It was in the autumn of 1960, after our Plebe Summer and the test of “Beast Barracks,” that I first heard about the revisions that the West Point academic curriculum had recently undergone, which would be experimentally applied to our incoming class of some 800 men. Colonel Lincoln’s Social Science Department, as it was presented to us, was to be much more influential, and more deeply formative than before, upon the education of officers; and there were to be several more classes in military psychology, sociology, and leadership and fewer classes in strategic military history and concrete military biography. The long-standing and ongoing process of replacing the humanities with the academic and applied social sciences would continue and, as we were told, increase.
I was 17 and had little idea of the implications of these curricular revisions—the underlying “logic of scientific discovery,” the growing “soft tyranny” of the social sciences and their subtly relativizing “sociology of knowledge” (in the words of German sociologist Karl Mannheim). I do remember reading two mandatory books, however: Samuel Huntington’s The Soldier and the State and Morris Janowitz’s The Professional Soldier. Both were to help form, we were told, the proper kind of officer that was needed in “modern democratic society.”
Janowitz was rooted in neo-Marxist “Critical Theory,” first propagated by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno at the Institute for Social Research of the University of Frankfurt in Germany. This “Frankfurt School” of Marxist-Freudian thought—indeed, a “well-armed ideology”—was active in conducting various “Studies in Prejudice” and quite intensely concerned about the dangers of the “Authoritarian Personality,” especially because this character-type supposedly tended toward fascism and antisemitism. “Critical Theory” claimed to unmask “antidemocratic tendencies” in traditional military institutions and their more autocratic cultures (especially because of the recent history of Germany) but also in the traditional, well-rooted religious institutions of the West—Christian institutions, in general, and the culture of the Catholic Church, most specifically.
The Frankfurt School theorists and activists claimed to want to produce the “Democratic Personality”—although they had originally (and more revealingly) called it the “Revolutionary Personality.” This purportedly “Democratic Personality” would be a fitting replacement for the inordinately prejudiced and latently dangerous “Authoritarian Personality,” because the “Authoritarian Personality” allegedly conduced to the disorder and illness of antisemitism.
Critical Theory would surface not only in the writings of Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse but in the antiauthoritarian psychology of Erich Fromm. At the time (1960), Morris Janowitz was a sociologist at the University of Chicago, and he wanted to form a “new kind of military professionalism” and a new kind of military officer: one who would be a “suitable” instrument to serve those who are truly “governing a modern democracy.” These last few words in quotation marks were actually taken from a recent essay by Irving Kristol, a former Trotskyite, who has, for some years, been promoting the “Emerging American Imperium,” first in the Wall Street Journal in the mid-1990’s.
In “The Neoconservative Persuasion” (the Weekly Standard, August 25, 2003), Irving Kristol echoes the long-range “re-education and cultural project” of the Frankfurt School:
The historical task and political purpose of neoconservatism would seem to be this: to convert the Republican party, and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills, into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy.
Kristol goes on to argue that, “like the Soviet Union of yesteryear,” the “United States of today” has “an identity that is ideological.” Therefore, in addition to “more material concerns” and “complicated geopolitical calculations of national interest,” the United States, says Kristol, “inevitably” has “ideological interests,” and “that is why we feel it necessary to defend Israel today, when its survival is threatened.” What Kristol seems to be arguing explicitly is that the Republican Party, the conservative movement, and all the institutions of the U.S. government—including the military—must be reshaped to serve the interests of an ideological foreign policy that includes protection of the Jewish state.
American officers of an earlier generation would have found Kristol’s prescriptions alarming; today, however, after our antiauthoritarian reeducation in America’s new “tolerant” “democratic military culture,” no active-duty military officer would be permitted to express any moral reservations he might have about the “ideological mission” that has been assigned him, whether for the protection of Israel or for the further expansion of the “emerging American imperium.”
It is not clear that any general officer or flag officer today could even make a strategic argument that “ideological interests” and permanent missions for America actually undermine true U.S. national interests and the common good. And, if any younger military officers were openly, or even privately, to make such critical arguments or were known to hold such views, they would probably be weeded out before they could become general or flag officers. Nonetheless, the American military officer, in his commissioning oath, still accepts a high moral obligation when he solemnly swears to defend the Constitution of the United States “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”
Therefore, from the vantage point of the “Emerging American Imperium” in 2004, and in light of our seemingly intimidated military culture, we may now better consider the strategic, longer-range cultural project of antiauthoritarian reeducation, which was gradually implemented by way of a reformed “military sociology and psychology.” This project was, in fact, slowly implemented, even back in 1960 during the Cold War, and intended to make the “updated” and “progressive” military officer more “suitable” and docile for helping his “civilian superiors” in “governing a modern democracy.”
In Antonio Gramsci’s terms, a new “cultural hegemony” has been attained, replacing an older, traditional military and political culture with a new ethos and orientation. While the United States was fighting the Cold War against the more conspicuous revolutionary socialism of the Soviet Union and Red China, the culture was being quietly, indirectly, and “dialectically” captured. Now, we may soberly ask the question: To what extent were we cadets being prepared, even back in 1960, to be compliant officers in a “modern imperial democracy” or even to serve as a new kind of praetorian guard for our new elites and the proconsuls they send out to administer the provinces of their empire?
Samuel Huntington’s The Soldier and the State, the second mandatory book, also promoted the ethos of an unquestioningly obedient, properly subordinated, and docile military officer as a compliant instrument in the service of a modern state and “democratic society.” Huntington’s concept of “civil-military relations” clearly implied that there was not to be an intellectual or strategic culture in the U.S. military, and certainly nothing resembling the German General Staff concept of well-educated, strategic-minded, and far-sighted thinking officers, who would be not only indispensable senior staff officers but field commanders possessing the high qualities of moral and intellectual leadership.
During the early 1970’s, when I studied military history under the Austrian-American professor Theodore Ropp at Duke University, I realized that this great teacher and scholar understood not only battlefield military history but the relation of “war and society” and the subtle influence of war on larger civilizations and cultures. Professor Ropp, who taught many West Point officers in graduate school, cultivated and disciplined the minds of his eager and deep-thinking students to take the longer view of various and profoundly differentiated military cultures. He illuminated these traditions by way of contrasts and a finely nuanced comparative cultural history of long-standing military institutions, which included their specific martial effects on civilization as a whole.
Another important influence in my deeper education was Col. Sam V. Wilson, the director of studies at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in 1969-1970 and during the Vietnam War. Colonel Wilson was a deep-thinking military officer, especially in the field of irregular warfare and strategic “special operations.” He, too, made me realize, though in an incipient way, the deeper strategic, moral, and cultural factors in the waging of modern war. West Point, I then realized, had ill prepared us to take this longer, truly strategic view of military culture and history and war.
I have witnessed how little intellectual and moral resistance there is within the military today against our creeping and technocratic neopraetorianism in support of our regional military proconsuls and their civilian masters (both inside and outside of the government). Our military culture is altogether inattentive to any unconstitutional abuses of power, and to our myopically nonstrategic and thoroughly irrational involvement in unjust aggressive wars, such as the current war against Iraq, while we are overextended throughout the world and “strutting to our confusion.”
Properly conceived and patiently conducted, however, “cultural and strategic intelligence” illuminates the moral, religious, and cultural factors of foreign strategy and grand strategy. It further reveals another country’s own strategic culture, as well as its political culture. For example, in the case of China, such an approach makes one more sensitive to Chinese perceptions of her own vulnerable geography and her important “strategic thresholds” and, therefore, her historical reluctance to have a large “blue-water” navy.
Unfortunately, the American military culture was to be influenced, instead, by John Dewey’s pragmatic education, in combination with the Frankfurt School’s Critical Theory. Our traditional military culture was to be uprooted from its Christian moorings and more and more secularized and paganized. This transformed military culture is now very conspicuously acquiescent to its neo-Machiavellian civilian masters and mentors (such as Michael Ledeen), in unthinking support of the Emerging American Imperium and of the grand strategy of the “Greater Israel” throughout the world. Our military officers no longer know or reflect on the criteria and standards of just-war theory, the tradition of Western Christian civilization. It is now their usual orientation and preference to think and speak in terms of vague and unspecified preemptive wars, or wars of “anticipatory self-defense,” which is often Orwellian Newspeak for a war of aggression, the only specific offense for which the German officers were brought to trial at Nuremberg in 1945.
Sine auctoritate nulla vita—without authority there is no life; but the deeper challenge for us today on many fronts is: How does one resist the corruptions of authority without thereby subverting the principle of authority?