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The celebrated philosopher-king of the neoconservatives forging America’s radical new foreign policy was a controversial philosophy professor at the University of Chicago. Leo Strauss, who died in 1973, was little known outside of academic and think-tank circles until this year, but the influence of his ideas has long been felt.

A mathematician and nuclear strategist at the University of Chicago (alongside Strauss and Bloom), Wohlstetter taught Wolfowitz, Perle, Shulsky and Achmad Chalabi, the American-backed contender for leadership of Iraq. This Pentagon advisor and RAND Corp. researcher helped pave the way for Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars initiative.

Son of Irving Kristol (the father of neoconservatism and an admirer of Strauss), William Kristol is editor of The Weekly Standard. Kristol founded the Project for the New American Century, which brought together Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, William Bennett and the neocons on a platform of US global military dominance.

In 1996, Feith with Richard Perle and David Wurmser authored a strategy paper for Israel’s Likud government. The plan urged Israel to re-establish “the principle of preemption,” and suggested that the road to security runs through Baghdad. Feith’s father was a follower of Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky.

Dubbed the “neocon piggybank,” Murdoch owns The Weekly Standard, which prints high-brow neocon ideology for the informed insider, and Fox News, which broadcasts the low-brow version for the ignorant masses.

Tied to Bloom and Mansfield, Bennett served under the administrations of Reagan and Bush Sr. The author of The Book of Virtues was recently discovered to have gambled away millions.

Dubbed “Wolfie” by the president, the Deputy Secretary of Defense is considered the chief architect of US foreign policy and the main proponent of war on Iraq. Wolfowitz studied with Strauss and wrote his PhD under Wohlstetter.

Strauss’s star student, admired by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, popularized Straussian views in his book The Closing of the American Mind. A famous gourmand, Bloom spent his royalties on four-star hotels, Armani suits, Cuban cigars and big-screen TVs.

Perle resigned as chairman of the Defense Policy Board after it emerged that a venture capital firm he manages might profit from war on Iraq, though he remains on the board. Perle is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, located in the same building as the Project for the New American Century. Harvey Mansfield Strauss’ influential student is a Harvard professor of government and leading authority on Strauss and Machiavelli. William Kristol co-edited a tribute by Mansfield’s students entitled, Educating the Prince: Essays in Honor of Harvey Mansfield. The title refers to Machiavelli’s advice to would-be rulers.

Absorbed Strauss en route to the Supreme Court.

A student of Allan Bloom, this leading neocon intellectual predicted “The End of History” – the perfection of capitalist society. Andrew Sullivan Former editor of The New Republic, Sullivan is a conservative pundit who learned about Strauss from Harvey Mansfield at Harvard. Abram Shulsky A Strauss expert and close associate of Richard Perle, Shulsky directs the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans, convened by Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld to sift intelligence for evidence to justify the war on Iraq. Harry Jaffa A student of Strauss, Jaffa introduced his ideas to Harvey Mansfield, who taught Andrew Sullivan and William Kristol at Harvard.

The legendary contrarian journalist is a high profile example of “Straussian creep” on the left. A “humanitarian war” hawk, Hitchens served as a consultant to the White House in the lead-up to the Iraq War.

Convicted in the Iran-Contra scandal, Abrams holds the Middle East portfolio at the National Security Council. An unequivocal supporter of Israel, he is the son-in- law of Norman Podhoretz, editor of the Jewish journal Commentary.

The celebrated philosopher-king of the neoconservatives forging America’s radical new foreign policy was a controversial philosophy professor at the University of Chicago. Leo Strauss, who died in 1973, was little known outside of academic and think-tank circles until this year, but the influence of his ideas has long been felt.

“Why are so many Straussians in the Reagan Administration?” asked Newsweek in a 1987 article entitled “The Cult of Leo Strauss.” “Some of their critics suggest that the brotherhood is committed to no less than halting the drift of modern democracy.” The Straussians, observed historian Gordon S. Wood in the New York Review of Books the following year, are the biggest phenomenon in 20th-century academia.

His ideas emerge from his life experience. Strauss fled Nazi Germany for the safety of America in 1937, and blamed not fascism but the Weimar Republic’s liberal democratic ideals for permitting the rise of Nazism. A classicist, he taught the works of Plato, Machiavelli, Nietzsche and Hobbes, instructing his students to look for secret “codes” in the texts. Truth, he believed, was the preserve of an elite few who might have to tell “noble lies” – an idea he lifted from Plato – to the uncomprehending masses.

Are political entities, asked the charismatic Strauss, “not compelled to use force and fraud . . . if they are to prosper?”

“‘Weapons of mass destruction’ would be a noble lie,” says Shadia Drury, a scholar who has written two books on Strauss, “because you’re convinced this [war on Iraq] is the right thing to do and you are the wise few, the elite, who are leading the stupid masses, and the stupid masses aren’t going to agree to sacrifice their lives for nothing – for the glory of the nation – unless their own survival is at stake.” So you tell them their own survival is at stake.

Strauss believed that democracy, however flawed, was best defended by an ignorant public pumped up on nationalism and religion. Only a militantly nationalist state could deter human aggression, and since most people were naturally self-absorbed and hedonistic, Strauss believed that the only way to transform them was to make them love their nation enough to die for it.

Such nationalism requires an external threat – and if one cannot be found, it must be manufactured.

While not bound by religion himself, Strauss rather cynically promoted religion as a tool to maintain an acquiescent population. Authority and discipline are key values for Straussians, and the masses need religion to keep them in line. “Marx called religion the opium of the people,” says Drury. “Strauss thought the people needed their opium.”

Neoconservatism has more complex roots than just the ideas of Leo Strauss, but it’s hard to ignore the uncanny similarities between Straussian thought and the decisions emanating from the Bush administration, where many of the neoconservatives in charge of foreign policy were taught by Strauss or his students. Many of the major players occupying the White House are descendants of the Jewish-American New York intellectuals who veered from the radical left (anti-Stalinist Trotskyism of the 1920s and ’30s) to the radical right (hence the “neo”). In between, they were allies of McCarthy in the fight against communism, and later joined the Reagan administration. They have nothing but contempt for the free-thinking idealism of the 1960s, with its emphasis on social equality (Strauss argued that the strong are fit to rule; the weak to be ruled), opposition to war (force is important and necessary), and feminism (Plato’s “philosopher-kings” are, by definition, men). But it wasn’t until the presidency of George W. Bush that they ascended to the pinnacle of power, bringing their ideas with them.

“In the course of the past year, a new belief has emerged in the town [of Washington, DC]: the belief in war against Iraq,” wrote Ari Shavit inHa’aretz, Israel’s leading daily newspaper, in April 2003. “That ardent faith was disseminated by a small group of 25 or 30 neoconservatives, almost all of them Jewish, almost all of them intellectuals . . . people who are mutual friends and cultivate one another and are convinced that political ideas are a major driving force of history.”

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman to Ari Shavit: “This is a war of an elite.” Laughing: “I could give you the names of 25 people – all of whom are at this moment within a five-block radius of this office – who, if you had exiled them to a desert island a year and a half ago, the Iraq war would not have happened.”

An Aside: Hannah Arendt
If the brilliant and beautiful Hannah Arendt, the German-Jewish intellectual who famously described the “banality of evil” at work in Nazi Germany, had not spurned a young suitor named Leo Strauss, would Americans be killing and dying in Iraq?

Not only did Arendt reject Strauss’ affections, she panned his ideas. According to Arendt’s biographer, she told the embittered Strauss that a political party advocating his views could have no place for a Jew like him. Strauss bore the wound of her words for decades. Even today, his followers, the Straussians, despise Arendt. Could her rejection have been the stirring of a butterfly’s wings that led to the inevitable desert storm?