America's Messianic War Cult

We have met the hegemony, and he is us

by Matthew Hogan


Who's flying the plane? --- The probable terrifying final thoughts of many September 11, 2001 victims.

Today, many are asking the same thing about the Bush Administration's subsequent foreign policy. Despite failing to secure Osama bin-Laden's fate, the Administration now careens in search of ever-expanding Executive Branch-initiated war against an "axis of evil." First stop, Iraq.

Of course, there may be a case for war against Iraq. The benefit potential for Iraq alone of ending the rule of Saddam Hussein is obvious. But for those steering the policy, Iraq is only the beginning. And the actual Iraq-specific case for war appears to be of secondary importance to them at best.

Now, who's flying that plane?

President Bush remains the ultimate party responsible, but it is no secret that a factional War Party has won the ears, hearts, and minds of the President, Vice-President, National Security Adviser and Secretary of Defense. As Scott Ritter, the Republican ex-Marine who hounded Saddam's secret weapons group for several years, has warned:

"The national security of the United States of America has been hijacked by a handful of neo-conservatives who are using their position of authority to pursue their own ideologically-driven political ambitions."

Ritter's warning may be understated. The neoconservatives, or "neocons," are some of the most dangerous menaces to America's destiny to come along. Moreover, they are a grave danger to the peace, progress, and security of much of humanity. And their true agenda has features of something that few, if any, have called by a designation that is as alarming as it is accurate: a cult.

Neoconservatism is not merely an ideology, but a cult of war and domination that makes conventional and even ideological "hawks" and "interventionists" look like doves and isolationists. Many of their fellow conservatives fear their aims. For if successful, the neocons' efforts will provoke far more terrorism, leave enormous numbers of Americans and foreigners dying uselessly in endless far-flung wars, trip-up the world's already struggling economy, and midwife a Constitution-shelving national security state.

Outlines of this are seen in a open-ended conflict, military activism which has eschewed Congressional debate and oversight, spikes in oil prices, domestic spying proposals, secret tribunals, citizen detentions without trial, and surging ethnic and religious hatred.

So, what is it that makes these neocons tick? What lies at their core?

There's a single, easy-to-find, and utterly frightening answer to that.


The single thread can be found, explicit and implicit, in neocon writings and sentiments. These are worth a read, if only to see that the fate of the world may be in the hands of people who are not only dangerous, but actually use the word "hegemon" in conversation.

In an essay in Foreign Affairs in 1996 ("Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy" July-August 1996), neocon gurus William Kristol and Robert Kagan described their desired goal.

They are seekers of a "global hegemon [ruler]." (Elsewhere neocon writer Charles Krauthammer has called for embracing a "unipolar world".) This world-encompassing hegemon would possess a moral "exceptionalism", i.e. distinct essential moral superiority. It would establish "moral clarity and purpose". It would go forth (hegemonically, we must presume) and find "monsters to destroy". Once empowered, this world-ruler would exercise "benevolent ...hegemony." Nevertheless those otherwise good people who don't actively aid the world-saving hegemon's monster-slaying are guilty of "cowardice and dishonor".

Hang on, it gets weirder.

"The end of history" is how neocon author Francis Fukuyama in his book of the same title has called the period after the collapse of the hegemon's main enemy. William Kristol's father Irving has revealed in his autobiography ("Memoirs of a Trotskyist") that the neocons in their original incarnation saw themselves as the "`happy few' who had been chosen by History to guide our fellow creatures toward a secular redemption."

To find the common thread, we need only connect the dots:

A "benevolent global hegemon" of essentially superior moral character? Who destroys monsters to create a "unipolar world," and imposes "moral clarity" and "purpose"? Who ushers in "the end of history"? Whose acolytes are a vanguard in the militant salvific redemption of the world? What to call such a being?

One word comes to mind . . . a Messiah. And a pretty darn utopian and apocalyptic one at that. That is no exaggerated extrapolation of their vision. And so it is no exaggeration to employ the term "cult." (Recently, writer Thomas Bray in the online Wall Street Journal referred to the Administrationís goals for Iraq as "messianic".)

The next question: who or what is the neocon's Messiah? Lyndon LaRouche? Leon Trotsky? No. Despite some neocons' earlier affiliations with the aforementioned, the movement is not so crude, nor avowedly illiberal or antidemocratic. The cultic Messiah is an institution. Kristol and Kagan tell us which institution.

The honor of benevolent global hegemony, they write, is to be "America's role." Global redemption will come through "actively promot[ing ] American principles of governance abroad." Krauthammer's "unipolar world" means the period of American sole superpowerhood. The "moral clarity" Kristol and Kagan seek is therefore one that forced -- hegemonically -- upon benighted humanity by the U.S. federal government.

The militarism is real. Charles Krauthammer has recently postulated as constituting one distinctively "conservative" (as opposed to "liberal" ) value: "military power". This is far more than the conservative ideal of strong national defense or honoring military service. The explicit adulation of military power as an end is a new, i.e. "neo-," twist to conservatism, though left-wing critics may not initially notice that.

Meanwhile, neocon Eliot Cohen, in a book the President has very recently read, lionizes historic political leaders who overrule the caution of their professional military establishments. Neocon heroes are those who outwarrior the warriors.

Inspired by the age-old impulse for a political Messiah, the neoconservatives seek to self-righteously impose world redemption through militant imperial American federal government power. In effect then, they are America's Messianic War Cult. And so, after the Twin Towers have fallen, the neocons turn to empire state building.

And God help those "evildoers" who disagree or stand in the way.

The neocons have the energy, and now with Administration allegiance, the firepower to pursue these goals in deadly earnest. Their vision is not limited government conservatism, nor even Big Government left-liberalism. It is Limitless Government insanity.

Predictably enough, cult-like language (e.g. "evildoers") has cropped up in the President's speeches post-9/11. The 2002 State of the Union speech gave us the "axis of evil". That phrase did not come from Christian Evangelical speech-writers as one might expect, but from the neoconnish David Frum. We also increasingly hear a regular insistence upon, rather than a mere responsible recognition of, America's place of leadership in the world.

We have met the hegemony, and he is us.


Many may well ask: what's wrong with a little American Messianism? Real monsters are out there and they've come here, drawing much innocent blood. Our values are good for us and the world. Isn't it time for righteous rage?

Rage is one thing, justice another, freedom still another. Nevertheless, they can work together. Hunting a monster who attacked us is a valid use of power to seek justice, protect our freedom, and express our rage. But Messianic missions are wholly different and wholly dangerous.

First of all, Messiahs are best left to God (atheists: insert "if any," here). A genuine Messiah is divinely anointed. Secular ones typically bring with them power-madness, statist totalitarianism, and a penchant for deadly conquest. The fact that the neocon Messiah is the United States national government, and the Messianic rule to be imposed is theoretically liberal democracy, serves as no comfort. Secular Messiahs -- and false religious ones for that matter -- are not known for moral or intellectual consistency.

Lenin was an egalitarian liberator who set up an elitist slave-state. Hitler was a white Germanic pagan racist socialist who nonetheless collaborated with capitalist industrialists, promulgated aristocratic Russian Christian anti-Semitism, and allied himself with Asiatics. Osama bin-Laden purported to be a holy warrior of a religion whose tradition has prided itself on the idea of not waging war on innocents among the enemy.

In earlier incarnations, the neoconservatives in the Reagan Administration seemed to care little for the liberal democracy they claim to revere. This was exemplified by their attitude towards Latin American states allied with the neocons' Messianic twist on Cold War anti-Communism. Jeane Kirkpatrick, to cite one neocon case, seemed never to have met an Argentine junta she did not like. Even when they invaded the Falklands, cultivated fascist ideology, and made numerous dissidents "disappear.".

Political Messianism is hypocritical and dangerous. It first cultivates a visionary ideal for ruling others. Then it acts on that ideal with singular ruthlessness. America should subscribe to neither practice.


Returning to the immediate issue of war with Iraq, we should consider that any valid case stands on its own merits regardless of personal and cultic neocon ambitions. Nevertheless, the neocons seem to feel little need to make a persuasive case on the merits regarding invading Iraq. The Administration in turn has only offered to the nation and world pro forma recitations of Saddam Hussein`s known old sins, combined with speculation and threats. The President's statements at the United Nations on September 12 persisted in the failure to go beyond that.

The neoconservatives' Messianic core helps explain this widely noted failure to make a case. In their view, America's right and might to invade and overthrow foreign regimes is a matter of Messianic faith. Therefore, the only issue is one of shoring up American resolve, i.e. the zeal of the acolytes, not the essential moral and practical issues of American vital interests, regional realism, international law, the needs of and for allies, and the problems of military contingency.

That is why neocon cheerleaders seem to be devoting more time and space to encouraging bellicose Administration threats and shouting down critics like New York Times editor Howard Raines and retired General Brent Scowcroft. For the neocons, their Messianic cultism makes it not merely likely, but also downright preferable, that we act without proffering a justification to other powers. After all, the job description for "hegemons" and "Messiahs" doesn't include asking for permission, forgiveness, or help.

As we can see from a look at the record:

* An insider who knows several neocons in the Administration describes them in a September 11 New York Times article as having "a pervasive philosophy of `We have to do what we think is right, ... and when it comes out, the rest of the world will know it's right, too.' "

* "We've got influence, power, prestige, and clout beyond any nation in the history of the world," boasted Richard Armitage, a moderately neoconnish State Department Deputy Secretary of State, to the Washington Post. "It brings forth a certain amount of envy."

* "We are the one truly revolutionary country on Earth," neocon Michael Ledeen chimed in on CNBC recently, braying for war with Iraq, and apparently channeling Leon Trotsky circa 1919. And that revolutionary nature would be "the reason we will successfully transform the lives...of millions in the Middle East."

As such statements reveal, superclout brings forth a certain amount of hubris, as well as envy. Like that seen before Vietnam. Weren't we revolutionary then too? Transforming lives through ever-increasing land war in Asia?

Neocon Messianism seeks "monsters to destroy" abroad. Yet, even as Saddam is added to the list of beasts, bin-Laden and/or his deadly acolytes remain undestroyed after a year. And the threat they pose has not merely been abroad. The neocons' hubris has blinded them to addressing obvious problems in America's reach and prioritization.


The best response to the neocons was written in 1997 by Reaganite conservative author William McDougall {}, in a reply to neocons Kristol and Kagan. McDougall's words of wisdom were joined with those of John Quincy Adams, our 19th Century President, and prove remarkably prophetic about post-9/11 America, the Executive Branch's unilateral actions regarding Iraq, and the neocons.

First, McDougall addressed the issue of Executive-Branch unilateral tactics:

Woodrow Wilson's complaint [was] that the only way for a president to "compel compliance" from Congress is to get the nation into "such scrapes" and make such "rash promises" abroad that the Senate cannot disavow him without shaming the United States....

McDougall adds that those are the tactics preferred by the neocons.

The [neoconservatives issue] a clarion call that would appear to invite [those] scrapes and rash promises [when they write]: "John Quincy Adams [admonished] that America ought not 'go abroad in search of monsters to destroy.' But why not? The alternative is to leave monsters on the loose, ravaging and pillaging to their heart's content...."

McDougall proceeds to answer Kristol and Kagan's "why not seek out monsters to destroy" in a manner that is both stark and eloquent as a warning:

[If] you go abroad in search of monsters, you will invariably find them even if you have to create them. You will then fight them, whether or not you need to, and you will either come home defeated, or else so bloodied that the American people will lose their tolerance for engagement altogether, or else so victorious and full of yourself that the rest of the world will hate you and fear that you'll name them the next monster.

McDougall is also quick to add in his prophetic piece that John Quincy Adams himself was not out of date in his expressed fear of global monster-hunting. In fact, Adams realistically and also prophetically appraised the attraction and hazards of the overextension of American government power.

The reason not to [search out monsters] is that to do so [Adams says] "would involve the United States beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, avarice, envy, and ambition. . . . America might become the dictatress of the world, but she would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit."

The understandable passions of post-9/11 -- rage against hostile Mideasterners, fear among frustrated Midwesterners, a unifying awakening of national purpose -- give the neocons cover for their cultish ideological coup to remake us into an endlessly warring Messianic dictatress of the world.

Enter then "all the wars of interest and intrigue, avarice, envy, and ambition, beyond the powers of extrication . . . ." Iraq may the first of many of these.

The ultimate price may be nothing less than mass destruction of lives and nations, the needless death of our best and bravest, the loss of the grudging respect we still command, and the irretrievable conversion of the United States into an imperial war state of limitless government for whom the phrase "land of the free" will become merely a battle cry, full of sound and fury.

Signifying nothing.

This essay is condensed from a longer version, available from the author on request.