Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Leo Strauss, executive power and the Bush-Obama "regime," part 1
I have been working for many years on the aetiology of commander in chief power in American politics, and in particular, the influence of pro-Nazi lawyers and philosophers, Carl Schmitt and Martin Heidegger, via Leo Strauss (an acolyte of Heidegger’s) on the neo-cons. The vehicle for this was especially Robert Goldwin, Strauss’s confidante – and a man operating behind the scenes. Most Americans have not heard of Bob Goldwin. Goldwin was eulogized, however, by Donald Rumsfeld as a “one man think-tank who transformed the Republican party” particularly on executive power - and through Goldwin (Rumsfeld's "special confidante" in Goldwin's words), President Gerald Ford and chief of staff Dick Cheney. Many political Straussians - those who seek reactionary public influence - have echoed Goldwin’s thought. Michael Malbin and Gary Schmitt, students of Herbert Storing and Walter Berns (the latter were students of Strauss), were also influential in the Iran-Contra minority report for Congressman Richard Cheney – Malbin wrote it; they, too, assert the necessity of so-called commander in chief power to undergird Reagan’s illegalities. Gary Schmitt and Bill Kristol were to become two of the three principals of the Project for a New American Century which gave America the aggression in Iraq. And Kristol, who in the Weekly Standard, now dottily hopes Netanyahu will bomb Iran and "save the West," drones on...See here.
Sandy Levinson at University of Texas Law School is editing (with Melissa Williams of Toronto) a book on American Conservatism for Nomos – the American Society for Legal and Political Philosophy in which this article will appear (2014 forthcoming). I would like to thank him for particularly helpful editing. The participants in the two conferences on this theme have been hard pressed to identify a distinctively American conservative view and to figure out who counts. Is Strauss, a European authoritarian, an "American" “conservative”?
As the first non-Straussian admitted to the Strauss archive in Regenstein in 2008, I discovered much striking correspondance which shows how Strauss and Goldwin networked for segregation against Brown v. Board, for taking out Cuba after the Cuban missile crisis (the likely result would have been nuclear war and extinction) and strengthening “prerogative” or arbitrary executive power.
These policies crystallized in the torture and aggression of the Bush-Cheney administration; Bill Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz, Straussians of a sort, are obvious among the neocons. But in this paper, the focus extends to Walter Berns and Harvey Mansfield, original Straussians (Berns a student, Mansfield a close follower) who loudly defended executive crimes, torture and aggression in the Wall Street Journal and The Weekly Standard.
Further, the “preemption” in Iraq is the forerunner of Obama’s dream (perhaps nightmare...) of solo “humanitarian intervention” in Syria. Even the American Congress – divided 10 – 7 - even in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, could not get behind this use of American force. Popular pressure is fiercely against the war (running 9 to 1 against in most Congressional districts). But why is Obama’s and Kerry’s account so unpersuasive? After all, no one likes chemical weapons and they are outlawed.
Perhaps one might note because America has fought so many long-lasting and morally bankrupt aggressions - strengthening Iran, its supposed enemy. But the last shift of a scoundrel, fortunately abandoned by Obama, is to invoke "commander in chief power." This paper spells out how this tyrannical, self-destructive, and isolating - internationally and domestically - doctrine had been taken up not only by Bush, but by Obama. There is now, however, a chance, with Russia, Iran and Syria to move in a different direction now. Ordinary people have been pressing for this from below.
The establishment is divided but still mainly and sickeningly wants to assert America’s power, as the supposed “good guys” to intervene anywhere in the world. Ask who wants American power asserted in this way – do the British people who stopped Cameron from intervening? Do we Amerians, Barack, support you and Samantha Power in trying to right the world’s wrongs by a force which often has other purposes (even Obama spoke too baldly yesterday about an alleged core "national interest" in stealing Middle East oil – "keeping the oil lanes open." This brief statement was far too near an explicit cause of the aggressions/preemption in Afghanistan and Iraq – an imperial one, the elephant, along with military bases, in the room – and one which does the US no honor. See here.
Obama also held out again yesterday at the United Nations for American exceptionalism (he ignored, once again, the military extinction of indigenous people on the Plains - the second Civil War lasting from 1862-1877 and possibly to the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890 - and the inheritance, down to the Tomahawk missiles of Indian names because there is, nonetheless, something admirable about those who resisted crass American intrusion and conquest. Of the Phillip Sheridans and John Evanses for whom boulevards and mountains and professorships are named, there is nothing decent to be said…. Obama ignored, once again, Vietnam and Iraq in which the Gulf Wars did no good and the second was a farce (as the courageous anti-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke said, it was as if FDR had responded to Pearl Harbor by attacking…Mexico) which resulted in Shia-led Iraq allying with Iran. Al-Maliki allows Iranian aid flights overhead to Syria, as Dexter Filkins of the Times reports today on "Fresh Air." The unforeseen consequences of belligerence are often startling - though, of course, this one could have been foreseen by all but Straussian-neo con fanatics...
Barack’s endorsing of an American exceptionalism except in the way of evil (the fight against slavery and the Nazis excepted) is surely unwise. The protest against military intervention in Syria seeks to make the country more democratic and decent than those who cry for “executive power” as an excuse for intervention everywhere (John McCain still hasn’t met an imperial aggression that he didn’t like…). The illusions of Samantha Power and Barack Obama that America is a force for good in the world through military – “humanitarian” - intervention have run up against fierce democratic - and after the debacle in Iraq - successful resistance.
But the political point here is to strip royal prerogative/commander in chief power of its inherited illegal quality. Presidential initiative should not be against the law. Prerogative should be exercised only in the gray areas, not to torture and murder. When Presidents have violated the law, including Lincoln about habeas corpus and FDR about putting Japanese-Americans in concentration camps - examples initially offered by Strauss's colleague, the Constitutional lawyer, Herman Pritchett and extended, via Straussians, into a neo-con mantra during the Bush era - their policies serve no public good. Similarly, the farce of Obama's claiming "not to know" about the illegality of murdering civilians, including American citizens, with drones in countries the US is not at war with – the crimes of aggression and killing of innocents - has now become a tall story about how "really, the US doesn’t kill civilians." This is because the "priestly" - Howard Koh's foolish phrase - John Brennan decided to count every male, even children walking in the vicinity of a suspected terrorist, as themselves "terrorists." But even this murderous counting can not "clean up" the carnage...
None of this alters the anger people rightly feel at those who send the drones….
Locke also knew that prerogative tended to feed tyrannical power which needed to be met by revolution – he is, nonetheless, too friendly to making the law “give way to secure a public good,” something very rare and in our era, not shown in tyrannical Presidential initiatives. Robert Goldwin, distorting Locke, and Goldwin’s successors do not.
The paper underlines a previously undiscovered aetiology of "commander in chief power"; there are hints of it, for instance in Harvey Mansfield, by those who celebrate Schmitt as an authoritarian. The issue of authoritarianism is a matter of principle which the Bush-Obama regimes of torture, aggression, and no investigation of officials for these crimes, state secrets, drones and spying on Americans all exhibit and whose infamous background needs to be widely understood. For in Schmitt, commander in chief power was once the power of Der Fuehrer or in the 1960s, of Franco. That it is still but a shadow of the latter authoritarians is hopeful. That it is even a shadow is dangerous.
Here are the first three sections of the essay which I will put up in two posts.
Segregation, Aggression and Executive Power: Leo Strauss and “the boys”
“Dick [Cheney] remembers Bob [Goldwin] from the Ford years, when he became a resident scholar at the White House. Bob had worked for Don Rumsfeld at NATO, and after Don became White House Chief of Staff, Bob organized a series of seminars for President Ford and the senior staff. He'd get together a small number of people, always including the president, and bring in a speaker to enlighten the group. Dick particularly remembers one Saturday when Bob put together a gathering up in the solarium on the top floor of the White House. The speaker that day was Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and he talked about his book Beyond the Melting Pot, in which he and Nathan Glazer wrote about the persistence of ethnicity in America and the consequences of it. Beyond the Melting Pot was a controversial book at the time. All these years later, we know it was very prescient.
Dick says that he does not recall in all his years in Washington events like the ones Bob organized. Bob didn’t advertise what he was doing and didn’t talk about it much in the years after, which was part of his essential modesty, part of what made him so admirable. We will miss him very much.”
- Lynne V. Cheney is a senior fellow at AEI. This tribute originally appeared on AEI's Enterprise Blog on January 13, 2010
“Few individuals had as much influence on the thinking of conservative American policy makers and yet were as little known to the public as Bob Goldwin. Bob was a man of sweeping, ambitious ideas, but personal modesty and quiet competence. He had the rare talent of asking the right questions at the right time, and gently nudging discussions toward the ‘eureka’ moment. Every conversation with Bob left you with a perspective you hadn’t considered before.
Bob and I had known each other since his days at the University of Chicago. In 1972, I lured away my friend from his position as dean of St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland to join me at NATO, where I served as U.S. ambassador. Two years later, I was called back to Washington to help the newly sworn-in President Gerald Ford, and one of the first people I recruited to the White House staff was Bob. Bob led seminars for President Ford in the White House solarium, bringing in some of the finest minds in America, not least his own, to discuss the toughest issues of the time.
Bob Goldwin was the Ford administration's one-man think tank, its intellectual compass, and bridge to a new conservatism--a conservatism that was unashamed to be conservative. He helped provide the intellectual underpinning that convinced many Republicans that they didn't have to apologize when they stood for lower taxes or suggested that our strategy against the Soviet Union ought not be placation.
The ideas he corralled and the causes he championed--from opposing the creation of a new international bureaucracy with the Law of the Seas Treaty in 1982 to offering wise counsel on a new Iraqi constitution as recently as 2003--were without match. Bob was a valuable counselor and a dear friend.
I considered myself one of his many students, and I know I will miss him. So too will America, but perhaps without fully realizing what is being missed.
- Donald Rumsfeld is the former secretary of defense. This tribute originally appeared on AEI's Enterprise Blog on January 15, 2010
“On another occasion Antiphon asked him [Socrates]: ‘How can you suppose that you make politicians of others, when you yourself avoid politics even if you understand them?’
‘How now, Antiphon,’ he retorted, ‘should I play a more important part in politics by engaging in them alone or by taking pains to turn out as many competent politicians as possible?” – Xenophon, Memorabilia
Nathan Tarcov insists that Strauss was apolitical, a man interested primarally in ancient texts and not in current problems. He is not alone in this assertion; Francis Fukuyama and Michael and Catherine Zuckert offer a similar argument. There is obviously some truth in this notion; Strauss did devote himself to scholarship, much of it quite esoteric and unlikely to be accessible to politicians or the punditry, and he did not invest himself directly in politics. Yet I think this portrait is incomplete; he was scarcely competely detached from contemporary politics, and one can certainly argue that he sought influence for his ideas, which have, after all, earned the label “Straussian.” Still, with regard to a discussion of “American conservatism,” the topic of this volume—and of what are now two conferences held five years apart—Strauss presents a difficult set of intellectual and conceptual issues. After all, he arrived in this country in 1937 as a quite fully formed scholar and intellectual; to put it mildly, he could not then be described as an “American thinker,” and some might argue, with justice, that he had an orthogonal relationship to “American” thought thereafter. Even with regard to “conservatism,” his was a distinctive variety, having little in common with some “standard” sources of American conservatism in Edmund Burke, misty-eyed Southern agrarianism (though we will see that he allied with its racism), or the teachings of Catholic natural law, however much, like partisans of all of these views, he made his reputation as a caustic critic of liberalism. But criticism of liberalism is obviously not enough to earn one’s stripes as a “conservative.” Not only could Marx or Nietzsche serve as exhibit A; one must recall that Hayek wrote a famous essay on why he was not a conservative.
Fortunately, for purposes of the limited space available to me in this volume, it is possible to avoid a full-scale analysis of Strauss by focusing instead on several of his students, including Robert Goldwin, the subject of the eulogies that preface this essay. Whatever Leo Strauss’s status as an exemplar of “American conservatism,” there can be no doubt that Goldwin—or Walter Berns and Harvey Mansfield, to name only two other prominent figures who will appear below—qualify both as “American” by any available criteria and, more to the point, as men of influence on a host of important political figures who would be proud to assert their own conservative credentials. To be sure, there are “Straussians” who are not so conservative (let alone influential). Still, any serious analysis of “American conservatism” over the past half century—and, perhaps, into the future—must contend with the fact that certain Straussians were indeed involved both in the conservative movement—think only of Allan Bloom’s manifesto against American culture and higher education—and in conservative politics.
As mention of Bloom suggests, one could write an extended essay on the role played by Strauss and Straussians in the educational culture wars of the past several decades. But in this essay, I want to emphasize other aspects of the Straussian corpus. The first involves a debate from quite long ago that, nonetheless, continues to have relevance for contemporary American politics; it focuses on the claim of the civil rights movement to full inclusion in American life and a concomitant use of national power to limit state autonomy committed to maintaining the exclusion associated with segregation. As we shall see, Strauss and Goldwin displayed a remarkable antagonism to Brown v. Board of Education. For many readers, no doubt, even more important is the stance taken by a number of important Straussians on the specifics of executive power—including quasi-tyrannical “prerogative” powers—that have challenged, if not indeed undermined, traditional conceptions of American constitutional checks and balances. During the Bush-Cheney regime, the “commander in chief power” served as a justification for systematic violations of the United Nations Convenant Against Torture and Other Inhumane and Degrading Acts, one of the few international human rights treaties that the United States has in fact ratified.
One might well say that it is a calumny against “conservatives” to link them to segregation or to defenses of torture. Many people identified with “conservatism,” including Richard Epstein and Bruce Fein, joined with liberals to denounce exalted claims made by the Bush-Cheney administration—and, in many important ways, continued into the Obama Admistration. Perhaps we should draw a distinction between conservatives and reactionaries. A conservative defends habeas corpus – the right of each prisoner to a day in court and not to be indefinitely detained or tortured as vital, since the Magna Carta, to the rule of law. By this standard – the Anglo-American standard – those who dismiss the importance of habeas corpus are no conservatives. In Europe, “conservatives” were often defenders of Throne and Altar, frequently Catholic, authoritarians; in the person of Carl Schmitt, a strong influence on Strauss, such views could slide easily into fascism.
Strauss sometimes expressed amusement at what (or who) was called “conservative” in the United States. In lectures, Strauss would often use the expression “what a conservative or a reactionary would say.” With precision, a reflection of esoteric or hidden writing, he would often distance himself from conservatives, for instance, by saying that conservatism is a good “rule of thumb” or in his 1957 letter rightly critical of the National Review’s anti-semitism, invoking repetitively “what a conservative might think,” as if he almost—but not quite—was an example of the breed. One can imagine his being sympathetic with Hayek’s similar disdain for many American “conservatives.” Still, as Donald Rumsfeld has taught us, just as one fights wars with the army one has, instead of the army one wishes one had, one takes part in politics with the people and movements who are available, not the ones one might wish in an ideal political world. And if we look at decisions made by Strauss—and, more to the point, “Straussians” like Goldwin, especially, we find some extraordinarily unattractive material.
1. Strauss’s activism and caution
An exile, a German Jew and darkly reactionary, Strauss was rightly wary of American xenophobia. He was not by temperment inclined to devote himself simply to politics. Nonetheless, following Xenophon, he devoted remarkable care and attention to shaping American politics. His political activism was strategic and, in the long run, influential. Paralleling his twin roles, Strauss’s letters to his American students divide into two types. The first, reflected in correspondence with Seth Benaradete and a few to others, center on Strauss’s love of scholarship and are sometimes striking. His relationship with Benardete probed the subtleties of Greek texts.
The second, however, underlines Strauss’s reactionary activism. For instance, Strauss worked with the Public Affairs Conference Center at the University of Chicago, run by his student Robert Goldwin, to connect with political and military leaders around a particular agenda:1) defense of segregation and hostility to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision and the civil rights movement, 2) advocacy of aggression to intimidate the Soviet Union, including the conquest of Cuba, even after the Cuban missile crisis, and 3) urging of authoritarianism and untrammeled executive action, coupled with scorn for parliamentary politics or the separation and balance of powers. Steven Teles, in his own history of American conservatism, has emphasized the importance of think-tanks and similar institutions in creating networks of like-minded individuals empowered to fight against their intellectual adversaries. The Public Affairs Conferences are pioneering in this regard.
Through the Public Affairs Conferences, Strauss indirectly engaged Senator Charles Percy, Republican keynoter in 1960 and a potential Republican presidential nominee. He also worked with Senator Henry Jackson, a Democratic hawk and gateway to the intelligence establishment, a subsequent employer of Straussians like Abram Shulsky, not to mention Hans Speier, head of the Rand Corporation and an old friend. Note that these efforts to move American politics to the Right were bipartisan, and not restricted, as it has seemed to some after 2000, to ”neoconservative” Republicans.
In contrast to the intellectual “purity” of some of Strauss’s correspondence, one finds political themes throughout letters to Walter Berns, Allan Bloom, Joseph Cropsey, Harry Jaffa and, principally, Robert Goldwin. The political “boys, ” as he called them, express occasional reverence for Strauss’s scholarship. But the correspondance reflects, to a large extent, their personal scholarly and political goals and concerns. They were not concerned with the depth and subtlety of Strauss’s argument (Bloom and Cropsey were obviously more interested than Berns and Goldwin, but they all reflect a common political idiom). In a conceptualization drawn from Strauss’s 1955 letter to Kojeve, Strauss used these rhetors or gentlemen to purse his own reactionary public agenda, including advancing his own students.
2. Defending Segregation against value-free social science
The debate about Brown v. Board of Education involved a number of important issues, including, of course, the role of the Supreme Court in attempting to change what had become “traditional” Southern white subordination of African-Americans. But there was also a vigorous debate at the time about the role of social science in public affairs, a topic about which Strauss (and “Straussians”) had strong views. In Natural Right and History, Strauss rightly mocks the empiricist argument for value-free social science or “the fact-value distinction.” He seems to defend Socrates and justice against this view. As medicine is concerned with health, he suggests rightly, so social research or “science” should be concerned with justice or a common good. Without self-awareness, social scientists often embrace prevailing values “around here,” glossing current prejudices while imagining themselves to do otherwise. Strauss seems to favor Socrates’s question: what is justice? Prima facie, this argument is Strauss’s strongest, most attractive and influential claim.
Following what he takes to be the example of philosophers in Persecution and the Art of Writing, however, Strauss has two hidden meanings which undercut this argument’s force. First, Strauss endorsed Nietzsche and viewed inequality, an aspect of master morality, as what he meant by “justice.” For instance, despite the initial lines of Natural Right and History, praising the indelible eloquence of asserting each individual’s “natural rights” in the Declaration of Independence, Strauss subsequently affirms the “classical view of natural right: inequality.” Strauss then mocks the argument for equality, suggesting that the mere existence of a division of labor in a city is fatal to that possibility. He oddly ignores Plato’s “city in speech” which has no slavery and does not practice the subjection of women. He does not ask whether inequalities harmful to those who experience them are “necessary” in politics, but takes his allusion as sufficient. It is not.
Second, Strauss aimed to defend segregation in the United States against what he called “ss.” The “ss” that drew his wrath was that of Gunnar Myrdal as well as Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s “doll experiment” cited in Brown’s footnote 11. Suffice it to say that this experiment was used to demonstrate that, when given a choice of dolls, both white and black children chose the white dolls as “prettier,” which for the Clarks (and Chief Justice Warren) was evidence of the assault on the “hearts and minds” of children daily demeaned by state-mandated segregation. Segregation was not conservative. It was authoritarian, anti-liberal, often murderous rule over a large minority (in Mississippi, a majority) of the population which distorted the personalities, as Martin Luther King insisted, of whites as well as African-Americans. In the concrete instance, though, we find Strauss and Goldwin promoting “states rights” and segregation against the Clarks’ social science. That difference does not compromise the validity of Strauss’s general critique of ostensibly “value neutral” social science. On the contrary, in this instance, the critique indicts Strauss’s own political stand. Strauss stood against the justice which he supposedly affirmed against “ss”; in contrast, the Clarks’ social science – and the Warren Court which relied on it - was not “value free” but stood for justice.
When Robert Goldwin became the head of the Public Affairs Conference Center, he took on Strauss as a paid, and more importantly, strategic advisor. On December 17, 1960, Goldwin reported that James Jackson Kilpatrick, the editor of the Richmond News Leader and a crusading segregationist had written one of the four papers for a conference, emphasizing “state’s rights” as vital to “the essential strength of the United States in the present situation.”
As Goldwin put it,
Here is the paper by Mr. Kilpatrick, just received. His assignment was to make the case that a reassertion of States’ rights would add to the essential strength of the United States in its present situation. His response in the light of the assignment speaks volumes. Everything proceeds smoothly now, though in a great rush.
On December 24, 1960, Strauss praised Kilpatrick’s “contribution,” emphasizing, that supposed positive impact of “local diversity” on American power to defeat the Soviet Union. (As a matter of fact, briefs submitted by both the Truman and Eisenhower Administrations had emphasized the costs to American reputation abroad of segregation at home and in effect pleaded with the Court to do what a Southern-dominated Congress was incapable of doing—ending segregation in the South.) Strauss also emphasizes Morton Grodzins’ paper, which focused on federalism, states’ rights or “anti-centralism,” and also questioned the legitimacy of the Supreme Court’s intervention striking down segregation.
As we shall see, Goldwin, like some others among Strauss’s students, would extol extreme centralism or authoritarianism: “executive power” or “prerogative.” But here, ironically, the affirmation of American imperial purposes seemingly required adopting the Southern defense of localism or state’s rights and opposition to the authority of the Supreme Court.
Upholding the equal rights of each citizen is the core of modern political thought or liberalism to which Strauss objected. On no other issue could Strauss’s profound aversion to equality manifest itself in such striking terms. Thus he enthusiastically congratulated Goldwin:
“I have read the four articles and can hardly say more than that you ought to be congratulated on the good judgment you have shown in selecting the four writers. It is not your fault that the States’ Rights position is presented in only one paper but in the future it might be wise to think well in advance of a possible substitute for a senator. The advantage of Kilpatrick’s paper is that its main argument (local diversity) is not met in any of the three other papers, and so there is room for discussion. All papers are well and interestingly written…Grodzins’ paper is clear, very well written and lucidly argued; but it does not go into the political reasons of the anti-centralists (especially the desegregation issue and the whole question of whether these kinds of matters can legitimately be settled by the Supreme Court). It makes very much sense to me that Grodzins speaks on page 14, line 3 of ‘the most important services” but this qualification raises a well known ‘methodological’ difficulty which might be brought out on a proper occasion in order to bring in a plug for the anti-SS.”
It is, apparently, not enough to criticize the Court’s use of social science; one should go beyond and adopt the entire critique of Brown and, by the early 1960s, the civil rights movement that was transforming America. On Feb. 13, 1961, speaking of it as “my business,” Strauss broadened this attack on social science “and its political consequences in the last generation” (desegregation).
It is vital that a new generation be reminded exactly who Kilpatrick was. He was not the equivalent, say, of Herbert Wechsler, a famous professor of constitutional law at Columbia, who with some anguish, misguidedly attacked Brown as a violation of “neutral principles” in a lecture at the Harvard Law School. Instead, Kilpatrick praised “the South” and its “traditions” of segregation. To place this within an earlier debate, Kilpatrick was not Stephen A. Douglass, affecting “neutrality” on the goodness or badness of slavery and advocating that the “popular sovereigns” in each state come to their own conclusion about its merits; he was the equivalent instead of John C. Calhoun. Just as slavery had been a “positive good” for Calhoun and partisans of the “slavocracy,” so segregation was a positive good for Kilpatrick.
Affecting moderation, Kilpatrck notices that lynching was a problem. (Perhaps this is comparable to a “moderate” Nazi—Schmitt?—agreeing, after defeat and in retrospect, that the Holocaust went too far.) But Kilpatrick was interested in probing the relationship between lynching and the maintenance of the racialized system of power in the South. Kilpatrick does not notice that Democratic politicians by day, particularly sheriffs and other officials, were often Klansmen, or collaborators with Klansmen, by night. Kilpatrick’s views were scarcely hidden behind esoteric writings requiring the exegesis of a Straussian seminar to decode. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Kilpatrick authored three books devoted to the maintenance of white supremacy, including a book forthrightly titled The Southern Case for School Segregation. What apparently drew Goldwin’s specific attention, and Strauss’s plaudits, was a book The Sovereign States, setting out his constitutional argument that “sovereign states” comprised the Union. Since the national government, including the Supreme Court, was simply the agent of the principals—i.e., the states, a state that disagrees with federal policy—or a judicial decision—on constitutional grounds has the “right to nullify” that policy, or to “interpose” itself to block it. This classic articulation of this argument, of course, was offered by John C. Calhoun, paraphrased by Kilpatrick as follows:
In this process [of enacting of Tariff of 1828], they [the Congress, meaning “the industrial North”] had gravely encroached upon the rights of the States, but – and here the doctrine of nullification in its most drastic form was asserted for the first time – the States had one remedy remaining to them: They could invoke their inherent right ‘to interpose to protect their reserved powers [those not explicitly enumerated in the Constitution], and by interposing, suspend the operation of a law they regarded as unconstitutional pending a decision by all the States in convention assembled.
Kilpatrick spells out “the transcendent issue” which, ostensibly, will preserve segregation:
The remedy lies – it must lie – in drastic resistance by the States, as States, to Federal encroachment. ‘If those who voluntarily created the system cannot be trusted to preserve it,’ asked Calhoun, ‘who can?’ The checking and controlling influence of the people, exerted as of old, though their states, can indeed preserve the constitutional structure. The right to interpose the will of the sovereign people, in order that the evils of encroachment may be arrested, once more can be exerted toward the preservation of a Union and the dignity of States.
Here Kilpatrick emphasizes the “diversity” of state viewpoints, seemingly echoed by Strauss:
And the necessity for a restraint upon the abuses and excesses to which all governments are inclined, arises largely from the fact that the governed people have dissimilar interests and concerns. Were all the people alike, and all interests of a community identical, no such restraints would be required; a single majority division would justly decide every question submitted to it. But this identity of interest does not exist among the several States who jointly form the American Union. From the very inception of the Republic, the different States zealously have cherished differing institutions: To one, foreign trade may be vital; to another, domestic manufactures; to a third, agriculture; to a fourth, water power and irrigation; to a fifth, the operation of public schools and parts. It is only to a limited extent that these most vital concerns may be subordinated to the ‘national good.’ At some point Calhoun argued, compromise must end and oppression begin.
Quite obviously, the specific “oppression” that Kilpatrick is most concerned with is that directed at Southern whites by the American judiciary and their supporters, who were insisting that, in Martin Luther King’s terminology, the check written by the Reconstruction Amendments following the Civil War finally be redeemed.
Kilpatrick hastens to point out that the ostensible “right” to nullification cannot be invoked except under circumstances of exigency; otherwise, the central government would collapse. But not to worry, for Kilpatrick and other white Southern racists find just such an “exigency” to be attached to the prospects of desegregation and what was described as “forced interminging of the races.” This is not the occasion for full-scale examination of the merits of “nullification” doctrine. After all, it traces its heritage back to the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions, in which Jefferson and Madison fought the dictatorial implications of the Alien and Sedition Acts passed by the Federalist Congress (and signed by John Adams) in 1798, which led to the arrest of immigrant- Scottish and Irish - editors of Republican newspapers and made criticism of the President—though, interestingly, not the Vice President, one Thomas Jefferson—a serious crime, even, in the draft version of the Sedition Act, a capital offense. If Madison and Jefferson were defending basic freedoms, that most certainly cannot be said of Kilpatrick, and, it should go without saying, it was obtuse of Goldwin and Strauss to offer him the mantle of respectability of participation in the Public Affairs Conference. It appears that he was invited not in spite of his political views, but because of them. One of the lessons taught by Strauss is the need to read all texts very closely, including what might be termed the “social text” of what is suggested by the invitation list to certain conferences and encomia delivered afterward on those who delivered papers.
3. Networking for Reaction
Strauss relied on the Public Affairs conferences and on Goldwin, Joseph Cropsey, Herbert Storing (who, it should be emphasized, rejected racism and was a careful student of the Anti-Federalists and Afro-American writers ) and Walter Berns to gain public influence.
On 7 February 1961, Goldwin wrote to Strauss:
I will add only that you would have been very proud of your ‘boys.’ Seated in the midst of the famous and the powerful, they conducted themselves admirably and displayed powers of the mind which earned the attention and respect of all. Mr. Grodzins commented especially to me and to others, on the brilliance of some of Mr. Cropsey’s formulations in the discussion. Mr. [Martin] Diamond and Mr. [Harry] Jaffa were the other most luminous ‘stars.’
Here is a model of “philosophical” influence, taken from Plato’s Laws, which would ultimately extend to the role of certain Straussians in the Reagan and Bush administrations. Strauss’s “boys” could dazzle, according to Goldwin, “the famous and the powerful.” As a result, Strauss himself and his followers achieved lasting contacts. Strauss set out his wishes in a February 13, 1961 letter to Goldwin:
…. I turn immediately to my business. I am especially interested in a plan of having a debate on SS and its political consequences in the last generation. But I believe that the subject ought to be broadened to prevent the bogging down in methodology – a danger not excluded as you seem to think by the participation of [David] Easton. What I would suggest is a conference devoted to ‘theory and practice’ but not called by that forbidding title. I shall illustrate what I have in mind by two examples. 1) Economics and its limitations regarding economic policy, i.e. at what typical points ‘prudence’ or ‘common sense’ has to supplement the hand–outs of economic science. Milton Friedman ought to be in on this. You can get ample clarification regarding both subject matter and personnel from Mr. Cropsey. 2) Desegregation and the findings of SS which allegedly demand desegregation. Here I would think we should have a guy from the deep south, say Dean H[W]iggins, a sociologist at Emory. Such a conference could be educative for the non-academicians by making clear to them what they cannot expect from the academicians. … I remember a seminar meeting with Rossiter and Grodzins where I put to Grodzins point blank the question: can you tell me a single thing which was discovered by scientific political science which was not known to intelligent practitioners in advance? He could not remember more than two examples which disproved rather than supported his sanguine position (this English is still better than if I had spoken of his ‘attitude’). There could be a very easy transition from this conference to the conference on education: what do the universities contribute to society?
Among the attendees at the Conference was soon to be Senator Charles Percy of Illinois. Strauss stresses Percy’s enthusiasm for it, and would attempt to work closely with him.
To be sure, with regard to some issues, Goldwin sought some genuine debate. Thus, regarding a proposed panel on arms control, he hoped to invite a “spokesman for the unilateral disarmament position…. David Riesman has been recommended by Morton Grodzins…James Burnham as the spokesman for the opposite extreme.” Attention was also paid to making connections with a broad array of persons from what Goldwin described as “the non-academic side.” Thus,
"we have acceptances already from Mr. Percy, Thomas Watson (chairman of the Board of IBM), Emmet Hughes (Eisenhower’s former speech writer and now chief advisor and writer for Gov. Rockefeller) and Senator Muskie of Maine. We will invite, in addition, Congressman Ford of Michigan (who attended the first conference and who is a member of the Appropriations Committee and of the subcommittee on defense appropriations [and soon to be President]), Senator Henry Jackson of Washington (a member of the Armed Services Committee), George McGhee (head of the State Department Policy Planning Staff), Eric Sevareid [the newscaster], and Crawford Greenewalt, president of Dupont Co. We also want to invite a Republican member of the Armed Services committee, but I am awaiting Muskie’s advice on the best one for our purpose…."
Goldwin continues: “I have mentioned all these names as a preface to asking you about Hans Speier…” In response, Strauss strongly recommended the participation of his old friend Speier, the head of the Rand Corporation.
To a very unusual and determined extent for a “political theorist,” Strauss involved himself with political and military leaders. Steeped in Xenophon’s Hiero (see his first book in the US in 1948, On Tyranny) and Plato’s Laws, he sought fiercely to shape policy. The Rand corporation was central to producing U.S. missile strategy. A connection with Rand also helped to embed Strauss’s students like Abram Shulsky or the students of his students such as Gary Schmitt (Herbert Storing), Paul Wolfowitz (Allan Bloom) and Francis Fukuyama (Bloom) in the strategic establishment.
The contact Goldwin had made with Congressman Gerald Ford would prove especially fruitful. After finishing his dissertation on John Locke, Goldwin took a job at Kenyon College where Robert Horwitz, another Strauss student, chaired the political science department, and continued a public affairs program. He still worked closely with Ford and then-Congressman Donald Rumsfeld; Goldwin would later describe himself as “a special confidante” of Rumsfeld.
It is worth noting that Strauss himself distinguished between “gentlemen” and “philosophers,” and it is quite likely that he viewed at least some of “the boys” as examples more of the former than the latter. Strauss did not intend that all of his students to become dedicated scholars – though that was the aim for his closest ones; it was perhaps of near equal importance, however, for some to influence policy. In Strauss’s idiom, they were to be
“gentlemen” rather than “philosophers.” Not overly concerned with partisan political labels, Strauss was also content to work with Rockefeller Republicans and hawkish Democrats. The aim in policy circles was to create a political voice for specific reactionary ideas, whether offering a defense of segregation and states’ rights or an empowered executive capable of acting without significant constraint.
For instance, on June 5, 1969, Joseph Cropsey wrote about Strauss’s “old friend” Senator Henry Jackson, the Democratic hawk from the state of Washington. He also notes the incrasing influence of Albert Wohlsetter, a University of Chicago nuclear theorist who, though not a Straussian, often helped advise Strauss’s students.