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State of Confusion

Brouhahas — intellectual and otherwise.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: When I announced last week that I would be doing a series of articles on
neoconservatism, a number of readers e-mailed me to complain that conservatives are getting too bogged-down
in labels and prefixes and I shouldn't encourage the trend. I agree. My aim here is destroy, or at least pare back,
the increasingly ludicrous use of the word "neoconservative" and maybe even a few other silly labels. If none of
this is your cup of tea, that's fine. There's plenty of other elsewhere stuff on NRO or even my syndicated
Conservatives are accustomed to liberals not understanding the zoology of our movement. But the use and
abuse of the term "neoconservative" has exceeded even the high allowance for cliché and ignorance generally
afforded to those who write or talk about conservatism from outside the conservative ant farm. In fact,
neoconservative has become a Trojan Horse for vast arsenal of ideological attacks and insinuations. For some it
means Jewish conservative. For others it means hawk. A few still think it means squishy conservative or ex-
liberal. And a few don't even know what the word means, they just think it makes them sound knowledgeable
when they use it.
"Hawks Rip Into Mideast Plan; Ex-Speaker Gingrich leads a neoconservative charge against the State
Department, alleging efforts to 'undermine the president's policies.'" That was the headline of the page-one
story on Newt's now famous broadside. The only other "neoconservative" critic of the State Department
mentioned in the article: Famed ex-Trotskyist and Upper West Side polemicist, Tom DeLay (R., Tex.).
"What is a neoconservative by your definition?" Chris Matthews asked the Washington Post's Dana Milbank on
his cable program Hardball. "….Give me a formal definition of a neocon, historically speaking."
"Well," answered Milbank, "it's a split going really back to the '70s over detente and how to deal with the
Soviet Union. It's essentially the hard-line of the — within the Republican party as opposed to the
establishment which had been dominant. Now, Reagan was part of — more of that conservative side and the
first President Bush went back to more of the establishment."
"But why do they call them neocons? New cons or conservatives? Why that phrase?"
"Well, because the old kind of conservative is the alternative to that," Milbank replied.
Some definitions are more high-falutin. Michael Lind — widely hailed as a conservative who moved to the Left
— channels some of the more feverish paleocons when he writes in the British magazine, The New Statesman,
that "Most neoconservative defence intellectuals … are products of the largely Jewish-American Trotskyist
movement of the 1930s and 1940s, which morphed into anti-communist liberalism between the 1950s and
1970s and finally into a kind of militaristic and imperial right with no precedents in American culture or
political history." But a recent article in the New York Times says the neocons aren't Trotskyists, they're
Straussians: "They are the neoconservatives, or neocons a catchall name for a disparate group of authors,
academics, media moguls and public servants who trace their intellectual lineage (accurately or not) to the
teachings of a German émigré named Leo Strauss."
Confused? It gets a lot worse. In fact, it's increasingly difficult to find plain-old "conservatives" anywhere these
days. National Review, according to a ludicrous article in The New York Observer is a "paleo-conservative
magazine" which is "seen as a kind of a relic by the new neocons" but according to The American
Conservative, National Review is not only "safely in neocon hands," we actually symbolize the neocon takeover
of the conservative movement. Often, the absurdity has become syllogistic: Neoconservatives are conservatives
who favor war and if you are a conservative and favor war you are a neoconservative. My own beloved mother
perfectly captured the nebulousness of the term. When asked whether she was a neocon by The New York
Observer, she jokingly replied, "You mean the people who like to kill people and break things. That's me!"
And then, of course, there's the Jew thing. Neoconservative and Jewish are synonymous for all sorts of people
who don't like neocons or Jews or both. But we can get to that later.
First, it's important to point out that this confusion isn't new. In fact, it's baked into the cake. Let me give you an
example from personal experience.
I used to work at the American Enterprise Institute, by all accounts the center of the neoconservative universe.
In fact, I used to work for Ben Wattenberg, a man I believe The New Republic once called the "Titular Deity of
the Neoconservatives." Anyway, when I was a policy peon there AEI was a Reaganite government in exile.
One Friday, Joshua Muravchik, Muravchik probably the premiere neocon foreign-policy intellectual of his
generation, was giving what used to be called a "brown-bag lecture" (I believe they now call them "Friday
Forums") on the current state of neoconservatism. A who's who of Reaganite intellectuals were in attendance.

During the Q&A I asked to explain what exactly a neoconservative is. His answer was a surprisingly
unsatisfying bit of sophistry — something like "neoconservatism is the body of beliefs held by people who call
themselves neoconservative."
However, in the course of his answer, Muravchik said that the Reagan movement was primarily a foreign-
policy cause united around defeating Communism. He suggested (and this is largely from my memory) that the
foreign-policy neocons permitted the religious and economic neocons to sign on to their cause.
At this assertion, an "au contraire" was offered from Irwin Stelzer, a highly regarded economist, famous
neocon, and adviser to Rupert Murdoch. He said that Reaganism — of the neocon variety — was essentially an
economic philosophy and while anti-Communism was surely a vital part, foreign-policy activists were simply
another wing emanating from the core of the true Reagan coalition. Seconds after Stelzer had made his
comments, my friend Michael Novak — one of America's premiere theologians and social thinkers and an
NRO contributor — begged to differ. While, of course, fighting for free markets and against the Red menace
was vital to Reaganism, these policies were largely outgrowths of a moral and religious vision, which is why
the Reagan movement was essentially a religious cause. An intellectual brouhaha ensued — and, I'm proud to
say, I started it. Now, one of the things I need to stress is that all of these people spoke of Reaganism as an
explicitly neoconservative movement and phenomena. This points to the Reagan's FDR-like political genius for
convincing various factions to each see him as their undisputed standard-bearer. But it also points to the fact
that even the leaders of the "neoconservative movement" — whatever that meant or means — could not agree
on what neoconservatism is.
Coming Next: How It All Got Started.
The Neoconservative Invention
No new kid on the block.
The word "neoconservative" was coined by Michael Harrington and the editors of Dissent to describe their old
friends who'd moved to the right. It was an insult, along the lines of "running dog" or "fellow traveler." Or
perhaps the "neo" was intended to conjure "neo-Nazi," the only other political label to sport the prefix. As
Seymour Martin Lipset, one of the most-respected social scientists of the 20th century and an original neocon
wrote, the term "was invented as an invidious label to undermine political opponents, most of whom have been
unhappy with being so described."
But the important thing to remember is that the term described a process which the Left considered intellectual
betrayal, not a distinct ideology. Anyway, the first neoconservatives, according to the accepted oral history,
were the former Trotskyist college students who hung out in a u-shaped stall called Alcove #1 next to the
cafeteria at City College in the mid-1930s. The documentary Arguing the World famously focused on four of
them: Irving Kristol (father of Bill), Nathan Glazer, Irving Howe (who recruited Irving to the Trotskyist cause),
and Daniel Bell. But there were quite a few others, including Seymour Martin Lipset, Melvin Lasky, and Albert
Wohlstetter. The much larger group of Communist students were the gang over at Alcove #2, which included
Julius Rosenberg. The Alcove #1 guys considered themselves anti-Stalinist dissidents (Bell, considered himself
pretty much anti-everything). Kristol explained that he learned to think and theorize from the Trotskyites,
primarily from the works of James Burnham, Max Schachtman, and Trotsky himself. It is this dissident
intellectualism, many have noted, which drove the Alcove #1 guys to the right over the years.
Obviously, even this story muddies the waters since Howe was never any kind of conservative. His rightward
migration went little further than from A to B, becoming a democratic socialist. How conservative Bell and
Nathan Glazer ever became is a subject for debate at a coffeehouse or faculty lounge. It's certainly true that Bell
rejected the neocon label (quitting The Public Interest after only one year as coeditor) and that Glazer wore it
more lightly than Irving Kristol. But the story of nascent Trotskyism leading to the neoconservative movement
some 40 years later has always given extra luster and irony to the tale. Some on the so-called paleo-right invest
these roots with a great deal of meaning even today, claiming that Trotsky remains the guiding influence of
neocons even for people who've probably never read a word of Trotsky's writings and were never themselves
leftists or liberals, let alone Communists.
While it might be fun to wade deep into the weeds to demonstrate the ludicrousness of this assertion, let me just
say that of the scores of famous neocons I've met, none of them have ever expressed any fondness for Trotsky.
He's never quoted as an authority in neocon op-eds or journals, and he's never invoked — save in jokes — in
neocon debates or conferences. Still, there are some important points to make about this version of history.
First, the folks who became known as neoconservatives may have been liberals who'd been "mugged by reality"
(Irving Kristol's famous definition of a neocon), but most never called themselves neoconservatives, never
studied Trotsky — let alone embraced his "theory of permanent revolution" — and many considered

themselves honest liberals who stuck to their principles on civil rights as the Democratic party spun off into
self-parody in the 1970s. Also, a few, such as Robert Nisbet and Bill Bennett, simply accepted the term
Indeed, as late as 1979, Irving Kristol — invariably described as the "Godfather of Neoconservatism" — wrote
an ironically titled essay "Confessions of a True, Self-Confessed 'Neoconservative.'" The essay was written
largely in response to an antagonistic book written by a "democratic socialist" named Peter Steinfels (now with
the New York Times), lamenting that these new conservatives were dangerously invigorating the Right. Kristol
embraced the label, despite the pejorative intent behind it. "I myself have accepted the term," Kristol wrote,
"perhaps because, having been named Irving, I am relatively indifferent to baptismal caprice. But I may be the
only living self-confessed neoconservative, at large or in captivity."
With this context in mind, to call neoconservatism a coherent "movement" of any kind ignores the fact that
such transformations tend to be intensely individualistic. "When two neoconservatives meet they are more
likely to argue with one another than to confer or conspire," Irving Kristol wrote in 1979. And no
neoconservative has ever contradicted James Q. Wilson's assertion that neocons have no common "manifesto,
credo, religion, flag, anthem or secret handshake." This holds even truer today. The idea that, say, Hilton
Kramer, Irving Kristol, Nathan Glazer, Richard Neuhaus, Michael Novak, and Jeanne Kirkpatrick all receive
orders from some central Comintern or politburo — as Pat Buchanan is so fond of suggesting — is bizarre
enough. The idea that they are all consulting in lockstep the collected works of Leon Trotsky is simply
Moreover, the transformative impact of the neocons has always been exaggerated. Yes, it's true that the neocons
contributed new blood and new ideas to conservatism, but their chief contribution, as William F. Buckley has
argued, derived from their ability to incorporate the language and methods of the social sciences into the
conservative cause. It was not so much that the neocons had dramatically new opinions about the evils of the
Soviet Union or the rise of secular humanism or — to a lesser extent — the threat of an overweening welfare
state, it was that they employed new arguments using the still-respected language of social science which
remained the lingua franca of the liberal Left. For example, "The law of unintended consequences" so widely
hailed as an incandescently brilliant neocon formulation is really just a fancy restatement of fundamental
Burkean conservatism. But when nice Jewish intellectuals and respected academics are simply repeating what
other conservatives had said before them, the elite liberal media tends to pay attention.
And so did a few older conservatives. Hardly immune to the petty jealousies and ego-driven conflicts that
plague every other political-intellectual enterprise, the rise of the neocons drove some conservatives to grumble.
And when some of the now-admitted neocons aroundCommentary gained influence in the Reagan
administration, a few marginal conservatives grew angry as the pie of intellectual jobs and funding got re-sliced
in the neocons' favor. One might argue that because conservatives have so few posts at elite universities and
jobs in government, funding from foundations takes on greater significance than would seem rational to
outsiders. Or one might say that such conflicts are the natural product of an ideological movement achieving
majority status. Just as political parties tend to become fratricidal when they lose the luxury and discipline of
minority status, intellectual movements undergo growing pains when they take in productive immigrants.
The conservative losers became a distinct faction when Ronald Reagan passed over the University of Dallas
historian Mel Bradford in favor of Bill Bennett for the chairmanship of the National Endowment of the
Humanities. As David Frum recently argued, the White House was put off by Bradford because 1981 was
hardly a conducive year for Ronald Reagan to appoint an academic who had some decidedly un-P.C. things to
say about the Civil War (many of the losers sunk themselves by refusing to let go of their lead-weight ideas
about the Civil War and Jim Crow). Regardless, however the White House reached its decision, the losers —
now beginning to call themselves "paleoconservatives" — believed the move was orchestrated by a cabal,
comprised mostly of clever liberal Jews and faux conservatives.
It's odd that such an event could be the catalyst for the creation an entire theology of grievance and outrage by
the paleos. But pettiness, intellectual and personal, often drives politics. So, the more successful the neos
became, the more bitter the paleos became. Pat Buchanan summarized not only the attitude but also the grace of
the paleo "movement" when he wrote of the neos: "Like the fleas who conclude they are steering the dog, their
relationship to the movement has always been parasitical."
Today, "paleoconservatism" has become the real "neoconservatism," in that it is literally the newest form of
conservatism out there, resembling very little the conservatism of William F. Buckley or Barry Goldwater or
the rank-and-file of the Republican party. An even funnier irony is that in many respects paleoconservatism is
more left wing than what we call neoconservatism. The reason this is funny is that so many self-described

paleos view themselves as "further to the Right" than those they label neocons. But they need to explain why
Pat Buchanan's public policies sound so liberal.
For example, Patrick Buchanan complains that "compassionate conservatism" was a rip-off of his
"conservatism of the heart." "I may charge him with plagiarism," Buchanan declared. Buchanan now favors
caps on executive salaries, expansion of Medicare benefits, and high trade barriers. He fumes about the
excesses of Wall Street and the free market. He writes in The Great Betrayal: "Better the occasional sins of a
government acting out of the spirit of charity than the constant omissions of a government frozen in the ice of
its own indifference." That could easily come from It Takes A Village. Indeed, Buchanan's policies on
immigration and culture and his support affirmative-action quotas for non-Jewish whites amount to what my
colleague Ramesh Ponnuru calls "identity politics for white people." As for the lefty under- and over-tones of
his foreign policy, David Frum has dealt with that in detail too.
The opinions of the paleos matter if for no other reason than that they've largely been appropriated by the hard
Left — Eric Alterman, Edward Said, The Nation — and increasingly by liberals like Michael Lind, Joshua
Micah Marshall, Chris Matthews, Maureen Dowd, and Paul Krugman who shape popular perception through
the elite media. All of these writers harp on a repeated theme, a small group of mostly Jewish intellectuals are
manipulating a conservative president, the Republican party, and the American people for the sake of Israel and
an ideological crusade. They don't all cite Trotsky's "theory of permanent revolution," but they all suggest the
same thing. "What I fear is the neoconservatives," Matthews told an audience at Brown University. "They want
to fight the North Koreans again. Iran. Iraq. Syria. Libya." Before long, "they'll go after China." Dowd:
"Everyone thinks the Bush diplomacy on Iraq is a wreck. It isn't. It's a success because it was never meant to
succeed." Marshall: "Ever since the neocons burst upon the public policy scene 30 years ago, their movement
has been a marriage of moral idealism, military assertiveness, and deception."
Eric Alterman writes, "the war has put Jews in the showcase as never before. Its primary intellectual architects
— Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle…and Douglas J. Feith… — are all Jewish neoconservatives. So, too, are
many of its prominent media cheerleaders, including William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, and Marty Peretz.
Joe Lieberman, the nation's most conspicuous Jewish politician, has been an avid booster." More Matthews, this
time on Hardball: "Is there a neoconservative crowd operating within the Bush administration advancing the
objectives of the neoconservative movement?" And: Why is President Bush "buying this neoconservative case
for…war…This doesn't seem like an American kind of foreign policy." This isn't much different from
Buchanan's much pithier references to "(Ariel) Sharon and the neoconservative War Party."
The End of Neoconservatism
Debunking the myths.
All of the fulminating about the Jews, about war lust, about neocons running everything would be forgivable,
even tolerable, if it were intellectually defensible. But the neoconservative label distorts more than it reveals.
As Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride might say to all of these people, "You keep using that word. I do
not think it means what you think it means."
The neocon label gets folded, spindled, and mutilated in any number of ways, every day. But there are four
enduring misapplications of the word. These myths are: (1) the idea that neoconservative means "pro-war"; (2)
the idea that neoconservative means "foreign-policy hawk"; (3) the idea that neoconservative means Jewish;
and, (4) the idea that neoconservative refers to ex-liberals. Some of these used to be true, none of them are
reliably so anymore.
First, if being a conservative for war and democracy makes you a neocon, then roughly 90 percent of the
Republican party is "neoconservative" according to most polls. This may say something historically interesting
about Republicans today — it does — but doesn't it also suggest that maybe, just maybe, talk of a
"neoconservative cabal" is a bit misleading? When liberal journalists vent about "crusading neocons" who have
"mesmerized the president" into war (Dowd's words), they make it sound as if these presumably bagel-snarfing
Rasputins are forcing the president to do something a normal, non-prefixed conservative would oppose.
But there is zero evidence of this in polls or in the public debate. Out of the vast army of talking-head and op-ed
conservatives, a sum total of two right wingers with any name-I.D. have come out foursquare against the war:
Buchanan and Robert Novak. That these old-timers opposed the war is hardly surprising given their histories.
More important, they're not relevant. Buchanan isn't even a Republican anymore, and Novak's anti-Israel
dyspepsia makes him an idiosyncrasy among Republicans. It's worth noting that the most philo-Semitic and
perhaps the most important constituency of the Republican party are evangelical Christians, not Jews.

Meanwhile, every other familiar face on the Right favored the war — from populist conservative drive-time
radio jocks to elite East Coast foreign-policy conservatives to televangelist Christians. At the recent annual
Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference in Virginia, Young Americans for Freedom sold
"Give War a Chance" and "Peace Through Superior Firepower" buttons and bumper stickers. If the Republican
party has been "hijacked by neoconservatives" — as Buchanan continually insists — then the passengers have
got the worst case of Stockholm syndrome in recorded memory. To say that a neoconservative cabal is pulling
strings behind the scenes at the White House is like saying a cabal of Catholics is running the show in the
Sure, one explanation for why so many conservatives now buy into a historically neoconservative foreign-
policy argument — democracy and freedom should be promoted — is that the neocons won the argument over
foreign policy. And to a certain extent that's true. Today, even realists recognize that democracies don't go to
war against other democracies. One need not get misty-eyed over universal global suffrage to see that the
spread of free-trading liberal democracy would be in America's interests. During the Cold War, Buchanan,
Kissinger, and others made the legitimate point that dictatorial countries — Pakistan, Saudi Arabia — were
more reliable allies than many unpredictable democratic regimes like, say, India. But the war on terrorism (read
Islamic fundamentalism) turns those assumptions on their head. In this sense, those who think Saudi Arabia is a
more reliable ally than India are simply generals fighting the last war.
The fact that the neoconservatives won this argument helps to demonstrate why it's silly to talk solely of the
influence of a small group of "neocons" these days. If there is a consensus among the larger conservative
community, why cherry pick a few Jewish intellectuals? And yet, the New York Times and Chris Matthews, to
name two of many, believe this is a minority opinion within the ranks of conservatism emanating almost
exclusively from The Weekly Standard. On March 11, the paper of record ran a story all but crediting the
editors of The Weekly Standard with conceiving, drafting, and implementing the war all by their lonesome.
When Bill Kristol explained to the Times's David Carr that Dick Cheney, Condi Rice, and Don Rumsfeld "made
up their own minds" about going to war, Carr wrote that such "modesty is becoming — and consistent with Mr.
Kristol's nature." Note to Carr: It's not modesty when it's the truth — even in Washington.
Meanwhile, on a near-nightly basis over the last two years, Chris Matthews did his best impersonations of Tail-
Gunner Joe demanding to know about the neoconservative conspiracy inside the White House asking, for
example, "Are they loyal to the Kristol neoconservative movement, or to the president?" and "Is Bill Kristol,
leader of the neoconservatives — so-called — taking over the Bush White House?" But this theory falls apart
fairly quickly when you consider the question of the Standard's influence prior to 9/11. Yes, it ran some
hawkish pieces on Iraq — which were ignored, unfortunately — but it was also calling for bellicosity with
China and even for the resignations of Paul Wolfowitz and Don Rumsfeld.
Still, the fact that social conservatives, Christian conservatives, free-market conservatives, and just plain old-
fashioned conservativeconservatives supported the war highlights the fact that the case for war in Iraq was
persuasive on its merits. But it also highlights the second problem with the neocon label: Neoconservatism
never meant "hawkishness" in the first place. When accused of using the neocon label as a stand-in for "Jew"
(more on that in a moment), antiwar critics say, no, no, no I just mean hawk. That would be fair enough, except
that even the most cursory glance at the history of the conservative movement and the Republican party would
tell you that the two words are hardly synonymous. No one was calling Don Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, John
Ashcroft, or even Dick Cheney "neocons" prior to 9/11. And if you look back on previous Republican
administrations, "neocon" was never a stand-in for hawk either. This gets even more confused because of the
stylistic sloppiness of those making these distinctions. Joshua Marshall ina much-discussed cover story in The
Washington Monthly, for example, is all over the map. Sometimes he refers to "hawks" or "hawkish
neoconservatives" and still other times to just plain "neoconservatives" but he's always talking about the exact
same people. If "neoconservative" and "hawk mean" the same thing, why do Marshall and others redundantly
talk about "hawkish neoconservatives"? Isn't this like referring to "canine dogs" and "feline cats"?
While it's true that neoconservatism always took a hardline on human rights and defense, its greatest bellicosity
was as often as not rhetorical. Meanwhile, the supposedly "paleoconservative" National Review was calling for
"rollback not containment" when the "godfather of neoconservatives," Irving Kristol, was calling for U.S.
withdrawal from NATO. Frank Meyer, James Burnham, and other founders of National Review made George
C. Scott's Gen. "Buck" Turgidson from Dr. Strangelove seem like a peacenik.
Yes, neoconservatism as a foreign-policy doctrine is attributable to the growing realization of some liberals in
the 1960s and 1970s that the Democratic party was going wobbly in the Cold War and the dominance of
Kissingerian politics on the Republican side of the aisle left room for re-moralized foreign policy. This may
have been a "new" or "neo" revelation for Norman Podhoretz in the early 1970s — and we all benefited from it

— but none of this was news to National Reviewconservatives like James Burnham who'd been publishing
books like The Suicide of the West and Containment or Liberation for decades. The newfound hawkishness of
Podhoretz, Kirkpatrick, Perle, etc. may have seemed like warmongering to the gang at Dissent, but it was
cautious by the standards of the Goldwaterite Right. (Barry Goldwater, after all, campaigned for president
arguing that we should treat nuclear weapons like any other conventional armament and that "low-yield atomic
weapons" should be used for deforestation in Vietnam.) This is whyNational Review beckoned Commentary in
1971 with the headline "Come On In, the Water's Fine."
The suggestion that neoconservatism is even primarily concerned with foreign policy would have been
considered tendentious even a decade ago. The original definitively neoconservative magazine, The Public
Interest, has always been dedicated exclusively to domestic policy. (And, it should be noted, The National
Interest — which Irving Kristol launched much later — is not a neoconservative foreign-policy magazine, but
most journalists are too lazy to grasp this.) But even whenCommentary became famously neoconservative some
years after The Public Interest's founding, it focused on issues of race, religion, and even the environment as
much as it did foreign affairs. Pat Moynihan was a famous neocon because he called for "benign neglect" for
America's blacks not because of his foreign policy. In fact, because 9/11 made foreign policy so important, we
forget that in the more race-obsessed early 1990s, Norman Podhoretz's most famous work wasn't "Why We
Were in Vietnam," it was the brilliant essay "My Negro Problem — And Ours." Most of the neocons of the
1970s hardly credited foreign policy as the sole or even chief reason for their peregrination to the Right. Rather
they were reacting to the generalized anti-American sentiment of the Left that had as much to do with race and
religion as it did foreign policy.
To his credit, Bill Kristol — who has received the torch from his father as the embodiment of neoconservatism
— recognized long ago that all of this talk of a neoconservative foreign policy only confused things. That's why
in the 1990s he and Robert Kagan tried to formulate a new conservative foreign policy called "Neo-Reaganite."
For reasons that remain unclear, it never stuck. But at least he tried. Still, one reason for its failure has to be that
the mainstream media simply likes "neocon" because neocons are Jews or honorary Jews and therefore they are
good and decent. Neo-Reaganite sounds like it might include conservatives from flyover country and that
would tar the nice Upper West Side and Bethesda, Maryland Jews with the taint of the Bible thumpers.
Which brings us to a third problem with the neocon label: the Jew thing. The problems with the all-too-popular
perception that Jews are running American foreign policy are all too obvious. Abroad, America's intentions are
distrusted by those who see Israel lurking in the shadows (the Arab press certainly hasn't missed the Jews are
running the White House stories). At home the Jews are disproportionately blamed for unpopular moves, as
Rep. Jim Moran's finger pointing demonstrated. And, of course, when things go well, the neoconservatives
aren't so Jewish anymore. That's when Tom Delay and Newt Gingrich become neocons too. But when things go
badly, when the neocons are to blame, suddenly they're all Jewish or pro-Israel fanatics. Victory has many
neocons, failure few — and all Jewish.
But being Jewish and conservative doesn't make you a neoconservative any more than being Jewish makes you
a liberal. For example, the historian George Nash notes that "of the 31 names which appeared on the original
masthead of National Review, no fewer than five were Jewish." Originally, the Jewishness of neoconservatives
wasn't a problem for movement conservatives. What writers like James Burnham objected to was the sense that
neocons were really crypto-liberals, they hadn't lost the "emotional gestalt" of liberalism. That may have been
true once, and still true of some Jewish conservatives today. But the explosion of right-wing Jews — Michael
Medved, Dennis Prager, Daniel Lapin, for example — in conservative circles makes such facile stereotyping
impossible, especially if you know many of passionately right-wing Jews currently working on the domestic-
policy side of this administration. But now, what worries old-time conservatives — that Jewish conservatives
are too liberal — is precisely what today's liberals find so appealing, even as it becomes less true.
Consider a New York Times story from last year by Allison Mitchell about the growing alliance between
"Jewish neoconservatives" and "Christian social conservatives" on the issue of Israel. Marshall Wittmann —
who's often quoted by the elite media as a Margaret Mead of conservatism — someone who can translate the
seemingly barbaric and primitive practices of the Right — explained, "You have one of the most interesting
political marriages of all times between the largely Jewish neoconservatives and the religious right in firm
support for Israel, embodied by Bill Kristol and Gary Bauer."
Now, the truth is that there is literally nothing interesting about this partnering, except maybe its interfaith
component. Not only are Bauer and Kristol longtime friends, but they agree on virtually every other issue under
the sun — gay marriage, defense spending, abortion, whatever. The only thing that makes this relationship
interesting to the Times is the perception that Jewish conservatives are more liberal (read: sophisticated) than
non-Jewish ones, that they have a more admirable "emotional gestalt" than social conservatives. Alas, many

self-identified neoconservatives are perfectly happy perpetuating this perception, as when even the Charles
Krauthammer wrote a column during the Trent Lott controversy explaining that "Neocons have been the most
passionate about the Lott affair and most disturbed by its meaning. "Why? Because many neoconservatives are
former liberals." In reality, many of the first conservatives (along with a number libertarians) to criticize Trent
Lott were not neocons, they were the likes of Andrew Sullivan, David Frum, Robert A. George of the New
York Post, and myself.
Nevertheless, at times it does seem as if the Jewish neocons get a free pass on positions that get the Christian
ones in a lot of trouble. Marvin Olasky's "compassionate conservatism" — a classic neocon agenda by the way
— and the faith-based agenda have been derided by the New York Times and others, it seems, because of the
whiff of Christian theology they give off. Meanwhile, the "neoconservative" defense of the Promise Keepers,
the Christian Coalition, and southern evangelicals is often derided by commentators as left-wing-style coalition-
building (though one wonders how writers like Michael Lind can simultaneously complain about the southern
captivity of the GOP by southerners and the captivity of the White House by East Coast Jews). New York
Timesliberals think the neocons can't really be pro-life or support prayer in school. But they do. For examples,
as Reason's Ronald Bailey has chronicled, Irving Kristol has become highly critical of Darwinism, arguing it is
the third pillar of secularism left standing after Freudianism and Marxism. When famed neocon Elliott Abrams
ran the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a religion-focused think tank, he hosted a symposium for two leading
critics of Darwinian theory. Commentarymagazine has been running articles and responses on these debates for
several years. Personally, I find the debate interesting and worthwhile, but one cannot help but wonder what
Christian conservative intellectuals would endure if they commenced such an audacious project.
This brings us to the last myth of neoconservatism. The idea that there's something about being a former liberal
which makes you somehow less authentically conservative and beholden to an ill-defined ideology called
"neoconservatism." Take The Weekly Standard, the universally recognized home of "neoconservatism." Even a
cursory glance of its masthead reveals none of its major writers and editors are former liberals, including Bill
Kristol, the ringleader of neoconservatism. Neither is it true that liberals, leftists, or even Trotskyites who
become conservatives are neocons. This is another funny irony: When it comes to comparing former
Communists-turned-conservative National Reviewhas always had the best team around. We beat The Weekly
Standard,Commentary, and The Public Interest combined. Irving Kristol, Nathan Glazer, and Norman
Podhoretz may have been radicals or Communists in their days, but they were low-ranking ones.
Meanwhile, James Burnham was perhaps Leon Trotsky's most-trusted lieutenant in the United States and for a
time arguably the most famous Trotskyist intellectual in America. Frank Meyer — the creator of fusionism, the
doctrine which bound the Right for 40 years and famed literary editor of National Review — was a high
ranking Communist as was Max Eastman (both of whom were Jewish by the way). And, of course, Whittaker
Chambers certainly counts as a major ex-leftist. Why none of these figures, particularly Burnham, who was
influential amongThe Partisan Review crowd and an intellectual of the first order, never counted as
neoconservatives is a fascinating question, but probably too complicated for those who think Tom Delay might
be a neocon too.
Some of the confusion over the word neocon has to be laid at the feet of the "neocons" themselves. Many make
jokes about the Jewish nature of neoconservatives. David Brooks refers to "the Axis of Circumcision," for
example. Like Krauthammer during the Lott affair, they claim moral superiority from lumpen conservatives. Of
course, the conventional meaning of neoconservatism has always been redefined by what a few
neoconservatives say. "Whenever I read about neoconservatism," Daniel Bell once remarked, "I think, 'That
isn't neoconservatism; it's just Irving." Today the same goes for Irving's son. The only remotely useful
definition of neoconservatism today is "Whatever Bill Kristol thinks." So in 1996, "neoconservatives" thought
Colin Powell should be president. In 2000, they're for John McCain and now they think George W. Bush is the
new Reagan. Bill Kristol is a brilliant man, but one could go crazy trying to extract a coherent ideology from
his tactical movements within the Republican party.
Ultimately, there's literally no defining attribute one can ascribe to neoconservatism which cannot be easily and
substantially falsified with numerous counterexamples. If neoconservatives are hawks who favor democracy,
then most conservatives and Republicans are neocons and therefore the term is too broad to be useful. If
neocons are Jews, then stop calling Max Boot, Dick Cheney, and Newt Gingrich neocons. If neocons are ex-
liberals stop calling Bill Kristol a neocon and start calling the founders of National Review neocons. And so on
and so on. If you mean "hawk" say hawk. If you mean "Wilsonian" say Wilsonian. If you mean "Bill Kristol"
say Bill Kristol. And, if you mean "Jew," for goodness sake, say Jew.
But if you mean neoconservative, you should know what you're talking about.