December 2003

New Political Tools: Neoconservative Mind Control and War

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

What is the intellectual basis of “Bushism,” the orientation toward foreign and domestic policy of the Bush administration? Concerns and fears are being leveled by the left about it, and they represent an attempt to break the hegemony of the “neocons” (neo-conservatives), which began with George W. Bush’s presidency and has infiltrated a patriotic America since September 11, 2001. Their central complaint is that the ideology of the “Straussians”–of the special role America is to play in the 21st century–is one on which the actions of Donald Rumsfield, Dick Cheney and Bush are based. This concern is discussed in “The Leo-Conservatives,” an article by Gerhard Sporl in the German publication Der Spiegel, 32/2003. The Straussians have been students of Leo Strauss, a German Jew who came to the United States in 1932 and became a very popular professor at the highly regarded University of Chicago. “He was,” says Sporl, “the only German immigrant to establish a philosophy movement that became widespread in the U.S., a movement whose influence extends to within today’s inner circles of power in Washington.

The Straussians “are viewed as a group of neo-conservative conspirators, as a small, elite order guiding the Bush administration–and when its path becomes crooked, providing it with a good conscience. They can be found among the justices of the Supreme Court, and they work at both the White House and the Pentagon. Although most of them have learned their particular way of thinking from Strauss, they are more power-conscious than the master was. They want to change and not just interpret America.”

Paul Wolfowitz, the Bush administration’s hawkish idea man, and other Straussians are part of an avant-garde of the conservative revolution that essentially despises the idea of a liberal democracy. Strauss despised the Enlightenment and viewed democratic liberalism as a sinful political movement. He maintained friendly relations with Carl Schmitt, a critic of parliamentarianism and a spiritual precursor of the Nazis. According to historian August Winkler, certain parallels exist between the “conservative revolution” prior to Hitler’s rise to power and the current situation in the United States. In Winkler’s view, the Straussians have found in Bush Junior what Schmitt ultimately sought in vain: “access to the ruler.”

Strauss saw World War I and the constant threat to the German Weimar Republic following the war as historical proof that the Enlightenment, with its positive view of human nature and its faith in progress, was an illusion. He also believed that faith in a liberal democracy as the governmental and social order of the future was invalid. And he remained true to this theory until his death. Yet his theory has been received with surprising enthusiasm many years later in America, says Sporl.

Strauss says religion is the opium of the people, but it is an indispensable opium. Religion serves as a binding agent in a stable social order. Liberal democracies such as the Weimar Republic are not viable in the long term, since they do not offer their citizens any religious and moral footings.

“The practical consequence of this philosophy is fatal,” states Sporl. “According to its tenets, the elites have the right and even the obligation to manipulate the truth. Just as Plato recommends, they can take refuge in ‘pious lies’ and in selective use of the truth.”

Straussians, such as Wolfowitz and other proponents of the Iraq war, are now suspected of simply having used the Strauss political principles for their own purposes. “When seen in this light,” opines Sporl, “the partly fictitious reasons for the war against Saddam Hussein represent the philosophical heritage of an emigrant from Germany.” Strauss was deeply pessimistic and tended to believe that history could only bring decline and decay. The professor was satisfied with only considering the problems because he did not believe they could be solved.

The true godfathers of the neocons are the Kristol family. Irving Kristol coined the classic sentence, “A neo-conservative is a left-winger who has been ambushed by reality.” Kristol’s wife, Gertrude Himmelfarb, criticizes the loss of civility and the Protestant work ethic, permissive morality and the sexual revolution but sees these as the consequence of unfettered liberalism in democratic America. Irving Kristol knew America as more or less religious people, primarily Catholics or Protestants, a mundane form of piety that was organized into countless sects and represented a political power base for reborn Republicans.

Originally the neocon ideology discovered that the politically decisive battles in America are waged around cultural values. The neocons say the state should stay out of the economy but not the bedrooms of its citizens. More recently the greatest battles have been about abortion and the death penalty, homosexuality or sex before marriage–the moral battles 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. The arch-conservative Clarence Thomas is considered a Straussian.

The first phase of the neocon revolution came to fruition under Ronald Reagan, says Sporl. The second phase is now taking place under George W. Bush, the born-again Christian who knows exactly how important religion is–to the patriotic cohesion of his nation and to his reelection, for which he desperately needs the votes of the well-organized Christian groups. Foreign policy is now at the center of the neocon revolution. The highest honor for being a Strauss creation belongs to Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Pearl, who have been arguing for the complete exercise of power by the world’s only superpower and for war as a political tool ever since the end of communism. But these two neocons are students of a different professor, Albert Wohlstetter, who taught the theory of security policy and made a lasting impression on them. Aggressiveness instead of passiveness in foreign policy and the will to change instead of the old status quo way of thinking are his ideas and represent the conditions of the new Pax Americana.

The New Longevity

We are now capable of living 120 years and there are consequences:

  • Working longer
  • Social Security changing (Great Britain and Japan already have some means testing to determine who draws these funds)
  • Taking sabbaticals
  • Changing careers
  • Must keep the mind active and look towards the future.

The future is the final frontier; we should be focused on that and how we are going to get there and what we want, our goals and aspirations.

What is the Middle East about but the past? They don’t seem to think about the future. Bosnia was about the past. The Serbs, the Muslims, and the Christians; a thousand years of the past being hashed and rehashed. The same is true of the war in Ireland, 400 years of strife that escalated again 30 years ago. In short, many of us are creating a future just like the past. Golda Meir said, “There will never be peace in the Middle East until the Arabs love their children more than they hate the Jews.”

It really doesn’t matter how old you are: 20,30, 50, or even 80. What do you want your next five or ten years to be like? What do you want next month? Do you want it to be a rehash of old stuff? We tend to blame things that have happened in the past for what is happening now. If only your mother had been different. If only your third grade teacher hadn’t humiliated you or if someone hadn’t died, etc. I like what my friend Lazaris said, “I am going to lift a finger to help rather than point a finger in blame,” because really blame never helps. Think about it. If what you are going to do depends on what your ex, your third grade teacher, or even what your boss said, you are really going to be in a pickle. What will be liberating will be to take back your power by taking back your responsibility for your future.

My daughter was listening to an interview the other day with an expert on longevity and he was discounting looking for magic pills, surgery, or medical breakthroughs. His suggestion was something that all of us really know: eat right, get enough exercise, be positive, and change your thinking. This is a complex matter. It has been estimated that we have about 50,000 thoughts each day. Do you know what yours are? Use the past as a backdrop, learn from it but dwell more on the future than the past. “If you don’t know where you are going, you may land up some where else.”

Music is important to our lives in many ways. My daughter has confirmed this importance as she has worked with institutionalized elderly for ten years. And as a gerontologist I have seen the benefits of music in the lives of older people. Because of this and the research we have done the result has been a video and CD.

–Mary Simper, Ph.D

Leona Blackbird

Member Spotlight

If you can do a correlation coefficient, you can become a computer programmer like Leona Blackbird. Her road to computer programming began, naturally, with her birth, which was in New Orleans during the depression. Her mother was eight months pregnant with Leona when she graduated from medical school. She was from a working-class family and was determined to get an education because “no one could take that away from her.”Her mother’s emphasis on self-reliance has had a lasting effect on Leona.

Leona Blackbird

Her parents moved to Iowa when Leona was two. Her mother had interned there and thought it would be a good place to go into practice. Her mother did pediatrics and her father was a general practitioner. Twelve years later they divorced, and Leona’s mother took her and her younger brother and sister to South Carolina to enter a residency program in pediatrics. But she made only $100 per month during her residency and had to support not only her children but also her mother and aunt. Leona remembers eating a lot of flank steak, which was cheap then.

After high school, Leona went on to Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Her mother paid her way as she went straight through, earning her degree in 1959 with two majors, in psychology and sociology. And then off to the Big Apple; what else for a bright young woman on the eve of the rebellious sixties. She refused to stay in the south with racial segregation in full swing.

She stayed in New York City for only five months, however, working for an advertising agency. She went to California to marry a man she had met in college and remained married to him for only two years–your basic “that was a stupid thing to do” marriage. She had gone to work as a data clerk for a meteorological company the week she arrived in California. Because she knew how to do correlation coefficients, she advanced rapidly to computer programming–learning it strictly through on-the-job training–and eventually to systems administration for computing. She met her second husband at the company. They had two children, a son who is a systems administrator for an on-line training company in Phoenix, and a daughter in Salt Lake City.

When the company moved to Utah in 1980 to lower its costs, both Leona and her husband moved with it. Her husband died of cancer in 1986. She stayed at the company until 1997 when five of the employees left to start a new company, Meteorological Solutions, Inc. Their customers are utility and other companies that create pollution. She develops meteorological parameters to help them meet their environmental obligations.

She met David at a bridge club and married him in 1990. She used to sew and still cooks, including some Cajun, Indian, and oriental foods. She is an avid reader. When her mother was still alive, they went together to China with a group of doctors and saw a birth under acupuncture. Since her mother’s death, she has traveled with David to Spain, Australia, and Italy, and throughout the states.

Leona knew nothing of humanism when she married David. He belonged to Humanists of Utah and gave her a book by Corliss Lamont. She discovered that the book agreed almost exactly with her own thinking and immediately sent her check off to the American Humanist Association. The humanist emphasis on relying on human reason rather than supernatural powers was exactly what appealed to her, but she’s had trouble convincing people that she could live a moral life without believing in God. All such people have to do is see how honestly she keeps the books as treasurer of Humanists of Utah to be convinced she can and does lead a moral life. And she develops colorful graphs to reflect revenues and expenses. It’s unclear whether this has anything to do with correlation coefficients.

–Earl Wunderli

Reality Check Anyone?

As more and more big businesses take a dive, should anyone be all that surprised? For twenty years or more I have been of the opinion that “the Market” had been taken over by money manipulators, people who make obscene amounts of money while contributing little to society. Some, as we now see, have not only schemed their way to wealth, but have also ruined businesses and employees’ lives in the process.

I sense that a great many Americans are surprised and aghast at what has been happening. So maybe what we all need is a reality check. American business is infected with the ethic “do whatever it takes,” which manifests itself in a number of ways: “Don’t compete with your competitors, destroy them,” “Tell them what they want to hear,” “Money talks and bullshit walks,” and on and on.

Basically it is endemic dishonesty, so pervasive that we don’t even recognize it when it is right in our faces. A few good and even amusing examples are in advertising. I admit that a lot of the garbage in advertising is innocuous and is meant to be stupid or goofy, but a lot of it is still dishonest or a false representation. A few examples: One, a few years old and that I will never forget, was by a local bank. While showing us a scene of the mountains from the air, the announcer proclaims, “Long before time there were the mountains.” Now any analysis of this gem might lead you to ask a couple of questions like, how do you get long before time? Does this mean that they have discovered negative time? Also, how do you have mountains before time? And finally, who thought up this asinine sentence? Another good one is, “this car has a soul”…okayyy. One of the newer ones is for the “mach three turbo.” Now folks, you might think this is a fighter jet, but it is a shaving razor. By its name we could assume that it has a turbine engine of some sort and shaves at three times the speed of sound. Be very, very careful shaving with this razor. And, of course the classic distortion is the one I call the immaculate hamburger. Clearly, they have to make it look good, but the burgers always shown on television don’t exist. You can’t buy a burger like that. No burger I have ever bought looked like the ones that are shown four to six inches thick and absolutely perfectly constructed. These advertising examples may seem silly to you, but I think that they show that the business world BS goes all the way from the fast food burger right up to the executives gutting your 401(k). Oh, let’s not forget the new buzz phrase “reality TV,” which has nothing to do with any reality that I know of.

–Robert Lane

PS: I composed this letter over a year ago, long before President Bush and his administration took us to war with a pack of lies. While TV ads may be amusing, death and destruction are not funny at all.


The Nov/Dec 2003 Newsletter of the Humanist Association of Massachusetts features an article on tolerance by one of its chapter members, Peter B. Denison. I would like to share the essence of his thoughts with the Humanists of Utah.

“While humanists and atheists decry the intolerance of certain religious leaders, we should also look into ourselves. Are we as tolerant as we should be?

“We humanists reject the concept of god as unproven, but is believing in god really stupid? Most religious people are as intelligent as we.

“Fundamentalism is not the whole of Christianity even if is the noisiest part. Most Christians have really given up on Fundamentalism, and perhaps we humanists and other freethinkers should do so too.

“Humanists believe in human dignity, that all people should be treated with the respect due all human beings.”

–Flo Wineriter

We Had Order

I remember a conversation I had several years ago with a man of German descent. While working at the same job site for a considerable time, we had occasion to chat now and then. He had served in the German Tank Corps during WWII.

I don’t recall what started us talking about law and order. I do remember that we were talking about the fact that in a society such as ours (the United States), where we have a high degree of personal freedom and this freedom is sometimes abused by those who take advantage of our open and free society.

I also remember one of the things he said, somewhat forcefully: “In Germany we had order! There was very little crime. The streets were safe. But oh, what a price we paid!”

I am not worried that the Third Reich is going to rise up in the U.S. But we cannot continue to give away our civil liberties to those who would consolidate power against the citizenry. We must be aware that while it is very easy to give up our liberties, it will be very hard to get them back from those who would lace up the jack boot in the name of national security.

I don’t trust them, and believe they attack our liberties to amass power as much as for any “security concerns.”

–Robert Lane