The Neoconservatism in Michael Gove and Celsius 7/7 (4) – Terraforming Britain into a “Closed Society”

MichaelGoveCelsius77_4

In this series, we will delve deeper into the views held by our new Justice Secretary, Michael Gove as articulated in his book, Celsius 7/7, with additional commentary explaining the neoconservativism underpinning the statements where appropriate, and the impact it has thus far had on the good Britons of this country.

Click here to read Part 1.

Click here to read Part 2.

Click here to read Part 3.


Why Such an Offensive Foreign Policy?

Gove leads us to believe that democracy is the best “solvent yet devised for Islamism”, or rather, Islamic self-determination. Hence the benevolent West should bestow this loving gift through bombs and arms primarily in the resource rich Middle East.  This fantasy justification has been rebutted by history itself, be it through the hypocritical stance taken on the death sentence of the first democratically elected President of Egypt, or the outgrowth of the ever belligerent ISIS from the ruins of neocon foreign policy.  The argument that democracy means a safer world is untrue; the US “democracy” has been overthrowing other democracies for decades.

No, the real reason is alluded to through shrewd wording.  Gove writes that the importance of the spread of democracy is firstly “a matter of simple, prudent statecraft.”[1] While Gove goes on to extol the hypothetical virtues of a “proper” democratic Iran, a trackback is needed and these words carefully analysed.

“Prudence” and “statecraft” have very particular meanings amongst neoconservatives. And as the citation of Allan Bloom and reference to Kristol and Kagan’s “moral clarity” in the book shows, Gove is not unfamiliar with American neoconservative works.

Irving Kristol defined “prudence” as an approach to politics which eschews rational principles.  “Prudence is a virtue”, he wrote, “a way of looking at the world and taking your principles form the world as it is. Not determining your principles first, then trying to shape the world to fit them”.[2] He further expands on this Machiavellian thinking by arguing that there are moments when it is wrong to do the right thing:

“There are occasions where circumstances trump principles. Statesmanship consists not in being loyal to one’s avowed principles (that’s easy), but in recognizing the occasions one’s principles are being trumpeted by circumstances…”[3]

In other words, neocons reject established moral principles. To adhere to principles deriving from liberal values would be “extremism”, and doing the right thing may be wrong.  This nihilistic philosophy of governance requires an expert, guiding hand of the “statesman”.  It is a tool for the “Machiavellian prince” to exercise his “statecraft” and shape society.  The following words of neocon Carnes Lord explain how this is achieved,

“Like strategy in war, statecraft is an art of coping with an adversarial environment… Like strategy, too, statecraft is also an art of relating means to ends. If… strategy is the art of using wars to achieve the objectives of the war, statecraft is the art of using wars and other instruments available to political leaders to attain national goals.”[4]

For all the claims of “liberal values” and the spread of “freedom”, what really underpins Gove’s war-fetish is not the apparent generosity of spreading what he thinks is good, but the maintenance of authoritarian power through the use of wars to “attain national goals”.  Hence why it is fitting for Gove to then write about suspending civil liberties and increasing powers of the security services only a page after his abovementioned quote on “prudence” and “statecraft”. Cementing the role of the State as the enabler of this authoritarianism, he adds

“We also need to ensure they get the political leadership they deserve to tackle the problems we face.”[5]

In other words, a political elite terraforms society by removing civil liberties, and instilling qualities of fascist authoritarianism behind the fear of an external threat.

Terraforming Society Through an External Threat

In order to understand how this change is achieved, we need to understand the manufacturing of the threat. In part two of this series, we saw how Gove constructed the “Trojan Horse” – the outsider threat within – by effectively relegating most Muslims and their faith to “Islamism”. Gove informs us repeatedly that we in the West are vulnerable and that in essence, every time we respect the sensitivities of Muslims, fail to strongly assert “liberal values” or bomb Muslims harshly enough, then this is seen as weakness by the “Islamists”, which therefore emboldens them to commit terrorist attacks.  Every action of the West is thus reduced a PR victory for Islamists, unless Western responses are harshened.[6] This dual theme runs throughout the book: the weak “us” and the ever-present enemy that is “them”.

Allow me to clarify a fundamental point from the outset: neocons are not liberals and neither do they believe in it.  Irving Kristol, the “godfather” of neoconservatism emphatically made that clear when he said,

“…liberals were wrong, liberals are wrong, because they are liberals. What is wrong with liberalism is liberalism…”[7]

Liberal values, democracy and human rights are thus the tools by which this threat is posited against. It constructs the unifying, collectivist “us”.  This adversarial rhetoric is then globalised, accentuating the threat. For instance, in justifying the Iraq war, Gove writes that,

“The millions of Iraqis who defied terrorist violence and shamed Western cynics to turn out and vote… reaffirmed the precious universality of human rights.”[8]

However, a deeper look beneath the exoteric rhetoric of liberal values and “precious human rights” reveals footprints of the complete opposite. Gove laments the nineties as a “weightless decade” with an embrace of a “weightless security policy”. Defence budgets were cut and spending on intelligence and security services reduced.  The “vigilance against communism” which secured “freedom” was diminished.[9] He elaborates,

“…Western societies pursued a course of self-indulgence. The enjoyment of peace dividends was fuelled by the conviction that a new paradigm was emerging in which painless economic growth was guaranteed… in America the political debate descended into an interminable discussion of the President’s private life.”[10]

The above indicates towards the type of society Gove prefers: the previous, fearful society in the West over the individualistic, indulgent society, shorn of the greater deeds which beckoned them. Gove bemoans,

“The Nineties were supposed to be the decade in which the West established a ‘New World Order’, building over the ruins of communism with a new global architecture designed to safeguard human rights and entrench peace.”[11]

He then goes onto speak about the Gulf war, critiquing it for the lack of the “proper application of force majeure”, or superior force.[12] Later on he also outlines a passionate, amoral defence of the Iraq war, which I have previously elaborated upon and which completely tears any notion of international legal norms.

What is the essence of the above?  For Gove, peace is not the best state to be in and warmongering is good because it reforms the social psychology away from individualism towards grandness and collectivism. In the words of the extreme neocon, Michael Ledeen, “peace increases our peril”.[13]

What Gove is espousing is textbook neonconservatism of the most vitriolic order.

Following their ideological roots of Machiavelli and the Nazi thinker Carl Schmitt, Leo Strauss and his inheritors believe that fear of a threat is a vitally important mechanism for achieving political order and shaping society. As I elucidated above, for neocons, “statecraft” is the art of using wars for the attainment of national goals.[14]

Ledeen states emphatically that,

“Stunning events from the outside can providentially awaken the enterprise from its growing torpor…as the devastating Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 so effectively aroused the Unites States from its soothing dreams of permanent neutrality.”[15]

A Straussian Society

The link between foreign and domestic policies is that the former impacts the latter to the benefit of the neocon agenda. Contemporary neocons William Kristol and Robert Kagan explained this in the following words,

“The remoralisation of America at home ultimately requires the remoralisation of American foreign policy.”[16]

What is this “remoralisation”? What type of society are neocons “crafting”?

The nihilism of the elite is separate to the “morality” required of the “vulgar masses”. Neoconservatives reject liberal values at its core because it makes the society decadent and selfish, and therefore not willing to self-sacrifice. As the Jewish philosopher Leo Strauss, the philosophic figurehead for neocons expresses that, “in all cases the common good must be preferred to the private good” without exception.[17] The collectivist virtue and the ultimate sacrifice in war – the “moral life” – for Strauss and contemporary neocons can only be cultured in a “closed” society sedated with fear. Strauss, drawing on German philosophers Nietzsche and Heidegger, expresses the importance of war necessary for the preferred closed society saying that, “the root of all moral life is essentially and therefore eternally the closed society.” He continues,

“…the closed society… by its very nature, is constantly confronted with, and basically oriented to, the Ernstfall, the serious moment, M-day war. Only life in a tense atmosphere, only a life which is based on constant awareness of the sacrifices to which it owes its existence, and of the necessity, the duty, of sacrifice of life and all wordly goods, is truly human: the sublime is unknown to the open society.”

For Strauss, “the open society is morally inferior to the closed society”.[18] [19]

War creates a good warrior who “is dedicated to advancing the common cause… not his own personal situation”.[20] It feeds the creation of the “closed society”. This is why the abstract, collectivist notion of “nation” is posited by neocons above individual liberty. In this regard, the neocons, like their intellectual father Strauss, see the ideal state comprised “only from the principles of the right, that is from fascist, authoritarian and imperial principles.”

Michael Gove is no different in his assertion of authoritarian traits (i.e. the fearful, securitised society), which are dressed in the garb of “liberal values”. Critiquing the New Left he writes that “bourgeois conformity and respect for authority were held as repressive checks on the human spirit. The eternal rebel was elevated as the hero of the times.”[21]

Freedom Through Security

One of the ploys by which surrendering rights becomes more palatable for the “vulgar masses” is by framing them in the context of the “security” of the “nation”. Conformity and respect for authority are easily achieved through the opium of fear, as found in Strauss’ M-day war similitude. Gove utilises this to full effect in his book to effectuate neocon ideals:

“Within a territory bound by common ties of language, history and culture, political leaders are able to make an appeal for shared sacrifice… at moments of greatest peril, calling on citizens to risk their lives to defend others. Without those common ties, appeals to sacrifice will not resonate, calls to forfeit individual freedom for the greater good will not receive a ready answering call.”[22]

“Self-sacrifice”, and forfeiture of individual freedom for the greater good is how Gove conceives his “nation”. This call of duty is then made later more explicitly, under the pretext of the defence of “our values” and national security:

“…the need for exceptional legislation and the temporary curtailment of liberties”.[23]

The good collectivist will surrender his or her liberties willingly for what the elitist neocons deem important. The values of individualism and liberalism being passionately defended are the ones being systematically torn down. This trend extends to established principles of an “open society” such as rule of law, which for Gove, should be trounced,

“The problems we face are compounded by the dogged refusal of too many in the legal establishment to put the defence of our civilisation ahead of the defence of traditions…”[24]

He then cites the Law Lord, Leonard Hoffman’s statement that the terror laws are a “threat to the life of the nation” as an example of the problematic legal establishment.

The paradigm of liberty has been completely distorted.  No longer is the discourse framed in the context of state versus liberty, or power versus rights, but rather in the paradigm of security: forfeiting liberty in the name of security will lead to freedom.  When one realises that neocons believe in a perpetual state of warfare, then the problem with this argument becomes self-evident.  The securitisation of society further evidences Gove’s elitist, soft-despotic mentality; only the elite can nurture the “vulgar masses”.  Leading neocon David Brooks commenting on this paradigm writes,

“‘Security leads to freedom’ paradigm is a fundamental principle of child psychology’”.[25]

The people are babies. The neocon elite are the parents governing how to exercise freedoms.

Concluding Remarks

Michael Gove, his circle of influence and the ideology that he and other neocons in government are implementing are destructive to Britain. Over the course of the past articles we examined his hateful influencers, the positing of Islam and Muslims as the enemy, his horrific views on war and foreign policy, and the draconian suggestions for a securitised nation, whilst underlining the interconnectedness of these policy views.

The crucial aspect is that the attack on Islam and Muslims is not only an aim. They also constitute a means. For neocons like Gove, Islam and Muslims are the necessary enemy to effectuate geopolitical change through war and destabilisation, which benefits Zionist interests, and helps the neocons domestically to terraform a “closed society” in which they wield Machiavellian power.

Towards the end of his book, Gove states that the,

“…iron rule of history is that tyrannies begin by making war on their own people and end by making war on everyone else.”[26]

Given what has been outlined from Gove’s own writing, we have reason to concur.


References:

[1] Gove, M., Celsius 7/7, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2006, p.135

[2] See quote in this article: http://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-theological-politics-of-irving-kristol

[3] Irving Kristol, “When It’s Wrong to Be Right,” Wall Street Journal, March 24, 1993

[4] Carnes, L. The Modern Prince: What Leaders Need to Know Now, R.R. Donnelley & Sons, Virginia US, 2003, p.24

[5] See Fn.1 p.137-138

[6] E.g. see Ibid, pp.40-41

[7] Irving Kristol, Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea,New York: Free Press, 1996, p.486

[8] See Fn.1 p.133

[9] Ibid. pp.38-39

[10] Ibid p.39

[11] Ibid. p.42

[12] Ibid p.44

[13] Ledeen, M., Machiavelli on Modern Leadership, New York: St Martin’s Press, 1999 p.70

[14] See Fn.4 p.24

[15] See Fn.13 p.160

[16] https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/1996-07-01/toward-neo-reaganite-foreign-policy

[17] Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History, University of Chicago Press, London, 1965, pp.160-161

[18] Strauss, L. Lecture on “German Nihilism”, delivered 26th February 1941, See copy here: http://www.dhspriory.org/kenny/PhilTexts/Strauss/GermanNihilism.pdf

[19] The “closed society” is cultivated through nationalism and civic religion. I will discuss in a separate blog discussing David Cameron’s “One-Nation Conservatism”.

[20] See Fn.13 p.70

[21] See Fn.1 p.64

[22] Ibid. p.74.

[23] Ibid. pp.136-7

[24] Ibid p.137

[25] David Brooks, “No U-Turns”, March 29, 2007. Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/29/opinion/29brooks.html

[26] See Fn. 1 p.135

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