Some American commentators close to the Obama administration are touting the coup in Kiev as a successful tit for tat for Russia’s obstruction of U.S. war plans against Syria and its broader imperialist agenda. However, the Europeans, who get a lot of their gas from Russia, are split over joining ‘a coalition of the willing’. At the NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels on Feb. 26, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen insisted that a solution could be found through cooperation with Moscow. She was echoed by the German business community.
In contrast, as reported Feb. 26 by the European Policy Centre in Brussels, British neoconservative policy advisor Amanda Paul demanded the EU adopt a tougher line against Putin. The conservative daily Die Zeit agreed, noting that “although reason, caution and compromise are good virtues, Europe have to learn power politics. We believe that the world is rational, with lots of compromise and consideration. In reality, Man is not a moral animal, but an animal of power.”
It is no coincidence that this quote should come from the German business community, for it expresses an ideology that is deeply rooted in that country, and which has gained significant influence, albeit under the radar, in the U.S., although it constituted the philosophical basis of the Nazi state.
To make this point I will turn to a surprising source: British former diplomat Alastair Crooke’s 2009 book Resistance: The Essence of the Islamist Revolution. Unlike NY Times bestsellers that deal with Islam, it introduces the reader to analyses of Western ideology by Islamist scholars, revealing knowledge ignored by most American college graduates.
During the Vietnam War, the well-known conservative philosopher Alan Bloom accused liberalism of undermining American values and in particular patriotism. He claimed that one of liberalism’s founders, John Locke, who influenced both the French and American revolutions, extended Hobbes’ ideas about liberal government, rights, the ‘self-aware Self’ and innate human goodness. Bloom and other Chicago School philosophers and economists, starting with Leo Strauss, were convinced that liberalism had thus led to nihilism, a ‘defining modern disorder’ that discourages citizens from sacrificing themselves for the State. The idea of nihilism had been laid out by Heidegger and Nietzsche, and led to the path taken by Nazi Germany. It was elaborated by their disciple, Carl Schmitt, who was none other than Leo Strauss’s friend and mentor.
The ‘Chicago School’, as it is widely known, is presented as being concerned strictly with economics, it’s best-known representative being Milton Friedman. In fact, it has been a major player in the development of the overall Neo-Conservative philosophy. From here I will simply cut and paste a slighted edited version of Crooke’s analysis of Neo-Conservatism’s philosophical background as it appears starting on page 248 of “RESISTANCE”:
The Chicago School and the Essence of Power
Carl Schmitt was born the son of a small businessman in Westphalia in 1888. He studied law in Berlin, Munich and Strasbourg and became Professor of Law at Berlin University. He joined the Nazi party, and with Hermann Goring’s assistance, was appointed Chief Jurist. His legal arguments for dictatorship were seen to justify the ‘Fuhrer’ state.” (Here is the precursor of the Unitary Presidency!) “Schmitt presented himself as anti-Semitic; but despite his expressed views, the Nazis did not trust him: he was denounced as an opportunist and Catholic pretender. He lost his position as Chief Jurist, but retained his professorship. After the war and a period of internment he continued to exercise wide influence – receiving a continuous flow of visitors seeking out his ideas on the failings of liberalism and its incompatibility with democracy.
It was through (Schmitt’s) critique of liberalism, and his redefinition of the nature of power and politics, that Strauss’ ideas had their influence: Schmitt and Leo Strauss were life-long friends. Schmitt supported Strauss for a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship, and Strauss remained an ardent admirer and scholar, who taught his works – many of which were translated and published by Chicago University Press and circulated among Strauss’s so-called ‘Chicago School’ followers.6 It was only in one important respect that their paths had diverged: Strauss, a Jew, left Germany for the US; and Schmitt, a devout Catholic, joined the Nazi party in 1933.
Schmitt’s Political Theology, published in 1922, derived its title from his assertion that all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are no more than secularized ideas originating from religious themes, an argument we too have made in earlier chapters. In other words, Schmitt argued that political theory traditionally has looked at the state and sovereignty through the same prism that theology views God – that is from ethical principles.
From this starting point evolved his Concept of the Political, published in 1932, in which he argued that this approach had been misconceived: politics was totally different from theology. Moral philosophers and theologians may be preoccupied with justice and equity, but politics has nothing to do with making the world fairer or more just – that is the task of moralists and theologians. Politics for Schmitt concerns power and survival, and nothing more.
Distinguished from the jostling of party politics, the ‘true’ political represents the essence of power – it is power’s identity. While churches are predominant in religion, or society is predominant in economics, the state is predominant in politics.
It was an attempt to define exactly what politics is: the political is the most intense and extreme antagonism, Schmitt wrote. War is the most violent form that politics takes, but even short of war, politics still requires that you treat your opposition as antagonist to everything in which you believe. It’s not personal, you do not have to hate him, but you have to be prepared to destroy him if necessary. Schmitt challenged liberals to admit that politics was literally a ‘matter of life and death’.
Here we have a clear explanation for what Washington’s consistent policy of designating every country that does not toe its line as ‘enemy’, its regime to be ‘changed’. Indeed, according to Crooke:
“This distinction had to be taken to the limit, to the point of life or death, which is to say that the enemy is whom-soever is, in an especially intense way, something different and alien. Such an enemy need not even be of a different nationality: as long as the conflict is potentially intense enough to become a violent one between political entities, the actual substance of enmity may be anything.
This deliberate dichotomy between power and moral or theological objectives reflected Schmitt’s belief that libera-lism’s basis in human rights and a preoccupation with self cannot provide a reasonable justification for sacrificing oneself for the state – in other words, the Vietnam protesters were acting exactly as Schmitt would have expected in the circumstances.”
While Crooke is referring to events of half a century ago, his description of Schmitt’s philosophy, so influential in the American university that has been the incubator of neo-conservatism, also illuminates what is going on today in Ukraine: the Right Sector which idolizes Stepan Bandera, who fought with the Nazis, appears as a bunch of thugs, but the are what Carl Schmitt’s philosophy calls for: nationalist fanatics who will not hesitate to sacrifice themselves for the state as they cut down its enemies.
At best we can surmise that the new Ukrainian government under-estimated its ability to manipulate its ultra-right friends. But I’m inclined to believe that the decision to use these people could only be taken by politicians who share their basic philosophy. Israel’s support for the putsch in Kiev shows that the new fascism differs only from the old one in not being anti-Semitic. And Yarosh and his buddies don’t need to know that to be useful.
The fact that they are ‘tolerated’ by Washington doesn’t mean that Obama doesn’t know what is going on. Nor is their unconditional demand for arms an aberration; it flows from their philosophy, which was first outlined by University of Chicago (sic) Professor Leo Strauss’s friend and mentor, Carl Schmitt.
On February 4th, Time wrote in an interview of Dmitro Yarosh, leader of Right Sector:
“For the past two decades, he has been waiting and preparing for the start of the “national revolution,” and now that he finds himself at the head of its armed division, he does not seem ready to let it pass peacefully away, at least not on anyone else’s terms. “People have gotten in touch with us from around the country, saying, ‘Guys, don’t let us down. Take us to victory, to independence, if the other leaders are incapable of that,’” Yarosh says. “So if the time has come for an active struggle, I am ready to carry it to the end. I am not afraid of that responsibility. I see no reason to hide my face.”
We know Washington didn’t lift a finger to save Yanukovich. But if has to save the new government from its armed Neo-Nazi allies, that could lead to full-blown war, as Professor Stephen Cohen said this morning a propos the situation in Crimea on ‘Meet the Press’.
Picture from Sara licensed under Creative Commons