What the hell does Leo Strauss have to do with anything? As far as I'm concerned: nothing. Leo Strauss, for those who avoid pointy-headed discussions about ideological conspiracies, is the supposed head of the neo-conservative movement, and it's founding guru. Everything neo-con can be laid at the feet of Mr. Strauss, and all of the blame and scorn for the mess in Iraq belongs solely to him. Or something like that. He died in 1973, but his dead hand is alleged by many to be guiding the current direction of our nation; in some grand new world order. But it all sounds like crap to me.
From the first time I had heard of Leo Strauss, I got the impression that he was one of those people that the intellectual-types like to talk about to show how much they know that you don't. As a name-dropping kind of thing. They pick this relatively obscure intellectual, who you've never heard of, and toss out a few choice fancy sounding phrases as they recite a script showing how smart they are, and how little you knew.
But what is their intent? Upon receiving this knowledge, will we be able to grab Leo's playbook and thus anticipate Bush's next move? Will it provide us with the right question to feed our liberal media so they can trick Bush into confessing all of his Presidential sins at the next press conference? Will it even tell us how to get a majority in both the House and the Senate in 2006? No! And that's not even a hard one.
No, this is just your basic pointy-headed intellectual stuff. Maybe it's all true. Maybe these people ARE all Straussians. So the fuck what?! What now? How does this knowledge help my life? How does this fix anything??! It doesn't. It's just jibber-jabber to help make people feel smarter than they really are. But it doesn't really do a damn thing beyond that, and learning knowledge not needed doesn't really make you smarter.
And even at that, even if we were to acknowledge that Strauss is the forbearer of today's neo-conservatives, the anti-Strauss crowd makes another mistake. They seem to have this idea that neo-conservatives are a branch of conservatives. I'm guessing that the word "conservative" in "neo-conservative" is somehow fooling them into thinking that it's a faction of the same group. But it's not.
Conservatives and Neo-Conservatives have nothing ideological in common. Nothing. They are two separate ideologies with different goals and methods, who have decided for political reasons to band together. Or more accurately, the neo-conservatives made a decision to high-jack the political power of the Republican Party by latching themselves to the conservatives, who were also grabbing the Republican mantle.
But the conservatives have very little to gain out of this. They just don't realize what the neo-cons have done because the neo-cons are much smarter than the conservatives. They use the same empty rhetoric; but the neo-cons are a parasite on the conservatives. And more than that, their eventual aim is to transform conservatives en masse into unconsciously adopting the neo-con ideology. This is subversion of the true conservative ideology, not its intellectual superior.
What Are Conservatives
That's pretty easy. In America, conservatives are defined as the people who believe that the government should be very limited to necessary powers. They have arbitrarily picked the limits explicitly written in our Constitution as their preferred guideline. But they could have picked anything else, with the Constitution offering them a bunkhead to hide behind. And that's not a bad size for them, so they find it a quite comfortable fit as a starting point for their ideological discussions.
But what do they want? They want freedom for the powerful. That's what true conservatives want. They believe that if someone can take something legally, it should be theirs; and they define "legally" in terms loaded in their favor.
Muggers vs Ken Lay
For example, they believe that stealing by gunpoint is wrong because they don't use guns for those purposes, and can easily be a victim of such techniques. But they believe that, for business matters, theft by deception is perfectly ok. They don't think that the SEC and other regulatory agencies are constitutional, and they justify this by claiming that the markets will naturally self-regulate . Every man for himself...in the business world. Let the powerful survive. A mugger might steal $5, and a corporate exec might steal $5 million; but the conservative would much rather imprison the mugger than the executive.
Now, naturally it would be a bad policy to allow market forces to work on the streets; as that amounts to vigilantism. If police didn't stop theft by gun, the only cure would be for everyone to carry a gun and to let your threat be known. Wait a minute. Some people do advocate such a policy.
But market forces aren't really the cure for corporate deception either, as it would punish honest companies more than dishonest ones. Dishonest companies like Enron and Worldcom had very honest-looking financial statements. If Wallstreet really took the "buyer beware" attitude many conservative pundits adopted post-Enron, nobody would invest any money in anything.
And I say that as CPA who knows a thing or two about financial statements. The assumption of honesty is required in financial statements. You can't possibly have any idea how good an investment is if you can't trust the financial statements; and only fools would invest in anything. You could wander around a company's offices and warehouses for days and still not gain as much information as what an honest financial statement contains. And it's soooo easy to fake it. And that's why honesty is important.
But you'll always have dishonest people, so government oversight is the only solution. Not because people can't be trusted; but because some people can't be trusted and those people look just like the honest ones. It's basically the same policy that forces our troops in Iraq to shoot innocent Iraqi's. Because they look just like the bad ones.
So without government oversight, nobody could trust the corporations and so we wouldn't have a market. So the SEC isn't there to protect the "little guy", but to protect honest corporations from their dishonest competitors. And to protect honest business owners (ie, stockholders) from their dishonest employees (eg, Ken Lay). But conservatives don't see it like that, and would rather throw the baby out with the bathwater. They'd rather have crooked markets with no regulation, because they might need to be the crooked ones and support crookedness on principal. I'm sure they'd oppose it if it became reality, but that's what they talk about.
But that's who conservatives are. People who believe that the government should not restrict the power of the powerful; nor should government tax beyond their necessary expenses. Everything else they say about constitutional powers and states-rights, the genius of the "free markets", and everything else is just window-dressing to give some justification for their beliefs which the non-powerful will find alluring. But underneath it all is just your basic power-grab by those who know what to do with power.
And they don't just oppose unconstitutional powers, or federal powers; they oppose all government powers. They pretend as if they oppose federal environmental regulations because it's outside of the constitution and should be left up to the states. But they don't mean that at all, as evidenced by Republican-created federal laws which undercut a state's stronger regulations. That happens to California, because they generally have stricter regulations. Conservatives prefer state-level action, as it's easier to influence. But they don't want state regulations either. They want no regulations.
And let's face it do you know any conservative anywhere that loves their local government? Their local school-board? Their local property taxes? Hell no. They rail against federal intrusion and "Washington interference", but they dislike all government. I get this all the time from my mom who always complains about unconstitutional overreach by the federal government taking too many powers from the local government; but will turn around a moment later and complain about her city council and the how wasteful the school district is with expensive chairs and too many administrators. To her, she lumps all of this stuff together. They all do.
They don't oppose federal overreach. They oppose all government. Or at least any government that takes their money without giving them a direct benefit. And somebody can always find some spending that doesn't benefit them, and some waste which needs to be stamped out. But, wow. Those last two sections were good enough for posts on their own. You really get your money's worth at Biobrain's blog. The posts have other posts inside of them. Let's move on.
Love Making Soc-Cons
And another group that is mistaken for Conservatives are the Social Conservatives. And this is something that really messes people up for some reason, because this is the group that most people talk about when they talk about conservatives. And if this is who you want to call "conservatives" that's fine by me. We just need to come up with another label for the anti-government conservatives, as the social conservatives are clearly not anti-government. They may oppose it rhetorically, but they're making love to it in practice.
You see, when people talk about "conservatives", they always say that they're opposed to change; societal change. But that's just not true, not for the anti-government conservatives, anyway. In fact it's the exact opposite. They don't want government to change into a more progressive, larger power; and they don't want the interpretation of the government's powers to change from what the constitution explicitly states. Those are changes they oppose.
But they don't oppose modernity. Far from it. They embrace it. These are the people who brought us the industrial revolution and true monopolies. Who bring us movies and porn, unregulated. These are the people who think that Enron can become one of the largest corporations in the world by selling energy that they didn't create, transport, or change; but that only existed in a computer world. These are people who want us to buy, buy, buy things that we can't even afford, getting deeper and deeper into debt.
These people aren't anti-modernists. They don't want their own position in life to change, but beyond that, they're perfectly happy with change that allows them more money and more power. They're for any idea which is for them.
But Social Conservatives are totally different. They're the ones who fear change in society, and they want to use the government to stop it. They're the ones who think the government should become more powerful and regulate television, radio, books, movies, and porn. They're the ones who burned Beatles and Little Richard albums, and banned Mark Twain and Judy Blume. They're the ones who are afraid of ideas and would like nothing more than to turn back the clock to the Garden of Eden, where sin was unknown and goodness always prevailed. They're the American Taliban.
And isn't it obvious that they're not anti-government? They're totally pro-government. They think the government should be used to enforce moral values like homosexuality, sodomy, and preventing inter-racial marriages. They want a stronger government. One which endorses their religion; their morals. And bans abortions, and birth control, and condoms, and any other activity which denies punishment to the wicked sinners. They only oppose the government if it prevents them from getting into our bedrooms. And they're willing to do it on a local level, but they'd rather ban it on the federal level.
And that's why the anti-gov conservative's poisoned the minds of the soc-cons, to get them to blame liberals for all the wrong-doing in the country. Everything porn and Hollywood-related gets dumped at the liberals' feet. But liberals don't necessarily believe that those activities should be unregulated. Some do, some don't. But it's not a defining feature of liberals.
But it is for the anti-gov conservatives. They oppose all government regulation of business, including porn. The soc-cons blame liberals for all of our modern problems, but it's their bedmates, the anti-gov cons who are to blame for it.
Liberals want to use the government to solve our modern problems. Conservatives don't want the government to get involved at all; and see such problems as self-solving. But they don't do this publicly. Publicly, they blame the liberals. And that's Limbaugh's and O'Reilly's job, to convince social conservatives that the anti-gov conservatives are good guys, and that liberals are to blame for everything bad.
A Parasite's Parasite
And so why on earth are these people lumped in with the regular conservatives? They're clearly opposites. And it's for the same thing I said about the neo-cons. Just as neo-cons are parasites feasting on their rhetorical big brothers; conservatives are parasites feasting on their Soc-Con big brothers. In both cases, we see a small minority, with an unpopular agenda latching on to a bigger group to steal its strength. The true conservatives are a small group, and the neo-cons are even smaller. But the smarter groups feast on the dumber; and so social conservatives help elect anti-gov conservatives, who help empower neo-conservatives.
And I haven't posted about this before, but anyone who believes that we've got a two-party system in this country just isn't paying attention. We have a coalition-style government, just like the British do. But our coalitions are more free-form and ill-defined. But just as there are many different conservatives under the Republican banner, there are many different folks under the Democrat banner. We all claim the same party label, but their is a wide-variety of ideologies within both parties. Which is why a Massachusetts Republican is more liberal than an Alabama Democrat. And throughout the country, Repubs and Dems from the same area will have more in common than their party counterparts from other areas.
And so we're really just screwing ourselves by insisting that these three basic groups are the same. Divide and conquer is the name of the game. They want to present a solid front of conservatives, and we need to focus on their differences, so they'll tear each other apart. These groups have little in common and we need to emphasize that; and focus on issues in which they disagree.
If anything, social conservatives are much more like liberals than like either of their rhetorical parasites. It's a weird term to use for them, but they're progressives. And I use that in the same way as physicists who say that there is no such thing as deceleration; only acceleration in a different direction. And that's our Soc-Cons. Actively seeking to take us back to a time that never really existed, but in their own minds.
But both liberals and social conservatives believe in using government to achieve their aims. One aims to make the world a more people-friendly, tolerant place; and the other aims to make the world a more authoritarian, intolerant place which believes in one god, the maker of Heaven and Earth. Their goals may be different, but their means are the same. And they don't care if it's the federal, state, or local school board enforcing these goals; they just want it done. But overall, both groups believe that the government should be used to make America a better place. They just happen to disagree with what "better" means.
And to get back to our Straussian neo-cons, that's the category that they belong in too. And it's just silly that anyone sees things any different. You see, the neo-con agenda requires a large government. It's the basis for their belief. They believe that a large government with strong military and economic power is necessary in order to strong-arm the rest of the world into becoming a better place. And that's just an extension of the liberal/Soc Con view of things.
And for accuracy's sake, let's just remind people that "neo-conservative" was always a term of derision invented by liberals against other liberals who had extrapolated the liberal agenda onto the world scene. They were never an offshoot or faction of conservatives, and at the heart of a true neo-con you'll find a liberal every time. They just want to make the world a better place. And we don't necessarily disagree with their goals, but in the short-sided means they use to achieve it.
Neo-Cons in the Wild
But again, there are different definitions of "better place", making it difficult to pin down exactly what neo-cons want; thus making it hard to define "neo-con" and separating the posers from the ideologically pure.
Surely Paul Wolfowitz is a neo-con, and his definition of "better place" could either mean "better place for world citizens" or "better place for Israel"; it's kind of hard to tell with him. But whatever it is, he clearly has a higher vision in life than your typical selfish schlub. He's an utter nincompoop who's blinded by that higher vision, and forced to believe and say things that are either false or unknown. But he means well, and he scores a few points for that. Had he been relegated to being a smalltime professor-type at some private university somewhere, he'd be perfectly harmless. Same goes for Rumsfeld.
In fact, can anyone even suggest that either of them wouldn't be far happier as a tenured professor of history or economics at Dartmouth or Brown? Where the only folks questioning their wild assertions would be stupid college students who can easily be put in their place and flunked? They'd give up the power and fame in an instance, I'm sure. And assuming that nobody nails a "war criminal" or similar charge on them, that's probably where they'll end up once the neo-cons lose favor in Washington.
And what of Cheney? He's a hard one to pin down. I've read a bit about him, and I still can't tell if he's an ideological diehard adhering strictly to his beliefs; or if he's a shifty opportunist who only seeks to empower himself, and saw the conservatives as his main gravytrain. From what I've read, I think he sounds like an opportunist, but you really can't tell. I'm not sure if even he knows. But if he is a neo-con, his definition of "better place" is surely not the same as Wolfie's. His "better place" means making the world a better place for America to do business in, and more ripe to plunder. And there is no doubt that this definition applies to many neo-cons; especially the older school Bush Sr. ones.
And Bush himself? That man doesn't have an ideological bone in his body. Or a religious one. It's become cliche, but he really isn't very smart. He likes the ideological and religious rhetoric, but can't get his brains around the ideas behind that rhetoric. Frankly, I've always wondered if he's evidence that old GHW had submitted to government testing of mind-altering drugs around the time that Georgie was squirted out.
Bush is the epitome of the Moral Relativist. He talks a tough game because he has to. Because he's the exact opposite of who they made him out to be. And if they didn't talk about his resoluteness and strong-will, nobody else would see it because it's not there. And he's dumb enough that he really does believe the crap they say about him. But he doesn't believe in democracy and a higher vision; he just likes to pretend he's someone who does, because they sound smarter than he does.
That's how the neo-cons convinced him into backing this war. Not that they were the only ones. We can't forget that Bush saw war as his ticket to re-election; as the factor that separated the men-presidents from the boy-presidents and would give him the appearance of strength that he lacks. Strauss may have been an influence on this war, but Rove greased the wheels and made it reality.
Back to Strauss
But what does any of this have to do with dead Leo Strauss? Fuck if I know. Again, I stick with my initial theory that it was a pointy-headed intellectual way of letting people know that they were pointy-headed intellectuals, with the intellectual inside scoop on neo-cons. It's like an anti-Strauss club that only the initiated get in on, and it makes them feel superior to the regular schlubs who are totally ignorant of Strauss's supposed influence. They're kind of like people who listen to Wagner.
That's what all philosophy seems to me. It's interesting stuff, to a point; but I see it as more of a crutch than anything else. You rely on other, smarter people to do your thinking for you, and then quote what the smart guys say...as if the ability to quote fancy phrases and name-names is proof of intelligence. But even Bush can pass the memorization test. And if anything, I see such things as being traps. You rely on other people for their fancy phrases and intellect, but then are left helpless once their path drops off or loses relevance.
I'm not saying that philosophy is entirely useless, but it is certainly dangerous. It's not a bad launching pad per se, but you have to attain the intellectual heights yourself, and not completely rely on leapfrogging off the backs of others. And the main test is on whether you can explain this stuff using regular vocabulary and not the specialist terms of those you borrow from. Terminology is certainly a helpful tool, but too often it is a barrier to true communication and understanding; not its helper.
And tying this back in with the Strauss, I see the focus on Leo Strauss to be inane and bothersome. It won't help us forecast the neo-cons moves. It won't help us regain Congress and the Whitehouse. And it prevents us from focusing on what we need to do to regain control, and makes us look like conspiracy-mongers. And it makes no real difference.
The intrepid Publius from Legal Fiction got me writing about this stuff, though it reflects what I've been thinking about for some time now. Publius seems to cast doubt on how much influence Strauss has had on our neo-cons. I think a better focus is on whether or not it's relevant to our discussion in either case.
As you can guess, I say that it's not. Let's focus on what we need to do to get our country back, and leave the pointy-headed intellectual stuff to Wolfie and Rummy. And let's see to it that they get the tenured professorships that their intellectual gifts are better suited for. It's the least we owe them for all they have done to our country.