Barack Obama and Leo Strauss. Photo Credit: Pete Souza, The Obama-Biden Transition Project (l) / Wikimedia Commons; yourecoveredinbees (r); Screenshot / YouTube.com
Oct 11, 2005
Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire
- Anne Norton is professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania.
The teachings of political theorist Leo Strauss (1899–1973) have recently received new attention, as political observers have become aware of the influence Strauss’s students have had in shaping conservative agendas of the Bush administration—including the war on Iraq. This provocative book examines Strauss’s ideas and the ways in which they have been appropriated, or misappropriated, by senior policymakers.
Anne Norton, a political theorist trained by some of Strauss’s most famous students, is well equipped to write on Strauss and Straussians. She tells three interwoven narratives: the story of Leo Strauss, a Jewish German-born émigré, who carried European philosophy into a new world; the story of the philosophic lineage that came from Leo Strauss; and the story of how America has been made a moral battleground by the likes of Paul Wolfowitz, Leon Kass, Carnes Lord, and Irving Kristol—Straussian conservatives committed to an American imperialism they believe will usher in a new world order.
93 Countries Who Have Changed Their Minds About Obama
During the Bush years, people all over the world were horrified by America’s aggression, human rights abuses and militarism. By 2008, only one in three people around the world approved of the job performance of U.S. leaders. The election of President Obama broadcast his message of hope and change far beyond U.S. shores, and Gallup’s 2009 U.S.-Global Leadership Project (USGLP) recorded a sharp rise in global public approval of U.S. leadership to 49 percent.
And yet fooling all the people all the time is precisely the Straussian model for American politics and government. Behind a smokescreen of democracy and American values, a capitalist political system recycles wealth into political power and vice versa. Behind a consumerist American Dream, a corporate command economy drives a concentration of wealth and power such as 20th-century totalitarians never imagined, supported by a corresponding explosion of poverty, debt and mass criminalization. And behind an endlessly waving flag, a militarized foreign policy wrecks country after country in the name of democracy.
If Leo Strauss was right, the American people will passively accept a diet of endless propaganda and deception fed to us by a wealthy, powerful high priesthood as they gorge themselves on the fruits of our labor. If he was wrong, we will reject Straussian politics, organize effectively to elect a very different political class, and ensure that they democratically represent us to build the better world we all know is possible. But the problems facing the world today will not wait very long for us to make up our minds whether Leo Strauss was right or wrong in his dark, disdainful view of who we are.