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...."

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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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