are the neocons writing
trying to disprove
their own existence? Poor Jonah Goldberg is faced with an
impossible task. He wants his readers to forget the history
of their own movement, ignore the enormous literature documenting
the neoconservative odyssey from left to right, and pretend
that the doctrine of perpetual preemptive war is not antithetical
to the conservative project of restoring limited government.
No wonder it took three interminable installments for him
to imagine he'd pulled it off. But quantity is not quality,
and this is especially true in Jonah's case.
10,000-plus words, this neocon in denial exudes more and darker
clouds of obfuscating rhetoric than a whole army of squids.
Talk about protesting too much. Oddly, he addresses himself,
not to conservatives who deserve some sort of explanation
as to why the neocons are so
eager to purge their political enemies from the ranks
of the Right but to liberals:
are accustomed to liberals not understanding the zoology of
our movement. But the use and abuse of the term 'neoconservative'
has exceeded even the high allowance for cliché and
ignorance generally afforded to those who write or talk about
conservatism from outside the conservative ant farm. In fact,
neoconservative has become a Trojan Horse for vast arsenal
of ideological attacks and insinuations. For some it means
Jewish conservative. For others it means hawk. A few still
think it means squishy conservative or ex-liberal. And a few
don't even know what the word means, they just think it makes
them sound knowledgeable when they use it."
may be vague on right-wing zoology, but conservatives know
what the score is, and they know the players all too well.
They also realize that the three definitions offered above
are not mutually exclusive, although I know of no one who
holds to the first except Goldberg. A squishy conservative
or ex-liberal who, nonetheless, hardens up considerably when
it comes to foreign policy, one who gives two
cheers for capitalism but three or even four for a policy
of perpetual war these guys have acted as a Trojan Horse
inside the conservative movement for years. Why else do you
has gotten bigger, and more intrusive, than it was before
the so-called "Reagan Revolution"?
piece by Micahel Lind that traces the neocons back to
Trotskyist roots, and then cites a recent New York
showing how Leo
Strauss influenced leading neoconservative policy intellectuals,
a recent article in the New York Times says the neocons
aren't Trotskyists, they're Straussians: 'They are the neoconservatives,
or neocons a catchall name for a disparate group of authors,
academics, media moguls and public servants who trace their
intellectual lineage (accurately or not) to the teachings
of a German émigré named Leo Strauss.' Confused?"
sure hopes so. But why is it impossible to have been influenced
by both Trotsky and Strauss? After all, the two shared a common
faith in elites whose esoteric knowledge qualified them to
rule over the masses. That Goldberg seems unaware of this
shows that he has read neither.
are treated to anecdotal "evidence" of the neocons'
nonexistence in the form of a story by Goldberg detailing
some minor disagreement amongst his colleagues at the American
Enterprise Institute during an informal lecture by Joshua
Muravchik "on the current state of neoconservatism."
Apparently no one told Muravchik that there's no such thing
as a neoconservative movement. Goldberg's evidence that neocons
are just a bogeyman conjured by anti-Semites and ignorant
liberals is that the questions posed to Muravchik provoked
disagreement on the definition of neoconservatism:
the leaders of the 'neoconservative movement' whatever that
meant or means could not agree on what neoconservatism is."
none denied its existence. The leaders of a movement often
have different emphases, as is shown in Goldberg's discussion
of the various perspectives raised by Muravchik, Irwin
Steltzer, and Michael
Novak, but they agree on fundamentals, and, what's more,
they share a common intellectual heritage. What Goldberg evades
is that their discussion, as reported by him, concerned the
nature of Reaganism and the role of neoconservatism within
a broader conservative coalition. Far from disproving the
existence of neoconservatism as a distinct strand within the
conservative mosaic, if anything Goldberg's anecdote proves
just the opposite. If there is no movement, then why
argue over who or what is a neocon?
irks Goldberg to no end is the outing, so to speak, of the
neocons as essentially leftists spouting superficially "right-wing"
rhetoric. Since the
Trotskyist roots of prominent neocons are well-known,
Goldberg falls back on his limitless capacity for evasion,
like a boxer who can't punch but can only feint:
me just say that of the scores of famous neocons I've met,
none of them have ever expressed any fondness for Trotsky.
He's never quoted as an authority in neocon op-eds or journals,
and he's never invoked save in jokes in neocon debates
what about the indirect influence of former Trotskyists, who
became top leaders in the modern conservative movement? Goldberg
Burnham, and even details his early career as Trotsky's
chief American intellectual disciple, but somehow fails
to understand how the Trotskyist mindset could have influenced
Burnham's later views. It is odd to see an alleged conservative
deny the importance of history, directly contradicting Richard
Weaver's famous dictum that "ideas
however, has his own revisionist history of the neocons' rightward
there are some important points to make about this version
of history. First, the folks who became known as neoconservatives
may have been liberals who'd been 'mugged by reality' (Irving
Kristol's famous definition of a neocon), but most never called
themselves neoconservatives, never studied Trotsky let alone
embraced his "theory of permanent revolution"
and many considered themselves honest liberals who stuck to
their principles on civil rights as the Democratic party spun
off into self-parody in the 1970s."
Kristol himself did more than merely study Trotsky: he was
a member of a dissident Trotskyist group, the Workers Party
(later the Independent Socialist League), led by Max
Shachtman. Goldberg quotes Kristol to the effect that
he learned the art of argumentation as a young Trotskyist
#1" and names a number of influential neocons who,
like Irving Kristol, who had not only studied Trotsky, but
followed him. In moving rightward, these people merely exchanged
the golden calf of world socialism for the tin god of global
wants us to believe all this is ancient history, of interest
only to hair-splitting sectarians who don't want to let any
newcomers into their club. Goldberg spends a lot of time detailing
conservative infighting over positions of influence, in particular
the spiking of Mel
Bradford's nomination as head of the Reagan-era National
Endowment for the Humanities, and concludes:
odd that such an event could be the catalyst for the creation
an entire theology of grievance and outrage by the paleos.
But pettiness, intellectual and personal, often drives politics.
So, the more successful the neos became, the more bitter the
hardly surprising that someone who rose to prominence as the
purveyor of the juicier tidbits of the Monica Lewinksy scandal
story should reduce a serious ideological debate to
pettiness. Shocked and awed by the neocons' greatness, that's
what I am. But didn't Goldberg's magazine just launch a major
attack on paleoconservatives, charging them with ideological
transgressions so serious that they made it the cover story
just as the war ended? So, it turns out, it isn't all
about Mel Bradford
irksome leftist ghosts who haunt the neocons' storied past
rose up, coincidentally, to remind us of their existence just
as Goldberg's piece was posted: the Social
Democrats, USA held a national conference which saw neocons
and the last of the right-wing democratic socialists joined
at the hip. The headline in The Forward read: "Debs'
Heir Reassemble to Seek Renewed Role as Hawks of Left."
evolution of the Social Democrats is largely a tale of slow
half-steps to the right, from socialism to reformist social
democracy to Cold War liberalism to neoconservatism and finally
why mince words? to plain conservatism. One day you're
on the party central committee with Michael Harrington, and
the next you look across the table to see Pat Robertson. And
somehow, through this long series of political half steps,
ideological epiphanies and situational compromises, it all
seems to make sense."
won't go into the byzantine organizational history that links
the old Shachtman group with the Social Democrats, USA: a
useful synopsis is provided by Jesse Walker, here.
While some of the attendees at this renunion of old lefties
had indeed crossed all the way over to the right, such as
Muravchik a former
national chairman of their youth group, now firmly in
the neocon camp the majority clearly see themselves
as men and women of the left who endorse Bush's policy of
perpetual war as "armed anti-fascism," as one German
Social Democrat at the conference admiringly put it.
Changed: What Now for Labor, Liberalism and the Global Left?"
and the answer is a new pro-war post-9/11 Left energized
by a militarized, Prussianized socialism. Or, as their conference
social democrats believe unabashedly that the United States
is a force for good in the world. (A view most persuasively
argued in recent times by the social democratic Prime Minister
of Britain, Tony Blair.) But our citizens and our government
alike need continuous encouragement if our moral influence
and our diplomatic and military power are to be used effectively
to assist those in other countries who share our commitments
to democracy and human rights. Some conservatives consider
such commitments sentimental, or a drain on our national capabilities.
Certain liberals and leftists scorn American efforts in behalf
of democracy abroad as a spurious disguise for economic and
military domination an anti-Americanism that overrides consideration
of the good that so often comes from such engagement, even
under Republican Administrations."
Kemble, former head of the National
Endowment for Democracy a government sinecure created
especially for the neocons during the Reagan years made
the keynote speech. Kemble gave a mild critique of capitalism,
effectively two cheers for a system that, nonetheless, requires
a considerable amount of guidance from the state. But the
SocDems went on the offensive against (unnamed) libertarians,
who are supposedly just as bad, in their way, as the radical
market radicals, whose ideological obsessions often make them
as blind as doctrinaire leftists to the practical consequences
of their policies, will continue their campaign against our
unions. But conservatives who recognize the dangers of unchecked
power and value of mediating institutions may want to reflect
on the possible effects of the transformation these radicals
seek. (The capitalist arena is too important to leave to capitalists
themselves, who, as recently demonstrated, can mangle its
rules in pursuit of immediate and personal gain.)"
need to go after "free market radicalism" in the
Bush administration, but they're just making sure. Notice
that they are appealing to conservatives, not their fellow
leftists: clearly, they see themselves as the social democratic
conscience of the neocon Right, and, in other ways, its instrument:
strident anti-Americanism and magnanimity toward third world
dictatorships of some who claim loudly to speak for the left
are once again feeding the perception that the left cares
little about freedom. As in the conflicts with communism waged
by past generations of the democratic left, social democrats
not only must distinguish ourselves from the false left
we must take the lead in exposing and combating it. We know
this enemy better than the conservatives, we know the territory
better, and we understand the damage that can be done to good
people and good causes when the battles that must be waged
are conducted in reckless ways."
Left-neocon alliance, symbolized by the presence of American
Enterprise Institute resident scholar Muravchik at the speakers'
dais, is based on a shared view of the antiwar opposition.
While some who oppose the neocons' endless wars of national
"liberation" are "people of good will and reasoned
judgement," albeit "mistaken," on the other
new global network is taking shape that encompasses Islamic
extremists, remnants of the old communist system and its friends,
agents of thug governments, assorted third world liberation
groups and a variety of other dissidents and anti-democratic
malcontents. The common premises of this unseemly alliance
are anti-Americanism, opposition to Israel and hostility to
the global economic system, which is depicted in the most
is the political and practical basis of the neocon-socialist
alliance. The former never cared about domestic policies much,
as long as they held the foreign policy reins. So let the
Social Democrats have their unions and the maze of government
regulations that make union power possible: let them have
a slightly reduced and streamlined version of the Big Government
policies of the past fifty years, along with the high taxes
and centralized bureaucracy that oppress us all. Just as long
as the neocons have their policy of perpetual war, and Israel
is protected from the depredations of an "unseemly alliance"
of "malcontents" that's all they ask.
political heirs of erstwhile Trotskyists-gone-haywire have
always been an influential component of the War Party. Now
they are proudly reasserting themselves, their leftist heritage,
and their ideological and personal links to the neoconservatives
just in time, as it turns out, to show up Goldberg as a
liar, and a bad one at that.
won't tarry any longer in the swamp of Goldberg's
denialism, except to ask: Why don't these people come
out of the closet? Why are they afraid to be identified for
what they are: a cohesive political grouping that, more than
any other factor, is responsible for dragging us into a series
of endless wars? Why don't they stop running from their heritage,
and their own ideas, and start proclaiming the virtues of
that I blame them, you understand, from trying to stay on
the down-low, as it were. Because what they are power-hungry
warmongers, and cowards to boot is nothing to be proud of
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