What Is a Neoconservative? -- & Does It Matter?

December 2005By Dale Vree

We received a letter from Christian Crampton in Newport Beach, Calif., saying: "Regarding your September Editorial ('Your Voice of Orthodox Catholicism, Without Any Strings Attached'), it brought out a word which I would like you to define for me. I've seen it occasionally in the NOR, but you used it more than 10 times in the Editorial. The word is 'neoconservative' (neocon)." Before the September Editorial and especially since then, many people have asked us what a neocon is.

Your Editor has followed the neocons for over 35 years, and I have had dealings with many of them (but I should not have assumed that everyone knows what a neocon is). Given my background, I could have been an authentic neocon if I wanted to. But I didn't want to. Here is a thumbnail sketch; I could say more, but this is the essence of it.

Authentic neocons descend from the Communist and socialist movements, with the most prominent leaders being Trotskyites (that is, ultra-Left Communists). When Stalin took over the Soviet Union, the Trotskyites were severely persecuted, and ultimately Trotsky himself was assassinated in Mexico. Stalin was a gentile (indeed, an ex-seminarian) and Trotsky was a Jew, and the divide between the Stalinists and Trotskyites pretty much followed the same divide (with significant exceptions, especially in the early years of the Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe, before many of the Jews in those satellite states were purged from the Party, even executed).

Stalin became increasingly anti-Semitic, and the Jewish Trotskyites had another reason to hate Stalin. After World War II when Israel was established, the Soviet Union sided with the Arabs against Israel, and the Soviet Union basically did not allow Jews to emigrate to Israel. Another reason to hate Stalin and the Soviet Union.

Many Jewish Trotskyites -- and other Jewish Leftists (but not most of them) -- became increasingly and indeed vehemently anti-Communist. Many supported the Vietnam War and were extremely hostile to the détente policies pursued by Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter. These ex-Leftist Jews perceived the Left, even liberals (rightly or wrongly), as being pro-Arab and pro-Palestinian. These ex-Leftist Jews evolved into what they themselves called "neoconservatives." As Benjamin Ginsberg said in his book The Fatal Embrace: Jews and the State (University of Chicago Press), "One major factor that drew them [ex-Leftist Jewish neocons] inexorably to the right was their attachment to Israel...."

The Jewish neocons' primary goal -- though not their exclusive goal -- has been to protect Israel (which, we suppose, is their right), and they see an American Empire as the best way to do that. Yes, we know you're not supposed to say that, but we have a bad habit of telling the naked truth.

So the neocons want an American Empire, and Jewish neocon Jonah Goldberg put their view at its most blunt when he said: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show we mean business."

It's interesting that Judge John Roberts was queried by the Senate Judiciary Committee as to his loyalty to his Catholic Faith (he resolutely denied it), but one cannot question Jewish neocons about their loyalty to Israel. This is a double standard pure and simple. If you think this is anti-Semitic, you're wrong. Catholics should be loyal to their Catholic Faith above their loyalty to their country (think of St. Thomas More and so many other martyrs) -- and it is not anti-Catholic to say that. Whether Jewish neocons should be loyal to Israel is not something we're qualified to comment on. However, we do wish to note that Murray Polner and Adam Simms, both Jewish, said: "Do the interests of Israel drive U.S. Middle East policy? It's a fair question, though anyone who poses it risks being wrongly accused of being anti-Semitic" (Commonweal, July 18, 2003; italics added). Nonetheless, neocon Richard John Neuhaus does just that. He said: "The 'Jewish lobby' has America in its hip pocket. So says Philip Weiss, a leftist columnist of the New York Observer.... Philip Weiss has a point, however unoriginal, about the influence of Jews in our country and its policy toward the Middle East.... So why is Philip Weiss flirting with...old-fashioned anti-Semites?" (First Things, Dec. 2002, pp. 90-91). Weiss has "a point, however unoriginal," but Neuhaus smears him for flirting with anti-Semitism. If what Weiss says is true, then to blacken his name for flirting with anti-Semitism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

On the other hand, at the risk of sounding philo-Semitic, the Jewish neocons were and are extremely energetic and very bright, and they have made big inroads into the conservative movement, often with willing gentiles. They are enormously influential and powerful in the George W. Bush Administration -- you could call them neocon apparatchiki. No, this is not a Jewish conspiracy, for it is out in the open, and most Jews are not neocons (probably because they believe America's imperialist policies are not good for Israel or the Jews). And there are neocons who are not Jewish -- most of them being Johnny-come-latelies, considering it "cool" to be a neocon. Some gentile neocons don't know they're being used, while others know full well, but don't care, because they see it as a ticket to influence and power. Other gentile conservatives and neocons think they're using the Jewish neocons because they believe protecting Israel is a great way to advance an American Empire and control much of the world's oil supplies.

One of the divides between the Stalinists and the Trotskyites was that Stalinists said you could have "socialism in one country" while Trotskyites demanded "worldwide socialist revolution" (which was true to what Marx thought). But since the Trotskyites soured on socialist revolution, they transferred their allegiance to "worldwide democratic revolution," hence their eagerness to export the democratic revolution everywhere and have the U.S. intervene militarily in the affairs of sovereign nations, which would make America a "rogue" nation (which is how many Europeans already see America). In Bush's Second Inaugural Address, he said: "The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands." This sounds like it came right out of Trotsky's bottle: The survival of socialism in the Soviet Union increasingly depends on the success of socialism in other lands. Neocon Stephen Schwartz said that "those who are fighting for global democracy should view Leon Trotsky as a worthy forerunner." Schwartz, who unabashedly proclaims his Trotskyite roots, would prefer that "neocons" be called "Trotskycons."

Neocon Christopher Hitchens, also a disciple of Trotsky, wants the U.S. to be "a revolutionary force" to fight fascism and religion, especially Islamofascism. "Religion," he says, is "that most toxic of foes.... the most base and contemptible of the forms assumed by human egotism and stupidity. Cold, steady hatred for this, especially in its loathsome jihad shape, has been as sustaining to me as any love." He says: "George Bush may subjectively be a Christian, but he -- and the US armed forces -- have objectively done more for secularism than the whole of the American agnostic community combined and doubled." Smashing Islam paves the way for democracy, abortion, homosexuality, pornography, etc.

Jewish neocon Michael Ledeen said: "We tear down the old order.... Our enemies have always hated this whirlwind of energy and creativity, which menaces their traditions (whatever they may be [and that would include Catholic tradition]).... We must destroy them to advance our historic mission," adding that "It is time once again to export the democratic revolution."

"Our historic mission"? Trotsky's god was History. In 1921 Trotsky wrote a book called The Defense of Terrorism. In 2002 (before the invasion of Iraq), Ledeen called for the "creative destruction" of Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. What exactly is the difference between terrorism and "creative destruction"?

In a just war, killing soldiers, and killing civilians who get in the way of military targets (collateral damage), is not murder, whereas killing civilians on purpose is murder. In an unjust war -- which is what the Catholic Church said the war on Iraq is -- killing soldiers, killing civilians who get in the way of military targets, and killing civilians on purpose are all murder. (And just what is the difference between terrorism and murder in warfare?) But even if one considers the war on Iraq to be just, one's heart should be troubled. After one-and-a-half years of war in Iraq, The Lancet (the British medical journal) estimated the Iraqi civilian death toll at 100,000. However, a more recent count after two years of war, produced by the London-based Iraqi Body Count -- which did not count civilian deaths that go unreported in the news media -- put the civilian death toll at 24,865 (with about 42,500 wounded). This sounds like a more reliable figure. Of those 24,865 dead civilians, 37.3 percent were due to the U.S. military, 35.9 percent were due to the crime wave that swept Iraq after the fall of Saddam, and 20.5 percent were due to insurgents or terrorists. Even if one considers the war on Iraq to be just, one must be alarmed that the U.S. military has killed almost twice the number of civilians as have the insurgents and terrorists. Whether one considers the civilian deaths caused by the U.S. military -- 9,270 (disproportionately children) -- to be murder or not murder, Trotsky would be proud, for he famously said: "We must rid ourselves once and for all of the Quaker-Papist babble about the sanctity of human life."

The neocons, mainly through the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), planned for a war against Iraq well before 9/11 (one big reason being because Saddam was a supporter of terrorism against Israel). The Bush Administration is peppered with people from PNAC, such as Dick Cheney, Lewis "Scooter" Libby (indicted on five counts, including obstruction of justice and perjury), Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton, and Richard Perle. These people tutored -- let's be honest -- an ignorant President Bush, who had no experience in foreign affairs, to launch it.

As we said in our September Editorial: "BeforeCrisis and First Things were even founded, the NOR was contacted by a neocon foundation -- right out of the blue. The foundation wanted to give us money -- 'free' money. A fellow flew out from the East Coast and asked me (the Editor) to meet him for drinks in a San Francisco restaurant -- on him. Sure! (We were desperate for money.) He told me he would fund us regularly -- if we would support corporate capitalism and if we would support a militaristic U.S. foreign policy." What I didn't say was that the fellow was a Jewish neocon with no interest in Christianity or Catholicism, and I suspected he was interested in getting us to promote Jewish neocon interests (which he had every right to do). As we said in the September Editorial, I said "no," and that was the end of that. But the neocon foundations didn't give up. Michael Novak (very pro-Israel) founded Crisis -- then called Catholicism in Crisis -- and Fr. Neuhaus (also very pro-Israel) founded First Things, both with huge financial support from neocon foundations. So the neocons found a way to get Catholic and Christian magazines to front for their largely Jewish neocon interests (which, again, is their right). Do we exaggerate? No we don't. When the Catholic Church denounced the war on Iraq -- calling it an unjust war, a war of aggression -- both Crisis and First Things supported it. A clear case of supporting Jewish neocon interests over Catholic Just War doctrine. For a synopsis of Fr. Neuhaus's support for the war on Iraq, based on his support for Israel, see our New Oxford Note, "What Does the Pope Know About World Affairs?" (Nov., pp. 13-14, 16-17). If you persist in seeing this as anti-Semitism, you're wrong again. In an editorial in The Forward, the oldest Jewish newspaper in the U.S., it was stated that: "Recently...reasonable people still could dismiss, as antisemitic conspiracy mongering, the claim that Israel's security was the real motive behind the invasion of Iraq. No longer.... Its advocates can no longer simply be shushed or dismissed as bigots. Those who disagree must now argue the case on the merits."

Aside from foreign policy, can orthodox Catholics find common cause with neocons in the culture wars? Perhaps. Perhaps not. As Irving Kristol, a Jewish ex-Trotskyite and the godfather of neoconservatism, wrote in the Wall Street Journal: "Those [culture] wars are over and the Left has won."

Yes, it can be quite lucrative to get on the neocon gravy train, but it's not something we wish to do. "Freedom Is Not Free." You pay a price for your freedom, and the NOR is truly free, even if relatively poor.

Thought-leader periodicals such as the NOR, First Things, and Crisis never break even. Either you rely on neocon foundations (and we're not denying that First Things and Crisis often help the orthodox cause), or you go it alone, relying on subscribers for sustenance. We prefer not to have any strings attached.

As you know, we're trying to raise $176,000 (so far we have reached $67,587). In its last reported year, First Things got $425,000 from neocon foundations, so what we are asking for is peanuts. Much of what we're asking for is going to our website (where you can subscribe or renew a subscription by credit card), which is at present a huge financial drain. On our reconstructed website, you will find our Archives, the Ad Gallery, selected Dossiers, an "En Español" section, the NOR Gear Shoppe, and our New Oxford News Link. This is a big risk for us, but it simply must be done. Young people spend enormous amounts of time on the Internet, and it goes without saying that young people are the future of orthodox Catholicism and of the NOR.

We are not owned by any diocese or religious order (which have a vested interest in not telling the full truth) and we are not bought and paid for by the neocon agenda (which has its own grandiose interests to pursue). We simply must keep a free press in the Church alive.

Please do help us achieve our modest fundraising goal by sending your donation to: New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley CA 94706. The New Oxford Review is a nonprofit entity and has 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service. Donations are therefore tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. Checks are of course to be made out to New Oxford Review. Credit card donations can also be made here at the website:

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DOSSIER: Neocons & Neoconservativism

Back to December 2005 Issue

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Goodness, bad facts and ad hominen attacks to boot!

Here, let's try this one: the worst neo-Catholics are the ones who, like wolves in sheep clothing, were raised in the Protestant "religion" and then converted. These sort cannot be trusted to understand the Catholic theology or tradition without a sort of genetic ability to "pick and choose" from among precepts they like. For instance, if a willful misunderstaning of the "Just War" theory suits their ends, well, then misunderstand away! This practice is somewhat like the Protestant practice of dragging out particular Bible verses to prove a point -- any point, whether for or against, pro or con, to justify a preconceived position.

What's worse, these neo-Catholics aren't really interested in practicing Catholicism, rather they are invested in pushing their liberal political point of view regarding US foreign policy. You can always figure out what to beleive with these people: if they were not born Catholic, but rather converted, treat their foreign policy pronouncements with a great deal of care. Chances are that they are trying to fool you into believing something at odds with Catholic tradition.

And while my metaphor might be somewhat clumsy (I have to work with what I have), trying to discredit America's Iraq policy by waving the Red flag of communism is (again) beneath the dignity of a magazine that touts itself as a "truth-teller."
Posted by: jcshea
December 29, 2006 07:12 AM EST
JC, your comments about converts is nonsensical and bigoted. You imply you must be born a Catholic to truely understand Catholicism as it pertains to foreign policy. Did you take your medication this morning????

As for the "just war", your comments are in opposition to the Cathecism and the last 2 Popes. Of course what do they know anyway.....
Posted by: mikebonfitto
December 29, 2006 08:49 AM EST
Mr. Bonfitto:

If you read carefully, you'll notice that my comments are exactly as offensive as the editors'. If it's justified to conclude that a policy decision is wrong because its authors are so-called "neocons," then I am justified in concluding that converts to Catholicism are seriously impaired.

I know satire is difficult to discern at times, but you are proving my point: my views of the "just war" are not in any way in opposition to the catechism and the "last two popes" have nothing to do with the explication of the "Just War" theory. This fact should be far more widely known than apparently it is.

I'll pray for you.
Posted by: jcshea
December 29, 2006 12:18 PM EST
I understand now. The editor just blindly opposes so-called "neocon" thinking as it pertains to foreign policy. They must always be wrong. Knowing that information, he can twist the teachings of the Catholic Church to help support his agenda.

I have seen the light, thanks!!!

Posted by: mikebonfitto
January 02, 2007 11:48 AM EST
I'm a new convert to the Catholic Church after 3 decades as an Evangelical Protestant of various stripes. I would agree that it is difficult for us converts to shed our past presuppositions. In fact, I believe it will take me at least 3 more decades, with great humility and spiritual exercise, to even begin to fully experience the truth and beauty offered in the Catholic Church. Posted by: BriBow
July 27, 2007 11:51 AM EDT
So what is a neocon? and where is it in writing that the Catholic church called the Iraq war "unjust"? Posted by: wunsch
May 13, 2007 09:44 PM EDT
Thank you for the excellent article. Neo-conservatism really is a dangerous philosophy of government and incompatible with Catholic faith. Your analysis shows Neoconservativism's historical roots in Trotskyism, but I think it is also important to see that like modern liberalism it is rooted in a materialistic vision of mankind which treats THE STATE as if it were ontologically prior to (and had priority over) the indivdual soul and the natural law.

Bush's 'Compassionate Conservatism' and the neocons collectivist redefinition of Patriotism are not so different from Hillary's "It takes a village to raise a child". This is why we should not be suprised to see a kind of convergence of interests between the Clintonites and the Bushites (and notice the Dems voted for most of Bush's bills and for the war). The philosophical differences between the two parties and the differences among the current Presidential candidates (with the exception of Ron Paul) are almost non-existent. There is only a difference of strategy.

That is why the democrats did not shy away from voting for this war in spite of their supposed anti-war stance. In the same way, neo-republicans do nothing to end or limit abortion, and do not seriously intend to overturn Roe vs Wade through the courts,although they have managed to convince most American pro-lifers to hold out for this virtually unatainable event instead of trying to bypass the Court with a bill to kick the issues back to the states where some good might be done in the way of limiting and/banning it on a state by state basis (as in North Dakota).

On a personal note, your magazine is really a Godsend to this twenty-five-year-old-soon-to-be-married Catholic, trying to make his way through the Valley of False Dillemas and the River of Unhealthy Extremes.

Thanks for everything.
Posted by: FoxMulder
December 31, 2007 06:25 PM EST
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