One of the great services that Strauss and his disciples have performed for the Bush regime has been the provision of a philosophy of the noble lie, the conviction that lies, far from being simply a regrettable necessity of political life, are instead virtuous and noble instruments of wise policy. The idea’s provenance could not be more elevated: Plato himself advised his nobles, men with golden souls, to tell noble lies–political fables, much like the specter of Saddam Hussein with a nuclear bomb–to keep the other levels of human society (silver, iron, brass) in their proper places, loyal to the state and willing to do its bidding. Strauss, too, advised the telling of noble lies in the service of the national interest, and he held Plato’s view of aristocrats as persons so virtuous that such lies would be used only for the good, for keeping order in the state and in the world. He defined the modern method of the noble lie in the use of esoteric messages within an exoteric text, telling the truth to the wise while at the same time conveying something quite different to the many.
For Strauss, as for Plato, the virtue of the lie depends on who is doing the lying. If a poor woman lies on her application for welfare benefits, the lie cannot be countenanced. The woman has committed fraud and must be punished. The woman is not noble, therefore the lie cannot be noble. When the leader of the free world says that “free nations do not have weapons of mass destruction,” this is but a noble lie, a fable told by the aristocratic president of a country with enough nuclear weapons to leave the earth a desert less welcoming than the surface of the moon.