Zôion politikòn (Man is by nature a political animal)
A neoconservative is a left-winger who has been ambushed by reality.- Irving Kristol
What is the first thing one thinks of when one hears or reads East vs West? A fan of hip hop - Biggy vs Tupac, A Straussian Bloom vs Jaffa, a political scientist China vs America. How should one understand the politics of humanitarian intervention? Do American leaders decide where and when to use military force to prevent or stop humanitarian crises on a case-by-case basis from ad hoc motivations, or do overarching ideological predispositions determine when they act or abstain?
While there is no doubt that domestic politics and particular circumstances affect when and how the United States engages in humanitarian intervention, a larger ideological backdrop plays a greater role. This essay explores the major ideological poles in past and future debates about humanitarian intervention - liberalism and conservative realism.
Neocons emerged out of the divergence of America’s moderate left wing from its more radically progressive left wing, and were thus defined by it, and they had anything but benevolent intent toward their former colleagues. Neocons champion a form of collective well-being that they believe is best achieved through individual initiative joined to a sense of social responsibility, inculcated primarily through education, rather than by an omnipresent State with its welfare system. The necessary corollaries of this mindset are anti-communism and anti-liberalism.
Beyond the stereotypes, neoconservatism is simply another strain in American political history. The original neocons were liberal intellectuals who gravitated toward the Republican Party in the late 1960s and early '70s out of frustration with the Democrats' approach to defense. Distinguishing themselves from traditional conservative isolationists, they later formed the core of the Reagan Republicans. They supported the Reagan administration's strategies toward the Soviet Union, which are now credited in large part with its demise.
In the wake of 9/11 and the war on terrorism, the muscular yet idealistic foreign policy of the neocons has once again come to the fore. Neocons believe it's in the interest of both the United States and the international community to live in a world relatively free of tyranny and simmering discontent. In short, spreading freedom is a win-win situation.
All of this makes the hostility toward them for adopting such policies all the more puzzling -- especially when it comes from those who profess an interest in promoting human rights. Even longtime critics of the United States have been forced to concede that perhaps there's something to neoconservative strategy after all.
These days it's the Left that seems to promote realpolitik pragmatism over the apparently radical idea that people all over the world not only deserve freedom but also are capable of controlling their own destinies.
Admittedly, the neoconservative approach is an incredibly ambitious one, but, when it comes right down to it, what's the alternative? Trying to transform despotic regimes into democracies and enemies into allies is the only solution. These goals are accomplished not only through military means but also by supporting the moderates and intellectuals of the region. As those in the peace camp are fond of saying, endless war is not the answer.
Neoconservatives support social change, but with the necessary gradualism and prudence, which conversely serves to distinguish them from progressives. In this form of reasonable gradualism, neoconservatives consider themselves the truest expressions of their country’s common sense.
It is no coincidence that the principles of horizontal subsidiarity, meritocracy, and various expressions of freedom are all broadly shared and characterize the ideology. Neocons’ combine liberalism as an economic system and liberalism as a system of ideal values, two things that do not necessarily always go together. In Neocon thought, “social dynamism” must incorporate at least two elements in addition to capitalism considered alone: democratic institutions and a culture that defends ethical and cultural pluralism.
The debate among the Neocons, the conservatives, and the progressives, lead to elements characterizing the former is—in the market economy—exaltation of the “bourgeois virtues”: hard work, humility, sense of responsibility, prudence and temperance. Somewhere between exaggerated, egoistic individualism and suffocating statism, the neoconservatives’ recipe, borrowed from the social doctrine of the Catholic Church, is exaltation of the institutions that fall in between: the family, enterprise, school, associations. In this framework, the State intervenes only if the institutions in between reveal themselves to be incapable of achieving freedom, social justice, and promotion of the human person (the so-called principle of subsidiarity). Here we are in 2022…
The neoconservative movement is a multi-faith movement, as it encompasses Jews and Christians of a variety of different denominations. For Catholic Theocons in particular, in the wake of Pope John Paul II’s thought, freedom of conscience is an inalienable human right, and only if this right is exercised can an action be defined as truly moral. They flee from both extremes: traditional Catholicism anchored to the principle of authority, dogmatically coercive, and progressive Catholicism aimed at achieving unilateral irenics with other religions or philosophies. The cornerstone of Theocon thought is the promotion of human dignity, liberty, and responsibility, all in the framework of natural law in the Christian spirit. In practice, those who identify with these values work to achieve respect for human rights and for development of free economic initiative. When it comes to bio-ethical issues such as abortion, euthanasia, and experimentation with stem cells from embryos, the opposition of the Catholic component is not, as the author notes, always shared by all the other faiths and philosophic currents in the neoconservative movement.
There are at the present time two great nations in the world, which started from different points, but seem to tend towards the same end. I allude to the Russians and the Americans. Both of them have grown up unnoticed; and whilst the attention of mankind was directed elsewhere, they have suddenly placed themselves in the front rank among the nations, and the world learned their existence and their greatness at almost the same time.
All other nations seem to have nearly reached their natural limits, and they have only to maintain their power; but these are still in the act of growth. All the others have stopped, or continue to advance with extreme difficulty; these alone are proceeding with ease and celerity along a path to which no limit can be perceived. The American struggles against the obstacles which nature opposes to him; the adversaries of the Russian are men. The former combats the wilderness and savage life; the latter, civilization with all its arms. The conquests of the American are therefore gained with the ploughshare; those of the Russian by the sword. The Anglo-American relies upon personal interest to accomplish his ends, and gives free scope to the unguided strength and common sense of the people; the Russian centres all the authority of society in a single arm. The principal instrument of the former is freedom; of the latter, servitude. Their starting-point is different, and their courses are not the same; yet each of them seems marked out by the will of Heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe. - Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
In April 1991, in the fallout of the Gulf War, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein brutally suppressed Kurds and Shiites who were answering U.S. President George H.W. Bush’s call to overthrow him. With America standing by, Saddam used his Army helicopters to ensure the perpetuation of his bloody rule.
Although many in the United States protested, one observer forcefully supported the White House’s decision not to intervene at that moment. “There is good reason – perhaps even right reason – for the administration’s position,” he wrote. “It has to do with our definition of the American national interest in the Gulf. This definition does not imply a general resistance to ‘aggression.’ … And this definition surely never implied a commitment to bring the blessings of democracy to the Arab world. … No military alternative is attractive, since each could end up committing us to govern Iraq. And no civilized person in his right mind wants to govern Iraq.”
The observer was Irving Kristol, the so-called “godfather” of neoconservatism. But if that doesn’t sound like neoconservatism, it’s because, well, it isn’t. Kristol’s pronouncement was, in fact, plain realpolitik, as far as possible from the pro-intervention hawkishness that characterizes neoconservatism today. This doesn’t mean Kristol, wasn’t a neoconservative. Rather, it shows how much Kristol’s neoconservatism – the movement he invented, or at least successfully branded and marketed – differed from its descendants today. Kristol had more of a patriotic bent opposed to the more nationalistic bent of current neocons. Both ideologies assume superiority, the former is defensive while the latter is offensive.
In fact, the original strand of neoconservatism didn’t pay any attention to foreign policy. Its earliest members were veterans of the anti-communist struggles who had reacted negatively to the leftward evolution of American liberalism in the 1960s. They were sociologists and political scientists who criticized the failures and unintended consequences of President Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” programs, especially the war on poverty. They also bemoaned the excesses of what Lionel Trilling called the “adversary culture” – in their view, individualistic, hedonistic, and relativistic – that had taken hold of the baby-boom generation on college campuses. Although these critics were not unconditional supporters of the free market and still belonged to the liberal camp, they did point out the limits of the welfare state and the naiveté of the boundless egalitarian dreams of the New Left.
These thinkers found outlets in prestigious journals like Commentary and The Public Interest, founded in 1965 by Kristol and Daniel Bell (and financed by Warren Demian Manshel, who helped launch Foreign Policy a few years later). Intellectuals like Nathan Glazer, Seymour Martin Lipset, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, James Q. Wilson, and a few others took to the pages of these journals to offer a more prudent course for American liberalism. They were criticized for being too “timid and acquiescent” by their former allies on the left, among them Michael Harrington, who dubbed them “neoconservatives” to ostracize them from liberalism.
Although some rejected the label, Kristol embraced it. He started constructing a school of thought, both by fostering a network of like-minded intellectuals (particularly around the American Enterprise Institute) and by codifying what neoconservatism meant. This latter mission proved challenging, as neoconservatism often seemed more like an attitude than a doctrine. Kristol himself always described it in vague terms, as a “tendency” or a “persuasion.” Even some intellectuals branded as part of the movement were skeptical that it existed. “Whenever I read about neoconservatism,” Bell once quipped, “I think, ‘That isn’t neoconservatism; it’s just Irving.'” Regardless of what it was, neoconservatism started to achieve a significant impact on American public life, questioning the liberal take on social issues and advancing innovative policy ideas like school vouchers and the Laffer Curve.
If the first generation of neoconservatives was composed of New York intellectuals interested in domestic issues, the second was formed by Washington Democratic operatives interested in foreign policy. This strand gave most of its DNA to latter-day neocons – and Kristol played only a tangential role.
The second wave of neoconservatives came in reaction to the nomination of George McGovern as the 1972 Democratic presidential candidate. Cold War liberals deemed McGovern too far to the left, particularly in foreign policy. He suggested deep cuts in the defense budget, a hasty retreat from Vietnam, and a neo-isolationist grand strategy. New neocons coalesced around organizations like the Coalition for a Democratic Majority and the Committee on the Present Danger, journals like Norman Podhoretz’s Commentary (the enigmatic Podhoretz being the only adherent to neoconservatism in all its stages), and figures like Democratic Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson – hence their alternative label, the “Scoop Jackson Democrats.”
Kristol’s wife criticized the loss of civility and the Protestant work ethic, permissive morality and the sexual revolution, but also saw all of these things as the consequence of unfettered liberalism in a democratic America. The state should stay out of our economy but not our bedrooms.
Since then, the greatest battles in America have been about abortion and the death penalty, homosexuality or sex before marriage - the moral values of a Christian-minded country suspicious of liberalism as an ethos. For this reason, which judges are appointed to the Supreme Court is of critical importance, since they are ultimately responsible for determining the degree of liberalism that prevails in America, as the most important cases will land in their docket sooner or later. Among the nine justices, the arch-conservative Clarence Thomas is considered a Straussian.
Aggressiveness instead of passiveness in foreign policy, the will to change instead of the old status quo way of thinking; these are ideas that represent the conditions of the new Pax Americana.
The ancient philosophers whom Strauss most cherished believed that the unwashed masses were not fit for either truth or liberty, and that giving them these sublime treasures would be like throwing pearls before swine. In contrast to modern political thinkers, the ancients denied that there is any natural right to liberty. Human beings are born neither free nor equal. The natural human condition, they held, is not one of freedom, but of subordination and in Strausss estimation they were right in thinking so.
Praising the wisdom of the ancients and condemning the folly of the moderns was the whole point of Strausss most famous book, Natural Right and History. The cover of the book sports the American Declaration of Independence. But the book is a celebration of nature not the natural rights of man (as the appearance of the book would lead one to believe) but the natural order of domination and subordination.
Natural right claims that self-preservation or the will to survive is the most essential thing for man. - Leo Strauss
Strauss divided the history of political thought into two camps: the ancients (like Plato) are wise and wily, whereas the moderns (like Locke and other liberals) are vulgar and foolish.
In Platos dialogues, everyone assumes that Socrates is Platos mouthpiece. But Strauss argues in his book The City and Man that Thrasymachus is Platos real mouthpiece. So, one must surmise that Strauss shares the insights of the wise Plato (alias Thrasymachus) that justice is merely the interest of the stronger; that those in power make the rules in their own interests and call it justice.
A second fundamental belief of Strauss’s ancients has to do with their insistence on the need for secrecy and the necessity of lies. In his book Persecution and the Art of Writing, Strauss outlines why secrecy is necessary. He argues that the wise must conceal their views for two reasons to spare the peoples feelings and to protect the elite from possible reprisals.
The people will not be happy to learn that there is only one natural right the right of the superior to rule over the inferior, the master over the slave, the husband over the wife, and the wise few over the vulgar many. In On Tyranny, Strauss refers to this natural right as the tyrannical teaching of his beloved ancients. It is tyrannical in the classic sense of rule above rule or in the absence of law.
Now, the ancients were determined to keep this tyrannical teaching secret because the people are not likely to tolerate the fact that they are intended for subordination; indeed, they may very well turn their resentment against the superior few. Lies are thus necessary to protect the superior few from the persecution of the vulgar many.
Plato thought that the noble lie is a story whose details are fictitious; but at the heart of it is a profound truth. In the myth of metals, for example, some people have golden souls meaning that they are more capable of resisting the temptations of power. And these morally trustworthy types are the ones who are most fit to rule. The details are fictitious, but the moral of the story is that not all human beings are morally equal.
There are indeed three types of men: the wise, the gentlemen, and the vulgar. The wise are the lovers of the harsh, unadulterated truth. They are capable of looking into the abyss without fear and trembling. They recognize neither God nor moral imperatives. They are devoted above all else to their own pursuit of the higher pleasures, which amount to consorting with their peers.
The second type, the gentlemen, are lovers of honor and glory. They are the most ingratiating towards the conventions of their society that is, the illusions of the cave. They are true believers in God, honor, and moral imperatives. They are ready and willing to embark on acts of great courage and self-sacrifice at a moments notice.
The third type, the vulgar many, are lovers of wealth and pleasure. They are selfish, slothful, and indolent. They can be inspired to rise above their brutish existence only by fear of impending death or catastrophe.
Like Plato, Strauss believed that the supreme political ideal is the rule of the wise. But the rule of the wise is unattainable in the real world. Now, according to the conventional wisdom, Plato realized this, and settled for the rule of law. But Strauss did not endorse this solution entirely. Nor did he think that it was Platos real solution Strauss pointed to the nocturnal council in Platos Laws to illustrate his point.
The real Platonic solution as understood by Strauss is the covert rule of the wise (see Strausss The Argument and the Action of Platos Laws). This covert rule is facilitated by the overwhelming stupidity of the gentlemen. The more gullible and unperceptive they are, the easier it is for the wise to control and manipulate them. Supposedly, Xenophon makes that clear to us.
For Strauss, the rule of the wise is not about classic conservative values like order, stability, justice, or respect for authority. The rule of the wise is intended as an antidote to modernity. Modernity is the age in which the vulgar many have triumphed. It is the age in which they have come closest to having exactly what their hearts desire wealth, pleasure, and endless entertainment. But in getting just what they desire, they have unwittingly been reduced to beasts.
Nowhere is this state of affairs more advanced than in America. And the global reach of American culture threatens to trivialize life and turn it into entertainment. This was as terrifying a spectre for Strauss as it was for Alexandre Kojève and Carl Schmitt.
This is made clear in Strausss exchange with Kojève (reprinted in Strausss On Tyranny), and in his commentary on Schmitts The Concept of the Political (reprinted in Heinrich Meier, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: The Hidden Dialogue). Kojève lamented the animalization of man and Schmitt worried about the trivialization of life. All three of them were convinced that liberal economics would turn life into entertainment and destroy politics; all three understood politics as a conflict between mutually hostile groups willing to fight each other to the death. In short, they all thought that mans humanity depended on his willingness to rush naked into battle and headlong to his death. Only perpetual war can overturn the modern project, with its emphasis on self-preservation and creature comforts. Life can be politicised once more, and mans humanity can be restored.
This vision fits perfectly well with the desire for honor and glory that the neo-conservative gentlemen covet. It also fits very well with the religious sensibilities of gentlemen. The combination of religion and nationalism is the elixir that Strauss advocates as the way to turn natural, relaxed, hedonistic men into devout nationalists willing to fight and die for their God and country.
Like Nietzsche, he believes that the history of western civilization has led to the triumph of the inferior, the rabble something they both lamented profoundly.
Strausss criticism of the existentialists, especially Heidegger, is that they tried to elicit an ethic out of the abyss. This was the ethic of resoluteness choose whatever you like and be loyal to it to the death; its content does not matter. But Strauss’s reaction to moral nihilism was different. Nihilistic philosophers, he believes, should reinvent the Judæo-Christian God, but live like pagan gods themselves taking pleasure in the games they play with each other as well as the games they play on ordinary mortals.
The question of nihilism is complicated, but there is no doubt that Strauss’s reading of Plato entails that the philosophers should return to the cave and manipulate the images (in the form of media, websites, blogs). They know full well that the line they espouse is mendacious, but they are convinced that theirs are noble lies.
The issue of nationalism is an example of this. The philosophers, wanting to secure the nation against its external enemies as well as its internal decadence, sloth, pleasure, and consumption, encourage a strong patriotic fervour among the honor-loving gentlemen who wield the reins of power. That strong nationalistic spirit consists in the belief that their nation and its values are the best in the world, and that all other cultures and their values are inferior in comparison.
Religion, nationalism, and economic growth are the pillars of neoconservatism. Patriotism springs from love of the nations past; nationalism arises out of hope for the nations future and distinctive greatness.
Neoconservatives believe that the goals of American foreign policy must go well beyond a narrow, too literal definition of national security. It is the national interest of a world power, as this is defined by a sense of national destiny not a myopic national security. The same sentiment was echoed by the doyen of contemporary Straussianism, Harry Jaffa, when he said that “America is the Zion that will light up all the world.”
Strauss worries about America’s global aspirations are entirely different. Like Heidegger, Schmitt, and Kojève, Strauss would be more concerned that America would succeed in this enterprise than that it would fail. In that case, the last man would extinguish all hope for humanity (Nietzsche); the night of the world would be at hand (Heidegger); the animalization of man would be complete (Kojève); and the trivialisation of life would be accomplished (Schmitt). That is what the success of Americas global aspirations meant to them.
Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man is a popularization of this viewpoint. It sees the coming catastrophe of American global power as inevitable, and seeks to make the best of a bad situation. It is far from a celebration of American dominance.
On this perverse view of the world, if America fails to achieve her national destiny, and is mired in perpetual war, then all is well. Mans humanity, defined in terms of struggle to the death, is rescued from extinction. But men like Heidegger, Schmitt, Kojève, and Strauss expect the worst. They expect that the universal spread of the spirit of commerce would soften manners and emasculate man.
To be clear, Strauss was not as hostile to democracy as he was to liberalism. This is because he recognizes that the vulgar masses have numbers on their side, and the sheer power of numbers cannot be completely ignored. Whatever can be done to bring the masses along is legitimate. If you can use democracy to turn the masses against their own liberty, this is a great triumph. It is the sort of tactic that neo-conservatives use consistently, and in some cases very successfully.
Strauss held that the most important philosophers didn’t speak simply, but were instead, deliberately duplicitous in what they said.
This idea is not itself all that mysterious. Many people familiar with Plato’s dialogues know of the idea of the ‘Noble Lie’. A somewhat reasonable version of this idea – as distinct from the plainly unreasonable one which requires governments to deceive the public – is that philosophers who are enmeshed in rather complicated and at times disturbing truths need to withhold what they know from the general public, and give support instead to various conventions people need in order to get on with their lives.
For example, just suppose that it is evident, after the most painstaking philosophical consideration, that there is no God, or free will, or that the bulk of the laws in one’s country are bunk. This may not be something ready for public consumption – most ordinary men and women are too busy with their daily affairs to take time out to fully assimilate such disturbing discoveries. There is also the fact that in many societies the rulers’ rule is unjustified, but they obviously don’t wish it be broadcast that they lack legitimacy. In this case, for simple self-protection and safety, philosophers need to speak enigmatically.
Diligent study of the ancient thinkers was imperative in order to get a clue to what philosophy is all about. No facile reading of Plato or Aristotle (or even Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza, or Locke) would suffice – nor would reading the more popular, even prominent academic, interpreters of these thinkers. For example, Strauss would not encourage one to read Plato the way the Princeton University philosopher Gregory Vlastos did, focusing on this or that argument here and there in a dialogue. Instead, Strauss proposed that Plato needs to be read as having a grand agenda, with the dialogues as whole pieces; dramas with an overall point.
The philosopher is essentially embarking on a search which it is unreasonable to think one can ever complete. Just as Socrates is reported to have thought that the only thing he knows is that he knows nothing, the philosopher – the true one (if such a real philosopher can be found) – cannot honestly conclude anything for sure. No one can honestly absolutely know basic, fundamental truths. Not that relativism is coherent, of course. What is honest is to claim to know nothing.
Given the idealistic conception of knowledge that Plato appears to have promulgated, nihilism about knowledge is not surprising. If one models human knowledge on the impossible dream of final, perfect, timeless forms drawn from a formal science such as geometry, one will come to conclude that knowledge of anything, including values, is indeed impossible – ergo, nihilism and cynicism. Add to this the nearly other-worldly importance which Strauss associated with the great philosophers and the depth of profundity in philosophical work he seems to have insisted upon (evident in recent times only in, say, Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time, which Strauss admired, despite Heidegger’s later membership of the Nazi Party and Strauss being an exiled Jew from pre-WWII Germany), and it all seems to have led him to the kind of elitism we associate with Plato in conventional interpretations of his thought. Socrates in this exalted picture comes off as beyond reason, beyond any standards of good and evil, right and wrong.
He appeared also to think that the natural rights tradition is misguided for taking freedom to be so vital while neglecting virtue. However, Strauss also argued that the best bet for philosophers is to promote and defend a version of classical liberalism. Philosophers must at all cost stick together, form a friendship across the ages. This is perhaps the highest, albeit a rather fruitless, way of life.
Naturally the philosopher has no taste for politics, that pedestrian, vulgar aspect of life. But just as Socrates was dragged into politics by his pupils because they knew that their city needed philosophy to have some connection with justice, so the community of philosophers must address politics: it must be politic about philosophy, prudent and protective of it. In his famous discussion, What is Political Philosophy? (1955), Strauss offers what to most readers would seem an idiosyncratic conception of this discipline. It is not concerned with being philosophical about politics, but with how to be political about philosophy – how to engage in philosophy while living in the various imperfect regimes in which we all must live.
Philosophers live most effectively – which is to say, freely – in the classical liberal polity. Strauss, in a rare passage offering his own ideas, identified the good life for man as:
simply the life in which the requirements of man’s natural inclinations are fulfilled in the proper order to the highest possible degree, the life of a man who is awake to the highest possible degree, the life of a man in whose soul nothing lies waste.(Natural Right and History, p127)
He also stated “political freedom and especially that political freedom that justifies itself by the pursuit of human excellence... requires the highest degree of vigilance.” Finally he held: “There is no adequate solution to the problem of virtue or happiness on the political or social plane.” (On Tyranny, p194.)
If we put these three ideas together – which, it seems to me, do give expression to Strauss’ own views – we will arrive at Objectivist Libertarianism. Put plainly, this is the view that the task of politics is to protect the right to individual liberty – nothing more or less – and the achievement of virtue, human excellence or happiness, is something only the individual on his own can strive to fulfil, either alone or in personal and voluntary association with others: never by force or coercion.
Neoconservatives hold the view that ‘American’ is the best bet for the world – America’s institutional set-up is a very useful combination of modern elements, having to do with the sovereignty of individuals together with the older idea of a substantial role for government – and that this is an idea that needs to be widely promulgated. Indeed, without its promulgation there can arise and persist major threats to the countries which do embrace this set up, such as the United States of America. In short, unless the semi-free democratic society is strong, and not only ready to defend itself but also willing to go on the offensive in support of its system abroad, it will perish. The neocon view is that either you’re willing to export liberal democracy or it will be crushed by all kinds of barbaric global groups.
Now let us return to Strauss. Recall his prudential endorsement of classical liberalism as the best bet for philosophy. (Just exactly why philosophy ought to be cherished is not made clear by Strauss & Co; and their implicit or explicit nihilism calls the merit of philosophy into serious question.) Strauss’s embrace of classical liberalism – or at least a watered down version of it, as per liberal democracy – did appear to influence the neocons. They too believe – some of them because they were taught it by Strauss & Co – that their most important values are best advanced and preserved in a relatively free society, provided such a society is strong and wields power wisely, both at home and abroad.
This conviction that humanity’s best bet is a semi-free society which vigorously promotes its institutions across the globe, is very likely the legacy Strauss left the neoconservatives. And it is probably what puts neocons on the side of George W. Bush’s variety of modern conservatism – the ‘compassionate’ statist type. An expression of this view has held sway in America since the Monroe Doctrine, reinforced by the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and then expanded in light of the recent annihilation of American functional borders throughout the globe by the administration of George W. Bush.
As Bush put it, “From the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this earth has rights, and dignity, and matchless value, because they bear the image of the maker of heaven and earth.” Ergo? As Tom Wolfe put it, “It is America’s destiny and duty to bring that salvation to all mankind.” The main difference in this from the standard neoconservative vision is only that neoconservatives see religion in largely sociological terms; as distinct from the likes of Bush, who is, it seems, fully faith-based in his outlook. The former, as a rule, aren’t religious or faithful.
Strauss himself struggled with the problem of what to make of the two important traditions in the West; those of Athens and Jerusalem. He clearly preferred the thinking from Athens, but he could not deny the significance of the influence from and thus the importance of Jerusalem, namely Judeo-Christianity.
Certainly no self-respecting neoconservatives would ally themselves with George W. Bush’s conservative base, the religious right and evangelical Christianity. Most neoconservatives are actually Jewish in their cultural-ethnic origins, and too sophisticated to accept notions such as being born again. Yet here too there is some accommodation.
Neoconservatives have from the start insisted on the civilizing role of religion. This may be associated with Strauss’ own view that the vulgar need Noble Lies, à la one reading of Plato. The precepts of morality and other civilizing forces cannot be expected to come to most people by way of personal philosophical engagement. Certain myths are necessary to sustain morality for the bulk of us.