to have a completely different set of moral presumptions, premises for a morality of Marxist utopia.
From this man and organization came this conspiracy that many in popular discourse believe. I took it for granted so much that I started reading the book as research for my Utopias project. Yet if its source really is a fellow-traveller of Jim Jones, the notion must be absurd.
As I read in Strauss this weekend when I was relaxing with Natural Right and History, you find the truth of a phenomenon by examining its origin.
|Yes, Lyndon Larouche is still around and doing things.
In material history, the connection between Strauss and Team Wolfowitz is the product of a philosophical Marxist L. Ron Hubbard. But the myth is widely enough believed that examining conservative thinking AS IF it were true can now teach us a lot about what contemporary conservative ideals are philosophically.
We can find the noble concept that sits in horror at how much violence and war has happened around it. No one ever thought of this concept until after the fact. But it’s the unspoken attractor in the phase space of society. It never even existed until after enough events, actions, and thoughts expressed it. A tendency that manifests without governing.
The conspiracy that the neocons are Straussians is so widely believed by now as to make Strauss part of the intellectual atmosphere of the real conservative movement. Some young Republican is probably reading him now, because he’s heard the same conspiracy theory that the liberal press believes. He just likes what he hears.
What would he hear? I think there’d be two principles.
1) Democracy is the best form of human government we’ve come up with, and people shouldn’t have to live in constant fear of their government.
2) The world will be at peace when all people are free and treat each other as brothers – this is the natural right of all people for justice, arrived by reason.
|I don't think Strauss would be amused to hear
how I talk about him, but he's dead. So he
can become a retroactive inspiration
without making a big deal about it.
That second principle makes Strauss sound more like an anarchist than a contemporary conservative. He describes how democracy leads to a peaceful society where everyone helps each other. But becoming such a society requires everyone to follow their powers of reasoning well enough to uncover the truth for themselves.
This is still revolutionary. Even if the universal truth reason discovers is pretty much what you already believed, if you’re really using your reason, then you’ll have turned against your society anyway. You’ll reject your starting moral beliefs because they’ re products of authority, not reason.
That’s a tough transformation, as if the only way to build a democracy is to be their Socrates, only actually effective. Person by person, you inspire and nudge them to be more mindful of freedom, and to care for others. That makes a society full of people who wouldn’t kill or hurt another.
But that’s a really slow process. The Bill Kristol that lives in our collective head, the magazine editor of neocon doctrine, believes that this will be when every government in the world is democratic. And we can just bomb and invade our way to global democracy.
“As fast as you can!” is not the same as, “As fast as is possible.”