What do close advisors to Stephen Harper and George W. Bush have in common? They adhere to the disturbing teachings of Leo Strauss, the German-Jewish émigré who spawned the neoconservative movement.
Strauss, who died in 1973, believed in the inherent inequality of humanity. Most people, he famously taught, are too stupid to make informed decisions about their political affairs. Elite philosophers must decide on affairs of state for us.
In Washington, Straussians exert powerful influence from within the inner circle of the White House. In Canada, they roost, for now, in the so-called Calgary School, guiding Harper in framing his election strategies. What preoccupies Straussians in both places is the question of "regime change."
The 'noble lie'
Strauss believed that allowing citizens to govern themselves will lead, inevitably, to terror and tyranny, as the Weimar Republic succumbed to the Nazis in the 1930s. A ruling elite of political philosophers must make those decisions because it is the only group smart enough. It must resort to deception -- Strauss's "noble lie" -- to protect citizens from themselves. The elite must hide the truth from the public by writing in code. "Using metaphors and cryptic language," philosophers communicated one message for the elite, and another message for "the unsophisticated general population," philosopher Jeet Heer recently wrote in the Globe and Mail. "For Strauss, the art of concealment and secrecy was among the greatest legacies of antiquity."
There's one big difference between American and Canadian Straussians. The Americans assumed positions of power and influence in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. The Canadians have not had much opportunity to show (or is that hide?) their stuff. That may change with a Harper victory.
Paul Wolfowitz's teacher, Allan Bloom, and another Straussian, Walter Berns, taught at the University of Toronto during the 1970s. They left their teaching posts at Cornell University because they couldn't stomach the student radicalism of the '60s. At Toronto, they influenced an entire generation of political scientists, who fanned out to universities across the country.
Two of their students, Ted Morton and Rainer Knopff, went to the University of Calgary where they specialize in attacking the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They claim the charter is the result of a conspiracy foisted on the Canadian people by "special interests." These nasty people are feminists, gays and lesbians, the poor, prisoners and refugee-rights groups who are advancing their own interests through the courts at the expense of the general public, these Straussians allege.
The problem with their analysis is that the special interest which makes more use of the courts to advance its interests than all these other groups combined -- business -- receives not a mention. Deception by omission is a common Straussian technique. The weak are targeted while the real culprits disappear.
Harper studied under the neocons at the University of Calgary and worked with them to craft policies for the fledgling Reform Party in the late 1980s. Together with Preston Manning, they created an oxymoron, a populist party backed by business.
Ted Morton has turned his attention to provincial politics. He's an elected MLA and a candidate to succeed Premier Ralph Klein. But he did influence the direction of right-wing politics at the federal level as the Canadian Alliance director of research under Stockwell Day.
When Harper threw his hat in the ring for the leadership of the Alliance, Tom Flanagan, the Calgary School's informal leader, became his closest adviser. Harper and Flanagan, whose scholarship focuses on attacking aboriginal rights, entered a four-year writing partnership and together studied the works of government-hater Friedrich Hayek. Flanagan ran the 2004 Conservative election campaign and is pulling the strings as the country readies for the election.
The Calgary School has successfully hidden its program beneath the complaint of western alienation. "If we've done anything, we've provided legitimacy for what was the Western view of the country," Calgary Schooler Barry Cooper told journalist Marci McDonald in her important Walrus article. "We've given intelligibility and coherence to a way of looking at it that's outside the St. Lawrence Valley mentality." This is sheer Straussian deception. On the surface, it's easy to understand Cooper's complaint and the Calgary School's mission. But the message says something very different to those in the know. For 'St. Lawrence Valley mentality,' they read 'the Ottawa-based modern liberal state,' with all the negative baggage it carries for Straussians. And for 'Western view,' they read 'the right-wing attack on democracy.' We've provided legitimacy for the radical-right attack on the Canadian democratic state, Cooper is really saying.
A network is already in place to assist Harper in foisting his radical agenda on the Canadian people.
In 2003, he delivered an important address to a group called Civitas. This secretive organization, which has no web site and leaves little paper or electronic trail, is a network of Canadian neoconservative and libertarian academics, politicians, journalists and think tank propagandists.
Harper's adviser Tom Flanagan is an active member. Conservative MP Jason Kenney is a member, as are Brian Lee Crowley, head of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies and Michel Kelly-Gagnon of the Montreal Economic Institute, the second and third most important right-wing think tanks after the Fraser Institute.
Civitas is top-heavy with journalists to promote the cause. Lorne Gunter of the National Post is president. Members include Janet Jackson (Calgary Sun) and Danielle Smith (Calgary Herald). Journalists Colby Cosh, William Watson and Andrew Coyne (all National Post) have made presentations to Civitas.
The Globe and Mail's Marcus Gee is not mentioned in relation to Civitas but might as well be a member, if his recent column titled "George Bush is not a liar," is any evidence. In it, Gee repeats the lies the Bush neocons are furiously disseminating to persuade the people that Bush is not a liar.
... wow ... and here sits your humble rogueclassicist, who, prior to majoring in Classics was a PoliSci major at the University of Calgary, who studied under (i.e. took some courses from) everyone in the 'Calgary School'. Does that make me a Straussian? Or does the fact that I'm a Classicist make me a 'double Straussian'? And does anyone else think 'Civitas' sounds an awful lot like a proto-Illuminati? Too many conspiracies for this time of the morning!