Tuesday, 30 August 2005

The Neocon - Religious Right Alliance

Jack Whelan has captured some essential truths which I would really, really like every thinking liberal, moderate, and conservative to read before further participating in whatever version of the culture war that has captured their fancy. You can read the whole thing by going to his site and scrolling down to:

The Neocon Nightmare World

But because I want this to be seen, I am excerpting liberally:
Both Bloom and Lasch understood that a society pays a price when it values individualism and freedom above all other values. For both men the laissez faire in Liberalism creates a fragmented, atomized society. This is a problem for Lasch because it diminishes the possibility for human community life, destroys local traditions and neighborhoods, and creates a culture of narcissism, a culture of minimal selves--of lost souls who don't know who they are, a society of ungrounded people who are empty of any real interior life, and who are therefore weak and easy to manipulate.

In other words, Liberalism creates a vacuum in the life of a society where instead there should be a soul. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so the emptiness is filled with the crudest kinds of impulses. ... The problem lies with a society that is fragmented, because it is weak. An open, multicultural society in which every thing is equal, in which no value or cultural ideal is considered any better than any other, an anything-goes "different strokes for different folks" society loses any sense of cohesiveness and is very vulnerable to manipulation by a willful, well-disciplined minority that has no qualms about violently asserting its own values and suppressing any other value system as inferior and to be annihilated.

In other words, the easygoing, nonjudgmental laissez faire of Liberalism invites its own destruction by those whose attitudes are anything but laissez faire. ...

For the neocons, politics is thuggery, and you fight thuggery with thuggery, so the only thing that matters is whether the thugs you approve of are running things. The thuggery that we began to see assert itself on the right starting with Newt Gingrich, the impeachment of Clinton, through to the the bullying of Tom Delay in the House are all justified by Straussian theory. It's thuggery in the cause of the higher good. They really believe that. Liberalism must be destroyed or America will be destroyed by its enemies.

For the Straussians, following Carl Schmidt, politics is not the sphere of compromise and working things out, it's the realm of domination of the weak by the strong. For the neocons, politics is war. It's about controlling the political process or being controlled, annihilating or being annihilated. They understand power as the central truth, and every other value has value only insofar as it promotes power. And the neocon influence in the Republican party seems bent on proving their theory right by doing everything it can to discredit and destroy Liberal ideas and Liberal institutions. And so far, judging by the compliancy of the Democrats, they seem to have proven their case.

All of this has become so much clearer for me after reading Shadia Drury's Leo Strauss and the American Right -- particularly the virulence of the conservative attack on Liberalism which until recently I had naively dismissed as crackpot. Most normal people think of wingnuts like Limbaugh, Robertson, and Coulter as comical, barely sane troglodytes. These wingnuts, on the other hand, take the Liberals very seriously, and see them as a cancer that is destroying American society and making it spineless and weak, and as such all the more vulnerable to its enemies. They believe that Liberalism is destroying America, and they are totally committed to preventing that by destroying Liberalism. "Let the Liberals laugh at us," think the wingnuts. "We'll see how hard they laugh when eventually we put our boot on their throats."

The great virtue of the Liberal credo is its belief that a society can be built on truth, philosophy, and enlightened self-interest. But I also think that over the long haul that's not enough. Conservatives understand that a society needs myths, religion, and to stand for something worth dying for. Otherwise, as Drury points out, "it is little more than an animal farm." I would say that a postmodern America needs to find a way to integrate both the Liberal and Conservative credos. ...

Until reading Drury's book, I thought that the alliance between the intellectually sophisticated neocons and the simplistic religious-right extremists like Falwell and Robertson was a marriage of convenience engineered for short-term political gains. But Drury makes clear that the neocons believe that the religious right is essential for continued American dominance because it provides the requisite myths that justify American supremacy. ... ...

For the Straussians, if a society does not believe in itself as superior in every way to its enemies, it will be defeated by an enemy who is not intimidated and that believes itself superior. The neocons therefore have formed an alliance with the Christian Right not for political convenience, but because the Christian Right naively and fanatically accepts the myth of American superiority and of its special God-given role in world history. The neocons support the wingnut attitude that anyone who does not believe this myth is an America-hater and, as Ann Coulter puts it, is guilty of treason. There is no gray area. There is no room to criticize. It's my country right or wrong--any other attitude leads to inevitable defeat by another society that believes in itself more.

Sane people dismiss extremists like Coulter as comical crazies. I know that's been my attitude. But the very fact that her views have been legitimated by her ubiquitous presence in the media points to the drift of things in this country toward insanity. What should by now be clear to everyone is that the right is not just indulging in a lot of crazy talk. They are walking their talk. ...

Does that mean that anybody who wishes to oppose the neocons must resort to thuggery to defeat them? No. But I do not believe that secular liberalism has the resources to defeat it. Even if the Democrats win in the short run, the problem remains for the long run. We need a tough, principled, idealistic politics in the spirit of King, Mandela, Gandhi. These men were not nihilists. They were genuinely religious humanists who understood evil and knew how to fight against it on their own principled terms, not on the terms defined by the thugs.

The Straussians are convinced that we all live in a nightmare world and that there is no ultimate purpose or meaning to human existence... They believe that the masses have to be anesthetized and controlled with myths and religious fictions, but that the grownups have to run things, and the grownups understand that it's all about power, and that so long as the U.S. has the enormous power it now possesses, it had better use it or lose it.

This explains their gambit in Iraq--it was an opportunity to fill a geopolitical power vacuum with American power after the collapse of the Soviet sphere of influence in the Middle East. It's a gambit that has failed--the Muslims there are not Liberals, and they do not fold so easily. But I for one am worried about what they have up their sleeve now that their policies are being discredited by their failure. They will not walk away with their tail between their legs. They still believe they are right even if their tactics were ineffective. They will not be gracious in defeat.

And they are not going away. Wingnuttery in America will always be a problem so long as there is a vacuum in American society where there should be a soul. How to solve that problem in a sane, progressive way is for me the most pressing issue that confronts Americans in the 21st Century.

1 comment:

Micah said...

Great analysis. It's just warming to know people like Jack Whelan are out there, isn't it? I only wish he had a far wider readership.