Monday, May 07, 2007

The new paradigm and principles of American Fascism

America's Coming Dictatorship The theory and practice of oligarchical "conservatism"

by Justin Raimondo

The Iraq war and the inquiry into its origins has provoked interest in a number of subjects formerly considered obscure, the discussion of which was once limited to the rarified aeries of academia and specialty journals. Some examples are neoconservatism, just war theory, and, most surprisingly, the theories of Leo Strauss, the philosophical avatar of a cynical Machiavellianism that promotes the idea of the "noble lie." As the disaster in Iraq unfolded, subjects once considered abstruse were introduced into the pages of the popular press, so that, at one point, we were treated to a long explanation of the doctrines of Strauss in the pages of the New York Times.

As Jeet Heer put it in the Boston Globe, "Odd as this may sound, we live in a world increasingly shaped by Leo Strauss, a controversial philosopher who died in 1973. Although generally unknown to the wider population, Strauss has been one of the two or three most important intellectual influences on the conservative worldview now ascendant in George W. Bush's Washington. Eager to get the lowdown on White House thinking, editors at the New York Times and Le Monde have had journalists pore over Strauss's work and trace his disciples' affiliations. The New Yorker has even found a contingent of Straussians doing intelligence work for the Pentagon."

This sudden interest was due to the unusual number of Straussians who had found their way into close proximity to the centers of power in Washington – an extraordinary number of Strauss's students (or students of his leading followers) were employed in and around the Bush administration, particularly at key points in the national security bureaucracy, as William Pfaff pointed out, including then- "Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Abram Shulsky of the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, Richard Perle of the Pentagon advisory board, Elliott Abrams of the National Security Council, and the writers Robert Kagan and William Kristol."

One can easily see how the concept of the "noble lie" fits neatly into the neoconservative scheme of things, and the run-up to the Iraq war is surely a textbook example of the Straussian method in action: an enlightened elite deceives the public into an action that must be taken, after all, for their own good. In this case, we were lied into invading and occupying Iraq, for reasons that had nothing to do with "weapons of mass destruction" and Saddam's alleged links to al Qaeda and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, both of which the promulgators knew to be lies, and yet reiterated ceaselessly.

Since we are now permanently at war, the ideal atmosphere for a Straussian (or any authoritarian) to theorize in, this is the time for the War Party to come out in the open with its theory of government, which, in normal times, is dressed up as "peace through strength," and now comes out of the closet as "peace through dictatorship." Aside from rationalizing a regime based on lies, the Straussian method, and philosophy, is useful in other ways. The prominent Straussian Harvey Mansfield, a professor of government at Harvard, demonstrates his usefulness as a promoter of the regime's authority, and specifically the supremacy of the executive branch of government in wartime. Mansfield makes "The Case for the Strong Executive" in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, and it is an argument that constitutes a vital part of the intellectual blueprint for the dictatorship I wrote about the other day.
Mansfield starts out with a paean to the incorrect and unfortunately near-universal conception of the Constitution as a "flexible" document, and the resulting reference to "the living Constitution" is one of those cliches that no one ever thinks to challenge – except when it's too late. When the tanks are already rolling through the streets, that is …

Look: there is nothing "flexible" about the Constitution. It means precisely what it says, and its language is not in any way obscure or complex. Furthermore, I would note that every time someone is about to take away our liberties, or in some way circumvent the plain intent of the Founders, they inevitably preface it with odes to the Constitution's "flexibility." Balderdash! The Founders meant what they said, and said what they meant in plain and simple English, language that even a Harvard professor can understand. Yet, examining Mansfield's case for an executive dictatorship – and that is surely the intent of his piece – we see at work the old Straussian method of "reinterpreting" an author's clear intent to mean its exact opposite.

Now it would seem that the Founders, being revolutionaries, and even libertarians of a sort (except for Hamilton), were intent on setting up a republic of freemen, that is, a form of government that was constitutionally limited and certainly had nothing to do with the royalism against which they had recently rebelled. Ah, but a Straussian can find "hidden" meanings that the rest of us are blind to, and Mansfield detects a built-in contradiction, a deliberate tension between "one-man rule" and the republican spirit that imbues the Constitution with – yes, an authoritarian streak:

"Now the rule of law has two defects, each of which suggests the need for one-man rule. The first is that law is always imperfect by being universal, thus an average solution even in the best case, that is inferior to the living intelligence of a wise man on the spot, who can judge particular circumstances. This defect is discussed by Aristotle in the well-known passage in his ‘Politics' where he considers ‘whether it is more advantageous to be ruled by the best man or the best laws.'

"The other defect is that the law does not know how to make itself obeyed. …There must be police, and the rulers over the police must use energy (Alexander Hamilton's term) in addition to reason. It is a delusion to believe that governments can have energy without ever resorting to the use of force.

"The best source of energy turns out to be the same as the best source of reason – one man. One man, or, to use Machiavelli's expression, uno solo, will be the greatest source of energy if he regards it as necessary to maintaining his own rule. Such a person will have the greatest incentive to be watchful, and to be both cruel and merciful in correct contrast and proportion. We are talking about Machiavelli's prince, the man whom in apparently unguarded moments he called a tyrant."

This is the theme of Mansfield's book, Taming The Prince, in which he asserts that the modern idea of the executive is merely the old Aristotelian portrait of a royal personage who exemplifies the right of the strong to rule over the weak. In our own time, we are unable to directly acknowledge this ancient legacy and so we mask it in the mythology of the Constitution. We cloak the royalist reality in the raiment of republicanism, and promulgate the myth that the executive is somehow the servant of the people. "The American Founders," Mansfield avers, had a different idea, because they

"Heeded both criticisms of the rule of law when they created the presidency. The president would be the source of energy in government, that is, in the administration of government, energy being a neutral term that might include Aristotle's discretionary virtue and Machiavelli's tyranny – in which only partisans could discern the difference."

Tyranny, discretionary virtue – whatever. It's all a matter of partisan, i.e. totally subjective, opinion. In any case, the cult of Strauss is built around the cult of the Leader, or the "wise man," as Mansfield puts it, the uno solo who sees beyond what ordinary citizens can perceive. Sure, he's driven by a relentless drive to achieve and maintain his own power, but this very ruthlessness is what gives a republic its "energy" and the ability to survive its own inherent fragility.

"A free government" avers Mansfield, "should show its respect for freedom even when it has to take it away." This little aphorism, worthy of being carved in stone on the gravestone of the American republic, just about sums up the tone and content of Mansfield's panegyric to the "greatness" of the presidential office, and its necessary "expansion" in time of war – which means, in the neocon lexicon, from now on.

Rights are not inherent, in the Mansfieldian-Straussian universe, but purely conditional, and our condition today is one that cannot afford such luxuries. According to Mansfield:

"In our time … an opinion has sprung up in liberal circles particularly that civil liberties must always be kept intact regardless of circumstances. This opinion assumes that civil liberties have the status of natural liberties, and are inalienable. This means that the Constitution has the status of what was called in the 17th-century natural public law; it is an order as natural as the state of nature from which it emerges. In this view liberty has just one set of laws and institutions that must be kept inviolate, lest it be lost.

"But Locke was a wiser liberal. His institutions were ‘constituted,' less by creation than by modification of existing institutions in England, but not deduced as invariable consequences of disorder in the state of nature. He retained the difference, and so did the Americans, between natural liberties, inalienable but insecure, and civil liberties, more secure but changeable. Because civil liberties are subject to circumstances, a free constitution needs an institution responsive to circumstances, an executive able to be strong when necessary."

I won't dispute Mansfield's reinterpretation of the Lockean position on natural rights, except that it resembles a Bizarro Locke, inverting the philosopher's defense of natural rights and limited government, and somehow managing to turn it into the manifesto of a super-centralism that the 17th century English liberal would recoil from in horror. This is typical of the Straussian method.

Leaving Locke entirely out of it, however, let us look at the Mansfieldian theory of "civil liberties" as forever "subject to circumstances" – just like our "flexible" Constitution, and, of course, the "secure but changeable" Bill of Rights. In the Bizarro-Mansfieldian world of perfect "freedom," where "a free government should show its respect for freedom even when it has to take it away," there is no right to free speech, no right to assemble, nor, really, any rights at all, including the right to hold property: all of these are merely temporary privileges, and are particularly ethereal in wartime. Inalienable rights? Not if the President says otherwise.

This is nothing less than a rationalization for a dictatorship. It is authoritarianism dressed up in seemingly "American"-sounding verbiage, a prescription for fascism just as surely as the rantings of Alfred Rosenberg or the polemics of Robert Brassillach. As John T. Flynn, the liberal-turned-‘Old Right' opponent of the New Deal put it:

"When fascism comes it will not be in the form of an anti-American movement or pro-Hitler bund, practicing disloyalty. Nor will it come in the form of a crusade against war. It will appear rather in the luminous robes of flaming patriotism; it will take some genuinely indigenous shape and color, and it will spread only because its leaders, who are not yet visible, will know how to locate the great springs of public opinion and desire and the streams of thought that flow from them and will know how to attract to their banners leaders who can command the support of the controlling minorities in American public life. The danger lies not so much in the would-be f├╝hrers who may arise, but in the presence in our midst of certain deeply running currents of hope and appetite and opinion. The war upon fascism must be begun there."

Flynn, one of FDR's bitterest opponents, wrote these words in As We Go Marching, his indictment of a postwar America that had fought national socialism – and was beginning to fight Soviet totalitarianism as the book was published – but, he feared, would lose the fight against incipient authoritarianism on the home front. Flynn defined fascism in a way that was congruent with the rising Welfare-Warfare State, founded on the principle of Big Government at home and militarism abroad. "First let us state our definition of fascism," he writes:

"It is, put briefly, a system of social organization in which the political state is a dictatorship supported by a political elite and in which the economic society is an autarchic capitalism, enclosed and planned, in which the government assumes responsibility for creating adequate purchasing power through the instrumentality of national debt and in which militarism is adopted as a great economic project for creating work as well as a great romantic project in the service of the imperialist state."

What a near-perfect anticipation of our present state! He must have seen it in a dream. As an unpopular war reaches its horrific crescendo, and the President upholds his "right" to wage it in defiance of Congress and the popular will, the theoreticians of the new fascism – what Lew Rockwell trenchantly calls "red-state fascism" – are given ample space on the editorial page of the War Street Journal to make their case. Are the masses growing increasingly discontented with the "wisdom" of their rulers, who are, after all, by definition, their betters? Well then, let us endow the President with kingly powers, so he can disregard the "temporary delusions" of the people, as Mansfield puts it – such as, for example, the "delusion" that we cannot win the war in Iraq, and shouldn't have gone there in the first place – and let our glorious Leader and Commander-in-chief get on with the job. This, Mansfield avers, is true "greatness." Naturally he invokes the spirit of FDR, among others (Lincoln, the great "emancipator," who jailed his opponents and closed down newspapers for "seditious" utterances, also gets Mansfield's strong endorsement).

What is odd is that both Flynn and Mansfield are considered conservatives, men of the Right – and yet their political and moral stances could not be more adversarial. What kind of "conservatism" is it that extols the Leader Principle, disdains the Constitution and the concept of "rights" as inalienable, and openly calls for authoritarian rule in case of "emergencies"?
Today we have an ostensible "conservative," Thomas Sowell, pining for a military coup in the pages of National Review, and, in the same magazine, Col. "Buzz" Patterson, author of War Crimes: The Left's Campaign to Destroy Our Military and Lose the War on Terror, opining that the Democratic party, and especially its congressional branch, is legally guilty of "treason," and ought to be punished for this crime forthwith. Mansfield articulates the theory, while Sowell and Patterson – along with the Anne Coulters and David Horowitzes of the neoconized "conservative" movement – exemplify the practical politics of red-state fascism. The American Right has come a long way from The Conscience of a Conservative.

The legislative basis of the new authoritarianism – the "Patriot Act," the Military Commissions Act [.pdf], the growth of the national surveillance state – is underpinned by the Mansfieldian theory of presidential supremacy and the concept of the "unitary presidency" – in short, the Leader Principle, which is the foundation stone of the modern fascist edifice.
Centered around imperialism and the push to expand its system over all or most of the earth, this "energetic" ideology employs the administrative and economic centralism that is the hallmark of modern American "liberalism," and the militarism and imperialism that is the hallmark of the modern "conservative," in a perfect synthesis of "left" and "right" that satisfies everyone and leaves the dissidents in the "far left" and "far right" margins. This is how our modern fascists can, with some justification, call themselves "centrists," and even "moderates."

In the Bizarro World we seem to have fallen into, post-9/11 – when a rip in the space-time continuum, caused by the explosive power of the planes' impact on the World Trade Center, caused us to slip into another dimension – who will dispute their self-characterization? After all, in Bizarro World, up is down, truth is a lie, and "democracy" means rule by a self-appointed elite. A Straussian is perfectly comfortable with this universal inversion: as for the rest of us, we'll just have to get used to it.

Original article posted here.

2 comments:

RoseCovered Glasses said...

I prefer the Stratfor Analysis:

Geopolitics and the U.S. Spoiling Attack
By George Friedman
Stratfor.com

The United States has now spent four years fighting in Iraq. Those who planned the conflict never expected this outcome. Indeed, it could be argued that this outcome represents not only miscalculation but also a strategic defeat for the United States. The best that can be said about the war at the moment is that it is a strategic stalemate, which is an undesired outcome for the Americans. The worst that can be said is that the United States has failed to meet its strategic objectives and that failure represents defeat.

In considering the situation, our attention is drawn to a strange paradox that has been manifest in American foreign policy since World War II. On the one hand, the United States has consistently encountered strategic stalemate or defeat in particular politico-military operations. At those times, the outcomes have appeared to be disappointing if not catastrophic. Yet, over the same period of time, U.S. global power, on the whole, has surged. In spite of stalemate and defeat during the Cold War, the United States was more in 2000 than it had been in 1950.

Consider these examples from history:

Korea: Having defeated the North Korean army, U.S. forces were attacked by China. The result was a y stalemate, followed by a partition that essentially restored the status quo ante -- thus imposing an extended stalemate.


Cuba: After a pro-Soviet government was created well within the security cordon of the United States, Washington used overt and covert means to destroy the Castro regime. All attempts failed, and the Castro government remains in place nearly half a century later.


Vietnam: the United States fought an extended war in Vietnam, designed to contain the expansion of Communism in Indochina. The United States failed to achieve its objectives -- despite massive infusions of force -- and North Vietnam established hegemony over the region.


Iran: The U.S. containment policy required it to have a cordon of allies around the Soviet Union. Iran was a key link, blocking Soviet access to the Persian Gulf. The U.S. expulsion from Iran following the Islamic Revolution represented a major strategic reversal.


Iraq: In this context, Iraq appears to represent another strategic reversal -- with U.S. ambitions at least blocked, and possibly defeated, after a major investment of effort and prestige.


Look at it this way. On a pretty arbitrary scale -- between Korea (1950-53), Cuba (1960-63), Vietnam (1963-75), Iran (1979-1981) and Iraq (2003-present) -- the United States has spent about 27 of the last 55 years engaged in politico-military maneuvers that, at the very least, did not bring obvious success, and frequently brought disaster. Yet, in spite of these disasters, the long-term tendency of American power relative to the rest of the world has been favorable to the United States. This general paradox must be explained. And in the course of explanation, some understandings of the Iraq campaign, seen in a broader context, might emerge.

Schools of Thought

There are three general explanations for this paradox:

1. U.S. power does not rest on these politico-military involvements but derives from other factors, such as economic power. Therefore, the fact that the United States has consistently failed in major conflicts is an argument that these conflicts should not have been fought -- that they were not relevant to the emergence of American power. The U.S. preoccupation with politico-military conflict has been an exercise in the irrelevant that has slowed, but has not derailed, expansion of American power. Applying this logic, it would be argued that the Soviet Union would have collapsed anyway under its own weight -- as will the Islamic world -- and that U.S. interventions are pointless.

2. The United States has been extraordinarily fortunate that, despite its inability to use politico-military power effectively and its being drawn consistently into stalemate or defeat, exogenous forces have saved the United States from its own weakness. In the long run, this good fortune should not be viewed as strategy, but as disaster waiting to happen.

3. The wars mentioned previously were never as significant as they appeared to be -- public sentiment and government rhetoric notwithstanding. These conflicts drew on only a small fraction of potential U.S. power, and they always were seen as peripheral to fundamental national interests. The more important dimension of U.S. foreign policy was statecraft that shifted the burden of potential warfare from the United States to its allies. So, regardless of these examples, the core strategic issue for the United States was its alliances and ententes with states like Germany and China. Applying this logic, it follows that the wars themselves were -- practically speaking -- insignificant episodes, that stalemate and defeat were trivial and that, except for the domestic political obsession, none were of fundamental importance to the United States.

Put somewhat differently, there is the liberal view that the Soviet Union was not defeated by the United States in the Cold War, but that it collapsed itself, and the military conflicts of the Cold War were unnecessary. There is the conservative view that the United States won the Cold War in spite of a fundamental flaw in the American character -- an unwillingness to bear the burden of war -- and that this flaw ultimately will prove disastrous for the United States. Finally, there is the non-ideological, non-political view that the United States won the Cold War in spite of defeats and stalemates because these wars were never as important as either the liberals or conservatives made them out to be, however necessary they might have been seen to be at the time.

If we apply these analyses to Iraq, three schools of thought emerge. The first says that the Iraq war is unnecessary and even harmful in the context of the U.S.-jihadist confrontation -- and that, regardless of outcome, it should not be fought. The second says that the war is essential -- and that, while defeat or stalemate in this conflict perhaps would not be catastrophic to the United States, there is a possibility that it would be catastrophic. And at any rate, this argument continues, the United States' ongoing inability to impose its will in conflicts of this class ultimately will destroy it. Finally, there is the view that Iraq is simply a small piece of a bigger war and that the outcome of this particular conflict will not be decisive, although the war might be necessary. The heated rhetoric surrounding the Iraq conflict stems from the traditional American inability to hold things in perspective.

There is a reasonable case to be made for any of these three views. Any Stratfor reader knows that our sympathies gravitate toward the third view. However, that view makes no sense unless it is expanded. It must also take into consideration the view that the Soviet Union's fall was hardwired into history regardless of U.S. politico-military action, along with the notion that a consistent willingness to accept stalemate and defeat represents a significant threat to the United States in the long term.

Resource Commitments and Implications

Let's begin with something that is obviously true. When we consider Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Iran and even Iraq, it is clear that the United States devoted only a tiny fraction of the military power it could have brought to bear if it wished. By this, we mean that in none of these cases was there a general American mobilization, at no point was U.S. industry converted to a wartime footing, at no point were nuclear weapons used to force enemy defeat. The proportion of force brought to bear, relative to capabilities demonstrated in conflicts such as World War II, was minimal.

If there were fundamental issues at stake involving national security, the United States did not act as though that was the case. What is most remarkable about these conflicts was the extreme restraint shown -- both in committing forces and in employing available forces. The conservative critique of U.S. foreign policy revolves around the tendency of the American leadership and public to recoil at the idea of extended conflict. But this recoil is not a response to extended war. Rather, by severely limiting the force available from the outset, the United States has, unintentionally, designed its wars to be extended. From this derives the conservative view that the United States engages in warfare without intending victory.

In each of these cases, the behavior of the United States implied that there were important national security issues at stake, but measured in terms of the resources provided, these national security issues were not of the first order. The United States certainly has shown an ability to mount full-bore politico-military operations in the past: In World War II, it provided sufficient resources to invade Europe and the Japanese empire simultaneously. But in all of the cases we have cited, the United States provided limited resources -- and in some cases, only covert or political resources. Clearly, it was prepared on some level to accept stalemate and defeat.

Even in cases where the enemy was engaged fully, the United States limited its commitment of resources. In Vietnam, for example, the defeat of North Vietnam and regime change were explicitly ruled out. The United States had as its explicit goal a stalemate, in which both South and North Vietnam survived as independent states. In Korea, the United States shifted to a stalemate strategy after the Chinese intervention. So too in Cuba after the Cuban missile crisis; and in Iran, the United States accepted defeat in an apparently critical arena without attempting a major intervention. In each instance, the mark of U.S. intervention was limited exposure -- even at the cost of stalemate or defeat.

In other words, the United States consistently has entered into conflicts in which its level of commitment was extremely limited, in which either victory was not the strategic goal or the mission eventually was redefined to accept stalemate, and in which even defeat was deemed preferable to a level of effort that might avert it. Public discussion on all sides was apoplectic both during these conflicts and afterward, yet American global power was not materially affected in the long run.

The Spoiling Attack

This appears to make no sense until we introduce a military concept into the analysis: the spoiling attack. The spoiling attack is an offensive operation; however, its goal is not to defeat the enemy but to disrupt enemy offensives -- to, in effect, prevent a defeat by the enemy. The success of the spoiling attack is not measured in term of enemy capitulation, but the degree to which it has forestalled successful enemy operations.

The concept of a spoiling attack is intimately bound up with the principle of economy of force. Military power, like all power, is finite. It must be husbanded. Even in a war in which no resources are spared, some operations do not justify a significant expenditure. Some attacks are always designed to succeed by failing. More precisely, the resources devoted to those operations are sufficient to disrupt enemy plans, to delay an enemy offensive, or to create an opportunity for political disruption of the enemy, rather than to defeat the enemy. For those tasked with carrying out the spoiling attack, it appears that they are being wasted in a hopeless effort. For those with a broader strategic or geopolitical perspective, it appears to be the proper application of the "economy of force" principle.

If we consider the examples cited above and apply the twin concepts of the spoiling attack and economy of force, then the conversion of American defeats into increased U.S. global power no longer appears quite as paradoxical. In Korea, spoiling Communist goals created breathing space elsewhere for the United States, and increased tension levels between China and Russia. A stalemate achieved outcomes as satisfactory to Washington as taking North Korea would have been. In Cuba, containing Fidel Castro was, relative to cost, as useful as destroying him. What he did in Cuba itself was less important to Washington than that he should not be an effective player in Latin America. In Vietnam, frustrating the North's strategic goals for a decade allowed the Sino-Soviet dispute to ripen, thus opening the door for Sino-U.S. entente even before the war ended. The U.S. interest in Iran, of course, rested with its utility as a buffer to the Soviets. Being ousted from Iran mattered only if the Iranians capitulated to the Soviets. Absent that, Iran's internal politics were of little interest to the United States.

If we apply the twin concepts to Iraq, it is possible to understand the reasons behind the size of the force deployed (which, while significant, still is limited relative to the full range of options brought to bear in World War II) and the obvious willingness of the Bush administration to court military disaster. The invasion four years ago has led to the Sunnis and Shia turning against each other in direct conflict. Therefore, it could be argued that just as the United States won the Cold War by exploiting the Sino-Soviet split and allying with Mao Zedong, so too the path to defeating the jihadists is not a main attack, but a spoiling attack that turns Sunnis and Shia against each other. This was certainly not the intent of the Bush administration in planning the 2003 invasion; it has become, nevertheless, an unintended and significant outcome.

Moreover, it is far from clear whether U.S. policymakers through history have been aware of this dimension in their operations. In considering Korea, Cuba, Vietnam and Iran, it is never clear that the Truman, Kennedy, Johnson/Nixon or Carter/Reagan administrations purposely set out to implement a spoiling attack. The fog of political rhetoric and the bureaucratized nature of the U.S. foreign policy apparatus make it difficult to speak of U.S. "strategy" as such. Every deputy assistant secretary of something-or-other confuses his little piece of things with the whole, and the American culture demonizes and deifies without clarifying.

However, there is a deep structure in U.S. foreign policy that becomes visible. The incongruities of stalemate and defeat on the one side and growing U.S. power on the other must be reconciled. The liberal and conservative arguments explain things only partially. But the idea that the United States rarely fights to win can be explained. It is not because of a lack of moral fiber, as conservatives would argue; nor a random and needless belligerence, as liberals would argue. Rather, it is the application of the principle of spoiling operations -- using limited resources not in order to defeat the enemy but to disrupt and confuse enemy operations.

As with the invisible hand in economics, businessmen pursue immediate ends without necessarily being aware of how they contribute to the wealth of nations. So too, politicians pursue immediate ends without necessarily being aware of how they contribute to national power. Some are clearer in their thinking than others, perhaps, or possibly all presidents are crystal-clear on what they are doing in these matters. We do not dine with the great.

But there is an underlying order to U.S. foreign policy that makes the apparent chaos of policymaking understandable and rational.

Da Weaz said...

Thanks of the article. Probably will post it up above soon. Good job.