Updated: Feb 13, 2022
Neoconservatives are nice. This assertion might surprise you, since for about seven years, between 2001 and 2008, the word “neoconservative”—more commonly the derogatory “neocon”, a new con-job—was spat with considerable vituperative force by commentators, both left and right, opposed to the Bush administration and its various international entanglements. The fire has now cooled, neocons are old news; we have been through Obama-rama and through Trumpism—now we are on to something else. The final neoconservative adventure, Afghanistan, came to a farcical end last year: the era of the War on Terror was officially closed—Covid-19 was the bookend; just as with 9/11, we live in a new era now.
So now is the right time to look back and reflect on the neoconservative years, to look back soberly and without throwing our drinks at the TV. “Fuck Bush! Fuck Cheney! Bush looks like a monkey, he’s so stupid—he choked on a pretzel. The neocons feed him mushy baby food that dribbles on his special AIPAC-branded bib in the White House rumpus room. Neee—oooww. Here comes the aeroplane; open wide, George. Oh no, it hit the tower!” Nobody feels quite so strident now—the party is over. The party started in the early 1970s, it started when a group of liberal intellectuals—liberal in the American sense, people who think the state should be used to make society fairer—broke away from conventional liberal opinion and became more hawkish in their stance as regards the Soviet Union.
About twelve years ago, I went for an interview with the Henry Jackson Society. The definition of neoconservative I offered then was as follows: “It comes from the idea that the United States, the West more generally, should have a forward foreign policy as regards the Soviet Union and yet still retain a fairly generous welfare state at home; and, after the Cold War, it became more concerned with Islamism than the former USSR.” Then I referenced Henry “Scoop” Jackson, whom the society was named after, as a man who exemplified those ideals, being a Democrat who was hawkish about the Soviet Union but relied on a blue-collar vote base in his Seattle-adjacent constituency—being Boeing country—and so also backed reasonable welfare measures. You could say neoconservatism was anti-Communism, blue-collar cultural values (aka no long-haired freaks), reasonable but not excessive welfare, and a cordial relationship with Mr. Boeing. My definition must have been pretty good, because I was offered the job—except, you know, I wavered over it and, in the end, for purely instinctual reasons I refused. I would rather work as a typist than as a neoconservative hack, but I could not tell you why—well, not then; back then it was just instinctive revulsion at neoconservatives, and you should always trust your instincts.
It should be understood that neoconservatism is not really a belief system, an ideology, or a philosophy—it is more like a worldview or an outlook; and this was emphasised by the man most associated with neoconservatism, Irving Kristol. He was right about that. Perhaps the best way to understand neoconservatism is to think about Irving Kristol himself, the founder. Despite the considerable opprobrium heaped on neoconservatives, Kristol was, in my view, a nice man—probably too nice for his own good. His own account of himself is as a constantly browbeaten figure, hopelessly intimidated at intellectual parties—cowering between Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy, terrified to interject into their high-flown conversazione about Freud; poor little Irv desperately tries to catch his wife’s eye in the hope she will rescue him—yet, no luck. Later, in Paris, our humble protagonist eats the first course at a dinner with a fancy French intellectual and…faints. You see, as Kristol was himself keen to point out, neoconservatism was a bourgeois movement—all that fancy foreign food never agreed with it. When in Paris, the neoconservative seeks out a McDonalds—lest he upset his bourgeois tum with that “fancy foreign food”.
The picture formed around “that nice Mr. Kristol” is quite contrary to the image the neoconservatives were to attain in the 2000s, as some diabolical Machiavellian sect schooled in the esoteric practices of Leo Strauss to introduce “fascism” to America. Irving Kristol was not so much Machiavelli as a man on the look out for a reasonable mortgage and a bit more space in his Brooklyn apartment—a man who checks with “the wife” before he sneaks out and does anything fun, such as invade Iraq. The niceness of the neoconservatives is more than evident in Irving Kristol’s son, Bill Kristol—he is also terribly under-confident, nervous, and easily intimidated when he meets intellectuals on his talkshow; just terribly nice and keen to please. “So nicely brought up, not like these modern yahoos. It’s rare to meet a young man with manners like William Kristol these days.”
It is often said that neoconservatism grew out of Trotskyism, so that it was no more than Trotskyism with a blue paint job. This is far from true, yet not entirely false. Irving Kristol, among other neoconservatives, was a Trotskyist in his youth—he quit formal Trotskyist politics at twenty-two. He was then an anti-Communist liberal; a liberal being, as already suggested, someone who agreed with FDR’s program in America—and an anti-Communist liberal being the same, except without being keen on the embarrassing tendency for FDR to employ Soviet spies on his staff. However, the Marx-Trotsky influence can be felt in many ways in how neoconservatives thought and expressed themselves: for example, as Irving Kristol said, neoconservatives are for “the bourgeoisie”—this is their most characteristic feature. Kristol proudly stated that he was a “bourgeois” person and that he liked “bourgeois” things, and that the bourgeoisie are good. Yet no conservative would ever say they are “for the bourgeoisie”, conservatives say they are for “tradition”, “the nation”, or “for freedom”—perhaps “for God and country”; they would never say they are “for the bourgeoisie” or “proud to be bourgeois”.
Kristol spoke this way because his conservatism took a Marxist form whereby he dismissed the proletariat as History’s engine and substituted the class which was meant to be entombed in a grave dug by the workers—the bourgeoisie—in its place. In short, the bourgeoisie became the “world historical” class for Kristol—capitalism the real and final revolutionary engine; similar views can also be seen in Francis Fukuyama, himself somewhat associated with the neoconservatives, and, from another direction, Nick Land.
You have to remember that Kristol came from a very modest immigrant background and worked his way up via New York’s City College (CCNY)—a place that was anything but ritzy, and in the 1930s was notoriously revolutionary and Jewish. In short, Kristol was a man who really wanted to belong—really wanted to make it. The impression you get from him is as being a bit like an alien from Mars who arrives on earth and tries to fit in with middle-class suburban life—not unlike Robin Williams’s “Mork” character, who debuted on TV at about the same time as neoconservatism. “Ah yes, it says here in this book about Earth that what I want to be is ‘bourgeois’ and that is bad—yet, actually, I like having a bigger apartment in Brooklyn; actually, I like being bourgeois. I think it is good to be bourgeois. Hello, I am Irving Kristol, I am bourgeois. Are you bourgeois? I like bourgeois things, such as mortgages and our shared Judeo-Christian moral tradition and tasteful art made by artists who are not influenced by elitist nihilism—I also enjoy being polite. It is grand to be bourgeois. Excuse me, Miss: are you a bourgeois too?”
I suppose, technically, I am meant to say boo-gwaa—this is how American revolutionaries, even today, say it. The property-owning classes are a spectre haunting Europe—at any moment they will jump out and say: “We’re boo-gwaa.” Boo. Got you. Anyway, neoconservatives want to be bourgeois—and why not? To be rich is glorious. Kristol worked with the material he had to hand—Trotskyism—and when he moved further to the right he understood his move in those terms, it made sense; and I think, to be fair, a measure of the hostility towards the neoconservatives comes from snobbery. These were people from the slums or semi-slums who schlepped their way up into the formerly hated “bourgeois class” through intelligence and hard work. In part, they valued “bourgeois values” so much because they spent too much time on the block or—as with Irving Kristol—in the army around Italian, black, or Puerto Rican hoodlums who roughed them up. When the New Left arrived in the 1960s with suburban hearts bleeding for “the inner cities” the neoconservatives simply remembered legging it round the corner when “deprived youths” appeared on the horizon—they had no sympathy for “the oppressed”.
So one event that provoked neoconservatism was the New Left, the brattish left that formed at universities around 1968—a left that was, most agree, upper middle class or upper class; or, indeed, genuinely boo-gwaa. This movement was conceptualised by the Kristolites as being nihilistic and against the bourgeoisie as such—or, really, since even neoconservatives admit that the Dickensian bourgeois factory owner in loco parentis for his staff and with absolute control over his factory is no more, the middle-class or white-collar corporate worker. Neoconservatives realised that the class struggle was really corporate workers, executives, and blue-collar workers versus the state-supported “intellectuals” (including everyone from school teachers to university lecturers to journalists) and the underclass (ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, and any vaguely bohemian groups who could be added in to shock your suburban parents).
As already noted, neoconservatism does not have a philosophy; it was a response from men who grew up in the 1930s and 1940s in a Jewish immigrant milieu who were on the left but viewed the USSR as a degenerate workers’ state; later, as they acceded to the bourgeoisie and gained their own homes and families they became steadily more sceptical as regards developments on the left. In other words, neoconservatism grew from a natural tendency in people to become more conservative with age—particularly if they have a family and a mortgage. Similarly, today we see progressive liberals who disdain “the woke” but swear blind that in 1982 or 1996 all issues as regards sex, race, and sexuality had been equitably resolved—we just need to go back to “reasonable” progressivism. Of course, there were similar people around 1982 or 1996 who lamented over “political correctness” and not “the woke”; and they also saw themselves as reasonable progressives, reasonable liberals. This is conservatism with a small “c”, not conservatism as a philosophy or outlook—usually tied to a religious conviction; and, indeed, though the neoconservatives would identify themselves with Judaism and Christianity, this was more as a legacy than a practice—a tradition to be preserved, not a fire to be passed.
Insofar as there was a neoconservative philosophy, it came from Leo Strauss. I am not going explicate Straussianism, partly because it is too strong to say it is synonymous with neoconservatism; however, Strauss was a definite influence—and Irving Kristol writes about him with considerable reverence, very much as “our boy” from the Jewish community who “made good” in his generation and deserved respect. Strauss has been described as “an esotericist”; however, it would be a mistake to see him as an esotericist in the manner of Aleister Crowley, or, less bestially, René Guénon. In other words, there is nothing mystical about Strauss; rather, he was an “esoteric” writer in the sense that he thought philosophy was an inherently elitist approach to life and so philosophers never committed their thoughts to paper in a straightforward way—their aim was to avoid the mob’s anger. So we are in a euphemistic realm as much as a magical realm.
Straussian “esotericism” can be exemplified thus: in contemporary politics a literal “dog whistle” a few years ago was to discuss the disproportionate number of attacks on humans committed by pit bulls as a breed—this was a euphemism for the fact black Africans are disproportionality represented in violent crime figures. Since racial facts—“hate facts”—are inadmissible in Western liberal democracy, possibly even criminal to publish, dissidents would talk about pit bulls as a “esoteric” means to discuss racial politics; just like Strauss’s philosophers, they avoided the democratic mob—and those “in the know” who could read the ironic signs and metacommunication could quickly understand what was really going on. Strauss would say that all philosophers think and write in the same way about more highbrow subjects to avoid the wrath of the mob, and also to discuss subjects, such as atheism, that might destabilise society if they came to be widely believed (too late).
Strauss’s main salience for neoconservatism was his basic contention that we need to return to the classical tradition in politics, while at the same time recognising that the circumstances that led to classical politics had vanished—and such a return within modernity was to be achieved through philosophers who spoke to each other esoterically, over the heads of modernity; and did so to preserve justice, the law. At least one factor that motivated this project was the desire to avoid popular gnosis—Strauss was a regular correspondent with Eric Voegelin, who held that the totalitarian movements were gnostic movements (not literal descendants of the Cathars and so on but rather by analogy—as the Cathars knew the Godhead, the totalitarian gnostics claimed a special form of knowledge that allowed them to lead hierarchical mass movements to transform society). The answer to the mass movement was Athens and Jerusalem: the commonality between the Hebrew Bible and the Greek philosophical tradition being a concern for justice and the law, not for transcendence—not for gnosis.
Kristol took up this Straussian idea—justice versus transcendence—and used it to underpin his conclusions about bourgeois man: the bourgeois man just wants to make money and pursue his humdrum life under law, whereas radical or nihilist man seeks transcendence—political, religious, or heroic. The ideal political situation should be one without transcendence, one where only law prevails; and in this way bourgeois man will go about his quiet money-making activities without risk from gnostic mass movements—essentially either the Marxists or the National Socialists. For Kristol, the bourgeois life and the Jewish life in the diaspora are synonymous: the Jew in the diaspora becomes his ideal citizen. This is because without the Temple—required for Judaism to function properly—there can be no transcendence for the Jews, hence their life is by default “ordinary bourgeois life”. As with Strauss, Kristol is even suspicious as regards Christianity in general—not even its specifically Gnostic forms. Christianity, thanks to Jesus and its concern for the poor (absent in Judaism), could be seen as gnostic in toto; it offers transcendence through Christ. Hence even Christianity should not feature in a political order—and, indeed, Strauss was keen for Christianity not to play a role in post-war Germany, and argued as such.
Although neoconservatism did not originate the term “Judeo-Christian”, as in the expression “our shared Judeo-Christian tradition”, its adherents certainly use the term a great deal—and the term represents the Straussian project: the classical world can be re-injected into modernity via a concern for justice—for the law, an area where the Jews excel. The law is where Greek philosophy, Judaism, and Christianity—insofar as it accepts the Old Testament—meet and hence it is the political order for the classical legacy in modernity; although, of course, no Christian could accept the formulation “Judeo-Christian”, the term is inherently profane—it puts the Jews, those who rejected and abused Christ, before Christ; it mocks Christ again. As Kristol noted, when he attended—albeit in a desultory way—a Jewish religious school in his youth he was told to always spit when he passed a church.
Those things that might offer transcendence—dangerous gnosis that could disturb the pursuit of the mighty dollar under law—must be excluded. You might say, “Well, fair enough, it might be a bit dull, but if transcendence led to Hitler and Stalin, why not pack it away?” The problem is that if you allow this amputation to take place you cut off the following things from the West: Jesus, the New Testament, manliness, heroism, individual spiritual revelation, and Nature. Put tartly, you cut off Jesus and Odysseus—you cut out essential elements as regards what the West means, for the West is far more Athens and Rome than it is Athens and Jerusalem. Further, you also condemn everyone to the life of the diaspora Jews—a life without any particular transcendence. This may well be essential for the Jews until they rebuild the Temple, but it does not have to be so for everyone else—so why should the Jewish way of life be imposed on us? The traditional Christian answer to this situation is, of course, that transcendence is available to the Jews: they just have to accept the Christ.
Hence neoconservatism injects into the American political arena, under the guise of a defence against totalitarianism, an attack on Christianity and on the classical legacy of beauty and excellence—the legacy of the aristoi. Irving Kristol explicitly states that the diaspora Jews are bourgeois and not aristocratic; they oppose the aristoi—they oppose aristocracy because it is manly, beautiful, and excellent. An aristocratic attitude says: rather die than tell a lie—the bourgeois attitude says, “I don’t tell a lie for less than £50,000.” In other words, the bourgeois attitude is shameless, dishonourable, and feminine—whorish; ultimately, in a mass democratic society dominated by middle-class values lies and ugliness will predominate—people will have calculated what their honour is worth and sold it; beauty and excellence require integrity without compromise, but the bourgeois man sold his daughter’s virginity on OnlyFans to pay for college (“I’m just being practical and rational! Jeez! What are you? Some kind of totalitarian? Some kind of Hitler?”). As Tom Lehrer sang: “If you have integrity, that means your price is very high…”
It is precisely to live dishonourably that the neoconservatives elevate to the highest degree; admittedly, they are always—just like the Pharisees—within the letter, if not the spirit, of the law; and yet everything that is great about the West is about the spirit of the law—from cathedrals to experimental science. Consequently, Notre-Dame burns: the cathedral was built by the spirit, the spirit has departed—the edifice must fall.
Although the neoconservatives primarily targeted the Soviet Union, the New Left, and the Islamists their real fear is not the left or Islam. They really fear—this was what Strauss’s project was also about—two men: Nietzsche and Heidegger. The reason is obvious, these two men are associated with Hitler’s Germany—both its genesis and support for it. On the other hand, both Nietzsche and Heidegger are thinkers of the right: so the real danger for neoconservatives is the right. For sure, they oppose the left and Islam but it is Nietzsche and Heidegger that they really fear—and, in fact, they fear the New Left insofar as the New Left is inspired by Nietzsche and Heidegger in a perverted form; as is evident, say, in Herbert Marcuse. Nietzsche and Heidegger are the philosophers of Nature—and biblical Hebrew has no word for Nature; it has to borrow from the Greek (“charakter”); hence Heidegger and Nietzsche are the philosophers of Nature—of the aristocracy—and the Jews are an unnatural people, as Kristol and Strauss themselves admit.
This is what neoconservatives really mean when they endlessly complain about “relativism” and “postmodernism”. Of course, a man like David Hume was a relativist in a sense, but by “relativism” they really mean “Nietzsche and Heidegger”. What they fear is that men will find their own voices and speak transcendent truth that will break the dead hand of universal law.
So neoconservatism is a movement against the Holy Spirit. It likes to talk about a “Great Books” tradition that supposedly sums up “the West” because this denies literature’s particularity. Goethe and Wagner only really mean anything to Germans in German, but a cheap English translation sold by the dozen at a Chicago campus makes these men part of a “universal Western civilisation” that anyone can participate in; anyone can be improved and edified by these works—a very bourgeois sentiment. Yet poetry is untranslatable.
Against the threat presented by “relativism” and “nihilism” and as a substitute for transcendence, the neoconservatives offer “art”. What they mean by this, I think, is that Kristol read in one of those general introductions to the 19th century that: “In the 19th century, the bourgeoisie substituted art for religion…” (all the handbooks say this). Being bourgeois, bourgeois things being good, Kristol decided that “art” was a good thing. He meant something like Saturday trips to the museum or improving expeditions to Mozart concerts that bore everyone stiff but supposedly edify. This is not presented as a transcendent experience but rather is “good for you” in some undefined way.
Pop music, on the other hand, being Dionysian and sexual and possibly transcendent is a very bad thing (see also, the Straussian Allan Bloom). David Bowie, after all, acted a bit like Hitler—expressed sympathies for fascism. Better to listen to Mozart or Bach and pretend to like this “universal experience of Western civilisation” than to go bonkers with the stereo and achieve unauthorised gnosis. This is where the rather bland and insincere conservative exhortations to “read great books” or go to the opera come from; they have no organic connection to these things, secretly prefer pop music really, but do it because it is a “bourgeois thing to do” and is understood to be in some sense a substitute for religion. Of course, Wagner, in German and for a German, is just such a thing; and it was such a thing for a certain man with a diminutive moustache—“No, appreciate art; just not like that!”. In other words: art, yes—but art as a dull educational visit to the Modern Art Museum on a wet Saturday afternoon. Très bourgeois.
Although it professes concern for Judeo-Christian values, neoconservatism intends to keep Christianity itself quite firmly chained. Indeed, both Kristol and Strauss seem quite frosty about Protestant Christianity—Puritan Christianity, in particular; and possibly that has to do with Luther’s anti-Jewish attitude. Surely this is a difficulty for a “conservative” movement in a country that was founded from the Mayflower? This hostility towards Puritanism in neoconservatism is recapitulated in neoreaction; and perhaps neoreaction is the rhyme to neoconservatism, both with a distinct Jewish tinge to them—the realisation that the liberal democracy neoconservatives extol is itself jammed to the left and likely to dissolve into totalitarianism sooner or later; much better to reset to an aristocratic mode of government. After all, formal anti-Semitism only blossomed after the aristocracies were torn down, better the aristocrat who borrows from you and protects you from the mob than the bourgeois who eventually turns populist nationalist and expropriates you—or worse.
To come back down to earth: the neoconservatives were correct to identify the change in political dynamics that had set in around the 1950s—the struggle was between state-employed and para-state employees (“intellectuals”: journalists, professors, social workers) aided by a “coalition of the oppressed” (ethnic minorities, sexual minorities) and businessmen (corporate executives; the middle class), the military, and the traditionally religious—with the latter often being rural and supplemented by a blue-collar component who hated “long-haired freaks” and their effeminate values. However, the neoconservatives were content with a welfare state to some degree and were keen to reject Malthus and all his works. Instead, they extolled Adam Smith; the way Irving Kristol writes about Smith reminds me of the way Marxist-Leninists—I was one, so I know—tend to venerate particular theoreticians. Lo, Smith spoke—and it was well, for with free markets and free trade the economy will grow and we will all become more middle class; and so Marxists (Soviet fellow travellers) and Malthusians (romantic nationalists) are vanquished by the decidedly non-heroic bourgeois centre—everything will get better and better.
Smith was a good choice to venerate, because if you read Smith he is quite hostile to aristocrats and religious folk—in other words, to transcendence. As a Scotsman—a glowering penny-pinching race—he is very much bourgeois (practical, Kristol would say); and yet, as interpreted by the neoconservatives, he is too optimistic. As with his pronouncements about the black family, Kristol was certain that all differences are cultural (to be ironed out soon, though we are not too hopeful)—and the neoconservatives held this generally. Of course, the differences in industrialisation—as in the black family—are explained by biology, albeit with certain malformed incentives set by the state that lead to the most sub-optimal results. Neoconservatism stays strictly cultural—being neither interested in nature or Nature; and so is beaten by cultural Marxists, who can outperform the stolid bourgeois conservative and his hope that instruction in “manners” and “Judeo-Christian values” will be sufficient to turn round the ghettos—or Africa herself.
Similarly, the neoconservative is happy with the welfare state in some form. I think, in practice, the actual acceptable form was never fleshed out—and I vaguely recall the Bush administration talked a lot about vouchers and “compassionate conservatism”, although what this amounted to in practice was hard to see. The problem for neoconservatives was that having identified what another former Trotskyist, James Burnham, called “the managerial state” as the enemy they were unable to go so far as to strangle the beast to death. This seems to have been for two reasons: firstly, the main driving force behind neoconservatism was foreign policy, so domestic policy remained basically on the left; secondly, to really throttle the welfare state would be a return to “social Darwinism”, ruled out as being associated with “romantic conservatism” and so “non-bourgeois” and aristocratic—relativistic nihilism again. Hence neoconservatives identified the enemy: “the new intellectuals”—the prototypical Gender Studies prof—and yet refused to cut their enemy’s supply lines. The welfare state was, in some form or other, inviolable—and anyone who knows about government bureaucracy will know that it is not enough to leave the beast “reformed”; as with cancer, it must be excised completely—or else it will grow again. Indeed, the only way to get back to the civic virtues neoconservatives complained had been lost was to kick out the welfare state completely and force people to rely upon each other again—the main form that would take being religious. Persuasion, especially when the left controlled all the means of persuasion, was never going to cut it.
Foreign policy is perhaps the area most associated with neoconservatism. It is not fair or accurate to say neoconservatism is a Jewish movement, but it is predominantly a Jewish movement—other notable neoconservatives in the 1980s and onwards were Irish, and at least one, Douglas Murray, was a homosexual. The picture with neoconservatism is, therefore, very much: people who would usually be outsiders (Jews, the Irish in America, and homosexuals) who happen to have broken with the left, particularly over foreign policy—and yet still “care” about their people and the wider “disadvantaged” strata in society, hence their support for the welfare state. Indeed, their position is almost support for what one Trotskyist once described as “the welfare-warfare state”.
Hence a major factor that drove many otherwise liberal—in the American sense—Jews to the right in the 1970s was that the Soviets became increasingly anti-Jewish and anti-Israel. Solzhenitsyn says that the Jews in general, who had previously been sympathetic to the USSR, finally pulled their support en masse and for good in the 1970s—Soviet antics with Israel, refusal to allow emigration, and general internal hostility being too much. Solzhenitsyn claims the Soviet Union’s days were numbered from then onwards, for the Jews—though they had never been “in charge”, and were persecuted by Stalin—had provided the intellectual intensity that helped keep the system bobbing along; without them, the Soviet corpse began to rapidly disintegrate. The Jews, for their part, threw their weight behind Israel—and remember that at the time the Muslims were in the doldrums and the Jews were jubilant, for Israel won war after war and was glorious. It was a long time before everything settled down into the current swampy and tiresome tit-for-tat over the border wall. Back in around 1973, the Zionist cause was a vibrant one to support—the Soviets were kaput.
Neoconservatism’s genesis in practical terms lies in the those international developments. By 1973, former Marxists, such as Kristol, were now entering middle age—they were thoroughly bourgeois; and they noticed that the New Left, inspired by Heidegger and Nietzsche no doubt, cheered the Palestinians and not the Israelis. What was wanted was someone who had Nixon’s attitude to the Soviet Union but FDR’s attitude to the welfare state (actually, perhaps Nixon, by no means an economic conservative, was such a man—the first neoconservative; although he was far from unequivocally pro-Israel, and knew there was a definite American Jewish lobby that wished to entangle America in the Middle East). Anyway, this was neoconservatism: bash the pro-Palestinian Soviets, bash the trust-fund New Left, trim back FDR’s largess somewhat, defend being polite (standing up when ladies enter the room), defend Judeo-Christian values, and stand up for Israel—and remember that according to our new economist, Smith not Marx, everything with a free market is getting better and better in a world dedicated to making money with no risky transcendence.
Kristol’s analysis was that the Republicans were in difficulties because they were overly dominated by the businessman-orientated “country club” set. Given that, notoriously, Jews were excluded from a great many American country clubs for many years, this remark has some significance. Kristol thought that for the Republicans to succeed there was a need for the “country club” set (frankly, I picture Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson here) to “modernise”—or else face perennial defeat. The modernisation medicine: accept the welfare state—accept FDR’s quiet revolution, an event Republicans typically saw (correctly) as ending the republic as they knew it. In short, the neoconservative prescription for Republican victory: concede the welfare state, but retain social conservatism—and retain an aggressive stance towards the Soviet Union. Since the welfare state across the West was in many ways—even in terms of the neoconservative analysis—responsible for the West’s social, economic, and moral decay this was a quixotic policy suggestion to say the least.
Where neoconservatism really came unstuck—where its Trotskyist legacy came to the fore—was in foreign policy. It is hard to remember now, but around 1992—when neoconservative-aligned Francis Fukuyama declared the end of history—everyone, particularly in America, was ridiculously optimistic; and the 1990s was a kind of golden age, even featuring a “second summer of love” and a revival of neo-hippy sentiments—except this time without the death shadow from the mushroom cloud, or the notion that the kids were “going soft on Communism”. Except, for the neoconservatives, it was not enough: liberal democracy—their baby—had to be pushed globally. Trotsky had an idea that global revolution was required for the USSR to succeed: there could be no socialism without a global workers’ state; therefore, the Bolsheviks had to push for revolution everywhere—especially Germany—if they were to succeed. Stalin demurred, he claimed that “socialism in one country” was possible. Trotsky got the ice pick. Stalin got his way
I do not think the neoconservatives consciously copied Trotsky in this regard. Their position was, after all, a disposition and not a doctrine like Marxism—they were liberals who had been “mugged by reality”, or, possibly, by actual crackhead blacks from the ghetto. They became conservative, as many do, in accordance with experience—yet they retained many of their old rationalistic assumptions. Hence it felt instinctually right that as Cold War warriors they should make “the bourgeois class” and liberal democracy go global—Trotsky said every country needed a revolution; well, now the doctrine was that every country needed an American revolution. After all, the Jews and the bourgeois are both universal types under law; the End of History is not New Soviet Man but Bourgeois American-Jewish Man—everyone will retire to Florida (and thanks to Adam Smith and the amazing permanently expanding market, it can be done!). Yet, tugged by Trotsky’s ghost, the idea remained that this revolution had to be global to work—hence, the project for the new American century.
This stance was particularly in evidence in the former Trotskyist Christopher Hitchens, whose mother, as he was delighted discover for ideological reasons, was also Jewish. Hitchens switched his revolutionary enthusiasm seamlessly from socialism to pro-American propaganda—with liberal dollops of Tom Paine for good measure. Hitchens became an enthusiastic propagandist for the Iraq War and other ventures—along with men like Douglas Murray, a Henry Jackson Society alum. If you watch videos of Hitchens speaking around 2003 you see plain old revolutionary enthusiasm, the same as people used to have for collective farms—except now directed at the women who were about to be liberated in Afghanistan and Iraq from “Islamofascism”. Hitchens never formally described himself as a neoconservative—and he scorned any religious heritage, “Judeo-Christian” or otherwise—but his basic stance fitted the bill for what is, after all, a disposition and not a formalised ideology: support for a minimal welfare state; support for a forward foreign policy to spread liberal democracy; and support for the West as conceived as a universal enterprise. In men like Hitchens and Fukuyama, you see very clearly that neoconservatism was not, in essence, a right-wing doctrine: it was utopian, rationalistic, and universalistic—all left-wing characteristics. Indeed, the proposition that Iraq and Afghanistan would be remade as America was repeatedly said to be delusional: caution was ignored, the abstract universal law was applied—justice over the Holy Spirit.
The various American expeditions in the Middle East were all conducted to protect Israel; just as the original neoconservative concern had been the USSR’s anti-Jewish stance. They had no benefit for America—or for her NATO allies, except insofar as they supposedly exported our “universal” value system. Indeed, these attacks were precisely what bin Laden wanted the Americans to do: the attacks stirred up the Muslim world against the West for a generation to come; and, further, as bin Laden surmised from experiences in Somalia, the West was too decadent to win—and so the Americans and NATO were recently beaten in Afghanistan, a closing chapter in the whole enterprise. It should be remembered that the neoconservative legacy includes not just Afghanistan and Iraq but also Syria and Libya—for these were indirectly destabilised by Western intelligence services, as was Egypt during the Arab Spring. The material and human cost from these games has been massive—there have been no gains for anyone, other than for Islamism; and, arguably, Israel—and she may yet find that the cure will be worse than the disease (bléssed Uncle Saddam). The wars in the Middle East led to the migrant crisis, since Libya—a gateway guarded by Gaddafi—was opened to the people smugglers; and Syria spewed forth migrants by the hundreds of thousands—later to be turned into a demographic blackmail device by the Turks.
The terrorist attacks provoked by these movements of people are the least of our worries. As the Islamists know, it is a far greater victory to have injected millions of Muslims into a Europe that is already largely infertile: the demographic replacement is noted and applauded by the Islamists. Ironically, neoconservatives, such as Douglas Murray, who worked so hard to bring this about through their advocacy for war in Iraq have been the first to decry the situation as “the death of Europe”—perhaps we should start our correction with trials for people who propagandised for “humanitarian intervention” in Iraq and elsewhere…
Neoconservatism, being universalistic in nature, does not, in a sense, see any problem: these “new Europeans” are, after all, just new bourgeois people—just as Irving Kristol’s parents were once “new Americans”. The fundamental non-totalitarian human experience—without transcendence—is to be simple economic man. The new Europeans are as European as anyone—their money is good at any country club; indeed, it better be—for we have laws about that you know; although Israel remains, in a move that reminds us of the Pharisees again, a place that is still reserved for those with the right blood—citizenship in Israel, unlike everywhere else in the West, can be granted by matrilineal descent (citizenship is not “just a piece a paper” there). If Israel is so particular—so, dare we say, totalitarian—perhaps she is not in the West after all? Every man is a wandering Jew, except a Jew in Israel.
In short, the neoconservative foreign policy put forward since 2001—often characterised as “bomb the world, invite the world” has been a catastrophe for America and the wider West. It played straight into bin Laden’s hands, stretched Western economies as he envisaged, led to a humiliating military defeat, recruited thousands of men for jihad, and washed hundreds of thousands of Muslims into Europe—in a move that may see Europe completely destroyed under the Islamic heel, and has perhaps set us up for generations of warfare as gripped Spain when she choked under the crescent. The situation can be partly be accounted for by hubris after the Cold War ended, euphoric delusion and naïveté—America was giddy with success, as Stalin once was. More substantially, it arose because America’s foreign policy was captured to serve a sectional Jewish interest with no relation to the nation’s actual interests—and further because neoconservatism in its universalism and utopian rationalism was not really conservative; it just liked the military when the military hurt people, such as the Soviets or the Muslims, who hurt Jews—and its ideologues found a way to present that in a universalised formula that appealed to and flattered the Washington class, themselves also giddy with success.
Unlike his wife, whom he venerated, Kristol did not consider himself an Anglophile—though he spent many years in England working for a CIA-funded magazine; and, indeed, he was probably on the agency’s payroll to the end. Kristol preferred the French. The French: revolutionary, abstract, rational, and ideological—Jacobins. Kristol, despite passive-aggressive courtesies, did not like aristocratic English conservatives, such as Michael Oakeshott, and he disliked them because they really were conservative: they were against crazy schemes to remake the Middle East, for example. They were, of course, suspiciously aristocratic—whereas the French had usefully killed their aristocrats, pruned them down and become more universal. Although, admittedly, Kristol was pleased to report that English aristocrats “liked money” more than their blood-proud Continental cousins—perhaps a cheeky reference to how Churchill was paid off to produce a war with Germany?
In fairness to the neoconservatives, they were in many ways very conservative. For example, Kristol opposed homosexuality—a position unthinkable today; and, indeed, by 2004 degenerate neocons retailed the line that wars such as Afghanistan and Iraq were fought precisely to free gays in the Middle East; indeed, “sexual propaganda” is now essential for liberal-democratic wars—from the Ukraine to Afghanistan, the State Department promotes kick-ass girls with guns; somewhat more intimidating than Hannah Arendt at a dinner party, though less so to the Taliban and the Russians. Neoconservatives were broadly right that the welfare state needed to be trimmed, though they were caught up in their own Panglossian ideas about Adam Smith. They were right that single mothers, sexual liberation, and chaos on the campuses were bad—though they did nothing to halt the trend. They were right to identify the new politics—per Burnham—as being the administrative state’s “intellectuals” and their goon squad versus “business” (the corporate middle class), the socially-conservative working class, and the traditionally religious.
However, the neoconservative plus points were ruined by their character flaw: neoconservatives are terrible milksops—browbeaten, as Kristol was, by their wives. Kristol lauded the Victorian era as a time when all women became “ladies”; and he lauded this in contrast to the current degraded era where nobody stood up when a chick (sorry, lady) entered a room—or even closed the door when she washed your cum out of her after the all-night roller skate orgy (it was the ‘70s, you had to be there). Yet the Victorian expansion of “ladydom” was feminist; it was democratic—it meant that men called whores ladies, in an act of, well, bourgeois hypocrisy.
Kristol could not see that Victorian egalitarianism opened the door to what he deplored in 1976; and yet he could not go further back—otherwise he encountered, pre-1830, the dread word “aristocracy”; he encountered a vital and virile world—the world that produced America, actually—where there were tarts and slatterns and ladies. This neoconservative timidity sums up their whole problem: neoconservatives are basically nice people, they want everyone to be nice and be interested in making money—however, the world is not like that. And the world should not be like that, since that is a dead world—a world of matter, a world without transcendence or poetry or God. Out there, beyond Brooklyn, there are men who take Allah very seriously and men who take their tribe seriously and men who take poetry seriously and men who take blood seriously; and they have come for you, and you have met them—and you have lost, and now the West, the real West, will burn until she is reborn in blood and fire.