3 Our Virtue: The Neoconservatives and the Power of Nightmares

Part of the Studies in Peace and Wisdom seminar series.

Chris Dornan, Tuesday 11th March, 7-9pm, Bodhi Garden, Bodhi Garden.

Is Neoconservativism an Enlightened philosophy?

Leo Strauss (1899-73), classical scholar and intellectual father of Neoconservatism, was concerned that liberal democracy contained the seeds of its own destruction in individualism through a liberal philosophy where nothing is true and everything permitted. He taught that the great philosophers had two messages: an exoteric message accessible to everyone, but also to those who how able to decode it, an esoteric philosophy that couldn’t be more widely disseminated without destabilising the social order. Strauss believed that the intellectuals of the ruling class had to perpetuate ‘noble lies’ and ‘pious frauds’, unifying myths, such as religion and the divine purpose of the nation to fight evil and establish good in the world, so maintaining social cohesion and reversing the decay of liberalism.

Looking at contemporary American politics it is not difficult to see how the political landscape has been shaped by these ideas: Ronald Regan’s ‘evil empire’; the culture wars and the war on Bill Clinton’s presidency; the war on terror and the ‘axis of evil’. Adam Curtis’s BBC series of three documentaries The Power of Nightmares develops a cogent thesis that the failure of the liberal experiment and disillusion with idealism has led politicians to adopt a kind of protection racket as a means of maintaining political power, by hyping up the threat from global terror networks and then offering protection from these nightmares.

A parallel ‘realist’ analysis avoids ideology and follows the money, seeing the military-industrial complex and ideological hawks facing into the abyss with the loss of their cold-war enemy in the early nineties, only for the ‘clash of civilisations’ and al-Qaeda to move into the vacuum, and since late 2001 business has been booming.

To what extent are we all complicit in these noble lies and pious frauds? Since the first invasion of Iraq in 1914 the West has dominated and constantly interfered in this region. Are not the neoconservatives a pathological example of our own behaviour and mindset that sees us as an enlightened people bringing civilization to our backward brothers, who just happen to be living on top of the oil so vital to maintaining us in our historically unprecedented affluence?

View and download The Power of Nightmares, part 1 (Strauss, Qutb, and the neoconservatives in the cold war), part 2 (get Clinton) & part 3 (Al Qaeda, Afghanistan and the War on Terror).


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