April 16, 2005


Neoconning the Media: A Very Short History of Neoconservatism (Eric Alterman, APRIL 5, 2005, MediaTransparency.org)

Neoconservative thinking originally grew out of Norman Podhoretz's editorships of Commentary, published by the American Jewish Committee, and, to a lesser degree, The Public Interest published by National Affairs.

While Neocon proponents like to argue that their political transformation reflected the views of a "liberal, mugged by reality," the movement's genesis was actually far more complex, deriving in part from the psychology of its founders -- Podhoretz had written previously of how scary he had always found Black people -- and a combination of New Left rhetoric, civil rights politics, and the changing geo-politics of Israel's position in the world vis-vis American power. All together the combination sent lifelong liberals into the arms of their former adversaries.

In any case all of these distinctions tend to miss the point. The conservative's ideological attack on 'liberal elite culture' in the early seventies arose from what they considered uncomfortable changes the country was undergoing. Like the vulgar Marxists a number of them had once been, the Right-Wingers saw an unspoken conspiracy ruling American political and cultural life in which everyone and everything was connected to everyone and everything else.

It was a kind of bargain-basement Hegelianism: The entire of American culture was moved as if guided by a single dialectical spirit. Harvard and Yale, feminism and taxes, school prayer and Soviet power, abortion and pornography, Communist revolution and gay rights: All of these social ills and more stemmed from the same source of political/cultural malaise, namely the post-Vietnam victory of the "New Class" and the "permissive" culture it had foisted upon the nation.

The New Class, according to Neoconservative godfather Irving Kristol, was made up of "scientists, teachers, and educational administrators, journalists and others." They had somehow manipulated Americans to believe that they were an evil people who rained death and destruction on Vietnam to feed their own sick compulsions.

As for Watergate, where the Liberal press had carried out a successful "coup d'etat" (in Norman Podhoretz's judgment) to please its own vanity, it succeeded only in increasing its own appetite.

In the aftermath of Vietnam and the Establishment's failure of will, the New Class radicals had swallowed the entire establishment -- the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, Harvard, and the like -- and annexed the Supreme Court. Among the most dangerous aspects of the tactics of these people, moreover, was the stealth with which they went about their ideological mission. While they spoke of social justice, what the New Class was really after was the Triumph of Socialism.

The ranks of the Neoconservatives were largely composed of former sectarian Marxists of mostly Jewish academic origin, who transferred their intellectual allegiance to capitalism and American military power but retained their obsession with theological disputation and political purity.

The impresario at the center of this attack was Irving KristolIrving Kristol, a onetime Trotskyist who had since become a passionate defender of capitalism. The job of the Neoconservative intellectual, Kristol once remarked, was "to explain to the American people why they are right and to the intellectuals why they are wrong."

Beginning with the early days of the Nixon administration this is just what they began to do.

The American people were never much confused about who was right. Thus, even at its height, liberalism was appalled by popular anti-intellectualism. What the neocons really did was convince themselves that they had been and their fellow intellectuals were wrong and create a feathery counterweight within academia and the media to Left orthodoxy. But they've always been the ridden, not the riders.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 16, 2005 8:27 AM

People like Alterman like to think of the conservative movement before Podhoretz as Williamn F. Buckley, Jr. and 1,000 or so mindless Morlocks whose only goal was to steal money from the poor, oppoess minorities and nuke the Soviet Union and most of the rest of the planet. That goes along with the idea Ronald Reagan didn't have a brain in his head or a strategy to stand on until the neocons came along (and to be honest, there are still some neocons out there who like that secnario, because it puts them into a much more central role in the changes to the world for the better over the past 25 years).

Posted by: John at April 16, 2005 9:32 AM

Alterman is being pissy because he wants to be able to stand on a street corner in the Upper West Side and shout "I am an intellectual! I am an intellectual! Listen to me!"

But, as he has obliquely noted, that means making the wrong choices about history, politics, and the nature of man itself. In his lust and feckless conformity, he cannot leave his vanity behind.

Also, he wouldn't know a real Marxist until the trigger was cocked at the nape of his neck.

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 16, 2005 9:42 AM

oj -

Intellectuals, and their progeny in this case, do matter ... just not as much as they like to think.

Posted by: ghostcat at April 16, 2005 1:58 PM

Does Alterman really think Kristol invented the concept of the New Class? I guess he hasn't read Max Weber, Julien Benda, Milovan Djilas, etc.

And I think the first or proto-neocon was Max Eastman.

Posted by: PapayaSF at April 16, 2005 3:27 PM