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« Liberalism as a violation of the Prime Directive | Main | Could be your kid »


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Agi T. Prop

I guess you could call it Bush-style can-screwism.

mrs. norman maine

Great piece, but I'm not sure you can dance to it. Unlike, say:


"You call yourself a Christian, I call you a hypocrite/ You call yourself a patriot. Well, I think your are full of sh*t!... How come you're so wrong, my sweet neo-con."

Ready to drop in the coming weeks, a new Bush-bashing tune from the ROLLING STONES: "Sweet Neo Con."
[--Drudge Report]


The neoconservatives did not emerge as a result of the Cuban missle crisis. There is simply nothing you can point to as neoconservatism around the time of the Cuban missle crisis in 1962. So far as I know, nobody who later became a neoconservative was especially exercised about that event - Commentary (the founding neoconservative journal), for example, did not show extraordinary interest in the crisis and most of the Commentary articles about the crisis in 1962 and 1963 are by Hans Morgenthau. I have to go back and re-read those articles, but from my recollection, Morgenthau in general was supportive of the Kennedy administration's handling of the crisis (and Morgenthau did not become a neoconservative later anyway). There's only one or two other articles about Cuba at all (besides Morgenthau's) in Commentary from 1961 to 1963.

Far more interesting was Norman Podhoretz's 1963 article "My Negro Problem - and Ours" which was really the first time anybody on the Left admitted that they viscerally feared and disliked blacks. In 1963, the piece actually was more about if overcoming that fear and prejudice was possible, but over time, it really indicates the first time someone still on the intellectual Left essentially supported racism to any extent.

Even so, in 1963, there's still no neoconservatism. There were what's now called paleoconservatives, but the people who later became neoconservatives at that time hated the paleoconservatives - indeed, to some extent, the paleoconservatives and neoconservatives were at war until the mid-1990s.

We can only really locate the beginnings of neoconservatism somewhere in the late 1960s - i.e. in the immediate years following the Great Society (which Commentary began to harshly criticize), the opposition to the Vietnam War (Commentary opposed much of the anti-Vietnam movement), student riots (which Commentary really didn't like) and so on. Adding to the public policy/international affairs origins of Commentary's neoconservatism was that the Keynesian economic consensus of 1934-1970's was undermined and overthrown by the Chicago School (neoneoclassical economics) within the decade of the 1970s.


It is the behavior of people in whom fear of the other is a deeply ingrained habit. It amuses me that Norman Podhoretz's "My Negro Problem..." gets mentioned as an instance of liberals admitting to racism. If Podhoretz was a liberal then, what was Marvin Mudrick, the critic who tore Podhoretz's racism to shreds when it first appeared? The piece (don't have the title with me) is in Mudrick's book "On Culture and Literature."

And what was the art critic Harold Rosenberg, who called these clowns by their proper names when Norman Podhoretz was young? Rosenberg, who died in 1978, made fun of the neocons before it was cool. Look at "Couch Liberalism and the Guilty Past" in his book "The Tradition of the New."

Point being, simply, that as early as the early 1960s there were American intellectuals who recognized that the neocons were not liberals, that they had turned their backs on liberal principles and embarked on a career of ever more shrill justifications for the pursuit of power -- which is what frightened people do. This was back in the day when you sort of had to at least look like a liberal to get a hearing. My, how times have changed.

Anne Laurie

While we're discussing the early days of the neoconservative "movement"... anybody else recall the viciousness of the original Podhoretzes' attacks on Gore Vidal? Or William F. Buckley's, ditto? Or the hysterical assaults upon the very existence of any public figure, from Susan Sontage to Germaine Greer to Gloria Steinem and Alice Walker, whose writings might be tinged by the bugaboo Feminism? Not to mention those among Podhoretz's cohorts who endlessly parsed the permissible distinctions between "Negro intellectualism" (yay!) and "self-defeating Black Nationalism"(boo!)? A lot of the first-generation neoconservatives were also first-generation college students, young men (and their would-be brides, like Midge Decter) who spent the first part of their lives striving for success as public intellectuals, pundits, political consultants, opinion shapers, university leaders. Unfortunately, when it finally looked like all their hard work was about to be rewarded, a whole lot of people who HADN'T spent their youths diligently turning themselves into imitations of Truman's Wise Men decided to crash the party & change the rules! Negroes, homosexuals, un-feminine women... what right did THESE PEOPLE have to just, you know, start writing and talking and campaigning to destroy the splendid, gated utopias that the embryonic neoconservatives had so long targeted and so nearly achieved? It's hard for sensible people to understand how today's media conservatives can consider themselves "victims" of a system where they own such a preponderance of the power, but the original neoconservatives really did consider themselves "cheated" of their rightful places in the ranks of Thinkers That Matter by a lot of upstart newcomers who didn't even have the decency to *pretend* that they really wanted to be upper-class white men! The cynicism and careerism that's so blatant in the second generation of National Review bloggers is built on the curdled ambitions of their parents' failure to be "given" the rewards they were "due".

And the Bush family, iconic as always, stands as a totem to the glory of the neocons' first, failed dreams: Prescott Bush, via diligent service to his wealthy if small-minded father-in-law, made enough money to set his family firmly into the Ruling Class and to achieve some success as a Senator. George the First Bush, just as diligent in his services to his father's business and political associates, achieved a long string of impressive political appointments... but the New Rules of the 1970s kept him from his "rightful" electoral successes. Eventually, the remnants of the old Republican machine & the first of the new generation of "values" (i.e., "no ethics") conservative activists managed to get Bush I elected on the strength of Reagan's coattails and the weakness of Democratic support for their candidate. But GHWB would bitterly disappoint them, being neither charismatic enough to inspire a national return to 1950s American Perfectionism, nor dedicated enough to use the new Republican slime-marketing tactics to full advantage. Thus the dark days of the Clinton Interregnum, when only an embattled majority of brave Gingrich supporters stood between the profits of the top five percent of the American aristocracy and the hopes of a better life for the other ninety-five percent of us. And now Bush the Younger, barely inserted into the Oval Office by an unprecedented expediture of political & economic capital (including the blatant services of five Supreme Court justices), struts and sulks before us, alternating between an aristocrat's sense of unearned entitlement and a spoiled child's tantrums at the unwillingness of water to run uphill upon his instructions.

It's all careerism, and the pathology of that careerism.



Well, it eventually became clear that Podhoretz wasn't a liberal, and "My Negro Problem" was the first potential sign that he wasn't. The actual article, though, at least pretends to be saying that Podhoretz was trying to overcome his childhood racism, and not trying to continue his childhood racism (though he actually did do precisely that anyway). A lot of people protested against the article at the time, so Podhoretz was certainly already moving to the right at that point.


William F. Buckley was never a neoconservative - he was coming from a stance of reforming paleoconservatism. Which is very different from neoconservatism's (sometimes theoretical, hypocritical and imaginary) stance of rejecting liberalism from within due to it's failures.

As for Decter, she takes up the same tack as Podhoretz did about a year later in her article "The Negro and the New York Schools" (1964).

Most of the stuff about the university (much of which rather bizarrely taking two universities in the 1950s - the University of Chicago and Columbia U - as the standard utopian educational vision, when neither has ever been particularly representative of American education) comes from a bit later historical moment (more 1966 on) - though there were precursors earlier.

Again, there was very little interest at the time from future neoconservatives about the Cuban missile crisis. Much more important was opposition to civil rights policies.


burritoboy, I'm sure you're right on the particulars. But I need a whole post to write up my surrender and to explain my thinking and where I went wrong.

I didn't think, don't think, that in October 1962 there were no neo-cons and then suddenly in November there were. There was a shift in thinking about how to deal with the Soviets in the 1960s. Up until then Containment was the generally accepted method; even Republicans believed that was the way to go. Then, at some point, it became acceptable (fashionable?) to push what was essentially roll-back, whether or not it was called that at the time. I pick the Cuban Missle Crisis as a turning point since it scared the beejeebers out of the whole country. I'm making a psychological diagnosis, though, not identifying a specific intellectual argument.

Question for you: Whenever they came into being, I've always thought of the neo-cons as being obsessed with foreign policy and not very much concerned with domestic policy. Do you think their hardline foreign policy positions were just smoke to cover their reactionary domestic ideas?

Or did they just get good press that ignored their domestic policy?

Anne Laurie

Burritoboy, you're right that William F. Buckley was never a neoconservative, but he IS one of their "founding fathers", their "patron saint", even their "John the Baptist". He's the guy they all wanted to be, the way a lot of liberals wanted (want) to be JFK even though JFK was never exactly a liberal. Buckley presented himself as the very model of the Rich White Well-Educated Aristocrat, known at the time as The WASP, but his Catholicism and his Irish roots suggested that sufficiently earnest strivers could someday enter the gated paradises of Westchester or Darien even if they hadn't been born Anglo-Saxon or Protestant. And "Patron Saint" is very much the role Buckley envisioned for himself (and the National Review)even in the early 1960s. However, the various civil rights struggles that were developing as "God & Man at Yale" topped the book-discussion lists threatened to devalue the whole concept of the WASP hierarchy; if you could "succeed" without turning yourself into an imitation of Prescott Bush (or, for women like Midge Dector, Diana Trilling), then what good were all the years of hard work you'd put into becoming just such an imitation? And if becoming a carbon of Prescott Bush wasn't the highest form of American achievement, then how was Buckley to secure his proper status as Aristotle to the next generation of American Alexanders? That's why Podhoretz focused his early ire on "Negroes" (stubbornly refusing to PRETEND to be white people!), while Buckley became so personally outraged at Gore Vidal -- a genuine "American aristocrat", a born WASP who dared suggest that straight white men married to dutiful white wives, living in Darien & working to rise up the established hierarchies in business, education, or government, might NOT be the apex of all human endeavour. Vidal, in his old age, has made a few comments that border on anti-Semitism, but he correctly identified the basic jobbery of neoconservative politics long before the N-word was invented.



No, some of the people who later became neoconservatives were initially much more exercised about civil rights policies than foreign affairs. That changed in the 1960s and 1970s due to several factors: one was that the future neocons were extremely exercised about the domestic opposition to Vietnam - especially campus turbulence. It wasn't that they were very interested in the Vietnam war itself, but much rather that the campus turbulence offended them. Allan Bloom, for example, obsessed about the student takeover at Cornell until the end of his life, but never really mentioned Vietnam at all. So, many of the neocons started taking hyperbolically over-supportive positions pro-Vietnam War, primarily (in my interpretation) to piss off the anti-Vietnam folks here in the US.

Two, Israel (particularly important to Commentary) in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, the War of Attrition and the Yom Kippur War, had captured the West Bank and Gaza as well as coming very close to confronting the Soviet Union directly. Remember that Begin was the very first of the neoconservative Presidents in 1977 (several years before Thatcher and long before Reagan). Israel started having a lot of conflict with the Left internationally and so on. The neocons followed Israel's political progression to the right.

Third, the neocons came into conflict with the Soviet Union because they wanted the USSR to allow more emigration of the Russian Jews. This was probably the biggest cause of the AJC (which is technically the organization the publishes Commentary) since the early twentieth century, so that's not so surprising.

So, when the neocons came to prominance in the 1970s, they were superficially very driven by foreign policy concerns. It wasn't an intentional smoke screen at all, but their foreign policy was primarily driven by their domestic policy and very particular foreign concerns. In the 1960s, though, the neocons were explicitly much more driven by disagreement with civil rights policies, the Great Society, black militancy and so on.

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