The Trouble with Neocons
February 18, 2006 10:43 PM   Subscribe

A lapsed neocon speaks out: The problem with neoconservatism's agenda lies not in its ends, which are as American as apple pie, but rather in the overmilitarized means by which it has sought to accomplish them.... After the fall of the Soviet Union, various neoconservative authors like Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol and Robert Kagan suggested that the United States would use its margin of power to exert a kind of "benevolent hegemony" over the rest of the world, fixing problems like rogue states with W.M.D., human rights abuses and terrorist threats as they came up. Writing before the Iraq war, Kristol and Kagan considered whether this posture would provoke resistance from the rest of the world, and concluded, "It is precisely because American foreign policy is infused with an unusually high degree of morality that other nations find they have less to fear from its otherwise daunting power." ... We are fighting hot counterinsurgency wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and against the international jihadist movement, wars in which we need to prevail. But "war" is the wrong metaphor for the broader struggle, since wars are fought at full intensity and have clear beginnings and endings. Meeting the jihadist challenge is more of a "long, twilight struggle" whose core is not a military campaign but a political contest for the hearts and minds of ordinary Muslims around the world.
posted by caddis (57 comments total)

 
It is precisely because American foreign policy is infused with an unusually high degree of morality that other nations find they have less to fear from its otherwise daunting power

It is really, truly amazing how short sighted people can be, how incapable they are of self-reflection. Did they really believe that their own self righteousness was any less profound then that of the communists, their main enemies?
posted by delmoi at 10:51 PM on February 18, 2006


Paul Craig Roberts: From Reaganaut To Anti-War Radical
posted by homunculus at 10:58 PM on February 18, 2006


...Much of the Iraq fiasco can be directly attributed to Bush's shortcomings as a leader. Having decided to invade Iraq, he failed to make sure there was adequate planning for the postwar period. He never settled bitter policy disputes among his principal aides over how postwar Iraq would be governed; and he allowed competing elements of his administration to pursue diametrically opposed policies at nearly the same time. He used jobs in the Coalition Provisional Authority to reward political loyalists who lacked professional competence, regional expertise, language skills, and, in some cases, common sense. Most serious of all, he conducted his Iraq policy with an arrogance not matched by political will or military power.

These shortcomings have led directly to the current dilemmas of the US both in Iraq and with Iran. Unless the President and his team—abetted by some oversight from Congress— are capable of examining the causes of failure in Iraq, it is hard to believe he will be able to manage the far more serious problem with Iran.
The Mess by Peter Galbraith
posted by y2karl at 11:51 PM on February 18, 2006


delmoi - u realize that quote of yours wasn't fukuyama, but someone he was quoting.

a more fuller context:

Writing before the Iraq war, Kristol and Kagan considered whether this posture would provoke resistance from the rest of the world, and concluded, "It is precisely because American foreign policy is infused with an unusually high degree of morality that other nations find they have less to fear from its otherwise daunting power."

It is hard to read these lines without irony in the wake of the global reaction to the Iraq war, which succeeded in uniting much of the world in a frenzy of anti-Americanism. The idea that the United States is a hegemon more benevolent than most is not an absurd one, but there were warning signs that things had changed in America's relationship to the world long before the start of the Iraq war.


p.s. haven't read the article yet, but wanted to point that out.
posted by spacediver at 12:18 AM on February 19, 2006


Paul Craig Roberts:Background Briefing This is Hell two recent, very 'caustic conservative' interviews.
posted by hortense at 12:30 AM on February 19, 2006


"The problem with neoconservatism's agenda lies not in its ends, which are as American as apple pie, but rather in the overmilitarized means by which it has sought to accomplish them. What American foreign policy needs is not a return to a narrow and cynical realism, but rather the formulation of a "realistic Wilsonianism" that better matches means to ends."

Which is why we lost the war at Abu Grarib. The military's role should have been done at the "mission accomplished" flight suit fiasco. Every thing since then should have been handled by the police, and courts.

I'm all for America being the shining torch of freedom, but you don't convert others by scorching their land with it.
posted by Balisong at 12:35 AM on February 19, 2006


Speaking on behalf of one bit of the rest of the world, I'm not sure we want the kind of 'Freedom' that the US propagates...
posted by Jelreyn at 12:39 AM on February 19, 2006


Could you do us a favor and just post the whole article on the Metafilter homepage? Geezus...

Because the amount you posted seems to imply, "I really want to post the whole thing because I am so proud I found an article that landed in the center of my political influence and interpretation. But will I piss off a bunch of people who bitch and moan about huge posts on the homepage? What do I do with my personal dilemma and agenda? I know! I'll post just enough to make a bold statement along the lines of said agenda, so I feel better about myself without pissing people off."

You have pissed people off. At least one. Any "neocon" that the editorial staff of the NYT allows to pass through is neither "neo" or "con".

More poo poo propanganda from the same worthless rag that brought us the brilliant Jason Blair.

Keep reading! God knows their readership needs more puddingheads.

Other than that... Good post!
posted by roguescout at 12:58 AM on February 19, 2006


Balisong: Which is why we lost the war at Abu Grarib.

We lost the war the minute we attacked Iraq, a country which didn't have WMDS and didn't support terrorism against us. I mean, yay democracy, and yay taking out Saddam, but there is absolutely no way in which this war benefits us or ever will.

And at this point, it's looking like the Iraqis would have been better off without it, too; it looks obvious they're going to backslide right back into some sort of oppression the very minute we leave. Except now, we've converted half of the country to smoking craters.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:59 AM on February 19, 2006


roguescout; thanks for playing!
posted by odinsdream at 1:01 AM on February 19, 2006


Gosh, I guess history isn't over after all!
posted by raaka at 1:05 AM on February 19, 2006


Is it just me or am I the only one who thinks that people seem to be feeling especially snarky in Metaflter comments today?
posted by Effigy2000 at 1:08 AM on February 19, 2006


From the article: The war's supporters seemed to think that democracy was a kind of default condition to which societies reverted once the heavy lifting of coercive regime change occurred, rather than a long-term process of institution-building and reform.

Yes. Cf: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, et al. If democracy is, according to Bush II, God's gift to humanity, he/she/it has a funny way of showing it.

Finally, benevolent hegemony presumed that the hegemon was not only well intentioned but competent as well.

Double yes. To wit, Balisong's comment on Abu Ghraib. And dare I add: George Will, who's been harping on the "competence" meme for a while now, one of the few conservative pundits whose message goes beyond "Don't look here."

Thanks for the post caddis. What's refreshing about this piece is the willingness to examine and critique previoius notions. The so-called NeoCon intellectuals have forgotten a basic premise of critical thought--if you are making errors, adjust accordingly based not on hope, but empiricism.

And I LOL'd at the bit about the "Leninism" of Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer--I don't think they'll be happy reading this over breakfast, because the truth hurts.
posted by bardic at 1:08 AM on February 19, 2006


What's even funnier that roguescout indignance of a slightly longer-than-average post, and even his apparent ignorance of the prominance Fukuyama has in Neocon thought, is that he is still bringing up Jayson Blair as his example of the NYT's untrustworthiness despite Judy Miller's grosser violations of journalistic ethics and the larger impact her unprofessional bahavior had on Americans' lives.

Of course, Blaire is black and didn't think to apply his skill at making stuff up in a way that would be useful to George W. Bush & Co., so he remains the Times's bigger shame in some eyes.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:21 AM on February 19, 2006


From the last paragraph: What is needed now are new ideas, neither neoconservative nor realist, for how America is to relate to the rest of the world — ideas that retain the neoconservative belief in the universality of human rights, but without its illusions about the efficacy of American power and hegemony to bring these ends about.

Francis, you're losing me buddy--yes it would be nice for the next anti-Bin Laden "Trotsky" to get published, but I'm a fan of some older ideas--is realpolitik met with, for lack of better words, some cultural clout and charm, such a bad idea? Do we need new paradigms or just some common sense? Butter not guns, Ipods not bunker busting nukes, etc. And the US should start with Saudi Arabia--there's a reason no one outside of America takes the "Bush Doctrine" seriously.
posted by bardic at 1:26 AM on February 19, 2006


Why should I give a shit what someone who was clearly a deluded twit for several has to say? Why do we give any credibility to these nitwits who say "Huh, turns out I was a clueless retard! Give me a cookie!" You were wrong all this time, Francis Fucktard (props to raaka above on his "history hasn't ended after all" comment). I don't give you any extra credit to these nincompoops for finally realizing what the rest of us had figured out ages ago. These idiots think the world is a Special Olympics of the Mind, where they demand credit for finishing last. Go fuck yourselves, you neocon/reformed neocon assclowns.
posted by hincandenza at 1:56 AM on February 19, 2006


Actually Coyote, you brought up the fact that Blair was black. That's something you should think about.

The only reason I didn't mention that other flake is because I forgot that b*tche's name and was too put out to look it up.

Thanks for the reminder though!
posted by roguescout at 1:57 AM on February 19, 2006


Hee.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:01 AM on February 19, 2006


Why should I give a shit what someone who was clearly a deluded twit for several has to say?

Because it gives them the rhetorical impact of someone who has changed their mind so it implies thoughtful consideration and selection of options rather than simple team play? But I agree...rats jumping off a sinking ship are still rats.

If he wanted a cookie he should have came to these conclusions before they were glaringly obvious.
posted by srboisvert at 2:35 AM on February 19, 2006


The real problem here is that neocons put their ideology over the interest of their country and it's people. So called 'liberals' figured this out long ago. Republicans, democrats, they're both total asshats and totally irrelevant to the solution of this country's and the worlds problems today. Best to get rid of them and form new parties and a new form of government that doesn't endorse broken and corrupt ideologies and wander around soliciting bag money from lobbyists who only have the interests of corporations at heart.
posted by mk1gti at 8:38 AM on February 19, 2006


A comment that was as slong as the post intro bitches about the length of the post remarks?
Those who don't learn their history are forced to read Metafilter
posted by Postroad at 8:38 AM on February 19, 2006


The real problem is that people exaggerate the flaws and foibles of those they disagree with, and minimize or pretend non-existent those of the people they support.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:42 AM on February 19, 2006


Any "neocon" that the editorial staff of the NYT allows to pass through is neither "neo" or "con".

Hey, if you don't know who Francis Fukuyama is, just say so?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:43 AM on February 19, 2006


Well, at least one Neocon is starting to get it (it seems), and that's something I've been saying since almost day 1: it's not a war at all.

Or it shouldn't be seen as one.

Osama & al-Qaida are a bunch of stateless thugs to begin with.

Wars are, by definition, something that happens between states, and our whole approach to dealing with this would work much better if we looked at it as lawlessness, rather than a strategic perspective.

I know a lot of this comes down to the amazing incompetence of the Bush administration, but, since 9/11, we have prosecuted two, TWO, al-Qaida connected individuals (Padilla & Mousoui). Spain has prosecuted, on average, two per MONTH.

Spain.

Germany has recently rounded up 2 dozen.

Prosecutions in Great Britain are about on that pace.

Our whole approach to this has been wrong from the get-go. It's like trying to stop a patient from bleeding by hitting them repeatedly with a bat.
posted by Relay at 8:46 AM on February 19, 2006


I have a pony request, could we just have a side-bar link to the NYT Sunday Magazine every sunday instead of having this cloud up the blue every week. (And with a quoted quote no less, that didn't even hit Fukuyama's central point. Jeesh!)
posted by jmgorman at 8:52 AM on February 19, 2006


Was there ever an empire that didn't believe it was the final empire? "End of History" my ass.

It is not an accident that many in the C.C.N.Y. group started out as Trotskyites.

I'll say. Leftys may disagree with me, but a top-down, hierarchical system can never result in an egalitarian society. Hierarchy is the essence of systematic control and institutionalized force.

"The End of History," in other words, presented a kind of Marxist argument for the existence of a long-term process of social evolution, but one that terminates in liberal democracy rather than communism. In the formulation of the scholar Ken Jowitt, the neoconservative position articulated by people like Kristol and Kagan was, by contrast, Leninist; they believed that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will.

The (not exclusively) Marxist notion of historical inevitability is facile. As a practical matter, it seems to serve the interests of warmongering rhetoric more than it accurately predicts the direction societies take. Every totalitarian frames their movement along these same lines: our worldview is implicit in the present and therefore inevitable. We have only to faithfully work towards that day, and history will vindicate the mistakes we make along the way.

Too often those "mistakes" are no less than the deaths of thousands or more, the economic ruin of the states that proceed along this path.

It is absurd to imagine you can install a democracy by authoritarian force. Good fruit cannot grow from a bad seed.

Where were you four years ago, Fukuyama? Your clockwork view of history allowed you to ignore the deaths of Iraqis until today, when the failure of the Administration to fulfill their promises re: Iraq is clear to any but the most rabid party loyalist.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:53 AM on February 19, 2006


A few questions for most of the people who've posted thus far in this thread:

What evidence, logic, or information makes you think that the actions taken in Iraq by the US government have - or ever had - a decent chance of resulting in democracy?

When we say that we're trying to "win the hearts and minds" of insert-group-name or that we're engaged in an ideological conflict rather than a military one, what ideas or concepts are actually at issue? If there are a bunch of people who believe X is true and we want to convince them that X is not true, that Y is actually true, what are the values for X and Y?

Also: How do you identify a democracy in another country? Plenty of governments claim to be democratic while actually being nothing of the sort. How do you tell the real from the fake?
posted by Clay201 at 9:05 AM on February 19, 2006


If we're posting single op-ed links, Sarah Vowell's (TimesSelect only, sorry) hit home for me today. Lesson: even pessimism isn't sometimes enough.
posted by fungible at 10:08 AM on February 19, 2006


what the neo-cons have pushed is not at all democracy, but control of resources and potential elimination of external threats--something democracies shouldn't do unless the people want it done.

i've always wondered why never care about domestic things--about making life better for Americans--where are the proposals and papers about healthcare, and responding to natural disasters and infrastructure and jobs and rights and stuff? What do neocons think of presidents who ignore the law? of domestic spying on other Americans? on eliminating rights and parts of the Constitution? (it's like they're little boys playing some world strategy game)
posted by amberglow at 10:20 AM on February 19, 2006


What do neocons think of presidents who ignore the law? of domestic spying on other Americans? on eliminating rights and parts of the Constitution? (it's like they're little boys playing some world strategy game)

That's like asking a man at a strip club what he thinks of his wife.
posted by srboisvert at 10:25 AM on February 19, 2006


Neo-Conservative == Not Conservative
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:27 AM on February 19, 2006


Why should I give a shit what someone who was clearly a deluded twit for several has to say?

Fukuyama never self-indentified as a neo-conservative, nor did he ever support the war in Iraq the way it has been conducted. Has anyone here read his books? "End of History" does not mean "end of conflict", or "end of mistakes" or "end of wrong directions". It referred to the long term end or (ending) of broad ideological challenges to liberal democracy (and even more broadly "liberalism") and capitalism. What has changed since the books' writing? The challenges posed by the situation in Iraq or the Islamic world are do not directly threaten Western ideology the way that Marxism or communist thought did, and broadly speaking, the world is far more "liberal" and capitalist than it was in 1990, and becoming moreso every day. The fact that there is an "international jihadist movement" does not negate Fukuyama's points or earlier writing any more than the fact that this administration is bungling some things. Take exception with his views on current events if you like, but don't confuse them with a recantation of his "end of history" thesis, which is just as valid today as it was when it was written.
posted by loquax at 10:57 AM on February 19, 2006


"The problem with neoconservatism's agenda lies not in its ends, which are as American as apple pie, but rather in the overmilitarized means by which it has sought to accomplish them. What American foreign policy needs is not a return to a narrow and cynical realism, but rather the formulation of a "realistic Wilsonianism" that better matches means to ends."

The problem with neoconservatism's agenda is that it's a big fat fucking lie. Fukuyama may really buy in to the whole "spreading Democracy" dodge, but I doubt it, and if he does, he's a moron. Neoconservatism is bullshit. The real philosophy of neoconservatism is Straussianism, which is directly counter to democratic principles. Leo Strauss taught that people were sheep, that western liberal society was a moral failure that led to cultural degredation (not at all unlike the teachings of Sayyid Qutb, which are the "founding documents" if you will of Islamic fundamentalism.) Strauss argued that a vanguard of elite intellectuals should control society, and to do so, they should lie to the public, and unite them against a largely imaginary shared "enemy."

Hence "Al-Qaeda," the 9/11 attacks, and subsequent and consistent disrespect for the truth and an active willingness to undermine democratic principles at home.

Also, all of these "diplomatic missteps," inflaming angers in the Middle East, referring to policy as a crusade, etc. Those are not "blunders." That's part of a carefully planned strategy to fan the flames of Islamic fundamentalism to create a new ideological enemy to pit US foreign policy against, and to justify the ridiculous spending neccesary to establish a global hegemony controlling the majority of world oil market.

The neocons don't give two shits about spreading "democracy." They care about spreading hegemony. And in conjunction with the energy wonk camp, they care about positioning the United States and her western allies to have control over the majority of the world's petrochemical reserves as we transition into a post-peak energy infrastructure.
posted by stenseng at 11:09 AM on February 19, 2006


Four common principles or threads ran through much of this thought up through the end of the cold war: a concern with democracy, human rights and, more generally, the internal politics of states; a belief that American power can be used for moral purposes; a skepticism about the ability of international law and institutions to solve serious security problems; and finally, a view that ambitious social engineering often leads to unexpected consequences and thereby undermines its own ends.

The problem was that two of these principles were in potential collision.
(my emphasis)

Er, duh. What is nation building and "spreading democracy" but social engineering? As Francis points out next, the main difference is that instead of domestic social engineering, it's international social engineering. And when this kind of ideology results in preemptive war (even if well executed), it becomes extremist and rather naive idealism in action. And what is the belief in an American moral purpose but extremist and naive self-congratulation?

[T]he danger of good intentions carried to extremes was a theme that would underlie the life work of many members of this group. And which the inheritors of this ideology would eventually betray with their intransigent and decontextualized naivety: [t]he war's supporters seemed to think that democracy was a kind of default condition to which societies reverted once the heavy lifting of coercive regime change occurred [...]

When you take away whatever bias we might have toward liberal democracy, the mechanisms of this kind of policy is no better than any other form of imperialism and tyranny. Even with good intentions and effective execution, implementation of such policy necessarily betrays the first concern, especially when concurrent with an uncritical acceptance of the policy's premise.
posted by effwerd at 11:12 AM on February 19, 2006


In defending his book and forwarding a more nuanced premise to the necon idealism, Francis states: [w]hat is initially universal is not the desire for liberal democracy but rather the desire to live in a modern — that is, technologically advanced and prosperous — society, which, if satisfied, tends to drive demands for political participation. I think this a logical, though slightly flawed theory, but he goes on later: American economic hegemony had generated enormous hostility to an American-dominated process of globalization [...]. This "enormous hostility" shows that these targets of the Washington Consensus won't embrace it as an initial universal desire as his theory asserts. And I find it rather vapid to assume it's simply because it is American-dominated. If it is due to fear of domination, the reasons for this must be understood.

He has his most salient point here: Radical Islamism is a byproduct of modernization itself, arising from the loss of identity that accompanies the transition to a modern, pluralist society. But I think one aspect of this point is flawed and he loses touch with the roots and implications of the point when he goes on: More democracy will mean more alienation, radicalization and — yes, unfortunately — terrorism. This seems to presume democracy is inherently bigoted against cosmopolitanism and that modernity inevitably strips cultures of their identity. And worse, it sounds rather prejudicial against Islam by assuming the inevitability of terrorism from such. Though the West is not the shining example of this, it certainly demonstrates that it's possible to preserve cultural identity and allow for pluralist politics.

What I see as the implication here (and it is similar to his assessment) is that while liberal democracy demonstrates what is possible, we are mired in a transitional period where the Middle East and similar geopolitical circumstances have been stuck with the boot of the West on their necks for too long. The West has never clearly demonstrated that it stands for equal participation or any altruistic ideals of promoting local prosperity for the sake of liberal enlightenment. We have too long used these states as tools for exporting much of the wealth and benefits for ourselves. What more could we expect than a backlash against the core rhetoric under which we've couched our intentions? Much like his more nuanced appraisal of certain communist philosophies, it is the implementation of the West's liberal democracy that may be bigoted and alienating, but not necessarily the ideology itself. His assessment would only be true if we continue with such behavior.

He might be saying simply that terrorism is now inevitable given this history and the effectiveness of it, but if he is, he doesn't articulate this point correctly.

Overall it's a good article and it gives me some more hope that we can make the necessary adjustments to correct our recent mistakes.
posted by effwerd at 11:27 AM on February 19, 2006


Fukuyama's book was a victim of its own pithy title. Very few people have actually read it, and therefore know that he's getting at. In other words, what loquax said.
posted by bardic at 11:46 AM on February 19, 2006


Good article, though he does gloss over Leo Strauss quite a bit, and even misattributes Wolfowitz's neoconservative roots to Wohlstetter rather than Strauss himself (though I could be wrong- I thought Wolfowitz was a direct disciple of Strauss.)
posted by The White Hat at 12:37 PM on February 19, 2006


Fukuyama is totally dishonest, and is attempting to distance the "good name" of neoconservatism from the Bush administration's ever snowballing policy fiasco, without letting the cat out of the bag, vis-a-vis the true nature and aims of the neoconservative movement.
posted by stenseng at 12:49 PM on February 19, 2006


Why should I give a shit what someone who was clearly a deluded twit for several has to say? Why do we give any credibility to these nitwits who say "Huh, turns out I was a clueless retard!

Well this is a big bunch of bullshit. Nowhere does Fukuyama express any sort of ideological shift or apology or indicate that he was "deluded". His whole point was that hawkish foreign policy neocons evolved from a movement originally defined by domestic social engineering conservatism. In other words that the movement changed while he stayed the same. He is correct.

Any "neocon" that the editorial staff of the NYT allows to pass through is neither "neo" or "con".

More poo poo propanganda (sic) from the same worthless rag that brought us the brilliant Jason Blair.


Do you have the first fucking clue who Francis Fukuyama even is? Or the New York Times own role in facilitating this war through less than ethical means? God.

. . . vis-a-vis the true nature and aims of the neoconservative movement.

Stenseng you are a conspiratorial jackass, no better (though more fashionable) than people who rant about our "Zog overlords", and it is highly unlikely that you have ever read word one of Strauss, much less know the contours of 20th century neoconservatism.

If this is a representative sample of Metafilter world political discussion, no thank you.
posted by dgaicun at 2:12 PM on February 19, 2006


That's like asking a man at a strip club what he thinks of his wife.

That's just it--why push for these aims? Why project American power around the world? Who benefits? Certainly not average Americans, i don't think. Why is it at all good for America to enact any neo-con goals? There's no way to impose Democracy, and these people have to know that, so you have to write that off as a real goal...what's the real aim? Many neo-cons would be perfectly happy with apartheid states or dictatorships, as long as they were amenable to our whims and dictates, and we retained control of resources. Morality is really completely absent, regardless of what they say.
posted by amberglow at 2:20 PM on February 19, 2006


Fukuyama never self-indentified as a neo-conservative

But he is a signatory on that infamous PNAC letter. Seems like pretty solid neo-con credentials to me.
posted by laz-e-boy at 2:27 PM on February 19, 2006


It is precisely because American foreign policy is infused with an unusually high degree of morality that other nations find they have less to fear from its otherwise daunting power

The idea that somehow clinging to morality makes one worthy of welcome is so counter to reality that one has to laugh at this assertion. Radical muslims absolutely believe that their acts are an almost pure form of moral action, no matter what the outcome; that's why they're willing to blow themselves up. W obviously thinks that the invasion of Iraq was a moral act. The VC back in the day considered killing Americans and cooperators to be entirely moral, because it was the act of a people fighting an invader.

If anything one should be even more fearful of people who claim that morality is on their side, because it blinds them to the immediate consequences of their actions.
posted by clevershark at 2:44 PM on February 19, 2006


"Stenseng you are a conspiratorial jackass, no better (though more fashionable) than people who rant about our "Zog overlords", and it is highly unlikely that you have ever read word one of Strauss, much less know the contours of 20th century neoconservatism.

If this is a representative sample of Metafilter world political discussion, no thank you."


... okay, well. Thanks for that. I like you too, guy.

To the rest of MeFi:For a more complete understanding of the Neoconservative movement, and the striking parallels in this profoundly anti-democratic philosophy with Islamic Fundamentalism, check out the 3 part BBC documentary, The Power of Nightmares


This video is available online via the magic of google video:


The Power of Nightmares - PART 1

The Power of Nightmares - PART 2

The Power of Nightmares - PART 3
posted by stenseng at 3:11 PM on February 19, 2006


Ehhh, as much as I liked the Power of Nightmares, basing your arguments about Leo Strauss on what you've seen on the BBC and then calling it a complete argument is a bit short-sighted.
posted by trey at 3:12 PM on February 19, 2006


it is highly unlikely that you have ever read word one of Strauss

I've read some Strauss (mostly uncollected papers) and intend to read his entire body of work. IM marginally informed O, Straussianism is a dead-end, nihilistic, and anti-Democratic philosophy that is has facially obvious ties to the current crop of self-identified "neocons."

It is a philosophy particularly susceptible to sophistry; the "Straussian reading" admits nearly any interpretation of the great philosophical works that the reader woud like; the Straussian is only constrained by his own ego.

Strauss understands well the critiques of modernity on the part of European Traditionalists, and Marxists like Marcuse, but his "solution" is to keep promulgating modernity (in this sense under discussion here) by hierarchical control. Religion is for the sheeple. The masters know the futility of human endeavor, but must conceal the truth to protect the stupid sheep from themselves.

It's what you get when you start from a positivistic philosophy (the worst possible philosophic foundation, one that literally stems from a "cult of science" that worshipped St. Newton) and then take critiques of the institution of civilization itself seriously.

Just accusing someone of promulgating "conspiracy theories" doesn't work when the subjects under discussion openly advocate dissimulation and collusion on the part of the elites (naturally, them) for the betterment (defined by them) of the masses (you are in the masses.)

Straussianism is like Objectivism for people who can think. Just not well enough to find their way out of the existential hole they've dug themselves into.
posted by sonofsamiam at 3:27 PM on February 19, 2006


"Ehhh, as much as I liked the Power of Nightmares, basing your arguments about Leo Strauss on what you've seen on the BBC and then calling it a complete argument is a bit short-sighted."


I'm not basing the whole of my arguments on anything of the sort. I think that TPON is a good introduction to the subject matter, and particularly interesting in the parallels to be found in the neoconservatism of Strauss, and followers like Wolfowitz, the Kristols, etc. Also, it's important to note that while Straussian neoconservatism shares many superficial traits with a Scoop Jackson interventionist philosophy about spreading democracy, the core ideas at the root of Straussian philosopy are profoundly anti-democratic. Straussian neoconservatism is a wolf in hawk's clothing.
posted by stenseng at 3:50 PM on February 19, 2006


particularly interesting in the parallels to be found in the neoconservatism of Strauss, and followers like Wolfowitz, the Kristols, etc. and the early islamic fundamentalism of Sayid Qutb.

Muhammad Qutb, moved to Saudi Arabia where he became a professor of Islamic Studies. One of Muhammad Qutb's students was Ayman Zawahiri, who later became the mentor of Osama bin Laden.
posted by stenseng at 3:52 PM on February 19, 2006


But he is a signatory on that infamous PNAC letter. Seems like pretty solid neo-con credentials to me.

I agree with some things Marx said. Doesn't make me a Marxist. I don't even know what neoconservatism is anymore. To the extent that the term has been merged with "the Bush administration", it's essentially useless. Just like the common usage of "fascist".

Fukuyama differs substantially in some his views from some of the most general commonalities of the most common definitions of neoconservatism (just like Bush does, incidentally).
posted by loquax at 4:00 PM on February 19, 2006


Fukuyama differs substantially in some his views from some of the most general commonalities of the most common definitions of neoconservatism.

Still, he has and does self-identify as a neocon.

"I have always regarded myself as a neoconservative," he says, "and have always been proud of wearing that label. I had always thought that I shared a common worldview with many other neoconservatives, including many of my friends and acquaintances who served in the administration of George W. Bush. And yet, unlike most of my fellow neoconservatives, I was never persuaded of the necessity of waging the Iraq War, and I found myself increasingly dismayed as I watched the way that American foreign policy was actually being implemented by the Bush administration."

Dr. Fukuyama opened his remarks by noting that his appearance at The Nixon Center did not represent a defection from the neoconservative to the realist camp. "I still consider myself to be a dyed-in-the-wool neoconservative," he declared.
posted by nikzhowz at 4:51 PM on February 19, 2006


I think Fukuyama went a bit far in expanding a mistake made by a few neoconservatives over a period of a year or so (bad planning for the occupation of Iraq) into the collapse of the entire neoconservative tendency.

Neoconservatism is alive and well, and it doesn't regret the invasion of Iraq one bit. To transform the spectacle of suicide bombers into a wish that Saddam was still in charge of Iraq is (in their view) to make the perfect the enemy of the good.

I also think he is completely wrong to call the bad planning for the Iraqi invasion a manifestation of a particular intellectual flaw of neo-conservatism. It was, rather, a manifestation of an entirely different intellectual flaw -- the fundamental American blindness to ethno-religious nationalism. Americans as smart as Wolfowitz, or as pragmatic as Cheney, have been walking into this trap for 50 years.
posted by MattD at 4:53 PM on February 19, 2006


Yikes. You showed me nikzhowz. I had never come across him describing himself like that. Sorry.
posted by loquax at 4:57 PM on February 19, 2006


Neoconservatism is alive and well, and it doesn't regret the invasion of Iraq one bit.

Sadly. And disturbingly. because after Bush is out of office, these philosophical streams and political factions aren't just going to die, folks.

To transform the spectacle of suicide bombers into a wish that Saddam was still in charge of Iraq is (in their view) to make the perfect the enemy of the good.

We can concoct any sort of "inevitabilities" and "difficult choices" our neurotic psyches like. History shows that we are nearly always fooling ourselves, and only hubris keeps us from admitting this.

Neocons' faith in their grand designs and visions allows them to set many other things aside.

"Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others."
-Groucho Marx
posted by sonofsamiam at 6:31 PM on February 19, 2006


Bush's foreign policy incoherence
posted by homunculus at 8:02 PM on February 19, 2006


“The problem with neoconservatism's agenda lies not in its endswhich are as American as apple pie, but rather in the overmilitarized means by which it has sought to accomplish them”

Yeah. The problem with the communist agenda lies not in its ends, which are as Russian as vodka...

No political ethos can be justified by an appeal to the percieved national character.
If indeed, neoconservativism can even be mistaken in bad light for a political philosophy.

*mimicry*
Hey, there’s nothing wrong with Ronco’s products or the way they push their goods on t.v., the only problem lay with Ron Popeil’s voice.

I can almost respect a straightforward huckster. It’s the self-deluded fanatics that irk me.
Blaming Bush for the morass of bad policy initiation derived from illusions spun solely to placate the Id is no different from penciling Trotsky out of the revolution.

Any child can see what the neocon aims are. They have nothing to do with conservative philosophy - as evidenced in action.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:15 AM on February 20, 2006


See further discussion at Crooked Timber and Legal Fiction
posted by trey at 7:25 AM on February 20, 2006


Thanks trey.
posted by semmi at 10:04 AM on February 20, 2006


Neocons jump ship
posted by homunculus at 11:52 PM on February 26, 2006


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