The Neocons as a Hostile Conservative (!) Elite
I haven't read Jacob Heilbrunn's book on the neocons yet, but I'm not sure I need to after seeing Philip Weiss's review. Weiss's review makes it clear that Heilbrunn's book corroborates several of the themes in my writing on the neocons and on Jewish intellectual and political movements generally.
First, neoconservatism is a Jewish movement. That should have been clear to everyone by now, but references to the Jewish basis of the movement have been noticeably missing from much of the mainstream media, to the point that Bill Kristol was introduced as a columnist at the New York Times as simply a "conservative." This is critical because the neocons have now become the conservative establishment. When Kristol (or Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity) hold forth at Fox News, most people have no idea that they are tuning into the public face of a fundamentally Jewish movement that elbowed out more traditional conservatives.
Secondly, Jewish neocons not only have a strong Jewish identity, they also have strong Jewish interests. This is obvious from their involvement in pro-Israel activism, their personal relationships with Israeli leaders, and close ties with other Jews and with the wider Jewish community. In fact, I have argued that the neocons are more strongly identified as Jews than the mainstream liberal/left Jews — that the neocons form the vanguard of the Jewish community. After all, neocons were the first segment of the Jewish community to strongly condemn the USSR, both for its domestic anti-Semitism and for its alliances with Arab governments. Prominent neocons like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz began their political careers by making alliances with Cold War hawks like Henry Jackson This was at a time when the Jewish left was prominently involved in defending the USSR, apparently blind to the fact that the status of Jews as an elite in the USSR had changed greatly following World War II.
And the neocons are notorious for their strong ties to the most extreme racialist and nationalist segments of Israeli society — elements that the mainstream liberal/left Jewish community probably wishes would disappear or at least be less visible. (Hence the uproar over Christiane Amanpour's God's Jewish Warriors.) Indeed, the Jewish liberal/left has a huge blind spot, continuing to pursue its leftist multicultural agenda in the U.S. while ignoring the fact that the organized Jewish community is deeply complicit in dispossessing the Palestinians and erecting a racialist, apartheid state in Israel. As Weiss has noted elsewhere, "Steve Rabinowitz, Clinton friend, told me this year that if anyone did a study of how much [Democrat] money comes from Jews, it would fuel conspiracy theories." The Jewish liberal/left lavishly supports Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but makes no attempt to wrest control of the pro-Israel lobby from the hands of what James Petras terms the "reactionary minority of American Jews" who head the major American Jewish organizations.
But more interestingly, Heilbrunn points to the “lifelong antipathy toward the patrician class among the neocons … [that] prompted them to create their own parallel establishment.” In this regard, the neocons are entirely within the American Jewish mainstream. As I noted in a previous blog (also commenting on Philip Weiss), "Jews have become an elite, but an elite that does not identify with its subjects — a hostile, estranged but very wealthy elite that still sees themselves as outsiders." And along with the American Jewish mainstream, the neocons have been vital players in the establishment of a variety of policies opposed to the interests and attitudes of the American majority, most egregiously unrestricted immigration which has successfully altered the ethnic composition of the country. Indeed, neoconservative Ben Wattenberg famously wrote that "The non-Europeanization of America is heartening news of an almost transcendental quality."
This hostility toward the traditional peoples and culture of America among people calling themselves conservatives is striking — the antithesis of normal and natural conservative tendencies. As Sam Francis noted, what the neocons dislike about traditional conservatives is simply that they "are conservative at all":
There are countless stories of how neoconservatives have succeeded in entering conservative institutions, forcing out or demoting traditional conservatives, and changing the positions and philosophy of such institutions in neoconservative directions…. Writers like M. E. Bradford, Joseph Sobran, Pat Buchanan, and Russell Kirk, and institutions like Chronicles, the Rockford Institute, the Philadelphia Society, and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute have been among the most respected and distinguished names in American conservatism. The dedication of their neoconservative enemies to driving them out of the movement they have taken over and demonizing them as marginal and dangerous figures has no legitimate basis in reality. It is clear evidence of the ulterior aspirations of those behind neoconservatism to dominate and subvert American conservatism from its original purposes and agenda and turn it to other purposes…. What neoconservatives really dislike about their “allies” among traditional conservatives is simply the fact that the conservatives are conservatives at all—that they support “this notion of a Christian civilization,” as Midge Decter put it, that they oppose mass immigration, ... that they entertain doubts or strong disagreement over American foreign policy in the Middle East, that they oppose reckless involvement in foreign wars and foreign entanglements, and that, in company with the Founding Fathers of the United States, they reject the concept of a pure democracy and the belief that the United States is or should evolve toward it.
Francis, S. (2004). The neoconservative subversion. In B. Nelson (ed.), “Neoconservatism.” Occasional Papers of the Conservative Citizens’ Foundation, Issue Number Six, 6–12. St. Louis: Conservative Citizens’ Foundation, p. 9.
That the New York Times can call Kristol a conservative without shame or irony is a striking commentary on the death of American conservatism.
There are several other themes highlighted in Weiss's review that are worth mentioning because they are typical of other Jewish intellectual and political movements. Heilbrunn describes neocon "cabals" in the State Department and in academic departments at elite universities. This is a reference to Jewish ethnic networking. In general, all of the important Jewish intellectual and political movements — from psychoanalysis and Boasian anthropology to neoconservatism — have a mutually reinforcing core of Jews centered around charismatic leaders. In the case of the neocons, individuals such as Leo Strauss, Richard Perle, and Norman Podhoretz have played this role. Neoconservative cabals have been largely successful in controlling or at least heavily influencing elite institutions in academia, the government, think tanks, and the media.
And finally, the neocons are prime examples of another important theme of Jewish intellectual life — self-deception. Weiss writes:
The reader is left with the shadowy sense that the neocons have a pro-Israel agenda that they are not upfront about. But it isn’t a conspiracy, Heilbrunn warns. The neocons have convinced themselves that the U.S. and Israel have congruent interests. “They just believe this stuff. They’re not agents,” an anonymous source tells him, speaking of Cheney aide David Wurmser, who is married to an Israeli.
Married to an Israeli. The neocons may believe it, but the rest of us need not be so foolish. For example, Douglas Feith is depicted by Heilbrunn as having published a letter defending the capture of the West Bank while still a teenager. Feith has also been credibly charged with spying for Israel, and was deeply involved in the disinformation used by the U.S. government to justify the invasion of Iraq. He has close ties to the settler movement, and was a participant in the notorious "A Clean Break" paper that advised the Israeli government that removing Saddam Hussein should be an Israeli strategic goal. The authors of this report speak as Jews and Israelis, not as U.S. citizens: “Our claim to the land—to which we have clung for hope for 2000 years—is legitimate and noble.”
European Americans may have a difficult time processing all of this. Their individualism and their own fragile and beleaguered sense of ethnicity make them less likely to attribute ethnic motives to others. And there is an imposing edifice of taboos surrounding even the mention of Jewish influence, much less anything that hints that Israel is the first loyalty of Jewish neocons — an edifice aggressively maintained by the organized Jewish community. But the rather unpleasant facts are staring European Americans in the face, even if the New York Times insists on calling them conservatives.