Machiavelli Meets the Religious Right: Michael Ledeen, the Neoconservatives, and the Political Uses of Fundamentalism

By Urban, Hugh B. | Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Machiavelli Meets the Religious Right: Michael Ledeen, the Neoconservatives, and the Political Uses of Fundamentalism


Urban, Hugh B., Journal of Ecumenical Studies


Americans are a free people, who know that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity.... [W]e do not claim to know all the ways of Providence, yet we can trust in them, placing our confidence in the loving God behind all of life and all of history.

--George W. Bush, Third State of the Union Address (2003) (1)

[T]he politics of mass manipulation, the politics of myth and symbol--have become the norm in the modern world.

--Michael A. Ledeen, D'Annunzio: The First Duce (2002) (2)

The presidency of George W. Bush represents a complex intertwining of a number of religious and political factions that would seem, on the surface, to be fundamentally different and even ideologically opposed. Arguably, two of the most important of these factions are the coalition of evangelical Christians often called the New Christian Right (3) and the aggressive political ideologues commonly labeled Neoconservatives. (4) The former began to rise to political power quietly in the 1980's, when such movements as the Moral Majority and later the Christian Coalition undertook massive grassroots campaigns at local levels across the country. The latter has worked primarily through such conservative think-tanks as the American Enterprise Institute and the Project for the New American Century, counting among their ranks politicians and militarists including Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney, as well as such intellectuals as Irving Kristol, William Kristol, and (until recently) Francis Fukuyama. Despite their many ideological, cultural, and socioeconomic differences, these two factions have come together in the current White House and have found common ground in the policies of George W. Bush. Indeed, Bush represents a kind of structural link or ligament that helps tie these two, otherwise very different factions together: He embodies the ideals of piety, morality, and family values that appeal to his strongest base of popular support among evangelical Christians, while at the same time embracing the aggressive militarism and nation-building agenda promoted by the Neoconservatives. The result is what David Domke has called a kind of "political fundamentalism," that is, "an intertwining of conservative religious faith, politics, and strategic communication." (5)

In this essay, I will expand Domke's notion of political fundamentalism by examining what I will call the political uses of fundamentalism (6)--that is, the strategic manipulation of religious beliefs, narratives, and sentiments for political gain at home and for aggressive militarism overseas. Specifically, I want to look at one of the most influential Neoconservative theorists today, who has much to say about the political uses of religion, namely, Michael Ledeen, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Although most Americans have never heard of him, Ledeen is one of the key figures who has worked to bring the Christian Right and the Neoconservatives together in a very effective but also rather disturbing way in the Bush White House. Considered by many the "Guru of the Neoconservatives" (7) and "the driving philosophical force" behind the Bush administration's aggressive foreign policy, (8) Ledeen has also appeared over seventy times on Pat Robertson's televised 700 Club, promoting the Neoconservatives' political plan for the Middle East before an audience of several million evangelical viewers. An outspoken admirer of the political philosophy of Niccolo Machiavelli, Ledeen believes firmly in the use of religion as a powerful political tool to arouse nationalist sentiment and to generate public support for otherwise unpopular things, such as war. Indeed, his favorite example of a great political leader is Moses, who, in his view, used his divine authority to impose a kind of "temporary dictatorship" upon his own people in order to lead them to the higher goal of freedom.

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Machiavelli Meets the Religious Right: Michael Ledeen, the Neoconservatives, and the Political Uses of Fundamentalism
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