Cheneyland: Hegel (Not Calvin) and Hobbes

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Recently Maureen Dowd cited a “Hobbesian” dart tossed Dick Cheney’s way, as Jim Grichar relates. Fourth-hand and in isolation, this reference might appear vague. Hence, a brief glance at Thomas Hobbes, the father of scientific political atheism, is in order.

Yes, the state of nature is, for Hobbes, all war, all the time, “a war of all against all.” Hence life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” which felicitous sobriquet was conferred on his law firm by R. Emmett Tyrrell, back when he was funny (i.e., thirty years ago).

Thus far “the state of nature.” But more important is Hobbes’s notion of human nature. It differs radically from all that went before. Hobbesian man is driven by his passions; any concept of “the good” is merely a passionate ploy for self-indulgence. And the intellect merely serves to seek the satisfaction of the dominating passion — there is no “greater” or “lesser” good, no metaphysics, no ethics, no “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” While Aristotelian and Christian man love and seek the highest good; Hobbesian man fears and seeks to avoid the greatest evil — an untimely death. And he’ll do anything to avoid it, even subject himself (by means of the mythical "social contract") to the absolute and iron will of the Leviathan, who promises to deliver him from the evil that is inescapable in the state of nature.

“Deliver us from evil,” says Hobbesian man, and the Leviathan complies — but at a price: Total, blind obedience.

Thus Straussians hate Hobbes. He requires that they too must submit to the all-powerful Leviathan. How to escape this state of subjection? They turn to Rousseau, and borrow the notion of “civil religion” — that opiate of the masses that keeps the common man in line, while the Straussian “philosophers” can do their thing — any thing (Dostoevsky: without God, all things are permitted) — the noble lie very much included.

The contemporary struggle over the Ten Commandments and the “social issues” is merely the current version of the ongoing battle. It features the believers in the “civil religion,” on the one hand, and the secular, superior (by nature, thanks to Hegel), tyrannical class. They become irritated when ‘oi polloi begin to take their civil religion (which is, after all, bogus) too seriously.

So we arrive at the ideological melting pot: Hobbes’s demand for total subjection, and Rousseau’s exemption from subjection of the “Sovereign” (who can number one or many). But Rousseau’s totalitarian Sovereign is incapable of knowing the good. So he must be advised by someone who does — the indispensable, unerring Legislator, whose perfection makes him like “a mortal god.” Now Cheneyland is fully staffed.

The totalitarian ideologues — Hobbes, Rousseau, and Hegel — form the intellectual foundations for the twenty-first century Straussian world empire. Trotsky et al. just modernized the details, once Hegel conferred on the ruling intellectual class a “higher” nature (read: “consciousness raising”) than that conferred on the rest of men by “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” This indispensable identification of the intellectual as superior to all other men — and thus as the lord of history — allows the Straussian bermenschen to defy all limits (laws — human, natural, and divine), and to redefine reality with dialectic and contradiction (thank you, Stalin and Mao) whenever it suits their purpose. Thus the whirling swarm of explanations for the war in Iraq, or the Patriot Act, or the burgeoning budget, or the billions for the Warbucks crowd.

From Hobbes forward, intellectual totalitarians have shared one common human trait that their ideology cannot explain. For some reason, they demand not only our blind obedience (“He who is not with me is against me!"), they demand our gratitude.

After all, you might wonder, why should the neocons care? Why are they so mad that we are on to them? That we scorn them? That we expose them as frauds? Above all, why do they lack that one distinctive trait of common humanity, a sense of humor?

For this, we turn to the helpful George Orwell’s 1984. Here, Big Brother is the personification of Bush-Cheney and the String of Perles. Why does Perle foam at the mouth when he is exposed, seething in free space donated by the compliant Ministry of Truth, The Wall Street Journal? (By the way, the WSJ’s online editors are so intellectually shallow that they cite Orwell’s “Ministry of Information” — flaunting ignorance, alas. They must have read the Napster version of the Cliff Notes).

Why do the modern totalitarians seethe? Why did O’Brien drag Winston off to Room 101? After all, Winston was willing to obey; but that was not enough.

No, there is more to totalitarianism than obedience. It’s logical. There being no God (Hobbes, Rousseau, Marx, Lenin, and Strauss are unanimous on this point), the “mortal gods” are the next best thing.

And what does the Jewish, the Christian, God deserve? All our love.

If He deserves it, so do “the mortal gods.” And they want it. Bad.

Obedience is not enough. Winston triumphed, and died with a bullet through his brain, because he finally grasped the truth.

“He loved Big Brother.”

And Perle gets Richer.

Christopher Manion Archives

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