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September 16, 2011 | Mises Daily[Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea • By C. Bradley Thompson with Yaron Brook • Paradigm Publishers, 2010 • Xii + 305 pages]
C. Bradley Thompson argues that neoconservatism stands in fundamental opposition to individual rights and a free economy.
To most of us, neoconservatism is inevitably associated with the Iraq War. A group of neoconservatives, including Robert Kagan and David Frum, played with consummate folly a major role in urging the Bush administration toward initiating that conflict. The movement, on that ground alone, has little to recommend it; but can one nevertheless make a case on its behalf?
After all, neoconservatism was not always associated with reckless foreign-policy initiatives. To the contrary, in its early days in the 1960s, Irving Kristol, Nathan Glazer, and Daniel Moynihan offered in the neoconservative journal The Public Interest cogent criticisms of many aspects of the welfare state. If Kristol could only muster Two Cheers for Capitalism, is this not better than most fashionable intellectuals can do? Perhaps the good elements in neoconservatism can be detached from the recent foreign-policy madness. C. Bradley Thompson emphatically disagrees. He argues that neoconservatism stands in fundamental opposition to individual rights and a free economy.
Although neoconservatives have indeed challenged certain aspects of the welfare state, they have no quarrel with it in principle.
In what may be Irving Kristol's most shocking statement in defense of collectivist redistribution and statism, he has suggested that "the idea of a welfare state is in itself perfectly consistent with a conservative political philosophy - as Bismarck knew, a hundred years ago." (p. 29)
If this accurately describes their position, why do the neoconservatives criticize the welfare state at all? Aside from the technical deficiencies of particular programs, what concerns them is the way that some welfare programs encourage unvirtuous behavior. Welfare that rewards giving birth out of wedlock, e.g., arouses their protests.
This sort of criticism reveals a key fact about the neoconservatives. They have a very definite sense of the proper conduct that the state, or as they are likely to term it, the regime, ought to promote. Not for them is the libertarian view that each person, so long as he does not initiate force against others, is free to lead his life as he wishes. To the contrary, the leaders of the state have as one of their prime duties the development of the citizens' characters. Accordingly, freedom of speech most decidedly does not extend to pornography. Further, the government must inculcate patriotic sentiment among the people.
More generally, neoconservatives do not believe in individual rights at all, in the robust sense with which readers of the Mises Daily will be familiar.
On a deeper level, the problem with the [American] Founders' liberalism, according to Kristol, is that it begins with the individual, and a philosophy that begins with the "self" must necessarily promote selfishness, choice, and the pursuit of personal happiness.… A free society grounded on the protection of individual rights leads inexorably to an amiable philistinism, an easygoing nihilism, and, ultimately, to "infinite emptiness." (pp. 28–9)
Thompson mordantly remarks, "Thus the great political lesson that the neocons have successfully taught other conservatives … is to stop worrying and love the State" (p. 29)."Although neoconservatives have indeed challenged certain aspects of the welfare state, they have no quarrel with it in principle."
Thompson is not content with this devastating verdict. He maintains that existing studies of neoconservatism do not penetrate to the essence: they have not discovered the philosophical roots of the movement. He locates this essence in the thought of Leo Strauss, and much of the book is devoted to a careful exposition and criticism of his views.  (Even if one dissents from Thompson's intellectual genealogy of neoconservatism, the discussion of Strauss is of great value for its own sake.)
Thompson appears to have set himself a difficult task. Neoconservatism according to many of its proponents is a tendency rather than a developed body of doctrine.
Those who are willing to call themselves neoconservatives (and not all are) typically describe neoconservatism as an "impulse," a "style of thought," or a "mode of thinking." Its proponents have described neoconservatism as a way of seeing the world, as a state of mind and not as a systematic political philosophy. (p. 4)
If this is right, how can Thompson proceed with his plan to unearth the philosophical foundations of neoconservatism? Will not a view that repudiates system prove impervious to analysis?
Thompson neatly turns this difficulty to his advantage. The rejection of system manifests in this instance a related view that provides the key to understanding neoconservatism. A system is composed of principles that inhere in an ordered structure; but neoconservatives oppose fixed principles of politics.
For all their supposed concern for ideas and philosophy, there is something profoundly antiphilosophical about the neoconservatives. They eschew moral first principles in favor of a technique or a mode of thinking, and they scorn absolute, certain moral principles for what "works." (p. 32)
But in this very rejection of systematic morality lies concealed a philosophical doctrine.
But what has all this to do with Leo Strauss? To make good his case that Strauss's thought lies behind neoconservatism, Thompson must first establish that the neocons knew and studied Strauss. He does so by showing that the acknowledged godfather of neoconservatism, Irving Kristol, took Strauss as his philosophical master. Thompson places particular emphasis on a review by Kristol in Commentary (October 1952) of Strauss's Persecution and the Art of Writing."To inculcate virtue and to weaken the base tendency of people to put their individual well-being ahead of the common good, what better means than a properly conducted war?"
Remarkably, this document has never been brought to the attention of the general public until now. Kristol's confrontation with Strauss came as an epiphany. It was, as Kristol has intimated on several occasions, the most important intellectual event of his life. (p. 59)
From Persecution and the Art of Writing, Kristol absorbed the message that philosophers needed to conceal their dangerous doctrines from the masses. Philosophy undermines religious belief and shows also that morality lacks a rational foundation. But without religion and an accepted morality, the social order would be overthrown. Further, if the masses were to become aware of what the philosophers really taught, would they not suppress these dangerous thinkers? Philosophers form an intellectual elite, and they rank far superior to those lacking their wisdom.
The ancient philosophers, mindful of the fate of Socrates, kept always in mind the need to maintain their distance from the masses. The Enlightenment abandoned this antique wisdom.
Whereas Socrates-Plato recognized a wide and unbridgeable chasm between philosophers and nonphilosophers, the engineers of the modern world - men such as Bacon, Newton, Locke, and Jefferson - thought it possible to make all men reasonable, to bring light to a dark world through reason and science.… The Enlightenment therefore represented for Strauss the democratization and thus the degradation of the Western mind. (pp. 66–7)
Strauss rejected capitalism and individualism, which as he saw them rested on a low view of man. Instead of philosophical wisdom, confined to an elite, as the highest end of the regime, happiness and wealth for the masses became the order of the day.
Strauss argued that the modern liberalism of Locke and Jefferson had distorted the fundamental structure of human existence, that without a summum bonum to guide his life, modern man lacked "completely a star and compass for his life" and was therefore wrenched away from the natural ordering of society. (p. 115)
The Enlightenment taught a further false doctrine: universal human rights. Instead, Strauss believed, there are no unalterably fixed moral standards. The statesman, taught by philosophers, must be guided by prudential judgment about the particular situation he faces. Here precisely is a key point at which Straussian teaching serves to explain neoconservatism. As earlier mentioned, the neocons resolutely reject fixed moral rules and rights.
If Strauss rejected the Enlightenment, he by no means demanded the abolition of individualism and capitalism. To the contrary, the ancient arrangements of the polis could not in our day be restored; and the regime of the American Founding Fathers offered the best available bulwark against relativism and nihilism - if this regime was suitably controlled behind the scenes by philosophers instructed in Straussian wisdom.
What form would this philosophical guidance take? It is essential that the inferior masses develop virtuous habits, lest their unbridled appetites lead to undue disorder. To inculcate virtue and to weaken the base tendency of people to put their individual well-being ahead of the common good, what better means than a properly conducted war? War teaches self-sacrifice.
The moral component of this is straightforward. As we have seen, the neoconservatives' ethical prescription for ordinary citizens consists in a life of selfless sacrifice to others, in which the individual puts the needs and well-being of others above his own. (p. 180)
Thompson finds in this argument a principal motive for the neocons' support for the Iraq War. The neocons aimed not only to spread democracy as they conceived it to the benighted Iraqis: even more important, they saw the war as a means to discipline and educate the American people."Neoconservatives oppose fixed principles of politics."
Thompson and Yaron Brook, the coauthor of the chapter on foreign policy, resolutely reject this approach to foreign policy. To them, wars are justifiable only as a means to avert a genuine threat, and "a real post–September 11 risk assessment of the threat posed by Iraq would not have resulted in finding that Iraq was at the top of the list of potential targets." (p. 179).
Thompson's interpretation of neoconservatism must confront two fundamental challenges. First, does he show that Strauss's view really stand at the base of neoconservatism? A critic might object that what holds true of Irving Kristol might not apply to others in the neoconservative movement. Further, has Thompson correctly interpreted Strauss? Was Strauss an advocate of a particular philosophy in his own right rather than a historian of political thought; and if he did wish to convey a philosophical message, is it the one Thompson attributes to him? I strongly suspect that Thompson can successfully meet these tests. Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea is essential reading for anyone interested in either the neoconservatives or Leo Strauss.David Gordon covers new books in economics, politics, philosophy, and law for The Mises Review, the quarterly review of literature in the social sciences, published since 1995 by the Mises Institute. He is author of The Essential Rothbard, available in the Mises Store. Send him mail. See David Gordon's article archives. You can subscribe to future articles by David Gordon via this RSS feed.
 Thompson is an Objectivist, and accordingly believes as a general thesis that ideas determine history. Readers will not fail to recall Leonard Peikoff's endeavor in Ominous Parallels to trace the roots of Nazism to Kant's philosophy. I do not think this effort was entirely successful.
 Thompson mentions that Kristol's wife, Gertrude Himmelfarb, also wrote about Strauss. One might also note that his brother-in-law, Milton Himmelfarb, had studied Strauss's works carefully and wrote about Strauss on several occasions. See, e.g., "On Leo Strauss", Commentary (August 1974).
 Strauss was influenced in his opposition to capitalism by his friend and academic patron R.H. Tawney, the eminent English socialist. Like Strauss, Tawney deplored what he called the "acquisitive society." See Simon Green, "The Tawney-Strauss Connection: On Historicism and Values in the History of Political Ideas", Journal of Modern History, June 1995.
 Ironically, in view of the Objectivist portrayal of Kant as the fons et origo of modern philosophical evil, Straussians such as Harry Jaffa denounce fixed moral rules as Kantian.
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In today's New York Times, William Kristol chastises Barack Obama for failing to mention military service as a worthy form of national service in his Wesleyan University commencement address.
Kristol is an outspoken and prominent supporter of the war in Iraq, has suggested bombing Iran, and is generally a full-throated supporter of war in general. One would think that his enthusiasm for all things military is a product of his own service. But, you'd be wrong. Like most neoconservatives, Kristol declined when given the opportunity to serve (he was of draft age during the Vietnam War).
So where does Bill Kristol get off chastising Obama and the graduates for not considering military service, when he rejected it himself?
And why hasn't the New York Times fired this guy yet?
The "Trotskyist roots" of neoconservatism
As far back as the mid 1980s, paleoconservatives were caustically commenting on the supposed "Trotskyist roots" of the neoconservatives. At an infamously raucous debate between conservatives held at the Philadelphia Society in 1986, the paleoconservative historian Stephen J. Tonsor expressed dismay that former Marxists had come to play such a dominant role within conservatism, and quipped that had Trotsky not been assassinated he would no doubt be working for the Hoover Institute and writing articles for Commentary.  But it was not until the Gulf War of 1991 that the tale about neoconservatism's "Trotskyist roots" took the form in which we know it today. Within weeks of the war ending, Leon Hadar of the Cato Institute laid out the now widely accepted view in an article in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs:
Among the major figures in the [neoconservative] movement were former Trotskyites who studied in the '30s and '40s at the then "poor man's Harvard," the City College of New York, a center for socialist activism. They included Irving Kristol, who in the 1950s launched an anti-Soviet CIA front, the International Congress for Cultural Freedom; Norman Podhoretz, the editor of the American Jewish Committee's monthly magazine Commentary, which he turned into a major neoconservative outlet; Podhoretz's wife, Midge Decter, the chairperson of the now-defunct Committee on the Free World; sociologists Nathan Glazer and Daniel Bell; and Democratic Party pamphleteer Ben Wattenberg. 
The only problem with Hadar's account of neoconservatism's origins is that it is almost completely false. A simple check of biographical facts is enough to show that neither Norman Podhoretz nor Midge Decter attended CCNY in the 1930s or 40s, nor were they ever Marxists, let alone Trotskyists. Nathan Glazer and Daniel Bell did attend CCNY in the late 1930s, but again neither was ever a Trotskyist. Glazer was a Left Socialist-Zionist, while Bell joined first the Young People's Socialist League (YPSL) in the early 1930s, and then the ardently anti-communist Social Democratic Federation towards the end of the decade. For his part, Ben Wattenberg could hardly have attended CCNY in the 1930s or 40s since he was only born in 1933. He in fact did not attend CCNY at all, and was also never a Trotskyist. That leaves Irving Kristol as the only neoconservative among those mentioned by Hadar who was actually ever associated with Trotskyism -- and even that statement requires some qualification, as we will see below.
Outright fabrications aside, part of the reason behind the recurrent exaggeration of the "Trotskyist roots" of the neoconservatives lies in their frequent conflation with their parent grouping, the New York Intellectuals. As Alan Wald detailed in the most authoritative work on the impact of Trotskyism on the New York Intellectuals, The New York Intellectuals: The Rise and Decline of the Anti-Stalinist Left from the 1930's to the 1980's (1987), many of the latter group did indeed pass through the different shades of Trotskyism available in the 1930s and 40s. From its different generations, one can list: Elliot Cohen, Sidney Hook (a brief and rather hesitant fellow traveler), Herbert Solow, Meyer Schapiro, Irving Howe, Saul Bellow, Harold Rosenberg, Dwight McDonald, and Clement Greenberg. There was also the infamous and fractious relationship between Trotsky and the founding editors of Partisan Review, William Phillips and Philip Rhav.
But the original neoconservative "brain trust" of the 1970s, as Alexander Bloom referred to it in his Prodigal Sons (1986), did not consist of any of the above New York intellectuals associated with Trotskyism.  Instead, it consisted of Kristol, Glazer, Bell, Seymour Martin Lipset, and Norman Podhoretz -- and of this group, only two were briefly involved with Trotskyism: Kristol and Lipset. We can even add here the names of two less influential neoconservatives, although eminent scholars in their own rite: the historian and wife of Irving Kristol, Gertrude Himmelfarb, and the late political scientist Martin Diamond. The result is a grand total of four founding neoconservatives who passed through the ranks of Trotskyism. If one considers the list of first generation neoconservatives mentioned so far, which includes Bell, Glazer, Podhoretz and Decter, none of whom were Trotskyists, and then one adds such prominent early neoconservatives as Daniel Patrick Moynahan, James Q. Wilson, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Michael Novak, Robert Nisbet, Peter Berger, Hilton Kramer, and Walter Laqueur (and indeed one could go on); in other words if one looks at the first generation of neoconservatives as a whole, its so-called "Trotskyist roots" are shown to be much smaller and weaker than paleoconservatives have so insistently claimed.
More recently, as the "Trotskyist neocon" assertion has taken an increasingly prominent place in paleoconservative polemics, the trend has been away from inventing fictitious Trotskyist pasts for first generation neoconservatives, and towards using insinuations that leave the question of who was a Trotskyist deliberately unanswered. And understandably so, as there is more mileage to be had in implying that all of the original neoconservatives were former Trotskyists than by continuously recycling the names of the four that actually were.
A good example of this vagueness is provided by the prominent paleocon historian Paul Gottfried. In 1988, Gottfried co-authored The Conservative Movement, a serious and measured historical study of post-war intellectual conservatism that focused on the neo/paleo divide, and in which he made no mention of the supposed "Trotskyist roots" of neoconservatism. Yet subsequent to the Gulf War, Gottfried added an awkward and unsubstantiated claim about neoconservatism's "Trotskyist residues" to a revised 1993 edition of the book.  Today he polemically decries on the LewRockwell.com web site a conspicuously unnamed "…Trotskyist ascendancy over the conservative movement that began in the seventies and eighties" in which neoconservatives, themselves a "leftist revolutionary movement", have "…dragged Trotskyist themes, along with other baggage, into the conservative movement".  No names are provided by Gottfried for the simple reason that it would be impossible to "expose" the Trotskyist pasts of any original neoconservatives other than the four mentioned above -- whose numbers hardly merit the claim of a "Trotskyist ascendancy".
The "Trotskyism" of Irving Kristol
If the "Trotskyist roots" of neoconservatism have been greatly exaggerated, what about those of the first generation who were involved with Trotskyism? How much of an influence did Trotskyism have on their thinking? Presumably on this level a more credible case could be made for a real Trotskyist influence on neoconservatism. But it is precisely here that the complete lack of substance of the "Trotskyist neocon" assertion emerges, for there is nothing in any of the neoconservatives' vast political, sociological, or cultural writings that points to the remotest influence of Trotskyism. Instead, those propagating the assertion have been forced to rely only on whatever anecdotal evidence is available to make their case. Thus Irving Kristol, who wrote an autobiographical essay entitled "Memoirs of a Trotskyist" and has sprinkled mentions of his youthful political dalliances throughout his writings, is more often accused of still being influenced by Trotskyism than Seymour Martin Lipset, who was also a Trotskyist but who has not made similar use of his own brief radical past.
For paleocon polemicists, it matters little that Kristol has spent almost his entire adult life as one of America's most prolific and high-profile intellectual proponents of democracy and capitalism. It matters little because as diligently reported by paleocon journalist Daniel McCarthy, Kristol had the temerity to write, and supposedly did so "with relish", that "I regard myself as lucky to have been a young Trostkyite and I have not a single bitter memory".  Just as incriminating is Kristol's claim to have learned how to construct an argument by reading Trotskyist theoretical journals! But if the lack of seriousness in the paleocon accusations is evident, it does raise the question of exactly how much of a Trotskyist Irving Kristol was in his youth. And if one takes a close look at his actual Trotskyist past, a very different picture emerges from the one that has been conjured up by the polemicists and to a certain extent by Kristol himself.
Kristol was involved in the late 1930s, still in his teens, in the milieux of the young Jewish intellectuals that frequented the now-infamous Alcove No.1 at CCNY. While there he became a fellow traveler of the small group of Trotskyist students who belonged to the youth wing of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), known as the Young People's Socialist League-Fourth International (YPSL-FI). While steeped in the world of hyper-intellectual debating at CCNY, Kristol was not an SWP or YPSL-FI member -- and much less a full blown Trotskyist ideologue, as is often implied by those seeking to exaggerate his Trotskyist credentials. Infamously, James P. Cannon, Irish-American leader of the Trotskyists, once admonished Kristol and his friend and fellow CCNYer Earl Raab for not joining the SWP. From Mexico, Trotsky himself cast a wary eye on the YPSL's and fellow travelers such as Kristol and Raab because of their "lack of experience" and, more damningly, for their "petty bourgeois" backgrounds. 
Despite Cannon's scoldings, Kristol never did join the "official" Trotskyists of the SWP, but rather the heretical offshoot led by Max Shachtman, the Workers' Party (WP), in 1940. More importantly, Kristol belonged to a small intra-party faction inside the WP known as the "Shermanites" which was led by future Sociologist Philip Selznick, and also included Lipset, Himmelfarb, and Diamond, i.e. the only other neoconservatives to have been associated with Trotskyism. What is key here, and what for the most part has been overlooked, is that the Shermanites considered not only Stalinism but Bolshevism, which in their context meant Trotskyism, to be "… bureaucratic, totalitarian, and undemocratic".  Decisive to Kristol and the others' rejection of Marxism and Trotskyism was Robert Michels' Political Parties, which was introduced to the group by Selznick.  This "premature" anti-communism was so anathema to Shachtman that after Kristol and the tiny band of Shermanites resigned from the Workers' Party in 1941, a mere one year after they had joined, they were then retroactively expelled. The journal that Kristol and the Shermanites briefly published after their expulsion from the Workers Party, Enquiry, far from providing "conventional Marxist fare" as has been claimed by one scholar, in fact consisted mainly of substantive critiques of Marxism, Leninism, and Trotskyism, all the more noteworthy for the youthfulness of those making them. 
A more sober appraisal of the historical evidence shows that, contrary to the claims of the paleocons, and even some of his own writings, Irving Kristol's Trotskyism was far too peripheral and brief for him to be considered a representative Trotskyist of that era, or even much of a Trotskyist at all -- something which applies just as much if not more to the only other "Trotskyist neocons": Lipset, Himmelfarb, and Diamond.
The question of "Shachtmanism"
While first generation neoconservatives are accused of having been Trotskyists, second generation neocons are usually charged with Trotskyism indirectly, by virtue of supposedly having been "Shachtmanites". Those meriting this accusation are the small minority of today's neconservatives who were members of the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation/Young People's Socialist League (SP-SDF/YPSL), and later the Social Democrats USA, in the late 1960s and early 70s. The supposed link with Trotskyism comes in the form of Max Shachtman, the leader of the 1940 split from official Trotskyism who would later go on to call the Socialist Party home and play a key role in that party's right-wing from the late 1950s to his death in 1972.
Shachtman occupies a fascinating place in the history of Marxism in the US for having moved, over the span of 20 years, all the way from Trotskyism to a fervently anti-communist version of social democracy. What makes this move particularly intriguing is that Shachtman carried it out while doggedly maintaining an orthodox Marxist phraseology that had increasingly little relevance to his actual politics. Since a small number of today's neoconservatives, such as Joshua Muravchik and Carl Gershman, played key roles in the Socialist Party, YPSL, and Social Democrats USA during the 1960's and 70's, there is a degree of truth to a connection between Max Shachtman and a handful of the current generation of neocons.
But what has conveniently been forgotten by the paleocons amidst their frantic references to Max Shachtman's "Trotskyism" is that Shachtman broke definitively with his unique version of that ideology in the mid 1950s, even before dissolving the International Socialist League (ISL, successor to the Workers' Party) and joining the Socialist Party in 1958. Even more, abandoning Trotskyism was a precondition set by the SP leadership for allowing Shachtman and his followers to join their party. Once inside the party, Shachtman and the former members of the ISL carried on squarely in the tradition of the right-wing socialist "Old Guard" of the party that had split away in the 1930s: staunchly anti-Communist, closely supportive of the established trade union leaderships, orthodox Marxist in official discourse, and crucially, oriented towards working within the Democratic party -- something even the Old Guard had not been willing to advocate. The historian Robert J. Alexander, who was himself active in the Socialist Party in those years, notes that after 1958 the ideological distinctions in the party between the ex-ISL cadre and the pre-1958 socialists basically disappeared.  While the former Shactmanites maintained close ties inside the SP, these ties were now based on a type of social democratic politics with deep roots in the right wing of American Socialism, rather than on a Trotskyism that had been consciously discarded.
None of this history matters to paleoconservative polemicists though. In modern Old Right folklore, not only does Shachtman remain a Trotskyist beyond the late 1950s, but the Socialist Party itself is somehow transformed into a "Trotskyite" organization. Only by means of such blatant fabrications can Srdja Trifkovic, writing in the on-line version of Chronicles, claim that second generation neoconservatives, "…including Joshua Muravchik, and Carl Gershman, came to neoconservatism through the Socialist Party at a time when it was Trotskyite in outlook and politics."  In reality, the Socialist Party itself was never "Trotskyite", nor did any Trotskyists play a role inside it after their expulsion from the party in 1937. For Socialists, Trotskyism was a political opponent by the time that Muravchik and Penn Kemble (together with Michael Harrington) led the party and its youth wing in the late 1960's. It was not even remotely an issue by the time Carl Gershman led the successor to the right-wing of the Socialist Party following the split in 1972, the Social Democrats-USA.
The very labeling of the few ex-socialist neoconservatives of today as "former Shachtmanites" is misleading, especially since the label is used to imply that they share Max Shachtman's historical connection to Trotskyism, which they do not. Justin Raimondo makes the motivation behind the label clear when he writes in Anti-War.com, that "…it was Shachtman's particular schismatic brand of Trotskyism, as advocated by the "Yipsels," as Comrade Muravchik and his fellow young commies called themselves, that over time was transmuted into a militant push for global "democracy."  Raimondo's polemics on the Anti-war.com website demonstrate that he is familiar -- if perhaps excessively preoccupied -- with the history of American Trotskyism. But the conspiratorial edge to much of his writing often results in presenting a skewed history. His attempt to link neoconservatives to Shachtmanism is a confused amalgam of eras and ideologies that is way off the mark, beginning with his curious labeling of the 1960s YPSL's as both "Shachtmanites" and "commies" when they in fact represented a uniquely American version of right-wing social democracy.
The main tenets of the actual "schismatic brand of Trotskyism" that Raimondo refers to, and that Shachtman adhered to in the 1940s and early 50s, were a revolutionary opposition to capitalism, a "third camp" orientation ("neither Washington nor Moscow"), the theory of bureaucratic collectivism, and support for an independent labor party in the US. It is this set of ideas that can most accurately be referred to as "Shachtmanism".  But not only was such Shachtmanite politics the furthest thing from the minds of Muravchik, Gershman, and the other young Socialists in the late 1960s and 70s -- none of whom was old enough to have belonged to the ISL, and for whom Shachtman was merely a charismatic anti-Communist elder statesman -- not even Shachtman himself still advocated those positions, having abandoned them more than a decade earlier.
Commenting on the all too common tendency of labeling those on the right wing of the Socialist Party as "Shachtmanites", Muravchik, who was National Chairman of the YPSL between 1968 and 1973, has put it succinctly: "I loved Shachtman's lectures, but what I learned from them had nothing to do with the Trotskyite arcana that had once been the substance of Shachtmanism. It had everything to do with the evil nature of communism."  It is the inability to distinguish between right wing social democracy and revolutionary Marxism that underlies the confused allegations hurled at today's neoconservatives -- a small number of whom were once socialists, but whose "former Shachtmanism" turns out to have even less basis in fact than the "former Trotskyism" of the first generation.
June 13, 2003
...But the punch-line for this joke of an argument is here:
"This is the ugly accusation an alert reader should suspect in encountering the word 'Straussian,' or these days even 'neo-conservative' in the context of the Iraq debate. Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle find their Jewish heritage a point of attack. But George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are gentiles. Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell don't look Jewish to me, but they also helped draft the basic statement of the Bush Doctrine, the September 2002 'National Security Policy of the United States.'"
In the Orwellian world of the neocons, where a new form of political correctness frames their every utterance, the language is contracting. Because the goal of totalitarian thought control is to make the expression of political incorrectness impossible, the goal of this Neocon Newspeak is the abolition of many now-common words. In this context, words are used, not to make debating points, but to end all discussion. There are no Straussians, we are told, and even the word neoconservative is to be flushed down the Memory Hole, along with shelves full of books, articles, and even one incredibly boring film detailing their intellectual and political evolution in minute detail.
The idea that the major media have been taken over by neo-Nazis, and that the campaign to identify who and/or what got us involved in an unnecessary and ultimately futile war is all part of "the new anti-Semitism," is the rather implausible theme of the neocons' defense. In a polemic that has all the hallmarks of having been written by an awful drunk – i.e., not only entirely lacking in logic, but also relentlessly subjective and anecdotal – Christopher Hitchens reveals the ultimate evidence for this worldwide anti-Semitic plot in all its sinister "undertones." Once again, the use of certain words – or, in this case, their correct pronunciation – is the issue at hand:
"'Yes that's all very well,' said the chap from the BBC World Service, 'but what about this man Vulfervitz who seems to run the whole show from behind the scenes?' For the fifth time in as many days, and for the umpteenth time this year, I corrected a British interviewer's pronunciation. You see the name in print, you hear it uttered quite a lot in American discussions, you then give a highly inflected rendition of your own. ... What is this?"
To any normal person, it is nothing at all. A simple mis-pronunciation. A defective ear. Perhaps Hitchens, through the thick syrupy haze of alcohol and self-regard, could not hear what this anonymous "chap" was really saying. But, no:
"This is not quite like old-line reactionaries going out of their way to say 'Franklin Delano Rosenfeld.' Still, I don't think I am quite wrong in suspecting that a sharpened innuendo is in play here. Why else, when the very name of Paul Wolfowitz is mentioned, do so many people bid adieu to the very notion of objectivity?"
It is Hitchens who has bid adieu to objectivity. He details all the various travails suffered by the hawkish Defense Department deputy secretary, but nowhere mentions the supposed ethno-religious factor until the very end of his rambling screed:
"Coming back to where I began, though, I think that there's genuine cause for alarm in the current vulgar conflation of 'Kabbalah' with 'cabal,' and with the practice of what, if anyone else were to be the target, the left would already be calling 'demonization.'"
The problem with this argument is that Hitchens is the only one making such a far-fetched conflation, but boozy narcissism is what usually takes the place of logic in the alcoholic mind. Hitchens' contribution to the neocon counteroffensive, then, is to add his own nominee to the growing list of forbidden words: Straussian, neocon, cabal…. Their campaign to constrict the parameters of political debate by eliminating words marches on.
Arnold Beichman was next up at bat, with his own nominee: in any discussion of the neocons and their influence, he wants any reference to Leon Trotsky or the influence of Trotskyism to be strictly verboten. Writing in National Review Online, Beichman is outraged at Jeet Heer's National Post piece detailing the Trotskyist roots of leading neocons, whose cocktail party chatter evidently includes abstruse references to Max Shachtman and the factional history of the Fourth International. I wrote about the Heer piece the other day (scroll down to "Notes in the Margin"), but, alas, the saga continues. Beichman contemptuously dismisses the ex-Trotskyist Hitchens' alleged influence at the White House. Apparently in response to ex-Trotskyist-turned-neocon Stephen Schwartz for affectionately referring to the killer of Kronstadt as "the old man" and "L.D.," Beichman launches a magnificent attack on the crimes of Trotsky, unfairly ripping into Heer for giving Schwartz a platform and for bringing up the Trotsky connection at all:
"But there is something more sinister at work here: to rob the Coalition, which destroyed a terrorist haven and an inhuman dictatorship, of the moral victory it represents."
Schwartz responded the next day in National Review with what I think is the last word on this subject: his article is the definitive text that proves how right we paleos have been all along about this troublesome sect known as the neocons. Schwartz denounces "a group of neofascists" who supposedly claim that "neoconservatives are all ex-Trotskyists," but defends Heer's piece as serving another aim, that of describing "the very real evolution of certain ex-Trotskyists toward an interventionist position on the Iraq war" – i.e., his own evolution and that of his friends and associates in the neocon movement. It is okay for certain people to talk about the Trotskyist influence on neoconservatism, just as long as they have the right ideology:
"The U.S. neofascists who have thrown this accusation around use the term 'Trotskyist' the same way they use the term 'neoconservative:' as a euphemism for 'Jew.'"
But when he writes how "many of the original generation of neoconservatives had a background of association with Trotskyism in its Shachtmanite iteration" it's somehow not a hate crime. Schwartz is even allowed to observe, as I did in my 1993 book Reclaiming the American Right in some detail, that "the Shachtmanites, in the 1960s, joined the AFL-CIO in its best Cold War period, and many became staunch Reaganites." The point of Schwartz's rebuttal, however, is that he is proud of his Trotksyist past. He even gathers his co-thinkers together in proclaiming, in true Trotskyist fashion, that they constitute a semi-official faction, which some editor at NRO deemed "Trotsky-cons":
"The second issue at hand involves the actual ex-Trotskyists who engaged with the issue of the Iraqi war. I call this group, to which I belong, the 'three-and-a-half international,' which is an obscure reference I won't explain fully. But I use it to indicate three main individuals: Christopher Hitchens, myself, and the Iraqi intellectual Kanan Makiya, who all did indeed march under the Red Flag at some point…."
Here is where Schwartz descends into sheer hilarity, given that the best humor is always unintentional. He not only defends dear old Trotsky against Beichman's calumniations, but also red-baits Beichman, reminding him – and NRO's by this time utterly baffled readers – of Beichman's Stalinist past. Beichman was a fellow traveler of the Communist Party in the 1930s, when he worked for the pro-war, pro-FDR left-wing newspaper PM. It's all too funny, but one can only wonder what ordinary, garden-variety, un-prefixed conservatives think of all this sound and fury.
Here, after all, are the ex-Commies of yesteryear re-enacting the Stalin-Trotsky split in the pages of National Review – even as the magazine continues with its ridiculous campaign denying the very existence of neocons as anything but plain old vanilla conservatives. The magazine's online readers, such as they are, may be mystified by Schwartz's argument that Trotsky has a lot to say to the neocons of today, because his analysis of the Moscow Trials somehow impacts on the neocon analysis of Peter Arnett. (Say, what?) But I, for one, particularly enjoyed Schwartz's contention that the Beichman jeremiad represented an effort to "exclude Hitchens and myself from consideration as reliable allies in the struggle against Islamist extremism," or, as he proudly avers:
"Because we have yet to apologize for something I, for one, will never consider worthy of apology. There is clearly a group of heresy-hunters among the original neoconservatives who resent having to give way to certain newer faces, with our own history and culture. These older neoconservatives cannot take yes for an answer, and they especially loathe Hitchens. But nobody ever asked Norman Podhoretz to apologize for having once written poetry praising the Soviet army. Nobody ever asked the art critic Meyer Schapiro, who was also a Trotskyist, to flog himself for assisting illegal foreign revolutionaries at a time when it was considered unpatriotic, to say the least. Nobody ever asked Shachtman or Burnham, or, for that matter, Sidney Hook, or Edmund Wilson, or a hundred others, to grovel and beg mercy for inciting war on capitalism in the depths of the Great Depression."
Holding that Red Banner high, Schwartz declares war on the ex-Stalinists in the neocon movement – of which there are plenty, as he correctly points out – and proclaims his "Third and a Half International." It is almost too farcical to be taken seriously, but then the "conservatism" upheld by National Review since the purge of John Sullivan has never been serious, and this just underscores the sheer absurdity of its claim to be some kind of final arbiter.
Schwartz raises a perfectly legitimate point: if the ex-Trotskyists have to apologize for importing their particular brand of militarism into the neocon movement, then why don't the ex-Stalinists have to "grovel," too? I say let them both apologize for supporting some variant of mass-murdering commie totalitarianism, or stop pretending to be "conservatives."
The ideas that energize the neoconservative movement have little if anything to do with traditional conservatism. That this suspicion is now widespread among traditional conservatives, as well as journalists, is not to be undone by lame accusations of alleged "anti-Semitism." Paring down the permitted language of political debate is not going to work, either. It is clear beyond the need for further proof that the War Party bamboozled the American public into taking that first fateful step on the road to empire. We know who they are, and what they believe: it is not a "conspiracy," as the detractors of this theory insist, because there is nothing secret about it – and because the same people are urging us onward, to Iran, Syria, and beyond.
The esoteric elitist Strauss, the Leninist elitist Trotsky, Schwartz and his mock-operatic "Third and a Half International" re-fighting the inter-Commie faction wars of the 1930s with a gaggle of ex-Stalinists – this is the official "conservative" movement of today! No wonder Commissar Frum and his fellow neocons felt compelled to attack us antiwar, limited government types as "unpatriotic conservatives," going so far as to declare that they "turn their backs" on us. They turned their backs on authentic conservatism some time ago.
January 28, 2011 | Alex Jones' InfowarsDuring a Council on Foreign Relations speech in Montreal last year, co-founder with David Rockefeller of the Trilateral Commission and regular Bilderberg attendee Zbigniew Brzezinski warned of a "global political awakening," mainly comprising of younger people in developing states, that threatened to topple the existing international order.
Reading the full extent of Brzezinski's words in light of the global revolts that we now see spreading like wildfire across the planet provides an astounding insight into how crucially important the outcome of this phase of modern history will be to the future geopolitical course of the world, and in turn the survival and growth of human freedom in general.
For the first time in human history almost all of humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive… The resulting global political activism is generating a surge in the quest for personal dignity, cultural respect and economic opportunity in a world painfully scarred by memories of centuries-long alien colonial or imperial domination… The worldwide yearning for human dignity is the central challenge inherent in the phenomenon of global political awakening… That awakening is socially massive and politically radicalizing… The nearly universal access to radio, television and increasingly the Internet is creating a community of shared perceptions and envy that can be galvanized and channeled by demagogic political or religious passions. These energies transcend sovereign borders and pose a challenge both to existing states as well as to the existing global hierarchy, on top of which America still perches…
The youth of the Third World are particularly restless and resentful. The demographic revolution they embody is thus a political time-bomb, as well… Their potential revolutionary spearhead is likely to emerge from among the scores of millions of students concentrated in the often intellectually dubious "tertiary level" educational institutions of developing countries. Depending on the definition of the tertiary educational level, there are currently worldwide between 80 and 130 million "college" students. Typically originating from the socially insecure lower middle class and inflamed by a sense of social outrage, these millions of students are revolutionaries-in-waiting, already semi-mobilized in large congregations, connected by the Internet and pre-positioned for a replay on a larger scale of what transpired years earlier in Mexico City or in Tiananmen Square. Their physical energy and emotional frustration is just waiting to be triggered by a cause, or a faith, or a hatred…
[The] major world powers, new and old, also face a novel reality: while the lethality of their military might is greater than ever, their capacity to impose control over the politically awakened masses of the world is at a historic low. To put it bluntly: in earlier times, it was easier to control one million people than to physically kill one million people; today, it is infinitely easier to kill one million people than to control one million people.
It is important to stress that Brzezinski was not lauding the onset of this "global political awakening," he was decrying it. As one of the of the chief architects of the "existing global hierarchy" to which he makes reference, Brzezinski himself is under direct threat, as is the continuing ability of the global elite in general to control world affairs.
Brzezinski laments the fact that the Internet has made it almost impossible for the global elite to control the political environment, to control the thoughts and behavior of one million people, which is precisely why Egypt moved to shut down the world wide web yesterday in a desperate bid to prevent activists from organizing against the state.
As is routine whenever riots and revolutions suddenly appear as if out of nowhere, history warns us to not take what we see at face value, and to recall the numerous contrived "color revolutions" that have served little purpose other than to allow the IMF/World Bank global elite to overthrow a rogue power and seize the country via the backdoor through puppet regimes it subsequently installs.
However, the domino-like effect of the global revolution that has accelerated in recent weeks seems to be born out of a genuine, grass roots, organic yearning for real freedom, and an end to dictatorial regimes that the United States and the banking elite have helped to prop up.
The global revolt spreading across the Middle East and North Africa, having already touched Europe with the riots and strikes in Italy, France, Greece and the United Kingdom last year, is characterized as a backlash against dictatorship, police brutality, and political repression. These factors have been seething undercurrents of resentment for years, but only thanks to greater education and easier access to information and the ability to organize through the Internet has a new generation of activists finally said enough is enough. Spiraling food prices, fuel inflation, lower wages and high unemployment have also played a central role.
As Andrew Gavin Marshall writes in his excellent article, Are We Witnessing the Start of a Global Revolution?, "We must not cast aside these protests and uprisings as being instigated by the West, but rather that they emerged organically, and the West is subsequently attempting to co-opt and control the emerging movements."
In the case of Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia, all three regimes have enjoyed the multi-decade support of the US military-industrial complex. All three were fully compliant vassal states for the new world order. There was no need for contrived or staged "color revolutions" to be prompted by the global elite in these countries.
Indeed, the die was cast when the Obama administration expressed its support for 30 year dictator Hosni Mubarak in the form of a PBS interview yesterday when Vice-President Joe Biden implied that the protesters demands were illegitimate.
"The reflex action of the imperial powers is to further arm and support the oppressive regimes, as well as the potential to organize a destabilization through covert operations or open warfare (as is being done in Yemen)," writes Marshall. "The alternative is to undertake a strategy of "democratization" in which Western NGOs, aid agencies and civil society organizations establish strong contacts and relationships with the domestic civil society in these regions and nations. The objective of this strategy is to organize, fund and help direct the domestic civil society to produce a democratic system made in the image of the West, and thus maintain continuity in the international hierarchy. Essentially, the project of "democratization" implies creating the outward visible constructs of a democratic state (multi-party elections, active civil society, "independent" media, etc) and yet maintain continuity in subservience to the World Bank, IMF, multinational corporations and Western powers."
Remember – any country that retains its own sovereignty, acts primarily in its own interests and attempts to build itself up as a strong, prosperous, and culturally strong state is an enemy to the globalists. The international hierarchy demands compliance, dependence, weakness and a dilution of heritage and culture in order for every nation to be enveloped within the sphere of global government control.
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Make no mistake about it, we are seeing a global revolution, the age of rage is falling upon us like dominoes reaching to every corner of the planet. Whether or not the outcome will topple the current global hierarchy, as Zbigniew Brzezinski fears, remains to be seen, but it will surely depend upon who controls the new governments that will replace the ousted rulers – the people who started the process of change, or the World Bank, IMF, NGO's and the rest of the global elite who are desperate to save their world government agenda from being derailed.
Paul Joseph Watson is the editor and writer for Prison Planet.com. He is the author of Order Out Of Chaos. Watson is also a fill-in host for The Alex Jones Show. Watson has been interviewed by many publications and radio shows, including Vanity Fair and Coast to Coast AM, America's most listened to late night talk show.
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