NEOCONSERVATISM & THE CULT OF EMPIRE
By: Justin Raimondo
Editor's note: Today's column is based on a speech delivered at
Colorado College on Sept. 15, sponsored by the Robert and Janet Manning Endowed Fund for
Political Science and the political science department.
Why are we in Iraq?
This question, I think, puzzles most Americans, who are increasingly
opposed to the war, opposed to the present administration, and are wondering: how did we
get here? We have 1,800 dead Americans, tens of thousands horribly wounded, and what do we
have to show for it? We have the "Islamic Republic of Iraq," that's what we
have: we have "liberated" that country on behalf of a bunch of religious
fanatics, whose first acts are to put women in their place, introduce sharia law, and
visit their co-thinkers in Tehran, where the newly-elected democratic leaders paid
obeisance at the grave of the Ayatollah Khomeini.
How did we get here?
In New Orleans, thousands died while the National Guardsmen who could have saved them
were in Iraq, along with the soil erosion
equipment that could have averted a flood which is being used for military
purposes, in spite of the fact that these levee-reinforcement materials are manufactured
You can't make this stuff up. Is this really happening? I have to pinch myself,
occasionally, and ask myself that question. Surrounded by the utter irrationality of our
foreign and domestic policies, you have to wonder: what, exactly, is going on? Who or what
is behind this crazy, mis-directed, Bizarro World set of priorities? Have madmen seized
control of the U.S. government, determined to drive it and us into the
I'm reminded of something that Seymour Hersh, the investigative journalist, said in a speech to the ACLU last
year. Remarking on how, in the wake of 9/11, the War Party managed to grasp the reins of
power, he said:
"The question we have to say to ourselves is, ok, so here's what happens, a
bunch of guys, 8 or 9 neoconservatives, cultists not Charles Manson cultists, but
cultists get in and it's not, with all due respect to Michael Moore, and you'll
read it, his movie's fine, but it's not about oil, it's not even about protecting Israel,
it's about a Utopia they have, it's about an idea they have. Not only about
democracy can be spread in a sense, I would say Paul Wolfowitz is the greatest
Trotskyite of our time, he believes in permanent revolution, and in the Middle East to
begin, needless to say.
"And so you have a bunch of people who've been for 10, 12 years have been
fantasizing since the 1991 Gulf War on the way to resolve problems. And of course Israel
will be a beneficiary and etc., etc., but the world in their eyes this was Utopia.
And so they got together, this small group of cultists, and how did they do it? They did
do it. They've taken the government over. And what's amazing to me, and what really is
troubling, is how fragile our democracy is. Look what happened to us."
A lot has been written about the neoconservatives: their storied history starting out
as acolytes of Leon Trotsky conferring in Alcove
One in the lunchroom at City College in New York City; their rise to literary fame as
the so-called "New York
Intellectuals"; their odyssey from the left-liberal Bohemian beret-wearing
coffeehouse set to the wood-paneled boardrooms and lecture halls of the right-leaning
American Enterprise Institute and the topic is a fascinating one. But I just want
to focus here, for a moment, on Hersh's description of them as a cult.
Now, one of the chief characteristics of a classic cult organization is that there are
two sets of ideas that hold the cultists in thrall, two entirely separate and often
contradictory ideologies that are held simultaneously by members of the group. As Murray
N. Rothbard pointed out in his survey of The Sociology of the Ayn
"Every religious cult has two sets of differing and distinctive creeds: the
exoteric and the esoteric. The exoteric creed is the official, public doctrine, the creed
which attracts the acolyte in the first place and brings him into the movement as a
rank-and-file member. The quite different creed is the unknown, hidden agenda, a creed
which is only known to its full extent by the top leadership, the 'high priests' of the
cult. The latter are the keepers of the Mysteries of the cult.
"But cults become particularly fascinating when the esoteric and exoteric
creeds are not only different, but totally and glaringly in mutual contradiction. The
havoc that this fundamental contradiction plays in the minds and lives of the disciples
may readily be imagined."
The Marxist-Leninist cults are, officially, champions of Science, and fanatically
atheistic, and yet impart a quasi-mystical infallibility to "the party" that has
about it a distinctly religious air. The Rand cult, as Rothbard illustrated in his
informative and amusing study, officially upheld the values of Reason, Individualism, and
Self-Esteem, and yet, in practice when it came to the inner workings of the cult
organization itself enforced a ruthless conformism based on worship of the guru, in
the person of Ayn Rand, that was founded on blatant emotionalism and the abject
self-abnegation of the rank-and-file before the cult leaders.
The exoteric creed of neoconservatism is fairly straightforward and
widely advertised: it consists of devotion to capital-D Democracy the world over, the
virtues of what it terms "democratic capitalism," and the special mission of the
United States as not only the exemplar but also the exporter of freedom to the four
corners of the earth. Liberty, Democracy, and the Rule of Law, all those Enlightenment
values that embody the doctrine of liberalism in the classical sense of the term
including an ostensible devotion to free markets all of these elements are
essential components of what neocon godfather Irving Kristol calls the
The esoteric or inner doctrine of neoconservatism is quite a different
matter: like that of the Marxists and the followers of Ayn Rand, it is in many ways the
exact opposite of the official creed. While "liberty" and "freedom"
are the bywords of the neoconservative Right, the cult's philosophers notably Leo Strauss were and are
advocates of rule by an elite. The ignorant masses, according to Strauss and his
followers, are kept in thrall by various delusions such as religion, ethics, and
social conventions of one sort or another that keep society together and that it is
the duty of the philosophers to uphold. While they (the all-knowing, all-wise
philosophers, that is) know the awful truth which is that all values are relative,
that good and evil are merely labels of convenience, and that brute force is what really
rules the world the general populace is better left in happy ignorance, while the
philosopher-kings alone are fit to bear the burden of truth. Strauss believed, as William Pfaff put it,
"that the essential truths about society and history should be held by an elite, and
withheld from others who lack the fortitude to deal with truth. Society, Strauss thought,
needs consoling lies."
The people, in short, have to be ruled and fooled for their own good.
Strauss is the philosopher of the "noble lie," and
perhaps it is because of their belief in their own nobility that his followers have
learned to utter their lies with a straight face, even with a certain amount of solemnity.
We saw this in the run-up to war with Iraq, in which the Office of Special Plans
in effect, a parallel
intelligence unit set up by the neocons to bypass the CIA and other government agencies
piped disinformation about Iraq's alleged "weapons of mass destruction"
to Congress, directly to the White House, and to the American people. It all turned out to
be an elaborate fabrication, of course, but by the time this was discovered by the general
public it was too late we were already deeply ensconced in Iraq as the occupying
power. The tragedy could not be kept from unfolding.
This is not at all surprising coming from an administration so thoroughly penetrated by Strauss's
disciples. The philosopher of the "consoling lie" includes among his acolytes
and students an amazing number of Bush appointees and intellectual hangers-on, including:
Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, Gary Schmidt, Leon Kass (chairman of the
President's Council on Bioethics), John Walters (former drug czar), and Francis Fukuyama.
Among the lesser, second-level bureaucrats, the list of Straussians including
students of Strauss' leading disciples is one Abram Shulsky, the
head of the Office of Special Plans, which, as Mother Jones magazine put it,
functioned as a "lie factory"
in the run-up to war with Iraq. Shulsky is a student of Strauss, and the co-author of an
article on Strauss and the mechanics of
deception in intelligence work.
The Straussian pattern of deceit was on exhibit in the rationale for war based on
alleged "weapons of mass destruction" in Saddam Hussein's possession and his
nonexistent links to al-Qaeda, but not only there. It is also unfolding in the aftermath
of the war, and in the kind of Iraqi state we are bringing to birth. How else could we
have gone into Iraq proclaiming that we were "liberating" the country on behalf
of "freedom" and "democracy" and wound up helping to institute a
Shi'ite theocracy and a "constitution" based on the state religion of Islam and
sharia law except by reference to the exoteric/esoteric split in the Straussian
mindset? There is much talk of the so-called "unintended consequences" of U.S.
military intervention in Iraq, but what about the intended consequences?
The guff about "democracy" was for the benefit of a Western audience, while,
on the ground in Iraq, the Straussians in the administration had another agenda
civil war, the atomization of the country, and, perhaps, a regional religious conflict
that tears the Muslim world asunder. The exoteric goals the liberation of Iraq, the
elections, and all the accompanying rhetoric about "self-determination"
were only a cover for the real, esoteric objectives: a cynical geopolitical manipulation
that can only lead to perpetual war in the Middle East and the pulverization of the
existing Arab and Muslim states, all of it lorded over by a rising American Empire.
In his book, America the Virtuous: The Crisis of Democracy and the Quest for Empire,
Professor Claes Ryn directs his ire at the neoconservative network in government and
academia whose foreign policy agenda, he believes, is anything but conservative. It is,
instead, the product of a colossal conceit that has fixed its sights on the idea of
American global hegemony, an ideology that is more Jacobin than Jeffersonian, and one that
is particularly well suited to the Straussian mindset. As Professor Ryn puts
"A part of the appeal of Strauss to members of this [neoconservative] network
of intellectuals has been his idea that only a few sophisticated minds can really
understand and face the truth about politics. To protect themselves against the ignorant
and to be able to influence the powers-that-be, the philosophers must, according to
Strauss, hide their innermost beliefs and true motives, not least from rulers whom they
want to advise. Following Plato's recommendation, the philosophers must tell 'noble lies'
that are more palatable to others than the truth.
Having gained access to the ruler
through dissimulation, sycophancy, and general craftiness, they are in a position to
whisper in the ruler's ear, making him their instrument"
"Dissimulation, sycophancy, and general craftiness" a better and more
succinct description of how the neocons wormed their way into the corridors of power and
seized de facto control of the ship of state, could hardly be imagined. This, I
think, fills in the background to Seymour Hersh's scenario of what was, in effect, a coup
d'etat, and this view is echoed by Bob Woodward, writing in his book, Plan of
Attack, who cites none other than Colin Powell on the mechanics of how this actually came about:
"Powell felt Cheney and his allies his chief aide, I. Lewis 'Scooter'
Libby, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy
Douglas J. Feith and what Powell called Feith's 'Gestapo' office had established
what amounted to a separate government."
The neoconservatives came to Washington or, rather, came back to Washington,
since they had first tasted the fruits of power during the Reagan administration
with a very clear agenda, one they had, as Hersh points out, been working on for over a
decade. The Project for a New American Century (PNAC) had been issuing statements,
petitions, policy papers, and whatnot, pretty continuously on the subject of invading Iraq
and much of the Middle East since its inception. Founded by Bill Kristol,
editor of the Weekly Standard, PNAC worked quietly but effectively to mobilize
elite opinion behind the neocons' foreign policy goals, first and foremost a huge increase
in the military budget. The PNAC group advocated a massive and fundamental
"transformation" of the American military, from a defensive shield into an
instrument of empire, but realized, in a report entitled "Rebuilding America's
Defenses," published in September of 2000, that this would not be accomplished
without "some catastrophic and catalyzing event like a new Pearl Harbor."
With the victory of George W. Bush several of PNAC's leading lights found themselves on
their way to Washington, and when 9/11 rolled around the "new Pearl
Harbor" they had been waiting for the neocons were more than ready for their
moment in the sun. They came pouring out of the shadows like the legions of Mordor, and
they took over the Shire that is, Washington, D.C., and the foreign policy
apparatus of the U.S. government quickly and effectively dispatching their enemies
in the CIA and the military establishment, riding the momentum of the war hysteria
generated by the worst terrorist attack in American history.
Theirs was not an overnight victory, however, and it is worth delving into the history
of the War Party in order to better understand how we got to where we are today and
where we are going.
The neoconservatives are widely recognized as a tendency on the Right, indeed the
dominant tendency in the American conservative movement, but the reality is that their
origins are on the extreme Left of the political spectrum. Let's go back to what Seymour
Hersh said about Paul Wolfowitz: he called him "the greatest Trotskyite of our
time" and described him as believing in "permanent revolution," all of
which may seem rather mysterious to the average listener, but in fact is not at all a
mystery to anyone acquainted with the history of neoconservatism.
The first neoconservative or, at least, one of the first was a man by the
name of Max Shachtman. He was one
of the three founders of American Trotskyism. As a longtime member of the Communist Party,
old Max was a veteran Communist organizer who had devoted his life to the party, first as
a member of the youth league and then as a courier who delivered Moscow's gold to party
headquarters in New York. Totally devoted to the cause, he was recruited to the Trotskyite
heresy by his then-friend James P. Cannon, a party leader, and together with their small
group of followers they were expelled from the party in 1928. Whereupon they founded their
own group, the Communist League of America (CLA).
The charismatic albeit tragic figure of Leon Trotsky loomed large in the 1930s, when
the world was fascinated as the Russian Revolution devoured its own and Stalin
consolidated power as the unchallenged leader of the world Communist movement. Sent into
exile by Stalin after a brief power struggle inside the Soviet Union, Trotsky roamed
Europe hounded at every turn by loyal Stalinists and by anti-Communists, until he finally
found a kind of sanctuary in Mexico. While ordinary workers and Communist activists found
little to appeal to them in Trotsky's complicated critique of Soviet society, he attracted
a small but talented cadre of intellectuals who found his explanation of how and why the
Revolution went wrong compelling.
According to Trotsky, the degeneration of the Soviet state into a crude dictatorship
headed by Stalin was the result of its national isolation. Communist theory had always
promised the faithful a world revolution, and, furthermore, the victory of the communists
in Russia was an historical accident that could have fateful consequences for the future
of the proletariat. Because, you see, Marx had never counted on a successful communist
revolution in a backward state, such as Russia: according to Marxist theory, only the full
development of capitalism could make manifest the contradictions inherent in the system,
and usher in a communist-led revolt of the workers. Russia, which had barely managed to
emerge from feudalism, wasn't ready for a communist revolution, at least according to
orthodox Marxist doctrine: however, it happened anyway, due to the exertions of Lenin, yet
there was a price to be paid. The low level of economic development meant that socialism
could not yield the results foretold by Marx and Engels, at least not immediately. This
meant that the Revolution had to extend itself internationally, especially to such highly
industrialized countries as Germany, France, England, and the Low Countries or else
suffer national isolation and eventual extinction.
According to Trotsky's theory, that is exactly what happened, or was in the process of
happening, and one consequence of this was the degeneration of the Soviet Union and the
rise of a new ruling caste of bureaucrats. Trotsky evolved a complex analysis of the
contradictory nature of the Soviet state under Stalin, one, as I have said, that had
little appeal to the ordinary rank and file of the Communist movement but had a great
attraction for left-wing intellectuals. Those who wanted to distance themselves from
Stalin's crimes, yet still bask in the reflected glory of the Communist ideal, could
embrace Trotskyism and have it both ways.
As the Moscow Trials, the massacre of the kulaks, the vast prison system known as the
gulag, and the zigs and zags of Soviet foreign policy alienated Western intellectuals who
had, at first, embraced the Soviet experiment with nearly uncritical adoration, Trotskyism
became fashionable for a brief historical moment. Shachtman and his comrades recruited
hundreds, and then thousands into the ranks of the Trotskyist movement, and Shachtman
began to develop his own critique of Stalinism that would eventually lead to his break
with Trotsky and the orthodox Trotskyist movement.
On the eve of World War II, as Stalin teamed up with Hitler to divide Poland and
swallow the Baltics, a faction fight broke out in the Trotskyist movement over the class
character of the Soviet Union. Trotsky and his loyal followers maintained that, even in
alliance with Hitler, and in spite of its bureaucratic deformations, the Soviet Union
still remained a progressive force on the stage of world history, and had to be defended
"against Stalin and in spite of Stalin."
On the other hand, Shachtman and his co-thinkers one of whom was the philosophy
professor James Burnham, who later went on to become one of the principal founders of National
Review magazine began to develop their own critique of Stalinism. According to
Shachtman, the Soviet Union was no longer socialist at all, but represented a new kind of
society that he called bureaucratic collectivism. And since collectivism, by his lights at
least, was more efficient than capitalism, the threat represented by the growing Soviet
empire to the West could not be overestimated. The Soviet Union, to Shachtman, was a
mutant monster of enormous strength that would soon overcome the West unless the
"Third Camp," represented by Shachtman and his small band of erstwhile
Trotskyites, somehow prevailed.
Shachtman split off from the main body of Trotskyism in 1940, forming the Workers
Party, of which Burnham was briefly a member. However, Professor Burnham dropped out after
a few months, and soon after announced that a new form of society which he called
managerial society was inevitably displacing the old capitalist class, and that a
new system, neither socialist nor capitalist, but purely managerial, was even at that
moment completing its conquest of the earth. Burnham very quickly moved rightward and
developed his anti-Stalinism into a fully-focused and even professional anti-Communism,
moving into the orbit of William F. Buckley, Jr., and, as I have noted, becoming a
founding editor of National Review, the flagship publication of the postwar
Burnham's rightward journey was replicated by Shachtman, but in slow motion. Instead of
moving into the camp of militant anti-Communism in a matter of a few years, for old Max,
it was an odyssey that took place over decades.
He stubbornly maintained his devotion to the cause of socialism, but alongside it began
to develop a strategic orientation that involved less revolutionary means to achieve it.
As the Workers Party began to move into the 1950s and beyond, they changed their name to
the Independent Socialist League and buried themselves in the old Socialist Party,
reconciling with the Social Democrats whom they had once disdained and burrowing into the
unions, especially the teachers union in New York. They became a major force in the
AFL-CIO on account of their hold on union offices, and they used this influence to fight
their old enemies, the Communist Party, tooth and nail. By this time, Shachtman's
hostility to the Soviet Union had reached full flower, and by the time the Vietnam War
rolled around he was supporting the war in the name of the fight for
"authentic socialism." The militant anti-Stalinism of the Trotskyist left, in
the end, translated into a militant anti-Communism that owed more to Senator
"Scoop" Jackson, of Washington, the hardline cold warrior Democrat, than to an
orthodox interpretation of the Communist classics.
Speaking of Jackson, Shachtman and his followers soon latched on to the senator as the
exemplar of their foreign policy views, and it was through this connection
Shachtman supported Jackson's abortive presidential bid and planted his followers on staff
that the neocons made their first appearance in Washington.
As aides to Senator Jackson, the list of neocons is impressive:
- Richard Perle, the neoconservative foreign policy guru and a major force in the Bush
- Douglas Feith, the former undersecretary of defense for policy at the Pentagon
and overseer of the Office of Special Plans, where the Iraq war intelligence was cooked
and served up to the White House.
- Elliott Abrams, special assistant to the president focusing on Middle East affairs, was
Jackson's special counsel.
- Paul Wolfowitz, formerly Bush's deputy secretary of defense and the main architect of
the Iraq war, maintained a long relationship with Jackson, although he never was directly
employed by him.
The Jackson connection was the first beachhead established by Shachtman and his
followers in Washington, when they were still in the Democratic Party. Their party
loyalties, however, as we have seen, were less than rock solid, and they readily moved
into the Republican Party when both necessity and opportunity required it. The issue at
hand in their split with the Democrats was the Vietnam War, and they walked out when the
McGovernites took over and the Democratic party lapsed back into one of its periodic fits
of what the neocons today deride as "isolationism."
Shachtman died in 1972, but his legacy lives on. He had tremendous moral and political
authority on the anti-Stalinist Left, and a huge influence on the so-called "New York
intellectuals" who eventually evolved into the neoconservatives. The group he
established, Social Democrats, USA, continues to exist, at least in the formal sense, but
more importantly his intellectual legacy lives on in the form of the fascination with
capital-D Democracy that is the chief ideological capstone of the neoconservative foreign
policy revolution. Having lost faith in the alleged inevitability of socialism, and been
disillusioned by what the Soviet Union had become, the Shachtman group devoted itself to
the worship of abstract Democracy as a substitute for their lost faith. Having started out
as the would-be founders of the so-called "Third Camp," they finally came to the
conclusion that, in a war, one must choose sides, and they chose the West. The U.S., for
them, became the embodiment of Democracy, and the American military its righteous
Throughout the cold war era, the Scoop Jackson Democrats were the most militant
exponents of "rolling back" the Soviet empire by a strategy of military
confrontation. It was this group that constituted the infamous "Team B" that
wildly overestimated Soviet military power in the 1970s. As Eric Alterman has noted:
"Many of the very same people who deliberately created the misimpression about
Iraq to goad the American people into supporting a war had already executed a run-through
of the same strategy in the 1970s. Back then, establishment hardliners associated with the
now defunct 'Committee on the Present Danger' heaped scorn upon the professional
intelligence services for their alleged underestimation of Soviet military capabilities.
They succeeded in convincing then-CIA Director, George H.W. Bush, to appoint a now
infamous 'Team B' to go through the same material and come up with an answer that would
justify a vast increase in U.S. defense spending. With the powerful political patronage of
then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, its members, including Paul Wolfowitz, came up
with astronomical numbers for alleged Soviet military spending and capabilities."
As in the case of fomenting war with Iraq, the neocons' chief adversary was the CIA,
which gave an analysis of a drop in Soviet economic efficiency and military spending that
while itself somewhat more optimistic than the dismal reality nevertheless
offered a basis for détente and mutual disarmament. As Anne Hessing Cahn establishes in
her history of the Team B affair, however, the neocons were in a position to know that
their data was faulty:
"Team B had at its disposal sufficient information to know that the Soviet
Union was in severe decline. As Soviet defectors were telling us in anguished terms that
the system was collapsing, Team B looked at the quantity but not the quality of missiles,
tanks, and planes, at the quantity of Soviet men under arms, but not their morale,
leadership, alcoholism, or training."
As good Straussians, however, these folks knew that the truth must be bent and
"noble lies" must be told in order to serve a higher end known only to
themselves, of course. The run-up to the Iraq war was merely a replay of an act the
neocons had first performed in the 1970s. After that, as we have seen, they moved
effortlessly into the ranks of Republicans, where they rose to the top leadership of the
conservative movement and made their reappearance in Washington during the Reagan years as
lower-level appointees and intellectual advisers to top officials. A leader of the
Shachtman group, Carl Gershman, was appointed head of the National Endowment for
Democracy, which was first brought to birth during the Carter years, and the agency under
Reagan burgeoned into a huge bureaucracy dispensing millions of dollars to
"pro-democracy" (i.e. pro-U.S.) groups throughout the world. The NED became a
bastion of neoconservative influence in the administration, and the neocons soon moved
into the Pentagon, penetrating key positions in the foreign policy apparatus.
A major victory for the neocons was the consolidation of their dominance over the
contemporary conservative movement. The main conservative think tanks and periodicals came
to be dominated by them on account of neoconservative links to the big foundations, such
as Olin, Scaife, Bradley, and others, which subsidized neocon scholars, founded and
promoted neocon publications, and starved the neocons' opponents on the right, driving
them out of the mainstream institutions and relegating them to only a few small think
tanks and periodicals.
The great problem for the neocons, however, was that by the mid-1990s the specter of
Communism was almost entirely banished from the planet. The eradication of
Marxism-Leninism had become the end-all and be-all of their ideology, but when it finally was
eradicated, the neoconservative movement nearly imploded. Without an enemy to mobilize
against, a holy war to embark on, the neoconservative movement which by this time
was almost entirely centered around a militantly aggressive foreign policy seemed
to wither on the vine. They had become the War Party, but there was no war. While they
supported virtually all of Bill Clinton's numerous overseas interventions
especially the Kosovo war, during which Bill Kristol declared it was America's duty to
"crush Serb skulls" none of these enemies loomed large enough to justify
their obsessive preoccupation with the exercise of American military power. They didn't
support George W. Bush, at first, preferring the more militant John McCain, but when the
Republicans took Washington they finagled their way into the new administration and soon
ensconced themselves in key positions. As Robert Pippen, chairman of the Committee on
Social Thought at the University of Chicago, put it: Leo Strauss thought that
"Good statesmen must rely on an inner circle. The person who whispers in the
ear of the king is more important than the king."
This is how the neocon coup d'etat was accomplished in the days after the 9/11
terrorist attacks. The neocons had become more important than the king by making sure that
their whispers and only their whispers reached Bush's ears. Inexperienced and unschooled
in foreign affairs, and caught flat-footed by the scope of the attacks, the president was
putty in their hands.
9/11 revitalized the neoconservative movement and catapulted it to a brief but heady
hegemony over the foreign policy of the United States. The greatest disaster in our
history enabled them to mobilize the general population behind a policy of perpetual war
and establish a beachhead for their imperial project in Iraq. That nation is now to be
used as a launching pad for attacks on Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and indeed the
entire Muslim world. The Cold War during which they flourished has now been
replaced and replicated in its global scope by a war of civilizations, pitting the West
against Islam. All the out-of-work Sovietologists and Kremlinologists now have found a new
calling: the categorization and explication of the various components of what they see as
a worldwide Islamist conspiracy against modernity. And they have a new task: to bring
modernity to the supposedly "backward" Middle East and effect a long-term
transformation of the region in order to eradicate the threat of terrorism.
The philosophy of the War Party, as it evolved during the Cold War years, came to
resemble a kind of inverted Trotskyism. The United States took over the hallowed place
once given over to the Soviet Union as the agency of History, and a ruthless elitism that
in many ways reflected the elitist antecedents of the Leninist theory of the party was and
is a key part of their methodology. The old Trotskyist idea that the national encirclement
of the Soviet Union sealed its fate is reflected in an inverted sense by the
neoconservative insistence that "democracy in one country" is similarly
threatened. The neocon campaign to extend American hegemony to every continent owes much
to the Trotskyist legacy bequeathed to them by Shachtman. There is a reason why many
former Trotskyists, such as Christopher Hitchens, are now among the most combative and
articulate supporters of the Bush Doctrine. The president, in his second inaugural
address, sounded like the founder of the Red Army addressing the workers and Peasants of
"By our efforts we have lit a fire as well, a fire in the minds of men. It
warms those who feel its power; it burns those who fight its progress. And one day this
untamed fire of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world."
A revolutionary "fire in the mind" what, pray tell, is
"conservative" about that? The answer: exactly nothing. It is, instead, a
radical approach to foreign affairs worthy of any Bolshevik of old.
I would remind you that all of the greatest crimes of the 20th century have been
committed by armed ideologues. Convinced that they were the vessels of righteousness, the
spirit of History emblazoned on their banners, they murdered millions and celebrated by
standing atop a mountain of skulls and beating their chests, proclaiming their virtuous
"idealism" to all who would listen. And millions more followed them,
unthinkingly including many intellectuals of note, convinced that they were
embarking on a holy crusade to save the world, when in reality they were engaged in a
devilish act of mass murder and cultural and spiritual suicide, and would not be readily
Posterity will not easily forgive the perpetrators of these newer horrors, least of all
because they are done in the name of the one country on earth that has stood fast against
the totalitarian temptation and the fatal lure of fanatical ideology. Not only will they
murder god knows how many before they're done, but they'll strangle our old republic and
replace it with a decadent and thoroughly corrupt empire. This is the imperial delusion,
the idea that such people can escape the verdict of history, morality, and common sense:
so thoroughly are they imbued with the revealed dogmas of their ideology that they think
they have transcended the laws of God as well as Man. I am reminded of what one
high-ranking White House official told
journalist Ron Suskind in answer to questions about the lies told by this administration
in the run-up to war with Iraq:
"In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that
the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I
had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure,
and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend but which
I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.
"The aide said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based
community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your
judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about
enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world
really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our
own reality. And while you're studying that reality judiciously, as you will
we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how
things will sort out. We're history's actors
and you, all of you, will be left to
just study what we do.'"
Suskind is more right than he knows: what that senior adviser said to him gets to the
heart of much more than the Bush presidency. It is the reason we are in Iraq today, and
may be in Syria, Iran, or somewhere else tomorrow. It gets to the very essence of the
sickness that has infected our world since the dawn of modernity, and that is the delusion
that men can be like gods. Such hubris is bound to be punished, sooner or later, and with
the accelerated pace of events speeding up before our eyes, I'm inclined to think it will
That White House senior aide is also right, in a sense: we will study the actions of
him and his masters, just the way doctors study the onset of some particularly loathsome
plague. In the hope, of course, of finding a cure
Justin Raimondo is Editorial Director
He is a regular columnist for Ether Zone.
Justin Raimondo may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in the September 16, 2005 issue of Ether Zone
Copyright © 1997 - 2005 Ether Zone.
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