Issues analysis
The crisis of our time: A letter from Leo Strauss to Peggy Noonan
Prologue: Conservatives adrift
Fred Hutchison, RenewAmerica analyst
November 24, 2008

The meltdown of the conservative movement is a greater calamity than losing an election! The civil war among conservatives has left an unknown number of conservatives alienated and adrift.

However, just as God sometimes uses a fiery trial to sanctify the believer, He might well use this crisis of conservatism to purge, purify, and deepen the conservative movement.

We are obliged to show concern for the alienated and drifting conservatives who are the human casualties of the conservative civil war. I wanted to write an open letter to conservatives adrift, but did not know how to do it. Then, a passage from Peggy Noonan's new book Patriotic Grace inspired me as to how it might be done.

The bulk of this essay takes the form of a letter from Leo Strauss to Peggy Noonan. The hidden agenda of the letter is to reach out to conservatives who are adrift.

Peggy protests

Conservative columnist Peggy Noonan tells us that American politics has degenerated into "teamism," and that "teamism" has degenerated into "gangism." Conservative gangs versus liberal gangs. In order to escape the atrocious street fights between gangs, she exhorts us to rise up to "seriousness, high-mindedness, forbearance, and reason."

Her insight brings to mind some important ideas aired by the political philosopher Leo Strauss, the seminal thinker of the Neoconservative movement, who had a lot to say about the crisis of our time.

Uncle Leo

Unfortunately, Leo Strauss (1899–1973) is dead. I like to call him Uncle Leo because he has many philosophical nephews, but no sons. Many Neoconservatives (neocons) were inspired by Strauss, but did not correctly understand him or follow the agendas of his political philosophy. They are not Staussians, which would make them his sons. He was an indispensable predecessor to their thought, which makes him his nephews.

The fact that Strauss was the uncle of many and the father of none makes him the perfect uncle for conservatives adrift who need guidance, but are gun-shy of joining a political or philosophical movement. He might even be of help to the conservatives adrift who are not neocons and do not wish to become neocons.

If Uncle Leo were alive today, it seems clear that he would be a conservative, but it is not so clear that he would affiliate with the neocons. The phenomenon of a philosophic uncle disowning his philosophic nephews is not unprecedented.

For example, most of Immanuel Kant's disciples defected from his philosophic realism (i.e., things are really out there) to the mad hatter world of German idealism (i.e., the only things that are out there are the things man acknowledges). If Kant had lived long enough to see this betrayal, he would surely have disavowed all of his "nephews" who went over to the dark side.

Strauss was a serious political philosopher who thought things through carefully and deeply. He understood the fallacies, follies, and dangers of modernism more deeply than any other philosopher. He is just the man to give the confused conservatives an intellectual "booster shot." After all, the lack of intellectual rigor and philosophic depth is often a contributing cause when conservatives drift. Intellectual precision, like the skills of the sailor, can bring one through stormy voyages and back to one's philosophical home port.

I am not a neocon, but I think I understand Uncle Leo. In this essay, I shall reconstruct what I think Uncle Leo might have said to Peggy Noonan about the crisis of our time.

Memo from Uncle Leo to Peggy

Peggy, at this precarious moment in history, our shaky liberal democracy is all that is protecting freedom and philosophic discourse from the ravages of the barbarians of modernism. Without liberal democracy in America and Great Britain and a few leading European nations, the rotting timber of Western civilization might collapse.

Liberal democracy was spun off from the Enlightenment, which was part of the first wave of modernism. As such, liberal democracy is impotent as a cure for the terminal illness that afflicts modernism. You cannot cure the maladies of modernism by drawing upon the resources of modernism. Therefore, liberal democracy cannot cure what ails the world of modernism.

The neocon mistake

Many of my neocon nephews refuse to understand this and are out there crusading to make the world safe for democracy. Some of them are deceived by the fantasy that when liberal democracy becomes the normative form of government for the world, it will be the "end of history" and the end of our sorrows. This is a fairy tale for children, of course. Whereas I heartily approve of the neocon resolve to fight evil abroad and to save civilization from the barbarians, nevertheless I firmly reject the neocon modernist fantasies — something, I assure you, they did not get from me. The neocons picked up these errors from burned out and disillusioned liberal intellectuals who tried to blend modernist ideals with my political philosophy. Such a blend is incoherent and self-contradictory.

Return to the ancients

Peggy, the qualities you wish to rise up to are virtues and aspirations that come from the premodern classical past. As I have often said, we must "return to the ancients."

By the "ancients," I mean:

1) The classical masters of political philosophy — especially Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero; and

2) Biblical religion — namely, Christianity and Judaism.

We must recover the classical virtues and classical rationality, and we must practice religious morality and cultivate spiritual aspirations.

The tension between faith and reason, and the tension between the classical ideals and the spiritual aspirations inspired by the Bible, are what gave premodern Europe its unique cultural ferment, its intense creativity and originality, its unsurpassed intellectual vitality and its brilliant culture.

Modernism has put this creative tension to an end. In this and other ways we shall consider, modernism has become a drain upon the vital powers of the West and has gradually suffocated the cultural brilliance of the West. During the last two hundred years, when modernism was in the ascendant, Western culture has been in decline.

Rise above the wretchedness of modernism

Peggy, your idea of rising above the political street fight is a good one. The street fight of political gangs that you abhor is a phenomenon of the wretchedness, mindlessness, and moral bankruptcy of twentieth century modernism.

The conservative movement has sunk to the tactics of the left because many conservatives have been poisoned by modernism. The modernist right cannot defeat the hyper-modernist left in a knife fight.

Showing up with a bigger knife, like Crocodile Dundee, won't help. The ruthless lefties will throw sand in your eyes and stab you in the back. These brutalizing battles have alienated many conservatives and left them adrift in the storm without a sail or a rudder.

If liberal democracy is to survive, we must indeed rise above the wretched ways of modernism, forsake the knife fights, and rise to "seriousness, high-mindedness, forbearance, and reason," as you put it. I have said almost the same thing, with qualifications, on occasion.

Peggy, your insight is keen, but I fear that you may not understand the underlying nature of the crisis of our time and the precarious situation of our world. Bear with me as I describe our painful dilemma.

The painful dilemma

The modern philosophers have come to a consensus decision to rule out a return to the ancients. Some of the early modern philosophers who helped to bring us liberal democracy also opposed a return to the ancients. You see, liberal democracy is a product of early modernism.

Thus follows our painful dilemma. A return to the ancients implies a renunciation of modernism. If we renounce modernism, we reject liberal democracy. But if we abruptly dismantle liberal democracy, Western civilization might perish. Yet, if we do not reject modernism and return to the ancients, modernism will soon destroy itself and pull down Western civilization with it into the ashes. Is there a way out of our predicament?

A delicate process of restoration

Our way out of this predicament will require an intricate battle plan. The battle plan has four phases:

1) A rearguard battle to save liberal democracy in order to buy time to win the battle for the mind. Peggy, you have become a leader of this rearguard battle.

2) The logical refutation of premodern and modern philosophers who are blocking a return to the ancients. I was a pioneer of this task, but the baton must be passed to other persons to finish the job.

3) Return to the ancients. This is the task of conservative and Christian educators and writers. A number of Protestant and Evangelical Christian academies are already doing this. They are teaching the classics in the original languages to high school students, and are also teaching the Bible in class. In this way, we can win the battle of the mind.

4) Adopt a new conservative political philosophy that is purged of modernism and that draws upon the Bible and the wisdom of the ancients.

After we return to the ancients and the people are nourished and gently healed by the light of reason and the grace of God, hopefully the scales will fall from their eyes and they will gradually realize that the fantasies of our modernist Babylon are poison to the human soul and deadening to the mind. By then, the folks will hopefully be prepared to gently transition to a wholesome political philosophy that is purged of modernist illusions.

A republic for grown-ups

The constitutional ways of the American Republic should be preserved even as the political philosophy of America is transformed. Instead of a modernist understanding of the promise of America, we shall have a classical and a godly understanding. America cannot fulfill her providential destiny until she sheds her modernist illusions. It is high time for Americans to outgrow the childish magical thinking of modernism and become a Republic for mature adults. Peggy, I surmise that having a Republic for grownups was the general intuitive sense of your call to rise above the political gangs.

The modern philosophers replace reason with willful assertion

The early modern and modern philosophers made a consensus decision that we cannot return to the ancients. This was an arbitrary decision. It was more a decision of the will than a rational decision. Their rationalization for this consensus position does not hold water.

Until I, Leo, showed up on the scene to expose the fallacies and follies of the modern philosophers, few thinkers in this intellectual wilderness questioned the arbitrary consensus of modern philosophers. Philosophy professors routinely tell their students, "there is no return to the ancients" and "we cannot turn back the clock."

However, they cannot defend those assertions with logical consistency. The modern world has taken their word for it without much critical analysis. Tell the modernists what they want to hear, and they swallow it whole.

Peggy: it has been tried

Peggy, let us look again at your exhortation to rise above the of the political gangs. The gangs are a symptom of the baseness and wretchedness of modernism.

Be warned! Something like your tactic to rise above the wretchedness of modernism has been tried successfully three times before, and each time the West replaced a bad form of modernism with a worse form of modernism. The mistake they made each time was trying to rise above the baseness of modernism while remaining within modernism. They tried to escape a wretched old prison by climbing to the highest battlement of that prison — and wondered why they still smelled the stench of the dungeons.

The three waves of modernism

Modernism has spread over the West in three historic waves. There was a reaction to each wave and an attempt to rise above intolerable things that the wave brought in. Each successful attempt to rise above the intolerable things of modernism resulted in a more intense and more deadly version of modernism. Each new wave brought in new horrors — which were more intolerable than the wretched things of the previous wave.

Peggy, we must be careful to use your tactic in such a way that we are not trying to rise above modernism while remaining within modernism. Until we break free of modernism itself, we will remain in the prison of modernism and suffer through these recurring cycles until modernism destroys itself and brings down Western civilization into the ashes with it.

Rousseau rebels against the first wave

The first wave of modernism came in softly with the early modern philosophers and rose to a crescendo during the French Enlightenment (18th century), and it ended with a bang during the French Revolution (1789) and the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815).

Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) was discontent with the low ways of the Enlightenment modernism of his era. He lived during the heyday of the highly ornamental and artificial Rococo period when shallow dandies and female peacocks preened and admired themselves and pursued exotic pleasures. They fancied that what they were doing was the "pursuit of happiness" — which was the motto of the era, and which gradually became a euphemism for luxurious corruption. Rousseau was revolted by this shallowness, artificiality, hypocrisy, and silky-veiled vice.

He also had an acute case of claustrophobia from the overly structured society of that era, with its meticulous rational definitions, its tight social boundaries, its elaborate social codes, and its delicate manners. Some of Rousseau's fans, who shared his feeling of claustrophobia, were attracted to the Romantic movement in Germany — as a means for breaking out the claustrophobic prison of early modernism.

The angelic-diabolical seducer of the West

Unfortunately, Rousseau's claustrophobia was partly self-inflicted. He was a very nasty and troubled individual — narcissistic, misanthropic, anti-social, paranoid, cruel, vindictive, brutal in his treatment of friends, and allergic to personal responsibility.

However, he was also a literary, poetic, and visionary genius. Through his great success as a writer, Rousseau became the chief prophet of the Romantic movement. He was also the leading advocate and defender of the new music invented by Gluck, Haydn, and Mozart, which we now call "classical music." Never was there such a devil and angel rolled into one. Disguised as an angel of light, Rousseau became the chief seducer of the West.

Rousseau's two solutions

Rousseau found two ways of rising up above the artificial and suffocating modernism of his day:

1) Return to nature and renounce civilized society. Rousseau blamed society for corrupting man. He claimed was that man was inherently good in a "state of nature."

2) Discover "the will of the people" through politics and join the progressive development of man's nature through history.

Interestingly, Rousseau had no interest in rising above vileness of his own character. He blamed society for his perpetual malaise. We are still annoyed by the voices of liberals who echo Rousseau when they blame society for the evil that men do and refuse to assign moral responsibility to the individual.

Rousseau's return to nature belongs to the Romantic era — which was Rousseau's era. The Romantics asserted their intuitions and feelings at the expense of reason and order. In this manner, they tried to liberate themselves from the velvet prison of early modernism

After the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, the social fabric of Europe was in ruins. Romantic hopes suffered a colossal shipwreck and disillusionment. Broken-hearted Romantics lowered their sights and tried to console themselves by seeking prosperity, personal peace, safety, and security.

Rousseau's second way of rising up higher through politics and history did not belong to his era. It belonged to the second wave of modernism — which came after his death.

Rousseau, the posthumous author of the second wave

The second wave of modernism began with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars and included a series of European revolutions that ended in 1870. It can also be argued that the four major European wars after the Napoleonic wars and before the First World War are illustrative of the pathologies of second wave modernism.

That time of troubles was the age of progressive modernism, revolution, and utopian hopes. The leading political philosophers of the second wave were Rousseau, Hegel, and Marx.

19th century discontents with modernism

Before we consider the second wave of modernism that was ushered in by the political philosophies of Rousseau, Hegel, and Marx, we must first understand the disenchantment of 19th century men with the first wave of modernism. Without that discontentment, Rousseau, Hegel, and Marx would have aroused little interest.

Along that line, we shall consider the lowering of sights, the rejection of the bourgeoisie, and impatience with liberal democracy.

They lowered our sights

The early modern philosophers — running from Machiavelli and Bacon to Hume and Kant — rejected metaphysics and the classics, took our eyes off the stars, and focused them down into the dirt. They lowered our sights from the sublime to the mundane.

Henceforth, the best minds in the West looked for instrumental solutions to practical problems — which often work only in the short run. The objective of their pragmatism was wealth, power, and personal security — or as the British utilitarians said, "the greatest good for the greatest number" — meaning of course, the greatest material good for a voting majority of people.

The modernists seduced the people to follow low pursuits — and ignore the welfare of their souls.

"Ill fares the land, to hastening ills of prey, where wealth accumulates and men decay" (Oliver Goldsmith, The Deserted Village, 1770).

Men without chests

Predictably, the successful man of modernity cuts a poor figure in comparison to the classically-educated Christian gentlemen who appeared during the Renaissance and continued on the scene until the modern era and then faded away. Modern men who tried to imitate these aristocratic gentlemen and fill their shoes were pathetic and comical figures, like Moliere's bourgeois gentleman.

C.S. Lewis called these half-men "men without chests." Human nature cannot endure indefinitely in low pursuits. Men cannot endure the battle of life without "chests" — that is to say, a life devoid of high aspirations and noble virtues. Men will eventually long for something higher. That is why modernism is unsustainable in the long run.

That "something higher" used to be provided by Christian and Jewish spirituality. Remember, my good Irish Catholic girl, that your "Uncle Leo" is a German Jew from Prussia — so I cannot forget about Jewish spirituality.

That "something higher" was also provided by premodern philosophy, which sought the beautiful, the true, the good, the just, the wise, and the virtuous.

The rejection of the bourgeoisie

The progressives and revolutionaries of the nineteenth century despised the "bourgeois" social class. Their contempt began as an aesthetic revulsion by romantic writers and evolved into an ideological obsession by the left. The bourgeoisie sought prosperity and financial security through business and pursued comfort, security, and amusement amidst the luxuries of their private homes.

Many of the bourgeoisie adopted a low pseudo-conservatism consisting of acceptance of the status quo and opposition to change. They had found prosperity by adapting to the world as it is and did not want to rock the boat. This shallow, eccentric kind of conservatism provided targets for the sharp pens of satirists such as Jane Austin, Thackeray, Dickens, and Moliere.

Progressives who believed that forces of history bring about change for the good have always been offended by status quo conservatism — and regarded it as an unwholesome opposition to change. Until the widespread propagation of conservative political philosophy after World War II, some progressives assumed that conservatism consisted of preserving the status quo. That is why we must carefully distinguish between a conservatism of the temperament and a conservatism of principles and high aspirations.

Impatience with liberal democracy

The republic established by the founders was a triumph of moderation. Federalism, the constitutional separation of powers, the limitation of powers, a bicameral legislature, representative democracy, checks and balances, the rule of law, and the Bill of Rights put a brake on the pace of change. The republic could only progress toward the Romantic ideal of equality at a moderate pace. The founders were more afraid of tyrants with arbitrary powers than they were urgent for accelerated progress towards cloudy Enlightenment ideals.

The second wave modernists were impatient for change and did not fear tyrants. They were fed up with the moderation and restraint of the republic and bridled against its structural hindrances upon those who would reshape society. They were ready to run roughshod over the old restraints to gain what they call "real democracy" instead "formal democracy." They wanted to immediately actualize the "substance of equality," instead of the accepting a gradual evolution towards equality.

In short, they would abolish the republic in the name of change and equality. The progressive movement has had this agenda for over a century. It is a miracle that the republic has survived.

Second-wave modernism

How did a sensitive nineteenth-century progressive rise above the wretched status quo of the bourgeoisie democracy? By seeking "progress" towards "utopia"! But how is that progress brought about? Hegel tells us that the "progress" comes through impersonal forces of history — which we can cooperate with or resist.

According to Hegel's cult of progress, the ideas, ideals, and values of the past are irrelevant to the contemporary modern situation and are hindrances to "progress." The only thing we need to know is the information and values relevant to this present moment. This is the deranged theory of "historicism" which is the dark side of second-wave modernism.

Historicism cuts us off not only from the ancients, but from the early modernists. Historicism introduces an intense pragmatism and an extreme situational ethics. This new kind of pragmatism was destructive because it had broken free from wholesome restraints and trampled upon the wisdom of the past.

Historicism and judicial activism

A judge who learned second wave modernism in college tends to be impatient of change. According to second-wave legal theory, he should break free from judicial restraint, and create new law by fiat — based upon the practical outcomes he desires. According to the idea of progressive historicism, we must have an elastic constitution that can be stretched, like rubber, to change with the times in order to be "relevant" to society in the present moment. Historicism reveals that legal principles of the past stand in the way of "progress."

Historicism is nonsense, of course, and laws made out of rubber are no laws at all. Real law sets limits and boundaries for the judge — and forces the judge to negotiate his way through these obstacles using reason and an established set of legal principles. Elastic law invites the judge to abandon reason and principle and stretch the law into any shape he wants. In short, elastic law substitutes arbitrary power for rational and restrained jurisprudence — and is another name for tyranny. Arbitrary power is the nature of gangs.

Second wave gangs of the left and right

The philosopher Hegel, the father of second-wave modernism, had nephews of the left and the right. The Hegelian left believed that progress comes through the overthrow of the bourgeois state and the establishment of a revolutionary government. The Hegelian right believed that progress must come through the leader of the state, which he called the "fuhrer." ("Fuhrer" means leader.)

Left-wing gangs fought right-wing gangs in the streets. Both gangs were composed of second wave modernists.

What was that you were saying, Peggy? "Conservative gangs versus liberal gangs?" Europe had them more than one hundred and fifty years ago! The contemporary "gangs" you do not like are retreads of the same wave of modernism. However, these retreads have the threadbare and senile quality of an aging and exhausted movement.

Nietzsche was the first man to notice that second-wave modernism is on the way out.

Nietzsche unleashes the third wave

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) disagreed with Rousseau, Hegel, and Marx about their assertion that the historical process is caused by the impersonal forces of history. He insisted that history was determined the "creative acts" of individual men. The essence of these acts was the "will to power" of ubermensch (superior men, or supermen).

Nietzsche was disgusted with the "last man" at the "end of history" — that is to say, the inferior man who lived at the end of modern era. He thought the end of the second wave of modernity produced this contemptible "last man."

Many moderns have entertained the strange notion that history is all about modernity and that the end of the modern era is the end of history. Second-wave moderns thought a lot about history because they believed that impersonal forces of history are gradually perfecting human nature.

Nietzsche scoffed at this myth because he concluded that second-wave modernism brought about a world that had a degrading effect on man. Modernism brought about human regress, not progress. C. S. Lewis took note of this in Pilgrim's Regress. It was a recurring theme in Solzhenitsyn's novels.

Nietzsche seems to have been the very first man of philosophic gifts to have seen through the crowning illusion of the second wave of modernism. Utopian social engineering and schemes designed to perfect human nature leave men degraded and diminished. Nietzsche understood this before C.S. Lewis and Solzhenitsyn were born! Like Rousseau, Nietzsche was an evil genius with visionary powers.

Nietzsche's prophetic insight has become commonplace understanding to us today. We can observe the dismal effects that seventy-five years of the Soviet regime had on the Russian people. The Soviets promised they were perfecting man — while they systematically crushed the natural human instincts and impulses.

Nietzsche, the dark prince of modernism

Nietzsche's revolutionary insight about this delusion of second-wave modernism made him just the man to unleash third-wave modernism. Having rebuked the demons of second-wave modernism, he opened Pandora's box and released much worse demons of the third wave. He was the dark prince of modernism.

Nietzsche was the most ferocious rebel against modernism who had yet lived — yet paradoxically, he carried the implications of modernism to greater extremes than they had ever been carried before. As such, he was the first postmodern man. Postmodernism is both a rebellion against modernism and is also the compulsion to carry the worst elements of modernism to extremes. Postmodernism is an amplification of the dark side of modernism.

Nietzsche not only rebelled against second-wave modernism, he rebelled against Christianity. He regarded Christianity as a religion for slaves and inferior people. He thought the meek submission commanded by Christ debilitates man and denies to him the life-affirming vitality of the superior man with the will to power.

Having rejected both the second-wave moderns and the Christians, Nietzsche set out to create a brave new world in the image of the superior man. Shades of Ayn Rand.

The superior man as creator

The superior man as the agent of history will not be limited by or accountable to a higher power. After all, Nietzsche declared that "God is dead." There will be no gods or universal values to look up to. Man must take responsibility to formulate his own ideals and values. Nietzsche called this the "transvaluation of values."

The stopper was out! There would henceforth be no restraints or boundaries holding self-assertive man in a sane moderation. There was now nothing standing in the way of man's pretense that he is god. Narcissistic hyper-modern man had thrown off all restraint and would now flex his muscles. Industry and technology gave him big muscles to flex.

The "superior man" would reject the dictum of philosophical realism, "existence exists." Nietzsche would go beyond the German idealism of the second wave, which held that "things are out there if the human mind acknowledges them." The third-wave superior man would say "things are out there if I will it to be so, and they are what I will them to be." Heretofore, this blend of narcissism and solipsism had been confined to the insane asylum and the nursery school. Nietzsche brought this madness out into the light of day. Western man was ready to accept this madness because his reasoning powers and moral sinews had crippled under the influence of second-wave modernism.

Man playing god goes insane

The claim that existence exists because I say so, and that what exists is what I will it to be — is the kind of magical thinking men indulge when they begin to posture as gods.

The presumption of deity is the first step into madness. Nietzsche's superior man resembles the Emperor Caligula, who fancied that he was a god — and went mad. Interestingly, Nietzsche went mad at the end of his life. As we shall see, the third wave of modernism would often have a messianic tone that was accompanied by a touch of madness. Keep watch on political leaders who think they are messiahs, for they have a rendezvous with the insane asylum, or with suicide.

The superior man must be the agent of history through politics, Nietzsche believed, paving the way for an era of political ambition on the grand sale — ambition without limits. He made possible the twentieth-century cult of the political leader as messiah.

Nietzsche: the father of Nazism

Nazism evolved in three stages:

1) The romantic movement, which protested the first wave of modernism, subsequently produced nativism. Nativism was the cult of blood and soil. Mystical spirits rise up from the soil to the folk who are close to the soil and turn them into an authentic people group with their own folk tales, heroes, myths, and culture. Some nativism cults believe in the intrinsic superiority of their own people or race. Nativism cults seem to have been particularly potent in Germany, the homeland of the Romantic movement.

2) Hegel, the German mastermind of the second wave of modernism, produced left-wing Hegelians and right-wing Hegelians who had street fights as opposing gangs. The right-wing Hegelians believed that the forces of history worked through the leader of the state regime, or "der fuhrer."

3) Nietzsche, the German mastermind of the third wave of modernism, taught the superior man to cultivate the will to power, to cultivate an unlimited political ambition, to use ideology as a means to power, to seize power and rule on his own terms, to develop the cult of personality for the popular worship of the leader as messiah.

The superior man must subdue and rule the obsequious natural slave peoples, and thereby vindicate his own superior vital powers. He must assert power according to those values he has invented for himself.

The Nazi regime was incredibly successful, powerful, and popular among Germans for ten years because it embodied all three phases of modernism —

1) The German people were bewitched by the romance of blood and soil — a first-wave spell;

2) They were enchanted by the cult of the fuhrer, the leader of the regime, through whom the forces of history would work — a second-wave enchantment; and

3) They were beguiled by extreme ideology of Nazism and the cult of supermen — a third-wave thralldom.

Nietzsche: the grandfather of communism

Communism has a clear philosophical ancestry: 1) Rousseau, 2) Kant, 3) Hegel, 4) Marx, 5) Nietzsche, 6) Lenin, 7) Stalin.

How does Nietzsche fit into this line? Lenin, Bukharin, and Trotsky fused Marx and Nietzsche into a political philosophy. Lenin taught the Marxists a radical ruthlessness that he learned from Nietzsche. The Soviet "Marxist-Leninist" regime is what we called "Communism" during the cold war. When Stalin, an extreme Leninist, became the dictator, he murdered more of his own citizens than did Hitler. His extreme willfulness and ruthlessness suggest that he was inhabited by the ghost of Nietzsche — the Darth Vader of modernism.

The continuing crisis of modernism

Liberal democracies tend to be weak in the face of fierce third-wave regimes. It required an attack by the Japanese and a declaration of war by Hitler to get America into World War II.

During the long Cold War project to contain communism which involved small proxy wars, Americans were continually divided about whether they wanted to seriously resist the spread of communism. The cold war was about a rich liberal democracy — which was weak in resolve — struggling against a poor third-wave dictatorship that was strong in resolve.

Now that Nazism is defeated and the Soviet Regime has fallen, has the time of troubles passed? No, a new third-wave horror has sprung up.

Muslim jihadism adopts third-wave depravity

Vichy France, a puppet regime under Nazi Germany, exported Nazi doctrine to the French colonies in the Middle East. Nazism combined well with certain jihadist verses that Mohammed wrote when he was a war lord. Nazi authoritarianism was compatible with the absolutism of Muslim regimes. The fruits of the Nazi-Muslim synthesis included the Baath party which produced Saddam Hussein and the absolute ruthlessness of certain terrorist groups.

When the Communists were making friends in the Middle East, they passed on the fine arts of terrorism, insurgency, and revolution to alienated Arab groups.

Once again we find ourselves as a rich but weak-willed first-wave modernist nation arrayed against a poor but strong willed, third wave modernism — wearing the guise of Muslim radicalism.

Common symptoms of third-wave modernism

Earmarks of the third wave:

1) Men sit in judgment on God, and utter threadbare lines such as "If God was good, He would not allow a child to suffer."

2) Men reject a universal moral law and traditional values and insist that they can invent their own values, truths, and moral codes.

3) Narcissism is common and widely tolerated. The children rule.

4) People yearn for a messianic political leader who establishes a cult of personality.

5) Political gangs are extremely ruthless and bitterly hate their political opponents.

6) Men reject reason and substitute magical thinking and the assertion of the will.

7) People insist they can be anything they want to be with no limitations.

8) Sexual promiscuity and perversion (including homosexuality) are commonplace.

9) The decline of the family accelerates.

10) Human evil and the evil of our enemies abroad are denied or downplayed.

11) Christians are persecuted.

Postscript: message to conservatives adrift

Dear reader, if you are a conservative adrift and Uncle Leo makes sense to you, do not rush out to read his works before you are properly prepared. He writes in a dense and esoteric style and loves paradox, and messages within messages. I suggest you read The Truth about Leo Strauss by Catherine and Michael Rucker as a preparation before you purchase books by Uncle Leo himself.

Avoid conspiracy theories about Leo Strauss and the neocons. They are developed by paranoid third-wave modernists — who might be expected to hate the man who saw through them and exposed them.

I am working on a book to be titled A Brief History of Conservatism, which provides an historical overview of the five historic streams of conservatism. A conservative adrift might discover which of these five ports in the storm are most congenial to him. He need not drift in the storm when he knows where his home port is. As he reads the book, he will gain respect for the other kinds of conservative — and perhaps will no longer feel alienated from the conservative movement.

A message from Stephen Stone, President, RenewAmerica

I first became acquainted with Fred Hutchison in December 2003, when he contacted me about an article he was interested in writing for RenewAmerica about Alan Keyes. From that auspicious moment until God took him a little more than six years later, we published over 200 of Fred's incomparable essays — usually on some vital aspect of the modern "culture war," written with wit and disarming logic from Fred's brilliant perspective of history, philosophy, science, and scripture.

It was obvious to me from the beginning that Fred was in a class by himself among American conservative writers, and I was honored to feature his insights at RA.

I greatly miss Fred, who died of a brain tumor on August 10, 2010. What a gentle — yet profoundly powerful — voice of reason and godly truth! I'm delighted to see his remarkable essays on the history of conservatism brought together in a masterfully-edited volume by Julie Klusty. Restoring History is a wonderful tribute to a truly great man.

The book is available at

© Fred Hutchison

RenewAmerica analyst Fred Hutchison also writes a column for RenewAmerica.


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. —Isaiah 40:31