A DIVE INTO THE PAST
I have long held that this latest era of assault against modernist civilization calls for a multi-layered response. A diversity of strategies and tacts, fighting back against the Enemies of the Enlightenment on as many levels as they have been attacking the Great Experiment and everything that America originally stood for. (continued from Part 1)
Yes, there is a place for “sumo”-style grunting and pushing of normal politics. We must tussle over specific bills, specific scandals. I have a few suggestions of my own. Go get em, Congressfolk.
And yet, we must remember to step back, now and then, and recall the big picture. None of the up close squabbles -- likt the US Prosecutor firings -- will solve our overall crisis, the debilitating disease eating like a cancer at America’s heart.
First on our agenda, some attention must be paid to addressing the underlying causes of “culture war,” the devastatingly divisive, artificial sickness -- nothing less than a resumption of the 1860s Civil War -- that has been foisted on America by some genuinely evil men, who do not want a civilization that is of, by, or about either the People, or the Enlightenment.
Bona fide enemies of progress, including many who actually want to see the world end in a garish, biblical bloodbath...
...or else who strive actively for a return to feudal-style hierarchies of inherited privilege.
... or else who want to yatter about being pro-free-market while betraying those very same markets at every turn, undermining the reciprocal accountability that genuine enterprise depends-upon. Cheating in old-fashioned ways, exactly like the conspiring elites that Adam Smith despised most.
And yet, none of those factions -- none of those three fanatical portions of the Karl Rove “big tent” -- could have accomplished very much without a fourth group.
Want some irony about the last twelve years? While powerful neofeudalist lords (both at home and abroad) were the chief winners... and fiery religious fanatics fanned the flames with anti-future rhetoric... this entire era of “Republican resurgence” had its origins NOT with those varieties of know-nothings, but with a band of sincere and brainy nerds!
A bunch of wonky professorial types -- many of them Jewish or Libertarian, some of them former youthful Trotskyites -- with personalities and psychologies profoundly unlike those actually controlling the GOP -- the fraternity jocks, plutocrats, petrosheiks, and Book of Revelations junkies.
Intellectuals who dreamed, plotted, and then midwifed a completely reborn neoconservatism, rising like a phoenix out of the ashes of GOP collapses in 1964 and 1974.
Former believers in the conservatism of Barry Goldwater (whose grave-spinning now powers the whole state of Arizona), these intellectuals of the right retrenched after the ruination of Watergate, taking refuge at the feet of dyspeptic grouches like Allan Bloom... and especially Leo Strauss, an emigre from Holocaust-horror, who foisted upon impressionable youths a strange-but-transfixing, romantic notion.
The notion that it was their duty to abandon the good-natured pragmatism and open accountability of rich, happy, generous and successful America, in favor of the same kinds of incantatory madness that had turned Strauss’s home continent into hell on Earth.
Yes, they all nodded as Strauss told them to, by all means, dive into older traditions of ideological dogmatism, scholastic rationalism, Kantian/Hegelian hypnosis and platonistic self indulgent essentialism! Never mind that that entire approach had a terrible track record, compared to the outrageous successes of Yankee, fact-based empiricism, rights-based idealism, pragmatic negotiation and our never-ending pursuit of self-improvement.
Alas, from the point of view of frustrated wonks, the latter approach had one major drawback - it demanded an easygoing, “we’ll see” attitude toward truth.
An approach more atune to science than philosophy. (Ask Richard Feynman. Ask Albert Einstein or Leo Szilard. The less people understand about the world, the more eager they seem to be, to demand that it conform to their dogmas. The more stridently they tell it what to do. I swear, physics should be a job requirement for anyone going into politics.)
And so, given their incantatory bent, the young conservative nerds (many of them at the University of Chicago) ate up Strauss’s story - his tale about the noblesse oblige of an inherently superior intelligencia. His advice to imitate Europe and to prefer Plato over Franklin. Including Plato’s smug prescription that it is perfectly all right for rulers to lie like hell.
In much the same way that the “mythology” arm-wavings of Joseph Campbell would later appeal to Hollywood egotists, Strauss catered to the intense self-flattering need of men like Kenneth Adelman, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and so on, nurturing their self-image as misunderstood, but destined-for-greatness, young philosopher kings.
Moreover, Strauss urged these young acolytes to seek (like Alcibiades) a glorious vision of aggressive foreign war, in service of a holy cause. An idea that worked so very well for Alcibiades...and for the fanatical regimes of 1940s Europe.
(I go into all of this elsewhere. Just follow links above.)
A WELL-PLANNED COUNTER-ATTACK AGAINST DECADENT LIBERALISM
Thus inspired and with a profound sense of mission, these intellectual soldiers marched forth to do battle with a liberalism that they not only saw as decadent and corrupting, but also personally insulting. A liberalism that - while incredibly successful at transforming civilization (e.g. civil rights, womens’ rights, unprecedented social mobility, self-made wealth and self-expression), had also begun to expose a choice array of achilles heels. Some really ripe inconsistencies and hypocrisies and other easy targets.
And so, with the end of the Cold War afoot, the Straussian Boys focused on those weaknesses, sharpening their arrows and designing an ingenious plan of war.
We all know what happened next, as their rationalizations mixed with a ferocious southern-rural suburban strategy, turning America’s cities into The Enemy, a campaign that was abetted by dear collaborators on the far left.
Indeed, it was quite a ride for The Boys, while it lasted, overseeing some of the most brilliant and successful political turnabouts since Scipio went to Carthage, including that masterful work of public polemic, Newt Gingrich’s aforementioned “Contract With America,” and culminating in a decade that seemed to prove Plato right, when he asserted that democracy is for saps.
A time when power coalesced - as the neocons had planned - into the hands of a righteous class of platonic philosopher kings.
Actually, it was seized by kings, all right. An aristocracy that (as in Hellenistic times) at least seemed to appreciate philosophers. Seemed to. For a while. Until...
...until things all started going down the tubes for the classic neocons. Because, as history shows, there is a world of difference between dogma-driven power-grabbing and proficient statecraft.
NEXT TIME... THE NEOCONS BRILLIANT PLAN FALLS APART