(Acts of War, Afghanistan — Inside Australia's War, Episode 1, ABC Television, 2015)
George W Bush (1946):
… I'm going to be judicious as to how to use the military.
It needs to be in our vital interest, the mission needs to be clear, and the exit strategy obvious.
Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make.
- you are with us; or
- you are with the terrorists.
[Iran, Iraq and North Korea] constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.
(State of the Union Address, 29 January 2002)
John Kennedy (1917 – 63):
I will never compromise the principles on which this country is built, but we're not going to plunge into an irresponsible action just because a fanatical fringe in this country puts so-called national pride above national reason.
(Chris Matthews, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, Simon & Schuster, 2011, Reader's Digest, 2013, p 215)
Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting, get understanding.
Jonathan Haidt (1963):
[Ignorant] people see everything in black and white.
They rely heavily on the myth of pure evil and … are strongly influenced by their own self-interest.
The wise are able to:
(The Happiness Hypothesis, 2006)
- see things from others' points of view;
- appreciate shades of grey; and
- [choose] a course of action that works out best for everyone in the long run.
Peter Singer (1946):
[It] is a mistake to divide the world neatly into good and evil, black and white without shades of grey, [because it] eliminates the need to learn more about those with whom one is dealing.
For an unreflective person to have a sense of "moral clarity" that disregards the shadings in human motivation and conduct can be a vice, not a virtue.
(The President of Good and Evil, p 250)
[The] thinking of terrorists exhibits the sort of cognitive distortions that are often found in people who commit other sorts of violence.
These … include the tendency to over-generalize the enemy's perceived failings to encompass the entirety of the population.
Perceptions are also dichotomised so that they are either good or they are bad with no shades of grey in between.
(Introduction to Forensic and Criminal Psychology, 4th Edition, Pearson, 2011 / 2012, p 229)
George Washington (1732 – 99):
The nation which indulges towards another an habitual hatred or an habitual fondness is in some degree a slave.
It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.
Theodore Roosevelt (1858 – 1919):
He who is not with us absolutely and without reserve of any kind is against us, and should be treated as an alien enemy …
We have room in this country for but one flag.
We have room for but one language.
William Clifford (1845 – 79) [Philosopher and Mathematician]:
Men speak the truth to one another when each reveres the truth in his own mind and in the other's mind …
[But] how shall my friend revere the truth in my mind when I myself am careless about it …
[When] I believe things [simply because] they are comforting and pleasant? …
The credulous man is father to the liar and the cheat. …
Charles Wesley (1707 – 88):
A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify,
A never dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.
To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfill,
O may it all my powers engage
To do my Master's will!
(George W Bush, A Charge to Keep, 1999)
George W Bush (1946):
The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world; it's God's gift to humanity. …
I looked [Vladimir Putin] in the eye [and] I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy.
We had a very good dialogue:
I was able to get a sense of his soul.
(Taking Control, Putin, Russia and the West, 2011)
Bush's Ethical Failure
This book [attempts] to cover all the possibilities.
When Bush speaks about his ethics, he is either sincere or he is insincere.
If he is insincere, he stands condemned for that alone.
I have started with the opposite, more generous assumption: that Bush is sincere, and we should take his ethic seriously, assessing it on its own terms, and asking how well he has done by his own standards. …
Whether [or not] he really believes in the … rhetoric that he uses … it is clear that Bush has no real interest in the policy details needed to achieve the aspirations he has voiced.
He has failed to follow through on most of the commitments he has made to work for a better, more just society.
He has said that deep, persistent poverty is unworthy of America's promise, but the number of Americans living in poverty increased in both 2001 and 2002.
Instead of combating that increase, Bush has pressed for tax cuts that hobble the government's capacity to do anything about it.
Rather than ensure that the nation he leads is a good global citizen, Bush has spurned institutions for global co-operation and set back the task of making the rule of law, rather than force, the determining factor in world affairs.
He has launched an unnecessary war, costly in [blood and treasure,] with a final outcome that is still uncertain.
His protection of the steel industry and his signature on a law authorising the largest-ever subsidies to American farmers shows his strong rhetoric about free trade to be a brutal hypocrisy that is driving millions of impoverished farmers in other countries deeper into poverty.
A comparison between the size of these subsidies and Bush's proposed increase in foreign aid makes his compassion look stingy.
He speaks of America's calling to promote democracy around the world, but his administration reacted positively to the first reports of an apparently successful coup against the left-leaning, but democratically elected, Venezuelan government of Hugo Chavez.
Following the Enron scandal, he pledged to increase enforcement against corporate rip-offs, but his 2003 budget actually reduced funds for such enforcement by $209 million.
[If] a candidate campaigns by stressing his moral character and his honesty, and then fails to make even a serious attempt to implement his campaign promises, he has damaged the moral fabric of democracy.
Handicapped by a naive idea of ethics as conformity to a small number of fixed rules, he has been unable to handle adequately the difficult choices that any chief executive of a major nation must face.
(The President of Good and Evil, 2004)
[In] 2003 Bush … became convinced of the need for a major US initiative to tackle HIV/AIDS at a global level …
The bill he signed stipulated only that
- one-third of the funds going to prevention should be set aside for programs that exclusively promote sexual abstinence until marriage;
[The US spent $1.4 billion] over a 10-year period from 2004 through 2013 promoting abstinence … in sub-Saharan Africa.
[According] to the most comprehensive independent study [to date] the money was more or less wasted. …
Instead … one of the most important factors associated with lower levels of risky behavior was the number of years women remained in school. …
[In addition, previous studies] showed that … at least a million lives [were saved] by making anti-HIV medications more widely available …
(August 2016, p 12)
- the remainder was available for use in programs promoting condom use. …
[Started] under President George W Bush in 2005 the President's Malaria Initiative, or PMI, is … one of the best run and most effective of the US's worldwide health efforts. …
[The WHO has estimated that] 4.3 million fewer malaria deaths occurred between 2001 and 2013 [than had been expected based on] malaria patterns in 2000 …
The PMI accounted for a substantial part of [this ~47% reduction in mortality.]
The Program is based on four interventions:
- insecticide-treated mosquito nets,
- indoor spraying,
- testing and treatment with artemisinin-based drugs, and
- preventive treatment of pregnant women.
Efforts will even aim to eliminate the disease in some countries. …
The secret to the initiative's success [is its logistical rigour.]
PMI's approach is holistic: [taking] responsibility for every link in the chain, from procurement to quality control.
[It] is a model [of] sustained focus on a limited number of targeted interventions in countries with a high burden of disease. …
[Nevertheless,] the overall global budget for malaria control is still projected to lag by more than $2 billion a year compared with what the mission requires …
(Global Role Model: A successful malaria program enters its second phase, Scientific American, May 2015, pp 16-7)
The Slide Into Barbarism
Faith Based Intelligence
Sharing the World
George Walker Bush (1946)
43rd President of the United States (2001-2009).
- Oliver Stone, W., 2008, USA.
- The President of Good and Evil: The Ethics of George W Bush, Text, Melbourne, 2004.
Peter Singer: Ira W DeCamp Professor of Bioethics, University Center for Human Values, Princeton University; Laureate Professor, University of Melbourne, Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics.
The Power of Faith
Religion in America
- 94% of Americans believe in God,
- 89% in heaven, and
- 72% in hell and the devil.
Funding Faith-based Charities
[Whether government funded faith initiatives] can be used as a means of helping large numbers of people out of poverty, hunger, drugs and homelessness—remains to be seen. …
There is a cost to be paid for inculcating religious faith.
It could diminish the inquiring spirit that is the basis of scientific investigation and technological progress.
It leads to forms of belief that are potentially divisive and dangerous, because they are beyond argument and outside public reason.
Nevertheless, those dangers are speculative and many people will think that, even if religious faith is a delusion, a delusion that reduces poverty, hunger, drug use and homelessness is worth having.
The Ethics of Belief
[Bush] presents a picture of a man who accepts what he is told without asking himself any critical questions about it. …
Reflective people who are used to questioning what they are told will … notice that the single chief determinant of belief in the Christian religion is being brought up as a Christian, and that few people brought up in Islamic, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist homes believe that Jesus is the son of God.
Bush seems to believe that only Christians have a place in heaven.
Most Muslims believe, just as fervently, that only Muslims do.
They cannot both be right (although they can both be wrong).
Is the Christian claim to know the truth any better founded than the Islamic, Jewish, Hindu or Buddhist claim?
We should be sceptical of claims to know something when belief in that thing is so immune to any objective evidence or argument that it depends largely on what one's family believes, and on the customs and beliefs of the society in which one was raised. …
[What] are we to think of someone … for whom religious belief is an unquestioned 'foundation that will not shift'[?]
As the philosopher Karl Popper aptly said, the difference between science and dogma is that a scientific theory must always be open to falsification, on the basis of evidence.
Bush seems almost to boast that his view of the truth is not open to falsification on the basis of evidence. …
Those who planned and brought about the deaths of 3000 innocent Americans on September 11 2001 were people of deep religious faith who prayed frequently and, before they died, commended their souls to God's care.
Of course, there is a crucial moral difference between those whose faith tells them to murder innocent people, and those whose faith tells them to respect life.
But the difference is not something we can get from faith.
The Islamic militant who believes he is doing the will of God when he flies a plane full of passengers into the World Trade Center is just as much a person of faith as the Christian who believes she is doing the will of God when she spends her days picketing a clinic that offers abortions.
Faith cannot tell us who is right and who is wrong, because each will simply assert that his or her faith is the true one. …
If we try to dissuade people from becoming radical Islamic terrorists, not by persuading them to be more thoughtful and reflective about their religious beliefs, but by encouraging them to switch from one unquestioned religious faith to another, we are fighting with our hands tied behind our backs.
Much better, therefore, to insist that there is an ethical obligation to base one's views about life on evidence and sound reasoning.
[Bush's] own religious beliefs are no more based on critically examined evidence than are the religious beliefs of Osama bin Laden.
Religion in Public Life
One way … to regard democratic politics [is] merely as a method of deciding who shall exercise power.
On this model, those who win elections gain power and use it to impose their will on society as a whole.
On this model there is no incompatibility between democracy and theocracy, as long as the theocrats allow free and fair elections, and the supporters of theocracy continue to win at the ballot box. …
[However this] is not the model of democracy that the American founders envisaged.
They wanted limits on the power of the majority.
They enacted a constitution protecting freedom of expression and opinion, so that people can say what they want, and have the opportunity to persuade others to change their minds. …
They did not want adherents of one religion, no matter how large a majority they might be, to impose their religious beliefs on the remainder. …
For if the head of state and chief executive of the nation is constantly referring to God, or his faith, in his speeches on official occasions is that not a government endorsing a religious creed?
Simply by referring to God in the singular, he leaves out
- many polytheists who believe in more than one god;
- Buddhists, who are generally considered to be religious, but do not believe in a God or gods;
- agnostics, who are doubtful about the existence of God; and
- atheists, who are convinced that there is no God.
[Bush reinstated] Reagan's 'global gag rule' that denies US assistance to any foreign non-governmental organisations that provide information to women on the option of legal abortion and where they can get safe abortion services, even if the organisations fund such activities separately. …
[On the other hand,] when funding faith-based organisations [he insisted that] it is possible to separate the provision of social services from religious activities …
[The] Center for Disease Control had evaluated a number of sex education programs for teenagers to see which were most effective in reducing teenage pregnancies.
In 2002, under an initiative called 'Programs That Work', it identified on its website five effective programs.
None were promoting only abstinence, without the use of contraception.
Subsequently, without any scientific justification [it ended the] 'Programs That Work' initiative and put on its website a message saying:
The CDC has discontinued PTW and is considering a new process that is more responsive to changing needs and concerns of state and local education and health agencies and community organizations.(p 125)
[Adminstration] officials pulled … scientifically based information [from government websites] about the effectiveness of condoms in preventing transmission of HIV and replaced it with much vaguer and less positive language.
The Department of Health and Human Services appointed an inspector general to investigate AIDS programs to see if their content is too sexually explicit or [promoted] sexual activity. …
At the Fifth Asian and Pacific Population Conference … in December 2002, the US … sought to prevent reaffirmation of a 1994 agreement … which committed the governments of the world to take specific action for women's health and rights.
[The Bush] administration objected to the terms 'reproductive health services' and 'reproductive rights', and tried to remove language that supported the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. …
One member of the US delegation was John Klink, who served as the Vatican's representative to the United Nations from 1994-2000 …
The Bush administration's proposal was defeated by a vote of 32-1. …
[It] is not religious beliefs, as such, that are excluded from the realm of public reason, but methods of reaching those beliefs that are not accessible to public justification of a kind that we accept in every other area of decision-making.
There is no reason of principle why claims about the existence of God … should not be part of public political debate.
The problem arises only when religious belief is put into a realm that protects it from the usual rules of scrutiny.
If someone tells us that embryo research should be prohibited because human life is a sacred gift from our Creator, then it is reasonable to ask how we know this.
If the answer is that it is written in scripture, we need to know why those particular writings are to be believed.
If this depends on historical claims about the origins of these scriptures, then experts on the texts may be called in to consider whether these claims are sound …
If all these questions can be given answers that are open to the usual rules of critical scrutiny, public justification is satisfied.
But if, at some point, further inquiry is cut off with an appeal to faith, then the position is not one that other reasonable people have any grounds to accept, and the original recommendation for the prohibition of embryo research has not been defended within the framework of public reason.
It is not the content of the belief — whether it is about God, or gods, or evil spirits, or curses — that determines whether it is a matter of public reason, but the way in which the belief is held and defended.
The great medieval Christian philosophers, like Anselm and Aquinas, thought that the existence of God could be proved by rational argument. …
[They, at least,] were concerned to justify their beliefs in terms of what we now call public reason.
It is only those who scorn reason who exclude themselves from the field of reasonable public debate. …
[It] is reasonable to assert that millions of Americans believe that only God has the right to take innocent human life, and they will be deeply disturbed if their taxes are used to kill embryos.
That is a claim … of fact that can be … weighed … against competing claims, like the potential of stem cells to cure diseases.
From the standpoint of public reason, the fact of offence is the issue, not how well grounded the offence might be.
[On the other hand, John Stuart Mill and others have] argued that mere offence should not, in the absence of more specific harm, be a ground for infringing individual liberty.
Once we grant that a risk of offence to some justifies restricting the liberty of others, we have introduced a sweeping argument for prohibiting any kind of behaviour, public or private.
What offends people is not fixed.
People can learn to be more tolerant, and that is a better solution than restricting the liberty of others. …
The issue is not one of who may say what, but of what reasons should be given weight when we decide issues of public policy, and make laws that affect all members of society.
If someone wants to base a policy recommendation on religious beliefs that they hold on faith, they are free to do so …
[But] the rest of us are also free to ignore them … or encourage them to … restate their views in ways that appeal to those who do not share their religious faith.
[This is based] on a sound understanding of what makes for a well-functioning democratic society.
Others [argue that] we cannot prove the truth of any ethical principle.
Therefore, since ethics is beyond reasoning and public justification, it is no less acceptable to get one's ethics from religion than it is to get it from one's culture, or one's subjective beliefs.
[Many] Americans believe that the only alternatives to deriving moral judgments from religion are moral nihilism or moral relativism.
(Interestingly, this is not an assumption that I have come across outside the United States, presumably because in more secular countries, it is obvious that there are many people who are not religious but still hold that morality is important, and not just a matter of subjective or cultural preferences.)
But morality does not have to be religious in order to be real and important.
We are each of us concerned about … the satisfaction of our wants and desires.
When we think ethically, we should do so from an impartial perspective, from which we recognise that our own wants and desires are no more significant than the wants and desires of anyone else.
To base judgments about the rights and wrongs of an action on the impact it will have on the welfare of those affected by it is to base ethics on something that is real and tangible.
Because it is based on something that we all want, for ourselves, coupled with an argument for a form of impartiality in our reasoning, it meets the standards of public justification.
In his speech on the use of embryos for research [Bush] states his belief that life is a sacred gift from the Creator, but he also tells us of his concerns about 'a culture that devalues life'.
That phrase suggests a link between permitting federal funds to be used for destroying embryos, and a more general loss of respect for life that we would all oppose, so it is an argument within the framework of public reason.
[Bush's] Secretary of Education, Rod Paige … has been quoted as saying that he would prefer to have a child in a Christian school, partly because there were too many different values in the public schools to easily arrive at a value consensus.
[This] implies that diversity and debate in ethics are not good, and that it would be preferable for all children to be brought up with just one — Christian — world view. …
There are real grounds for fearing that using the presidential platform to make religious statements will lead to the promotion of religious faith in general and to the promotion of the religion favoured by the president and other leading members of his party.
Then the separation of church and state will have broken down, and we will have a society in which non-Christians can no longer feel equal participants.
The Ethics of George W Bush
The early Christians … were pacifists.
Tertullian, Origen and Clement of Alexandria — leading thinkers of the early Church — were all agreed that a Christian could not be a soldier. …
It was not until 312, when Constantine, the Roman emperor, became a Christian that this attitude changed, and Christian thinkers like Augustine began to develop the doctrine of the 'just war'.
Accepting that war could be justifiable was a [necessary political move [for] without it, Christianity could hardly have become the official religion of the Roman Empire …
[Nevertheless,] it is flatly against the explicit teachings of Jesus and Paul. …
The Pope spoke out forcefully against the [Iraq] war and so too did the leaders of most, though not all, American Christian denominations, as well as most leading Christian theologians.
When the leaders of the National Council of Churches, and of Bush's own church, the United Methodists, asked for the opportunity to present their objections to the war, Bush refused to meet them. …
The clearest sign of [the evangelical] influence on Bush's ethics is his repeated invocation of a conflict between good and evil [— language that] comes straight out of apocalyptic Christianity.
[53% of adult Americans] expect the imminent return of Jesus Christ, accompanied by the fulfillment of biblical prophecies concerning the cataclysmic destruction of all that is wicked.One of the signs of the apocalypse … is the rise of the Antichrist [who will lead] Satan's forces in the [final] battle that will culminate in [the Second Coming of Christ,] the triumph of the forces of God, and the creation of the Kingdom of God on earth.
(Time magazine, Fall 1992)
[Many] American Christians see their own nation as [playing a role in this] divine mission.
The nation's enemies therefore are [to be] demonised.
[This view of] the world as a conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil [originated in] the heresy of Manichaeism.
The Manicheans were ferociously attacked by Augustine [a convert from Manichaeism to Christianity], who thought that seeing some kind of evil force as the source of all that is bad is a way of masking one's own failings. …
After the Reformation, the Manichean view appeared in some Protestant sects and was brought by them to America, where it flourished. …
Bush's readiness to see America as pure and good, and its enemies as wholly evil, has its roots in this American-Manichean tradition.
An Intuitive Ethic
Bush's views do not fit within a coherent ethical framework, because he reacts instinctively to specific situations.
He feels that he knows what to do on any given occasion, but because he is not a reflective kind of person, he makes no attempt to put his judgments on specific issues together [to] see how coherently they fit with each other.
David Frum [former Speech Writer]:[One] can see the limitations of Bush's instinctive approach to ethical issues in his failure to resolve the inherent conflict between his own two ethical imperatives of
[George W Bush is] a politician of conservative instincts rather than conservative principles.
He knew in a general way what he believed and what he did not.
But on any specific issue, nobody could ever be sure where the line was beyond which he could not be pushed.
(The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W Bush, 2003, pp 273-274)
- building 'a single nation of justice and opportunity' and
- returning to the taxpayers what he saw as 'their money'.
For Bush, each of these was no doubt self-evidently right, but he never made a serious attempt to work out to what extent the government should tax its citizens in order to provide the resources for creating a single nation of justice and opportunity.
The same is true of the conflict between protecting the liberty of the individual and fighting the 'war against terror'. …
Only in his speech on stem cell research does Bush make an explicit attempt to reconcile two conflicting values. …
Following … simple intuitive rules produces the right answer, most of the time — that is, the answer that we would have reached, had we had the time and capacity to go back to fundamental principles and work out what they would imply in our particular situation.
So intuitive thinking about ethics [in everyday circumstances] is usually a good thing.
But in [critical situations — when intuitions conflict — appealing to moral instincts] alone does not help.
(p 249, emphasis added)
[If] a man seeking to kill another comes to my door and asks if I have seen his intended victim, must I tell the truth, and say,
Yes, he is hiding in my closet?Here the intuitive judgments 'Tell the truth' and 'Do no harm' are in conflict, and we must [decide which should be given priority.]
[Thus, for] important and complex issues … moral instincts or intuitions [are] not enough.
Reflection and critical thought are needed as well …
Nicholas Kristof:It seems probable that it was not faith in general that gave Bush and his aides a misplaced confidence that they knew the answers.
[George W Bush is] less interested in ideas than perhaps anybody I've ever interviewed …
Nuance isn't his natural state.
(New York Times, 8 July 2003)
It was the idea that Saddam was evil.
Howard Fineman:[Given that Saddam was evil, it is natural to assume that he] must be building weapons of mass destruction.
[Once he] decided that Saddam was evil, and everything flowed from that.
(Newsweek, 10 March 2003, p 30)
[And when] it is coupled with a firm belief that the nation you lead is on the right side of history, pursuing 'God's justice', and even that there is some divine plan that has put you in the position of leader of that nation, what you see as moral clarity, others will see as self-righteousness.
When that self-proclaimed moral clarity is coupled with actions that fail to live up to the rhetoric, others will see it as hypocrisy.
In the [leader] of the most powerful nation on earth, self-righteousness and hypocrisy are dangerous vices.
An Honest Man?
David Frum … described [George W] Bush as 'a good man' with the virtues of 'decency, honesty, rectitude, courage, and tenacity'. …
[Yet,] the moral fervour of the White House could be extraordinarily petty.
[Once, when Frum was] asked if he was sure about something, and he replied:
Yes, I am damn sure!There was a prolonged silence and the atmosphere suddenly turned chilly.
Eventually Frum realised what he had done wrong, and amended his reply to
I am quite sure.This kind of moral fundamentalism — that is, a tendency to take simple moral rules in an absolute and literal fashion — appears to have been set by Bush himself.
[When,] a day before departing for a trip to California, [George W Bush] was asked to make a radio address to be broadcast the following day, he would begin reading,
Today I am in California. …Then he would break off, saying with exasperation,
But I'm not in California.Taking the obligation to be truthful so literally suggests an arrested moral development.
Frum's account of Bush's appeal to 'fixed rules' and his apparent inability to assess the simple rule against lying in terms of larger considerations about why we have such a rule, suggests that Bush has not progressed beyond [Lawrence] Kohlberg's conventional level of moral reasoning.
This is the stage typically reached by early teenage boys, although Kohlberg notes that many develop no further, and hence it is not unusual for an adult to be at this stage.
[The] Bush White House has provided us with a textbook example of what is wrong with an ethic based on rigid adherence to fixed moral rules, literally interpreted.
While Bush may naively consider that it would be lying, and therefore wrong, to say that he is in California when he is recording a speech in Washington, he has failed to see the he did something gravely wrong when he created false impressions in his worldwide audiences about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and its links with Al Qaeda.
George W Bush:Bush's statement took this form because the CIA had objected to an original version, which flatly stated that Saddam Hussein had sought to buy uranium from Africa.
[The] British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.
(State of the Union Address, July 2003)
[While it was] literally true [that] the British had … made such a report [— it was nonetheless] misleading, for the CIA had [themselves already advised] the British that [this] information was not reliable. …
Condeleezza Rice:[Donald Rumsfeld also] said that Bush's statement was 'technically accurate'.
[The] statement that [Bush] made was indeed accurate.
The British government did say that.
In fact, even on the most literal interpretation of Bush's statement, it was not accurate. …
To say that someone has learned something is to endorse what they say they have learned as true.
(p 254, emphasis added)
George W Bush:But Bush seems to think that 'taking responsibility' is a mere matter of words, for neither [George] Tenet nor [Condoleezza] Rice lost their jobs for the mistakes for which they took responsibility — or were even reprimanded — and Bush himself made no admission of error, nor did he apologise to Congress and the American people for having misled them.
I take personal responsibility for everything I say, of course, absolutely.
Taking A Cynical View
A less likely person than Leo Strauss to have a major influence on the Bush administration is hard to imagine.
Born in Germany in 1899, his ideas were shaped by the failure of the liberal, tolerant Weimar Republic to deal with the dual threat of communism and Nazism.
That failure meant that Strauss, who was Jewish, had to flee his native country in 1938.
He came to America and spent most of his remaining years, until his death in 1973, at the University of Chicago. …
Central to all his writings is the doctrine that there is one kind of truth for the masses, and another for the philosophers, that is, for those in the know. …
One of these not-to-be-revealed-to-the-masses truths is that the existence of God is, at best, unprovable on any rational, scientific view of the world. …
But this truth should not be revealed to the masses, because religion 'breeds deference to the ruling class', and without that, the masses may rise up and destroy the higher culture that is at the apex of Straussian values.
Something similar is true … of the attitude of the Straussian inner circle to democracy and liberty.
They don't themselves believe in them, but [find it useful to] teach others to believe in them.
Robert Locke:(p 262)
Strauss believed that liberalism, as practiced in the advanced nations of the West in the 20th century, contains within it an intrinsic tendency towards relativism, which leads to nihilism.
He first experienced this crisis in his native Germany’s Weimar Republic of the 1920s, in which the liberal state was so ultra-tolerant that it tolerated the Communists and Nazis who eventually destroyed it and tolerated the moral disorder that turned ordinary Germans against it. …
We see this problem repeated today in the multiculturalism that sanctions the importation into the West of Moslem fundamentalists whose foremost aim is the destruction of the Western society that makes that tolerance possible, and in an America so frightened of offending anyone that it refuses to carry out the basic duty of any normal state to guard its own borders.
Strauss believed that America is founded on an uneasy mixture of classical (Greco-Roman), Biblical, and modern political philosophy. …
His key contribution to fighting the crisis of modernity was to restore the intellectual legitimacy of classical political philosophy, especially Plato and Aristotle. …
The key Straussian concept is the Straussian text, which is a piece of philosophical writing that is deliberately written so that the average reader will understand it as saying one ("exoteric") thing but the special few for whom it is intended will grasp its real ("esoteric") meaning.
The reason for this is that philosophy is dangerous [because it] calls into question the conventional morality upon which civil order in society depends …
[Thus] philosophy has a tendency to promote nihilism in mediocre minds [— which, therefore,] must be prevented from being exposed to it. …
[Even] a courageous editor like my own can’t print certain things, so I certainly write my column in code from time to time, and other writers have told me [that they do] the same thing. …
According to Strauss, Machiavelli is the key turning point that leads to modern political philosophy, and Machiavelli’s sin was to speak esoteric truths openly.
[For example,] that there is no certain God who punishes wrongdoing; the essence of Machiavellianism [being] that one can get away with things. …
[This] modern view leads naturally to value-free social science and social policies that seek to solve social problems through technocratic manipulation that refrains from "imposing value judgments" on the objects of its concern. …
The philosophical price of freedom is purposelessness, which ultimately gives rise to the alienation, anomie, and nihilism of modern life.
The interesting question is why Strauss chose to "spill the beans" about Straussian texts if they are supposed to remain a secret.
The answer is that he felt he had to, given the severity of our crisis. …
Strauss would lead us back to the Aristotelian conception of man as naturally political.
Politics implies natural goods that are prior to human thinking about them.
If there are natural goods, there is a natural hierarchy of goods, and therefore a natural hierarchy of men, as different men pursue different goods.
Civic equality may be salutary for the functioning of society, but men are not truly equal in value. …
[What] conservatives find attractive in society is ultimately premised on philosophy that is pre-modern and to some extent anti-modern. …
It goes without saying that one naturally wonders whether Strauss’s own writings are Straussian texts. …
[Strauss] believed that religion was the great necessity for ordinary men.
[Though, for] him, religion is at bottom simply dogmatic …
Strauss was an atheist [thought he] never produces a proof that there is no God.
More seriously, there’s his apparent certainty that (Judeo-Christian) religion is false, not just uncertain.
Of course he combines this with a vigorous defense of that same religion, which is part of what makes him attractive to conservatives …
[Nevertheless,] there’s something unnecessary and rather dangerous about being an atheist rather than an agnostic.
Agnosticism would fit in with the rest of his teachings just fine, and without … tempting his followers with the impunity that atheism confers. …
True agnosticism which … is a rare and difficult intellectual balancing act, requiring great intellectual poise and a skill for reasoning in terms of balanced probabilities and multiple simultaneous values.
This Strauss does not teach. …
He believed that world citizenship is impossible, as citizenship, like friendship, implies a certain exclusivity, and universal love is a fraud. …
Good men are patriots or lovers of their patria or fatherland, which must by definition be specific.
The United Nations has failed in its fundamental mission: to prevent war. …
Straussians talk in a kind of code to one another.
When one refers to someone as a "gentleman," it means they are a morally admirable person but not capable of philosophy. …
A lot of their academic money comes from the John Olin Foundation.
(Leo Strauss, Conservative Mastermind, FrontPageMagazine.com, 31 May 2002)
So who are the Straussians around Bush?
- Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld's deputy and the man often credited with being the chief architect of the war on Iraq is one.
- Richard Perle, former chairman of the Defense Policy Board, and arch-critic of the United Nations …
- … Abram Shulsky, who headed the Office of Special Plans, a unit set up by Rumsfeld because he wasn't getting the kind of information he wanted from the CIA and the Defense Department's own intelligence service, the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Shulsky was responsible for analysing intelligence in a manner that selectively highlighted dubious evidence pointing to Saddam Hussein's supposed arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
- … William Kristol, founder of the Project for a New American Century [and]
- Leon Kass, who now heads the president's Council on Bioethics.
Bush's frequent talk of God and faith keeps the masses in line.
I'm not particularly keen on conspiracy theories myself, but [nonetheless,] this one has some plausibility.
Wolfowitz, Perle and Shulsky were key players in driving the United States into this war.
Years before September 11 2001, they wanted to overthrow Saddam Hussein, to secure America's oil supplies and to change the political complexion of the Middle East.
They seized the opportunity of the 'war on terror' to do so, despite the absence of any meaningful link between Saddam and Al Qaeda. …
Speaking in the White House's Oval Office [three months after the invasion], in the presence of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Bush said, of Saddam Hussein,
[We] gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in.Anyone who can, in all seriousness and sobriety, offer such a totally fictitious account of events of global significance that took place only three months earlier, and in which he has been the central figure, can hardly have had a firm grasp of the situation that he was supposedly directing.
And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power …