With the death of the elder Kristol in September, Newsweek’s David Margolick published this week a rundown on the Neoconservative movement, in its current formation.
All in all, the article’s highlight has to be a quote from Jon Stewart: “Bill Kristol, aren’t you ever right?”
It is deceptively easy to dismiss Neocons as blindly jingoistic cheerleaders and chickenhawks, especially in its current form. The evolution of an intellectual cabal of nationalistic elements, to what are now entrenched advisors and think tank and publishing giant, with fingers in a good many pies has gone far from their start in the 30s. Margolick does a nice job in establishing the academic and intellectual pedigree of this movement, as well as how insular and isolated the Ivory Tower that the AEI and their fellows are, while maintaining a booster club to promote their ideas on foreign policy, and on economic and domestic policy that has equal footing in games theory and ideology.
The idea of Neocons’ “victories” in policy, we are now soaking in. As an ideology of exceptionalism they are without compare in our history, as few who have failed so spectacularly would cling to an intellectually bankrupt set of ideas and ideals. While Margolick does line up many fine examples of these failures, he does trot out the anti-Semitism plank that is often used to defer or derail criticism of many of the players at the AEI and other foreign policy groups that are closely aligned, if not simply sharing members and goals, while maintaining separate revenue sources. I will give him credit for honing in on Leo Strauss’ contention that the “intellectual elite must tutor untrained princes” which is very much the role that the American Enterprise Institute or the Institute for the Study of War maintain that they do–though, with less bombast and far more quiet advice, while working to manufacture consent through a multitude of media outlets. Margolick paints a picture of intellectuals with little governing experience who lecture to those who do the real work, and that is very much the failing of the Neoconservatives–brilliant scholars, who write and write, and spin tales of grand adventure and high minded ideals, and absolutely no conception of how to actually achieve these goals, but Boy Howdy, can they whip up the masses by extension.
*click to enlarge
*click to enlarge
Margolick does himself, and his article some disservice, by allowing the fingers of anti-Semitism to creep into his piece. Not by his own words, but to allow any retreat from the pointed criticism to give folks the shield that they can hide behind. Identifying this trend to credit anti-Semitism as being the primary reason for criticism only opens up the reader to question whether or not the critics are engaging in exactly that. It makes the connection a bit too easy, and that is really the Neocons’ strength–that they are more than willing to be intellectually disingenuous in the pursuit of their goals, and to hide behind wall after wall, and excuse after excuse for why their visions have failed to congeal, after half a century of prognostication.
It’s not simply that Neocons have been wrong, over and over and over again, but that they have been wrong over and over and over again, and still they go back to the same well to pump for MORE of the same bad ideas, and with a zeal and cheerfulness to spend lives, capital, and reputations of those they back as tools for a game that impacts them little, save as intellectual exercise.
If anything, Neoconservatives are a wonderful example of what happens when people are educated beyond their means of comprehension, and aren’t opened up to real criticism. They are grand examples of why intellectuals have a tendency to be pulled out behind sheds during revolutions, because as an excuse machine for policies that service ideology they have labored for many a year to give folks a clear blueprint for policies that sound good on paper, but not so great in practice, and if our politics were a hair less influenced by media and donations by backers, this is a movement that would have starved on the vine a while ago. So long as folks are paid to apologize and make excuses for these failures, and don’t mind taking intellectually perilous and often contradictory positions so long as the checks are good, we will continue to see these odd ducks trying like hell to prove that they were right all along–even if they have to rig the game and the players to do so.