Thinking About Neoconservatism

Over the last year, there`s been a
torrent of articles on neoconservatism raising (usually
implicitly) some vexing issues: Are neoconservatives

different from other conservatives?
neoconservatism a Jewish movement? Is it

to say so?

The dispute between the

 and more traditional conservatives — “paleoconservatives
— is especially important because the latter now find
themselves on the outside, looking in on the
conservative power structure.

Hopefully, some of the venom has been
taken out of this argument by the remarkable recent
article by neoconservative “godfather” Irving Kristol

(“The Neoconservative Persuasion,”
, August 25, 2003).  With commendable
frankness, Kristol admitted that

“the historical task and
political purpose of neoconservatism would seem to be
this: to convert the Republican party, and American
conservatism in general, against their respective wills,
into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to
governing a modern democracy.”

And, equally frankly, Kristol eschewed any attempt to
justify U.S. support for Israel in terms of American
national interest:

“[L]arge nations, whose
identity is ideological, like the Soviet Union of
yesteryear and the United States of today, inevitably
have ideological interests in addition to more material
concerns… That is why we feel it necessary to defend
Israel today, when its survival is threatened. No
complicated geopolitical calculations of national
interest are necessary.”

If the US is an “ideological” nation,
this can only mean that the motivations of
neoconservative ideology are a legitimate subject of
intellectual inquiry.

For example, it is certainly true that

neocons` foreign policy
fits well with a plausible
version of Jewish interests, but is arguably only
tenuously related to

the interests of the U.S.
 Also, neocons oppose the
isolationism of important sections of traditional
American conservatism. And neocon attitudes on issues
like race and immigration differ profoundly from those
of traditional mainstream conservatives — but resemble
closely the common attitudes of the wider American
Jewish community.

Count me among those who accept that the

Jewish commitment of leading neoconservatives
become a critical influence on U.S. policies, and that
the effectiveness of the neoconservatives is greatly
enhanced by their alliance with the organized Jewish
community. In my opinion, this conclusion is based on
solid data and reasonable inferences. But like any other
theory, of course, it is subject to reasoned discussion
and disproof.

shouldn`t be surprised by the importance of ethnicity in
human affairs. Nor should we be intimidated by charges
of anti-Semitism. We should be able to discuss these
issues openly and honestly. This is a practical matter,
not a moral one.

politics in the U.S. are certainly not limited to

Jewish activism
.  They are an absolutely normal
phenomenon throughout history and around the world.

But for
well over half a century, with rare

, Jewish influence has been off-limits for
rational discussion. Now, however, as the U.S. acquires
an empire in the Middle East, this ban must inevitably

fall away

views on these issues are shaped by my

on several other influential
Jewish-dominated intellectual and political movements,
including the Boasian school of anthropology, Freudian
psychoanalysis, the Frankfurt School of Social Research,
Marxism and several other movements of the radical left,
as well as the movement to change the ethnic balance of
the United States by allowing mass, non-traditional

conclusion: Contemporary neoconservatism fits into the
general pattern of Jewish intellectual and political

I have identified in my work.

I am
not, of course, saying that all Jews, or even most Jews,
supported these movements. Nor did these movements work
in concert: some were intensely hostile to one another.
I am saying, however, that the key figures in
these movements identified in some sense as Jews and
viewed their participation as in some sense advancing
Jewish interests.

In all
of the Jewish intellectual and political movements I
studied, there is a strong Jewish identity among the
core figures. All center on charismatic Jewish
leaders—people such as Boas, Trotsky and Freud— who are
revered as messianic, god-like figures.

Neoconservatism`s key founders trace their intellectual
ancestry to the “New York Intellectuals,” a group that
originated as followers of Trotskyite theoretician Max
Schactman in the 1930s and centered around influential
journals like Partisan Review and Commentary
(which is in fact published by the

American Jewish Committee
). In the case of
neoconservatives, their early identity as radical
leftist disciples shifted as there began to be evidence
of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. Key figures in
leading them out of the political left were philosopher
Sidney Hook and Elliot Cohen, editor of Commentary
Such men as  Hook, Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz,
Nathan Glazer and Seymour Martin Lipset, were deeply
concerned about anti-Semitism and other Jewish issues.
Many of them worked closely with Jewish activist
organizations. After the 1950s, they became increasingly
disenchanted with leftism. Their overriding concern was
the welfare of Israel.

By the
1970s, the neocons were taking an aggressive stance
against the Soviet Union, which they saw as a bastion of
anti-Semitism and opposition to Israel. Richard Perle
was the prime organizer of Congressional support for the

1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment
which angered the
Soviet Union by linking bilateral trade issues to
freedom of emigration, primarily of Jews from the Soviet
Union to Israel and the United States.

key leaders include an

astonishing number
of individuals well placed to
influence the Bush Administration:  (Paul Wolfowitz,
Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, I. Lewis Libby, Elliott
Abrams, David Wurmser, Abram Shulsky),
interlocking media and thinktankdom (Bill Kristol,
Michael Ledeen, Stephen Bryen, John Podhoretz, Daniel
Pipes), and the academic world (Richard Pipes, Donald

As the
neoconservatives lost faith in radical leftism, several

key neocons
became attracted to the writings of

Leo Strauss
, a classicist and political philosopher
at the University of Chicago. Strauss had a very strong
Jewish identity and viewed his philosophy as a means of
ensuring Jewish survival in the Diaspora. As he put it
in a 1962 Hillel House lecture, later republished in

Leo Strauss: Political Philosopher and Jewish Thinker

I believe I can say, without any
exaggeration, that since a very, very early time the
main theme of my reflections has been what is called the
`Jewish `Question`.

has become a cult figure—the quintessential rabbinical
guru with devoted disciples. 

Strauss and his followers have come to be known as
neoconservatives — and have even claimed to be simply
“conservatives”— there is

nothing conservative
about their goals. This is most
obviously the case in foreign policy, where they are
attempting to rearrange the entire Middle East in the
interests of Israel. But it is also the case with
domestic policy, where acceptance of rule by an
aristocratic elite would require a complete political
transformation. Strauss believed that this aristocracy
would be compatible with Jewish interests.

notoriously described the need for an external
language directed at outsiders, and an
internal esoteric language directed at ingroup
members. In other words, the masses had to be deceived.

actually this is a general feature of the

I have studied. They invariably frame
issues in language that appeals to non-Jews, rather than
explicitly in terms of Jewish interests. The most common
rhetoric used by Jewish intellectual and political
movements has been the language of moral universalism
and the language of science—languages that appeal to the
educated elites of the modern Western world. But beneath
the rhetoric it is easy to find statements expressing
the Jewish agendas of the principal actors.  

example, anthropologists under the leadership of Boas
viewed their crusade against the concept of “race” as,
in turn, combating anti-Semitism. They also saw their
theories as promoting the ideology of cultural
pluralism, which served perceived Jewish interests
because the U.S. would be seen as consisting of many
co-equal cultures rather than as a European Christian

Similarly, psychoanalysts commonly used their theories
to portray anti-Jewish attitudes as symptoms of
psychiatric disorder.

Conversely, the earlier generation of American Jewish
Trotskyites ignored the

of the

Soviet Union
until the emergence there of
state-sponsored anti-Semitism.

Neoconservatives have certainly appealed to American
patriotic platitudes in advocating war throughout the
Middle East—gushing about spreading American democracy
and freedom to the area, while leaving unmentioned their
own strong ethnic ties and family links to Israel.

Lind has

attention to the neoconservatives` “odd
bursts of ideological enthusiasm for `democracy`”

odd because these calls for democracy and freedom
throughout the Middle East are also coupled with support
for the Likud Party and other like-minded groups in
Israel that are driven by a vision of an

, expansionist Israel that, to outside
observers at least, bears an unmistakable (albeit
unmentionable) resemblance to apartheid South Africa.

inconsistencies of the neoconservatives are not odd or
surprising. The Straussian idea is to achieve the aims
of the elite ingroup by using language designed for mass
appeal. War for “democracy and freedom” sells
much better than a war explicitly aimed at achieving the
foreign policy goals of Israel.

Neoconservatives have responded to charges that their
foreign policy has a Jewish agenda by labeling any such
analysis as “anti-Semitic.”
Similar charges have been echoed by powerful activist
Jewish organizations like the

and the

Simon Wiesenthal Center

But at
the very least, Jewish neoconservatives like Paul
Wolfowitz, who were deeply involved in pushing for the
war in Iraq, should frankly discuss how their close
family and personal ties to Israel have affected their
attitudes on US foreign policy in the Middle East.

Wolfowitz, however, has refused to discuss this issue

such suggestions “disgraceful.”


common argument
is that neoconservatism is not
Jewish because of the presence of various non-Jews
amongst their ranks.

But in
fact, the ability to recruit prominent non-Jews, while
nevertheless maintaining a Jewish core and a commitment
to Jewish interests, has been a hallmark—perhaps the key
hallmark—of influential Jewish intellectual and
political movements throughout the 20th
century. Freud commented famously on the need for a
non-Jew to represent psychoanalysis, a role played by
Ernest Jones and C. G. Jung.  Margaret
and Ruth Benedict were  the public face of
Boasian anthropology. And, although Jews represented
over half the membership of both the Socialist Party and
the Communist Party USA at various times, neither party
ever had Jews as presidential candidates and no Jew held
the top position in the Communist Party USA after 1929.

In all
the Jewish intellectual and political movements I
reviewed, non-Jews have been accepted and given
highly-visible roles. Today, those roles are played most
prominently by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld whose
ties with neoconservatives go back many years.  It makes
excellent psychological sense to have the spokespeople
for any movement resemble the people they are trying to

fact, neoconservatism is rather unusual in the degree to
which policy formulation — as opposed to implementation
— is so predominantly Jewish. Perhaps this reflects U.S.
conditions in the late 20th century.

All the
Jewish intellectual and political movements I studied
were typified by a deep sense of orthodoxy—a sense of
“us versus them.” Dissenters are expelled, usually amid
character assassination and other


has certainly been a feature of the neocon movement. The
classic recent example of this “We vs. They” world is

David Frum`s attack
on “unpatriotic
as anti-Semites. Any conservative who
opposes the Iraq war as contrary to U.S. interests and
who notes the pro-Israeli motivation of many of the
important players, is not to be argued with, but
eradicated. “We turn our backs on them.” This is
not the spirit out of which the Anglo-American
parliamentary tradition was developed, and in fact was

not endorsed
by other non-Jewish pro-war

intellectual and political movements have typically had
ready access to prestigious mainstream media channels,
and this is certainly true for the neocons.  The
anchoring by the Washington Post of the columns
of Charles

and Robert

and by the New York Times of William

illustrates this. But probably more
important recently has been the invariable summoning of
neoconservatives to represent the “conservative”
line on the TV Networks. Is it unreasonable to suppose
that this may be somewhat influenced by the famously

Jewish role in these operations?

Immigration policy provides a valuable acid test for the
proposition that neoconservatism is actually a vehicle
for perceived Jewish ethnic interests. I believe I have
been able to demonstrate that pro-immigration elements
in American public life have, for over a century, been
largely led,

funded, energized and organized by the Jewish community

[PDF file].
American Jews have taken this line, with a few isolated
exceptions, because they have believed, as Leonard S.
Glickman, president and CEO of the

Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
, has bluntly

, “The more diverse American society is the
[Jews] are.” Having run out of Russian
Jews, the HIAS is now

deeply involved
in recruiting refugees from Africa.

in the middle 1990s an immigration reform movement arose
amongst American conservatives, the reaction of the
neoconservatives ranged from cold to hostile. No
positive voice was permitted on the Op-Ed page of the
Wall Street Journal
, by then a neoconservative
domain. (Perhaps significantly, a more recent exception
has been a relatively favorable review of the
anti-illegal immigration book

— whose author, the military historian
Victor Davis Hanson, has distinguished himself by the

extreme hawkishness
of his views on the Middle
East.) The main vehicle of immigration reform sentiment,
National Review, once a

of traditional conservative thought,
was quite quickly

by neoconservatives and its opposition to
immigration reduced to nominal.

to the post-9/11 U.S. invasion of the Middle East, this
suppression of the immigration reform impulse among
conservatives was probably the single most important
contribution of the neoconservatives to the course of
U.S. history.

It may
yet prove to be the most disastrous.

Kevin MacDonald [email
him] is Professor of Psychology at California State
University-Long Beach.