[FoRK] Too Far Right?

Tom Higgins < tomhiggins at gmail.com > on > Tue Dec 5 20:54:41 PST 2006

I found this in my inbox from a pal and imediatley thought of Bone and fork.
Have at it, Im still looking through the sources..
A Question for Neoconservatives of the Catholic Right
by Frank Cocozzelli
Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 03:59:27 PM PST

This diary was originally posted at Talk to Action on November 26, 2006

Over the last two weeks I have been reading The Anatomy of
Antiliberalism (Harvard University Press, 1993). Written by NYU law
professor Stephen Holmes, it gives an excellent insight into the
philosophers who influence many of the neoconservatives now driving
much of the Religious Right's agenda.

    * Frank Cocozzelli's diary :: ::

Particularly illuminating was the chapter on Leo Strauss. It was
Strauss whose very undemocratic reading of Plato and Aristotle still
influences the actions of both the Institute on Religion and Democracy
and Ethics and Public Policy Center many common members (as Right Web
observes, "The Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) is one of
several policy institutes established by neoconservatives to promote
the increased role of religion in public policy"). It is their
commonly held scorn for modernity and its dominant philosophy,
Liberalism that leads them in an arrogant crusade to remake society in
Strauss's more aristocratic vision; one that perniciously distrusts
the common man so celebrated by Americans of all mainstream political

Central to the Straussian neoconservative belief is that humanity must
be led by a select group of philosophers who keep "the truth" from the
masses lest society splinter into disorder and chaos. But just what is
this "truth" that they believe cannot be disseminated to the greater
society, even if it must be guarded by "noble lies."?

But for all the neoconservatives' bluster about the need for a
religious orthodoxy to hold society together, Strauss was an atheist
and taught that "philosopher-kings" had to maintain their special
standing by keeping silent about their personal atheism, playing along
with the illusion of there being a God and an afterlife. Believing
that reason and revelation cannot be reconciled. Strauss believed that
religion can only have currency if it stifles dissent, imposes
clannishness and gives citizens a reason to die for one's homeland. As
Professor Holmes observes, Strauss also believed that only
philosophers can handle the truth that there is no Creator and that we
are only left with nature which is indifferent to human values and
needs. In other words, organized religion is nothing more than
exoteric myths for the rubes, designed to sedate them by fear of
eternal damnation.

Strauss also adopted the ancient view that any attempt to master
nature is therefore futile and can only result in calamity. This
belief is now heard in the likes of Eric Cohen and Leon Kass as they
try to hold back the rising tide of support for embryonic stem cell

As Jeet Heer wrote a few years ago in The Boston Globe:

    Strauss believed that Martin Heidegger possessed the greatest mind
of the 20th century. But unlike those Heidegger admirers who excused
the philosopher's flirtation with Nazism as a mere personal failing,
Strauss believed it showed that modern philosophy had gone deeply
astray. [Clifford] Orwin explains: "Strauss's question always was,
What was it about modern thought that could have led Heidegger to make
these disastrous practical misjudgments?"

    In Strauss's mature work, he would argue that Plato and Aristotle
were wiser than modern thinkers like Machiavelli and Heidegger. This
exultation of ancient thought wasn't merely a nostalgic celebration of
the good old Greek days. As the political theorist Stephen Holmes
observes, Strauss believed that classical thinkers had grasped a
still-vital truth: Inequality is an ineradicable aspect of the human

    For Strauss, the modern liberal project of using the fruits of
science and the institutions of the state to spread happiness to all
is intrinsically futile, self-defeating, and likely to end in terror
and tyranny. The best regime is one in which the leaders govern
moderately and prudently, curbing the passions of the mob while
allowing a small philosophical elite to pursue the contemplative life
of the mind.

Many of Strauss's followers believe that the only true joy in life is
to be above the fray and secretly be able to communicate esoterically
through texts chock full of hidden meanings with other
"philosopher-kings" about the meaning of life. The rest of society is
to exist so that the "thrill" of this secret adventure can be

As Stephen Holmes explains, Straussians see the Enlightenment and its
liberal progeny as upsetting the philosopher's special place in
society. But more than that, Strauss believed that the Enlightenment
resulted in the more open discussion of atheism. And for Strauss, it
is the tolerance of this belief that corrodes the structure of
society. This in turn, is leading the West into a realm of as
"nihilism" and "moral relativism." For Strauss and his current stable
of neoconservative scholars society must be recast so that atheism can
be "put back into the closet."

This raises a question that never seems to be asked—at least by those
in the mainstream media: Are any of these neoconservative members of
either the IRD or the EPPC themselves closet atheists who would deny
others the right to publicly discus the existence of a deity?

Common sense tells us that studying under a given teacher does not
automatically translate into making the student a carbon-copy
follower. I have read both Marx and Strauss yet I am neither a
Communist nor a neoconservative. Many faithful clergy have studied
under Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago and still lead quiet,
but faithful religious lives. We simply have no way of knowing if any
today's neoconservative avatars of religious orthodoxy are closeted
atheists. And of course, that is the truth. We don't know.

Certainly that is as far as the facts take us. But with said, it is a
question that merits further scrutiny.  And it is an inquiry brought
on when neoconservatives use language that virtually mimics Strauss's
teachings.  When I hear them discuss specific issues such as the
"corrosive" effects of modern Liberalism, "radical" egalitarianism or
medical science at least I begin to wonder.

But there is also one other bogeyman for Strauss and his purest
adherents: Christianity. Whereas the esoteric message-reading
philosopher favored clannishness and inequality, Holmes keenly
observes that Christian belief with its faith in universality and
equating the lowest with the highest, boldly proclaiming that "the
first shall be last" severely upsets his aristocratic-led applecart.
Even worse is St. Thomas Aquinas who believed that faith and reason
are not antithetical, but can in fact be reconciled.

Neoconservative agreement with Strauss on this point can be observed
when we read Irving Kristol droning on about the need for orthodoxy,
deriding spiritual Christianity as "countercultural." It can also be
found when David Brooks distorts the meaning of value pluralism in a
democratic society or Robert H. Bork writes on the need for religion
to be authoritative in nature.

Yet such attitudes provide insight into why neoconservatives would
create an entity such as the Institute on Religion and Democracy. The
IRD often serves as a vehicle to implement Strauss's orthodox vision
for society by reshaping denominations. Its members, along with those
of the Ethics Public Policy Institute (EPPC), target the mainstream
Protestant churches that have remained true to their Social Gospel
roots in an attempt to remove any universal, countercultural aspects
of a spiritually based Christianity. Likewise within the Catholic
Church, many of IRD's Opus Dei-affiliated members seek to purge or at
least neuter bastions of  Social Justice Catholicism such as the
Jesuits or Benedictine Sisters. The Thomistic belief in reconciling
faith and reason is being systematically replaced with hallow,
dogmatic elitism that seeks to justify inequality and condemn the use
of science to better humanity.

As Holmes observes, natural law was not a problem for Strauss. In
fact, it was "a useful myth" to combat modernity. More secular
opponents of embryonic stem cell research such as the aforementioned
Messrs. Cohen and Kass are able to appeal to the orthodox Catholic
view by reminding the Church's hierarchy how the research may run
contrary to Catholic natural law principles. Cohen and Kass may be
after classic natural right, but they will use natural law to obtain
that end.

This all raises another important issue that must be more frequently
discussed: By what authority do these supposed "philosopher-kings"
have the right to directly infiltrate the inner structures of various
denominations in order to eviscerate their spirituality? Such behavior
would be so hostile to the First Amendment guarantee of religious
freedom so as to be truly repugnant (if I may use one of Leon Kass's
favorite terms).

Beyond that it raises an even greater question that must be answered
by neoconservatives of the Catholic Right: How is this primary
manipulation of the faith of others square with the actual teachings
of Jesus? After all, neoconservatism notoriously ignores the lessons
of both distributive justice as well as the pro-labor intent of the
Bishops' Program for Social Reconstruction.

Christianity's founder was not concerned with Earthly political power.
He never made domination of either the Sanhedrin or the Roman Empire a
part of His mission. Jesus rarely preached of political involvement,
just of spirituality and doing onto others in a just manner. And when
the well being of society was broached, it was not to extend any
nation's hegemony but instead to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and
house the homeless; all issues absent from the top of the
neoconservative wish list.

Now, with all that in mind, why would any Catholic be eager to adopt
the neoconservative agenda?

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