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Neoconservatism as a Jewish Movement

George W. Bush and Paul Wolfowitz. George Bush Archives
George W. Bush and Paul Wolfowitz. George Bush Archives

Over the last year, there has been a torrent of articles on neoconservatism raising (usually implicitly) some difficult issues: Are neoconservatives different from other conservatives? Is neoconservatism a Jewish movement? Is it "anti-Semitic" to say so?

The thesis presented here is that neoconservatism is indeed a Jewish intellectual and political movement. This paper is the final installment in a three-part series on Jewish activism and reflects many of the themes of the first two articles. The first paper in this series focused on the traits of ethnocentrism, intelligence, psychological intensity, and aggressiveness.[1] These traits will be apparent here as well. The ethnocentrism of the neocons has enabled them to create highly organized, cohesive, and effective ethnic networks. Neoconservatives have also exhibited the high intelligence necessary for attaining eminence in the academic world, in the elite media and think tanks, and at the highest levels of government. They have aggressively pursued their goals, not only in purging more traditional conservatives from their positions of power and influence, but also in reorienting U.S. foreign policy in the direction of hegemony and empire. Neoconservatism also illustrates the central theme of the second article in this series: In alliance with virtually the entire organized American Jewish community, neoconservatism is a vanguard Jewish movement with close ties to the most extreme nationalistic, aggressive, racialist, and religiously fanatic elements within Israel.[2]

Neoconservatism also reflects many of the characteristics of Jewish intellectual movements studied in my book, The Culture of Critique[3].

TABLE 1: Characteristics of Jewish Intellectual Movements

  • A deep concern with furthering specific Jewish interests, such as helping Israel or promoting immigration.
  • Issues are framed in a rhetoric of universalism rather than Jewish particularism.
  • Issues are framed in moral terms, and an attitude of moral superiority pervades the movement.
  • Centered around charismatic leaders (Boas, Trotsky, Freud).
  • Jews form a cohesive, mutually reinforcing core.
  • Non-Jews appear in highly visible roles, often as spokespersons for the movement.
  • A pronounced ingroup/outgroup atmosphere within the movement—dissenters are portrayed as the personification of evil and are expunged from the movement.
  • The movement is irrational in the sense that it is fundamentally concerned with using available intellectual resources to advance a political cause.
  • The movement is associated with the most prestigious academic institutions in the society.
  • Access to prestigious and mainstream media sources, partly as a result of Jewish influence on the media.
  • Active involvement of the wider Jewish community in supporting the movement.

However, neoconservatism also presents several problems to any analysis, the main one being that the history of neoconservatism is relatively convoluted and complex compared to other Jewish intellectual and political movements. To an unusual extent, the history of neoconservatism presents a zigzag of positions and alliances, and a multiplicity of influences. This is perhaps inevitable in a fundamentally political movement needing to adjust to changing circumstances and attempting to influence the very large, complex political culture of the United States. The main changes neoconservatives have been forced to confront have been their loss of influence in the Democratic Party and the fall of the Soviet Union. Although there is a remarkable continuity in Jewish neoconservatives' interests as Jews—the prime one being the safety and prosperity of Israel—these upheavals required new political alliances and produced a need for new work designed to reinvent the intellectual foundation of American foreign policy.

Neoconservatism also raises difficult problems of labeling. As described in the following, neoconservatism as a movement derives from the long association of Jews with the left. But contemporary neoconservatism is not simply a term for ex-liberals or leftists. Indeed, in its present incarnation, many second-generation neoconservatives, such as David Frum, Jonah Goldberg, and Max Boot, have never had affiliations with the American left. Rather, neoconservatism represents a fundamentally new version of American conservatism, if it can be properly termed conservative at all. By displacing traditional forms of conservatism, neoconservatism has actually solidified the hold of the left on political and cultural discourse in the United States. The deep and continuing chasm between neocons and more traditional American conservatives—a topic of this paper—indicates that this problem is far from being resolved.

The multiplicity of influences among neoconservatives requires some comment. The current crop of neoconservatives has at times been described as Trotskyists.[4] As will be seen, in some cases the intellectual influences of neoconservatives can be traced to Trotsky, but Trotskyism cannot be seen as a current influence within the movement. And although the political philosopher Leo Strauss is indeed a guru for some neoconservatives, his influence is by no means pervasive, and in any case provides only a very broad guide to what the neoconservatives advocate in the area of public policy. Indeed, by far the best predictor of neoconservative attitudes, on foreign policy at least, is what the political right in Israel deems is in Israel's best interests. Neoconservatism does not fit the pattern of the Jewish intellectual movements described in The Culture of Critique, characterized by gurus ("rabbis") and their disciples centered around a tightly focused intellectual perspective in the manner of Freud, Boas, or Marcuse. (However, there are several subgroups of neoconservatives that fit this description, most notably those centered around Max Shachtman and Leo Strauss; see below.) Neoconservatism is better described in general as a complex interlocking professional and family network centered around Jewish publicists and organizers flexibly deployed to recruit the sympathies of both Jews and non-Jews in harnessing the wealth and power of the United States in the service of Israel. As such, neoconservatism should be considered a semicovert branch of the massive and highly effective pro-Israel lobby, which includes organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)—the most powerful lobbying group in Washington—and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Indeed, as discussed below, prominent neoconservatives have been associated with such overtly pro-Israel organizations as the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), and ZOA. (Acronyms of the main neoconservative and pro-Israel activist organizations used in this paper are provided in Table 2.)

Table 2: Acronyms of Neoconservative and Pro-Israel
Activist Organizations Used in this Paper

  • AEI: American Enterprise Institute—A neoconservative think tank; produces and disseminates books and articles on foreign and domestic policy; www.aei.org
  • AIPAC: American Israel Public Affairs Committee—The main pro-Israel lobbying organization in the U.S., specializing in influencing the U.S. Congress; www.aipac.org
  • CSP: Center for Security Policy—Neoconservative think tank specializing in defense policy; formerly headed by Douglas Feith, CSP is now headed by Frank Gaffney; the CSP is strongly pro-Israel and favors a strong U.S. military; http://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org
  • JINSA: Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs—Pro-Israel think tank specializing in promoting military cooperation between the U.S. and Israel; www.jinsa.org
  • MEF: Middle East Forum—Headed by Daniel Pipes, the MEF is a pro-Israel advocacy organization overlapping with the WINEP but generally more strident; http://www.meforum.org
  • PNAC: Project for the New American Century—Headed by Bill Kristol, the PNAC issues letters and statements signed mainly by prominent neocons and designed to influence public policy; https://web.archive.org/web var polite_ajax = {"ajaxurl":"https:\/\/geopol.institute\/wp-admin\/admin-ajax.php","paged":"1","max_num_pages":"0","next_posts":"","show_more":"View More","no_more_posts":"No More"};