What`s In A Name? The Curious Case Of “Neoconservative”

April 30, 2003

How can something exist and not
exist both at the same time? The answer: by being

Since last winter, neoconservative

David Frum,

Jonah Goldberg,
Max Boot, and John Podhoretz have
been insisting that the word “neoconservative” is
either a tautologous term for a right-winger or an
anti-Semitic slur aimed at pro-Israeli conservative

On April 22, Republican booster and
talk show host

Rush Limbaugh
entered the fray. He denounced

“these media people
speaking in their own code language. A case in point is
their use of the term `neoconservative.` Whether they
choose to hyphenate the label or not, it`s a pejorative
code word for `Jews.` That`s right. They use it as a way
to say guys like Bill Kristol, Irving Kristol, Charles
Krauthammer, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Norman
Podhoretz, John Podhoretz and others are just trying to
support Israel at the USA`s expense

Anti-Semites Use
"Neo-Con" Code Word,

April 22, 2003

Rush`s website commentary links to
a lead essay

“I Confess”
written by John Podhoretz for the New
York Post
(April 22), which might help clarify
Rush`s gripe.

Both Podhoretz and Limbaugh assert
that neoconservatives are the genuine conservatives,
whom anti-Semites are slandering by attaching the
derogatory prefix “neo.” Limbaugh mumbles about
“these media people”—as if the Establishment
mediacrats that the neocons socialize and share their
goodies with were the problem. [“A
friend of mine suggests it [
means the kind of right-winger a liberal wouldn`t be
embarrassed to have over for cocktails. –

What the Heck Is a `Neocon`? By Max Boot,

December 30, 2002]

Podhoretz understands that this
snickering is coming from the

Old Right,
which is emphatically non-Establishment.
But snickering can be contagious–hence the neocon
efforts to anathematize their detractors.

There are, it seems to me, two
reasons that neoconservatives are starting to shed their

Firstly, the term
is now too closely identified with
the personal and ethnic concerns of its Jewish
celebrities. Despite their frequent attempts to find
kept gentiles, the game of speaking through proxies may
be showing diminishing results. Everyone with minimal
intelligence knows that Bill Bennett, Frank Gaffney, Ed
Feulner, Michael Novak, George Weigel, James
Nuechterlein, and Cal Thomas front for the neocons. It
is increasingly useless to depend on out-group
surrogates to repackage a movement so clearly rooted in
a particular ethnicity—and even subethnicity (Eastern
European Jews). Better to seek cover by changing a
culturally-specific label into something more generic.

And neocons, given their iron
control of today`s

“movement conservatives,”
can call themselves
whatever they want. It is doubtful they would meet much
opposition if tomorrow they order movement conservatives
to call them Martians.

Secondly, the recent attacks on
that have appeared here and in
Europe depicting them as global revolutionary radicals
have created other terminological problems for those who
wish to be associated, however fictitiously, with the
Right. While posing as a friend of order, one does not
want to be burdened with a moniker that connotes

“creative destruction,”
as Michael Ledeen was

recently. Thus it seems a good idea for
neocons in some circumstances to abandon the label
associated with the worship of revolution—for example,
when playing to Midwestern small-town Republicans or to
corporate executives.

Neoconservative godfather Irving
Kristol pioneered this practice in his

Reflections of a Neoconservative

(1983)—yes, he used the term—when he ingeniously argued:
“A welfare state, properly conceived, can be an
integral part of a conservative society.”

“Welfare State” =

New Deal

The same year George Will, by then
a wannabe neocon, was explaining in

Statecraft as Soulcraft
that Aristotle and Burke
were the true fathers of the American welfare state.
Only radicals, like Taft Republicans, says Will, stood
athwart this essentially conservative institution.
Moreover, “two conservatives [Bismarck and
Disraeli] pioneered the welfare state and did so for
impeccably conservative reasons: to reconcile the masses
to the vicissitudes and hazards of a dynamic industrial

Thus, although the neoconservatives
are now the party of global “creative destruction,”
in 1983 they were still reaching for Tory-Democratic
window-dressing to present themselves and Big Government
as “conservative” forces.

Abandoning the label “neoconservative
is a project of astonishing ambition and daring,
comparable in a small way to the project of persuading
the Americans to conquer and colonize the Middle East.
“Neoconservative” has been a conventional descriptive
term since the seventies when Irving Kristol, Norman
Podhoretz, and Daniel Bell themselves began
applying that term to their thinking. By the 1980s, when
John B. Judis of the New Republic noticed that
“conservative wars” had erupted (New Republic, 11
August, 1986), neocons were proudly flaunting their
identity, in order to distinguish themselves from the
traditional American Right.

Unlike that rejected traditional
Right, neocons saw themselves as friends of a large
federal welfare state. They despised Taft Republicans
and followers of the late Senator Joe McCarthy as
rightwing extremists. Bill Kristol`s enthusiastic
endorsement (during an interview in 1997 with
Washington Post
`s E.J. Dionne) of Lyndon Johnson`s
Great Society, the tone of which is faithfully
reproduced by Sam Francis in his essay Chronicles
(May 2003), reflects this line of thought.
Neoconservatives, as opposed to constitutional
conservatives, do not disguise their adoration of the
contemporary managerial state.

And young militant Max Boot,
writing in the Wall Street Journal (December
30, 2002
) did not shy away from the N word, when he
told us that “support for Israel [is ]a key
tenet of neoconservatism
.”  Zionism inheres
specifically in neoconservatism, which also, as Boot
reminded us, is in favor of the welfare state. (I write
this as a supporter of Israel. I am less enthusiastic
about the welfare state). [Open
borders may be another “key tenet”.


for Scott McConnell`s account of the hostile
neoconservative reaction to the reopening of the
immigration debate – from sixth paragraph

Irving Kristol, of course, titled
two of his most widely distributed collections of

Reflections of a Neoconservative

Neoconservatism: Autobiography of an Idea

(1999). In both works, “neoconservativism” is celebrated
as a positive quality that Kristol discerns in himself
and in his spiritual progeny.

Moreover, in 1995 Mark Gerson, a
“twenty-three years old rising neoconservative,” (see
www.amazon.com) brought out a flattering history of
Kristol`s movement,

The Neoconservative Vision,
which was profusely
praised in

First Things
(October 1996, 7-8). In this work
Gerson stressed the distinctions between his beloved
“neoconservatives” and those who had occupied the Right
before. Gerson hoped to make the difference between the
two crystal-clear (the pun is deliberate) when he
published simultaneously

The Essential Neoconservative Reader
which is
meant to introduce us to the authors of identifiably
“neoconservative” verities.

Many of these authors are featured
on an internet fansite

An especially exciting
feature of this website, which lists neocon affiliate
groups in England and France, is the availability of the
commentaries of Max Boot, David Frum, John Podhoretz,
and Jonah Goldberg and those of such golden oldies as
Michael Ledeen, Daniel Pipes, and Frank Gaffney.

Curiously enough, this site has
posted its heroes` recent comments denying the very
existence of that movement whose sacred shrine we have
just entered. These angry denials are juxtaposed with a
pervasive affirmation of neoconservative identity.

How can this be?

Perhaps the neocons are imitating
the American Communist practice of assuming multiple
identities at different organizational levels. Remember
the way that

J. Edgar Hoover
depicted the Communists as “masters
of deceit” because of their skill at

infiltrating other groups
, partly by appearing to be
other than Communists, e.g., Ban-the-Bombers or members
of the U.S.-Soviet Friendship League.

To the question of whether alleged
Communists were really what they were, the ready answer
of their defenders was, no, they were not. They were
simply misrepresented friends of peace and/or dedicated


Those who were in the know
understood the game. But everyone else—let`s say the
Rush Limbaughs—tried to believe the disinformation that
the Communists spread throughout their support system.
The fellow travelers did not look too deeply and put out
of their minds unwelcome facts that contradicted what
they wished to think.

Once again our global
revolutionaries may be taking a leaf from their leftist
home base.

That is where they return, like
other habitual leftists, for strategic and rhetorical

Paul Gottfried
is Professor of Humanities at
Elizabethtown College, PA. He is the author of

After Liberalism

Carl Schmitt: Politics and Theory
, and
Multiculturalism And The Politics of Guilt: Toward A Secular Theocracy.