Boot starts out his essay on "What
the Heck is a 'Neocon?'" which should have
been titled "Who, Me?" by claiming to find
the label affixed to his political persona "mystifying."
Yet he winds up writing a mini-manifesto of the Neocon Creed:
is not really domestic policy that defines neoconservatism.
This was a movement founded on foreign policy, and it is still
here that neoconservatism carries the greatest meaning, even
if its original raison d'être opposition to communism has
neocons may have wavered and waffled on domestic policy issues,
arguing among themselves over how
many cheers to give capitalism (one,
but on the war question they have always spoken with a single
hoarse voice, howling for war at the slightest provocation.
Not only that, but they positively delight in the prospect
of bloodshed, which they perversely find ennobling: it
was Max Boot, after all, who bemoaned
the lack of casualties in the Afghan campaign and fervently
hoped not to be disappointed in the next phase of what his
fellow neocons optimistically call World
galvanized the neocons, who immediately jumped at the opportunity
to turn the "war on terrorism" into the sort of
general conflagration that might fairly be dubbed a new world
war. As Boot describes the neocon argument:
we are to avoid another 9/11, they argue, we need to liberalize
the Middle East a massive undertaking, to be sure, but better
than the unspeakable alternative. And if this requires occupying
Iraq for an extended period, so be it; we did it with Germany,
Japan and Italy, and we can do it again."
build an empire on the ruins of Baghdad, Damascus, and Riyadh,
or else suffer another attack by our implacable enemies, who
are not just the Bin Ladenites skulking in their caves but
all the Muslim peoples of the Middle East (except the Turks).
"What is a neoconservative in the year 2003?" asks
Boot in the first paragraphs of his screed, and by the end
he seems considerably less puzzled:
most prominent champions of this view inside the administration
are Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy Defense Secretary
Paul Wolfowitz. Their agenda is known as 'neoconservatism,'
though a more accurate term might be 'hard Wilsonianism.'
Advocates of this view embrace Woodrow Wilson's championing
of American ideals but reject his reliance on international
organizations and treaties to accomplish our objectives. ('Soft
Wilsonians,' a k a liberals, place their reliance, in Charles
Krauthammer's trenchant phrase, on paper, not power.) Like
Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan,
'hard Wilsonians' want to use American might to promote American
dressing up the War Party's militant triumphalism in presidential
trappings, Boot hopes to Americanize what is essentially an
alien, European tradition, one that owes more to Trotsky than
Teddy. "I like to think I've been in touch with reality
from day one," avers Boot, "since I've never been
a Trotskyite [sic], a Maoist or even a Democrat." Boot's
oblivious disdain for history, and his obvious unfamiliarity
with the rightist axiom that "ideas
have consequences," as Richard
Weaver put it, seems odd in an ostensible "conservative"
of any sort.
many of the original neocons were ex-Trotskyists, or independent
left-wing critics of Stalinism whose Russian colleagues
were sent to the gulag, and whose leader met his end on Stalin's
orders their foreign policy monomania is best understood
as Trotsky's revenge. The founder of the Red
Army had wanted to carry the struggle into Poland, and
Germany, after the 1917 Revolution, and this later developed
into a comprehensive critique of Stalin's policy of "socialism
in one country." Throughout the cold war era, Trotsky's
renegade followers called for "rolling back" their
old enemies, the Stalinists but even the implosion
of the Soviet empire did not calm their crusading instincts.
this is ancient history, Boot and his fellow crusaders complain.
world hegemony," the fatuous phrase in which William
Kristol and Robert Kagan summed up the goal of a neocon post-cold
war foreign policy, has a positively Soviet ring to it. The
idea that the U.S. government must "export democracy"
at gunpoint all around the world is a frankly revolutionary
program, profoundly alien to the American conservative ethos
that considers hubris a sin and distrusts power in
the hands of imperfect men. The idea of democratism in one
country that constitutional republicanism can thrive only
in the West, because of cultural and historical factors
is anathema to these militant internationalists. The neoconservative
anomaly is that they have succeeded in redefining "conservatism"
as Trotskyism turned inside out.
the third or fourth generation of rightists seems unaware
of or indifferent to their ideological legacy merely underscores
the success of the "entrist"
infiltration tactic often used by Trotskyists over the years.
Trotsky and his followers, in league with Sidney
major neocon icon did this in the Socialist Party in
the 1930s, and the Trotskyists became infamous for their
skill at infiltration. (The most recent example was the discovery
of French Prime Minister Lionel
Jospin's membership in a secretive Trotksyist cell.) Contemporary
neoconservative thought bears the marks of its Trotskyist
origins in the style of its expression. The essentially leftist
utopianism of the neoconservative foreign policy analysts
is succinctly summarized by Boot in a single sentence:
conservatives think, however, that 'realism' presents far
too crabbed a view of American power and responsibility. They
suggest that we need to promote our values, for the simple
reason that liberal democracies rarely fight one another,
sponsor terrorism, or use weapons of mass destruction."
old-fashioned conservative virtues of prudence, restraint,
and humility are too "crabbed" for the world-saving
all-conquering neocon imagination. Caution would cramp their
style. These revolutionaries of the Right would cast all caution
aside, and instead move boldly to "promote our values"
just as Lenin, Trotsky, and Mao once moved with equal boldness
to promote their values: to establish a world order, a state
or federation of states, unified by adherence to a common
was supposed to have been the only road to world peace: socialist
states, we were solemnly assured, would never go to war against
each other. When China disproved this by attacking not only
Vietnam but also starting a cold war against the Soviet Union,
Communist theorists covered over this giant hole in their
theoretical edifice by declaring that either China or the
Soviets had gone "capitalist."
the commies of yesteryear, the neocons of today proclaim that
the triumph of their ideology, "democratic capitalism,"
will lead to the same universal convergence of interests.
But history refutes their panacea: surely the American War
of Independence, which pitted a parliamentary monarchy against
an emerging republic, is an important historical exception
to the rule that democracies "rarely" war on one
internationalists" of old, the democratic internationalists
of the post-9/11 world declare it is our moral duty
to impose our form of government on foreign peoples. Eerily
echoing the Communist mouthpieces of a bygone era, the pundits
who push this neo-imperialist nonsense explain away inconvenient
facts as exceptions that somehow prove the rule. The dead
souls of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I fear, would take vigorous
exception to Boot's suggestion that their immolation is a
mere speck on the otherwise brilliant raiment of Democracy.
note, in passing, the similarity of the rhetorical sleight-of-hand
practiced by commies and neocons alike: democratist ideologues,
like their communist alter-egos, do not claim their system
is inherently pacific, but only in relation to states of a
similar orientation. This is supposed to make us forget that
democracy, unrestrained by customs and constitutions, morals
and the demands of commerce, is the most warlike ideology
of them all, as evidenced by the history of the U.S. since
the era of Wilson, not to mention the history of Athens, or
that of the Roman republic.
around the late 1950s, American conservatives picked up a
hitch-hiker on the road to power who wound up hijacking their
movement. The thuggish style of the left with its organized
smear campaigns, race-baiting, expulsions, and enforced ideological
conformity was imported to the Right via the neconservative
influx: the ugly viciousness
of, say, David
Horowitz, didn't derive from a careful reading of Russell
Kirk, but from the intellectual hooliganism of the "New"
Left (and its Old Left progenitors). The running dogs of capitalism
have merely been transformed into the running dogs of "anti-Americanism."
Boot doesn't even realize the source of his own bile, as he
smears Pat Buchanan and The
American Conservative using not only the tactics but
also the language of the Left. He moans that some who have
rightly tagged him as a neocon "have ulterior motives."
Oh, poor baby! He then launches into an extraordinary tirade:
Buchanan, for one, claims that his views represent the true
faith of the American right. He wants to drive the neocon
infidels from the temple (or, more accurately, from the church).
Unfortunately for Mr. Buchanan, his version of conservatism nativist,
protectionist, isolationist attracts few followers, as evidenced
by his poor showings in Republican presidential primaries
and the scant influence of his inaptly named magazine, the
American Conservative. Buchananism isn't American conservatism
as we understand it today. It's paleoconservatism, a poisonous
brew that was last popular when Father Charles Coughlin, not
Rush Limbaugh, was the leading conservative broadcaster in
nonsense about Father Coughlin being a "conservative
broadcaster" shows not only Boot's complete ignorance
of what Couglin's movement stood for, and its origins as a
radical pro-Roosevelt movement of the 1930s, but also his
complete acceptance of the traditional liberal view of conservatism
was a man of the Left, who rose to prominence on the strength
of a broadcast entitled "Roosevelt
or Ruin!" He urged the Democrats to "drive the
money-changers out of the temple," not only echoing the
President's own rhetoric but declaring that the President's
programs didn't go far enough. Lapsing into anti-Semitism
and money crankery late in his career, Coughlin hailed the
rise of Hitler and was never a conservative in any sense of
the term. Coughlin supported the rise of National Socialism
and fascism precisely because they were revolutionary doctrines.
The Left has been tagging
the conservative movement with the "Coughlinite"
label ever since the 1950s, but it is certainly odd to hear
an alleged conservative give voice to this ancient canard.
claim that he was never a "Trotskyite," a Maoist
or even a Democrat just shows how the methods and mindset
of the Left have been universalized, as he displays expert
skill at another favorite tactic of the Left: promoting ethnic
divisions. Boot plays the ethnic card in a way that can only
leave Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson gasping with admiration:
Buchananites toss around 'neoconservative' and cite names
like Wolfowitz and Cohen it sometimes sounds as if what they
really mean is 'Jewish conservative.' This is a malicious
slur on two levels. First, many of the leading neocons aren't
Jewish; Jeane Kirkpatrick, Bill Bennett, Father John Neuhaus
and Michael Novak aren't exactly menorah lighters. Second,
support for Israel a key tenet of neoconservatism is hardly
confined to Jews; its strongest constituency in America happens
to be among evangelical Christians."
insight that the biggest supporters of Israel are Christian
fundamentalists of a dispensationalist bent is one made by
TAC writer Eric
Margolis, as well as myself, and, lest anyone detect an
ethnic bias in TAC's targets, what about this
outright attack on Christianity by Norman Mailer in a
would say that flag [neo] conservatives are not Christians.
They are, at best, militant Christians, which is, of course,
a fatal contradiction in terms. They are a very special piece
of work, but they are not Christians. The fundament of Christianity
is compassion, and it is usually observed by the silence attendant
on its absence."
victimological explanation for Buchanan's war on the neocons
is just a lot of whining, combined with the usual liberal-leftie
slurs routinely hurled right-ward. Is it is now forbidden
to criticize anyone connected with the present administration
if they are Jewish, on pain of being labeled a follower of
Father Coughlin, or worse? Imagine the reaction from the same
crowd if identical rules had been invoked to deflect criticism
of Clinton's African-American appointees, or of black elected
officials, most of them Democrats.
"a poisonous brew"? What could be a more toxic than
the mixture of warmongering and sloganeering that our trendy
neocons have put on the menu for 2003? Combined with the police
state methods rapidly eroding constitutional protections,
the smear tactics practiced by the neocons, who routinely
describe their political enemies as "fifth columnists"
in the service of terrorism, are an implicit threat.
Goldberg chimes in, obsequiously declaring that "Boot
is, of course, absolutely right," but then deciding that
the neocon label is a bad one after all:
the only place I'd disagree with Boot is his willingness to
adopt the label neocon. The term does more damage than good
because it allows people to hide their real intent. People
who want to denounce the influence of Jews get to use the
word 'neocon' when they really mean 'Jewish conservatives'
without being held accountable."
now we are supposed to forget about all those non-Jewish neocons
Boot catalogued, because the mind-reading Jonah can peer into
the inner thoughts of his critics, and excavate their real
motives. Not only is it forbidden to mention any Jewish
names in a critical context, but now the word "neoconservative"
is also evidence of a "hate crime." What do Jewish
paleos, such as Paul
Gottfried, and the late Murray
N. Rothbard, mean when they denounce the pernicious influence
of the neocons? Only Jonah Goldberg knows
term [neocon] distorts more than it reveals," says Goldberg,
"and should be thrown over the side." Along with the
numerous books, doctoral dissertations, and other scholarly
discussion of the subject, over a period of some twenty years.
Throw it over the side, shove it down the Memory
Hole let's restrict the political debate in this country
until no one can criticize the drive to war without being accused
of treason, anti-Semitism, or both.
rails on incoherently:
refer to neocons when they mean 'hawks' when there's no evidence
that all neocons are hawks or Jews."
one ever said all neocons are Jews: that's a neocon canard.
But I challenge Goldberg to come up with the name of a single
prominent neocon who is not a hawk on Iraq. He claims
to believe that Boot is "absolutely right," but
the theme of Boot's Wall Street Journal piece is that
warmongering is the essence of neoconservatism. Neoconservatism
is not the Jewish Party, it is the vanguard of the
War Party, and the two are certainly not synonymous, as many
Jews are in the forefront of the antiwar movement.
hide behind one word when you mean another," cries Goldberg,
but who is he to tell us what we mean? The new grand inquisitors
of political correctness, neocon-style, have proscribed an
entire list of subjects. Like the compilers of a Newspeak
dictionary, in George Orwell's 1984, they are busy
getting rid of words, constricting
the permitted limits of language to a very narrow spectrum
so that it is increasingly impossible to think incorrect thoughts.
are, in short, the enemies of freedom, the Thought Police
of our time.
my last column, I mistakenly wrote Phillips Exeter Academy,
when I meant Phillips Academy. Sorry about that!
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