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Leo Strauss and Jefferson

Founding  Father of Neocon Philosophy Leo Strauss and Jefferson's Impending Death

Dr. Gerry Lower, Keystone, South Dakota OpEdNews.Com

Even the national press has sounded the alarm about the "Straussians." The Bush administration, particularly its foreign policy team, has been and is still heavily influenced by neoconservative "intellectuals" who are themselves under the influence of the teachings of Leo Strauss. These include Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Abram Shulsky of the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, Richard Perle of the Pentagon advisory board, and Elliott Abrams of the National Security Council.

Strauss, a refugee from Nazi Germany, came to America in the late 1930s and was particularly interested in political philosophy and the study of tyranny. He taught at the University of Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s during the Cold War, when capitalism went on a global manic binge and liberalism died a silent death with its conversion to "liberal" capitalism (an oxymoran) and away from socialism (Death of the American Politic, BushWatch, August, 2003).

Much has been written recently about Strauss and his ideological influence on the Bush administration, and opinion varies from seeing Strauss as a loyal defender of Democracy to seeing him as a dangerous foe of Democracy. He is neither. He is a would-be philosopher whose Old World fears and prejudices took him, the political right wing and American democracy backward instead of forward. Strauss, like most conservative Americans, simply did not understand Jeffersonian democracy at all.

Even as the Bush administration takes refuge in Straussian ideas, it remains the Bush administration who is responsible for implementing any action based on those ideas. It seems more likely the case that the Bush administration is simply "using" Straussian ideas to promote it's own agenda, as it likewise "uses" Old Testament JudeoRoman attitudes and ideas for nothing but it's own ends.

The philosopher, Michael Polanyi ("The Study of Man, 1964), noted that it serves no good purpose to be judgemental of the thinkers of past worlds by the standards of our own world. So, for starters, we must be aware that Strauss was born and raised into a harshly tyrannical world quite different from the free world that most Americans knew in the 1960s. Strauss was from an Old World filled with grotesque notions to which 1960s Americans could not relate.

That Leo Strauss would occupy a conservative right wing stance during the 1960s is not surprising, but it says very little, in retrospect, about his grasp of political causation and course. The 1960s were simply replete with bright young Americans who were quite aware that the American sociopolitical "system" was corrupting itself, selling out on traditional family, community and national values at the expense of the the people. It was self-evident to most dissenting Americans that greed was ruining their homeland and compromising their rights, from whence their freedoms flow.

Today, of course, the utter corruption ("Enronization") of corporate America and the emergence of "influence-for-a-fee" government and despotic right wing Republican dominion stand as tangible proof that the dissenters of the 1960s were remarkably insightful. Strauss passed away in 1973 and has been spared this awkward outcome of "conservative" political philosophy. Strauss has not had to witness the production of the largest gap between the rich and the poor in human history, all in the name of conservative, right wing notions of "fairness." There is something of a minor tragedy in not living to see the fruits of one's labor.

Strauss, in other words, did not deal with "here and now" reality (where all good philosophy begins). He did not deal with the self-evident socioeconomic shortcomings of the greed-driven capitalism of his day. He claimed to love Democracy but he unfortunately assumed, even following two decades of post WWII capitalization and commercialization, that the 1960s dissenters were wrong. Strauss assumed that America still represented the democracy that Jefferson and Franklin had in mind. This was an error common to the entire conservative right wing.

Doing philosophy, of course, is an ordered and integrated process. First comes the development of a rigorously-defineable world view, a conceptualization embracing the world, how it works and why it works. Political philosophy is then derived from that larger conceptual world view and no where else. The political philosophy emergent in Jefferson's Declaration, for example, was derived largely from the dialectic values science and nascent Christianity and the knowledge of science, no religion in sight. In Jefferson's world, there was no external authority, our problems on this earth were our own. Strauss, on the other hand, proceeded on the assumption that one can legitimately derive new political philosophy by re-interpreting old political philosophy.

In this regard, Strauss never made the grade to philosopher, being typical of post WWII academic thinkers in America. He did not do philosophy. He simply read and reinterpreted the work of previous philosophers who have influenced the evolution of political thought. Had he known about Deism and natural philosophy, and given his love of democracy, Strauss would have begun at the evolutionary cutting ege of the art, with the ideas of Spinoza, Locke, Jefferson, Franklin and Paine. But, no. Strauss, with his Old World background, began with philosophers of the distant past to create a political philosophy so full of ideas rejected by America's fathers and so full of inconsistencies, it literally required abandoning the common sense logic of the EuroAmerican Enlightenment and Jefferson's Declaration.

Strauss was just one of several influential American "philosophers" who failed utterly to recognize that Jefferson's democracy is the political philosophy of science and nascent Christianity (no relationship to religion whatsoever), who failed utterly to comprehend the dialectic middle human ground values upon which Jefferson and our Deist fathers built democracy, and who failed utterly to recognize that American democracy actually came, right out of the box, with its own theology, based on the rejection of "external authority" (supernatural gods) and "absolutism" (religious self-righteousness) in order to achieve a society in which the people could think for themselves and approach the control of their own destinies.

Philosophy, of course, is entirely conceptual and built from contemporary human (scientific) knowledge assembled into views embracing the world as a whole. The very fact that the bulk of human knowledge has been generated during the latter half of the 20th century pretty much relegates Strauss' views to the evolutionary waste basket. Natural philosophy, for example, can no longer be considered without the incorporation of contemporary molecular biologic knowledge. With the mapping of the human genome, it is clear that all people on this planet have common origins, that all people are interrelated, that the concept of race is a good deal of superficial nonsense. It is this kind of emergent knowledge, so integral to human self-concept, that properly drives the continuous renewal of political philosophy. In Jefferson's eyes, for example, the people were not children of God but the embodiment of God.

Now more relevant than ever (and unaddressed by Strauss), Jefferson's theology was bottom-lined in the concept that Deity was located on the human inside, in the "head and heart" of every person, that the highest authority is the "will of the people, substantially declared." >From this concept of Deity and from nascent (dialectic) Christian values comes the concept of universal human rights (Christian Values and Human Rights, BushWatch, July, 2003).
These are the theological first precepts of Jeffersonian democracy. Strauss had little option but to miss them in his studies, because they are so entirely at odds with and they properly replace JudeoRoman notions of "theology" in a democracy under Jefferson's Deist God.

Strauss saw JudeoRoman religion (which Jefferson ousted from the American political arena for very well-defined reasons) as a necessary opiate for those being controlled (the people) in the interest of those rightfully in control. Strauss, in other words, did not see government "of, by and for the people," he saw a JudeoRoman two-tiered world of the powerful and the powerless. In this, he missed the rather obvious, that JudeoRomanism also provides the justification for self-righteous, despotic dominion. The Straussian world was created entirely outside the boundaries of Jefferson's democracy, as if Jefferson and Franklin couldn't possibly have known anything about theology.

Strauss suffered from the European delusion that philosophy never crossed the Atlantic ocean. Liberal Democracy was wonderful but due to its own "liberalism" (e.g., the 1950s and 1960s), America had lost its way, to threaten not only itself but also the pillars upon which western culture had been built.

The pillars of western culture, according to Strauss, are represented by the great cities of Athens and Jerusalem, icons of the forces of reason and revelation. Modern culture, in his conservative mind, was certainly going to destroy these pillars of western culture. The "relativism" of American society in his time was seen as a "moral disorder" that could stop America from identifying its real enemies. This "crisis of the West" required the impossible, a reaffirmation of both science and religion, two mutually-exclusive approaches to comprehension from the start.

Strauss was seemingly unaware of the millennial conflict between science and religion and seemingly ignorant of what America's fathers had rejected in the interest of defining and implementing American democracy. Strauss was unseeing and unquestioning of religion's dark side and capitalism's greed, and he essentially recommended that conservative America preserve itself by fighting tyranny with tyranny. This is classic Old Testament self-righteous morality, being willing to leave Jefferson's Christian morality behind and drop to the same moral level as that occuppied by one's enemies.

In truth, the pillars of western democracy are Athens and Bethlehem, not as icons of reason and revelation, but as icons of reason and compassion. Again, Strauss missed the Enlightenment distinction between Old Testament vengeance-based moralities and New Testament compassion-based moralities. Nascent Christianity is a rejection of Judaism and Romanism. These were the voices, afterall, which silenced Christian compassion.

In this, Strauss presented his conservative ignorance of history and causation in the cultural realm. The failures of Democracy were ascribed by the right wing to America's departure from the religious morality of the past, when in truth those failures were due to the inherent unfairness and injustice of post-World War II greed-driven capitalism. It was also due to the fact that teaching Jeffersonian democracy had been largely eliminated from public education, as lamented by Saul Padover, a Jefferson historian ("Thomas Jefferson on Democracy") in 1939. Rather than start where Jefferson left off, Strauss attempted to rewrite American democracy within the context of the JudeoRoman world view rejected by America's Fathers. Go figure.

Robert Pirsig ("Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," 1974) has noted that there is a world of difference between philosophy and rhetoric, the former an approach to comprehension and control, the latter an approach to manipulation. All political philosophy derived from nothing more than previous political philosophy has nothing new to offer and is necessarily geared to manipulation. Leo Strauss held an untrue world view of interest to the right wing and, in their hands, his contributions have become pure rhetoric, riddled with inconsistencies, which is to say there is no logic required.

It was not so much a matter of Strauss telling the right wing what they wanted to hear, but of the right wing listening only to what they wanted to hear, and they heard justifications for their political agenda. While not out to destroy Jefferson's democracy, Strauss certainly contributed nothing to its advancement. Carol Burnett's television show was more richly steeped in American philosophy than anything Strauss ever contributed.

The right wing adherents of Strauss, however, have proceeded to destroy Jefferson's democracy and the dialectic values which gave it birth. Were Jefferson religious, like these people, they would all burn in Jefferson's hell. Fortunately, Jefferson was a Christian "in the only way ever intended" by the first Christian. He knew the principles of democracy cannot be imposed, least of all with despotic approaches, upon dull, closed minds, they must be accepted by free acquiesence of the educated, thoughtful and caring mind.

That someone would synthesize Old World JudeoRoman political philosophies into a view that would ultimately justify and nourish an American takeover by the religious right wing was inevitable, given the people's neglected education and capitalism's thirst for dominion. Straussian views are important only in the cultural evolutionary sense, only insofar as they have nourished religious crony capitalism in its quest for global dominion, only insofar as this quest ultimately leads to discrediting vengeance-based religion and crony capitalism from the global political arena. Would this not open the doors, once again, to democracy, this time on a global basis?

With this glorious and necessary outcome, we will not know whether to bless or blame Leo Strauss. Strauss was both inevitable and necessary for this evolutionary outcome to unfold. But, of course, Strauss was wrong, and wrong about most everything, because he failed to define and think within the frameworks of the Enlightenment's Deist Democracy. Democracy will be revitalized in America and the world only after that becomes recognized and America returns to the theology from whence it emerged.

"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty, than those attending too small a degree of it." Thomas Jefferson, 1791

Dr. Gerry Lower lives in Keystone, South Dakota in the shadow of Mount Rushmore. He is published in the areas of molecular pathology/oncology/epidemiology, medical theory/philosophy/ethics, and global philosophy and ethics. Gerry has recently returned from Ukraine where he presented several papers on the values of science and democracy at the Kiev Medical Academy. His primary concern is the development of a rigorously-definable global philosophy and ethics suitable for a global democracy. This article is originally published at Copyright Dr. Gerry Lower, but permission is granted for reprint in print, email, blog, or web media so long as this credit is attached.


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