Although I have frequently accused Jonah Goldberg of being an intellectual vulgarian, his latest column “The Term Neocon Has Run Its Course” has convinced me that he also lives on a different planet. On this celestial body, “neocons weren’t any more hawkish than anyone else on the right.” Moreover, this group is now vanishing as a recognizable sect and anyone who persists in “using the nut charge” is embracing an anti-Semitic slur, that is, “a code for suspiciously Hebraic superhawk.” Since Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz recently suggested that he would pursue a more moderate foreign policy than the group that Goldberg assures is no longer a noticeable presence, it is important to chastise the Texas senator for his dangerous error. Cruz is perpetuating “an absurd distortion.” Although Goldberg in his extraordinary generosity would permit the right “to have a long overdue argument about how to conduct foreign policy,” he demands that participants “leave neoconservatism out of it.”
Goldberg inserts into his diatribe statements that have some slight relation to reality. “At first,” whenever that was, the neoconservatives, whom we may designate as such in some time long past, were “disillusioned by the follies of the Great Society.” In the 1970s and even later, identifiable neoconservative publicists criticized LBJ’s policies as friendly critics, who accepted a large welfare state but wanted to make it work a bit better. Neoconservative promoter Irving Kristol argued that his movement was a “persuasion,” not an “ideology,” and tried to “bring the new language of sociology to an intellectual tradition than had been grounded more in Aristotelian thinking.” Afterwards neoconservatives became interested in “democracy promotion” because of their “disgust with Richard Nixon’s détente and Jimmy Carter’s fecklessness.”
But after surveying the history of a movement that is no longer to be noticed, Goldberg warns us against certain misconceptions. We should not view neoconservatives as “outliers” but recognize that the former neocons are now “simply part of the conservative mainstream.” Indeed a favorite neoconservative view “that the United States should use its military power to support democracies abroad” has now evolved into the firm belief of “many members of both parties.” Goldberg finally argues against the supposed lie that neoconservatives because they are mostly intensely Zionistic Jews are passionately pro-Israel. Gentiles, he assures us, hold the same position about the only democracy in the Middle East because (well!) there are moral gentiles as well as moral Jews: “Neocons [apparently we’re still allowed to call them that, providing we burn incense on their altar] want to help America’s democratic allies everywhere.”
Allow me to speak, as the French say, en cause de connaissance, as the world’s surviving expert on this dismal subject: the neocons are still around and particularly conspicuous in the District of Columbia. They were no more integrated into the conservative “mainstream” than Stalin was integrated into the Polish mainstream after World War Two. They swallowed up the self-described conservative movement, with lots of collaborators and then ousted, while destroying the reputations of those who wouldn’t cooperate. I’m not aware of any “neoconservative” contribution to our funded social knowledge. If memory serves, most neoconservative luminaries have been journalists and Washington office-seekers. Also the gentiles who have gone along with the neoconservatives’ Middle Eastern policy have been financial dependent on them or else people whom they threatened with charges of anti-Semitism, the way Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton threaten to expose white corporate executives, whom they’re trying to bring around. I know from personal experience what the neocons can do to ruin the career of someone who is suspected of not taking their party line on Israel. And unlike Norman Finkelstein, whose academic career they destroyed even more thoroughly, I never took a pro-Palestinian position when I suffered their wrath for being “untrustworthy on Israel.”
By the way, take a look at the Jerusalem Post (paid for by the neocon sugar daddy Rupert Murdoch), particularly the columns of Caroline Glick, which are also featured in the WSJ for truly over-the-top Zionism. Glick and her patron represent the quintessentially neoconservative idea of having the Israeli government absorb the West Bank entirely. Presumably the Palestinians can be encouraged to relocate (perhaps to the multicultural global democratic empire across the Atlantic); while the other Palestinians can be instructed by the Israelis in “democratic” values.
It is nonsense to state that the neocons are like “everyone on the right” since there is absolutely nothing rightists about their “persuasion” or epidemic. Further, I would have to spend weeks trying to find anything that the neocons profess that is not a vintage leftist belief. That they took over the conservative movement without much effort and then cannibalized the uncooperative indicate the moral worthlessness of what they came to control. But what made this takeover even more noteworthy is the impossibility of discerning any conservative or libertarian substance in anything the neocons have promoted. Even their hawkishness has always been of the leftist kind, based on the use of military force to promote democratic equality, feminism and more recently, gay rights.
Goldberg is bothered that some old geezers are clinging to the “label” that he’s trying to put into “retirement.” It’s like the embarrassment felt by my leftist professors and fellow-students in graduate school in the mid-1960s when they learned that some nice progressive had revealed himself to be a “communist.” This unsettled academic society because communists as such were not supposed to exist. What others referred to as communists were simply agrarian reformers or Third World nationalists or in the case of Mao Zee Dong a neo-Confucian guide to a higher way of life.
But let me note that Goldberg is not alone in the habit that I associated in graduate school with communist-sympathizers. At a conference on conservatism five years ago (at which my friend David Gordon was present with me) most of the participants kept referring to “onetime neoconservatives” as representing “one among other strains in the conservative movement.” Since David and I were among a minority in the room who were not living off neocon philanthropy, I felt uninhibited about responding to the operative party-line phrase. I pointed out that in the former German Democratic Republic the Communist Party was only one of several parties in a coalition. But anyone who tells us that all the other parties in East Germany counted for as much as the party that ran the East German dictatorship is hopelessly ignorant or hopelessly mendacious.