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The Strauss Factor and the War Without End

by Daniel F. Bonham Monday, Mar. 07, 2005 at 6:07 AM

Using the neo-con takeover as a successful blueprint, we can build another kind of victory, not the war without end but the end of war - a victory for the people and the Earth.


By Daniel F. Bonham

[This essay was published in: The PeaceWorker, March 2005. Daniel F. Bonham is an organizer for the Carpenters” Union. The SMART Security plan which OPW has adopted as its organizing framework, is an example of the kind of blueprint Bonham suggests in his last paragraph. For details, visit OPW’s website]

In 1996, during the beginning of the neo-con revolution called the “Contract with America” Time Magazine called Leo Strauss “the most influential man in America” because of his influence on Newt Gingrich & Co. Since then, Straussian influence on the neo-con movement, and hence the rest of the world has grown.


Prominent current and former U.S. political luminaries who are reported to be among Strauss’s protégés include: Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Pearle, John Ashcroft, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Federal Judge Robert Bork, former Secretary of Education William Bennett, National Review publisher William F. Buckley, former Reagan administration official Alan Keynes, former Ambassador Jean Kirkpatrick, and former Clinton administration domestic policy advisor William Galston. In order to understand the cohesive, and perhaps, conspiratorial nature of the neo-con movement, and what we in the progressive movement need to learn from it, we need to familiarize ourselves with the neo-con movement’s godfather: Leo Strauss.

Born in Germany in 1899 to a middle-class German Jewish family, Strauss was educated at the best universities in Germany in history, philosophy, and mathematics. During the rise of the Nazi Party in the early 30s, he was known to have been a researcher in Jewish Studies in Berlin. Perhaps because of some inside information or perhaps because he just saw the writing on the wall, Strauss left Germany in 1932, immigrating to the United States. Here, he taught at several well-known American universities until his death in 1973.

With such a background, one could hardly imagine that Strauss could become a champion of neo-aristocratic/fascist political ideology, but that is exactly what happened. In my review of Strauss’ fourteen books and numerous articles, I found no allusion to any condemnation of the Hitler government or the Third Reich. On the contrary, Strauss blamed the Holocaust on the “liberal democratic policies of the pre-Nazi Weimar government and the American government under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.


Principal among Strauss’s ideas is that liberal democracy is a “poisonous vice” that will lead in all cases to tyranny: the same “tyranny of the majority” so feared by the wealthy landowners among the American Founding Fathers. There is, therefore, a good argument to be made that at least some Straussian philosophy is compatible with parts of the U.S. Constitution. To counter the “social disease” of what we would call social and economic justice, Strauss advocated the de facto re-creation of an ancient form of government: an aristocracy in the midst of American society.

Straussians teach that the social-financial elite have a right to rule because they have demonstrated an intellectual and perhaps genetic superiority over lesser humans. Perhaps it is this Nietzschian call for rule by a powerful, monied elite that draws the attention and admiration of the wealthiest of Americans – and those who aspire to great wealth. No wonder, then, that the teachings of Leo Strauss resonate with the likes of the Bush family, their cronies and their servants on the radical right.

Another jewel in the Straussian crown is religion. In her book Leo Strauss and the American Right, Shadia Drury writes: “He [Strauss] values religion as a source of order and stability in society. He believes that religion provides the majority of people with the comfort they need to bear their harsh existence. He does not disagree with Marx that religion is the opium of the masses; he just thinks people need their opium.”

No wonder that the teachings of Leo Strauss resonate with the born-again Christian right. Neither is it any wonder that our born-again president and his like-minded inner circle of handlers are eager to incorporate Straussian/neo-con ideology into the American political agenda through their faith-based initiatives and frequent not-so-public references to mandates from God.

It is a religious but not an historic irony that these erstwhile followers of the Prince of Peace are the driving force behind the doctrine of preemption and the Iraq war. These are the ideological descendants of the people who brought us the Thirty Years War, The Hundred Years War and now bring us the War Without End. Far from being the necessary evil to a noble end, war becomes the vehicle upon which the elite rulers of America can ride a “highway of fear” of their own making to achieve their goal of re-creating a dominant aristocracy. The devastation of Iraq, the concurrent propaganda campaign, and the awarding of massive military and reconstruction contracts to neo-con-connected corporations would make perfect sense to Leo Strauss.

This is a new and yet ancient political landscape. This is the Straussian/neo-con vision for today and the future. If the Iraq War were being fought on the same political landscape as the Vietnam War, then we of the progressive left might have a chance to stop this war-without-end by using the same tactics that were used in the 60s and 70s, but it is not, and the neo-con-dominated U.S. government will continue to ignore us.


Most of us in the progressive movement are missing the point of where the neo-cons are coming from and where they are going, and we need to make some definitive adjustments in our thinking if we are to stop them. We need to realize that the neo-cons are not losing the war in Iraq (for example) as it might appear to most people around the world. In fact, the neo-cons are chalking up victory after victory. The Iraqi people, the uniformed grunts on the ground and the insurgents, are losing the war. They are the ones suffering. On the other hand Halliburton, Stevedore, Bechtel and a bunch of other neo-con-connected corporations have already made billions of dollars and will soon make a lot more, no matter what happens, continually developing more power and more wealth for the new aristocracy.

We of the progressive movement must abandon our outmoded assumptions that war is universally considered a bad concept, or that everyone thinks maiming children is unacceptable. We must reject the axiom that as Ronald Reagan used to say, CEOs believe peace is good for business.

The neo-cons did not take over America in a single election cycle. The death knell for American democracy sounded 25 years ago with the election of Ronald Reagan whose administration set the stage for the neo-con takeover. The death-knell continues to ring today but democracy in America is not dead – not yet anyway.

The pro-corporate compromises of the Clinton years, and the desultory quest of John Kerry to seize the political center have left the progressive movement in disarray. Our movement should abandon the quest for the middle. We must seize on the dissatisfaction of millions of Americans to – just like the neo-cons did three decades ago – find a common ideology around which to rally (the writings of David C. Korten come to mind) and use the neo-con takeover as a successful blueprint from which to build another kind of victory: not the war without end but the end of war – a victory for the people and the Earth.

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