Monday, September 30, 2013

Leo Strauss, Executive Power and the Bush-Obama "regime," part 2

For the first part of this essay on "Segregation, Aggression and Executive Power: Leo Strauss and 'the boys,'” forthcoming in Sanford Levinson and Melissa Williams, ed., American Conservatism, see here. This part details the near miss on nuclear war over Cuba, and Strauss's, sadly, urging it on to Charles Percy (it is unclear whether he quite took in the consequences of this, though he seems, at the end of his "Restatement on Tyranny," to welcome it...) and the working of Robert Goldwin and others to create arbitrary (anti-Constitional, anti-democratic, anti-decent) executive power. Goldwin's account and distortion of John Locke on royal "prerogative" is especially striking from this point of view. For some reason, the program took the footnotes out of the article. I would be happy to correspond about these (h/t James Connelly).


4. Conquering Cuba and Nuclear War

Cropsey’s letter—written, of course, after the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy—dismissed Sen. Ted Kennedy as “the latest Kennedy” and exemplary of the “huge brood of mediocre aspirants the country will have to suffer, engendered by the unseemly fecundity of that family.” Strauss and his students hated President John F. Kennedy and the Kennedy administration. The theme of Strauss’s criticism is the weakness of the United States, its failure to exert itself as an empire to intimidate the Soviets. The debacle of the Bay of Pigs aggression and the Cuban missile crisis, which was an American defeat according to Strauss, led to this “unmanly” supineness.

In the 1990s, Robert McNamara, who had, of course, been Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense, would go to Cuba for meetings about the Cuban missile crisis with Castro and others. At that point, he discovered that the Soviets, unbeknownst to the United States Government, had nearly two hundred missiles with nuclear warheads on Cuban soil and, perhaps more important (and astoundingly) Soviet field commanders apparently had the authority to order their use. Had the US, as General Curtis Lemay and Strauss advocated, attacked Cuba, a nuclear war might well have occurred, wiping out at least the East Coast of the United States and, assuming an American response, a world-wide nuclear holocaust.
But though wary in writing to future Senator Percy about nuclear war, Strauss recognized the danger and wanted to risk it. In fact, in the “Restatement,” not easily accessible to Percy, he says optimistically that a return to the stone age would be preferable to the supposed decadence of the “last men” (those who fight for freedom, individuality and peace):

“The end of history would be most exhilarating but for the fact, according to Kojeve, that it is the participation in bloody political struggles as well as in real work or, generally expressed, the negating action which raises men above the brutes. The state through which man is said to become reasonably satisfied is, then, the state in which the basis of man’s humanity withers away, or in which man loses his humanity. It is the state of Nietzsche’s ‘last man’…

There will always be men [andres] who will revolt against a state which is destructive of humanity or in which there is no longer the possibility of noble action or of great deeds. They may be forced into a mere negation of the universal and homogeneous state, into a negation not enlightened by any positive goal, into a nihilistic negation. While perhaps doomed to failure, that nihilistic revolution may be the only action on behalf of man’s humanity, the only great and noble deed that is possible once the universal and homogeneous state has become inevitable. But no one can know whether it will succeed or fail. We still know too little about the workings of the universal and homogeneous state to say anything about where and when its corruption will start. What we do know is only that it will perish sooner or later (see Friedrich Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach). Someone may object that the successful revolt against the universal and homogeneous state could have no other effect than that the identical historical process that has led from the primitive horde to the final state will be repeated. But would such a repetition of the process – a new lease on life for man’s humanity – not be preferable to the indefinite continuation of the inhuman end? Do we not enjoy every spring although we know the cycle of the seasons, although we know that winter will come again? Warriors and workers of all countries, unite, while there is still time to prevent the coming of ‘the realm of freedom.’ Defend with might and main, if it needs to be defended, the ‘realm of necessity.’”

On February 12, 1963, Strauss suggested an analogy to Percy between the brutal Soviet conquest of rebellious Hungary in 1956 and U.S. “tit for tat” in Cuba. “Strength” means that the US should respond with the same brutality, using the same methods, as the Soviets. Strauss foolishly suggests that Kennedy shunned such confrontation merely for electoral purposes. He seems not to recognize that Kennedy managed to avoid nuclear war while forcing the Soviets to withdraw nuclear weapons from Cuba, a victory rather than a defeat for American policy, not to mention humankind. Finally, Strauss suggests, brutalizing Cuba would cement American domination in Europe, preventing General De Gaulle in France from suggesting that the US could not protect “European interests.”

Another of Strauss’s recommended policies, the Vietnam War would also damage this alliance, just as a further American invasion of Cuba would have. In Strauss’s formulation, one can hear the commanding tone of the would-be philosophical counselor, modeled on the Laws or Xenophon’s Hiero, instructing the political leader:
“Dear Mr. Percy

I believe that the following points have not been made, or at least have not been made with sufficient audibility: 1) To speak in the only language which Khrushchev understands, Cuba is our Hungary; just as we did not make the slightest move when he solved the problem in his back yard, Hungary, he cannot, and will not make the slightest move if and when we take care of the problem in our back yard, Cuba 2) the President has not succeeded in dispelling the impression that what moved him to a moment’s action, after which he relapsed into the old inactivity, was not a belated understanding of the true situation but the fear to lose elections. 3) We surely give de Gaulle a wonderful excuse (if it is not more than an excuse but a cause); he can justly say, how can a country be trusted to defend the legitimate European interests if it does not defend its own legitimate interests?

The meetings of the PACC [the Public Affairs Council at Chicago] dealing with foreign affairs convinced me perfectly that the President has surrounded himself with advisors who are completed deluded about the character of the Communist menace. This experience contributed very much toward forming my view about the present administration.

One word about the last meeting of the PACC. I thought it was without question the best we ever had. We all must be very thankful to Mr. Goldwin...

Strauss also uses the Public Affairs Conference, with attention to future conferences, to suggest a broad reactionary – anti-President Kennedy, pro-States Rights and segregation, pro-Imperial – policy to Percy. Like the Athenian stranger, he was using his own arguments and the voices of others to try to shape policy. Strauss warns repeatedly against making unreciprocated concessions to the Soviets over Berlin and East Germany. Mirroring his own wishes for the United States, he suggests that the Soviet Union is limitlessly expansionary. Only with a reversal of Communism in fact – a willingness, as he defines it for Percy, to accept the existence of “the free world” – would stability be possible. Until then Strauss recommended, in a memorandum directed to Percy, the policy of aggression:

“To Charles H. Percy

The major premise of American foreign policy must be: no strengthening of the USSR at the expense of the USA. But concessions regarding Berlin and East Germany push Germany toward the USSR and therefore strengthen the USSR. The conclusion: unless concessions in this respect are accompanied by equally great concessions on the part of the USSR, there must not be the concessions now contemplated. Since it is patent that no acceptable concessions on the part of the USSR are in sight, there must be no concessions on our part.

Yet, some people argue, the concessions regarding Berlin and East Germany correspond to the legitimate demand of Russia. They are its only demands, its last demands; thereafter there will be genuine peace. But this argument presupposes that Russia has ceased to be Communist – which is nonsense. There cannot be genuine peace with Communism.

The opponents continue to argue as followers: if we do not seek genuine peace, then we heighten the danger of thermonuclear war, which confronts us with the alternative of annihilation or surrender. Without genuine peace, we must face this alternative.” (emphasis added).

There is a profound cleavage of opinion in this country as to which of the two alternatives is preferable. The issue will be settled not in journals by the people who call themselves and are called by others ‘the intellectuals,’ but, as is meet in a democracy, ultimately by the majority vote of the people at large. If this issue is brought before the American people, I believe the large majority will be opposed to surrender – if for no other reason than for this : because the speakers against surrender will be more trusted by the American people than the speakers for surrender. To make this point quite clear, further considerable setbacks for the United States (super-Cubas) will bring about an anti-‘intellectual’ reaction compared with which ‘McCarthyism’ will look like child’s play. We must start from the premise that the American people, as a strong, virile, and free people will prefer to perish rather than to surrender. (emphasis added)

As in the end of the “Restatement” in On Tyranny, Strauss thought modern
Americans were exemplars of the last men. “Virile” here refers to those who seek
destruction - and self-destruction. Strauss was hoping for “resistance” even at the
risk of nuclear war.

5. A Reduction of Locke to “Prerogative” or “Commander in Chief Power”

It is hard to overestimate the importance, with regard to understanding central aspects of Leo Strauss’s politics, of a May 1933 letter to Karl Loewith:
Just because the German Right will not tolerate us does not mean that there is anything wrong with the principles of the Right. On the contrary only those principles – fascist, authoritarian, imperial – and not the laughable and childish imprescriptible rights of man is the only basis on which to oppose the meskine Unwesen [on a very rightwing interpretation of Nietzsche, the grubby Jewish reality of the last men].

Even if it were certainly true that Strauss could have had no knowledge of what the “fascist, authoritarian, and imperial” policies of the recently empowered Adolf Hitler would lead to, 1933 is, equally certainly, late enough to wonder about the intellectual judgment of anyone who would find “laughable and childish” those who posited notions of “rights of man” against the grandiose visions of conquest and ethnic cleansing of the Nazis and their advocates like Schmitt or Martin Heidegger (in fact, Strauss was an acolyte of Heidegger all the way through ). In Natural Right and History, Strauss’s dismissiveness toward Locke set the stage for followers, particularly Robert Goldwin, disparaging the rights of each individual and elevating, in their place, executive – even tyrannical – power.

Goldwin’s chapter in Strauss and Cropsey’s History of Political Philosophy subtly distorts Locke as overemphasizing the “prerogative” of an authoritarian executive, compared for example, to Locke’s fierce passages on revolution against a tyrant who like “any lyon or tiger” in a state of nature may be struck down. Goldwin’s correction reformulates Locke for impact on the American Presidency. This crafting of their common message coupled with Goldwin’s role as confidante – “philosopher-statesman” or “one man think-tank” – in Republican politics has had a profound public impact.

Goldwin had written a thesis on Locke under Strauss’s direction. In Goldwin’s essay, one can hear Strauss’s “Platonic” emphasis on the best man who rules without laws, but as Simonides in Xenophon’s Hiero insists, “beneficially.” Putatively, action for the public good as opposed to obeying a wooden, “inflexible” rule of law makes such an executive “godlike.” In paragraph 160 of the Second Treatise of Government, Locke defines the idea of “prerogative.” As Goldwin’s “John Locke” in Strauss and Cropsey’s History of Political Philosophy comments, “The executive may act not only without the sanction of law, he may also make the laws ‘give way’ (par. 159) to his power where blind adherence to them would be harmful, and he may even go so far as to act contrary to the law for the public good.” He then invokes Locke’s formulation: `This power to act according to discretion for the public good, without the prescription of law and sometimes against it, is that which is called ‘prerogative’ (par 160).” Locke’s way of putting it emphasizes the idea of a common good: “prerogative is nothing but the power of doing public good without a rule.” (par 165)

Goldwin’s interpretation shades toward arbitrary executive power. The term “prerogative” is a bridge between the word “authoritarian” in Strauss’s 1933 letter to Loewith and the almost unlimited “Commander in Chief Power” that characterized especially the first term of the Bush-Cheney Administration, when torture became near standard operating procedure of what was labeled the “Global War on Terror.” In fact, Goldwin brought this idiom to the White House, echoed in Saturday afternoon luncheon seminars for President Ford by Harvey Mansfield Jr., almost certainly the most exuberant devotee of the supposed necessity of an “untamed prince” as part of the conception of the President.

Goldwin found a receptive audience in President Gerald Ford and his advisors, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Chief of Staff Cheney, for an almost obsessive concern with restoring the powers of the Presidency that had been weakened in the aftermath of Richard Nixon’s mendacity regarding the Vietnam War and, of course, Watergate. As Ford insisted, “I was absolutely dedicated to doing whatever I could to restore the rightful prerogatives of the Presidency under the constitutional system.” As both Goldwin and Mansfield wrote, though, “prerogative” has, at best, an orthogonal relationship to what we usually regard as “the constitutional system,” at least if we regard it as establishing genuine constraints that operate upon all public officials.
Ford and his aides sought to restore “prerogative” against Watergate; with “Commander in Chief power,” “unitary executive” and “lawfare,” this idea has now become enmity to law under the Bush administration and is achieving bipartisan consolidation in Obama’s odious notion of “state secrets.”

Following Strauss, Goldwin admired philosopher-kings. He knew that such “wise princes” were above the law, that they were philosopher-tyrants. Goldwin’s chapter repeatedly adverts to this idea as a background. He summons this supposed “teaching” of Plato” and Strauss as a quasi-esoteric theme. Modelling Socrates’s action in the Apology and Crito as well as the Republic, one might of course take the idea of philosopher-kingship as leadership in a democracy to defend philosophy as one small city in the “city of cities” which the Athenian democracy was.
Yet invoking Locke’s account, Goldwin also insists:
The danger inherent in the executive’s prerogative is no less obvious than the necessity for it. The prerogative has always grown most extensively in the reigns of the best princes. The people trust a good and wise prince even while he acts beyond the limits of the law, not fearing for their safety because they see that his purpose is to further their good.

One can imagine Ford Chiefs of Staff Cheney and Rumsfeld perking up their ears at this “philosophical” message from their “special assistant” and “confidante.” Goldwin stresses Locke’s idiom about a kind of monarch as the best ruler, “as God himself” or sharing in his “wisdom and goodness.” Esoterically, it is but a short way from this divine wisdom to a tyrant advised by a wise man (Xenophon’s Simonides in the Hiero and in Strauss’s On Tyranny). Exaggerating Locke’s words, Goldwin’s essay draws a metaphorical connection:

Such godlike princes, indeed, had some title to arbitrary power by the argument that would prove absolute monarchy the best government, as that which God himself governs the universe by, because such kings partake of his wisdom and goodness (par. 166)

A few pages later, Goldwin reiterates this theme. He again conjures a prince who like God exercises prerogative.

There are two places in the Second Treatise where Locke speaks of `godlike’ princes. In one he speaks of the princes who are allowed the largest prerogative, who have the greatest freedom from the control of the laws. They are like God, who governs the universe as an absolute monarch, because they ‘partake of his wisdom and goodness.’ (par. 166)

For Goldwin, one might imagine, this is an esoteric emphasis in Locke; like Xenephon and “Mr. Strauss,” he is an advocate of philosopher-tyranny.

Yet in a contradiction, Goldwin also invokes Locke’s image of a prince who rules “by established laws of liberty” and furthers increased production from the land through labor:

But in the earlier passage, the prince is said to be wise and godlike who rules ‘by established laws of liberty.’ Such a prince is like God as Creator, for established laws of liberty are the means of bringing about ‘the increase of the lands,’ which is a kind of creation, as we have seen, although not a creation out of nothing. This increase is not only the cause of domestic prosperity but also the source of the power to protect the society against the hostile attacks of other societies. The godlike prince whose law-abidingness brings increase ‘will quickly be too hard for his neighbors’ (par. 42).

Locke argues for a lawless executive who still “serves the people” or a “public good.” But his defense of a law-adhering leader is part of his core argument on accumulation of property, the lawless executive an error or a rare case, one also limited by the right of revolution. Ironically, Goldwin juxtaposes these opposed arguments as if he notices the contradiction; yet he does not acknowledge, let alone think about it. He follows the master in a scholarly adherence to the surface (or perhaps pointing to a familiar, for Straussians, esoteric meaning) of a text without philosophical analysis.

If Strauss promises cryptography, Goldwin, however, sticks more closely to seeming description. In effect, Goldwin opts for the side of tyranny and downplays Locke’s core argument. In his peroration, Goldwin recurs pregnantly to the theme of a philosopher-king: “John Locke has been called America’s philosopher, our king in the only way a philosopher has ever been king of a great nation.” Esoterically, Goldwin speaks, however, as the student of another “philosopher,” Leo Strauss, whose interpretation of Locke would now be brought to bear in the Ford and Reagan administrations through Goldwin directly, through civil service (Shulsky) or political (Wolfowitz) appointments, the colonizing of rightwing foundations (Goldwin’s long tenure at the American Enterprise Institute) and matriculation into subsequent reactionary administrations, culminating in the sustained attack on the rule of law of George W. Bush.

Consider in this context an essay by Harvey Mansfield defending extraordinary surveillance by the Bush Administration. Mansfield is often regarded as the leading Straussian of his generation, though he was not in fact a direct student of Strauss, having received his doctorate at Harvard. His importance as an “American conservative” comes not only from the quality of his scholarship, but also from his willingness to take part in direct political argument, sometimes in the pages of the Wall Street Journal or Weekly Standard, both central organs of “American conservatism” (they are often authoritarian, and not conservative, however). Thus in January 2006 Mansfield published an essay in the Weekly Standard under the breezy title “The Law and the President: In a national emergency, who you gonna call?” The answer, not surprisingly, is the latter, and it is worth quoting Mansfield at some length:

One can begin from the fact that the American Constitution made the first republic with a strong executive. A strong executive is one that is not confined to executing the laws but has extra-legal powers such as commanding the military, making treaties (and carrying on foreign policy), and pardoning the convicted, not to mention a veto of legislation. To confirm the extra-legal character of the presidency, the Constitution has him take an oath not to execute the laws but to execute the office of president, which is larger.
Mansfied here asserts that legal powers, that of being commander in chief, making treaties, offering pardon or even the veto, is somehow extralegal. It is not. In any case what is extralegal is not illegal, i.e. torture. He illicitly links all three, without offering an argument.

Thus it is wrong to accuse President Bush of acting illegally in the surveillance of possible enemies, as if that were a crime and legality is all that matters. This is simplistic, small-r republican thinking of the kind that our Constitution surpassed when it constructed a strong executive. The Constitution took seriously a difficulty in the rule of law that the republican tradition before 1787 had slighted. The difficulty is obvious enough, but republicans tend to overlook it or minimize it because they believe, as republicans, that power is safer in the hands of many than in those of one or a few. Power is more surely in the hands of many when exercised in the form of law--"standing rules," as opposed to arbitrary decree. Republics tend to believe in the rule of law and hence to favor legislative power over executive.

Yet the rule of law is not enough to run a government. Any set of standing rules is liable to encounter an emergency requiring an exception from the rule or an improvised response when no rule exists. In Machiavelli's terms, ordinary power needs to be supplemented or corrected by the extraordinary power of a prince, using wise discretion. "Necessity knows no law" is a maxim everyone admits, and takes advantage of, when in need. Small-r republicans especially are reluctant to accept it because they see that wise discretion opens the door to unwise discretion. But there is no way to draw a line between the wise and the unwise without making a law (or something like it) and thus returning to the inflexibility of the rule of law. We need both the rule of law and the power to escape it--and that twofold need is just what the Constitution provides for.

Here is the doctine of Carl Schmitt – “he is sovereign who makes the decision in the
state of the exception” via Strauss - pawned off as a) the wisdom of the American
consitution (something both Schmitt and Strauss disliked and disparaged) and b) as a
cliché “Necessity knows no law,” “a maxim everyone admits.” Even Mansfield’s words “an
emergency requiring an exception from the rule [of law]” are self-consciously redolent of
Schmitt. Note that any criminality can be justified in the name of this breezy elision of
things sometimes only allegedly “extralegal.”

Similarly, Walter Berns, unequivocally one of Strauss’s “boys,” published a piece in the
Wall Street Journal on May 23, 2009, with the frank title “Interrogations and
Presidential Prerogative: The Founders created an executive with substantial
discretionary powers.” Though this piece appeared in the early days of the Obama
Administration—and one might wonder if Berns is gratified by the extent to which Obama
has proved more than willing to accept the notion of “an executive with substantial
discretionary powers”—it was clearly motivated by the discussion of whether those who had
been part of the Bush Administration’s torture apparatus should be subject to punishment.
Berns’s answer—and, it turned out, Obama’s as well—was no. Berns relied, like Goldwin,
on Locke:

But Locke admitted that not everything can be done by law. Or, as he said, there are many things "which the law can by no means provide for." The law cannot "foresee" events, for example, nor can it act with dispatch or with the appropriate subtlety required when dealing with foreign powers. Nor, as we know very well indeed, can a legislative body preserve secrecy.

Such matters, Locke continued in the Second Treatise, should be left to "the discretion of him who has the executive power." It is in this context that he first spoke of the "prerogative": the "power to act according to discretion, for the public good without the prescription of the law, and sometimes even against it." He concluded by saying "prerogative is nothing but the power of doing public good without a rule"

The executive in our case, at least to begin with, is represented by the three Justice Department officials who wrote the memos that Mr. Graham [Senator Bob Graham of Florida] and many members of the Obama administration have found offensive. They have been accused of justifying torture, but they have not yet been given the opportunity in an official setting or forum to defend what they did.

That forum could be a committee of Congress or a ‘truth commission’ -- so long as, in addition to the assistance of counsel, they would be judged by ‘an impartial jury,’ have the right to call witnesses in their favor, to call for the release of evidence including the CIA memos showing the success of enhanced interrogations, and the right to ‘confront the witnesses’ against them as the Constitution's Fifth and Sixth Amendments provide. There is much to be said for a process that, among other things, would require Nancy Pelosi to testify under oath. (emphasis added).

To put it mildly, no widely accepted evidence has emerged that “enhanced
interrogation” was in fact “effective” and, therefore, even under the crudest form of
utilitarianism, “justified.” Berns is also far more concerned with the
plight of Administration officials accused of complicity in torture than he is with the
fate of those subjected to medieval brutalities. For him, what might be termed
“patriotic motivation” seems to be the most important thing. His comments track an
earlier 1986 essay, written for a book edited by Benjamin Netenyahu, and entitled
"Constitutional Power and the Defense of Free Government." Berns begins by quoting
James Madison's comment to Jefferson: "It is a melancholy reflection that liberty should
be equally exposed to danger whether the government have too much or too little power."

"But," Berns goes on to ask,

how much power is too much? . . . [T]he Constitution does not answer that question. Too much power is beyond what is necessary, and it is not given to writers of constitutions to foresee what may be necessary. The ends (or purposes) of government are foreseeable and capable of being stated explicitly--a more perfect union, justice, domestic tranquillity, the common defense--but the means of promoting those ends . . . cannot be foreseen.....

The body of the Constitution begins by defining the legislative power, which is to be expected in a document so strongly influenced by the political philosophy of John Locke.. . The legislative, Locke says, is the "supreme power." .... [The Founders] proceeded, however, to establish an executive whose powers, unlike in a parliamentary system, come not from the legislature but from the people.

By making the executive independent, the Founders acknowledged that, however desirable in principle, in practice not all things that government may have to do to advance the public good can be done by law or formulated in law. I hesitate to say this when I lack the space to say it properly, but under our written Constitution, the law is not supreme. Above the law, and the lawmaking body, are the people of the United States, whose will is expressed in the written Constitution. The supremacy of the people over the law is apparent in the first sentence of Article I: "All legislative powers herein granted," thereby indicating that certain legislative powers are not granted. But compare this with the first sentence of Article II: "The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America." There is no suggestion here that any part of the executive power is being withheld. And if John Locke was their guide here, as he was elsewhere, the executive power includes the prerogative, "the power to act according to discretion for the public good, without the prescription of law and sometimes even against it." How great those powers are was demonstrated by Lincoln, in my judgment the greatest of American Presidents.

Like Mansfield, Berns elides executive discretion and rampant criminality. The need to
justify torture as a common good is alluded to – the CIA’s nonexistent evidence he
fanstasizes must be revealed – but he is expessing a sad preference, not even making an
argument, let alone, basing one on facts.

Further, Berns does not see in Lincoln the opponent of a war of aggrandizement with
Mexico as well as the extension of bondage into the border states. He sees him instead
as the employer of emergency powers, violating habeas corpus. Save for a brief mention
of the Emancipation Proclamation, Berns’ distortion of Lincoln parallels Goldwin’s of

Lincoln fought a war that was never declared; without congressional authorization, he called for volunteers to fight that war; he established a naval blockade of ports from Texas to Virginia; he suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus; he put enemy sympathizers in army jails without trial and ignored a demand of the Chief Justice to free them; most important, he used his power as commander in chief to free the slaves, something not even Congress was authorized to do....

....Beyond the obvious fact that we are not involved in a civil war, or formally in any other kind of war, what distinguishes [the contemporary struggle against terrorism] from Lincoln's? Not a lack of constitutional power: the powers are there when they are needed; the Founders saw to that, and they also authorized the President to decide when they were needed.....

Lincoln spoke powerfully of the blessings of liberty and asked his fellow citizens to make sacrifices for it....

There can be no doubt that Berns is fully “American” inasmuch as, like many compatriots,
he is obsessed with Madison and then that most complex of all Presidents, Abraham
Lincoln. The message is that vindication of the Union required doing whatever was
thought to be “necessary” to maintain it. And he offers this foolish nostrum for the
purpose of making the face of America that of waterboarding. It is hard for people who
remember the Vietnam War not to hear overtones of “destroying a village in order to save

Strauss’s acolytes have therefore done their part to bring into the highest levels of
American politics a perspective – anti-Constitutional, against individual rights, leader-
worshipping and endlessly war-making—that is similar to his own attraction, in 1933, to
the merits of politics that are “fascist, authoritarian, imperial.” But, quite
obviously, the truly “American conservative” Straussians, like Goldwin and Berns,
translated these ideas into an American, quasi-Lockean, pseudo-Constitutional idiom.
(What is interesting about Mansfield’s essay is that he evokes the authority of
Machiavelli instead of the comparatively anodyne Locke.) The political Straussians—the
“boys”—were remarkably successful in making Leo Strauss America’s philosopher and
achieved, in George W. Bush (or Dick Cheney), their wish as to what well-tutored leaders
might look like.

Goldwin’s final sentence reads: “We, therefore, more than many other peoples in the
world, have the duty and experience to judge the rightness of [Locke’s] teaching,” that
is, the teaching about the necessity of claiming prerogative powers. Perhaps
paradoxically, the revulsion against Bush and his extreme invocations of executive power
was led by, among others, conservative libertarians like Richard Epstein who drew from
Locke a distinctly different teaching based on the importance of individual rights and
suspicions of overreaching government.

Goldwin was no fool. Like Farabi, he added a Platonic caveat to this account. Although
the rule of the best prince and of a mere tyrant are alike in their lawlessness, the
latter is only a pathetic imitator of the former. Yet following Locke, Goldwin also
notes that even a good ruler smooths the way for an abusive successor:

But even godlike princes have successors, and there is no assurance that one of them,
claiming the precedent, will not make use of the enlarged prerogative to further his own
private interests at the peril of the people’s property and safety. ‘Upon this is
founded that saying that the reigns of good princes have been always most dangerous to
the liberties of their people.’ (par. 166)

Goldwin played a powerful role in the rise of the modern Republican party, as
Rumsfeld said in his eulogy. Rumsfeld even sent Goldwin into the disaster in Iraq as a
trusted advisor. There is, alas, no reason to believe that Goldwin found in Bush,
Rumsfeld, Cheney and others the dangers he himself warned against. Perhaps he would
reply that these men were not using their prerogative powers in order “to further [their]
own private interests,” that they were always motivated by protecting American national
security. Even if one grants, for sake of argument, the premise, one might still believe
that Goldwin and some of the other ‘boys” ended up as apologists for tyranny. “American
conservatism” deserved better.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Leo Strauss, executive power and the Bush-Obama "regime," part 1

I have been working for many years on the aetiology of commander in chief power in American politics, and in particular, the influence of pro-Nazi lawyers and philosophers, Carl Schmitt and Martin Heidegger, via Leo Strauss (an acolyte of Heidegger’s) on the neo-cons. The vehicle for this was especially Robert Goldwin, Strauss’s confidante – and a man operating behind the scenes. Most Americans have not heard of Bob Goldwin. Goldwin was eulogized, however, by Donald Rumsfeld as a “one man think-tank who transformed the Republican party” particularly on executive power - and through Goldwin (Rumsfeld's "special confidante" in Goldwin's words), President Gerald Ford and chief of staff Dick Cheney. Many political Straussians - those who seek reactionary public influence - have echoed Goldwin’s thought. Michael Malbin and Gary Schmitt, students of Herbert Storing and Walter Berns (the latter were students of Strauss), were also influential in the Iran-Contra minority report for Congressman Richard Cheney – Malbin wrote it; they, too, assert the necessity of so-called commander in chief power to undergird Reagan’s illegalities. Gary Schmitt and Bill Kristol were to become two of the three principals of the Project for a New American Century which gave America the aggression in Iraq. And Kristol, who in the Weekly Standard, now dottily hopes Netanyahu will bomb Iran and "save the West," drones on...See here.


Sandy Levinson at University of Texas Law School is editing (with Melissa Williams of Toronto) a book on American Conservatism for Nomos – the American Society for Legal and Political Philosophy in which this article will appear (2014 forthcoming). I would like to thank him for particularly helpful editing. The participants in the two conferences on this theme have been hard pressed to identify a distinctively American conservative view and to figure out who counts. Is Strauss, a European authoritarian, an "American" “conservative”?

As the first non-Straussian admitted to the Strauss archive in Regenstein in 2008, I discovered much striking correspondance which shows how Strauss and Goldwin networked for segregation against Brown v. Board, for taking out Cuba after the Cuban missile crisis (the likely result would have been nuclear war and extinction) and strengthening “prerogative” or arbitrary executive power.

These policies crystallized in the torture and aggression of the Bush-Cheney administration; Bill Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz, Straussians of a sort, are obvious among the neocons. But in this paper, the focus extends to Walter Berns and Harvey Mansfield, original Straussians (Berns a student, Mansfield a close follower) who loudly defended executive crimes, torture and aggression in the Wall Street Journal and The Weekly Standard.

Further, the “preemption” in Iraq is the forerunner of Obama’s dream (perhaps nightmare...) of solo “humanitarian intervention” in Syria. Even the American Congress – divided 10 – 7 - even in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, could not get behind this use of American force. Popular pressure is fiercely against the war (running 9 to 1 against in most Congressional districts). But why is Obama’s and Kerry’s account so unpersuasive? After all, no one likes chemical weapons and they are outlawed.


Perhaps one might note because America has fought so many long-lasting and morally bankrupt aggressions - strengthening Iran, its supposed enemy. But the last shift of a scoundrel, fortunately abandoned by Obama, is to invoke "commander in chief power." This paper spells out how this tyrannical, self-destructive, and isolating - internationally and domestically - doctrine had been taken up not only by Bush, but by Obama. There is now, however, a chance, with Russia, Iran and Syria to move in a different direction now. Ordinary people have been pressing for this from below.

The establishment is divided but still mainly and sickeningly wants to assert America’s power, as the supposed “good guys” to intervene anywhere in the world. Ask who wants American power asserted in this way – do the British people who stopped Cameron from intervening? Do we Amerians, Barack, support you and Samantha Power in trying to right the world’s wrongs by a force which often has other purposes (even Obama spoke too baldly yesterday about an alleged core "national interest" in stealing Middle East oil – "keeping the oil lanes open." This brief statement was far too near an explicit cause of the aggressions/preemption in Afghanistan and Iraq – an imperial one, the elephant, along with military bases, in the room – and one which does the US no honor. See here.


Obama also held out again yesterday at the United Nations for American exceptionalism (he ignored, once again, the military extinction of indigenous people on the Plains - the second Civil War lasting from 1862-1877 and possibly to the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890 - and the inheritance, down to the Tomahawk missiles of Indian names because there is, nonetheless, something admirable about those who resisted crass American intrusion and conquest. Of the Phillip Sheridans and John Evanses for whom boulevards and mountains and professorships are named, there is nothing decent to be said…. Obama ignored, once again, Vietnam and Iraq in which the Gulf Wars did no good and the second was a farce (as the courageous anti-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke said, it was as if FDR had responded to Pearl Harbor by attacking…Mexico) which resulted in Shia-led Iraq allying with Iran. Al-Maliki allows Iranian aid flights overhead to Syria, as Dexter Filkins of the Times reports today on "Fresh Air." The unforeseen consequences of belligerence are often startling - though, of course, this one could have been foreseen by all but Straussian-neo con fanatics...


Barack’s endorsing of an American exceptionalism except in the way of evil (the fight against slavery and the Nazis excepted) is surely unwise. The protest against military intervention in Syria seeks to make the country more democratic and decent than those who cry for “executive power” as an excuse for intervention everywhere (John McCain still hasn’t met an imperial aggression that he didn’t like…). The illusions of Samantha Power and Barack Obama that America is a force for good in the world through military – “humanitarian” - intervention have run up against fierce democratic - and after the debacle in Iraq - successful resistance.


But the political point here is to strip royal prerogative/commander in chief power of its inherited illegal quality. Presidential initiative should not be against the law. Prerogative should be exercised only in the gray areas, not to torture and murder. When Presidents have violated the law, including Lincoln about habeas corpus and FDR about putting Japanese-Americans in concentration camps - examples initially offered by Strauss's colleague, the Constitutional lawyer, Herman Pritchett and extended, via Straussians, into a neo-con mantra during the Bush era - their policies serve no public good. Similarly, the farce of Obama's claiming "not to know" about the illegality of murdering civilians, including American citizens, with drones in countries the US is not at war with – the crimes of aggression and killing of innocents - has now become a tall story about how "really, the US doesn’t kill civilians." This is because the "priestly" - Howard Koh's foolish phrase - John Brennan decided to count every male, even children walking in the vicinity of a suspected terrorist, as themselves "terrorists." But even this murderous counting can not "clean up" the carnage...

None of this alters the anger people rightly feel at those who send the drones….


Locke also knew that prerogative tended to feed tyrannical power which needed to be met by revolution – he is, nonetheless, too friendly to making the law “give way to secure a public good,” something very rare and in our era, not shown in tyrannical Presidential initiatives. Robert Goldwin, distorting Locke, and Goldwin’s successors do not.


The paper underlines a previously undiscovered aetiology of "commander in chief power"; there are hints of it, for instance in Harvey Mansfield, by those who celebrate Schmitt as an authoritarian. The issue of authoritarianism is a matter of principle which the Bush-Obama regimes of torture, aggression, and no investigation of officials for these crimes, state secrets, drones and spying on Americans all exhibit and whose infamous background needs to be widely understood. For in Schmitt, commander in chief power was once the power of Der Fuehrer or in the 1960s, of Franco. That it is still but a shadow of the latter authoritarians is hopeful. That it is even a shadow is dangerous.


Here are the first three sections of the essay which I will put up in two posts.

Segregation, Aggression and Executive Power: Leo Strauss and “the boys”

“Dick [Cheney] remembers Bob [Goldwin] from the Ford years, when he became a resident scholar at the White House. Bob had worked for Don Rumsfeld at NATO, and after Don became White House Chief of Staff, Bob organized a series of seminars for President Ford and the senior staff. He'd get together a small number of people, always including the president, and bring in a speaker to enlighten the group. Dick particularly remembers one Saturday when Bob put together a gathering up in the solarium on the top floor of the White House. The speaker that day was Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and he talked about his book Beyond the Melting Pot, in which he and Nathan Glazer wrote about the persistence of ethnicity in America and the consequences of it. Beyond the Melting Pot was a controversial book at the time. All these years later, we know it was very prescient.

Dick says that he does not recall in all his years in Washington events like the ones Bob organized. Bob didn’t advertise what he was doing and didn’t talk about it much in the years after, which was part of his essential modesty, part of what made him so admirable. We will miss him very much.”

- Lynne V. Cheney is a senior fellow at AEI. This tribute originally appeared on AEI's Enterprise Blog on January 13, 2010

“Few individuals had as much influence on the thinking of conservative American policy makers and yet were as little known to the public as Bob Goldwin. Bob was a man of sweeping, ambitious ideas, but personal modesty and quiet competence. He had the rare talent of asking the right questions at the right time, and gently nudging discussions toward the ‘eureka’ moment. Every conversation with Bob left you with a perspective you hadn’t considered before.

Bob and I had known each other since his days at the University of Chicago. In 1972, I lured away my friend from his position as dean of St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland to join me at NATO, where I served as U.S. ambassador. Two years later, I was called back to Washington to help the newly sworn-in President Gerald Ford, and one of the first people I recruited to the White House staff was Bob. Bob led seminars for President Ford in the White House solarium, bringing in some of the finest minds in America, not least his own, to discuss the toughest issues of the time.

Bob Goldwin was the Ford administration's one-man think tank, its intellectual compass, and bridge to a new conservatism--a conservatism that was unashamed to be conservative. He helped provide the intellectual underpinning that convinced many Republicans that they didn't have to apologize when they stood for lower taxes or suggested that our strategy against the Soviet Union ought not be placation.
The ideas he corralled and the causes he championed--from opposing the creation of a new international bureaucracy with the Law of the Seas Treaty in 1982 to offering wise counsel on a new Iraqi constitution as recently as 2003--were without match. Bob was a valuable counselor and a dear friend.

I considered myself one of his many students, and I know I will miss him. So too will America, but perhaps without fully realizing what is being missed.

- Donald Rumsfeld is the former secretary of defense. This tribute originally appeared on AEI's Enterprise Blog on January 15, 2010

“On another occasion Antiphon asked him [Socrates]: ‘How can you suppose that you make politicians of others, when you yourself avoid politics even if you understand them?’

‘How now, Antiphon,’ he retorted, ‘should I play a more important part in politics by engaging in them alone or by taking pains to turn out as many competent politicians as possible?” – Xenophon, Memorabilia

Nathan Tarcov insists that Strauss was apolitical, a man interested primarally in ancient texts and not in current problems. He is not alone in this assertion; Francis Fukuyama and Michael and Catherine Zuckert offer a similar argument. There is obviously some truth in this notion; Strauss did devote himself to scholarship, much of it quite esoteric and unlikely to be accessible to politicians or the punditry, and he did not invest himself directly in politics. Yet I think this portrait is incomplete; he was scarcely competely detached from contemporary politics, and one can certainly argue that he sought influence for his ideas, which have, after all, earned the label “Straussian.” Still, with regard to a discussion of “American conservatism,” the topic of this volume—and of what are now two conferences held five years apart—Strauss presents a difficult set of intellectual and conceptual issues. After all, he arrived in this country in 1937 as a quite fully formed scholar and intellectual; to put it mildly, he could not then be described as an “American thinker,” and some might argue, with justice, that he had an orthogonal relationship to “American” thought thereafter. Even with regard to “conservatism,” his was a distinctive variety, having little in common with some “standard” sources of American conservatism in Edmund Burke, misty-eyed Southern agrarianism (though we will see that he allied with its racism), or the teachings of Catholic natural law, however much, like partisans of all of these views, he made his reputation as a caustic critic of liberalism. But criticism of liberalism is obviously not enough to earn one’s stripes as a “conservative.” Not only could Marx or Nietzsche serve as exhibit A; one must recall that Hayek wrote a famous essay on why he was not a conservative.

Fortunately, for purposes of the limited space available to me in this volume, it is possible to avoid a full-scale analysis of Strauss by focusing instead on several of his students, including Robert Goldwin, the subject of the eulogies that preface this essay. Whatever Leo Strauss’s status as an exemplar of “American conservatism,” there can be no doubt that Goldwin—or Walter Berns and Harvey Mansfield, to name only two other prominent figures who will appear below—qualify both as “American” by any available criteria and, more to the point, as men of influence on a host of important political figures who would be proud to assert their own conservative credentials. To be sure, there are “Straussians” who are not so conservative (let alone influential). Still, any serious analysis of “American conservatism” over the past half century—and, perhaps, into the future—must contend with the fact that certain Straussians were indeed involved both in the conservative movement—think only of Allan Bloom’s manifesto against American culture and higher education—and in conservative politics.

As mention of Bloom suggests, one could write an extended essay on the role played by Strauss and Straussians in the educational culture wars of the past several decades. But in this essay, I want to emphasize other aspects of the Straussian corpus. The first involves a debate from quite long ago that, nonetheless, continues to have relevance for contemporary American politics; it focuses on the claim of the civil rights movement to full inclusion in American life and a concomitant use of national power to limit state autonomy committed to maintaining the exclusion associated with segregation. As we shall see, Strauss and Goldwin displayed a remarkable antagonism to Brown v. Board of Education. For many readers, no doubt, even more important is the stance taken by a number of important Straussians on the specifics of executive power—including quasi-tyrannical “prerogative” powers—that have challenged, if not indeed undermined, traditional conceptions of American constitutional checks and balances. During the Bush-Cheney regime, the “commander in chief power” served as a justification for systematic violations of the United Nations Convenant Against Torture and Other Inhumane and Degrading Acts, one of the few international human rights treaties that the United States has in fact ratified.

One might well say that it is a calumny against “conservatives” to link them to segregation or to defenses of torture. Many people identified with “conservatism,” including Richard Epstein and Bruce Fein, joined with liberals to denounce exalted claims made by the Bush-Cheney administration—and, in many important ways, continued into the Obama Admistration. Perhaps we should draw a distinction between conservatives and reactionaries. A conservative defends habeas corpus – the right of each prisoner to a day in court and not to be indefinitely detained or tortured as vital, since the Magna Carta, to the rule of law. By this standard – the Anglo-American standard – those who dismiss the importance of habeas corpus are no conservatives. In Europe, “conservatives” were often defenders of Throne and Altar, frequently Catholic, authoritarians; in the person of Carl Schmitt, a strong influence on Strauss, such views could slide easily into fascism.

Strauss sometimes expressed amusement at what (or who) was called “conservative” in the United States. In lectures, Strauss would often use the expression “what a conservative or a reactionary would say.” With precision, a reflection of esoteric or hidden writing, he would often distance himself from conservatives, for instance, by saying that conservatism is a good “rule of thumb” or in his 1957 letter rightly critical of the National Review’s anti-semitism, invoking repetitively “what a conservative might think,” as if he almost—but not quite—was an example of the breed. One can imagine his being sympathetic with Hayek’s similar disdain for many American “conservatives.” Still, as Donald Rumsfeld has taught us, just as one fights wars with the army one has, instead of the army one wishes one had, one takes part in politics with the people and movements who are available, not the ones one might wish in an ideal political world. And if we look at decisions made by Strauss—and, more to the point, “Straussians” like Goldwin, especially, we find some extraordinarily unattractive material.

1. Strauss’s activism and caution

An exile, a German Jew and darkly reactionary, Strauss was rightly wary of American xenophobia. He was not by temperment inclined to devote himself simply to politics. Nonetheless, following Xenophon, he devoted remarkable care and attention to shaping American politics. His political activism was strategic and, in the long run, influential. Paralleling his twin roles, Strauss’s letters to his American students divide into two types. The first, reflected in correspondence with Seth Benaradete and a few to others, center on Strauss’s love of scholarship and are sometimes striking. His relationship with Benardete probed the subtleties of Greek texts.

The second, however, underlines Strauss’s reactionary activism. For instance, Strauss worked with the Public Affairs Conference Center at the University of Chicago, run by his student Robert Goldwin, to connect with political and military leaders around a particular agenda:1) defense of segregation and hostility to the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision and the civil rights movement, 2) advocacy of aggression to intimidate the Soviet Union, including the conquest of Cuba, even after the Cuban missile crisis, and 3) urging of authoritarianism and untrammeled executive action, coupled with scorn for parliamentary politics or the separation and balance of powers. Steven Teles, in his own history of American conservatism, has emphasized the importance of think-tanks and similar institutions in creating networks of like-minded individuals empowered to fight against their intellectual adversaries. The Public Affairs Conferences are pioneering in this regard.

Through the Public Affairs Conferences, Strauss indirectly engaged Senator Charles Percy, Republican keynoter in 1960 and a potential Republican presidential nominee. He also worked with Senator Henry Jackson, a Democratic hawk and gateway to the intelligence establishment, a subsequent employer of Straussians like Abram Shulsky, not to mention Hans Speier, head of the Rand Corporation and an old friend. Note that these efforts to move American politics to the Right were bipartisan, and not restricted, as it has seemed to some after 2000, to ”neoconservative” Republicans.

In contrast to the intellectual “purity” of some of Strauss’s correspondence, one finds political themes throughout letters to Walter Berns, Allan Bloom, Joseph Cropsey, Harry Jaffa and, principally, Robert Goldwin. The political “boys, ” as he called them, express occasional reverence for Strauss’s scholarship. But the correspondance reflects, to a large extent, their personal scholarly and political goals and concerns. They were not concerned with the depth and subtlety of Strauss’s argument (Bloom and Cropsey were obviously more interested than Berns and Goldwin, but they all reflect a common political idiom). In a conceptualization drawn from Strauss’s 1955 letter to Kojeve, Strauss used these rhetors or gentlemen to purse his own reactionary public agenda, including advancing his own students.

2. Defending Segregation against value-free social science

The debate about Brown v. Board of Education involved a number of important issues, including, of course, the role of the Supreme Court in attempting to change what had become “traditional” Southern white subordination of African-Americans. But there was also a vigorous debate at the time about the role of social science in public affairs, a topic about which Strauss (and “Straussians”) had strong views. In Natural Right and History, Strauss rightly mocks the empiricist argument for value-free social science or “the fact-value distinction.” He seems to defend Socrates and justice against this view. As medicine is concerned with health, he suggests rightly, so social research or “science” should be concerned with justice or a common good. Without self-awareness, social scientists often embrace prevailing values “around here,” glossing current prejudices while imagining themselves to do otherwise. Strauss seems to favor Socrates’s question: what is justice? Prima facie, this argument is Strauss’s strongest, most attractive and influential claim.

Following what he takes to be the example of philosophers in Persecution and the Art of Writing, however, Strauss has two hidden meanings which undercut this argument’s force. First, Strauss endorsed Nietzsche and viewed inequality, an aspect of master morality, as what he meant by “justice.” For instance, despite the initial lines of Natural Right and History, praising the indelible eloquence of asserting each individual’s “natural rights” in the Declaration of Independence, Strauss subsequently affirms the “classical view of natural right: inequality.” Strauss then mocks the argument for equality, suggesting that the mere existence of a division of labor in a city is fatal to that possibility. He oddly ignores Plato’s “city in speech” which has no slavery and does not practice the subjection of women. He does not ask whether inequalities harmful to those who experience them are “necessary” in politics, but takes his allusion as sufficient. It is not.

Second, Strauss aimed to defend segregation in the United States against what he called “ss.” The “ss” that drew his wrath was that of Gunnar Myrdal as well as Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s “doll experiment” cited in Brown’s footnote 11. Suffice it to say that this experiment was used to demonstrate that, when given a choice of dolls, both white and black children chose the white dolls as “prettier,” which for the Clarks (and Chief Justice Warren) was evidence of the assault on the “hearts and minds” of children daily demeaned by state-mandated segregation. Segregation was not conservative. It was authoritarian, anti-liberal, often murderous rule over a large minority (in Mississippi, a majority) of the population which distorted the personalities, as Martin Luther King insisted, of whites as well as African-Americans. In the concrete instance, though, we find Strauss and Goldwin promoting “states rights” and segregation against the Clarks’ social science. That difference does not compromise the validity of Strauss’s general critique of ostensibly “value neutral” social science. On the contrary, in this instance, the critique indicts Strauss’s own political stand. Strauss stood against the justice which he supposedly affirmed against “ss”; in contrast, the Clarks’ social science – and the Warren Court which relied on it - was not “value free” but stood for justice.

When Robert Goldwin became the head of the Public Affairs Conference Center, he took on Strauss as a paid, and more importantly, strategic advisor. On December 17, 1960, Goldwin reported that James Jackson Kilpatrick, the editor of the Richmond News Leader and a crusading segregationist had written one of the four papers for a conference, emphasizing “state’s rights” as vital to “the essential strength of the United States in the present situation.”

As Goldwin put it,

Here is the paper by Mr. Kilpatrick, just received. His assignment was to make the case that a reassertion of States’ rights would add to the essential strength of the United States in its present situation. His response in the light of the assignment speaks volumes. Everything proceeds smoothly now, though in a great rush.

On December 24, 1960, Strauss praised Kilpatrick’s “contribution,” emphasizing, that supposed positive impact of “local diversity” on American power to defeat the Soviet Union. (As a matter of fact, briefs submitted by both the Truman and Eisenhower Administrations had emphasized the costs to American reputation abroad of segregation at home and in effect pleaded with the Court to do what a Southern-dominated Congress was incapable of doing—ending segregation in the South.) Strauss also emphasizes Morton Grodzins’ paper, which focused on federalism, states’ rights or “anti-centralism,” and also questioned the legitimacy of the Supreme Court’s intervention striking down segregation.

As we shall see, Goldwin, like some others among Strauss’s students, would extol extreme centralism or authoritarianism: “executive power” or “prerogative.” But here, ironically, the affirmation of American imperial purposes seemingly required adopting the Southern defense of localism or state’s rights and opposition to the authority of the Supreme Court.

Upholding the equal rights of each citizen is the core of modern political thought or liberalism to which Strauss objected. On no other issue could Strauss’s profound aversion to equality manifest itself in such striking terms. Thus he enthusiastically congratulated Goldwin:

“I have read the four articles and can hardly say more than that you ought to be congratulated on the good judgment you have shown in selecting the four writers. It is not your fault that the States’ Rights position is presented in only one paper but in the future it might be wise to think well in advance of a possible substitute for a senator. The advantage of Kilpatrick’s paper is that its main argument (local diversity) is not met in any of the three other papers, and so there is room for discussion. All papers are well and interestingly written…Grodzins’ paper is clear, very well written and lucidly argued; but it does not go into the political reasons of the anti-centralists (especially the desegregation issue and the whole question of whether these kinds of matters can legitimately be settled by the Supreme Court). It makes very much sense to me that Grodzins speaks on page 14, line 3 of ‘the most important services” but this qualification raises a well known ‘methodological’ difficulty which might be brought out on a proper occasion in order to bring in a plug for the anti-SS.”

It is, apparently, not enough to criticize the Court’s use of social science; one should go beyond and adopt the entire critique of Brown and, by the early 1960s, the civil rights movement that was transforming America. On Feb. 13, 1961, speaking of it as “my business,” Strauss broadened this attack on social science “and its political consequences in the last generation” (desegregation).

It is vital that a new generation be reminded exactly who Kilpatrick was. He was not the equivalent, say, of Herbert Wechsler, a famous professor of constitutional law at Columbia, who with some anguish, misguidedly attacked Brown as a violation of “neutral principles” in a lecture at the Harvard Law School. Instead, Kilpatrick praised “the South” and its “traditions” of segregation. To place this within an earlier debate, Kilpatrick was not Stephen A. Douglass, affecting “neutrality” on the goodness or badness of slavery and advocating that the “popular sovereigns” in each state come to their own conclusion about its merits; he was the equivalent instead of John C. Calhoun. Just as slavery had been a “positive good” for Calhoun and partisans of the “slavocracy,” so segregation was a positive good for Kilpatrick.

Affecting moderation, Kilpatrck notices that lynching was a problem. (Perhaps this is comparable to a “moderate” Nazi—Schmitt?—agreeing, after defeat and in retrospect, that the Holocaust went too far.) But Kilpatrick was interested in probing the relationship between lynching and the maintenance of the racialized system of power in the South. Kilpatrick does not notice that Democratic politicians by day, particularly sheriffs and other officials, were often Klansmen, or collaborators with Klansmen, by night. Kilpatrick’s views were scarcely hidden behind esoteric writings requiring the exegesis of a Straussian seminar to decode. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Kilpatrick authored three books devoted to the maintenance of white supremacy, including a book forthrightly titled The Southern Case for School Segregation. What apparently drew Goldwin’s specific attention, and Strauss’s plaudits, was a book The Sovereign States, setting out his constitutional argument that “sovereign states” comprised the Union. Since the national government, including the Supreme Court, was simply the agent of the principals—i.e., the states, a state that disagrees with federal policy—or a judicial decision—on constitutional grounds has the “right to nullify” that policy, or to “interpose” itself to block it. This classic articulation of this argument, of course, was offered by John C. Calhoun, paraphrased by Kilpatrick as follows:

In this process [of enacting of Tariff of 1828], they [the Congress, meaning “the industrial North”] had gravely encroached upon the rights of the States, but – and here the doctrine of nullification in its most drastic form was asserted for the first time – the States had one remedy remaining to them: They could invoke their inherent right ‘to interpose to protect their reserved powers [those not explicitly enumerated in the Constitution], and by interposing, suspend the operation of a law they regarded as unconstitutional pending a decision by all the States in convention assembled.

Kilpatrick spells out “the transcendent issue” which, ostensibly, will preserve segregation:

The remedy lies – it must lie – in drastic resistance by the States, as States, to Federal encroachment. ‘If those who voluntarily created the system cannot be trusted to preserve it,’ asked Calhoun, ‘who can?’ The checking and controlling influence of the people, exerted as of old, though their states, can indeed preserve the constitutional structure. The right to interpose the will of the sovereign people, in order that the evils of encroachment may be arrested, once more can be exerted toward the preservation of a Union and the dignity of States.

Here Kilpatrick emphasizes the “diversity” of state viewpoints, seemingly echoed by Strauss:

And the necessity for a restraint upon the abuses and excesses to which all governments are inclined, arises largely from the fact that the governed people have dissimilar interests and concerns. Were all the people alike, and all interests of a community identical, no such restraints would be required; a single majority division would justly decide every question submitted to it. But this identity of interest does not exist among the several States who jointly form the American Union. From the very inception of the Republic, the different States zealously have cherished differing institutions: To one, foreign trade may be vital; to another, domestic manufactures; to a third, agriculture; to a fourth, water power and irrigation; to a fifth, the operation of public schools and parts. It is only to a limited extent that these most vital concerns may be subordinated to the ‘national good.’ At some point Calhoun argued, compromise must end and oppression begin.

Quite obviously, the specific “oppression” that Kilpatrick is most concerned with is that directed at Southern whites by the American judiciary and their supporters, who were insisting that, in Martin Luther King’s terminology, the check written by the Reconstruction Amendments following the Civil War finally be redeemed.

Kilpatrick hastens to point out that the ostensible “right” to nullification cannot be invoked except under circumstances of exigency; otherwise, the central government would collapse. But not to worry, for Kilpatrick and other white Southern racists find just such an “exigency” to be attached to the prospects of desegregation and what was described as “forced interminging of the races.” This is not the occasion for full-scale examination of the merits of “nullification” doctrine. After all, it traces its heritage back to the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions, in which Jefferson and Madison fought the dictatorial implications of the Alien and Sedition Acts passed by the Federalist Congress (and signed by John Adams) in 1798, which led to the arrest of immigrant- Scottish and Irish - editors of Republican newspapers and made criticism of the President—though, interestingly, not the Vice President, one Thomas Jefferson—a serious crime, even, in the draft version of the Sedition Act, a capital offense. If Madison and Jefferson were defending basic freedoms, that most certainly cannot be said of Kilpatrick, and, it should go without saying, it was obtuse of Goldwin and Strauss to offer him the mantle of respectability of participation in the Public Affairs Conference. It appears that he was invited not in spite of his political views, but because of them. One of the lessons taught by Strauss is the need to read all texts very closely, including what might be termed the “social text” of what is suggested by the invitation list to certain conferences and encomia delivered afterward on those who delivered papers.

3. Networking for Reaction

Strauss relied on the Public Affairs conferences and on Goldwin, Joseph Cropsey, Herbert Storing (who, it should be emphasized, rejected racism and was a careful student of the Anti-Federalists and Afro-American writers ) and Walter Berns to gain public influence.

On 7 February 1961, Goldwin wrote to Strauss:

I will add only that you would have been very proud of your ‘boys.’ Seated in the midst of the famous and the powerful, they conducted themselves admirably and displayed powers of the mind which earned the attention and respect of all. Mr. Grodzins commented especially to me and to others, on the brilliance of some of Mr. Cropsey’s formulations in the discussion. Mr. [Martin] Diamond and Mr. [Harry] Jaffa were the other most luminous ‘stars.’

Here is a model of “philosophical” influence, taken from Plato’s Laws, which would ultimately extend to the role of certain Straussians in the Reagan and Bush administrations. Strauss’s “boys” could dazzle, according to Goldwin, “the famous and the powerful.” As a result, Strauss himself and his followers achieved lasting contacts. Strauss set out his wishes in a February 13, 1961 letter to Goldwin:

…. I turn immediately to my business. I am especially interested in a plan of having a debate on SS and its political consequences in the last generation. But I believe that the subject ought to be broadened to prevent the bogging down in methodology – a danger not excluded as you seem to think by the participation of [David] Easton. What I would suggest is a conference devoted to ‘theory and practice’ but not called by that forbidding title. I shall illustrate what I have in mind by two examples. 1) Economics and its limitations regarding economic policy, i.e. at what typical points ‘prudence’ or ‘common sense’ has to supplement the hand–outs of economic science. Milton Friedman ought to be in on this. You can get ample clarification regarding both subject matter and personnel from Mr. Cropsey. 2) Desegregation and the findings of SS which allegedly demand desegregation. Here I would think we should have a guy from the deep south, say Dean H[W]iggins, a sociologist at Emory. Such a conference could be educative for the non-academicians by making clear to them what they cannot expect from the academicians. … I remember a seminar meeting with Rossiter and Grodzins where I put to Grodzins point blank the question: can you tell me a single thing which was discovered by scientific political science which was not known to intelligent practitioners in advance? He could not remember more than two examples which disproved rather than supported his sanguine position (this English is still better than if I had spoken of his ‘attitude’). There could be a very easy transition from this conference to the conference on education: what do the universities contribute to society?

Among the attendees at the Conference was soon to be Senator Charles Percy of Illinois. Strauss stresses Percy’s enthusiasm for it, and would attempt to work closely with him.

To be sure, with regard to some issues, Goldwin sought some genuine debate. Thus, regarding a proposed panel on arms control, he hoped to invite a “spokesman for the unilateral disarmament position…. David Riesman has been recommended by Morton Grodzins…James Burnham as the spokesman for the opposite extreme.” Attention was also paid to making connections with a broad array of persons from what Goldwin described as “the non-academic side.” Thus,
"we have acceptances already from Mr. Percy, Thomas Watson (chairman of the Board of IBM), Emmet Hughes (Eisenhower’s former speech writer and now chief advisor and writer for Gov. Rockefeller) and Senator Muskie of Maine. We will invite, in addition, Congressman Ford of Michigan (who attended the first conference and who is a member of the Appropriations Committee and of the subcommittee on defense appropriations [and soon to be President]), Senator Henry Jackson of Washington (a member of the Armed Services Committee), George McGhee (head of the State Department Policy Planning Staff), Eric Sevareid [the newscaster], and Crawford Greenewalt, president of Dupont Co. We also want to invite a Republican member of the Armed Services committee, but I am awaiting Muskie’s advice on the best one for our purpose…."

Goldwin continues: “I have mentioned all these names as a preface to asking you about Hans Speier…” In response, Strauss strongly recommended the participation of his old friend Speier, the head of the Rand Corporation.
To a very unusual and determined extent for a “political theorist,” Strauss involved himself with political and military leaders. Steeped in Xenophon’s Hiero (see his first book in the US in 1948, On Tyranny) and Plato’s Laws, he sought fiercely to shape policy. The Rand corporation was central to producing U.S. missile strategy. A connection with Rand also helped to embed Strauss’s students like Abram Shulsky or the students of his students such as Gary Schmitt (Herbert Storing), Paul Wolfowitz (Allan Bloom) and Francis Fukuyama (Bloom) in the strategic establishment.
The contact Goldwin had made with Congressman Gerald Ford would prove especially fruitful. After finishing his dissertation on John Locke, Goldwin took a job at Kenyon College where Robert Horwitz, another Strauss student, chaired the political science department, and continued a public affairs program. He still worked closely with Ford and then-Congressman Donald Rumsfeld; Goldwin would later describe himself as “a special confidante” of Rumsfeld.

It is worth noting that Strauss himself distinguished between “gentlemen” and “philosophers,” and it is quite likely that he viewed at least some of “the boys” as examples more of the former than the latter. Strauss did not intend that all of his students to become dedicated scholars – though that was the aim for his closest ones; it was perhaps of near equal importance, however, for some to influence policy. In Strauss’s idiom, they were to be
“gentlemen” rather than “philosophers.” Not overly concerned with partisan political labels, Strauss was also content to work with Rockefeller Republicans and hawkish Democrats. The aim in policy circles was to create a political voice for specific reactionary ideas, whether offering a defense of segregation and states’ rights or an empowered executive capable of acting without significant constraint.

For instance, on June 5, 1969, Joseph Cropsey wrote about Strauss’s “old friend” Senator Henry Jackson, the Democratic hawk from the state of Washington. He also notes the incrasing influence of Albert Wohlsetter, a University of Chicago nuclear theorist who, though not a Straussian, often helped advise Strauss’s students.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Black Patriots and Loyalists a 2013 American Book of the Year of the Before Columbus Foundation

The Raymond House • 655 -13th Street • Suite 302 • Oakland, California 94612 • (510) 268-9775
September 19, 2013

The Before Columbus Foundation announces the
Winners of the Thirty-Fourth Annual
Ceremonies, November 23, 2013

Oakland, CA—The Before Columbus Foundation announces the Winners of the Thirty-Fourth Annual AMERICAN BOOK AWARDS. The 2013 American Book Award winners will be formally recognized on Saturday, November 23, 2013, at the Miami Book Fair International, in the Auditorium of Miami Dade College, Wolfson Campus. This event is open to the public.

The American Book Awards were created to provide recognition for outstanding literary achievement from the entire spectrum of America's diverse literary community. The purpose of the awards is to recognize literary excellence without limitations or restrictions. There are no categories, no nominees, and therefore no losers. The award winners range from well-known and established writers to under-recognized authors and first works. There are no quotas for diversity, the winners list simply reflects it as a natural process. The Before Columbus Foundation views American culture as inclusive and has always considered the term “multicultural” to be not a description of various categories, groups, or “special interests,” but rather as the definition of all of American literature. The Awards are not bestowed by an industry organization, but rather are a writers’ award given by other writers.

The 2013 American Book Award Winners are:

Will Alexander, Singing In Magnetic Hoofbeat: Essays, Prose, Texts, Interviews, and a Lecture,
Essay Press

Philip P. Choy, San Francisco Chinatown: A Guide To Its History & Architecture, City Lights

Amanda Coplin, The Orchardist, Harper Collins

Natalie Diaz, When My Brother Was An Aztec, Copper Canyon Press

Louise Erdrich, The Round House, Harper Collins

Alan Gilbert, Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence, University of Chicago

Judy Grahn, A Simple Revolution: The Making of an Activist Poet, Aunt Lute Books

Joy Harjo, Crazy Brave: A Memoir, W.W. Norton & Co.

Demetria Martinez, The Block Captain's Daughter, University of Oklahoma Press

Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore, Blood Songs, The Ecstatic Exchange

D. G. Nanouk Okpik, Corpse Whale, University of Arizona Press

Seth Rosenfeld, Subversives: The FBI’s War On Student Radicals and Reagan's Rise to Power, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux

Christopher B. Teuton, Cherokee Stories of the Turtle Island Liar's Club, University of North Carolina

Lew Welch, Ring of Bone: Collected Poems, City Lights

Lifetime Achievement:

Ivan Argüelles
Greil Marcus
Floyd Salas

Justin Desmangles
Chair, Before Columbus Foundation
655 13th St. #302
Oakland, Ca.


The spirit of the Before Columbus Foundation is inclusive, recognizing the writings of and experiences of those who have suffered from the Founding Amnesias about America's genocides and ethnic cleanings. As I am also working deeply on the efforts to make peace and justified resistance of Native Americans before, during and after Sand Creek and in the second Civil War, this award is especially meaningful.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Juan Cole breaks it down on Neocon and Humanitarian Intervention Hubris

What Juan Cole writes about neocon hubris in Iraq and Syria applies equally to liberal, "humanitarian intervention" hubris (call Susan Rice and Samantha Power the neo-neo cons). This is as forceful an explanation of exactly what is wrong with American militarism as one gets within a mainstream - trying to do the decent thing and noticing, as in Libya and perhaps Kosovo (I am more skeptical that American bombing, flattening the Chinese embassy and killing many produced a decent result) that bombing stopped Qaddafi from shooting down his own people like "rats."


But Cole fails to name American exceptionalism as the exceptionalism of genocide (the Revolution as a secession to keep bondage in the American South against Lord Dunmore's Proclamation of Freedom for slaves and indentured servants who rallied to the Crown - see my Black Patriots and Loyalists - and ethnic cleansing of indigenous people across the Continent, particularly during and after the Civil War - roughly 1862 to 1877 (h/t Elliott West). This was the second Civil War, see here and here). The racism - the "white man's burden" even exercised by Obama - of putting things right for nonwhite people by murdering them - "destroying the village in order to save it" - is a normal practice in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan...and before that myriad American interventions in Central and South America going back through the war of 1898 and Woodrow Wilson's installation by force of a clerk in an American mining company to run Nicaragua. These wars cost the lives of American soldiers, white, black, latin, asian and native american, and are today linked to the impoverishment of the former middle class, the elevation of the Mitt Romneys and Larry Summerses.

The Northern fight against bondage in the Civil War and the war against the Nazis were just, but they are exceptions in the American record, which is mainly an Imperial one, not a decent or humanitarian one. Noticing that is the key to relinquishing some of the hubris, turning the ship of militarism around before it (along with global warming) destroys us. See here.


Cole writes: "There is nothing wrong with doing good where you realistically can. Trying to do good by military means where you cannot can be deadly to both you and the victims." (h/t Martin Totusek)

Informed Comment

The Hubris of the Syria Interventionists
Posted on 09/16/2013 by Juan Cole

The hawks who are deeply disappointed that diplomacy has likely forestalled a U.S. military intervention in Syria in the foreseeable future often attempt to tug at our heart strings by pointing to the over 100,000 dead and the millions of displaced, implying that the U.S. has a responsibility to intervene to stop the carnage on humanitarian grounds.

If the world were such that the U.S. could in fact do so, perhaps they might have a point. The problem is that social engineering on that scale is currently beyond even a superpower. We need a humanitarian realism to forestall the utopians from taking us into quagmires. There is nothing wrong with doing good where you realistically can. Trying to do good by military means where you cannot can be deadly to both you and the victims.

Syria resembles Iraq in many respects. It is a multicultural country with 60% Sunni Arabs, 10% Kurds, 10-14% Alawite Shiites, 10-14% Christians, and smaller Twelver Shiite, Druze and Ismaili communities. Iraq is a mirror image, with a Shiite majority and a Sunni Arab minority.

Both countries were ruled for decades by the Baath or Resurrection Party, which claimed to be socialist and Arab nationalist. The Baath Party insists on a one-party state. In both countries, an ethnic minority captured the upper echelons of the Baath Party, using its control of the state to reward coreligionists. In Iraq, the Sunni Arabs disproportionately dominated the higher ranks of the Baath Party and officer corps. In particular, the Tikriti clan of Saddam Hussein took the highest posts. In Syria, the Alawite Shiite Arabs were disproportionately represented at the heights of power. In particular, the al-Assad clan took the highest posts.

The Neoconservatives accused Saddam Hussein of having killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and maintained that the U.S. had a duty, which trumped international law and the UN Security Council, to invade and overthrow him. While it is true that Saddam Hussein was responsible for a lot of deaths, it wasn't clear that he was killing any significant number of people 1992-2003. The killings had come as a result of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), the internal war against separatist Kurds (1985-1989), and the repression of a massive Shiite uprising in March-May of 1991. The U.S. was complicit in much of this, having encouraged Iraq and having allied with it during the Iran-Iraq War, which might have ended sooner otherwise. The Reagan administration also used its clout at the UN to protect Iraq from sanctions for using chemical weapons on Iran, which encouraged the regime later to use them on the Kurds. George H. W. Bush called on Iraqis to rise up against Saddam in 1991, and when they did he left them twisting in the wind and allowed the regime to use helicopter gunships against them.

The pretext for the U.S. war on Iraq was its alleged chemical and other weapons programs and stores, which did not exist and which UN inspectors such as Scott Ritter, a former Marine, explicitly said did not exist.

Danielle Pletka, vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, who has never been right about anything (and is now cropping up on corporate television again) wrote on January 15, 2003 in U.S.A Today:

"As war with Iraq nears, the chorus of those claiming Saddam Hussein is contained, the United Nations process is working or the U.S. must address other, more pressing problems, grows louder. Some hate war or mistrust any expression of American power, but by far the largest group of naysayers is well intentioned. Their mantra, if they had one, would be: "Why now?" . . . Why now?"

She says critic bring up al-Qaeda and North Korea as threats. She answers,

"But these are not reasons to defer action. They are reasons for the U.S. to act now and remove Saddam from power. Only then will al-Qaeda's followers grasp that the U.S. is a power to be reckoned with, committed to destroying its enemies. Only then will North Korea step back and assess the fate of dictators committed to amassing weapons of mass destruction."

How's that North Korea deterrence working out for you?

And, didn't the invasion of Iraq reinvigorate al-Qaeda to the point where it came into that country and is still blowing it up and is now ruling some of northern Syria?

Pletka was doubtful that Iraq had really destroyed its chemical and biological weapons and mothballed its nuclear program:

"Since 1991, there have been repeated "full, final and complete" disclosures of Iraqi weapons programs, each of them incomplete."

The idea that the U.S. could by invading and occupying the country forestall another 300,000 deaths, which is what the Neoconservatives were arguing, was simply incorrect. The U.S. created a power vacuum in Iraq and by playing favorites helped provoke a years-long (perhaps decades-long) guerrilla war. The Sunni Arabs were fired from their jobs, their state-owned factories were abruptly shut down, and they were removed from positions of power and authority in favor of Shiites and Kurds.

Yesterday, on Sunday, car bombs in Hilla, Basra and elsewhere killed 58 people [ ]. Hilla is a Shiite city, and some of its notables had had their land to the north taken away from them by Saddam and given to Sunni families. Since 2003 they have been reclaiming it, expelling Sunni farmers who had come to see the land as theirs. Some of what the U.S. used to call the 'triangle of death' was produced by this dynamic. Most likely, the al-Qaeda that Danielle Pletka was certain she could frighten out of existence by invading Iraq was behind the bombing in Hilla, in September of 2013. There was no al-Qaeda in Iraq in early 2003.

Euronews reports on the recent wave of violence in Iraq
[ ]

Since April 1, 4,000 people have died in political violence in Iraq. That is over a decade since the great Neocon Jihad against Saddam. It is not clear that the Syrian death toll at this moment is greater on a monthly basis than the Iraq shaped by the tender ministrations of Washington.

Guerrilla wars are fought in back alleys and inhospitable terrain. The fighters hide, strike, then fade away. The U.S. never was able to defeat them, either the Shiite ones or the Sunni ones, and mostly had no control over what they did. There U.S. was occupying Iraq with 150,000 troops or so in 2006 when a civil war broke out that was killing as many as 2500 noncombatants a month and displacing tens of thousands each month abroad. It was in charge of the security of the country. It had the troops, the tanks, the planes, the electronic surveillance. But it was powerless to stop a civil war from unfolding under its nose. The deaths tapered off by September of 2007 not because of Bush's troop excalation ('surge') but because by that time Shiite militiamen had ethnically cleansed so many Sunnis from their neighborhoods that they would have had to drive for a while to find more Sunnis to kill. Baghdad under the U.S. went from being half Sunni to being 20% Sunni. There were huge American bases in Baghdad during these events, with on-base McDonalds and Burger Kings. They may as well not have existed for all of their ability to stop the carnage.

So the hawks, whether of the manipulative and vicious sort or of the humanitarian sort, who keep squawking that the U.S. needs to do something are beginning with the premise that the U.S. can do something effective. It can't.

That the Syria situation is so like that in Iraq makes the analogy compelling. I am not saying that all interventions are doomed. Kosovo and Bosnia aren't paradise, but they turned out just all right. But Syria is not like Kosovo, where you had a compact territory being invaded by another ethnic group. Syria is all mixed up. The tanks are inside the cities. The cities are multi-ethnic for the most part. There is nothing you could bomb without killing the civilians you were hoping to protect (Syria differs in this way also from Libya).

It is human nature to think, when we see an ongoing great slaughter, that something must be done. But because of the ease of availability of high explosives and other weapons and the breakdown of social consensus, there is little the outside world could hope to do. Arming the rebels, as Obama has pledged to do, will not, let us say, reduce the death rate.

It may be a positive that the question is even being broached. Millions were polished off in Congo in the 1990s and it didn't get mentioned on the evening news in the U.S.. Likewise, the Algerian civil War of the 1990s and early zeroes passed without comment in America.

But if the U.S. couldn't stop a civil war and a growing guerrilla war in Iraq while actually running the place, it can't likely do anything about Syria. It is a sad fact of 21st century life.

What the U.S. and its allies can do is improve the conditions of the 2 million Syrians displaced abroad, and try to figure ways of getting food and necessities to internally displaced noncombatants. The U.S. hasn't been bad on refugee aid, but it can do substantially more, as can Europe and the Arab League. Ignoring the plight of a third of the country (the DPs) while strategizing how to scramble fighter-jets is the opposite of humanitarianism.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Poem: sacrifices


a crucifi xion


freedom riders




wake up



lovingkind ness



wake up


lovethatshakesthe world


empt i ne ss

Monday, September 16, 2013

Additional evidence from John Evans' letters on his intent towerd Cheyennes and Arapahoes

I have recently been reading the copy of John Evans’ letterbook as Commissioner of Indian Affairs for Colorado (as Governor, he would sign all his letters Governor of C.T. – the Colorado Territory – and “Ex Officio Superintendant of Indian Affairs”) at the Colorado History archive. Given a distinction between Evans enabling Sand Creek as opposed to ordering it, the selections below demonstrate incitement to Chivington and justify a larger suspicion that he meant the slaughter at Sand Creek including children, i.e. the at there is no difference between Evans and the infamous statement by Chivington, reported by others: “nits make lice.” The letters amplify the three pivotal sentences of Evans' June 27th, 1864 Proclamation which are:

"The object of this is to prevent friendly Indians from being killed through mistake. None but those who intend to be friendly with the whites must come to these places. The families of those who have gone to war with the whites must be kept away from among the friendly Indians."

In his second August 11 Proclamation, Evans reiterates the message that all hostiles – and that means the people who came in to Denver at great risk and with whom he refused to make peace at Camp Weld, including warriors, women, children, the elderly - must be “killed and destroyed”:

“Now, therefore, I, John Evans, governor of Colorado Territory, do issue this my proclamation, authorizing all citizens of Colorado, either individually or in such parties as they may organize, to go in pursuit of all hostile Indians on the plains, scrupulously avoiding those who have responded to my said call to rendezvous at the points indicated; also, to kill and destroy, as enemies of the country, wherever they may be found, all such hostile Indians.”

The phrase about “scrupulously avoiding those who have responded to my call” for friendly Indians to go to specific Forts is rendered otiose by his June 11th statement that no “hostile” women, children or the elderly are to be allowed to escape the slaughter. (Cheyenne and Arapahoe warriors wanted to protect their own women and children, and a proposal to avoid crimes of war by having them come in with tribes designated friendly - the Cheyennes and Arapahoes at Fort Lyon were also friendly - would have fallen on deaf ears.)

Combined with the Camp Weld meeting in Denver, where Evans at first tried to avoid even seeing Black Kettle and the other chiefs who came in “through a fire” with Major Wynkoop to make peace – he had to be persuaded by Wynkoop to come to the meeting – this statement is again enabling and perhaps close to incitement. At that conference, Evans refused to make peace with them:

“My proposition to the friendly Indians has gone out; I shall be glad to have them all come in, under it. I have no new propositions to make. Another reason that I am not in a condition to make a treaty, is that war is begun, and the power to make a treaty of peace has passed from me to the Great War Chief.”

Chivington did not misunderstand the Governor. Evans disowns responsibility for making peace with these Cheyennes and Arapahoes, though not, as we will see below, making war on them.

This establishes, once again, that Evans enabled the massacre, and lends some credence to the harsher possibility that he ordered it. Recall Evans’ and Chivington’s constant, at least weekly personal contact as Methodists and Masons, not to mention as potential Republican candidates for Senate and Representative and as trustees of the Colorado Seminary - all in the tiny town of Denver - as well as, for example, over 25 communications from early July to mid-August, the most of any recipient in the letter book: the words at Camp Weld convey what their mutual understanding was.

Here are three of Evans' letters, the first to one of Evans’s scouts/spies on Indians, U.M. Curtis (not the General Samuel R. Curtis who was in command of American soldiers in the region and called for “chastising” Indians), no. 273 in Evans’ Letterbook:

“U.M Curtis, Esqr June 22, 1864
Indian Scout

You may inform them that they must not allow the families [sic] of those who are at war with the whites to come into these friendly camps or live in the places assigned to friendly Indians at any of the places referred to.

Those who do not heed these instructions [must?] take the terrible consequences, for those who fight the whites must be destroyed by the forces that will be brought against them. “

The second is to Major Colley in charge of supplies at Fort Lyon, no. 248 in Evans’ Letterbook:

“Major S.C. Colley June 16th, 1864
Fort Lyon, C.T.

You will immediately make necessary arrangements for the feeding and support of all the friendly Indians of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians at Fort Lyon and direct the friendly Comanches & Kiowas if any to return to [remain at?] Fort Larned.

The war is opened in earnest and upon our efforts to quiet the friendly as a nucleus for peace will depend its duration to some extent at least. You can send word to all the tribes to come as directed above, but do not allow the families of those at war to be introduced into the friendly camp.”

The third letter is to an Arapahoe leader Roman Nose (not to be confused with the Cheyenne warrior of the same name according to whites. This is the one letter in the whole book directly to a Native American leader. It spells out, particularly in the last paragraph and the P.S. (the only P.S. in all the letters) Evans’ barring of civilians/innocents among “hostiles” from avoiding massacre, no. 252 and 253 in Evans' Letterbook:

“Roman Nose
Arapahoe Chief

I want you and all of your band to come to the Cache La Poudre at once to meet me. When you get there report at Camp Collins and they will send me word.

I have got the authority to treat with you that I promised last fall.

Have all of your Head men along. I will send provisions as soon as I hear you are there.

Don’t let any of your young men go with the Cheyennes to fight us for they will be sure to hang.

If any of them will go make them take their families away from your village. We cannot have the families of hostile Indians in friendly camps.

Those Indians that remain friendly may rely upon the Government for ample provision and protection. I will see to it.

Any story that the Great Father is not friendly to those who keep Peace is false for he will take care of them. But, they must keep away from the hostile tribes.

John Evans. Gov., C.T.
& Ex Officio Supt. Ind. Affairs


Any Band of Cheyennes belonging on the North Platte who are friendly to the Whites and wish to keep peace and will exclude all hostile Indians and their families from their villages are directed to join Roman Nose’s Band on the Cache La Poudre for protection and care.”

Note that Evans’ instruction to exclude the families of hostile Indians is repeated three times – obsessively – in this sole note to an indigenous leader. When he says “kill and destroy” in his Proclamation of August 11, he means all of these Indians, without distinction of civilian and warrior. He thus violates the oldest understandings of the law of war (see Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, ch. 1-6; Alan Gilbert, Democratic Individuality, ch. 1).

So we are faced with the question about whether Evans only enabled the massacre or also directly incited it. Defeating the Plains Indians, who were warriors and on horse back, elusive when they could ride, was, seemingly, a much tougher task for the U.S. army than the ethnic cleansing of the East Coast which had proceeded since before the Revolution (roughly, for 250 years). Yet the Plains Indians were destroyed, the remnant cordoned on reservations (concentration camps) within 25 years.

Superior weapons made an important difference for the U.S. government side, but were not decisive. The crucial U.S. tactic, modeled on General Patrick Connor's massacre of Shoshonis at Bear River in Utah in January, 1863, depended on the fact that Native Americans had to settle with food, relatively immobile, for the winter. Their camps could then be ravaged by American soldiers. In such battles, soldiers were “safer” if they were not courageous like Silas Soule, but rather shot everything that moved. The so-called “battle” dead – these are actually all mainly surprise attacks and massacres; what made Sand Creek stand out as an anomaly was that the Cheyennes and Arapahoes were determinedly friendly – are often mostly women and children…

The Sand Creek massacre helped consolidate this “tactic.” Now someone who wanted to extenuate Evans might perhaps try the following argument to differentiate him from Chivington. Before Sand Creek, the tactic of killing “hostile” Indians camped for the winter, featuring the butchery of women and children, was not clearly understood (In other words, Evans did not quite know what he was ordering). After Sand Creek, for instance, at the Washita River in Oklahoma in 1868 where Black Kettle, trying again to make peace, and his wife were murdered by George Armstrong Custer, and in many other cases, massacring civilians was the US army’s approach. If the particular killing of friendly Indians by Chivington initiates the tactic, Evans then enabled such killing, and is evil in intent, but did not directly order it.

Further, such an extenuation might continue, since the U.S. military routinely practiced the killing of civilians down to the massacre of peaceful Christian ghost dancers at Wounded Knee in 1890, Evans does not really stand out for ordering the murder of children, women and the elderly. They all massacred the children of “hostile” Indians. Evans did not quite understand the rapacity which he was ordering. Thus, it is mainly Chivington who is responsible for the massacre of friendly Indians which so shocked Washington....

Even this semi-satire, however, is contradicted by prior evidence of the army burning out food supplies and attacking into the winter. For Kit Carson, working for General Carpenter of California, pursued this practice, initiated by General Connor, against the Navajo in New Mexico by burning out their peach orchards (they were farmers, settled on the land - Americans like John Evans supposedly required until they wanted the land… – and especially valued their orchards), killing their horses and other livestock, and destroying supplies from mid-summer into the winter in 1863.

But more importantly, there is a smoking gun about Evans’ understanding of the value of winter warfare at Camp Weld. He speaks about the usefulness of fighting the Cheyennes and Arapahoes in the winter as the “best time for me.” Note that he speaks with personal responsibility here for fighting the native americans and does not pawn it off, as he does any possibility of peace, on the military authorities. Thus, the claim that he might not have authority to make or cease to make war, as he saw it, is directly contradicted by his own manner of speaking at Camp Weld, recorded by his political and Indian Affairs aide, Simeon Whiteley:

“Gov. Evans--The fact that they have not been able to prevent their people from going to war in the past spring, when there was plenty of grass and game, makes me believe that they will not be able to make a peace which will last longer than until winter is past.

White Antelope--I will answer that after a time.

Gov. Evans--The time when you can make war best, is in the summer time; when I can make war best, is in the winter. You, so far have had the advantage; my time is just coming. “

Evans here understands completely the point of destroying Indian camps in the winter and speaks menacingly. If anything, Chivington learned the point from him. This is what Evans really thinks, even though he is weaselly or contradictory about not having the authority to make peace at the same meeting. Listen again:

“The time when you can make war best, is in the summer time; when I can make war best, is in the winter. You, so far have had the advantage; my time is just coming. “

Evans had always been fearful of “savages” (see his 1888 description to H.H. Bancroft of his first encounter with them here). But with his panic to the Indian Commissioner Dole in Washington and General Samuel Curtis who doubted that the slaughter of the Hungates – the only actual murders in Colorado in the run-up to Sand Creek – were a sign of “general Indian war on the plains” became increasingly lurid in his characterization of Native Americans as “infernal.” Evans was possessed by a kind of racial repulsion, a shuddering, something not just tactical. This was a third aspect of why he enabled\incited Sand Creek. He really lost any distinction between seeking those guilty of crimes (the Hungate murders – a distinction he had previously in these letters, but not at all about this case…), warriors on the Plains, innocents and the infernal. When Wynkoop says that he defected from “the party of exterminators,” that is, of Evans and Chivington - Wynkoop has previously ordered his men to kill any Indian on sight and berated those who brought in One Eye with the message from Black Kettle and his companion - this gut feeling is what he meant. On June 16, Evans gives words to the mercilessness of the massacre, letter no. 250:

"Major Gen. Curtis June 16, 1864
Fort Leavenworth

I am sorry to inform you that there is a defect in our militia law and it is difficult to act under it.

I have a few good small companies organized but they will not do for other than home defense.

The Indian alliance is so strong that I am sure our settlements on our lines of communication cannot be protected without force.

I have applied for authority to raise a Regiment of 100 day men. I have also asked Gen’l Carlton to aid on the Arkansas and below. It is very important that Col. Chivington operate with his command on these infernal Indians

…I have ordered Camps for friendly Indians at Fort Lyon, Ft. Larned and on the Cache La Poudre and hope all the friendly bands of the Sioux may come to For Larimie, then as we whip and destroy others will join them and we will bring it to a close.

This requires (vigorous?) war and it can be expected soon.

I enclose copies of letters to show you that this is the programme set forth in my communications last fall and that it is daily becoming more and more formidable. As we are at home powerless but to defend and almost so even for that purpose we rely upon you to put down this hostile alliance of the infernal barbarians.

We of course only having a part of the country involved cannot, except under your orders go out to fight these Indians.

I appeal to you to consider our situation and to protect our lines of communication and our settlements by whipping these Indians.”

Evans is a Methodist leader, and one should take these words about “infernal barbarians,” along with the ban on “hostile” women and children seeking protection as a sentiment of murderous racist – demonic - repulsion. The idea of Chivington “operating” on these “infernal” creatures again seems to mean – Sand Creek - what it says.

In a telegram of June 12th to General Curtis, Evans adds the phrase Rebels to this characterization. The emotion is both intense and opportunist (he is trying to gain Curtis’s military support). The incitement, once again, is to a desperate and final struggle in which hostile Indians are exterminated down to children, No. 255 listed as "Telegram" in the Letterbook:

"Major Gen Curtis June 12th, 1864
Ft. Leavenworth

Three separate messengers came during last night from settlements 10 and 20 miles East. Indians supposed in large force murdering settlers burning Houses and capturing horses. Last company of troops left yesterday for Lyons now near Indians. Have requested them to scout.

For God sake order this company of troops to go after these Rebel Red [skins]. Militia unmounted and scattered.

John Evans, Gov., C.T. “

Evans both had the physical/emotion repulsion toward the infernal barbarians and tactically, used hysteria about this, along with the analogy of the Rebels, to persuade Curtis to let him mobilize the Federal troops, the “hundred daysters,” who perpetrated the massacre. His repulsion toward all “hostile Indians” led to his menacing assertion that the winter, when the Arapahoes and Cheyennes are camped (and more so at Sand Creek because they had assumed they had peace), is “my time.”

At the Tokyo war crimes trials of 1946 (85 years later, but capturing a basic human sense about evils in war), the American-led tribunal executed generals who had failed to command their soldiers not to commit war crimes. John Evans actually instructed Chivington to commit war crimes, and, in addition, against friendly Indians.