Posts Tagged ‘neoconservatism’

A Neocon, Then and Now

October 23, 2009

It seems there’s been a recent attempt to claim Irving Kristol was not a neoconservative, at least on foreign policy.  It’s in an article in The New Republic, which is hardly surprising.

Personally, it strikes me as very wrong-headed, for the reasons I’ve discussed before, and which Matt Yglesias expresses more briefly in his reaction to the article.

That is: Irving was a militarist and an American exceptionalist, just like his son and the rest of the current crop of neocons.  He looked at world problems and saw the American military as the solution.  Anything that constrained the American military’s free play was bad.  That included things like diplomacy, negotiation, compromise, international law, etc.  The solution to any foreign policy problem was Americans killing people and destroying property that didn’t belong to them.  Rules were for other nations.  Which is to say he wanted an American hegemony.

In all of that, he is indistinguishable from today’s neocons, who are his direct heirs.

The Theologico-Philosophical Tractatus

October 2, 2009

With apologies to Herr Wittgenstein, the roots of the ideological affinity between neocons and Jesuscons like Tom Coburn, Zach Wamp, John Ensign, Mark Sanford, Mark Pryor, etc., have recently come clear to me.  On the neocon side, it’s a matter of philosophy.  On the Jesuscon side, it’s a matter of theology.  Theological heresy, actually.

Here’s the link: lying to the public is a virtue — not just okay, a virtue — so long as you’re honest with your confrères behind closed doors.

We’ve known this about neocons for a very long time.  It originated in the University of Chicago philosopher Leo Strauss, who said the public isn’t capable of understanding the truth, processing the truth, or identifying the good or the right.  They have to be fed fairy tales.  Therefore, if you are one of the chosen few with the intelligence and moral discernment to understand the Truth, and the courage to act on your special, insider, widely-misunderstood knowledge, then it is your duty to do so, and equally your duty to tell the public whatever they need to be told in order to get them to go along with you.   It might be diametrically opposite of reality, or even of what you and your fellow insiders “know” to be true, but that doesn’t matter.  Not only can you say one thing in public and a totally different thing in private, you should.  All that matters is that because you are one of the privileged few who know the Truth, you must do whatever it takes to move the country — the world — in accordance with it.  Lie, cheat, steal, and even kill.  It’s all justified virtuous.

The ends justify the means.

Neocons were Straussians before they were neocons.  Clean back to good ol’ Irving Kristol.  And there is nothing that renders their behavior more comprehensible.  Once you realize William Kristol and Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, etc., are philosophically committed to this Straussian notion, their behavior becomes complete clear.  Transparent, you might say.

But what’s this got to do with the Jesuscons?  Surely they’re not devotees of an agnostic Jewish philosopher, right?


According to religion journalist Jeff Sharlet, however, who lived with Coburn and his fellow Jesuscons in their group house in D.C., they do hold a theological belief that amounts to the same thing.  Their theology holds — and stop me if this sounds familiar — that there’s knowledge for public consumption, and then there’s the True Knowledge known only to a chosen few insiders.  According to them, this comes right from Jesus.  Jesus had a public message for the masses, who lacked the understanding to comprehend the Real Truth, and he had a different message for a select few insiders.  You know, them apostle guys.  He told the public what they needed to hear — lies — but gave the insiders the real story.

Yeah, I know, that sounds, like, rilly, rilly familiar.  Because it’s the Jesusy version of Straussianism, right?

Well, yeah.  But if you remember your Christian history, it sounds familiar for another reason, too.

See, there was this massive Christian heresy that plagued the early church.  It turns up in the New Testament.  The early church fathers couldn’t shut up about it.  The second and third century church spent a lot of good time and effort stamping it out.  It’s been considered heresy, ever since.  It’ll get you excommunicated from the Catholic Church faster than you can say “Bob’s yer uncle.”

Yep.  You got it.  Gnosticism.  Just about the oldest Christian heresy there is.  Anathematized by orthodox Christianity for almost as long as there’s been an orthodox Christianity.  (In fact, orthodox Christianity came into existence largely by stamping out its Gnostic competitors.)

Tom Coburn and his merry band of brothers, who can’t trumpet their Christianity loudly enough or often enough, aren’t Christians at all.   They’re Gnostics.  Heretics.  Newt and Antonin and Sammy and Johnny and their many fellow devout Catholic Republicans ought to be shunning these guys, and condemning them in the loudest, clearest possible terms.  They should be refusing to have anything to do with them — to speak to them, be seen with them, or be in any way associated with them.

As good Gnostics, these Jesuscons hold it as core doctrine that Jesus was a liar, and therefore they should be, too.  Because, see, as luck would have it, they are the insiders in the Gnostic world of concentric circles of knowledge.  They’re the apostles.  They’re the chosen few who are capable of understanding True Reality, and of acting on it.  And they must tell the unwashed whatever lies the unwashed need to hear in order to go along with them.

How do they know they’re the insiders who really understand the true nature of the world, instead of the deceived unwashed?  Well, duh.  The same way the neocons know they’re the smart ones: it’s just self-evident to them.  If you weren’t such an unwashed dullard, it’d be obvious to you, too.  But you are.  So you just have to take their word for it, believe what they tell you, and be a good little supporter of whatever it is they want to do at the moment.

See how neat that works?

So there you have it.  The fundamental theologico-philosophical kinship between neocons like the Kristols and Podhoretzes, and Jesuscons like Senators Coburn and Ensign and Pryor, and Rep. Wamp: they’re all raging egomaniacs who hold the public in contempt, and, therefore, lie to them unremittingly to get what they want.

Deep Stupid

July 1, 2009

There’s a big, public tiff going on today between Bill Kristol and John McCain’s campaign manager, Steve Schmidt.  Also involved as sort of a proxy for Kristol is Randy Scheunemann, a friend of Kristol’s who also worked on the McCain campaign . . . until Schmidt caught him emailing insider info to Kristol (which Kristol published) and had him fired.

Scheunemann, confirming that his e-mail had been searched, accused Schmidt of “acting in a manner of Iranian secret police” in going to his account.

I guess it goes to show just how utterly obtuse and/or intellectually dishonest a man is, who gave full-throated support to the Bush administration’s illegal wiretapping and electronic data-mining on American citizens, yet when his own email is monitored, ignores the nearest and most obvious comparison and instead reaches halfway around the world for one.

This one remark is as good a distillation of neoconservatism as you’re ever likely to see.  You’ve got the personal double-standard (“reading your email is okay, but reading mine is evil”).  You’ve got the national double-standard (“it’s evil except when America does it”).  You’ve got the paranoia about foreigners.  You’ve got the utter lack of self-awareness.  You’ve got the overheated rhetoric.  You’ve got the lack of perspective.  You’ve got the loss of a sense of proportionality.

It’s really quite an accomplishment to distill a political philosophy with so many things wrong with it into a single sentence that captures them all.  Today’s winner: Randy Scheunemann.

The Defiant Stance

July 1, 2009

I think Sullivan’s reader gets this wrong:

Part of Sarah Palin’s irresistible appeal to her fundamentalist base is her ability to look at the camera with utter conviction and declare black to be white.

Fundamentalists can recognize a truly audacious and talented liar from miles away. Instead of running the other way, as you might expect, they gather around the powerful liar, for they know that their own lies will be respected and protected by a leader who understands the paramount importance of preserving their whole system of denial.

This is wrong on two counts, I think: the who and the what.

First, assuming this person is referring to Christian fundamentalists, which s/he pretty clearly is (read the rest of the post at the link above), there’s the problem of overspecificity.  Palin’s appeal isn’t just to Christian fundamentalists.  They are only one pillar of her support in the GOP.  The other, equally important, pillar is neoconservatives, who, by and large, are neither particularly Christian nor fundamentalists (except in a political sense).

The second and much bigger problem is in what Palin’s appeal is.

It isn’t the lying itself that draws Christian fundamentalists.  It’s the willingness to stand in the mainstream media spotlight, shake a fist, and insist on the reality they believe is true.  It’s a classic speech act: “by saying something we do something.”

Reality hasn’t been breaking fundamentalists’ way for the past, oh, hundred and fifty years.  (Fundamentalism itself arose in reaction to modernism and the scientific vision of reality it presented, remember.)  Those chickens just started coming home to roost, politically, for American fundamentalists about fifty years ago, and their resentment has been building ever since.

Living in a democratic society, seeing that society base policy on what you believe to be utter non-reality, and lacking the votes to do much about it is a frustrating experience.  Ask any liberal about the past 8 years.  If you also happen to feel (rightly or wrongly) that your particular vision of reality made a signal contribution to creating that democratic society, being unable to halt its shift away from that vision of reality has to be even immensely more frustrating.

What the fundamentalists want at this point, what they have a psychological need for, is to see people in the public discourse defy that shift.  To deny that new reality and affirm the old.  To, as Bill Buckley said, stand athwart history, yelling “Stop!”  And to suffer for it.

They don’t want a liar.  They want a media messiah; someone to give prophetic voice to their vision of reality.

Sarah Palin pluckily, and with a shimmer of plausibly self-deniable sex appeal, satisfies that need.  They don’t love her because they think she’s lying when she “looks at the camera with utter conviction and declares black to be white.”  They love her because they believe with utter conviction that she’s telling the truth.  She’s the one accurately identifying black as black and white as white, while the modern world has gotten the two hopelessly mixed up.

So the what of Palin’s appeal isn’t lying; it’s martyrdom.  She’s the one speaking the rude truth.  And getting punished for it.

“I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”

Nobody stirs the passions like a martyr.

It’s the neoconservatives, the other pillar of her support, who value her for her ability to look straight into the camera and lie with utter conviction.  They recognize the lie, but it’s a lie that serves their purposes, and that makes it virtuous.

Update (7/2/09 4:19 pm): Regarding my point that fundamentalists value the punishment of Palin for her defiant stance, Ed Kilgore agrees:  “To her supporters, mockery is like nectar.”

via TWI

Deep Stupid

June 22, 2009

Today’s winners are Charles Krauthammer, for his editorial in WaPo, and Fred Hiatt, for publishing Krauthammer’s editorial in WaPo.

He Who Flattens the Cabbage sez:

“[T]he president speaks favorably of ’some initial reaction from the Supreme Leader that indicates he understands the Iranian people have deep concerns about the election.’ Where to begin? ‘Supreme Leader’? Note the abject solicitousness with which the American president confers this honorific on a clerical dictator.” — Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, June 19

“And the president has said ‘I have seen in Iran’s initial reaction from the supreme leader.’ He is using an honorific to apply to a man whose minions out there are breaking heads, shooting demonstrators, arresting students, shutting the press down, and basically trying to suppress a popular democratic revolution.” — Charles Krauthammer, Fox News All Stars, June 16

Why does Obama refer to Khamanei as the Supreme Leader? Well, let’s see.  Maybe it’s because “Supreme Leader” is the man’s actual title?

He is the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, just like Obama is the President of the United States, and Krauthammer is the Supreme Potentate of the International Union of Thickheaded Demagogues.  Heck, Newt Gingrich still insists people call him “Speaker Gingrich,” even though he no longer holds the office and was forced out of the office in disgrace.

How badly do you have to want to hate in order for your worldview to get distorted enough that one officeholder addressing another officeholder by the latter’s official title becomes an outrage?  How badly do you have to want to believe someone is a secret Muslim that that person addressing a Muslim officeholder by his legally held, official title of state becomes “abject solicitousness”?

If Obama refers to the head of the Catholic Church as Pope Benedict, will Krauthammer accuse him of abject solicitousness?  Will he say Obama is conferring an honorific on a clerical dictator?  (The pope does hold absolute monarchy over Vatican City, after all.)  Would he imply Obama is a secret Catholic?

Oh, and:

“Look, these were sham elections from the beginning. In a real democracy, you can have a change of power as a result. That was not going to happen in Iran. The mullahs are in charge. Khamenei, the supreme leader, remains in charge.” — Charles Krauthammer, Fox News All Stars, June 12

via Yglesias

It’s How They Do

June 19, 2009

Scott Eric Kauffman, over at EotAW, points out the folly of conservatives’ calls for Obama to declare America firmly on the side of the Iranian protesters:

[T]he Iranian government recognizes how politically efficacious the accusation of American intervention in Iranian electoral politics is, which means Victor David Hanson and likeminded conservatives are urging Obama to take a principled stand by playing directly into the hands of the Iranian regime. Ahmadinejad and his supporters would love nothing more than for Obama to read the lines they scripted for him.

But why are conservatives encouraging Obama to do exactly that?

Because that’s how they do.  Neoconservatives, especially.

It’s exactly the same thing they spent the last 8 years doing.  Osama bin Laden wanted America to panic and overreact to 9/11, and that’s what our conservative leaders did.  He wanted us to invade and occupy an oil-rich Islamic country, and that’s what our conservative leaders did.  He wanted us to give him fresh recruiting material, and that’s what our conservative leaders did.  He wanted us to make America more like his vision of society, and that’s what our conservative leaders did.

Giving nutty extremists exactly what they want is what conservatives do.  (It’s what the current generation of conservative leaders do, anyway.)

Why?  I can think of several possible reasons.

One, they — neoconservatives, especially — are just demonstrably — demonstratedly — not very bright.  (But see #4.)

Two, to a certain degree, these conservatives want the same things the nutty extremists want.  They want a more theocratic, paternalistic, authoritarian, militaristic, and generally less free society.  They prize war and torture and most anything else that makes them look tough.  They see the world the same way: black and white, good vs. evil.

Which leads us to number three: they’re less interested in results than in taking sides.  They don’t much care what’s effective; they care very much about hollerin’ for whichever side they think is good.  (John McCain is the poster child for this one.)

Four, they lie a lot.  In the case of neocons, misleading the public in order to get the outcome you want is a virtue, not a vice.  (Insert Leo Strauss reference here.)   They may claim to think declaring America for the protesters would actually help them, but know otherwise.  The outcome they want is a continued strongly adversarial relationship between the US and Iran, leading to a military conflict.  Having the president declare for the protesters, thereby giving the current Iranian regime an excuse to crack down on them, would be, from their perspective, the gift that keeps on giving.  (Sure, it would suck for all those dead protesters, but hey, you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs.)  So, they engage in bad faith arguments about how much it would help the protesters if America jumped in on their side.

Deep Stupid

June 19, 2009

Sullivan call this column by neoconservative Danny Finkelstein “smashing.”  I’m not sure why.  It strikes me as continuing to partake of the very same recalcitrant naivete that is one of neoconservatism’s deepest flaws:

A democratic Iran would stop financing world terrorist movements, it would stop obsessing about external enemies and foreign conspiracies, it would stop threatening its neighbours.

Really?  How’d that work out in the Palestinian territories?  Did they suddenly stop doing all those things because they held democratic elections?  How about Pakistan?  They just fairly elected a new leader.  Did the ISI suddenly cut all ties to terrorists in the Northwest Territories?  Did the military suddenly stop obsessing about a threat from India and demilitarize that border?

Israel is a democracy of long standing, but it still obsesses about external enemies and foreign conspiracies, and continues to threaten its neighbors.  America in the Bush years likewise did all of those things; yet, presumably, Finkelstein would consider us a democracy.

The irony is that those things are also core policies of neoconservatism itself.  Is there anybody more obsessed with external enemies and foreign conspiracies than American neocons?  Anybody more systematically belligerent to the rest of the world?  Those are practically the whole point of neoconservatism.

There’s a word for people who can’t learn, despite repeated, unmistakable lessons.

They’re baaaaack.

March 27, 2009

Not that they ever really went away.  The neoconservatives, that is.  I mean, Richard Perle tried to declare they never existed, but nobody took it seriously.  So now they’re back in the news because 3 of them — Bill Kristol, Bob Kagan, and Dan Senor — have started a spanking new think-tank called the Foreign Policy Initiative.

Allow me to give you the dime tour of neoconservative history.

It all started back before the war.  No, no, not that war; the big one.  Back in the 1930s, there was this group of mostly Jewish students at the City College of New York who were very cerebral and took themselves very, very seriously.

These folks were all communists.

Trotskyites, specifically, but they were big supporters of the USSR in general.  They studied philosophy and read Karl Marx and thought he was right.  Communism was going to save the world.  They were sure of it.

There were 3 of them who were really the leaders: Irving Kristol (Bill’s dad), Gertrude Himmelfarb (Bill’s mom), and Norman Podhoretz (no relation).

They stayed ardent communists — and the ardence of their belief, their absolute certainty, is key –until enough news escaped the USSR about what Joe Stalin was really doing in “the workers’ paradise” that they became disillusioned with communism.

Disillusioned is really too weak a word.  Embittered.  They felt betrayed and, as ardent and certain as they had been in their support of communism, they became just as ardent and certain in their belief that communism was the ultimate evil and must be defeated at all costs.

As newly hatched anti-communist zealots, the company they kept influenced them, and they gradually became ardent, certain conservatives.

They still had vestiges of their old leftism, though.  They favored fairly liberal domestic policies.  It was mostly on foreign policy and cultural issues that they were conservatives.  Ardent, absolutely certain conservatives, and the thing they were most ardent and certain about was that the US could save the world through its military might (backed by its economic might); just as they had once been ardent and certain that the USSR would save the world through its military might (backed by the might of communist economics).

That — the combination of center-left domestic policy, cultural conservatism, and avidly hawkish foreign policy is neoconservatism.

Let’s review, shall we?  First they were communist zealots, then they were anti-communist zealots, and now they’re just zealots about militarism in general.

In short, these people are not that bright.  Enthusiastic as heck, but not too bright.  And that’s a dangerous combination.