I was a teenaged Straussian

No, not really. But when I was a freshman in college in 1975, the Poli Sci 101 course that I took was Straussian and neo-conservative to its core. Kenyon College’s political science department was (and still was three years ago, as this story in the conservative journal Human Events confirms) an “oasis” of Straussian and conservative theory. One of the things they taught us was that all political and philosophical texts (including foundational American documents) have esoteric dimensions that were deliberately hidden from unsophisticated readers–Allen Bloom’s annotated translation of Plato’s Republic, for example, purported to reveal a host of hidden meanings.

As it happens, hermeneutics is a prototypically Jewish practice. Kabbalists recognize four levels of meaning in Biblical texts–Pashat (simple), a text’s literal surface; Remez (hints), suggestions (mostly through paradoxes and double-meanings) that something lies deeper; Drash (search), allegorical, symbolic, or analogic interpretations; and finally Sod (hidden), the deepest, most mystical level of meaning. The Masons borrowed the idea of exoteric and esoteric texts from Kabbalah; needless to say, Conspiracy Theorists are as suspicious of Masons as they are of Jews.

A number of the architects of the Iraq war turned out to be students (or students of students) of Leo Strauss. Many of them (not all of them, but enough that it was noticeable) were Jewish. Leftists rightfully attacked them for the disastrous consequences of their militarism, but it was impossible not to hear at least a hint of Anti-Semitism in some of their denunciations. Extreme rightists were less circumspect. But how could they not be? I mean, the whole phenomenon was an Anti-Semite’s dream. Here was a real-life, flesh-and-blood cabal of influential Jews, academically trained in the art of dissimulation and coded discourse, enacting what seemed to be a well-thought-out, long-held plan to hijack American foreign policy. It could have been ripped right out of the pages of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion:

the art of directing masses and individuals by means of cleverly manipulated theory and verbiage, by regulations of life in common and all sorts of other quirks, in all which the GOYIM understand nothing, belongs likewise to the specialists of our administrative brain. Reared on analysis, observation, on delicacies of fine calculation, in this species of skill we have no rivals, any more than we have either in the drawing up of plans of political actions and solidarity. In this respect the Jesuits alone might have compared with us, but we have contrived to discredit them in the eyes of the unthinking mob as an overt organization, while we ourselves all the while have kept our secret organization in the shade.

I never drank the Straussian Kool Aid, but in some ways I feel like it was offered to me, and by teachers that I respected. Maybe that’s why I’m bothered by the left’s blanket demonization of Strauss. Strauss was a serious thinker–and you’d be hard put to find a justification for the Iraq War in any of his books or papers. Not that I deny that there’s a creepily culty quality to the ism that his name is attached to today, which never quite made it into the mainstream of American academia and suffered a major backlash in the radical ’60s and ’70s. Some of those guys–Perle? Wolfowitz? Feith? Libby?–must have had real chips on their shoulders. Anything that provides fodder to anti-Semites is unfortunate, but it’s hardly surprising that the most politically ambitious exponents of Straussianism would have found each other in Washington and formed a clique–College Republicans, Dartmouth Review editors, and students of Robert Bork do the same thing.

Infinite regression as a hallmark of Conspiracy Theory

Birther activist Orly Taitz was fired by her client Army Captain Connie Rhodes on Friday (Taitz had filed a request for an emergency stay against Rhodes’s deployment to Iraq on the grounds that the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces was not entitled to hold office). Rhodes wrote a letter to the judge in which she withdrew the request, denied that Taitz was authorized to speak for her, and stated her intention to file a complaint against her. Taitz’s response? There is a conspiracy against both her and her ex-client–the letter (like Obama’s birth certificate) is an obvious forgery. The signature looks funny and the Office Max it was sent from doesn’t do faxes. “It appears to be a concerted effort to quash all free speech, particularly any legal challenges to Obama’s legitimacy,” Taitz says.

See TPM Muckraker for more.

More 9/11 Truth debunking

Interesting post featuring useful commentary from Noam Chomsky. Clearly his background in science has better qualified him to weigh evidence than leftists like Michael Lerner, Howard Zinn, Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, and Van Jones, whose ill-considered and in some cases hastily-retracted expressions of support for the 9/11 Truth cause have only served to distract attention from the real issues. Al Qaeda brought down the buildings and the planes. But our government has much else to answer for.

Jewish Organ Harvesting

The JTA recently reported a ghoulish new conspiracy theory about Israelis kidnapping Algerian children and selling their organs to Americans. “This is a new variation of the ancient blood libel,” said Abraham Foxman of the ADL. A few weeks ago The New York Times’s Freakanomics blog (hope this link isn’t firewalled to non-subscribers) debunked a story that originated in Sweden about Israeli soldiers harvesting Palestinians’ organs.

If they’re going to be successfully transplanted, organs need to be carefully matched to their recipients and kept fresh while they’re being rushed to where they’re needed–it’s highly unlikely that soldiers in the field would be able to maintain necessary medical standards. The story would seem preposterous if it weren’t for the fact that Levi Rosenbaum, a real American rabbi with undisputed connections to Israel, was just arrested for trafficking organs for obscene profits. Nevetheless, all his arrest proves is that individual Israelis and individual American Jews have been accused of committing particular crimes. Even if they’re proven guilty, it’s still just a loathsome criminal enterprise cooked up by some Jews, which is not at all the same thing as a Jewish Conspiracy. There are those (not me) who would say that Rosenbaum isn’t even so villainous, since an argument can be made on economic grounds that it’s more equitable and efficient to allow the marketplace to allocate as scarce and precious a resource as organs than to put sick people on waiting lists and hope that someone volunteers or dies in an accident. But a shondah is a shondah–I don’t think anyone could conclude that this is good for the Jews.

Bad reviews and the meaning of life

I suppose it could be worse…. I could be getting terrible reviews in the newspapers and raves from Amazon customers. If your Amazon reviews are too fulsome, potential book buyers think they’re written by ringers. But nobody would ever mistake this bunch for friends and family: “Pompous and dishonest…a waste of paper and ink,” reads one headline. “I did become angry over the fact that the author so bald-facedly was lying to his readers through his highly personal, subjective, half-assed assessments as to what was true and what was speculation,” another reviewer observes.

It seems that I am not just a pragmatist and a Polyanna but a quick buck artist, who cut-and-pasted CULTS, CONSPIRACIES, AND SECRET SOCIETIES off the Internet (everybody knows how disreputably pragmatic the stuff you find on the Internet is). I suppose I should be flattered that my prose inspires such passions, but what galls me is the accusation that “I see nothing odd going on.” I see nothing but odd things going on. Everything that I see confounds me–to me, the world is a fathomless mystery.

“A conspiracy,” wrote Don Delillo, “Is everything that ordinary life is not.” Though conspiracies happen around us all the time–businessmen are forever purchasing politicians and cheating their stockholders; greedy preachers prey on the prayerful; policemen collect protection money from drug dealers–they don’t suffice to explain anything more than their own existence, or to illustrate how corruptible human beings can be. Conspiracy Theorists, on the other hand, like some religious people, believe that they understand the hows and whys of most of the major trends in human affairs. They occur because a specific group of people with an identifiable agenda have orchestrated things so that they’ll play out exactly as they have. Empowered with that knowledge, they’ve broken out of the Matrix. The rest of us sheeple are stuck here for good.

I mentioned in an earlier post that one of my reviewers accuses me of believing that there are “no real secrets, or hidden cloaked sinister agendas out there floating through our present.” I take tremendous issue with that. I live in a world where children starve, governments carry out genocides, and global limited liability corporations rob, cheat, and poison with impunity. Bad things happen to good people and good people are often complicit in bad things; people lie and cheat all the time. But all of this is the stuff of ordinary life, which is messy and complicated, unpredictable and sad, but beautiful and endlessly interesting–and infinitely more inspiring than a computer game.