The Straussian Neocons

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On October 5, Yale University Press will publish a remarkable work, Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire, by Anne Norton, professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania.

Norton studied with Strauss’s students and admirers, at the University of Chicago. She describes how Paul Wolfowitz, Irving Kristol and other prominent Straussian neocons drew on and then misused Strauss’s ideas to further their own policies. Today, these neoconservatives are "committed to an American imperialism they believe will usher in a new world order." The advance press information accompanying her book cites Norton’s revelations: many Straussian adherents who worked (and presumably work) in Republican administrations "advocate authoritarianism and praise military dictators"; and then raises her significant question, "How Europeans rightly see the shadow of fascism in Straussian politics, and why Americans fail to."

Bellicose neoconservatives "came to power and have influenced the character of governance in the United States. Their ascendance is also," writes Norton, "a story of American conservatism… a radical departure from traditional American conservatism…They are not preservers; they are (as they will tell you) revolutionaries… we know that the influence of the Straussian matters. We need to ask where that influence leads."

Following are quotations from Prof. Norton’s book (excerpted from the Yale Book News and the book itself). Writing and publishing, they are masters of the Washington bureaucratic scene, prodigious fundraisers, dominant among the civilian leadership of the Pentagon. They love talking about expanding democracy throughout the world (at least, the oil-producing world) but care little about favored authoritarians and tyrants. They are the people who led this country into Iraq where more than 1,000 GIs have been killed, not to mention the many thousands wounded in body and mind and 10—15,000 Iraqi civilian deaths. But guess what? Virtually no neocon offspring are to be found on the front line in Iraq or Afghanistan. Up next: Iran? North Korea? Syria? Central Asian and Caucasian oil fields?

The Flag of Our Fathers

"Straussian neoconservatives want a u2018strong state’ with a strong leader. They want an expansionist foreign policy. They praise war and warlike virtues and denounce the decadence of intellectuals. They want women to return to children, cooking, and the church. They delight in the profusion of flags: flags on cars, flags on houses, flags worn in lapels. They encourage citizens to inform on their neighbors. They plan to establish a new world order to rival Rome."

The Romance of War

"Straussians believe that war makes men manly. War places greatness within the reach of ordinary men. Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori.

"This is the romance of war. Consider it again. In war, death is forced upon many men: the willing and the unwilling, the volunteer and the draftee, the one who gives his life for his country and the deserter, scurrying backwards as the shell hits. In war, one soldier gives his life for his country’s freedom, as across the field, in another foxhole, another trench, another quadrant, another soldier dies to see that country conquered and the extent of his own empire extended. In war, one gives his life for the Aryan race, another that all men can live as equals."

Straussians and Women

"Tiny little men with rounded shoulders would lean back in their chairs and declare that Nature had made men superior to women. Larger, softer men, with soft while hands that never held a gun or changed a tire delivered disquisitions on manliness. They were stronger, they were smarter, and Aristotle said so."

Corrupting the Republic

"The story of the Peloponnesian war, as the Straussians once told it, was the story of a lovely arrogant city, gone down to ruin in pursuit of empire. Athens, the free city, in love with novelty, is led astray by an errant student of Socrates. He offers Athens the temptations of imperial power. Athens falls, and the shame of the Melian dialogues, the suffering of its prisoners in the quarry, plague, and ruin fall upon it in return. This was the story as the Straussians told it in my time. They tell it differently now.

We are on the Sicilian Expedition."

There’s much more. Read the book.

Murray Polner [send him mail] wrote No Victory Parades: The Return of the Vietnam Veteran and co-authored Disarmed and Dangerous, a dual biography of Daniel and Philip Berrigan.

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