Photo: Eric Draper, The George W. Bush Presidential Library, NARA License: Public Domain 1.0

“The managerial elite emerged as Philosopher-Kings”

John F. Burns opens an article for the New York Times thus, “The National Museum of Iraq recorded a history of civilisations that began to flourish in the fertile plains of Mesopotamia more than 7,000 years ago. But once American troops entered Baghdad in sufficient force to topple Saddam Hussein’s government this week, it took only 48 hours for the museum to be destroyed, with at least 170,000 artifacts carried away by looters.” (Burns) 

The Baghdad Museum housed artifacts which told a story of man’s achievements from hunting, writing, mathematics, art, law, religion and industry. All these artifacts bear testament to man’s best and worst impulses. Perhaps the most famous man from the West to contribute to man’s story is Alexander the Great. Alexander the Great is widely believed to be the true successor of Achilleus. Furthermore, he succeeded, at least for a time, to achieve what Agamemnon and his forces could not – to go beyond the Hellespont and who brought to the East Greek culture. “All he had ever done,“ notes Ian Dallas, “was to sweep across the world, create new life. Where people were before primitive and ignorant he gave them theatres, gymnasiums, market places and universities, academies.” (Dallas, 23) 

Professor Ian Shapiro of Yale University argued that ‘the end of history’ (which is the idea that neo-liberal democracy is the ultimate step in political evolution) began after the Berlin Wall collapsed. This was a time when the U.S saw itself as the city on the hill and had a moral obligation to spread democracy across the world. It only after two planes crashed in the twin towers that this consensus amongst political elites of Washington transformed from ideological rhetoric to being applied to war-craft.

“America was targeted for attack,” said George W.Bush, “because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world.” These words were said in response to terrorist attacks on the twin World Trade Centre and Pentagon on 9th September 2001. The mainstream media in the U.S of the press echoed the statement. A lead analysis in the New York Times stated that the perpetrators had acted out of “hatred for the values cherished in the West as freedom, tolerance, prosperity, religious pluralism and universal suffrage.” What was missing was the full and realistic account of the U.S’ foreign policy as a possible cause.

In his 2002 State of the Union address, Bush pointed to Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as threatening adversaries. “States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the threatened,” Bush warned. “We’ll deliberate; yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events while dangers gather. I will not stand by as peril draws closer and closer.” When Republican Ike Sketon heard that speech he told his staff, “That is a declaration of war.” And then the rest is history, at least, official history. “There are two histories, the official history, which is untrue and which is taught: then the secret history, where the causes of history lie, a shameful history…” 

Those who surrounded President Bush – Paul Wolfowitz, Elliot Abrams, Richard Peries and Paul Bremer – were called Neo-Conservatives. What are they and what do they believe in? Neo-Conservatives are a group of intellectuals who had been liberals in their youth but soon became disillusioned with liberal politics. Neo-Conservatives or Neocons believe that the free-market can meet the desire of the masses. And that government’s role is not to interfere with the market as it expresses the will of the people. Notably, they wish to export Thatcherism and Reaganomics across the world especially the Middle East. At their height, they shaped the policy for this region. 

19 March 2003 is marked by Professor Ian Shapiro of Yale University as the end of the end of history. Planning for the D-day – 20 March 2003 – and days thence after was not smooth. “The Army that went into Iraq wasn’t a happy institution at its top levels. Of all the services, it was the one most at odds with Rumsfeld and other senior Pentagon civilians, distrusting their views, and believing they were interfering on matters in which they were professionally uniformed. The Army also would be the service shouldering most of the burden of Iraq. People around Rumsfeld, in turn, saw the Army as unresponsive, unimaginative, and risk averse. ‘The secretary is asking the Army to do things it is unable to do – like think innovatively,’ cracked one of Rumsfeld’s aides… The reliance on slides rather than formal written orders seemed to some military professionals to capture the essence of Rumsfeld’s amateurish approach to war planning.” (Ricks, 69 and 75)

A few days after the American Invasion of Iraq, the world saw first hand the spectacular failure of a civilian-planned war. The Neo-Conservatives advocated for a Marxist idea – if you dismantle all forms of authority then the masses will naturally gravitate towards liberal democracy. Thus, when the Americans invaded Iraq, they swept aside all forms of authority and left chaos reign.

But who are these people? Joan Didion writes about them as “…that small but highly visible group of people who, day by day and through administration after administration, relay Washington to the world, tell their story, agree among themselves upon and then disseminate its narrative. They report the stories. They write the op-ed pieces. They appear on the talk shows. They consult, they advise, thy swap jobs, they travel with unmarked passports between the public and the private, the West Wing and the Green Room. They make up the nation’s permanent professional political class…A self-created and self-referring class, a new kind of managerial elite…that handful of insiders who invent, year in and year out, the narrative of public life.”

“Our managerial leaders deserve to rule us,” argues Malcolm Kyeyune, “because managerialism as a world ethos is the only means of affecting functional rule in the context of a modern, international, post-national, information driven, knowledge economy, rule-based…well, you probably already know all the familiar buzzwords beloved by this class of people. Kings ruled in the epoch of monarchies, because only kings could rule, or at least they claimed. Technocrats rule our post-Soviet era for very much the same reason; they are, according to the legitimating narrative of our age, the only ones that can rule.” (Kyeyune 16)

“The education system,” writes Allison Schranger, “as we know it is only about 200 years old. Factory owners required a docile, agreeable workers who would show up on time and so what their managers told them. Sitting in a classroom all day with a teacher was good training for that. Early industrialists were instrumental, then, in creating and promoting universal education.”

Naturally, the managerial elite emerge as Philosopher-Kings in this quasi Platonic meritocracy. As is in Plato’s ideal Republic the Philosopher-Kings subordinate the auxiliary class – the warriors and the lowest class – the masses. Sustaining all this system Plato advanced the Noble Lie – the at the top are inherently superior to those at the bottom. The noble lie that has been sustaining the West’s so-called meritocracy is the rule of what the Americans call “the smartest man in the room.” The documentaries Enron:the smartest guys in the room exposed how this noble lie no longer makes sense.

It is important to note that in 1991, the Joint Chief of Staff Collin Powell had prevented the wholesale invasion of Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War. His reasoning was his unease of overcommitting boots on the Iraqi ground. This did not please the hawks, headed by Donald Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. Everything changed on 11th Sept 2001. 

“But Colin Powell and Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, were determined to rein in the hawks. Powell’s argument – that an international coalition could only be assembled for a war against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, not an invasion of Iraq – won the day, and Iraq was put on the back burner.” (PBS, 2003)

However, the Hawks were beating the drums of war whose frenzied beat was echoes by the news media. It was a hysterical moment. So strong was this pull the “media played a significant role in influencing the views of intelligence operatives.” Under such pressure Collin Powell’s inward resistance collapsed and thus the hawks, the Philosopher Kings won. And at a four days notice, Collin Powell made the historic speech.

“The first casualty o the Iraq war,” writes Thomas E. Ricks, “may have been the reputation of one of Myers’ predecessors, Secretary of State Colin Powell. In February 2003 Powell went to the United Nations and staked his personal credibility on going to war. It was the old general’s ultimate sacrifice as a good soldier, throwing his good name behind the administration’s campaign and using it to clear out some of the remaining opposition to going to war.” (Ricks, 91)

– Ricks, Thomas E. Fiasco: the American military adventure in Iraq. Penguin, 2007.
– Burns, John F. The New York Times. April 13, 2003. (accessed October 2, 2021).
– Dallas, Dr. Ian. The Shield of Achilleus. Cape Town, 2019.
– PBS. Introduction The War Behind Closed Doors. February 20, 2003. (accessed October 19, 2021).

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