I had originally thought about writing a post called "Failure of the Will!", alluding to Leni Riefenstahl's notorious, monumental propaganda film celebrating the Hitlerian Reich, "Triumph of the Will". According to Wikipedia (I know, I know), "The overriding theme of the film is the return of Germany as a great power, with Hitler as the True German Leader who will bring glory to the nation."
The theme was striking and found echoes in the partisan rhetoric and actions of the previous U.S. presidential administration on many fronts:
- Karl Rove, the strategist behind George W. Bush's two electoral runs, is on record as wanting to create a "permanent Republican majority".
- Grover Norquist, conservative thought leader and single-minded proponent of cutting taxes, has declared that his avowed goal is "to cut government in half ... to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."
- The Reagan so-called revolution, the glorious ascendance of American conservatism, was propagated on the belief that "government is not the solution, it's the problem."
- Newt Gingrich, former Republican Speaker of the House (R-GA) during the Clinton presidency and currently chief strategist and mouthpiece of the conservative 'movement', is the father of the obstructionist 'just say no' tactic that now pretty much defines Republican congressional action. Perhaps Gingrich's most remarkable coup (especially given the hypocritical failure of his Contract With America) was the shutdown of the Federal Government out of pique over some mostly minor budget matters, and, if Tom Delay is to be believed, because he felt President Clinton snubbed him by making him sit at the back of Air Force One on the way back from Yitzhak Rabin's funeral in Israel.
- Tom Delay, subsequent Republican Speaker from Texas, was known to have spearheaded, along with former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) and the aforementioned Norquist, something called the "K Street Project" whose primary goal, while Republicans held power in both the Legislative and Executive branches, was to purge lobbyists in Washington with Democratic ties by refusing to do business with any firms that had Dems in positions of authority.
- This mission did not come cheap. Financing for this goal came from Jack Abramoff, the basic outlines of whose corrupt practices we are only just now beginning to learn as cases work their way through the legal system. One suspects there are many, many other 'off the books' financial tentacles pumping cash into these operations—including the billions of dollars on the Pentagon's 'off-budget' budget that went missing during the Bush Administration's lax regulatory regime.
- It was further theorized that, with the coming of conservative dominance, human polity had reached "the end of history": the secular, self-regulating free-market democracy.
There is an ancient political theory that only the elites should be allowed to rule, Plato's philosopher-kings. And that there is an unbridgeable gulf between the few who should, by nature, be allowed to rule and the many who, by nature, are suited only to be ruled by them. The elite should, thus, be secretive about their true plans and intentions. The only ones who should be allowed to know the truth are the rulers and the ruling class, and they don't need to talk about it because they instinctively recognize the truth and they recognize each other's other's adherence to these absolute goals. The ruled need to be fed myths about the motivations of the rulers and the ways of the world in order to legitimize their rule. In their view, religion is a useful fiction and its practitioners are instrumental in preserving culture and cultural values. The truth that no higher power exists should be kept away from the people, and God should be invoked to justify the actions of the elite.
In modern times, this view is often attributed to Leo Strauss and those of his students who congregate as, but craftily reject the label of, neo-conservatives. A further, more controversial political view ascribed to the Straussians is that the ruling elite are justified in tearing down societal and political institutions (to the extent they are designed to bring this special knowledge to the non-elite and serve to bring the masses into the arena of political governance) and fomenting chaos in order that an eventual Nietzschean superman can salvage culture: this, of course, is the age-old battle of absolutism against relativism. Relativism, which in its radical form approaches nihilism (the absence of values or standards), is a vulgar product of the Enlightenment and must be resisted with all the power of the state. Hypocrisy, projection, faux populism, faux piety, adventurism, belligerence, bellicosity, secrecy, extraordinary accretion of power, disregard for laws and rules: these are all justified, indeed countenanced, on the Straussian, neo-conservative view.
On this view, "culture" is:
"another word for history, civilization, convention, civil society, country, city ... The word culture is of fairly recent extraction. It emerges as a reaction to the rational, calculating, and commercial society that is a result of Enlightenment thought ... Culture offers man something loftier and more exalted than anything he could find in nature ... Culture wages a war against chaos, nature, and brutishness. Culture is the triumph of order over chaos, art over nature, and humanity over brutishness ... Culture decides what a people bows before and regards as sacred ... Myths are the stuff of culture and culture is the cement of society." (Shadia Drury, Alexandre Kojeve: The roots of postmodern politics. New York: St. Martin's Press 1994:162-163).Culture is the last refuge against relativism and barbarism. It is essential to civilization, existential in the direst sense.
Given the foregoing, I find myself asking whether the entire conservative movement which got it wings in Goldwater's ignominious drubbing, took flight under Reagan, leveled off under Bush pere, and via Newt, Delay, Rove, Norquist, Bush fils, et al., ascended the commanding heights was a crashing disaster or, indeed, a crashing success.
As a result of their mis-rule we are currently mired in two expensive foreign wars, we are in a recession that shows no signs of letting up, GDP is actually shrinking, the banking and financial systems of the country (and, indeed, the world) are crumbling, Americans are un- or under-employed by the millions, mortgages are underwater as asset values plummet, private and public debts are beyond out of control, oil companies and their Middle Eastern counterparts are awash in luxe profits, etc., etc. The question, then, is whether this represents a triumph of conservativism, in some esoteric formulation, or its abject failure:
Is this what they wanted?