Do Neocons Exist?

Max Boot starts out his essay on "What the Heck is a ‘Neocon?’" – which should have been titled "Who, Me?" – by claiming to find the label affixed to his political persona "mystifying." Yet he winds up writing a mini-manifesto of the Neocon Creed:

"It is not really domestic policy that defines neoconservatism. This was a movement founded on foreign policy, and it is still here that neoconservatism carries the greatest meaning, even if its original raison d’être – opposition to communism – has disappeared."

The neocons may have wavered and waffled on domestic policy issues, arguing among themselves over how many cheers to give capitalism (one, or two?), but on the war question they have always spoken with a single hoarse voice, howling for war at the slightest provocation. Not only that, but they positively delight in the prospect of bloodshed, which they perversely find ennobling: it was Max Boot, after all, who bemoaned the lack of casualties in the Afghan campaign and fervently hoped not to be disappointed in the next phase of what his fellow neocons optimistically call World War IV.

9/11 galvanized the neocons, who immediately jumped at the opportunity to turn the "war on terrorism" into the sort of general conflagration that might fairly be dubbed a new world war. As Boot describes the neocon argument:

"If we are to avoid another 9/11, they argue, we need to liberalize the Middle East – a massive undertaking, to be sure, but better than the unspeakable alternative. And if this requires occupying Iraq for an extended period, so be it; we did it with Germany, Japan and Italy, and we can do it again."

Either build an empire on the ruins of Baghdad, Damascus, and Riyadh, or else suffer another attack by our implacable enemies, who are not just the Bin Ladenites skulking in their caves but all the Muslim peoples of the Middle East (except the Turks). "What is a neoconservative in the year 2003?" asks Boot in the first paragraphs of his screed, and by the end he seems considerably less puzzled:

"The most prominent champions of this view inside the administration are Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Their agenda is known as ‘neoconservatism,’ though a more accurate term might be ‘hard Wilsonianism.’ Advocates of this view embrace Woodrow Wilson’s championing of American ideals but reject his reliance on international organizations and treaties to accomplish our objectives. (‘Soft Wilsonians,’ a k a liberals, place their reliance, in Charles Krauthammer’s trenchant phrase, on paper, not power.) Like Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, ‘hard Wilsonians’ want to use American might to promote American ideals."

By dressing up the War Party’s militant triumphalism in presidential trappings, Boot hopes to Americanize what is essentially an alien, European tradition, one that owes more to Trotsky than Teddy. "I like to think I’ve been in touch with reality from day one," avers Boot, "since I’ve never been a Trotskyite [sic], a Maoist or even a Democrat." Boot’s oblivious disdain for history, and his obvious unfamiliarity with the rightist axiom that "ideas have consequences," as Richard Weaver put it, seems odd in an ostensible "conservative" of any sort.

As many of the original neocons were ex-Trotskyists, or independent left-wing critics of Stalinism – whose Russian colleagues were sent to the gulag, and whose leader met his end on Stalin’s orders – their foreign policy monomania is best understood as Trotsky’s revenge. The founder of the Red Army had wanted to carry the struggle into Poland, and Germany, after the 1917 Revolution, and this later developed into a comprehensive critique of Stalin’s policy of "socialism in one country." Throughout the cold war era, Trotsky’s renegade followers called for "rolling back" their old enemies, the Stalinists – but even the implosion of the Soviet empire did not calm their crusading instincts.

All this is ancient history, Boot and his fellow crusaders complain. Yet "benevolent world hegemony," the fatuous phrase in which William Kristol and Robert Kagan summed up the goal of a neocon post-cold war foreign policy, has a positively Soviet ring to it. The idea that the U.S. government must "export democracy" at gunpoint all around the world is a frankly revolutionary program, profoundly alien to the American conservative ethos that considers hubris a sin and distrusts power in the hands of imperfect men. The idea of democratism in one country – that constitutional republicanism can thrive only in the West, because of cultural and historical factors – is anathema to these militant internationalists. The neoconservative anomaly is that they have succeeded in redefining "conservatism" as Trotskyism turned inside out.

That the third or fourth generation of rightists seems unaware of or indifferent to their ideological legacy merely underscores the success of the "entrist" infiltration tactic often used by Trotskyists over the years. Trotsky and his followers, in league with Sidney Hooka major neocon icon – did this in the Socialist Party in the 1930s, and the Trotskyists became infamous for their skill at infiltration. (The most recent example was the discovery of French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin’s membership in a secretive Trotksyist cell.) Contemporary neoconservative thought bears the marks of its Trotskyist origins in the style of its expression. The essentially leftist utopianism of the neoconservative foreign policy analysts is succinctly summarized by Boot in a single sentence:

"Many conservatives think, however, that ‘realism’ presents far too crabbed a view of American power and responsibility. They suggest that we need to promote our values, for the simple reason that liberal democracies rarely fight one another, sponsor terrorism, or use weapons of mass destruction."

The old-fashioned conservative virtues of prudence, restraint, and humility are too "crabbed" for the world-saving all-conquering neocon imagination. Caution would cramp their style. These revolutionaries of the Right would cast all caution aside, and instead move boldly to "promote our values" just as Lenin, Trotsky, and Mao once moved with equal boldness to promote their values: to establish a world order, a state or federation of states, unified by adherence to a common ideology.

Communism was supposed to have been the only road to world peace: socialist states, we were solemnly assured, would never go to war against each other. When China disproved this by attacking not only Vietnam but also starting a cold war against the Soviet Union, Communist theorists covered over this giant hole in their theoretical edifice by declaring that either China or the Soviets had gone "capitalist."

Like the commies of yesteryear, the neocons of today proclaim that the triumph of their ideology, "democratic capitalism," will lead to the same universal convergence of interests. But history refutes their panacea: surely the American War of Independence, which pitted a parliamentary monarchy against an emerging republic, is an important historical exception to the rule that democracies "rarely" war on one another.

Like the "proletarian internationalists" of old, the democratic internationalists of the post-9/11 world declare it is our moral duty to impose our form of government on foreign peoples. Eerily echoing the Communist mouthpieces of a bygone era, the pundits who push this neo-imperialist nonsense explain away inconvenient facts as exceptions that somehow prove the rule. The dead souls of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I fear, would take vigorous exception to Boot’s suggestion that their immolation is a mere speck on the otherwise brilliant raiment of Democracy.

I note, in passing, the similarity of the rhetorical sleight-of-hand practiced by commies and neocons alike: democratist ideologues, like their communist alter-egos, do not claim their system is inherently pacific, but only in relation to states of a similar orientation. This is supposed to make us forget that democracy, unrestrained by customs and constitutions, morals and the demands of commerce, is the most warlike ideology of them all, as evidenced by the history of the U.S. since the era of Wilson, not to mention the history of Athens, or that of the Roman republic.

Sometime around the late 1950s, American conservatives picked up a hitch-hiker on the road to power who wound up hijacking their movement. The thuggish style of the left – with its organized smear campaigns, race-baiting, expulsions, and enforced ideological conformity – was imported to the Right via the neconservative influx: the ugly viciousness of, say, David Horowitz, didn’t derive from a careful reading of Russell Kirk, but from the intellectual hooliganism of the "New" Left (and its Old Left progenitors). The running dogs of capitalism have merely been transformed into the running dogs of "anti-Americanism."

Again, Boot doesn’t even realize the source of his own bile, as he smears Pat Buchanan and The American Conservative using not only the tactics but also the language of the Left. He moans that some who have rightly tagged him as a neocon "have ulterior motives." Oh, poor baby! He then launches into an extraordinary tirade:

"Patrick Buchanan, for one, claims that his views represent the true faith of the American right. He wants to drive the neocon infidels from the temple (or, more accurately, from the church). Unfortunately for Mr. Buchanan, his version of conservatism – nativist, protectionist, isolationist – attracts few followers, as evidenced by his poor showings in Republican presidential primaries and the scant influence of his inaptly named magazine, the American Conservative. Buchananism isn’t American conservatism as we understand it today. It’s paleoconservatism, a poisonous brew that was last popular when Father Charles Coughlin, not Rush Limbaugh, was the leading conservative broadcaster in America."

This nonsense about Father Coughlin being a "conservative broadcaster" shows not only Boot’s complete ignorance of what Couglin’s movement stood for, and its origins as a radical pro-Roosevelt movement of the 1930s, but also his complete acceptance of the traditional liberal view of conservatism in America.

Coughlin was a man of the Left, who rose to prominence on the strength of a broadcast entitled "Roosevelt or Ruin!" He urged the Democrats to "drive the money-changers out of the temple," not only echoing the President’s own rhetoric but declaring that the President’s programs didn’t go far enough. Lapsing into anti-Semitism and money crankery late in his career, Coughlin hailed the rise of Hitler and was never a conservative in any sense of the term. Coughlin supported the rise of National Socialism and fascism precisely because they were revolutionary doctrines. The Left has been tagging the conservative movement with the "Coughlinite" label ever since the 1950s, but it is certainly odd to hear an alleged conservative give voice to this ancient canard.

Boot’s claim that he was never a "Trotskyite," a Maoist or even a Democrat just shows how the methods and mindset of the Left have been universalized, as he displays expert skill at another favorite tactic of the Left: promoting ethnic divisions. Boot plays the ethnic card in a way that can only leave Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson gasping with admiration:

"When Buchananites toss around ‘neoconservative’ – and cite names like Wolfowitz and Cohen – it sometimes sounds as if what they really mean is ‘Jewish conservative.’ This is a malicious slur on two levels. First, many of the leading neocons aren’t Jewish; Jeane Kirkpatrick, Bill Bennett, Father John Neuhaus and Michael Novak aren’t exactly menorah lighters. Second, support for Israel – a key tenet of neoconservatism – is hardly confined to Jews; its strongest constituency in America happens to be among evangelical Christians."

The insight that the biggest supporters of Israel are Christian fundamentalists of a dispensationalist bent is one made by TAC writer Eric Margolis, as well as myself, and, lest anyone detect an ethnic bias in TAC‘s targets, what about this outright attack on Christianity by Norman Mailer in a recent issue?:

"I would say that flag [neo] conservatives are not Christians. They are, at best, militant Christians, which is, of course, a fatal contradiction in terms. They are a very special piece of work, but they are not Christians. The fundament of Christianity is compassion, and it is usually observed by the silence attendant on its absence."

This victimological explanation for Buchanan’s war on the neocons is just a lot of whining, combined with the usual liberal-leftie slurs routinely hurled right-ward. Is it is now forbidden to criticize anyone connected with the present administration if they are Jewish, on pain of being labeled a follower of Father Coughlin, or worse? Imagine the reaction from the same crowd if identical rules had been invoked to deflect criticism of Clinton’s African-American appointees, or of black elected officials, most of them Democrats.

Paleo-conservatism "a poisonous brew"? What could be a more toxic than the mixture of warmongering and sloganeering that our trendy neocons have put on the menu for 2003? Combined with the police state methods rapidly eroding constitutional protections, the smear tactics practiced by the neocons, who routinely describe their political enemies as "fifth columnists" in the service of terrorism, are an implicit threat.

Jonah Goldberg chimes in, obsequiously declaring that "Boot is, of course, absolutely right," but then deciding that the neocon label is a bad one after all:

"Anyway, the only place I’d disagree with Boot is his willingness to adopt the label neocon. The term does more damage than good because it allows people to hide their real intent. People who want to denounce the influence of Jews get to use the word ‘neocon’ when they really mean ‘Jewish conservatives’ without being held accountable."

So now we are supposed to forget about all those non-Jewish neocons Boot catalogued, because the mind-reading Jonah can peer into the inner thoughts of his critics, and excavate their real motives. Not only is it forbidden to mention any Jewish names in a critical context, but now the word "neoconservative" is also evidence of a "hate crime." What do Jewish paleos, such as Paul Gottfried, and the late Murray N. Rothbard, mean when they denounce the pernicious influence of the neocons? Only Jonah Goldberg knows….

"The term [neocon] distorts more than it reveals," says Goldberg, "and should be thrown over the side." Along with the numerous books, doctoral dissertations, and other scholarly and journalistic discussion of the subject, over a period of some twenty years. Throw it over the side, shove it down the Memory Hole – let’s restrict the political debate in this country until no one can criticize the drive to war without being accused of treason, anti-Semitism, or both.

Goldberg rails on incoherently:

"Doves refer to neocons when they mean ‘hawks’ – when there’s no evidence that all neocons are hawks or Jews."

No one ever said all neocons are Jews: that’s a neocon canard. But I challenge Goldberg to come up with the name of a single prominent neocon who is not a hawk on Iraq. He claims to believe that Boot is "absolutely right," but the theme of Boot’s Wall Street Journal piece is that warmongering is the essence of neoconservatism. Neoconservatism is not the Jewish Party, it is the vanguard of the War Party, and the two are certainly not synonymous, as many Jews are in the forefront of the antiwar movement.

"Don’t hide behind one word when you mean another," cries Goldberg, but who is he to tell us what we mean? The new grand inquisitors of political correctness, neocon-style, have proscribed an entire list of subjects. Like the compilers of a Newspeak dictionary, in George Orwell’s 1984, they are busy getting rid of words, constricting the permitted limits of language to a very narrow spectrum so that it is increasingly impossible to think incorrect thoughts.

They are, in short, the enemies of freedom, the Thought Police of our time.


In my last column, I mistakenly wrote Phillips Exeter Academy, when I meant Phillips Academy. Sorry about that!

– Justin Raimondo

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].