The neoconical hat

Among my proudest moments have been those when some fellow redneck (I presume; he is usually anonymous) has called me a “Jew-lover.” I would hope there is some truth in the allegation. Invariably the assailant strikes me as “a bear of little brain,” but great anger, incapable of reasoned thought, and out to give rednecks a bad name. Not that I value human reason so highly.

“Neocon” is a term that fluctuates in meaning; by now a creature entirely of context. The first self-announced “neo-conservatives” were unmistakably Jews, such as the elder Kristol, the elder Podhoretz, beloved Gertrude Himmelfarb and so forth. It was all in a family, and that family happened to be Jewish. I have myself written for the now venerable Commentary magazine, which began liberal but wised up in the ’sixties, as “liberalism” itself began to merge with demonic forces. Even before that generation, there was a history of Jewish socialists who, after throwing up on Stalin, realized that for all its self-advertised flaws, the Natted States Merica was still the land of the brave and home of the basically decent. … Back then. …

Generation Three served in the Reagan White House, then the Bush one, and finally the other Bush one, all mixed in with Cold War Christians. As we moved along from the Soviets to the Islamists, the Jews proved especially useful. Such “neocon” poster boys as Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle, were representative of a small Jewish coterie in the Pentagon: maybe six or seven, I think I met them all. I discovered them during the Gulf Wars, to be excellent sources of checkable information on what was actually happening in the Middle East. Uniquely among members of the “Baby Bush” administration, they could speak Arabic, Persian, Turkish; were men of high culture themselves, and had travelled extensively in the region. They’d been schooled by Bernard Lewis, and before him by such as Leo Strauss. They were smart cookies, and in point of fact, they did not recommend any of the measures that turned the Iraq invasion into a counter-productive farce. They merely became the fall-guys for the people who had made all the mistakes these “neocons” had tirelessly warned against.

Jeanne Kirkpatrick, George P. Schultz, John Bolton: I toss in such names in the hope that gentle reader will notice I am reducing a long and complicated history to a few short grafs. In this one I want to emphasize the C&W graduates (the letters stand for “Cold” and “War”). The Jewish component became entirely integrated with this “all-American” WASP policy school; as the Jews in Germany before that Hitler fellow were entirely integrated within perfectly Aryan, Weimar German political and intellectual life. But the Nazis, who disliked the whole egghead class, singled them out for scapegoats.

Scoop Jackson, and D. Patrick Moynihan: most certainly not Jews, and not even Republicans. Each name corresponds to a long and admirable tradition within the Democratic Party that was, in the first instance, internationalist, and in the second, sceptical of the Nanny State. It is four decades since they had any influence at all, within that party, but they still have descendants we might weave into this narrative of an America which, like Britain before her, was the world’s policeman, sometime advocate of motherhood and apple pie, and chief salesman for human mobility and free trade. (Globalization is now into its fourth century.)

The term “neocon” is thus, to a remarkable degree, lacking in precision. Anyone who uses it as a generalized term of abuse gets my red neck up immediately; though I do understand it is sought for shorthand, to declare opposition to both of the old Anglo-Saxon planks: interventionism abroad; and the levelling of trade barriers — through which, latterly, American blue-collar jobs have been exported to places like China and Bangladesh. Thanks to the apparent unsuccess of such policies (the real causes of failure are seldom intelligently discussed), the old patriots for “the American Way” can be painted as traitors today, and cast as a superannuated “Establishment.” But this Whig Establishment, if it once existed, died off years ago. Obama, Trump, Sanders are three examples of what we find trampling on its imaginary grave. Worse may soon be coming.

As a very young man in the footsteps of my father — gung-ho on Vietnam, and a “1950s liberal” — I was not a “neo” anything. Gradually my worldview has receded to that of the European thirteenth century, which I don’t find represented by any of the current political parties. (Perhaps I should start one.) My loyalty to “the West” is only a knee-jerk extension of my loyalty to Christendom — which rekindles whenever the sun catches upon a shard of its broken stained glass. I am a “neocon” only in the sense that I remain gung-ho against the Saracens, and am for clearing highwaymen off the open roads — for sake of pilgrimage even more than for trade. I am aware, however, that circumstances have somewhat changed, over the last eight centuries; to my mind, almost entirely for the worse.

Notwithstanding, we must deal, today, with today’s prudential matters. There are costs associated with each proposal for action; and costs, along with alarm bells ringing, for taking no action at all. If, for instance, USA ceases to be present when wanted as a superpower, who or what takes its place? (This is not a rhetorical question.) If we don’t like “globalization” and all that it infers, how are we going to eat? How do we propose to rebuild from the bottom, after everything we lean on comes down from the top? Or more essentially, can we have any candour on political, diplomatic, and economic questions? Or must we, for the sake of political correctness, and electoral tact, be sucked down into a miasmatic bog of lies?

Those dismissed as “neocons” often have the virtue of addressing such questions; even the ethical questions, in their arguably desiccated way. Their critics are — at least to a backward mind like mine — too fanciful, blind, deaf, and credulous.