Rethinking Paradigms

Straussians and Neoconservatives: The Intimate Relationship

by Stephen Sniegoski, MyCatBirdSeat

CAT BIRD NOTE: Dr. Sniegoski’s article stresses the close relationship between the Straussians and the Neoconservatives. He references Paul Gottfried’s new book, “Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America.”  which underscores the Jewish, pro-Zionist motivation of both groups. This factor is often ignored, if not denied, in regard to the neocons when discussing their  Middle East war agenda.  But as Sniegoski illustrates in his book, “The Transparent Cabal,”  that agenda, which is a central facet of neoconservatism,  is intended to advance the interests of Israel by weakening its enemies.  While neoconservatives can differ among themselves on a number of matters, they cannot stray from this position and remain a neoconservative.

Most keen observers know that pointing out the real motivation for the neocons can get one in trouble. As Sniegoski points out in “The Transparent Cabal,” the neocons’ concept of democracy does not allow for freedom of speech or majority rule if such would lead to “anti-Semitism” –which means opposition to Israel.  Therefore, there is usually an effort to oppose the neocon war agenda without mentioning the real motivation for their policy.  As the US marches to war with Syria and Iran, it would seem that this approach is just not working.

Dr. Sniegoski obviously believes in telling the truth, with the understanding that this is not going to get him anywhere, at least in this world!

It is also interesting that the neocons’ main targets happen to be enemies of Israel. And it is not apparent from the universal democratic standard, why the US should go to war to prevent Iran from possibly developing a nuclear capability whereas Israel is allowed to maintain a large nuclear arsenal.

Straussians and Neoconservatives: The Intimate Relationship

by Dr. Stephen Sniegoski

For some time there has been a spirited debate on the connection between neoconservatism and political scientist Leo Strauss (1899-1973) and his disciples. Leading neoconservatives have studied under Straussians: Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense in George W. Bush’s first administration and “architect of the Iraq War”;  Abram Shulsky, the Director of the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans, which was notorious for its war propaganda on Iraq; Bill Kristol, editor of  The Weekly Standard, the major neocon weekly; Laurie Mylroie, chief propagandist of the idea that  Saddam Hussein was masterminding terrorism against the US; Gary Schmitt, former executive director of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC); and John Podhoretz, the son of neocon godfather Norman Podhoretz and current editor of Commentary, the noted neoconservative monthly.

Some commentators have gone so far as to claim that significant tenets of neoconservative thinking were actually derived from Straussian teachings, sometimes referring to the neocons as “Strausscons” or “Leocons”; but others, often Straussian academics themselves, deny the two movements are related.

Noted paleoconservative scholar, Paul Gottfried, in his new book (“Leo Strauss and the Conservative Movement in America,” Cambridge University Press, 2012) provides a detailed account of the relationship between the two groups and gives considerable attention to the taboo subjects of Jewish ethnic identity and loyalty to Israel. Gottfried shows that there is a distinct overlap between the two groups in terms of ethnicity, political views, and social and professional relationships.

While all neocons are not Straussians, nor all Straussians neocons, Gottfried notes that “the nexus between neoconservatives and Straussians is so tight that it may be impossible to dissociate the two groups in any significant way.” (Gottfried, “Strauss,”  pp. 8-9) He maintains that there is a “continuing symbiotic relation” between the two groups.  “Neo-conservatives draw their rhetoric and heroic models from Straussian discourse.  They also have never hidden their debt to Strauss and the Straussians, even when neoconservative journalists have garbled or vulgarized the message.

The Straussians have benefited from the neoconservative ascendancy by gaining access to neoconservative-controlled government resources and foundation money and by obtaining positions as government advisors.  It is also hard to think of any critical political issue that has divided the two groups.” (Gottfried, “Strauss,” p. 9)

While the German-born Strauss, who came to the United States in 1937, focused on scholarly endeavors, he did aspire to have an impact in the political realm, and the attention devoted to politics has grown exponentially among his followers. Gottfried contends that “the vital center of the Straussian movement has shifted toward direct political involvement and that those who count in that movement are increasingly political players.” (Gottfried, “Strauss,” p. 171)  In moving into the political arena, they have joined the neoconservatives.

It might be helpful to touch on a few other aspects of the Straussian approach that loom large in other commentators’ views of the movement.

For example, Strauss and his acolytes are strong foes of modern positivism, relativism, and historicism, and claim to adhere to the idea of the objectivity of values, as taught by Plato, Aristotle, Cicero and other luminaries of classical civilization.

Some critics interpret the Straussian view as indicating support for anti-democratic authoritarian rule, reflecting the type of polity ancient thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle favored.

Read more here.