To make any sense of what the small group of Neoconservatives currently holding power in America has in mind one must go back to the 50s and examine the ideas of a Jewish German political philosopher named Leo Strauss. A classical thinker, Strauss was an unabashed critic of modern liberalism that believed modern society contains the seeds of its own destruction. He greatly admired Plato's ideas of the pursuit of a higher truth as one of society's goals and he believed that the relativism of liberalism led to a flourishing society of selfish individuals with no consideration for the greater good. A society of automatons in pursuit of animal satisfaction and no regard for excellence or virtue.
Strauss was a very mysterious figure that refused to publicly involve himself in politics. Instead he tried very hard to create a loyal band of students that would spread and put into practice his ideas. Ideas that today, although not as fanatical, do not seem that much different from those of his Islamic counterparts in the Middle East. Although Strauss himself was an atheist, he believed in the use of religion as a limiting force for baser human desires.
So in his vision, religion becomes what Plato termed “the noble lie”. A tool for the philosophical elite, used to control society. Strauss was very successful in his aim of creating a powerful following that would try to put his ideas into practice. Those close students and followers today include people like Paul Wolfowitz and Michael Ledeen. Everything they do, they do with the ideas and aims of Strauss in mind.
Strauss believed that in order to inspire and unite people, America needed very simple and yet powerful myths that although not true, were necessary illusions for the people. Apart from religion this also included the myth of the nation; the idea that America has a unique destiny to battle the forces of evil throughout the world. Today, by listening to the speeches of President Bush or reading the writings of many neoconservatives, one can very easily identify strong Straussian veins in their vocabulary.
And even though at the time Strauss' student were fairly convinced of his ideas they were further sold on them by the 1967 riots of Detroit Michigan which were seen as a breakdown of liberal political order and as further proof for a society based on higher beliefs. And the fact that these riots had taken place only 3 years after President Lyndon Johnson's “Great Society” speech and his introduction of many new liberal policies further helped the conservatives gain ideological support, albeit in their own close circles.
This was a period when according to conservatives like William Kristol, “the philosophical grounds for liberalism had been weakened.” It was time for action. It was time to create an image of America as a purely good force set out to destroy pure evil on earth. And so the great neoconservative project was born.
At the time the small group of neoconservatives set out to work, the source of “evil” in the world was the Soviet Union. With most readers today having the advantage of foresight I can safely pass over the issue of communism and fast-forward to the future and address the evil that has now come to take it's place. Suffice it to say that a great part of the anti-communist propaganda campaigns in America were the early works of the Straussian, neoconservative movement.
Today, however, the Soviet Union does not exist and so a new enemy must be placed under the spotlight. And that enemy happens to be Terrorism. And although the threat of terrorism is very real, it has been greatly exaggerated by neoconservative America and has been a main force behind the introduction of many new policies which would have otherwise been impossible to introduce.
Despite the fact that terrorist acts are commonplace around the world, no single international network exists. The myth of al Qaida is almost entirely a CIA creation. Instead what we are witness to here is a series of isolated groups who are inspired by Militant Islam and ironically the international media that has made them look far more powerful then they really are and has thus given them much courage and inspiration.
Now what is very important to understand here is that America's presence in the Middle East has far less to do with oil and the establishment of new markets (although those are still very strong aims) but has far more to do with suppressing liberalism at home. Despite the rhetoric of many critiques, this is not so much a battle for “world domination” by an imperialist power but rather a battle for America itself by the powers that struggle for political and ideological control over it.
But again I have to stick to the optimistic belief that even though the liberation of counties like Iraq and Afghanistan has been faced with great criticism or despite what the motives of those behind it are, this is still a very positive change for the Middle East and the world in geeral. At least in the long term.
Whatever the neoconservative agenda, it does not change the fact that militant Islam is a great danger to all of us and so its roots must be severed anywhere and at any cost. It is still very important, however, to be aware of the deeper philosophical and ideological causes behind the actions of the neoconservatives and not be taken by the common rhetoric about freedom, human rights and other such weightless remarks.