The Ivy League Dissects the Neocon Cabal

University of Pennsylvania political science professor Anne Norton has just published a most revealing expos on the neocon cabal entitled Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire. Distributed by the Yale University Press, it is the work of a true "insider" who nevertheless does not consider herself to be a Straussian. "I am the student of Joseph Cropsey," Professor Norton writes on the first page, referring to the prominent student of Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago. She continues, "I am the student of Ralph Lerner, who was the student of Strauss. I studied with Leon Kass and watched Allan Bloom teach. I know many Straussians, and some of the students of Strauss, very well."

Professor Norton distinguishes between the students of Straussianism who are simply academics who are interested in Strauss’s philosophy, and the "lesser Straussians" who regard themselves as "a chosen set of initiates into a hidden teaching." Harry Jaffa and his cabal of perpetually politicking mimickers fall into this latter category. "The West Coast Straussians," as she calls them, "are prone to zealous partisanship in politics and the academy," and "the dominant figure among [them] is Harry Jaffa . . ." Regarded as "vehement and ideological," Jaffa’s battle cry is that "the salvation of the West," if it is to come, "must come from the Republican Party." These Republican Party sycophants, writes Norton, frequently pick fights with more genuine conservatives, and especially libertarians, such as "the followers of . . . Frederick Hayek, Ayn Rand, and Willmoore Kendall."

Speaking Lies for Power

Professor Norton explains why so much of what Straussians write — especially with regard to Lincoln, in my experience — is so diametrically opposed to actual, documented history. Strauss’s method — and the method of his followers — is to pick a book or document and read and re-read it until an interpretation can be concocted that uses the book to support their political preferences. They tend to ignore all other interpretations of the same books and documents — and all other scholarship on the topic in general — a decidedly unscholarly approach. Straussian critics have long recognized that they "refuse to read the work of other scholars," writes Norton, while they organize campaigns of character assassination and harassment against other academics who disagree with their unique — and often bizarre — interpretations. (See the Thomas Landess article in the LRC archives about the Straussian assault on the late Mel Bradford.) The effect of all this, says Norton, is to prevent the circulation of ideas, and to "preserve the powerful against criticism." In other words, their purpose is to produce propaganda to help prop up the Republican Party and its statist/imperialist policies. It is exactly the opposite of the honorable tradition of "speaking truth to power"; it is hiding the truth from the public in order to accumulate and abuse power.

The Straussian neocons have indeed infiltrated the Republican Party, and with mostly calamitous results for America and "the West." Professor Norton cites a 1999 book entitled Leo Strauss, the Straussians, and the American Regime, which lists an impressive number of Straussians who have become part of the Republican Party apparatus over the past twenty years. These include John Agresto (acting chairman, National Endowment of the Humanities), William Allen (Chair, U.S. Civil Rights Commission), Joseph Bessette (acting director, Bureau of Justice Statistics), Mark Blitz (associate director, U.S. Information Agency), David Epstein (Dept. of Defense), Charles Fairbanks (assistant deputy secretary of state), Robert Goldwin (special assistant to President Ford), William Kristol (chief of staff for Vice President Quayle), Carnes Lord (National Security Council), Michael Mablin (House Republican Conference director), John Marini (U.S. E.E.O.C), Ken Masugi (E.E.O.C.), Gary McDowell (advisor to Attorney General Meese), James Nichols (National Endowment for the Humanities), Ralph Rossum (Bureau of Justice Statistics), Steven Schlesinger (Bureau of Justice Statistics), Gary Schmitt (head, advisory board on foreign intelligence), Peter Schram (Dept. of Education), Abram Shulsky (director of strategic arms control), Nathan Tarcov (State Dept. planning staff), Michael Uhlman (assistant attorney general), Jeffery Wallin (director of special programs, National Endowment for the Humanities), Bradford Wilson (assistant to Warren Burger).

These are the less powerful Straussian political hacks, says Norton. Among the more powerful and influential in Washington are Paul Wolfowitz, Leon Kass (chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics), John Waters (former drug czar), Francis Fukuyama, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, Gary Schmidt, and Allan Bloom student Alan Keyes. That list was compled in 1998; it is undoubtedly much longer today.

The Straussian Assault on Academic Freedom of Inquiry

The Straussian method of "scholarship," writes Professor Norton, creates extreme hubris in the minds of Straussians, who tend to believe that they alone have discovered THE TRUTH, and that what is really intellectual laziness is "the inevitable entitlement of cultural superiority." Thus Professor Norton, who was a graduate student for years at the University of Chicago, living amongst the Straussian cabal, writes of how the Straussian students, many of whom are now on the above-mentioned list of Republican Party office holders, roamed the halls and classrooms with organized "Straussian truth squads." These were "bands of intellectual vigilantes, entering the classrooms of professors they disliked or distrusted [i.e., non-Straussians], asking questions not to hear the answers but as a form of disruption and intimidation."

"Professors who had less respect for Leo Strauss . . . were read quotations from [Strauss’s] Natural Right and History." The other faculty and students at Chicago viewed the Straussians as "intellectual brown shirts, engaged in a campaign of deliberate intimidation." This of course is a practice that these same people practice today, rarely engaging in honest intellectual debate but rather attempting to intimidate or censor those who disagree with them. Alan Keyes, for example, typically dismisses his critics as being "incapable of recognizing moral purpose," as though he alone possesses such abilities.

Strauss himself, writes Professor Norton, "does not seem to have discouraged the truth squads." Quite the contrary: As a political activist and consummate conniver within his own academic department, "he directed financial aid to the students he preferred and tried to control hiring in the department" so that only his admirers would be hired.

Every single one of the Straussian students at Chicago, recalls Professor Norton, participated in the "truth squads." Among them was Allan Bloom who, as a faculty member at Cornell, helped organize a personal smear campaign against the distinguished Cornell historian Clinton Rossiter, author of over twenty books on the American founding principles and institutions and editor of The Federalist Papers. Bloom got all of the Straussians who had infiltrated Cornell to shun and disassociate themselves completely from Rossiter, who apparently refused to go along with the Straussians’ "unrelenting and totalitarian enforcement of orthodoxy of opinion," as Norton describes it. The old, gentlemanly Professor Rossiter was so devastated by being shunned by his colleagues that he committed suicide.

"The most conspicuous of the Straussians in the Reagan and the two Bush administrations," writes Norton, "have ties to Allan Bloom." His students, like Alan Keyes, tend to be "the most vociferously ideological of the Straussians."

Professor Norton makes short work of Paul Wolfowitz’s phony story, told to Vanity Fair, that there is no such thing as a Straussian "cabal," and that he never had much to do with such a movement. Quite the contrary, proves Norton. Wolfowitz did take two courses with Strauss himself at Chicago. And the "circle" around the scheming Bloom at Cornell was centered in "Telluride House," where Bloom himself resided — as did Wolfowitz when he was a student there. Other students at Cornell viewed the "circle" residing at Telluride House as "the Straussian cult," with a very strange "master-disciple relation." So cult-like was Bloom that he even refused to grade papers of students who "listened to other professors."

The "Statesmanship" Charade

"Political Straussians," i.e., the Jaffa-ite wing of the cabal, are "great admirers of civil religion" and write endlessly about their "secular saints" Churchill and Lincoln. They are also infatuated with such contemporary autocrats as Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and General Perves Musharraf, the military dictator of Pakistan.

Why does this political cult idolize Churchill and Lincoln, rewriting and perverting history along the way? In the case of Churchill, it "enables latter-day imperialists [a.k.a. neocons] to represent empire in the guise of the underdog." And their praise of Lincoln "becomes questionable as well," says the astute Professor Norton, for he is always praised as "the Great Emancipator" but never discussed as the man "who suspended habeas corpus." Thus, Lincoln is not admired so much for "his faith in the Constitution," but for "the virtue of dictatorial action on behalf of democracy." That is, he is praised by the Jaffa-ites precisely because he trashed the Constitution and essentially declared himself dictator. Their entire enterprise of Lincoln idolatry is aimed at encouraging contemporary and future American presidents to be just as dismissive of constitutional constraints on governmental power in pursuit of American imperialism and empire. Lincoln’s "moral force" provides them with the perfect camouflage for advocating "a more authoritarian presidency," Norton concludes.

Some commentators have recently expressed surprise that the idea for President George W. Bush to endorse Teddy Kennedy’s nationalization of education in the guise of the "No Child Left Behind" legislation came from the neocons. This should be no surprise to anyone who understands the Straussian cult, however. Norton explains by citing a passage from The Modern Prince: What Leaders Need to Know, by Straussian Carnes Lord. Lord’s thesis, writes Norton, is that

Civic morality is not to emerge . . . from the practices, thought, reflection, and debate of a people over time, directed by parents, teachers, authors, local school boards, and the sense of the community in practice. Instead, it is to be directed by the government, more precisely by the particular leaders in power.

Norton then cites Lord himself as saying, "Political leaders have every right to form and express judgments about the teaching of national history, and to take action to shape public school curriculum in this area."

The Straussian Love Affair with War

Norton also catalogues how all of these "tiny, round-shouldered men," the vast majority of whom have never served in the military, are almost insanely enthusiastic about war. They tell us that war — any war — will restore our "moral seriousness," "clear away the fog of unthinking relativism," enable us to see evil, restore virtue, heroism, valor, and a sense of sacrifice, allow us to die for our comrades, country and faith, avoid the "hazards of civilization," make us more thoughtful, force us to "consider our loyalties," make men "decisive," and "places greatness within the reach of ordinary men."

Proof that this is all a bundle of propaganda aimed at duping the public into supporting imperialism is the fact that all of these glorious benefits are foregone by the Straussians themselves, who rarely, if ever, volunteer for military service. They also are quite conscientious about making sure that their children avoid the military like the plague.

Phony Conservativism

Straussians are not conservatives; they are statists and imperialists, which is the farthest thing one can imagine from the genuine, old-fashioned conservativism of an Edmund Burke or a Russell Kirk. Above all, Norton writes, traditional American conservatism, from the time of Jefferson, has "advocated a small government." But the Straussian neocons advocate just the opposite: "Abstract reasoning and utopian projects," such as invading and conquering the entire Arab world, supposedly in the name of "democracy." With the ascendancy of the neocons, writes Norton, "American conservativism embraced big government with a vengeance . . . . Nowhere was the shift more apparent than among the Straussians active in Washington."

Professor Paul Gottfried and many other columnists for have recognized most or all of the things Professor Norton writes about for some time now (see the "Neo-Conservativism" archives on LRC). The fact that Yale University Press has gone to the trouble of having an Ivy League professor write a book about the Straussian neocon cabal is further evidence of what a menace to freedom, prosperity and security these power-mad propagandists truly are.