`Neo-conservatives` vs. the Real McCoy

Whatever else emerged from the crisis endured by
Republicans because of

Strom Thurmond`s birthday party
, intellectual
coherence didn`t. The controversy within the Republican
right itself over what Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott
meant and what should be done about it merely served to
confuse even those who pronounced their opinions on the
matter. Mainly what emerged as more confused than ever
was the very meaning of the terms "conservative,"

and "neo-conservative."

Thus, neo-conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer
drew the line between "paleo-conservatives," who
defended Lott; "traditional conservatives," like those

National Review
; and neo-cons like himself who
demanded that Lott get the boot because, as former
liberals, they have "staked their ground for decades
on colorblindness and a reverence for the civil rights
movement as originally defined."
and the Right,
By Charles Krauthammer, Washington
December 20, 2002]

A writer at National Review

this analysis, declaiming that "paleo-conservatives"
are simply

and anti-Semites and not legitimate
conservatives at all. Finally, there was a person called
Max Boot writing in the Wall Street Journal who

that he didn`t understand why people still
use the term "neo-conservative" at all. [“What the
Heck Is a `Neocon`?”
 By Max Boot, December 30,

If the whole misinformed discussion proved anything,
it was that virtually no authentic conservatism remains
intact in the United States, or at least not one visible
in such establishment forums as the Journal and
National Review. Mr. Krauthammer`s column
denouncing Sen. Lott, for example, was virtually
indistinguishable from that of liberal E.J. Dionne,
which the Washington Post published on

the same page the same day.

Mr. Boot`s contribution to political philosophy
disclosed the same mentality. First, Mr. Boot made sure
there was plenty of distance between himself, on the one
hand, and the terrible "paleos" and their leader

Pat Buchanan
, whose views he generously
characterized as "nativist,

, isolationist," on the other. And,
predictably, Mr. Boot at last got down to anti-Semitism,
a subject never far from the neo-con mind.

"When Buchananites toss around `neoconservative,"
he wrote, "—and cite names like Wolfowitz and Cohen—it
sometimes sounds as if what they really mean is `Jewish
Therefore, "neo-conservative" is
really merely a codeword for "Jew" and those who use the
term critically are themselves anti-Jewish. Mr. Boot`s
command of logic is breath-taking.

In fact he merely constructed a rather thin straw man
and then knocked it down by pointing out that many
neo-cons aren`t Jewish anyway and that "support for
Israel," a "key tenet of neoconservatism,"
strongest among the Christian right. No one, least of
all paleos, would disagree. But since neo-conservatives
are not necessarily Jewish, how can it be a codeword for
Jews? No one but Mr. Boot says it is.

Yet neo-conservatism, as Mr. Boot finally allows,
does have a meaning. "It stands for a broad sympathy
with a traditionalist agenda and a rejection of extreme
—a shoe so wide it would fit
virtually any foot in American politics. Show me the
political leader anywhere who boasts of being against
all traditions and calls himself an extreme libertarian.
But lest anyone imagine Mr. Boot is too wedded to
neo-con dogmas, he hastens to make clear, "There is
hardly an orthodoxy laid down by Neocon Central. I for
one am not eager to ban either abortion or

That`s swell. Now that we know what
you aren`t eager to do, which happens to clash with what
the overwhelming majority of real American conservatives
believe, why not tell us what you are eager for?

Well, you see, neo-conservatism is really

"Hard Wilsonianism,"
at least among some
proponents like Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz (there
you go with the anti-Semitism again). "Soft
want to rely on international
organizations and treaties, but "Hard Wilsonians"
want "to use American might to promote American

Swell again, but any kind of

is of the left, driven by a
passion to reconstruct the world, including one`s own
country, along

lines. That`s why liberals and
neo-conservatives agree in their "reverence for the
civil rights movement,"
a utopian crusade that
sought to reconstruct the country along

egalitarian lines
, as well as why they also agree on

foreign policy goals
and disagree merely on the
means. Finally, it`s why paleo-conservatives

disagree with both.

Mr. Boot never bothers to tell us what "American
ideals" are, how you know what they are, which ones we
should promote, or how to tell whether the means of
promoting them (waging war, for instance) might or might
not be appropriate to achieving the goal. In order to
tell things like that, you need to know something—about

, political theory, law,

human nature
and the nature of

—instead of regurgitating bromides
swiped from the

establishment left
. That`s where a body of thought
known as "conservatism" comes in. Mr. Boot and his
fellow neo-cons might want to read up on it some time.


January 16, 2003