Issues analysis
The rise of the neoconservatives (2000 - 2008)
A brief history of conservatism: part 17
Fred Hutchison, RenewAmerica analyst
April 2, 2009

President George W. Bush appointed a handful of neoconservatives to positions of power and influence. These officials were highly visible and controversial. "Neocons" were a convenient place to assign blame when foreign adventures went wrong. Conspiracy theories about neocons sprung up like weeds. Government policies developed by neocons sometimes divided conservatives. Neoconservatism is the most misunderstood of the five kinds of conservatives.

Shall we throw out the neocons? Or shall we embrace them as a permanent part of the conservative movement?

I argue that the neocons are essential to the conservative movement. I propose that we embrace them and accord them special honor for doing much good for their country and their civilization, and suffering the wrath of the liberals as a result. Furthermore, I suggest that we listen to them with special care.

The wisdom of the neoconservatives

Why should we listen to the neocons? Four reasons:

1) Neoconservatives have a superior understanding of the two deadly enemies of Western civilization — namely, modernism and barbarism. They understand the three historical waves of modernism and they understand barbarism, in its foreign and domestic guises;

2) The neoconservatives are committed to the rejuvenation of civilization and culture. They are devoted to classical literature, to high culture, to the cultivation of the classical virtues, and to the restoration of reason in an irrational age;

3) Neoconservatism provides a badly needed intellectual booster shot to the conservative movement; and

4) On the whole, neocons have gone through a "growing up" process after leaving the liberalism of their youth. We need more grown-ups in the conservative movement — as we shall consider in the next and final essay in this series.

Neocons from Caesar to Bush

In part 1, we discovered that certain of the tough minded and highly cultured Romans had a sort of proto-neoconservatism. Emperor Augustus Caesar and his favorite writer Virgil were good examples of this mind set.

More than two millennia have elapsed on our journey from Augustus Caesar to George Bush, and our conservative history is almost complete. Neoconservatism made a historical appearance near the beginning and near the end of our journey.

Liberals who grow up

Many leading neoconservatives started as liberals and evolved into conservatives. Hence the appellation "neoconservative," meaning "new conservative," or "new kind of conservative." An old neocon joke is that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. I like to think of a neoconservative as a liberal who has grown up. A lot of childish magical thinking must be set aside and packed in the attic with the children's toys before a liberal can grow into a neoconservative.

In part 5, we observed that some of the founders of modern conservatism were liberals in their youth, but became conservatives in their mature mid-life years. Therefore, certain of the founders of modern conservatism were neoconservatives in terms of being liberals who grew up and attained to a conservative maturity.

Crossing the Rubicon

When contemporary liberals are evolving into neoconservatives, at what point in their journey do such persons become conservatives for the duration? Is there a Rubicon for them to cross from which there is no turning back?

The favorite motto of Leo Strauss (1899–1973), the great political philosopher of neoconservatism, was "back to the ancients." In other words, let us go back before modernism began. Implicit in the motto is a renunciation of modernism. A neocon crosses his Rubicon to become a conservative for life when he decisively renounces modernism. This renunciation can be exceedingly difficult and painful to make. However, once one takes that fateful step, he is changed forever. The scales fall from his eyes as he looks back in horror at the crazy illusions, the intellectual and moral decadence, the false postures of self-righteousness, the self-defeating passions, and the secret misanthropies he labored under when he was a modernist. For this reason, neoconservatives are among the most astute critics of modernism and its political expression, liberalism.

Turning back from the Rubicon

If a budding neocon turns back without crossing the Rubicon, and he listens once more to the siren songs of modernism, he can be sucked back into liberalism. Some of those who turn back are like the young adult who takes a long look at the heavy responsibilities of adult maturity and balks. Such a one becomes a perpetual adolescent and is doomed to live a blighted life.

Some neocons who fail to cross their Rubicon might become squishy moderates. Others might find themselves awkwardly suspended between conservatism and liberalism, as was the case with Robert Hutchins.

Robert Maynard Hutchins (1899–1997), who was introduced in part 11, laid an indispensable literary, intellectual, and metaphysical foundation for neoconservatism, but he never became a political conservative. He wasted the last 25 years of his life crusading for utopian liberal causes.

However, Hutchins moved quite a distance from his youthful liberalism. He became the arch enemy of the hyper-modernist John Dewey. Hutchins might have been remembered as the father of neoconservatism if he had crossed his Rubicon.

Leo Strauss found a solution

One cannot renounce modernism unless he can clearly define the essential nature of modernism. That definition must be relevant to human action in general, and to politics in particular. The definition is difficult to develop because of the complexity of how modernism has worked through history.

Leo Strauss (1899 -1973), the seminal thinker of neoconservatism, found an effective way to do this. His background as a political philosopher, historian, and classicist helped him to find the way.

Strauss identified three waves of modernism: the first wave was in the 18th century, the second wave was in the 19th century, and the third wave was in the 20th century. Each wave of modernism can be reduced to its essential nature and explained so the average person can understand it — and renounce it.

The first wave of modernism

The first wave of modernism, which occurred in the 18th century, involved two rebellions: a philosophical rebellion and a romantic rebellion. The former was a rebellion against metaphysics. The latter involved a rebellion against civilization and a return to nature. Both were camouflaged rebellions against reason.

Neocons put a great value on metaphysical rationality, high culture, and civilization. Therefore, the two rebellions of the first wave of modernism are hateful to them.

Leo Strauss' exhortation to "return to the ancients" essentially means to seek inspiration from those days in the West that were prior to modernism: when metaphysics was robust and the high culture of Europe was blossoming.

The 18th century rejection of metaphysics

Metaphysics deals with questions about first principles, the meaning and purpose of life, and questions about realities that underlie surface appearances. It deals with the nature of being and existence. Metaphysics provides principles of rational understanding. The development of a mature, full-orbed rationality is not possible without metaphysics.

Writers such as Machiavelli, Bacon, Descartes, and Locke (as per his epistemology) gave an early warning that a rumbling against metaphysics had begun among intellectuals in the 16th and 17th century. See part 4 for details.

A radical renunciation of metaphysics came in the 18th century with the writings of Voltaire, Diderot, Hume, and Kant. Voltaire provided the satire and ridicule, Hume provided the acid bath of skepticism, and Diderot provided the atheistic materialism. Kant supplied the epistemological pessimism, that is to say, pessimism about what we can know. Kant believed that metaphysical realities exist, but concluded that they are beyond reach of the human mind. His critique of metaphysics was a death-blow to metaphysical rationality.

Francis Bacon (1561–1626) provided the method and the goal: namely, practical empirical knowledge stripped of metaphysics that is used in the quest for naked power and material gain. Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527) made similar contributions to the unprincipled and ruthless program of modernism for power. Modernism showed an ugly and sinister face to the world in these early beginnings.

The rejection of metaphysics involved turning the mind away from lofty ideas and toward low pragmatic, materialistic, opportunistic considerations. This change narrowed the mind and soul of modern man. It made him more resourceful, but less rational and less principled. The program of pragmatism made modern men more economically productive, but it also made them calculating, mercenary, and ruthless.

The acid bath of skepticism

A leadership training program for young conservatives should prepare them for the modernist acid bath of skepticism toward metaphysics. Every young conservative who goes to college and tries to discuss metaphysics will run into this hostile skepticism. If he renounces the skepticism toward metaphysics before he goes to college, the odds will be reduced of him falling into the acid bath at college and becoming a modernist skeptic.

The student should be taught that the vicious skepticism toward metaphysics is an irrational and arbitrary prejudice. He should be alerted that none of the enemies of metaphysics will be able to offer a logical reason why they are against it. The bias against metaphysics is caught like an infection in the fever swamps of modernist academia.

Beauty, truth, and the good

The rejection of metaphysics by modernists has led to the denial that truth, beauty, and the good have metaphysical reality. For example, the college student will be told that there is no such thing as intrinsic beauty in the arts, poetry, and music — because the modernists feel that beauty is entirely a matter of personal taste. He will be told that there is no such thing as metaphysical truth, and therefore the truths in theology, philosophy, and literature are entirely matters of personal opinion. He will be told that there is no such thing as the metaphysical good and therefore, good and evil are private values of the individual.

The student who attends our leadership seminar should be encouraged to renounce these fallacies of modernism and encouraged to diligently seek metaphysical beauty, metaphysical truth, and metaphysical good. One such seeker on campus can turn many students away from a self-destructive skepticism and toward the seeking of truth, beauty, and the good.

The trick is to catch the students soon enough so that a skeptical hostility toward truth, beauty, and the good has not sunk too deeply into their hearts. The point of no return comes when they feel proud and superior in their role as the self-appointed debunker of all that is good. This is the point when the subverted student joins the forces of evil. In time, such a one might become a despoiler of all that is good. The modernist university is all too often a launching pad for turning men into monsters.

Multicultural nonsense

The student should be warned against the celebration of mediocre works in art and literature solely on the grounds that they are produced by minorities, women, gays, or people of non-western cultures.

This predilection is not just a politically correct fad. The West once had a grand civilization of metaphysics. Primitive non-western cultures have no notion of metaphysics. Gays have rejected metaphysical moral standards and hold that sexual practices are a matter of personal preference and taste. Feminists have equated metaphysical standards in history, literature, and the arts with patriarchy and oppression. Therefore, they reject the great books written by "dead, white, European males." They claim that only women can judge women's literature and women's history.

Black studies departments at universities have equated the application of metaphysical standards to black history and literature with racism. Assuming that there are no metaphysical realities outside black culture, only blacks can judge the literary value of the works of black culture, or so we are told. Start with nonsense — that there are no metaphysical standards — and you conclude with nonsense — that only blacks can judge black art, black music, and black literature.

If a white student were to attend a black history class and say to the professor, "Cleopatra was not black as you are teaching. She was Greek. We know this because she was a descendant of a Greek general of Alexander the Great, who acquired Egypt as part of his empire in 332 B.C.," the professor would probably not ask the student for his source of the historical facts. But he might question the student's racial "sensitivity." If the student responded, "It is not a matter sensitivity, it is matter of historical fact," the professor might fire back with the charge of racism.

This way lies madness. A society in rebellion against metaphysics loses its balance and takes leave of its senses. Without a metaphysical bulwark against irrationality, people can be bullied into believing nonsense. Thus, the recovery of metaphysics is necessary both for the protection of our sanity and the preservation of freedom.

By this point, a student in the conservative leadership class might already realize the imperative of a radical renunciation of modernism.

Reasons, not canned steps; principles, not payoffs

The student should be warned about modernists who will tell them to ignore general principles and learn by rote only those instrumental rules that have an immediate practical payoff. This was the approach of modernists John Dewey and William James. Practical rules are not to be despised, of course — but to have actions divorced from reasons and meanings is irrational, inhuman, uncivilized, and ultimately dysfunctional.

The secret of long-term professional success is to refuse to do anything by rote, and insist upon having a logical reason for every step one takes. In this way, professional judgment and skill steadily improve over time. Those who stick with canned approaches reach a limit in professional growth after two years.

The student at our leadership training class should be told, "Let the modernists stagnate because of their skepticism about general principles and their mindless, rote, cookbook approach to pragmatic actions. You conservatives should insist upon having a logical reason or a principle for every step you take. You should always be able to explain what you are doing and why you are doing it. In this way, you will grow into a leader with progressively growing wisdom, judgment, and skill."

The life driven by principle and reason will tend to be less prone to the temptations and vices of the mere pragmatist, who does whatever appears to "work" to get a practical payoff — even if he does not know why it works. Let us have a principle-driven life, not a payoff-driven life. The payoff-driven orientation of modernism tends toward vice, and the principled nature of conservatism tends toward virtue.

The Romantic return to nature

The Romantic movement was the cultural wing of first-wave modernism. The movement started in literature and the arts in Germany in the 18th century. Jean Jacques Rousseau invented the philosophy of Romanticism in the mid-18th century.

Rousseau's Romantic philosophy can be summarized this way: Man in a state of nature was a noble savage. His nature was inherently good. The beginning of his corruption was when he first acquired property. He became further corrupted by civilization. Thus, all man's evils and vices are caused by society. Therefore, let us return to nature and release all those repressed urges that have been artificially bottled up by the strictures of society.

The following points should be powerfully made to the leadership class:

1) Blaming society for your vices relieves you of responsibility for your actions, which is very bad for your moral and spiritual condition. The separation of actions from consequences leads to irrational thought.

2) If you believe that human evil comes entirely from society, you will seek to fix society through legislation. All such attempts backfire with unintended consequences, precisely because society is not the cause of the evil in the hearts of men. Social programs based upon a misunderstanding of human nature always do more harm than good.

3) Civilized society does more good than evil because it generally restrains men from doing antisocial and overtly destructive things. Civilization is more amenable to the development of virtue than living in the wilderness. Property ownership, civic involvement, and family commitment also help in the development of personal responsibility and faithfulness.

The young conservative should be told, "Do not seek the path that will maximize your income. Seek the path that will maximize your wisdom, virtue, knowledge, and powers of reason. Consider how a new job will develop your character and sense of personal responsibility.

4) If you retreat to nature and allow your impulses to freely flow, before long more evil will flow out than good. In time, you will be reduced to barbarian savagery. Barbarism blocks the development of human potential and often leads to violent depravity.

5) Nature should be respected, but should never be glorified or worshiped. In the words of Tennyson, nature is "red in tooth and claw." There is no such thing as a noble savage. This is a myth unknown to the world prior to the 18th century. The culture of primitive tribes should never be emulated in spite of Hollywood's infatuation with all things primitive.

6) The full flourishing of human nature comes when one's highest talents are fully developed and are used to contribute to the development or renewal of an advanced civilization.

7) The progressive education program fosters the uninhibited expression of raw impulses that tend toward a destructive narcissism and misanthropy.

Once our conservative leadership class has had time to comprehend and renounce the principles of first-wave modernism, they are ready to be introduced to the complex tangle of second-wave modernism.

The second wave of modernism

The first wave of modernism of the 18th century was a wave of skepticism and pragmatism. Those factors coalesced during the second half of the century. In contrast, the second wave of modernism that came in the 19th century was a wave of mysticism and magical thinking.

Why did not the skeptics living in the 19th century debunk the infusion of mystics in that century? Some of them did. Charles Dickens' satirical novels had a variety of examples of skeptical, hard-headed men trying to correct or harass the dreamers. Dickens himself, however, sided with the dreamers because he was one of them.

In the realm of philosophy, thinking based in utilitarianism, consequentialism, pragmatism, and instrumentalism made great headway during the 19th century, through the writings of tough-minded thinkers such as Bentham, Mill, James, Anscombe, Sidgewick, and Dewey. Thus, there were more hard-headed pragmatists and skeptics in the 19th century than in the 18th century. There was a tension between these tough-minded men and the dreamy new 19th century modernists. As we shall see, Karl Marx offered a synthesis between tough-minded materialism and dreamy utopianism that was the key to his success as a public intellectual.

The sweeping away of metaphysics in the 18th century made possible the rise of two seemingly opposite things — extremely tough-minded pragmatism and extremely tender-minded mystical thinking. The world of modernism is loaded with both kinds of thinking. The Victorian age, in particular, is filled with the dichotomy of the tough and the tender. Men were obliged to demonstrate their tough masculinity and women were obliged to demonstrate their tender femininity.

The mind swept clean of metaphysics is free to stare down at the hard ground of pragmatism and also free to gaze up into the clouds and fancy that castles are up there. Manic-depressive pathology is the mental illness of modernism. Modernists are prone to an unhealthy swing from living in castles in the clouds to being overcome by the gritty hardness of practical life. They sing with the fairies and retreat to the trolls who live under bridges. Now let us return to Rousseau and sing with the fairies.

Rousseau's "general will"

Rousseau was the only man who was an original thinker for both the first and second wave of modernism. His political ideas were very influential in the 19th century. They influenced the French Revolution which came at the end of the 18th century. There were a series of revolutions in the 19th century when quotations of Rousseau were read at the barricades, such as his incendiary line, "Man was born free, but is everywhere in chains." Karl Marx could not resist stealing that line.

Rousseau's theory of a social contract was intended to apply to a republic in which the people have sovereignty. However, his idea of "the people" was cloudy and quirky. Who are the people and how do the people rule? Whoever they are, they rule through the "general will," according to Rousseau.

The "general will" — whatever that is — is always right, or so Rousseau tells us. Only through the "general will" comes authentic reform and progress. Trust in the "general will" and the magic of progress will unfold before us. But why should this be so? Well, if man is inherently good, as Rousseau taught his 18th century followers, the "will of the people" must be even better.

A political-intellectual elite class sprang up to tell us what the "general will" is. The members of this elite were perpetually hoping to be hired by rulers willing to be told what the "general will" is. Ministries of propaganda came into being to tell the people that what the government is doing is the "general will."

When a general dissatisfaction spreads through the land, a charismatic candidate or leader who vaguely promises "change" and "hope" might be trusted by many people if they think he has the right instincts for divining the "general will.' Remember, the "general will" is alleged to be the sure way to "progress." Such an electorate abandons reason, and puts forth the delicate tendrils of wishful thinking. Such was the bewitched American electorate of 2008.

Every political demagogue in the nineteenth century appealed to the "general will." Every revolutionary leader claimed that his revolution was bringing to pass the "general will." Most communist regimes style themselves as "people's republics," even though they were as far from being that as regimes can be. More political lies have been told in the name of the "general will" or the "will of the people" than with any other pretext.

One of the most pathetic moments in political history was when President Franklin Roosevelt said to the sinister Joseph Stalin, the genocidal dictator of the Soviet Union, "I know that we both govern according to will of our people." What? The fiendish Stalin ruled according to the will of the people?

That wooly-headed notion proceeded from a mind that was swept clean of metaphysics and filled to the brim with of the cotton candy of a 19th century kind of political wishful thinking and cloudy political mysticism. The much-beloved President Franklin Roosevelt was not a grown-up. Fortunately, Roosevelt's favorite general, George Marshall, was a grown-up who acted as almost a substitute president during the war years.

The "general will" or "the will of the people" is undefined by modernists because it is undefinable. Therefore, the phrase casts a cloud of confusion over our political discourse. It is high time to scuttle these vague phrases of cotton candy modernism for good and all.

The inevitability of progress

The belief in the inevitability of progress has been an article of faith among modernists since the time of Hegel. Scarcely any American liberals doubted it in 1960. This faith was shaken in the late 1960's. Hubert Humphrey (1911–1978) was the last presidential candidate (1968) to wholeheartedly believe in the inevitability of progress. His ebullient voice on the stump seemed strangely outdated and tone deaf. The cadres of the Democratic party lacked in their customary pep and spunk. Their renditions of "Happy Days are Here Again" lacked conviction.

I predicted soon after that time that the old faith in the inevitability of progress could never be restored and that therefore liberalism was finished. I supposed that the temple of liberalism/progressivism could not survive the breaking of its key pillar.

However, I failed to consider that the disillusionment of modernists after World War I was far more intense than the later disillusionment of the 60's — which failed to kill off modernists' faith in progress. The faith in "progress" has been incredibly resilient.

The belief in the inevitability of progress is one of the most unsupportable ideas that have ever entered the mind of men — and yet it is very dear to the heart of the modernist. The unwillingness to give up this beloved myth is what prevented Robert Hutchins from crossing his Rubicon and becoming the father of the neoconservatives. The neocons must learn how to persuade moderns to give up their mystical faith in progress. When they can do this effectively, many more neocons will cross their Rubicon and reach conservative maturity.

Hegel and the forces of history

Georg Hegel (1770–1831) believed that impersonal "forces of history" are driving human history and, therefore, progress is inevitable. Why would an impersonal force care about human progress? How can an impersonal force understand personal beings or to help them progress? After all, progress has no meaning except to a finite, personal, and developmental being, like man. It has no meaning to an impersonal force. These notions are preposterous on their face, but they are sold by wrapping them in the fog of pantheism.

Pantheism holds that everything is "god" and that therefore, we are part of a great divinity and a great "oneness." Thus, the cosmos is god, nature is god, I am god and the coffee pot is god. No rational theology can be constructed from these hazy concepts because the reasoning faculties shut down in the midst of this fog. Here is one more way that modernism is the enemy of reason.

Hegel tells us that history is the story of the pantheistic cosmos assuming forms of greater and greater oneness in historical stages. At the end of history, the cosmos will roll its self up into a perfect "oneness." Men will have perfect equality and perfect oneness in that day. These historical cycles leading ultimately toward utopia are "progress."

Let us unpack this mess. How can we be one with of the pantheistic "god" if we are personal beings and the pantheistic "god" is impersonal? Why can't the events of an historical age leave men less united and less equal — for this has happened many times?

Hegel answered that antithetical forces collide and synthesize. The "synthesis" is a step closer to the utopia. Why would antagonistic forces synthesize instead of shattering? History is full of stories about regimes and institutions that collided, shattered, and did not synthesize.

Hegel claims that the impersonal pantheistic forces of history somehow cause things to synthesize instead of shattering. You will just have to take Hegel's word for this because there is no way to rationally support the claim. Modernists regard Hegel's formula "thesis, antithesis, and synthesis" as prophetic. Neoconservatives should openly declare the formula to be preposterous. The formula was devised by Kant for developing metaphysical ideas. He would have laughed to hear it used for stages of history.

Karl Marx

Karl Marx (1818–1883) combined the soft-headed magical ideas of Hegel with the hard-headed materialism of Diderot. Therefore, his doctrine was a synthesis of 18th and 19th century modernism — which accounts for his popularity with modernistic intellectuals.

Marx was an economic determinist. He believed that 1) social classes are economically determined, and 2) human nature is shaped by the social class one is in. A lot of modernist ideas we have considered are absurd on their face, but this is not one of them. Ideas 1) and 2) have just enough truth in them to be plausible — if you do not examine them too closely. As recently as the 1960's, these ideas passed among modernists without question. Even now, the left is trying to resurrect these oft- discredited notions, so let us pause and briefly debunk them.

A social class must have an economic foundation or it cannot exist. However, economics is not determinative of the ideals, mores, or social codes of a class. Traditions, education, family ethos, concepts of honor, socialization, community participation, privileges and duties, and power structures have more to do with it.

Marx's economic determinism in the context of class is a combination of three fatal errors: 1) the error of a vast overestimation of the role of economics in the formation of a man, 2) the error of vast overestimation of the formative role of social classes, and 3) the error of determinism.

Jesus said, "Man does not live by bread alone" — meaning that man is more than a purely material creature. He has a complex personal nature that is partly spiritual, partly intellectual, party emotional, partly social, partly imaginative, and party esthetic. Furthermore, the combination of these ingredients varies from person to person. A society that only recognizes material factors is reductionist and inhuman. Therefore, Marxism is inhuman.

Contrary to the teachings of some liberal Christian ministries, the idea of "social justice" has Marxist origins, not Christian origins. The unequal distribution of wealth is presumed unjust because it must of necessity involve the predation of upper classes upon lower classes, or so Marx tells us. But it is not necessarily so. There are many honest ways to become rich without doing unjust deeds or oppressing the poor.

The Bible does indeed condemn the rich man who oppresses the poor through unjust dealings, but never says that all rich men do this. However, Marx has the effrontery to insist that all income inequality is de facto evidence of the oppression of the poor via social classes. In his mind, anyone who makes good always does it directly through unjust practices, or through the unfair advantages of class.

Concerning these "unfair advantages," the men of humble origin who make good do not enjoy "the unfair advantages of class," but Marx recognizes no exceptions to his rule. He insists the economically successful man is always tainted, either by overt injustice or by the collective wickedness and guilt of his class.

But why are the advantages of class "unfair." Because they are unequally distributed. Why does "fairness" require the equal distribution of advantages? This is so only because the ideals of modernism declare it to be so. Modernists presume that during the future utopia, all men will be perfectly equal. But how can this be a happy condition when men have different talents, different intellectual capacities, different competencies, and different character qualities? will be perfect in those days, answer the utopians. In what way does uniform equality of mind, talent, and competencies represent perfection?

The presumption of "unfairness" based upon the unequal distribution of advantages is irrational. The English aristocrat had many advantages by birth. The fact that the aristocracy was economically marginalized by the rise of the industrial, financial, and commercial interests — interests that rarely included people who started with aristocratic advantages — seems to have made no impression on the Marxists. Why did Marx cling so tightly to the idea that class and economics account for everything? Because he was a determinist. He rejected the idea that man has an innate nature and insisted that man is essentially an automaton and is programmed by impersonal forces. But how does talk of justice and fairness apply to automatons? Who can be morally aroused when the programming of automatons is unequally applied?

Marx thought that the progressive forces of history came from collisions of class and economics. Why? "Thesis, antithesis, and synthesis" was the foolish nostrum that Marx borrowed from Hegel and Hegel borrowed from Kant — and which Marx applied to class and economics. Marx labeled it "dialectical materialism."

Neoconservatives stand athwart Marxism

Neoconservatives should forcefully renounce all these Marxist ideas. Why? 1) Because the ideas are reductionist and inhuman, 2) because they stir up popular discontentment in society that is abused by political demagogues, 3) because they destroy a creative, vibrant economy, and 4) because they subvert the true ideas of justice and charity.

Telling man that he is an automaton programmed by impersonal forces is a lie. As discussed in chapter 7, telling a man something that is false about his nature inflicts an injury upon him. No greater calamity can befall a man than to believe that he is a soulless, mindless automaton.

Liberal democrats cannot desist from using class warfare and social justice propaganda to win elections. America no longer has authentic social classes, only income stratas and ranges of life styles. Any disciplined and reasonably intelligent and talented person may gradually climb upward through one or more income stratas in the course of a lifetime. But still the mindless class warfare propaganda goes on and on. It casts a haze over political campaigns that makes it hard to focus rationally upon the real issues.

Freedom vs. socialism

There is more at stake than the prosperity that free enterprise brings and the poverty that socialism brings. Human freedom is at stake. An individual is not really free unless he is free to buy and sell property, start a business, or offer his services to an employer or to the public. Fiedrich Hayek wrote the book The Road to Serfdom, in which he argued that the citizens of socialist regimes are not free, but are not exactly slaves. They are bound to their monotonous jobs, like serfs who were forbidden to venture out from the manor to an outside market place.

Social justice, guilt, and bitterness

Finally, social justice ideas have led to giving to the poor out of guilt, and the receiving of gifts by the poor out of resentment. If an unequal distribution of wealth is unjust, the guilty rich will give gifts as an atonement and the bitter poor will receive a gift thinking it is about time he got his due.

This is the exact opposite of the teaching of Christ and the apostles, who taught us to give in love and compassion, not from guilt, and to receive with gratitude and not resentment.

Furthermore, it is absurd to ascribe guilt to an entire social class and entitlement to an entire class. Unfortunately, Marx's false notions of social justice are undergoing a revival in America.

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 impersonal forces of history. These theories all lead to a "last man" at the end of history after the forces of history are played out.

Nietzsche was personally disgusted with the feckless, equivocal, effeminate, and wishful-thinking specimens he had observed as the "last men" of modernism. Far from being ready for utopia, he thought them good for nothing but to make way for real men who are prepared to demonstrate their mastery.

In C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters, the senior demon Screwtape was disgusted with the mushy quality of the damned souls of modernism. He preferred the "crunchy" quality and the great sinners of prior ages. Screwtape's reaction to modern men was much the same as Nietzsche's reaction!

Nietzsche thought that modernism had a degrading effect on Western man, and he was right. In human terms, modernism brought about human regress, not progress. C.S. Lewis emphasized this, in his book Pilgrim's Regress. It was a recurring theme in Solzhenitsyn's novels.

In a visionary insight, Nietzsche saw through, to the bottom, the crowning illusion of the second wave of modernism. Utopian social-engineering projects designed to perfect human nature leave men degraded and diminished. Nietzsche may have been the first man to understand that modernism is rotten to the core.

Nietzsche might well have become the first neoconservative! Instead, he became the dark prince of hypermodernism, or Postmodernism, if you will. Instead of crossing his Rubicon and renouncing modernism, he invented an exaggerated and sinister new kind of modernism! It was to be a modernism for strong, proud, ruthless men, and not a modernism for wimps.

Nietzsche, the dark prince of modernism

Nietzsche's deep insight about the 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 unleashed much worse demons upon the world. "Away with this mushy evil" he might have thought. "I will show them what a virile and manly evil looks like!" He was like the little boy who casts aside mildly scary Halloween masks with disgust and enthusiastically reaches for the most hideous mask in the store.

He was a ferocious rebel against modernism, 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 a compulsion to carry the worst elements of modernism to extremes.

The youth rebellion of the 60's was Nietzschean. It was a rebellion by extreme young modernists against the mild wishy-washy modernism of their parents. This rebellion was the beginning of the disintegration of Western democracies.

Nietzsche not only rebelled against second-wave modernism, he rebelled against Christianity, as an arch-demon must. He wrote that Christianity was a religion for slaves, serfs, and inferior people. The soft, effeminate, liberal Christians he knew contributed to this perception. 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. One wonders how much of this fury began as a rebellion against his father, who was a Lutheran pastor.

Having renounced soft modernism, and soft Christianity, Nietzsche set out to create a hard new world for the superior man. Shades of Ayn Rand.

The superior man as creator

Instead of impersonal forces driving history, superior men would become the agents of history in Nietsche's cosmos. He exhorted people to awaken from their modernist slumbers, to shake themselves and personally take responsibility for their civilization and their history. Although this sounds vaguely like something a neoconservative might say, Nietzsche's actual meaning is anathema to all conservatives. He meant that superior men must become gods and create their world anew.

As gods, superior men must recognize no higher gods and no moral authority over them. Whereas the Christian God is bound by his own laws of righteousness, the new gods of Nietzsche's world are more like the Islamic Allah, who can break his own laws and can change his mind about what those laws are to be.

Nietzsche exhorted moderns to take responsibility for the formulation of their own values and rules. He called this the "transvaluation of values." However, if everyone is a god and creates their own moral cosmos, no social consensus is possible and society begins to disintegrate.

The stopper was out!

There would henceforth be no restraints or boundaries holding self-assertive men in sane moderation. The stopper was out! Sheer madness of an unrestrained kind was loosed on the world during the 20th century. There was now nothing standing in way of the pretense of proud men that they are gods. Narcissistic hyper-modern men had thrown off all restraint.

The new "superior man" would reject the dictum of philosophical realism that "existence exists." Unlike the German idealists, who said "things are out there when men acknowledge them," the Nietzschean god-man would say "things are out there if I will them to be out there, and what is out there is what I want to be out there." Some call this solipsism. I call it madness.

Playing god drives men insane

As we have seen, the presumption of deity leads to magical thinking. Those who make this presumption are like King Canute who commanded the tide not to come in. Nietsche's superior man is like the evil and demented emperor Caligula, who thought he was a god and went insane. Interestingly, Nietzsche went insane at the end of his life. The human mind is incapable of supporting the presumption of divinity without eventually cracking.

Nietzsche's influence worked in two directions in the West. It worked toward hyper-individualism in America, and it worked toward the idea of a political messianism in Germany and Russia. Almost everywhere, political leaders adopted grandiose ambitions and attempted to establish the cult of personality.

Nietzsche: the father of Nazism

Nazism evolved in three stages:

1) The romantic movement, which was part of the first wave of modernism, brought nativism — the cult of blood and soil — to Germany. Mystical spirits were said to rise up from the soil and animate the German folk who are close to the soil — and turn them into an authentic people group with their own folk tales, heroes, myths, magic, and culture.

Some nativist cults believe in the inherent superiority of their own people or race. This was particularly true in Germany after the nativists got a taste of Nietzsche's egomania. The people at mass Nazi rallies seemed to go into a drunken euphoria when the "master race" was mentioned by the speaker.

2) During the second wave of modernism, Hegel's left-wing sons fought it out with Hegel's right-wing sons at the barricades. The right-wing sons believed that the leader of the state, or "der fuhrer," was the vanguard of history. One of things the fuhrer must do is to utterly crush Hegel's left-wing sons — which in Hitler's day were the Communists. The Communists were Hitler's rival for being Hegel's vanguard of history. That is why Hitler rose to power as a Communist fighter. And that is why Hitler invaded Russia — to stamp out Communism — which was his central objective for going to war.

3) Nietzsche, the mastermind of third-wave modernism, taught the superior man to cultivate the will to power, to crush inferior men, and to indulge in unlimited political ambitions. The rising fuhrer must use ideology as a weapon. He must seize power and rule on his own terms. He must accept no limitations to his power. He and must develop the cult of personality so as to be worshiped as a political messiah. The triumphant fuhrer must subdue and rule the obsequious natural slave peoples, and thereby vindicate his mastery and his superior vital powers.

The Nazi regime was incredibly successful, powerful, popular, and united. The German achievements in the war from 1939 to 1941 are almost unbelievable. Most of the German people remained loyal to der fuhrer until the bitter end. Most of the soldiers fought until they ran out of ammunition. The Russians lost 300,000 men in taking Berlin.

The incredible success of the evil Nazi regime was due to the fact that Nazism perfectly embodied the three waves of modernism. The German people were spectacularly unified, inspired, and energized by the triple forces of modernism.

Nietzsche: the grandfather of communism

Communism has a clear philosophical ancestry: 1) Rousseau, 2) Kant, 3) Hegel, 4) Marx, 5) Nietzsche, 6) Lenin, and 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 the radical ruthlessness he learned from Nietzsche. The Soviet "Marxist-Leninist" regime is what we called "communism" during the cold war. The dictator Stalin was a thoroughgoing Leninist, that is to say a Nietzschean. He murdered far more of his own citizens than Hitler murdered of his citizens. He sent far more people to concentration camps and work camps, and his secret police was every bit as deadly as the Gestapo.

The continuing crisis of modernism

Liberal democracy tends to be weak in the face of the threat of third-wave regimes. The constant denial that Hitler or Stalin was a threat by deceived liberal-modernist regimes meant that the West sat on its hands until it was almost too late. During the cold war, American liberals could not decide if they wanted to resist the expansion of the Soviet Union. As often as not, they resisted the conservatives who wanted to fight communism.

Now that Nazism is defeated and the Soviet regime has collapsed, has the time of troubles passed? No! A new third-wave horror has sprung up!

Muslim jihadism goes third wave

Vichy France, a puppet regime under Nazi Germany, exported Nazi doctrine to the Muslim Middle East and North Africa, where the French still had colonies in Syria, Lebanon, Algeria, Tunesia, and Morocco. Nazism combined well with certain jihadist verses that Mohammed wrote when he was a war lord.

The fruit of the Nazi-jihadist synthesis was the Baath party which produced Saddam Hussein. The frightening ruthlessness and blood thirstiness of some jihadist terrorists is a signature mark of the Nietzschean-Nazi touch.

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

Once again we see the Western powers as soft, weak-willed modernist regimes dithering in the face a third-wave threat. Europe is particularly paralyzed by denials of the jihadist threat. The Democratic Congress in America has plenty of members who are almost European in their denial of the threat.


The plan of this essay was to define the specific renunciations of modernism a budding neoconservative must make to "cross the Rubicon," and thereby complete his journey from liberalism to conservative. The plan is applicable to first and second wave modernism.

Once a full renunciation of modernism is made at these two levels, third-wave modernism automatically becomes repugnant. When the budding neoconservative has crossed his Rubicon for the first and second waves, it will only be necessary to educate him as to what the third-wave people are saying. That is enough to fill him with horror and indignation.

If there had not been the first two waves of modernism, no sane man would have listened to Nietzsche. You may recall how pathetic and contemptible "the last man" of modernism was in Nietzsche's eyes. These ruined people were the very ones who had ears to hear what Nietzsche was saying.

Once again, let us heartily welcome the neoconservatives into the conservative movement and let us seek to learn from them, as together we combat the insanity of Nietzschean philosophy. For without them, who is going to lead us through the minefields of modernism?

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.


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They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. —Isaiah 40:31