Purging the Neocons
January 6, 2004
Did you know that the word
neoconservative often shortened to neocon
is an ethnic slur? Neither did I, but some, er, conservative pundits have
set me straight.
David Brooks of the New
York Times says of the people labeled neocons that
con is short for conservative and neo is short for
Jewish. So when other people call these people
neocons, you see, theyre really calling them Jews,
which for some reason is anti-Semitic.
This must come as a surprise to
Irving Kristol, who long ago cheerfully, indeed proudly, accepted the term.
Though Jewish himself, he never suggested that you had to be Jewish to be
a neocon. His Irish friend Daniel Patrick Moynihan was also called a neocon
in those days, as are a number of other notable non-Jews today.
Kristol is still known as
the godfather of neoconservatism and in a famous bon mot
defined a neoconservative as a liberal who has been mugged by
reality. The neocons were known for a qualified skepticism about
the welfare state, though, unlike traditional conservatives, they accepted
it in principle. Kristol wanted to ditch a lot of conservative baggage about
limited government, the free market, and the U.S. Constitution. Nothing
particularly Jewish about all that. (Kristols son William, by the
way, is also a leading neocon.)
So whats the problem?
Well, the neocons broadly agreed with conservatives about foreign policy.
They were anti-Communist and wanted an activist, some would say
aggressive, U.S. foreign policy. And a lot of them, many of whom happened
to be Jewish, especially wanted the United States to fight Israels
enemies. In the last few years, neocon has become synonymous
with these particular neocons, though its perfectly possible to
adopt the neocon philosophy in principle without being either Jewish or
the real world, people cant help noticing that a
pro-Israel faction has come to dominate the neocon movement. To say this,
however, is to court the charge of bigotry. I like to define a bigot as
one who practices sociology without a license. There are
certain social realities which it behooves one to discuss in euphemisms
and circumlocutions. To talk about them bluntly is bigotry; to talk about
them in academic lingo may be permissible.
Raising alarms about neocon
influence is sometimes also called a new form of
McCarthyism. But of course lots of things hundreds, would
be a safe estimate have been branded a new form of
McCarthyism, including any observation that communists and their
sympathizers actually did infiltrate the administration of Franklin
The real Joe McCarthy rose to
prominence by affirming, none too academically, not only that there were
Reds under the bed, but that a lot of them were in the bed with their
pinko friends. This forced liberals to make sure that they kept a careful
distance from Stalins little helpers, who had infiltrated the
liberal movement and often hid behind liberal fronts. The
Reds often found liberal causes handy for their own purposes.
Is there a lesson here for the
neocons? I think so. Like the liberals of yore, they have carelessly allowed
their movement to be infiltrated by Zionist partisans and agents who have
brought suspicion on all of them. And just as the liberals of
McCarthys day had to purge Communists from their ranks in order
to preserve their good name, its up to patriotic American neocons
surely the great majority to weed out the Israel-firsters
At stake is the good name of the
neoconservative philosophy. It would be a disaster to its principles for the
general public to get the false impression that those principles are
nothing but a front for agents of a foreign power who want
to trick us into wars against our own interests.
Any genuine political philosophy
can stand on its own feet. It must never be reduced to any particular
interest if it is to have a broad appeal to ordinary people. The exposure of
people calling themselves neocons (or taking shelter behind
the label) as chums of the Israeli Likud threatens to discredit all the truly
principled neoconservatives, who must now show that they represent a
universal creed, not a narrow sect.
Otherwise, neoconservatives may
find themselves once again mugged by reality.