Wednesday, June 14, 2006

[political-research] Leo Strauss and the American Right (Shadia B. Drury)


On the destruction of the Republican Party and the conservative movement by the virulently anti-American Straussians and neoconservatives.

A spot on review:

The chief insight offered by Shadia Drury in LEO STRAUSS AND THE AMERICAN RIGHT is that Leo Strauss's political philosophy is a radical variant of conservatism whose assumptions and strategies are at odds with traditional conservatism. While both Straussian and Burkean philosophy appear similar in that they both make the assumption that the only choice is between a beneficent plutocracy and anarchy, the Straussians are unsentimental about the past, rejecting the older conservative view that naturalizes pre-modern hierarchy and the inequalities preserved therein as intrinsic to and representative of mankind. Straussians are instead post-modern activists, who use the past as repository from which to cull whatever elements are necessary to build whatever institutional machine is necessary to regulate lesser mortals. They imagine themselves as an intellectual pastorate who must defend society against the depredations of liberalism -- that socially disruptive idea which insists on equality of opportunity and justice.
According to Drury, Strauss's philosophy accepts the death of God, (unlike traditional conservatism) and then moves positivistically (unlike traditional conservatism) to fill the vacuum with elite group of self-elected philosopher kings. This elite, alive to the nihilism of the liberal ethos and its potentially anarchic consequences, believes it must act forcefully to paper over the hole left by His demise. Their esoteric/exoteric readings of philosophy tell them they must forge from the ashes a seamless, monocultural machine to encourage obedience and staunch chaos. This nationalistic machine must be equipped with a religion (any religion) and a mythic culture based on flag-reverence and knee-jerk patriotism. This is necessary because pluralistic, liberal societies cannot meet the challenge posed by well-organized, culturally cohesive states. Because the mass of men are primitive, credulous, prone to error and evil, the state with the best machine necessarily will win. Straussians, unlike traditional conservatives who see the state as malevolent, justify their activism by insisting that as philosophers they are immune to temptations of power.

According to Drury, a particularly striking strategy of Straussian conservatives is their struggle to identify and mythologize American traditions. She points out that while Burke had the last remnants of feudalism to extol as a naturally just system, American conservatives have been forced to create a ?traditional? America out of whole cloth. To do so, according the Drury, Strauss's followers have invaded history departments across the US where they have been working hard to uncover "tradition" in the beginnings of America ? a difficult task given that America was the first truly modernist state. Nevertheless, these historians, depending upon which ax they are grinding, rewrite American history either to prove that colonial America was feudal, or to prove the Founding Fathers were not Deists and creatures of the (Liberal) Enlightenment, but rather Platonists. Drury notes that like postmodernists on the left, Straussians believe there is no ultimate truth, but that instead there are only discourses of power and that whoever controls the discourse wins. She notes that this is what makes American politics so narrow and so tedious -- the right and the left both operate from the same morally bankrupt premise.

This goes a long way toward explaining the bizarre combination of libertarianism and fundamentalism in neo-conservative thought. Like other dogmas which have been used to support those in power -- Social Darwinism and eugenics come to mind -- neoconservatism is just the latest apologia for the up-to-date reactionary. Notably, its adherents are generally unaware of the contradiction. This does not deter them from defending this instrumental hodgepodge of Ayn Rand "objectivism" and millenarian "revivalism" however. Such a philosophy is, of course, its own best self-satirization.

Well-written, its conclusions careful and amply defended, LEO STRAUSS AND THE AMERICAN RIGHT, is not the ravings of conspiracy theorist. It does not imagine that Straussians have come to run the United States, nor that they form a secret cult which pulls the strings behind the scene. It exposes rather the infiltration of post-modern intellectual cynicism into the once decent, and even honorable, Republican Party.



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