Linked by Leo Strauss
What do close advisors to Stephen Harper and George W. Bush have in
common? They reflect the disturbing teachings of Leo Strauss, the German-Jewish
émigré who spawned the neoconservative movement.
Strauss, who died in 1973, believed in the inherent inequality of humanity.
Most people, he famously taught, are too stupid to make informed decisions about
their political affairs. Elite philosophers must decide on affairs of state
In Washington, Straussians exert powerful influence from within the inner circle
of the White House. In Canada, they roost, for now, in the so-called Calgary
School, guiding Harper in framing his election strategies. What preoccupies
Straussians in both places is the question of "regime change."
Strauss defined a regime as a set of governing ideas, institutions and traditions.
The neoconservatives in the Bush administration, who secretly conspired to make
the invasion of Iraq a certainty, had a precise plan for regime change. They
weren't out to merely replace Saddam with an American puppet. They planned to
make the system more like the U.S., with an electoral process that can be manipulated
by the elites, corporate control over the levers of power and socially conservative
Usually regime change is imposed on a country from outside through violent
means, such as invasion. On occasion, it occurs within a country through civil
war. After the American Civil War, a new regime was imposed on the Deep South
by the North, although the old regime was never entirely replaced.
Is regime change possible through the electoral process? It's happening in
the U.S., where the neocons are succeeding in transforming the American state
from a liberal democracy into a corporatist, theocratic regime. As Canada readies
for a federal election, the question must be asked: Are we next?
The 'noble lie'
Strauss believed that allowing citizens to govern themselves will lead, inevitably,
to terror and tyranny, as the Weimar Republic succumbed to the Nazis in the
1930s. A ruling elite of political philosophers must make those decisions because
it is the only group smart enough. It must resort to deception -- Strauss's
"noble lie" -- to protect citizens from themselves. The elite must
hide the truth from the public by writing in code. "Using metaphors and
cryptic language," philosophers communicated one message for the elite,
and another message for "the unsophisticated general population,"
philosopher Jeet Heer recently wrote in the Globe and Mail. "For Strauss,
the art of concealment and secrecy was among the greatest legacies of antiquity."
The recent outing of star New York Times reporter Judith Miller reveals how
today's neocons use the media to conceal the truth from the public. For Straussians,
telling Americans that Saddam didn't have WMD's and had nothing to do with Al-Qaeda,
but that we needed to take him out for geopolitical and ideological reasons
you can't comprehend, was a non-starter. The people wouldn't get it. Time for
Miller was responsible for pushing into the Times the key neocon lie that Saddam
was busy stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. This deception helped build
support among Americans for the invasion of Iraq. Miller was no independent
journalist seeking the truth nor a victim of neocon duplicity, as she claimed.
She worked closely with Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was U.S. Vice President
Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff and responsible for coordinating Iraq intelligence
and communication strategy. Libby is a Straussian who studied under Paul Wolfowitz,
now head of the World Bank, and before that, deputy secretary of defense, where
he led the 'Invade Iraq" lobby. Wolfowitz studied under Strauss and Allan
Bloom, Strauss's most famous student.
Miller cultivated close links to the neocons in the administration and at the
American Enterprise Institute, the leading Washington-based neocon think tank.
AEI played the key role outside government in fabricating intelligence to make
the case for invading Iraq. Straussian Richard Perle, who chaired the Defence
Policy Board Advisory Committee until he was kicked off because of a conflict
of interest, is a senior fellow at AEI and coordinated its efforts. Miller co-wrote
a book on the Middle East with an AEI scholar. Rather than being a victim of
government manipulation, Miller was a conduit between the neocons and the American
public. As a result of her reporting, many Americans came to believe that Saddam
had the weapons. War and regime change followed.
'Regime change' in Canada
As in the U.S., regime change became a Canadian media darling. Before 9-11,
the phrase appeared in Canadian newspapers less than ten times a year. It usually
referred to changes in leadership of a political party or as part of the phrase
"regulatory regime change." Less than a week after 9-11, the phrase
began to be used in its Straussian sense, as if a scenario was being choreographed.
From 19 mentions in Canadian newspapers in 2001, regime change soared to 790
mentions in 2002 and 1334 mentions in 2003. With the Iraq invasion accomplished
that year, usage tailed off in 2004 (291 mentions) and in 2005 (208 mentions
to November 10).
There's one big difference between American and Canadian Straussians. The Americans
assumed positions of power and influence in the administrations of Ronald Reagan
and George W. Bush. The Canadians have not had much opportunity to show (or
is that hide?) their stuff. That may change with a Harper victory.
Paul Wolfowitz's teacher, Allan Bloom, and another Straussian, Walter Berns,
taught at the University of Toronto during the 1970s. They left their teaching
posts at Cornell University because they couldn't stomach the student radicalism
of the '60s. At Toronto, they influenced an entire generation of political scientists,
who fanned out to universities across the country.
Two of their students, Ted Morton and Rainer Knopff, went to the University
of Calgary where they specialize in attacking the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
They claim the charter is the result of a conspiracy foisted on the Canadian
people by "special interests." These nasty people are feminists, gays
and lesbians, the poor, prisoners and refugee-rights groups who are advancing
their own interests through the courts at the expense of the general public,
these Straussians allege.
The problem with their analysis is that the special interest which makes more
use of the courts to advance its interests than all these other groups combined
-- business -- receives not a mention. Deception by omission is a common Straussian
technique. The weak are targeted while the real culprits disappear.
Harper studied under the neocons at the University of Calgary and worked with
them to craft policies for the fledgling Reform Party in the late 1980s. Together
with Preston Manning, they created an oxymoron, a populist party backed by business.
Ted Morton has turned his attention to provincial politics. He's an elected
MLA and a candidate to succeed Premier Ralph Klein. But he did influence the
direction of right-wing politics at the federal level as the Canadian Alliance
director of research under Stockwell Day.
When Harper threw his hat in the ring for the leadership of the Alliance, Tom
Flanagan, the Calgary School's informal leader, became his closest adviser.
Harper and Flanagan, whose scholarship focuses on attacking aboriginal rights,
entered a four-year writing partnership and together studied the works of government-hater
Friedrich Hayek. Flanagan ran the 2004 Conservative election campaign and is
pulling the strings as the country readies for the election.
Political philosopher Shadia Drury is an expert on Strauss, though not a follower.
She was a member of Calgary's political science department for more than two
decades, frequently locking horns with her conservative colleagues before leaving
in 2003 for the University of Regina.
Strauss recommended harnessing the simplistic platitudes of populism to galvanize
mass support for measures that would, in fact, restrict rights. Does the Calgary
School resort to such deceitful tactics? Drury believes so. Such thinking represents
"a huge contempt for democracy," she told the Globe and Mail's John
Ibbotson. The 2004 federal election campaign run by Flanagan was "the greatest
stealth campaign we have ever seen," she said, "run by radical populists
hiding behind the cloak of rhetorical moderation."
Straus and 'Western alienation'
The Calgary School has successfully hidden its program beneath the complaint
of western alienation. "If we've done anything, we've provided legitimacy
for what was the Western view of the country," Calgary Schooler Barry Cooper
told journalist Marci McDonald in her important Walrus article. "We've
given intelligibility and coherence to a way of looking at it that's outside
the St. Lawrence Valley mentality." This is sheer Straussian deception.
On the surface, it's easy to understand Cooper's complaint and the Calgary School's
mission. But the message says something very different to those in the know.
For 'St. Lawrence Valley mentality,' they read 'the Ottawa-based modern liberal
state,' with all the negative baggage it carries for Straussians. And for 'Western
view,' they read 'the right-wing attack on democracy.' We've provided legitimacy
for the radical-right attack on the Canadian democratic state, Cooper is really
A network is already in place to assist Harper in foisting his radical agenda
on the Canadian people.
In 2003, he delivered an important address to a group called Civitas. This
secretive organization, which has no web site and leaves little paper or electronic
trail, is a network of Canadian neoconservative and libertarian academics, politicians,
journalists and think tank propagandists.
Harper's adviser Tom Flanagan is an active member. Conservative MP Jason Kenney
is a member, as are Brian Lee Crowley, head of the Atlantic Institute for Market
Studies and Michel Kelly-Gagnon of the Montreal Economic Institute, the second
and third most important right-wing think tanks after the Fraser Institute.
Civitas is top-heavy with journalists to promote the cause. Lorne Gunter of
the National Post is president. Members include Janet Jackson (Calgary Sun)
and Danielle Smith (Calgary Herald). Journalists Colby Cosh, William Watson
and Andrew Coyne (all National Post) have made presentations to Civitas.
The Globe and Mail's Marcus Gee is not mentioned in relation to Civitas but
might as well be a member, if his recent column titled "George Bush is
not a liar," is any evidence. In it, Gee repeats the lies the Bush neocons
are furiously disseminating to persuade the people that Bush is not a liar.
Neo-con to Theo-con
The speech Harper gave to Civitas was the source of the charge made by the
Liberals during the 2004 election -- sure to be revived in the next election
-- that Harper has a scary, secret agenda. Harper urged a return to social conservatism
and social values, to change gears from neocon to theocon, in The Report's Ted
Byfield's apt but worrisome phrase, echoing visions of a future not unlike that
painted in Margaret Atwood's dystopian work, A Handmaid's Tale.
The state should take a more activist role in policing social norms and values,
Harper told the assembled conservatives. To achieve this goal, social and economic
conservatives must reunite as they have in the U.S., where evangelical Christians
and business rule in an unholy alliance. Red Tories must be jettisoned from
the party, he said, and alliances forged with ethnic and immigrant communities
who currently vote Liberal but espouse traditional family values. This was the
successful strategy counselled by the neocons under Ronald Reagan to pull conservative
Democrats into the Republican tent.
Movement towards the goal must be "incremental," he said, so the
public won't be spooked.
Regime change, one step at a time.
Donald Gutstein, a senior lecturer in the School of Communication
at Simon Fraser University, writes a regular media column for The Tyee.