Stranger than Fiction: Wolfowitz, Strauss and Smiley
June 11, 2007
I came to know about George Smiley’s dilemma over breakfast as I read through novel after novel by John Le Carré. Smiley’s brilliance in his tradecraft was not enough to equip him for the ethically ambiguous role in which Le Carré placed him. Through the anti-Bond, middle-aged, mild-mannered, master of bureaucratic manoeuvring (wiki), George Smiley, Le Carré seemed to work through his own questions, “What are the real costs of national security policies such as espionage?” Aronoff (1998) examined Le Carré’s spy novels in terms of ethical dilemmas that confront citizens, particularly of democracies, when their nations engage in diplomacy, covert action and espionage with other nations.
Shulsky1 and Schmitt, two intelligence analysts juxtaposed political philosophy with spy novels by comparing their mentor, realist political philosopher Leo Strauss to the gentle, wise, world-weary and disillusioned George Smiley. Both Strauss and Smiley had the “ability to concentrate on detail, [with] consequent success in looking below the surface and reading between the lines” and both believed that we live in a very cruel world of dangerous adversaries who aim to deceive by providing misleading clues and evidence (Shulsky and Schmitt 1999).
Strauss claimed that since your enemy aims to deceive you, you are also allowed to deceive. He interprets Plato to argue that “philosophers need to tell noble lies not only to the people at large but also to powerful politicians” (Holmes cited by Hersh 2003). “Echoing one of Strauss’s major themes, Shulsky and Schmitt criticize America’s intelligence community for its failure to appreciate the duplicitous nature of the regimes it deals with, its susceptibility to social-science notions of proof, and its inability to cope with deliberate concealment” See (Shulsky and Schmitt 1999 Hersh 2003).
The ideology of Leo Strauss has been described as “elitist, amoral and hostile to democratic government (Lobe 2003)” yet according to University of Calgary’s Shadia B. Drury he had a cult following of key US neo-conservative strategists (Drury 1988, 1999) including Paul Wolfowitz2, William Kristol, Gary Schmitt, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Clarence Thomas, Newt Gingrich, Abram Shulsky, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.
I wonder if Aronoff would agree with the suggested similarities between George Smiley and Leo Strauss?
Keywords: cognoscenti, Drury, Wolfowitz, Siglitz, neoconservative, Calgary school, Chicago school, Bloom, elitism, Rand, politics, political philosophy,
1. “Schmitt is with the neo-conservative Project for the New American Century. Shulsky, of the RAND Corp. when the essay was written, is now director of the Department of Defense Office of Special Plans. OSP is the infamous alternative intelligence agency created in the immediate aftermath of September 11 by Pentagon hardliners who believed that the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies had missed or were soft-peddling evidence of Saddam’s WMD programs and links to al Qaeda. As director of OSP, Shulsky was at the center of administration efforts to weave together bits of intelligence to match their rock-solid belief that Saddam was an imminent and omnipresent threat (Rozen 2003).”
“Indeed, the Iraq intelligence debacle swirling around Shulsky’s OSP seems to fit some of Le Carre’s enduring revelations about the espionage business: that intelligence is almost always politicized, and that the ideological assumptions and personal obsessions that drive people in the spook world can be as disabling as the secrets and disinformation with which their enemies set about to deceive them (Rozen 2003).”
2. In March 2005 Joseph Stiglitz (Preston 2005) warned of the consequences of placing Paul Wolfowitz as head of the World Bank.
Re: Leo Strauss a realist :
“The topic must appear at first as a very strange one: what possible connection could there be between the tumultuous world of spies and snooping paraphernalia, on the one hand, and the quiet life of scholarship and immersion in ancient texts, on the other? However, intelligence isn’t only involved with espionage and whiz-bang gadgetry; a large part of it deals with the patient piecing together of bits of information to yield the outlines of the larger picture. When one considers that this effort, called “analysis,” often focuses on such major questions as the nature and characteristic modes of action of a foreign regime, then perhaps the juxtaposition of political philosophy and intelligence may seem less far-fetched. Indeed, in his gentleness, his ability to concentrate on detail, his consequent success in looking below the surface and reading between the lines, and his seeming unworldliness, Leo Strauss may even be said to resemble, however faintly, the George Smiley of John LeCarré’s novels (Schmitt and Shulsky 1999).”
“Robert Pippin, the chairman of the Committee on Social Thought at Chicago and a critic of Strauss, told me, “Strauss believed that good statesmen have powers of judgment and must rely on an inner circle. The person who whispers in the ear of the King is more important than the King. If you have that talent, what you do or say in public cannot be held accountable in the same way.” Another Strauss critic, Stephen Holmes, a law professor at New York University, put the Straussians’ position this way: “They believe that your enemy is deceiving you, and you have to pretend to agree, but secretly you follow your own views.” Holmes added, “The whole story is complicated by Strauss’s idea—actually Plato’s—that philosophers need to tell noble lies not only to the people at large but also to powerful politicians.” See Hersh (2003).
“The Straussian movement has many adherents in and around the Bush Administration. [...] Strauss’s influence on foreign-policy decision-making (he never wrote explicitly about the subject himself) is usually discussed in terms of his tendency to view the world as a place where isolated liberal democracies live in constant danger from hostile elements abroad, and face threats that must be confronted vigorously and with strong leadership. How Strauss’s views might be applied to the intelligence-gathering process is less immediately obvious. As it happens, Shulsky himself explored that question in a 1999 essay, written with Gary Schmitt, entitled “Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence (By Which We Do Not Mean Nous)”—in Greek philosophy the term nous denotes the highest form of rationality. In the essay, Shulsky and Schmitt write that Strauss’s “gentleness, his ability to concentrate on detail, his consequent success in looking below the surface and reading between the lines, and his seeming unworldliness . . . may even be said to resemble, however faintly, the George Smiley of John le Carré’s novels.” Echoing one of Strauss’s major themes, Shulsky and Schmitt criticize America’s intelligence community for its failure to appreciate the duplicitous nature of the regimes it deals with, its susceptibility to social-science notions of proof, and its inability to cope with deliberate concealment.” See Hersh (2003).
At Cornell University in the 1960s Wolfowitz lived at Telluride House on the Cornell campus to learn about democracy through the practice of running the house and organizing seminars. In 1963, philosophy professor Allan Bloom served as a Cornell faculty mentor living in the house and had a major influence on Wolfowitz’s political views with his assertion of the importance of political regimes in shaping peoples’ characters. Schmitt observes that Wolfowitz first “became a protégé of the political philosopher Allan Bloom, and then of Albert Wohlstetter, the father of hard-line conservative strategic thinking at the University of Chicago.” That year, Wolfowitz joined the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom led by Martin Luther King, Jr.. According to Schmitt, “At Cornell Mr. Wolfowitz majored in mathematics and chemistry, but he was profoundly moved by John Hersey’s Hiroshima and shifted his focus toward politics. ‘One of the things that ultimately led me to leave mathematics and go into political science was thinking I could prevent nuclear war,’ he said.” Then Wolfowitz went to the University of Chicago to study under Bloom’s mentor, Leo Strauss.[citations needed] Wolfowitz enrolled in Strauss’ courses, on Plato and Montesquieu, but, according to Mann, they “did not become especially close” before Strauss retired. Although Wolfowitz denies it, “in subsequent years colleagues both in government and academia came to view Wolfowitz as one of the heirs to Strauss’s intellectual traditions.”[citations needed] Wolfowitz claimed that, “I mean I took two terrific courses from Leo Strauss as a graduate student. One was on Montesquieu‘s spirit of the laws, which did help me understand our Constitution better. And one was on Plato‘s laws. The idea that this has anything to do with U.S. foreign policy is just laughable.” See Wikipedia
Re: Shadia B. Drury
“In Drury’s opinion, contemporary society is threatened by a small school of American academics labeled Straussians, after the German born, Jewish-American political scientist, Leo Strauss (1899-1973). She has not shied away from voicing a critical interpretation of Strauss’ work, linking it to American right-wing public policy. In print and on the airwaves she has stated that Straussians are a “cult” (CBC Radio, Michael Enright interview CBC Sunday Edition), a group of dangerous people who need to be exposed and analyzed not in terms of what they say, but what they do. Drury has produced a body of work on the impact of Strauss that has placed her in the position of authority for many students, academics and media personalities. In an effort to espouse political theory with modern political practice, Drury has garnered a rather controversial position in American politics. Part of the criticism she receives comes from her latest book, where she examines “two equally arrogant and self-righteous civilizations confronting one another”. In Terror and Civilization: Christianity, Politics, and the Western Psyche, Drury regards the contemporary political problem as “thoroughly Biblical.” “Each (civilization) is convinced that it is on the side of God, truth and justice, while its enemy is allied with Satan, wickedness, and barbarism.” (wiki) >> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadia_Drury
In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States for his first term, and the conservative revolution that was slowly developing in the United States finally emerged in full-throated roar. Who provoked the conservative revolution? Shadia Drury provides a fascinating answer to the question as she looks at the work of Leo Strauss, a seemingly reclusive German Jewish emigré and scholar who was one of the most influential individuals in the conservative movement, a man widely seen as the godfather of the Republican party’s failed “Contract With America.” Among his students were individuals such as Alan Bloom, author of The Closing of the American Mind. Strauss influenced the work of Irving Kristol, Gertrude Himmelfarb and William Kristol, as well as Chief Justice Clarence Thomas and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Drury delves deeply into Strauss’s work at the University of Chicago where he taught his students that, if they truly loved America, they must save her from her fateful enchantment with liberalism. Leo Strauss and the American Right is a fascinating piece of work that anyone interested in understanding our current political situation will want to read (Palgrave review).
Bibliography and webliography
Aronoff, Myron J. 1998. The Spy Novels of John le Carré: Balancing Ethics and Politics. St. Martin’s Press.
Aronoff, Myron J. 1998. The Spy Novels of John le Carré: Balancing Ethics and Politics. Palgrave Macmillan.
Barry, Tom. 2004. “A Philosophy of Intelligence: Leo Strauss and Intelligence Strategy,” IRC Right Web (Silver City, NM: Interhemispheric Resource Center, February 12, 2004).
Drury, Shadia B. “Leo Strauss.” Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Drury, Shadia B. Alexandre Kojeve: The Roots of Postmodern Politics. Palgrave Macmillan: London, 1994. ISBN 0-312-12092-3
Drury, Shadia B. The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss. 1st ed. Macmillan: London, 1988. ISBN 0-333-41256-7
Drury, Shadia B. Leo Strauss and the American Right. Palgrave Macmillan: London, 1999. ISBN 0-312-21783-8
Drury, Shadia B. Terror and Civilization: Christianity, Politics, and the Western Psyche. Palgrave Macmillan: London, 2004. ISBN 1-4039-6404-1
Hersh, Seymour M. 2003. “Selective Intelligence: Donald Rumsfeld has his own special sources. Are they reliable?” New Yorker. May 12.
Lobe, Jim. 2003. “US Foreign Policy and Leo Strauss.” Inter Press Service. March 15, 2003.
Monbiot, George. 2005. “With Wolfowitz Have we forgotten what the World Bank is for?” April 5. >> http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=7581
Preston, Robert. 2005. “Stiglitz Warns of Violence If Wolfowitz Goes to World Bank.” Telegraph. UK. March 20.
Rozen, Laura. 2003. “Con Tract: The theory behind neocon self-deception.” The Washington Monthly. October.
Schmitt,Gary J. and Abram N. Shulsky. 1999. “Leo Strauss and the World of Intelligence (By Which We Do Not Mean Nous).” Leo Strauss, the Straussians, and the American Regime.
sourcewatch.org. “Leo Strauss.”
Stiglitz, Joseph. 2002. Globalization and its Discontents. Allen Lane, London.
©© Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Stranger than Fiction: Wolfowitz, Strauss and Smiley.” >> Speechless
©© Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Stranger than Fiction: Wolfowitz, Strauss and Smiley.” >>