THE NEOCONSERVATIVE MIND- They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons

They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons
Jacob Heilbrunn
New York: Doubleday, 2008
Reviewed by Kevin MacDonald

By now the history of the neoconservative movement is a bit of a
twice-told tale. There have been book-length academic treatments and
substantial coverage in the media, especially as the influence of the
neocons in the George W. Bush Administration and in promoting the
war in Iraq came to be public knowledge. Those with some familiarity
with this history will find that Heilbrunn’s treatment adds little to
available accounts. But what it does better than other mainstream media
accounts is to really get at the Jewish nexus of the movement.
This in itself is a major accomplishment because mainstream accounts
of neoconservatism routinely ignore the Jewish origins and
composition of the movement. Or they dismiss any discussion of Jewish
identities and Jewish interests that are so central to neoconservatism
as the ravings of anti-Semites.
Heilbrunn is quite clear about the role of Jewishness in neoconservatism.
After dismissing other views of what neoconservatism is, he
states flatly that neoconservatism “is about a mind set, one that has
been decisively shaped by the Jewish immigrant experience, by the
Holocaust, and by the twentieth-century struggle against totalitarianism”
(p. 10). “Indeed, as much as they may deny it, neoconservatism
is in a decisive respect a Jewish phenomenon, reflecting a subset of
Jewish concerns” (p. 11).
But Heilbrunn goes beyond simply recording the Jewish identities
and interests that form the backbone of neoconservatism. He gets at
the psychological milieu of neoconservatism, and in this regard I do
think he makes a genuine contribution to our understanding of Jewish
intellectual and political movements.
82 The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 8, no. 3, Fall 2008
Psychological Intensity, Anti-White Hostility
The title of the book—They Knew They Were Right—says a great
deal. As Heilbrunn shows, the neocons are people “of an uncompromising
temperament who use (and treat) ideas as weapons in a moral
struggle” (p. 13). He gets at the passion of Jewish involvement in political
causes, tracing it back to traditional Jewish attitudes in Eastern
Europe: “As one Yiddish newspaper put it, ‘with hatred, with a threefold
curse, we must weave the shroud for the Russian autocratic government,
for the entire anti-Semitic criminal gang’” (p. 25). Regarding
Max Shachtman, an early neocon follower of Trotsky, “his father
transmitted his hatred of the Russian, German, and Austro-Hungarian
empires to him” (p. 29). The proto-neocons of the 1930s “reveled in
their hatred of capitalism and their snobbish alienation from American
society” (p. 43). When George H. W. Bush became president, “the
eastern establishment Republicans brought in by Bush, men like
James Baker and Brent Scowcroft, represented everything the neocons
despised” (p. 194).
These quotes reflect two themes I have stressed in a previous TOQ
essay on background traits for Jewish activism: psychological intensity
and the motivating force of hatred of the existing social order as
anti-Jewish.1 There are many passages where he mentions the psychological
intensity of the neocons. For example, neocons “always believe
what they are saying with the utmost intensity; it’s in their nature as
prophetic personalities” (p. 137). And a prime passion is hatred of
their enemies. Indeed, he contrasts William Buckley with the passionate
intensity of Norman Podhoretz:
The contrast with a Tory conservative such as William F. Buckley
Jr. is striking. Buckley didn’t have ex-friends. He never saw
political differences as tantamount to personal betrayal. He was
best friends, for example, with the legendary journalist Murray
Kempton, who was at the other end of the political pole. This is
not necessarily to Podhoretz’s discredit. There is something to be
said for the almost willful, naïve ferocity of his political passions.
(p. 77)
1 Kevin MacDonald, “Background Traits for Jewish Activism,” in Cultural Insurrections:
Essays on Western Civilization, Jewish Influence, and Anti-Semitism (Atlanta:
The Occidental Press, 2007).
MacDonald, “The Neoconservative Mind” 83
Surprisingly perhaps in a group of self-styled conservatives, Heilbrunn
repeatedly states that a major target of hatred for the Jewish
neocons was WASP political power and cultural influence. He finds
that the neocons were motivated partly by antipathy to the “social exclusion
and WASP snobbery that their fathers experienced in the early
part of the twentieth century—an attitude they carried with them
through the debates of the cold war and into the halls of power after
9/11” (pp. 11–12). Even their Anglophilia was motivated by their
view that the British aristocracy had been less anti-Jewish than the
American WASPs: “The neoconservatives would play a surprising
role in propagating nostalgia for the English aristocracy, supposed by
them to be a kind of benign ceremonial caste that might have been
stuffy and hidebound but had never frozen out the Jews the way the
WASPs back home had” (p. 58).
The WASPs in the State Department were a particular focus of their
ire. A quote from Douglas Feith is telling: Feith “told me in an interview
that because of his family history [i.e., decimated by the Holocaust]
he understands the true nature of foreign policy, unlike the
‘WASPs’ in the State Department” (p. 12). Feith sees foreign policy
from a Jewish, Holocaust-centric perspective that the WASPs can never
understand. He was at the center of power during recent American
history, but he sees himself as an outsider, his enemies the evil WASPs
whose fathers didn’t allow Jews into their country clubs.
The WASPs in the State Department assume an almost legendary
role in the demonology of neoconservatism—consigned to the lowest
reaches of hell. Their unforgiveable sin was to fail to see the world
fundamentally in terms of Jewish interests, beginning with their opposition
to recognizing Israel during the Truman administration. As
Howard Sachar notes in his history of Jews in America, Truman’s defense
secretary, James Forrestal, “was all but obsessed by the threat to
[American interests] he discerned in Zionist ambitions. His concern
was shared by the State Department and specifically by the Near East
Desk.”2 George Ball, whose co-authored 1992 book, The Passionate Attachment:
America’s Involvement with Israel,3 was critical of Israel and
the Israel lobby, is the prototype of this hated State Department
WASP. (Notice that the title of Ball’s excellent book reflects the theme
2 H. M. Sachar, A History of Jews in America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992), 597.
3 G. Ball and D. Ball, The Passionate Attachment: America’s Involvement with Israel,
1947 to the Present (New York: W. W. Norton, 1992).
84 The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 8, no. 3, Fall 2008
of psychological intensity among pro-Israel partisans.)
Like their radical cousins, the early neocons sought:
. . . to overturn the old order in America. . . . After all, no matter
how hard they worked, there were still quotas at the Ivy League
universities. Then there were the fancy clubs, the legal and financial
firms that saw Jews as interlopers who would soil their
proud escutcheons and were to be kept at bay. Smarting with
unsurpassed social resentment, the young Jews viewed themselves
as liberators, proclaiming a new faith. (p. 28)
Heilbrunn mentions “the snobbery of the Columbia English department,
where Jews were seen as cultural interlopers. This attitude,
which also prevailed on Wall Street and at the State Department, produced
a lifelong antipathy toward the patrician class among the neocons
and prompted them to create their own parallel establishment”
(p. 73). The result, as Norman Podhoretz phrased it, was to proclaim a
war against the “WASP patriciate” (p. 83).
The psychological fanaticism of the neocons made them inflexible,
but only to a point. They refused to acknowledge the changes in the
USSR brought about by Michael Gorbachev, while Reagan happily
made an about face and embraced the changes as genuine. Nevertheless,
the neocons rapidly regrouped and spearheaded the idea that the
United States as the world’s only superpower should aggressively
pursue an agenda of remaking the Muslim world and preventing any
other power from threatening its status.
Moral Posturing and Double Standards
Heilbrunn also notes the tendency for neocons to frame issues in
moral terms—a theme that is prominent in my writing on Jewish intellectual
movements generally.4 When Podhoretz became editor of
Commentary, he greeted the New Left with enthusiasm: “This left
movement will be a moral criticism of all existing social institutions”
(p. 78). The neocons, while decamping from the far left, never strayed
from framing issues in moral terms.
4 Kevin MacDonald, The Culture of Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement
in Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political Movements (Westport, Conn.:
Praeger, 1998; paperback ed.: Bloomington, Ind.: 1stBooks Library, 2002), ch. 6.
MacDonald, “The Neoconservative Mind” 85
Nevertheless, they have never allowed themselves to be swayed by
moral crusades that are against their interests. The prime example of
this is the demonization of Jimmy Carter. Carter’s emphasis on human
rights and his appointment of Andrew Young as UN Ambassador
infuriated the neocons because Carter had the temerity to see the
Palestinians’ grievances against Israel in moral terms. Carter has continued
his moral criticism of Israel, most recently with his book, Palestine:
Peace Not Apartheid. He is routinely labeled an anti-Semite by the
neocons and other activist Jews. Perhaps the most rabid example of
this rather extensive genre is Jimmy Carter’s War against the Jews, written
by Jacob Laskin and produced by the David Horowitz Freedom
On the other hand, using moral arguments against the USSR became
stock-in-trade for the neocons. And after the fall of the USSR,
they shifted smoothly to framing the proper role for US foreign policy
in the Middle East as a moral crusade for democracy and human
rights in the Muslim world.
This double standard on moral crusades is also reflected in neocons’
support for the war against Serbia. While Israel’s expansion of
its territory is enshrined as a moral imperative and while many of
the neocons (e.g., Douglas Feith) have close associations with the settler
movement in Israel, the neocons supported the use of force
against Serbia’s attempt to retain its historic territory against the invading
Kosovars (p. 208). Ethnonationalism is appropriate for Jews,
but not Europeans.
Paranoia and Self-Deception
Another very typical Jewish trait is to have a self-image of an embattled,
morally superior ingroup fighting against overwhelming
odds—in short, a bunker mentality that is entirely typical of traditional
Jews6 and Jewish intellectual and political movements (e.g.,
Jewish involvement in leftist politics and psychoanalysis7). As Jay
Winick described the neocons, “In their eyes, the inhabitants of the
Bunker were the beleaguered few, fighting the lonely war against the
6 Kevin MacDonald, A People that Shall Dwell Alone: Judaism as a Group Evolutionary
Strategy, with Diaspora Peoples (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1994; paperback ed.,
Lincoln, Nebr.: iUniverse, 2002), ch. 7.
7 See The Culture of Critique.
86 The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 8, no. 3, Fall 2008
left-wing forces of darkness, always on the precipice, about to be
overwhelmed. Perle constantly talked about lonely battles, the isolation,
the attacks on himself and his colleagues” (p. 124). And when the
war in Iraq went badly, and they were attacked by the left and the
right, a “prominent New York neoconservative” stated that being “beleaguered
plays into all the old psychological reflexes. Everyone’s decided
the neocons are wrong. That’s vindication” (p. 280).
There is obviously a healthy dose of self-deception in this sort of
rhetoric—another common facet of Jewish intellectual activity.8 Despite
being ensconced in well-funded think tanks and eventually in
the corridors of power in Washington, they think of themselves as besieged
outsiders—outsiders with “seething rage at the government
bureaucracy and social elites” (p. 124). The double standards apparent
in Jewish moral posturing noted above also strongly suggest deception
or self-deception.
Another point mentioned by Heilbrunn that I have perhaps paid
insufficient attention to in my writing on Jewish intellectuals is that
the neocons had a penchant for “sweeping assertions and grandiose
ideas” (p. 26). Regarding Partisan Review and other “little magazines”
of the 1950s that formed the background of the neoconservative
movement, “one is struck by their grandiosity and the conviction of
self-importance on the part of a tiny group of obscure critics and intellectuals
who never doubted their own wisdom, insight, and above all,
prescience” (p. 40).
This is a good point. All of the movements reviewed in The Culture
of Critique had a certain grandiosity, and certainly the neoconservative
utopian vision of a democratic, pro-Israel Middle East is nothing if not
grandiose. I noted the following in a passage of Culture of Critique that
also describes the grandiosity of Jewish intellectual movements, the
passionate intensity with which these utopian views are advocated,
and their moral fervor:
These movements have called into question the fundamental
moral, political, and economic foundations of Western society. . . .
8 Kevin MacDonald, Separation and Its Discontents: Toward an Evolutionary Theory
of Anti-Semitism. (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1998; paperback ed.: Bloomington, Ind.:
1stbooks Library, 2004), ch. 8.
MacDonald, “The Neoconservative Mind” 87
These movements have been advocated with great intellectual
passion and moral fervor and with a very high level of theoretical
sophistication. Each movement promised its own often overlapping
and complementary version of utopia: a society composed
of people with the same biological potential for accomplishment
and able to be easily molded by culture into ideal citizens
as imagined by a morally and intellectually superior elite; a
classless society in which there would be no conflicts of interest,
and people would altruistically work for the good of the group;
a society in which people would be free of neuroses and aggression
toward outgroups and in tune with their biological urges; a
multicultural paradise in which different racial and ethnic
groups would live in harmony and cooperation.9
Jewish Hero Worship and Ethnic Networking
Heilbrunn also highlights the hero worship that, in my view, is typical
of Jewish intellectual and political movements.10 In the case of the
neocons, the first hero was Leon Trotsky, and then, for many, it was
Max Shachtman.11 Then there was Alan Bloom, himself an adoring
disciple of Leo Strauss. An acolyte of Bloom, Kenneth Weinstein,
notes that being a student of Bloom was like “orbiting the sun”
(quoted on p. 97). Bloom’s students “tried to model themselves on
him, to the point of wearing Turnbull and Asser shirts and squeaky
black leather shoes” (p. 97).
Hero worship is also doubtless a general aspect of Jewish networking.
Heilbrunn provides numerous examples of Jews helping other
Jews climb the ladder to power and influence, often in relationships of
mentor and worshipful protégé. Indeed, Heilbrunn’s own career is a
testament to the power of Jewish networking. His early heroes were
almost all Jews: Melvin Lasky, Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Arthur
Koestler. As a budding neocon in college, he invited Richard
Pipes, Carl Gershman, and Midge Decter as speakers for the Republican
club. He corresponded with Sidney Hook. His first job was working
for National Interest, an important neocon journal published by Irving
Kristol. He co-authored a piece (with Michael Lind) for the New
9 The Culture of Critique, ch. 6.
10 Ibid.
11 Kevin MacDonald, “Neoconservatism as a Jewish Movement” and “Neoconservative
Portraits,” in Cultural Insurrections.
88 The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 8, no. 3, Fall 2008
York Review of Books “examining the anti-Semitic sources” used by
Christian evangelical leader Pat Robertson. He then did a series of reviews
for the New Republic at the invitation of Leon Wieseltier.
Another prime example of Jewish networking described by Heilbrunn
is Douglas Feith. Feith was a student and later a colleague of
Richard Pipes, a Harvard professor and prominent neocon. Doubtless
with a letter of recommendation from Pipes, he interned at the Foreign
Policy Research Institute where he developed a relationship with
its president, Harvey Sicherman and with John F. Lehman (Secretary
of the Navy under Reagan). Feith also developed a relationship with
Leslie Gelb, then President of the Council on Foreign Relations and a
New York Times correspondent. Gelb recommended him to Scoop
Jackson’s group in the US Senate. There he then became a protégé of
Paul Wolfowitz after being hired by Richard Perle. In 1982, Perle, then
Deputy Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy, hired
Feith for a position as his Special Counsel, and then as Deputy Assistant
Secretary for Negotiations Policy. Wolfowitz and Perle were responsible
for Feith being hired as undersecretary of defense working
under Wolfowitz where, as head of the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation
Group in the Defense Department, he hired people like David
Wurmser and Abram Shulsky with their own deep ties to Israel and
neocon connections. In this role, he also appointed Perle as chairman
of the Defense Policy Board.
Heilbrunn has a bit to say on the difficult question of the motives of
non-Jews who are involved in neoconservatism. His statement that
“the movement’s non-Jewish members were largely bound to the
group by a shared commitment to the largest, most important Jewish
cause: the survival of Israel” (p. 69) may be correct in some cases. But
it is often quite difficult to separate such sentiments from the personal
and professional attractions of being involved in neoconservative
networks. Nevertheless, he is quite accurate when describing Henry
Jackson’s philo-Semitism, and he provides an interesting passage on
Ronald Reagan’s philo-Semitism:
Reagan was a former New Deal liberal, and he was, unlike
some conservatives, pro-Israel. His sympathy for Israel had
deeply personal roots: he never forgot that his father bypassed a
MacDonald, “The Neoconservative Mind” 89
hotel that didn’t admit Jews. Reagan, aghast at the Holocaust,
backed the creation of Israel and in his weekly radio broadcasts
often decried anti-Semitism. He himself had converted to conservatism,
and it was natural that he would welcome new converts
[i.e., the neocons]. (p. 162)
Passages like this can hardly be seen as definitive, given the complexities
of human motivation. (E.g., was Reagan attempting to court Jewish
support as he entered conservative politics?) Nevertheless, they
are intriguing.
Heilbrunn also has some nice nuggets on George W. Bush’s naïveté
in the area of foreign policy.
The first time [Richard Perle] met Bush, he immediately sensed
that he was different from his father. Two things were clear to
Perle: one was that Bush didn’t know much about foreign policy
and another was that he wasn’t too embarrassed to confess it.
Like Wolfowitz, Perle admired Bush’s ability, as he saw it, to cut
to the heart of the matter rather than become mesmerized by
Washington policy talk. (p. 230)
The fact that Bush was a babe in the woods on foreign policy was seen
as a plus by the neocons. “In August 1999 an excited Wolfowitz told me
over lunch . . . that Bush had the ability to penetrate the dense fog of
foreign policy expertise to ask a simple question. ‘Tell me what I need
to know? [sic]’ Bush, Wolfowitz said, was ‘another Scoop Jackson’” (p.
230)—a comment that certainly doesn’t reflect well on Jackson.
Although Heilbrunn states that we can never know for certain what
was going on in Bush’s brain in the days and months after 9/11, his
comment that Bush “moved further and further into the web that the
neoconservatives had woven around him” (p. 235) seems reasonable.
Heilbrunn ignores completely the battle between neocons and paleocons
for influence in the Reagan administration. He describes the
neocons as interlopers because they represented no natural constituency
in the GOP—interlopers who established themselves with the
power of their pens. He leaves the impression that Republicans just
naturally realized the brilliance of the neocons and welcomed them
90 The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 8, no. 3, Fall 2008
with open arms. This ignores some rather heated conflicts—well described
by Sam Francis—in which the neocons ousted the older paleocon
intellectual base of the Republican Party. Given this lacuna, Francis’s
comments are worth repeating here:
There are countless stories of how neoconservatives have succeeded
in entering conservative institutions, forcing out or demoting
traditional conservatives, and changing the positions and
philosophy of such institutions in neoconservative directions. . . .
Writers like M. E. Bradford, Joseph Sobran, Pat Buchanan, and
Russell Kirk, and institutions like Chronicles, the Rockford Institute,
the Philadelphia Society, and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute
have been among the most respected and distinguished
names in American conservatism. The dedication of their neoconservative
enemies to driving them out of the movement they
have taken over and demonizing them as marginal and dangerous
figures has no legitimate basis in reality. It is clear evidence
of the ulterior aspirations of those behind neoconservatism to
dominate and subvert American conservatism from its original
purposes and agenda and turn it to other purposes. . . . What
neoconservatives really dislike about their “allies” among traditional
conservatives is simply the fact that the conservatives are
conservatives at all—that they support “this notion of a Christian
civilization,” as Midge Decter put it, that they oppose mass
immigration . . . that they entertain doubts or strong disagreement
over American foreign policy in the Middle East, that they
oppose reckless involvement in foreign wars and foreign entanglements,
and that, in company with the Founding Fathers of the
United States, they reject the concept of a pure democracy and
the belief that the United States is or should evolve toward it.12
Oddly, Heilbrunn states that in the second Iraq war “it became fashionable
on the left to argue that the war had been prosecuted largely, if
not exclusively, for the benefit of Israel and its neoconservative allies”
(p. 203). Hardly. While the left reflexively blamed the oil industry, the
only people noting the pro-Israel agenda of the war were people like
12 Samuel Francis, “The Neoconservative Subversion,” in Neoconservatism, ed.
Brent Nelson, Occasional Papers of the Conservative Citizens’ Foundation, no. 6 (St.
Louis: Conservative Citizens’ Foundation, 2004), 9.
MacDonald, “The Neoconservative Mind” 91
Pat Buchanan—that is, the remnants of the paleocon right.
It is noteworthy that neoconservatism produced no revolutions in
domestic policy, only in foreign policy. Heilbrunn’s book reflects this,
since he spends a tiny percentage of the book on domestic issues, the
rest on foreign policy. There is little question that from its beginning,
foreign policy was the area that excited the passion of the neocons,
with domestic policy pretty much an afterthought. And it’s quite clear
that Heilbrunn doesn’t even believe that the neocons are sincere about
many of their stated beliefs on domestic issues.
Indeed, the general impression one gets is that the neocons adopted
positions on domestic policies in order to win influence within the
Republican Party and then used their influence to further their foreign
policy agenda. As a result, domestic policies were never the focus of
the intense pressure that neocons were able to muster for their foreign
policy initiatives.
For example, Heilbrunn notes that Bill Kristol “made it a particular
point to attack homosexuality, even participating in a conference at
Georgetown University about ‘curing’ gays of their supposed pathology.
It is hard to imagine that Kristol himself harbors any real prejudice
against gays. Politically, however, it remained a highly effective
wedge issue” (p. 213).
Similarly, although not mentioned by Heilbrunn, the neocons
jumped on the bandwagon when illegal immigration became an issue,
although they certainly did not originate this issue. As John
O’Sullivan noted regarding Kristol’s activism on an amnesty bill,
“Kristol, representing many neoconservatives disposed to favor the
bill, came out against it. He did so in part because it had serious drafting
defects but, more importantly, because it was creating a bitter gulf
between rank-and-file Republicans and the party leadership. That in
turn was imperiling Republican objectives in other areas, notably
Iraq.”13 Peter Brimelow says it best: “Kristol will return to immigration
enthusiasm once he has helped persuade Bush to attack Iran.14
Again, it is very doubtful that the neocons are personally opposed
to illegal immigration, since they have generally supported anti-
92 The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 8, no. 3, Fall 2008
restrictionist immigration policies. Among the neocons, the poster boy
for enthusiasm for unrestricted immigration is Ben Wattenberg, who
openly yearns for a post-white America: “The non-Europeanization of
America is heartening news of an almost transcendental quality.”15
Wattenberg is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute,
the main neoconservative think tank.
One wonders what might have happened if the neocons had pursued
a restrictionist immigration policy with as much fervor as they
pursued a pro-Israel foreign policy. The reality is, however, that after
two Republican administrations where neocons exerted a huge influence
on foreign policy (especially under George W. Bush), the hegemony
of the left over immigration policy remains intact. It is difficult
not to conclude that the neocons’ softness on immigration is intimately
related to their hatred for the white power structure—a theme
that I have explored elsewhere as generally motivating Jews on this
It is worth remembering that neocons and the mainstream Jewish
community despised not only the WASPs with whom they were in
competition, but also the rest of the white population of traditional
America. For example, although not mentioned by Heilbrunn, it is
well known that the early neocons—often labeled the New York Intellectuals—
despised rural, small town America and particularly the
American South at least as much as they despised the WASP elite.17
This is true despite the fact—noted by Heilbrunn—that neocons like
Norman Podhoretz pandered to Christian social conservatives and
their white, rural, small town base in an attempt to develop a viable
coalition within the Republican Party. But, as we have seen, these are
positions of convenience, not conviction.
Heilbrunn states that Dick Cheney was not a neocon. This is simply
false. Cheney was well-connected to the neocon foreign policy network
15 Ben Wattenberg, The Good News Is the Bad News Is Wrong (Washington, D.C.:
AEI Press, 1984), 84.
16 MacDonald, 2003, ibid.
17 See The Culture of Critique, ch. 6. Ben Stein shows that dislike of small town, rural
America is also apparent in mass media produced by Jews. See Ben Stein, The
View from Sunset Boulevard: America as Brought to You by the People Who Make Television
(New York: Basic Books, 1979).
MacDonald, “The Neoconservative Mind” 93
throughout the 1990s, and he has a long history of aligning himself
with Jewish interests.18 Moreover, as Heilbrunn notes, he appointed
Scooter Libby (a Wolfowitz protégé) as his chief of staff. Heilbrunn also
notes that Cheney was influenced heavily by Bernard Lewis, the Princeton
University historian of the Muslim world with strong personal ties
to the Likud party. Lewis, who was also a guru to Scoop Jackson as
well as a confidant of a long succession of Israeli Prime Ministers, must
be viewed as having committed one of the most spectacular academic
frauds in history by providing a veneer of academic respectability to
the idea that only a modicum of force would be sufficient to unleash
natural Arab tendencies toward democracy.19 Doubtless as a result of
Cheney’s influence, Lewis became “Bush’s historian.”20
Heilbrunn portrays Paul Wolfowitz as a “pawn for Rumsfeld and
Bush” (p. 234), with no evidence at all that this was the case. This
seems highly unlikely given the passionate intensity with which the
neocons in general, and Wolfowitz in particular, pursued their goals
over decades and long before they joined the Bush II administration.
Heilbrunn also portrays Wolfowitz’s appointment of Douglas Feith
as a “catastrophic mistake” (p. 230), not because Feith was a dedicated
Zionist who played a leading role in producing the false intelligence
that provided a justification for the Iraq war, but because he didn’t
run meetings properly.
Indeed, without any evidence at all, Wolfowitz, whose personal
background is characterized by the usual neocon obsession with Israel,
the Holocaust, and other Jewish issues,21 is presented as motivated
by his humanitarianism, not his commitment to Zionism:
Unlike Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz was genuinely obsessed with the
Middle East. But Wolfowitz was a humanitarian, not a warrior.
He relished the fact that he had become a kind of folk hero in Indonesia
for championing democracy as ambassador. He wanted
to do good, to help the weak, to bask in the applause of foreign
populations. He was especially concerned with human rights.
These were laudable impulses. But they also allowed emotion to
18 “Neoconservative Portraits,” Cultural Insurrections, 187–90.
19 Ibid., 185–86.
20 Brian Whitaker, “Bush’s Historian,” The Guardian, May 2, 2006.
21 See “Neoconservative Portraits,” Cultural Insurrections, 171–76.
94 The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 8, no. 3, Fall 2008
outstrip analysis when it came to the Middle East. (p. 234)
Later, Heilbrunn depicts Wolfowitz as tortured by guilt about leaving
Kurds and Shiites to the revenge of Saddam Hussein after the first
Gulf war. Again, no evidence is provided.
Heilbrunn’s most significant failing is that despite adopting a generally
critical tone toward the neocons, he goes to great lengths to absolve
his subjects of the charge of disloyalty. His argument is quite
simple: neocons are not disloyal because they are sincere in their belief
that American and Israeli interests are fundamentally the same:
One cannot avoid the fact that these accusations of Jewish
“dual loyalty” point not to traitorous behavior but to something
else—a conflation of America’s and Israel’s interests. After all, it
is quite true that while not all neoconservatives are Jews, the majority
of neoconservatives were, and are, Jewish; it is also true
that they tend to propose foreign policy goals that support and
favor Israel. The fact that they argue, and sincerely believe, that
Israeli and American interests are closely aligned only makes
them look more “ideological” in the eyes of their critics. (p. 10)
Further, Heilbrunn makes the following comment on a New York
Times advertisement advocating greater US support for Israel in the
context of George H. W. Bush’s brief attempt in 1992 to stand up to
the Israel Lobby over $10 billion in housing loan guarantees in exchange
for ceasing construction of West Bank settlements: “This
wasn’t a cynical desire to manipulate American foreign policy, as the
critics of the neoconservatives would allege, but a sincere belief that
(Pat Buchanan to the contrary) there was a deep and abiding tie between
Israel and the United States” (p. 206).
Pat Buchanan to the contrary indeed.
Most egregiously, Heilbrunn credulously quotes a “Bush administration
friend” of neocon operative David Wurmser:
For Wurmser, Israel is the driving force. He had ideas about
Israel—we’re both arsenals of democracy. He is the son of two
émigré Jews, Swiss and Czech. He met his wife, Meyrav, in Israel,
MacDonald, “The Neoconservative Mind” 95
and they are the dynamic duo of think tank Zionism. His wife
writes about Israel losing its Zionist view. What people describe
in conspiratorial terms isn’t true; it’s an intellectual connection. . . .
They just believe this stuff. They’re not agents. David is completely
without guile. (p. 224)
Despite his failure to infer disloyalty in his subjects, Heilbrunn actually
marshals quite a bit of the evidence that indeed many neocons
were motivated by their Jewish identity. For example, he describes the
notorious “clean break” paper co-authored by American neocons and
advocating a policy of regime change in the Middle East beginning
with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. He dwells on Charles Krauthammer’s
deep commitment to Israel, and he makes a point of Elliott Abrams’
extraordinary commitment to Israel and the Jewish people. He has a
long section detailing Douglas Feith’s obsession with Zionism beginning
in his youth.
Heilbrunn does manage to quote Pat Buchanan’s classic 2003 American
Conservative article “Whose War?”22 including Buchanan’s comment,
“We charge them with colluding with Israel to ignite those wars
and destroy the Oslo accords.” But he dismisses Buchanan simply by
stating that the charges “don’t amount to an intellectual argument so
much as a criminal indictment. The overheated language suggests the
extent to which the foes of neoconservatism sometimes become mirror
images of it in their eagerness to debunk and expose the movement”
(p. 249).
Instead, Heilbrunn depicts the neocons as motivated by legitimate
moral concerns about preventing another situation where America
stands by as another Holocaust unfolds. “As Jews, they (and their
Catholic conservative allies) were haunted by the memory that the
Allies had not stopped the Holocaust—and they strongly believed
that it was America’s obligation to act preemptively to avert another
one” (p. 243).
One wonders: Who are these Catholic conservatives who believed in
American guilt over the Holocaust to the point that they were willing
to promote wars in the Middle East? No evidence is ever provided
that guilt over the putative US role in the Holocaust was a motivating
22 Pat Buchanan, “Whose War? A neoconservative clique seeks to ensnare our
country in a series of wars that are not in America’s interest,” The American Conservative,
March 24, 2003,
96 The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 8, no. 3, Fall 2008
factor for the neocons. In the end, it is just another convenient fiction—
an effective “just so” story that makes the neocons into moral
actors rather than scheming (or self-deceived) agents acting on behalf
of a foreign government.
And of course, what is missing from Heilbrunn’s account is the
one-sidedness of it all. No mention is made of Israeli aggression in
seizing land on the West Bank and Gaza or their brutal and degrading
treatment of the Palestinians as critical ingredients in the hostility toward
Israel throughout the Muslim world. Moral posturing is entirely
reserved for Jews and defenders of Israel.
One need not be a professional psychologist to realize that sincere
beliefs can be influenced in subtle ways by one’s ethnic commitments.
23 The neocons may not be consciously disloyal, but there is
every reason to suppose that their beliefs are tailor-made to conform
to their perception of ethnic interests. And in the case of the neocons,
as Heilbrunn shows, there is overwhelming evidence for deep ethnic
commitments among neoconservative Jews.
Heilbrunn asks whether the neocons knowingly fudged the facts on
intelligence. His answer: “Not really. They fit the facts to conform
with their own preconceived theories” (p. 260). Unfortunately, it’s impossible
to understand their preconceived theories as anything but a
reflection of their ethnic commitment.
As I noted in The Culture of Critique, “many of the Jews involved in
the movements reviewed here may sincerely believe that these
movements are really divorced from specifically Jewish interests or
are in the best interests of other groups as well as Jews. . . . But, as
[evolutionary theorist Robert] Trivers . . . notes, the best deceivers are
those who are self-deceived.”
Sadly, Heilbrunn must be counted among those afflicted by this
form of self-deception. It is encouraging that discussion of the loyalty
issue is becoming more common. In a post to his blog for Time Magazine
on June 28, 2008, Joe Klein made a point that has been obvious to
many for quite some time: “The fact that a great many Jewish neocon-
23 See Kevin MacDonald, “The Israel Lobby: A Case Study in Jewish Influence”
(Review of The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, by John J. Mearsheimer and Steven
M. Walt), The Occidental Quarterly 7 (Fall 2007): 33–58.
MacDonald, “The Neoconservative Mind” 97
servatives—people like Joe Lieberman and the crowd over at Commentary—
plumped for this war, and now for an even more foolish assault
on Iran, raised the question of divided loyalties: using US military
power, US lives and money, to make the world safe for Israel.”24
Needless to say, he was lambasted for this indiscretion. John Podhoretz,
writing in the Commentary blog, labeled him “manifestly intellectually
unstable”;25 others called him an anti-Semite and called for
his firing from Time. And the ADL went into its usual hysteria whenever
such comments surface:
The notion that Jews with “divided loyalties” were behind the
decision to go to war is reminiscent of age-old anti-Semitic canards
about a Jewish conspiracy to control and manipulate government,
which has unfortunately gained new currency of late
with public figures such as Jimmy Carter and professors John
Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt suggesting that American Jews
are disloyal and that pro-Israel groups have undue influence
over American foreign policy.27
As Klein has noted, these attempts at silencing, character assassination,
and intimidation are “happening because I said something that
is palpably true, but unspoken in polite society.”28
It is indeed true that an important theme of historical anti-Semitism
has been that when there are conflicts between Jewish interests and
the interests of the societies they live in, Jews are more loyal to Jewish
interests.29 Given what we know about human evolved psychology,
this is not at all surprising.30
The good news, then, is that even though Heilbrunn’s book pushed
the envelope a bit by discussing the Jewish nature of neoconservatism
in the mainstream media, he is already well behind the curve in terms
24 Joe Klein, “Surge protection.” Time Magazine Swampland Blog, June 24, 2008,
25 John Podhoretz, writing in his Commentary blog, July, 29, 2008,
27 ADL letter to Joe Klein, June 25, 2008,
29 Separation and Its Discontents, ch. 2.
30 Ibid., ch. 1.
98 The Occidental Quarterly, vol. 8, no. 3, Fall 2008
of frank discussion of Jewish identities and influence. Issues that were
formerly discussed only in places like The Occidental Quarterly or The
Occidental Observer are now discussed in Time Magazine, Commentary,
and the Huffington Post. The times they are indeed a-changin’.
Kevin MacDonald, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology at California
State University—Long Beach. He is author of A People That Shall
Dwell Alone: Judaism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy (Westport,
Conn.: Praeger, 1994; paperback ed., Lincoln, Nebr.: iUniverse,
2002), Separation and Its Discontents: Toward an Evolutionary
Theory of Anti-Semitism (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1998; paperback
ed., Bloomington, Ind.: 1stBooks Library, 2004), The Culture of
Critique: An Evolutionary Analysis of Jewish Involvement in
Twentieth-Century Intellectual and Political Movements (Westport,
Conn.: Praeger, 1998; paperback ed., Bloomington, Ind.: 1stBooks
Library, 2002), and Cultural Insurrections: Essays on Western Civilization,
Jewish Influence, and Anti-Semitism (Atlanta: The Occidental
Press, 2007).

3 thoughts on “THE NEOCONSERVATIVE MIND- They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons

  1. your knowledge is so incredible. Again those evil Zionists. Do you really think the Jews could tell Dubya to go to war. He went to war with Iraq because Saddam tried to kill his Daddy. And you know what you and your Wasp buddies can keep your money cut off the 3 billion given to Israel and stop shoving this damn Peace plan down Israel’s throat. It was George Bush and Jim Baker that started this stupid peace plan. Now Obama is trying to make it worse. Obama doesn’t help a zionist like me out he is as much my enemy as Bush 1, Carter and Baker.

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