“The machiavelian threefold game of the neoconservatives”
by Laurent Guyénot
To realize their fantasies of world domination, the neocons resorted to a triple discourse, as Laurent Guyénot shows in this study, i.e. a cynical political philosophy developed by their mentor Leo Strauss for domestic consumption; a cold analysis of Israeli strategic interests for the benefit of the leaders in Tel Aviv, and a fear-mongering warning against imaginary dangers besetting U.S. public opinion.
VOLTAIRE NETWORK | 27 MAY 2013
Who are the neoconservatives?
The neoconservative movement, which is generally perceived as a radical (rather than “conservative”) Republican right, is, in reality, an intellectual movement born in the late 1960s in the pages of the monthly magazine Commentary, a media arm of the American Jewish Committee, which had replaced the Contemporary Jewish Record in 1945. The Forward, the oldest American Jewish weekly, wrote in a January 6th, 2006 article signed Gal Beckerman: “If there is an intellectual movement in America to whose invention Jews can lay sole claim, neoconservatism is it. It’s a thought one imagines most American Jews, overwhelmingly liberal, will find horrifying. And yet it is a fact that as a political philosophy, neoconservatism was born among the children of Jewish immigrants and is now largely the intellectual domain of those immigrants’ grandchildren”. The neoconservative apologist Murray Friedman explains that Jewish dominance within his movement by the inherent benevolence of Judaism, “the idea that Jews have been put on earth to make it a better, perhaps even a holy, place” (The Neoconservative Revolution: Jewish Intellectuals and the Shaping of Public Policy, 2006).
Just as we speak of the “Christian Right” as a political force in the United States, we could also therefore speak of the neoconservatives as representing the “Jewish Right”. However, this characterization is problematic for three reasons. First, the neoconservatives are a relatively small group, although they have acquired considerable authority on and within Jewish representative organizations, including the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. In 2003, journalist Thomas Friedman of the New York Times counted twenty-five members saying, “if you had exiled them to a desert island a year and half ago, the Iraq war would not have happened”. The neoconservatives compensate for their small number by multiplying their Committees, Projects, and other think tanks, which certainly give them a kind of ubiquity.
Second, the neoconservatives of the first generation mostly came from the left, even the extreme Trotskyist left for some such as Irving Kristol, one of the main editors of Commentary. During the late 1960s the Commentary editorial staff begins to break with the liberal, pacifist left, which they suddenly find decadent. Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary from 1960 until his retirement in 1995, was a militant anti-Vietnam dissenter until 1967, but then in the 70s became a fervent advocate of an increased defense budget, bringing the journal along in his wake. In the 1980s, he opposed the policy of détente in his book The Present Danger: in the 1990s, he calls for the invasion of Iraq, and then again in the early 2000s. In 2007, while his son John Podhoretz was taking over as editor of Commentary, he asserted once again the urgency of a U.S. military attack, this time against Iran.
Third, unlike evangelical Christians who openly proclaim their unifying religious principles, neoconservatives do not display their Judaism. Whether they’d been Marxists or not, they appear mostly non-religious. It is well-know that their major influence is the philosophy of Leo Stauss, so much so that they are sometimes referred to as “the straussians”; Norman Podhoretz and his son John, Irving Kristol and his son William, Donald Kagan and his son Robert, Paul Wolfowitz, Adam Shulsky, to name just a few, all expressed their debt to Strauss. Leo Strauss, born to a family of German Orthodox Jews, was both pupil and collaborator of political theorist Carl Schmitt, himself a specialist of Thomas Hobbes and advocate of a “political theology” by which the State must appropriate the attributes of God. Schmitt was an admirer of Mussolini, and the legal counsel of the Third Reich. After the Reichstag fire in February 1933, it was Schmitt who provided the legal framework that justified the suspension of citizen rights and the establishment of the dictatorship. It was also Schmitt, in 1934, who personally obtained from the Rockefeller Foundation a grant for Leo Strauss to study Thomas Hobbes in London and Paris, and then finally end up teaching in Chicago.
The thinking of Leo Strauss is difficult to capture, and certainly beyond the purview of this work. Moreover, Strauss is often elliptic because he believes that Truth is harmful to the common man and the social order and should be reserved for superior minds. For this reason, Strauss rarely speaks in his own name, but rather expressed himself as a commentator on classical authors, in whom he discovers many of his own thoughts. Moreover, much like his disciples Allan Bloom (The Closing of the American Mind, 1988) and Samuel Huntington, he is careful to clothe his most radical ideas in ostensibly humanist principles. Despite the apparent difficulty, three basic ideas can easily be extracted from his political philosophy, no different from Schmitt. First, nations derive their strength from their myths, which are necessary for government and governance. Second, national myths have no necessary relationship with historical reality: they are socio-cultural constructions that the State has a duty to disseminate. Third, to be effective, any national myth must be based on a clear distinction between good and evil; it derives its cohesive strength from the hatred of an enemy nation. As recognized by Abram Shulsky and Gary Schmitt in an article “Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence” (1999), for Strauss, “deception is the norm in political life” – the rule they applied to fabricating the lie of weapons of mass destruction by Saddam Hussein when working inside the Office of Special Plans.
In his maturity, Strauss was a great admirer of Machiavelli, who he believes he understood better than anyone. In his Thoughts on Machiavelli, he parts from the intellectual trend of trying to rehabilitate the author of The Prince against the popular opinion regarding his work as immoral. Strauss recognizes the absolute immorality of Machiavelli, which he sees as the source of his revolutionary genius, “We are in sympathy with the simple opinion about Machiavelli, not only because it is wholesome, but above all because a failure to take that opinion seriously prevents one from doing justice to what is truly admirable in Machiavelli; the intrepidity of his thought, the grandeur of his vision, and the graceful subtlety of his speech”. The thought of Machiavelli is so radical and pure, says Strauss, that its ultimate implications could not be spelled out: “Machiavelli does not go to the end of the road; the last part of the road must be travelled by the reader who understands what is omitted by the writer”. Strauss is the guide who can help his neoconservative students do that, for “to discover from [Strauss’] writings what he regarded as the truth is hard; it is not impossible”. This truth that Machiavelli and Strauss share is not a blinding light, but rather a black hole that only the philosopher can contemplate without turning into a beast: there is no afterlife, and neither good nor evil; therefore the ruling elite shaping the destiny of their nation need not worry about the salvation of their own souls. Hence Machiavelli, according to Strauss, is the perfect patriot.
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