There's No Such Thing as Neoconservatism
by Steven Greenhut
by Steven Greenhut
After reading New York Times columnist David Brooks decry "the era of distortion," in which he portrayed as anti-Semitic critics of neoconservatism, I was left with the same feeling I had after having a discussion with a friend of mine who subscribes to "New Age" religious beliefs.
My friend reads all the latest New Age fare, hangs out with other people who call themselves New Age, and identifies in every way with that religious/philosophical movement. But anytime I would try to discuss with her any point of her theology, she would insist that there really isn't a New Age movement or theology per se.
It's a collection of various and sundry beliefs, she would say, and the New Age moniker is mainly used by narrow-minded Christians who want to attack bands of free thinkers.
She believes in certain philosophies that are part of a modern religious movement, but she wouldn't allow herself to be pinned down by any of its specific ideas. It was the ultimate in having it both ways, being able to be part of something, without having to defend any of its actual beliefs or even admit that it exists.
As a piece of advice, don't let yourself get sucked into one of these fruitless and frustrating discussions. That brings me to the Brooks column. My advice here should be: Don't get sucked into reading such fruitless and frustrating drivel. Too late for me.
As a columnist for such a prestigious newspaper, one would think that Brooks would be a more disciplined thinker than my well-intentioned but intellectually dishonest friend. You'd think he could admit that he is part of a political movement, then defend its beliefs rather than pretend that the movement doesn't exist.
In that Jan. 6 column, Brooks takes to task those who criticize Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Doug Feith, Bill Kristol and other influential policy wonks as neoconservatives. He explains the term "neocon" this way: "con is short for ‘conservative' and neo is short for ‘Jewish'." In other words, those who criticize neoconservatives and their possible influence on the Bush administration foreign policy are anti-Semites.
There isn't a neoconservative cabal, Brooks insists. These men and women generally associated with neoconservatism "travel in widely different circles and don't actually have much contact with one another. ... I've been told by senior administration officials that [Perle] has had no significant meetings with Bush or Cheney since they assumed office." In Brooks' world, neocon is just a moniker given to a group of mostly Jewish intellectuals by haters who fear Jewish influence on the world. It's like my New Age friend, who insists there is no actual, New Age movement even though she is part of it. Likewise, there are no neoconservatives, just "people labeled neocons."
Having dispensed with the existence of neoconservatism, Brooks then goes on to discuss the increase in paranoia and anti-Semitism in the world. There might be some truth to this assertion. But by deciding that neocon is a word for Jewish conservative (as if these Jewish and non-Jewish social democrats/military hawks are in any way conservative!), and that criticism of neoconservatism is evidence of anti-Semitism, Brooks is undermining his own argument. Critics of his views apparently are in league with people who blow up synagogues. How self-serving.
As Brooks explains it, in the new segmented media communities, where people read Internet sites more than the New York Times op-ed page (go figure!), "Half-truths get circulated and exaggerated. Dark accusations are believed because it is delicious to believe them."
After reading the Brooks piece, I went to the American Enterprise Institute Web site (apparently one of the accepted Web sites, where half-truths are not circulated), which is Ground Zero for the neocon movement. I should say it would be Ground Zero if in fact neoconservatism were a movement, although I now know it is not one.
Although the article claims that neoconservatism is an intellectual undercurrent more than a well-defined movement, Kristol outlines well-defined principles of neoconservatism. He said he is amused and flattered by the discussions about neoconservatives, and admits that he is known as the "godfather" of neoconservatism.
Brooks is offended that critics of a set of policies known as neoconservatism call it neoconservatism, even though the founder of this non-philosophy is amused and flattered by discussions of his movement, if it were a movement.
Don't try to follow the logic (or my sentence structure).
Just so you understand, neoconservatism is a movement when people who are sometimes known as neoconservatives want it to be a movement, and not a movement when they don't want to deal with the criticisms. At least my New Age friend could credibly claim there is no hard-and-fast New Age philosophy, but what can Brooks say given that the godfather of his political philosophy has written at length about what it means?
LewRockwell readers know what these tenets are, especially the part about using American military superiority to pursue certain overseas objectives. If we know what they are, and Kristol explains what they are, then why can't we criticize them without having our motives impugned? Sure, some people are conspiratorial when they talk about neoconservatism, but that doesn't mean most critics are that way.
Despite what Brooks suggests, no one I know believes there is some cabal of neocon intellectuals pulling the strings of the Bush administration. No one I know suggests that they travel in the same little world. No one I know uses criticism of neoconservative foreign policy as a means to promote a noxious anti-Semitic agenda. When we talk about neoconservatives we simply mean adherents of the political philosophy outlined by Kristol. When we talk about neoconservative influence on the president, we don't mean anything bizarre or conspiratorial, only that those people who advocate certain ideas seem to have influence with the president.
This has nothing to do with Judaism. Many of the most prominent neoconservatives one can think of — Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice — wouldn't know Gouda from goyim, although Donald Rumsfeld does have a last name that sounds Jewish.
Even some black civil rights activists have moved beyond the point where any criticism of their agenda is de facto racism. Perhaps one day the people known as neoconservatives will be less apt to play the anti-Semitism card and more apt to discuss real issues.
January 7, 2004
Steven Greenhut (send him mail) is a senior editorial writer and columnist for the Orange County Register.
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