David Cameron in his speech said that in order to defeat extremism, the extreme ideology which underpins it must be confronted head on. I will confront an ideology which is already in power in Britain, and perpetuates fascism and violence in the name of values it does not believe in.
Looking back over the past decade, we witness the damage wrought by neconservatism in the US; the War on Terror which bequeathed us endless violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, civilian causalities amounting to genocide, torture, and the steady attrition of civil liberties thanks to legislation like the unconstitutional PATRIOT Act, which paved the way for unchecked power and increased surveillance. Muslim communities became the target of counter-subversion strategies and, what Professor Arun Kundnani calls, “COUNTELPRO 2.0” tactics:
“…the extensive surveillance of Muslim-American populations; the deployment of informants; the use of agents provocateurs; the widening use of material support legislation to criminalize charitable or expressive activities; and the use of community engagement to gather intelligence and effect ideological self-policing of communities. Significantly, such practices have been encouraged, organized, and legitimized by the radicalization models that law enforcement agencies adopted in the first decade of the twenty-first century.”
Over a period of time, certainly in the US, the neocons have become almost taboo for the crimes they perpetrated, and the destruction they brought to civil liberties. As one American writer notes, “Neoconservative dreams of creating a hard-edged, neo-imperial American hegemony over the world died in the rubble of Iraq and Afghanistan.” Obama’s recent diplomatic agreement with Iran has further pained the neoconservatives, who have been consistently calling for a war against Iran.
While their influence to a degree as dwindled in US, in Britain, neoconservatism has enjoyed an ascendancy to power rivalling that which American neoconservatives obtained in the early twenty-first century. With a revival of neoconservatism led by neoconservatives like Douglas Murray, William Shawcross and Michael Gove in the early 2000s, we have in control of key institutions of government those linked to these very individuals. Peter Oborne, one of the few journalists who has the fortitude to write about the real threat to Britain, notes,
“…it is in rude health. The men and women who advocated the Iraq invasion remain dominant in British public life. Those who opposed it remain marginal and despised.”
The neocons are in power.
When the Queen outlined the “one-nation” programme of the Conservatives in May, I was left slightly stunned, despite being fully aware of the reality of the neoconservative grip around Government. The key pieces of legislation unveiled shouted “regulation”. This “one nation” conservatism is not to be confused with the Disraelian conception of one-nation conservatism, which envisaged a paternalistic society in which the working class received more support. Neocons will certainly capitalise on the “pragmatic” element of this political philosophy, but for their own belligerent ends.
The key question is, with neocons at the helm, what do they mean by one-nation conservatism?
Nationalism and “Civic Religion”
In order to fully understand the neoconservative construction of their one-nation programme, we need to understand what it means in the usage of American neocons.
I have already elucidated upon how neocons like Leo Strauss and Irving Kristol view liberalism. For them the pursuit of individualism leads to cultural decline, which results in a society not willing to sacrifice their rights for the “greater good”. Individualism means that Americans have become lethargic and selfish. This is the reason why, for instance, Strauss regards “the open society… morally inferior to the closed society”.
Indeed for the likes of Irving Kristol, the domestic “remoralisation” occurs by pushing nationalism and civic religion. “The three pillars of modern neoconservatism”, he wrote in the eighties, “are religion, nationalism and economic growth”.
Kristol, following Strauss, explained that “religion is easily the most important because it is the only power that, in the longer term, can shape people’s character and regulate their motivation”. Neocons support religion because of its Machiavellian political utility. The neocon statesmen must adopt and respect these noble lies to ensure social control. As the neocon Carnes Lord quotes Machiavelli’s deceitful usage of opinion as “statecraft”,
“A prince should thus take greatest care that… he should appear all mercy, all faith, all honest, all humanity, all religion.”
Due to their belief in the potency of nationalism providing an “antidote to secular liberalism”, the neocons merge religion with nationalism to form “civic religion”. The symbols for this mythical religion (the noble lie) in the American context would be things like the Constitution, the Pledge, or as Leo Strauss in his 1941 lecture on German Nihilism says, “the flag and the oath to the flag”. For men like Strauss, these are all necessary to foster the “ceremonial of seriousness” which is necessary to cultivate collectivism for a “closed society” in which people self-sacrifice. Carnes Lord articulates it thusly:
“Leaders should work to ensure the proper functioning of the legal system and the constitutional order supporting it. This includes rhetorical and symbolic measures designed to foster a “political religion” of constitutionalism…”
David Brooks during the late nineties formed his version of one-nation conservatism. Praising John McCain’s Republican electioneering, he wrote that, “instead of telling people that government is evil, McCain reminds them that public service is ‘the highest calling’.” This calling of course, in typical neocon fashion, includes “sacrifice for the greater good, hear the call of duty, and stand up for their beliefs.” The leader of a nation must possess “a governing philosophy that connects citizens to higher national aims and that organizes American behavior around the world.” The “higher aspiration” materialises with Brooks lauding McCain for embracing “American might” and using it to “advance America’s democratic ideals and punish outrageous dictators who threaten peace.”
The neoconservative construction of one-nation conservatism begins to manifest itself: war and a closed-society where people are obedient to the state and have their life regulated by an “energetic” state. As I have covered in some detail, for neocons, war is required to “remoralise” society, so that people “strive for the common good”, and make the ultimate sacrifice in war.
David Cameron’s Birmingham Speech
It is not surprising then, that Cameron’s Birmingham speech possesses the abovementioned traits. The rhetoric is astounding in it plagiarism. Astounding but not surprising because it is modelled on Michael Gove’s neocon manifesto (Celsius 7/7), which itself is a cheap rip off of the works of American neocons.
Right from the off, Cameron announces that the “one nation government would bring our country together”. He then highlights the “vital element” of this programme, which is defeating extremism in order to “build a more cohesive country”. Within the first few paragraphs, one can see the traits of collectivism, nationalism and seeds of civic religion forming.
The collectivist invocation through the use of the royal “we” in almost every paragraph multiple times has a psychological impact. For instance,
- “How together we defeat extremism”
- “we have built something extraordinary in Britain”
- “by understanding the threat we face and why we face it. What we are fighting, in Islamist extremism, is an ideology.”
- “we should remind them”
- “we must be clear”
- “The root cause of the threat we face is the extremist ideology itself.”
- “we have to confront a tragic truth”
If people are constantly told that “we” have a problem and “we” have defined it to be ideology, despite academic understanding disproving this, “we” will begin to attach significance to ideology in a collectivist sense. There are 119 instances of “we” in the entire speech!
As per neocon thinking, the enemy is architected by demonising Muslims, regardless of whether the points of contention exist in other faiths such as Judaism and Christianity. Such theological issues are uniquely identified as “extremist” in the context of Muslims only to exasperate the appearance of a subversive enemy.
This is then swiftly coupled with the development of “civic religion”. Cameron exhorts:
“…let’s not forget our strongest weapon: our own liberal values.”
Thus everyone needs to “stand up for these values with confidence and pride”, using all the arms of the state to enforce these extra-legal, ethereal “symbols”. Incidentally, Cameron also informs us of the type of liberalism which is ought to be invoked in the same speech: it should not be the “misguided liberalism” of universities – i.e. institutions of academia – which question the government’s PREVENT policy’s effect of clamping down on free speech. Neocons it should be noted, are ardent “disbelievers” of liberalism, hence the Straussian-Platonic duality of its usage: great for forming a religion and getting people to rally to its cause, but thoroughly violated by the government through suppression of individual, legal thought vis-à-vis “extremism”, and the establishment of the multi-agency public surveillance state.
When this is coupled with Cameron’s earlier statements, in which he stated that merely obeying the law was not enough, and that individuals must now “promote our values”, one can manifestly witness the “political religion” which has been fostered. Cameron wants you to worship and proselytise it to all.
Worshipping the state
Naturally, just as many religions have the concept of excommunication, so too does Britain’s new state-backed secular religion. The mechanism is the tediously elastic “extremism” label, which can be applied by the state to anyone, thereby excluding them from civic engagement and society. Indeed questioning the state, and its policy (PREVENT) holding it to account for wrongdoing or due negligence is, in Cameron’s mind actions and narratives underpinned by “extreme ideology”. In other words, like the crusader-era papacy of yore, civic religion is also to be wielded for the political expedience of shifting scrutiny on government institutions to worshipping them.
Cameron also attacks people for engaging in conspiracy theories, which Nafeez Ahmed exposes as a mechanism to deflect inconvenient circumstances and truths.
What can be clearly seen from the above, is that the noble lie of religion, constructed from symbols of liberal principles such as rule of law and human rights, is being used to promote policies which contravene them, fostering the “closed-society” which is the intermediate aim of neocons.
Cameron’s speech cannot be viewed in the isolated perspective of domestic policy. An aggressive foreign policy in which the US shows its military might in the name of spreading democracy to poorly armed nations would, according to neocons, “remoralise” people at home. “Peace”, says neocon Michael Ledeen, “increases our peril”. The sentiment is also expressed by British neocons like Michael Gove, who believes society needs to remain securitised and on edge. For neocons, what provides the elixir to extract the people from their liberal “torpor” are events like the Pearl Harbour, and September the 11th.
David Cameron and his neocons have been engaged in war for a while. From the disastrous intervention in Libya, where warmongering sights are being set once again, to the defeat in Parliament for war in Syria in 2013, when Bashar was the evil that needed to be excised. Despite the lack of consent from Parliament or UN Security Council authorisation, in a true manifestation of neoconservatism which sees (liberal) principles set aside in the name of “pragmatism”, Cameron has been fully cognizant of – and silent on – “dozens” of British pilots in US-led bombing missions in Syria. The bombing missions, it should be noted, were not limited to ISIS, but other factions which have explicitly stated their aim to topple only the Syrian regime.
As I commented at the time of the Tunisian attacks, the neocons captured their moment to push forward the “closed-society”-establishing counter-extremism agenda and add more violence to the already torn Middle East. Since then, Cameron, sensing the shift in the public mood, expressed his belief that there is a “case to do more in Syria”, pointing to counter-productive airstrikes as a solution and explicitly citing the Tunisian attacks, as the new raison d’être. The tactical ineffectiveness of airstrikes is well-known, and strategists already opine that ground forces would also be required. With this clear, one can already see the trajectory of the neocons in Britain toward the ultimate aim: another prolix war which will inevitably lead to more civilian casualties and create contexts in the Middle East which have already begotten ISIS.
Without this war, without an exaggerated enemy (they are no more violent or brutal than the Assad regime) inebriating the populous with fear, how else can neocons construct their authoritarian state at home?
The speech is a premier example of Muslim minority discrimination. The UN Forum on Minorities, in its recommendations on religious minorities explicitly instructs States to “ensure that religious profiling, in particular in the context of anti-terrorism measures, is actually prohibited by law.” Certainly some of the comments around Islam and Muslims were patently perverse. This topic I will be covering in a later blog.
However, when I wrote this piece, I wrote this as a concerned person part of the British social fabric. This is not only about Muslims; this is about our society. Muslims, sadly, are the scapegoat which is necessitated by neoconservative policy. This policy demands a civic religion built from the myth of secular liberal symbols, which also happens to provide a convenient criteria by which to construct an “enemy”. The aim however is to use this civic religion to cultivate an obedient society in which the lives of people, including their thoughts, are monitored and regulated by the state. The people are to eschew personal pursuits in favour of “higher” aspirations. These aspirations conveniently tally with the collectivist “guidance” from a mandarin class of neocons who wish to create a close society that is willing to sacrifice itself at their whim.
In short, one nation conservatism is the programme by which neocons seek to impose Straussian fascism.
This is the reality of the nihilist and deceitful ideology which gave the world lies on a grand scale, the disastrous Iraq war and persistent erosion of civil liberties. This is neoconservatism. When this grand societal terraforming programme is understood, one realises that neoconservatives posit the greatest danger to British society, more so then a tiny fraction of the 4.5% of the British population can ever muster. This is because neocons are in power now. They are formulating Orwellian policies, and they are evidently implementing them.
It is imperative, now more than ever, that neoconservatism is challenged and defeated on the battlefield of ideas.
 Kundnani, A., The Muslims Are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror, London: Verso Books, 2014, p.15
 Norman Podhoretz, “The Case for Bombing Iran, I hope and Pray Bush Will Do it”, May 30, 2007,http://web.archive.org/web/20090625195336/http://www.opinionjournal.com/federation/feature/?id=110010139
 Irving Kristol, Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea, New York: Free Press, 1996, p.365
 Carnes, L. The Modern Prince: What Leaders Need to Know Now, R.R. Donnelley & Sons, Virginia US, 2003, p.65
 Strauss, L. Lecture on “German Nihilism”, delivered 26th February 1941, See copy here: http://www.dhspriory.org/kenny/PhilTexts/Strauss/GermanNihilism.pdf
 See Fn.3 p.229-30
 Brooks., D, “One Nation Conservatism”, The Weekly Standard, SEP 13, 1999, VOL. 4, NO. 48, online version: http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Protected/Articles/000/000/010/101wfaws.asp
 Sixth session of the Forum on Minority Issues, A/HRC/FMI/2013/3, 26–27, November 2013, para. 24