Pop Quiz: When is a Neocon Not A Neocon?
Answer. When he’s wrong.
Which is most of the time. And that irks Charles Krauthammer.
Dr. Krauthammer is an interesting character. For some thirty years he’s been a Washington fixture. Trained as a psychiatrist, he became a speechwriter for Vice President Walter Mondale (Sounds reasonable. Eagleton Redux). He then began to write for the Washington Post – once more, feeling right at home, since, at the Post, all abnormal behaviors are deemed normal.
Mondale. The Post. Those two credits are similar to those of many other “former” liberals who have become neoconservatives over the years. But these days the Doctor Is In, and he’s pouting. Why? Well, just a year ago he was bragging: “Today, everyone and his cousin supports the ‘freedom agenda.’ Of course, yesterday it was just George W. Bush, Tony Blair and a band of neocons with unusual hypnotic powers….”
Well, I know the neoncons lust after power – but hypnotic? Well, remember, the Doc is a shrink, and a proud one at that. But he also believes in mandatory amnesia, because today his celebrated “freedom agenda” has once more blown up in his face, so he now gripes that people are calling him names. Neoconservative? He’s not a “neoconservative” at all, not any more, he confesses to National Review’s Rich Lowry. Better not argue (and Rich, shame on him, didn’t), because Dr. K. is on a roll: “Neoconservative is an ‘epithet.’ [sic] Today [K. continues] it’s usually meant as a silent synonym for ‘Jewish conservative.’ And when it is meant otherwise, I would ask you whenever you hear the word [to] challenge the person to describe and explain to you what a neocon is.”
Yes, the good Doctor is in, but he’s totally out of it. Frankly, I don’t blame him for ducking the neocon label – it’s as closely identified with failure as “Bush” is. Mr. Lowry’s magazine quietly admitted as much in the run-up to the 2012 elections. Moreover, Dr. Krauthammer’s “challenge” comes off as somewhat insincere, considering how, ten years ago, he had no time for rational discussion, brushing off Bush’s conservative critics as “navel gazers” because they insisted on a debate that would apply constitutional principles to Bush’s wars – which, like Bush, were failures (John McCain, another failure, to the contrary).
On brief inspection, the doctor’s tendentious tantrum borders on hilarity. Many neocons wear the label proudly. After Obama’s illegal war on Libya (another disastrous failure, but I digress), Bill Kristol cheered, and proudly baptized Obama as a “born again neocon.” Did Mr. Kristol’s use of that sly “epithet” intend to brand Obama as a “Jewish conservative,” I wonder? Mr. Kristol is often off the wall, and even more often wrong, but even he has his standards.
Mr. Kristol’s father, Irving, proudly referred to himself as the “godfather of all those neocons” just ten years ago, in his son’s magazine. Neoconservatism, wrote Kristol, is “forward-looking” conservatism. Moreover, “neoconservative policies … have helped make the very idea of political conservatism more acceptable to a majority of American voters,” he insisted.
“Forward-looking.” Well, as Charles Burton Marshall once observed, “there’s no such thing as the foreseeable future.” But, “backward looking,” as we conservatives are wont to do – you know, Western Civ, history, and all that stuff – in the ten years since Kristol père made that presumptuous assertion, “neoconservative policies” have destroyed the GOP, brought the country to its knees, and delivered the White House to Obama on a silver platter, twice.
Well. Mr. Krauthammer pretends to issue a challenge. Let’s take him at his word.
Just who are the “neocons”? To begin with, Krauthammer and a small group of other well-compensated neocons are the “conservatives” appointed by the leftist media – because, as we will see, they both speak the same language, the dialectic. The Left loves them because the neocon wrecking crew has been so wrong on virtually every foreign policy issue for the past ten years. The media thus make them their convenient poster boys for the assertion that all conservatives are as dumb as the neocons are.
But wait, are we ducking the good doctor’s “challenge”? No way. He smugly asserts that his critics are as dumb as his victims – those poor, misled conservatives who were duped by neocons like Cheney, Bush, Lowry, McGurn, (Michael) Novak, and other fine Christians to cheer on the criminals who plundered the country, established a domestic police state, destroyed the economy, and cashed in big-time on two unwinnable , illegal, and immoral wars.
But the Doctor demands definitions – so here goes. Let’s start with Aristotle’s concept of “limits.”
Like their leftist forbears, neocons defy constitutional limits on presidential power (viz. their embrace of the “unitary executive”), and thus defy metaphysical limits on government. They denyreligious limits on government, an Augustinian principle which is unique in history to Christendom – that is, Western Civilization. As history repeatedly demonstrates, these denials open the door to totalitarianism. Neocons also employ the Trotskyite dialectic (traditionally known as “lying”) to stay in power, regardless of principle or party. Next, Bill Kristol’s baptism of Obama reflects another neocon intellectual indulgence, the denial of Aristotle’s principle of non-contradiction. They only criticize power when somebody else has it and uses it against them. For them, power has the force of gravity: they can’t resist it.
Neocons accept the dictum of Marx’s Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach: they evade rational discussion, and demand immediate action instead, in the service of the ideological demand to change the world without understanding it – thus George W. Bush’s fanatical promise to “rid the world of evil.”
So much for the Prince of Peace.
Neocons are not religious fanatics – often, they are not religious at all. But like Rousseau, they find religion useful. Ten years ago, they were able to dupe several million anti-Catholic Dispensational Evangelicals (who haven’t a clue about metaphysics but who want Armageddon now) into supporting the Iraq war because it was “God’s will.” Neocons also borrow from Rousseau, the godfather of totalitarianism, the notion that men must be “forced to be free” –by the neocons and the armies they send marching off to endless war. They justify this by asserting the notion of “American Exceptionalism,” an empty phrase that oozes narcissism because, after all, they are the most exceptional Americans of all.
Possessed by this manic hubris, neocons embrace the Manichaean art of self-deification: their cause is perfect good, while every enemy (and critic) is “another Hitler” – if not sheer evil, at least an anti-Semite. But the wheels on the neocon bus go round and round, and the dialectic can’t help constantly seriving up new Hitlers – Saddam, Osama, Ahmadinijad, and now Mokhtar Belmokhtar. As Tom Lehrer used to sing, “Who’s Next?”
And speaking of Hitler, neocons also falsify history: for them, it’s always 1938; disagree with them and you’re Neville Chamberlain. “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.”
Ideas have consequences, and bad ideas have very bad consequences. The neocon’s self-divinization permits torture, lies (falsely attributing that “right” to Socrates and the “noble lie”), premeditated Murder By Predator of Americans, worldwide death squads that kill for democracy, imperial swagger, defiance of accountability, hubris as virtue, power lust (libido dominandi: Augustine, City of God, Book I, Preface), lust for fame and glory (superbia vitae: 1 John 2:16), and endless, profound, but always unintended, collateral damage.
Dr. Krauthammer’s taunt is both tawdry and typical. Which raises one last, but essential, point: the neocons are always wrong; and they never, ever apologize.