The Early Days of a Better Nation

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

"This fascistic glorification of death and violence"

Shadia Drury is interviewed on the influence and ideas of Leo Strauss, who is, she claims, the philosophical guru of some at least of the neocons:

Only perpetual war can overturn the modern project, with its emphasis on self-preservation and 'creature comforts.' Life can be politicised once more, and man’s humanity can be restored.

This terrifying vision fits perfectly well with the desire for honour 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.

I never imagined when I wrote my first book on Strauss that the unscrupulous elite that he elevates would ever come so close to political power, nor that the ominous tyranny of the wise would ever come so close to being realised in the political life of a great nation like the United States. But fear is the greatest ally of tyranny.


To my mind, this fascistic glorification of death and violence springs from a profound inability to celebrate life, joy, and the sheer thrill of existence.

To be clear, Strauss was not as hostile to democracy as he was to liberalism. This is because he recognises 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 warned the elite that they should dissemble, because if the truth about their views and aims came out they would face the persecution of the masses. Let us hope he was right. Witch-hunts, purges and show trials are essential weapons of democracy: witch-hunts to detect anti-democratic conspirators, purges to smoke them out of the state apparatus, and show trials to expose their crimes before the public.


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