Take a Neocon Litmus Test

In the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal (December 30, 2002), there appeared an article, “What the Heck Is a Neocon?” It was written by (I am not making this up) Max Boot. This is unquestionably the most unfortunate name in the history of the conservative movement.

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — for ever.”

~ George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

“How much boot?” “Max!” You can see the man’s problem.

Mr. Boot insists that the word “conservatism” applies to whatever Pat Buchanan isn’t and whatever Charles Coughlin wasn’t. (Coughlin was an radio preacher in the 1930’s, a defender of fiat money — “greenbackism.” The church eventually silenced him because of his anti-Semitic broadcasts.)

Boot is very upset that he gets tagged with the identification, “neoconservative.” Anyway, he says he is. That’s his official reason for writing his article. I say, maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. But why not take him at his word? He writes: “There’s no ‘neo’ in my conservatism.”

So why do I, and others of my ilk, get tagged as “neocons”? Some of the labelers have obvious ulterior motives. Patrick 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 America.

Mr. Boot says he grew up in the 1980’s, “when conservatism was cool.” He should have been there when it wasn’t cool. He never found solace as well as ammunition by watching or listening to Dan Smoot, who was a strict constructionist of the Constitution, the first conservative to make it into syndicated television in the 1950’s and 1960’s, though usually on independent local TV channels. He probably has never heard of Smoot, whose book, The Invisible Government, sold a million copies in 1961. He never listened to Rev. James Fifield’s broadcasts from the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. He never subscribed to The Freeman when there was almost nothing else like it to subscribe to.

For Mr. Boot and his “ilk,” as he calls them, political life began with Reagan, not Taft. For them, economic theory began with Laffer, not Hazlitt. He grew up believing that the government needs to lower marginal tax rates in order to maximize tax revenues. It never occurs to him and his “ilk” that what we need, all over the world, are tax cuts that drastically reduce government revenues.

Another thing: Mr. Boot grew up two decades after the 1965 immigration act. That law launched what may now be an irreversible transformation of the United States. It is working as expected by the Democrats who got it through the House and Senate in 1965. It is creating millions of immigrant voters and their children who vote overwhelmingly for the party that offers the most government money. The Southwest is steadily marching into the Democrats’ tax-funded hip pocket. This process has only just begun. Differential birth rates will accelerate it. The immigration standards that prevailed before 1965, which the Right and the Left (especially the labor unions) accepted as normal in 1964, are dismissed by Mr. Boot and his “ilk” as “nativist.” The dismissal of the past is hardly a conservative mindset. But it is a neoconservative mindset, as I hope to demonstrate.

But enough on domestic policy (for the moment). Anyway, that’s what Mr. Boot recommends.

But it 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 disappeared. Pretty much all conservatives today agree on the need for a strong, vigorous foreign policy. There is no constituency for isolationism on the right, outside the Buchananite fever swamps. The question is how to define our interventionism.


Let’s review briefly the history of the fever swamps. I date America’s fever swamps with the Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641), the second written constitution in American history, the first being the very brief Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (1639). The Commonwealth of Massachusetts laid down the law:

7. No man shall be compelled to goe out of the limits of this plantation upon any offensive warres which this Comonwealth or any of our freinds or confederats shall volentarily undertake. But onely upon such vindictive and defensive warres in our owne behalfe or the behalfe of our freinds and confederats as shall be enterprized by the Counsell and consent of a Court generall, or by authority derived from the same.

It was this tradition in American history that George Washington invoked in his Farewell Address essay of 1796. I wrote the following For Lew Rockwell on December 28. It was published on December 31. In case Mr. Boot missed the original piece, let me offer some extracts.

* * * * * * * * *

In his now-famous “Farewell Address” of 1796, President George Washington expressed the following sentiments — sentiments that are today considered wildly, flagrantly “politically incorrect” by virtually all Americans, except for a Remnant.

Observe good faith & justice tow[ar]ds all Nations. Cultivate peace & harmony with all — Religion & morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great Nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a People always guided by an exalted justice & benevolence. . . .

In the execution of such a plan nothing is more essential than that permanent inveterate antipathies against particular Nations and passionate attachments for others should be excluded; and that in place of them just & amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. . . .

As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent Patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the public Councils! Such an attachment of a small or weak, towards a great & powerful Nation, dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter. . . .

Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another, cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real Patriots, who may resist the intriegues of the favourite, are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause & confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

The Great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign Nations is in extending our comercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements let them be fulfilled, with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.

George Washington sent the handwritten copy of his now-famous Farewell Address to a Philadelphia newspaper, the American Daily Advertiser in the last full year of his Presidency. Philadelphia at that time was the nation’s capital. The essay was published on September 19, 1796.

In his essay, President Washington defined what it means to be an American patriot. He also identified the characteristic features of “tools and dupes” who “usurp the applause & confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.” It is not surprising that this essay is not assigned to students, even in graduate classes in early American history. Today, and for the last century, the tools and dupes have gained control of the federal government, the media, and the schools.

As the outgoing leader of what had become the Federalist Party, Washington also here articulated the sentiments of Jefferson’s Democrats. This was the last year in which any President can truly be said to have represented the thinking of virtually all Americans. The penultimate draft of the essay was written by Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury.

Four and a half years later, Hamilton’s political rival, Thomas Jefferson, delivered his first inaugural address in the nation’s new capital, Washington, D.C. In it, he expressed these sentiments:

About to enter, fellow-citizens, on the exercise of duties which comprehend everything dear and valuable to you, it is proper you should understand what I deem the essential principles of our Government, and consequently those which ought to shape its Administration. I will compress them within the narrowest compass they will bear, stating the general principle, but not all its limitations. Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none; . . .

Anyone who is looking for evidence of the annulment of “original intent” of the leaders of the Constitutional era need search no further. In politics primarily, and not in the decisions of the United States Supreme Court, the rejection of original intent is most blatant. In foreign policy, above all, the original intent of the Framers of the Constitution has been negated — politically, ideologically, philosophically, and especially emotionally. On this point, the Right and the Left, the Democrats and the Republicans, the conservatives and the interventionists all agree: The United States government has a both the right and a moral obligation to intervene in the national affairs of the world.

Today, upper-middle-class American conservatives cheer when the United States government sends the sons and daughters of the lower classes to die in foreign adventures. Then they complain about high taxes. They sacrifice other people’s children to the Moloch State, but worry publicly about high marginal tax rates. Is it any wonder that their political opponents do not take them seriously, and their supposed political representatives regard them as permanent residents of their hip pockets: suitable for sitting on? All it takes to get conservatives to stop complaining about high taxes is another splendid little war, or better yet, a world war. This political strategy has worked every time since 1898: the Spanish-American War.

For the last century, the only people who have invoked the doctrine of original intent where it counts most, and where the Framers said it counts most — in the life-and-death matters of foreign policy — are members of the Remnant.

* * * * * * *

On December 28, I had never heard of Mr. Boot, but I surely was familiar with his “ilk.” They are the spiritual heirs of the “tools and dupes” described so well by Washington over two centuries ago. They parade as patriots.

So, it is time for a litmus test. Apply it to yourself. See if you are a neocon. Then apply it to those who come in the name of the Republican Party to solicit your money, your votes, your allegiance, and above all, your intellectual subservience.


Each of the following Cabinet-level Departments has, on the whole, made America a better place to live, and should not be abolished: Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, Health & Human Services, Housing & Urban Development, Interior, Labor, and Transportation. T F

The Federal Reserve System has produced net benefits for the American economy, and it deserves its legal status as a privately owned monopoly over money and banking. T F

Racial or religious discrimination in housing, dining, and other privately owned and privately funded sectors of the economy should be prohibited by federal law. T F

All governments should lower their top marginal tax rates, but only by enough to increase their revenues. T F

Education vouchers are the best way to restore the public’s faith in America’s schools. T F

Tax-funded education deserves our faith. T F

Compulsory education is a Good Thing. T F

To save the Social Security system, a portion of the reserves should be turned over to SEC-approved investment trusts. T F

Social Security is worth saving. T F

Michael King (a.k.a. Martin Luther King, Jr.) was both a good Christian and a scholar, and should not be judged on the content of his character (i.e., continual adultery). T F

John F. Kennedy was both a good Roman Catholic and a supply-sider, and should not be judged on the content of his character (i.e., continual adultery). T F

Robert A. Taft was a right-wing fanatic who fully deserved to be defeated by Dwight Eisenhower in 1952. T F


Having stayed out of all joint military treaties after the French Treaty of 1778 lapsed in 1802, the United States was wise in joining NATO, SEATO, and the other regional alliances after 1947. T F

There are only two legitimate views of American Foreign policy: Theodore Roosevelt’s and Woodrow Wilson’s. T F

The phrase “no entangling alliances” in fact means “more entangling alliances.” T F

World War I was a just war for the United States. T F

Woodrow Wilson was wise in abandoning neutrality and siding with England, even though he was re-elected in 1916 on the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” T F

World War II was a just war for the United States. T F

Franklin Roosevelt did the right thing in placing an oil embargo on Japan in 1941 and then not warning the commanders at Peal Harbor that the Japanese fleet was heading for Pearl in the first week of December, 1941. Had he not done this, Americans would not have been persuaded to go into Europe’s war. T F

The Korean War was a police action that did not require Congressional approval. T F

The Vietnam War was a police action that did not require Congressional approval. T F

The geographical United States is best defended by American troops that are stationed outside the geographical United States. T F

The Central Intelligence Agency is a bulwark against foreign threats to the United States, and it deserves to be funded. T F

The United States government should continue its formal relationships with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. T F

The aircraft carrier is a more vital weapon for America’s defense than the submarine. T F


You get four points for each answer you identified as “F.”

91-100: Patriot (as defined by George Washington)

81-90: Old Rightist (as defined by Robert A. Taft)

71-80: Fusionist (as defined by Frank Meyer)

61-70: New Rightist (as defined — and more important, funded — by Richard Viguerie)

51-60: Southern Partisan (as defined by George Wallace)

41-50: Conservative (as defined by Russell Kirk and F. A. Hayek, on why he wasn’t one)

31-40: Buckleyite (pre-1970)

21-30: Good Old Boy (as defined by Strom Thurmond after 1970)

11-19: Neoconservative, Type A (as defined by Gertrude Himmelfarb)

5-10: Neoconservative, Type B (as defined by Himmelfarb’s husband and son)

0-4: Republican National Committee


Mr. Boot is representative of the new, improved conservatism of the post-Cold War era. Acknowledging that the Soviet Union collapsed, he recognizes that American foreign policy now has no military reason to remain internationalist. This has created a major problem for neocons: what to do with the American Empire, other than the unthinkable, i.e., bringing the troops home by Christmas — any Christmas. So, he sets forth the two views of American foreign policy that have been offered to the voters since the election of 1912. We get to choose between only these.

[Theodore Roosevelt’s] One group of conservatives believes that we should use armed force only to defend our vital national interests, narrowly defined. They believe that we should remove, or at least disarm, Saddam Hussein, but not occupy Iraq for any substantial period afterward. The idea of bringing democracy to the Middle East they denounce as a mad, hubristic dream likely to backfire with tragic consequences. This view, which goes under the somewhat self-congratulatory moniker of “realism,” is championed by foreign-policy mandarins like Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft and James Baker III.

[Woodrow Wilson’s] Many 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. If 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.

As for me and my house, give me Grover Cleveland.


World War II settled whether the Big Moustache or the Little Moustache would control Eastern Europe. Big Moustache won. Producing that decision cost Americans 291,000 lives, 670,000 wounded, and the prospects of an unbalanced budget until the Second Coming.

The Cold War settled whether the Marxist internationalists or the fractional reserve banking/oil company internationalists would dominate the world. The latter visibly won in 1991.

The winners forgot about the Crescent Flag. That error in calculation — an error above all of demographics — will be with us for the next two centuries. The battle is being lost on the battlefield that counts most: the bedroom. Pat Buchanan assembled the figures and published them in The Death of the West. The neocons have yet to reply. That’s because, on average, they and their constituents have fewer than 2.1 children — the population replacement rate.

Furthermore, the Arabs have institutional memories longer than the Vatican’s. In contrast, the neocons have little sense of history. They do not remember how short a time the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem lasted: two centuries.

Mr. Boot tells us that he is not a neoconservative, yet his two foreign policy options are those offered by the neocons. They are the same two general approaches that have been offered for nine decades by American Progressivism, a movement that was (and remains) Darwinist and statist to the core. As card-carrying Progressives, the neocons have adopted Progressivism’s expansionist, interventionist foreign policy. Their special twist has been their focus on the Middle East as their primary theater of operations. This focus began with Harry Truman’s decision in May, 1948, to recognize the State of Israel , to the consternation of the foreign policy establishment, which was WASP to the core. The establishment’s incarnation in 1948 was George C. Marshall, who was then Secretary of State. Marshall threatened to resign if Truman recognized the State of Israel, but he wimped out when Truman ignored him and did what Truman’s former business partner recommended. The entire foreign policy Establishment also capitulated. The neocons, who had been mostly Democrats before they became dominant as advisors of Bush-Clinton-Bush, have extended Truman’s Middle East policies. The collapse of the Soviet Union has allowed them to move the primary theater of operations from Europe to the Middle East.

In the name of good, old-fashioned Republican conservativism (1985 vintage), Mr. Boot promotes the neocons’ agenda. It is obvious to those of us who are in the tradition of the Old Right, which culminated politically in the candidacy of Robert A. Taft, that Buchanan is correct: the neocons are the brains behind Mr. Boot’s variety of conservatism, as surely as Perle and Wolfowitz are the brains behind George W. Bush’s foreign policy.

Until the neocons call on the President or his surrogate in the State of Israel to launch the one military tactic that might reverse this war — a nuclear bomb dropped on Medina and another on Mecca — they are just fooling around with our money and our lives. They are offering halfway-house options. Nuclear bombs on the supreme emblems of Islam might work, or they might not, but this is sure: nothing less than this will, if the battle is perceived by Western politicians and their advisors as essentially a matter of foreign policy and armaments, which they do today. But this battle is deeply religious, and the primary determinants of victory are three-fold: (1) commitment to a creed that confidently invokes supernatural power; (2) the will to recruit and disciple common people in terms of this creed; (3) the willingness to conquer through procreation. The neocons are losing this war in all three areas.

For those of us who are opposed to pre-emptive war, especially pre-emptive nuclear war, the neocons appear to us as (1) high IQ fools with very short memories, or (2) nuclear war-mongers who have not yet laid their fall-back option on the table for discussion.

If it’s a question of the Fever Swamps or The Big One (twice), I’ll stick with the Fever Swamps.

January 3, 2003

Gary North is the author of Mises on Money. Visit For a free subscription to Gary North’s twice-weekly economics newsletter, click here.

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