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.
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DOSSIER: Neocons & Neoconservativism