Thursday, February 08, 2007

Hating those dreadful neocons (Part I): cavils about cabals

Neocons are the folks so many people love to hate. And hate to love.

To many, "neocon" has become an epithet. And this was true quite some time before the Iraq War.

Some of the people using the term that way haven't any real idea of what a neocon stands for. Some have an idea, but it's vague and/or incorrect. And, no doubt, some who hate neocons know quite well what they stand for.

One of the things that prompted this post is an encounter I had with a good friend of mine recently. She and I hadn't discussed politics in quite a long time, after a few initial forays into the topic hadn't gone well. She's not very political anyway, and it's not something I need to talk about, so we got into the "agree to disagree and leave it at that" mold.

I was stunned, however, when she brought up politics herself, much to my surprise. She was clearly agitated and quite disturbed by something; she was hemming and hawing as she said she needed to ask me a question.

Apparently she'd spoken to another friend of hers who'd insisted that neocons have a pernicious approach to, among other things, freedom of speech--to wit, they wish to end it. "Is that really true?" she asked me.

If I had then gone to my closet, taken out a Klan hood or a Nazi armband and put either (or both) on, I don't think she would have been especially surprised. But instead, I tried to give her a little summary course on what neocons are about, including the fact that neocons actually don't advocate invading country after country to accomplish the spread of democracy and human rights, and that the invasion of Iraq (although I don't particularly want to raise that discussed-ad-nauseum-topic again here) was multi-determined; the goal of spreading democracy alone probably would not have been enough to have gone to war there. I also told her that neocons don't necessarily support the exact ways in which the Bush administration has handled post-invasion Iraq, nor do they always agree even with each other.

And, of course, they're all for freedom of speech. In fact, they advocate it. Because the type of democracy neocons favor--democracy with human rights and constitutional guarantees, so-called "liberal" democracy (ironic, that, is it not?)--includes freedom of speech, naturally.

The conversation ended--she seemed relieved, and asked for a recommendation for something to read to learn more. I mentioned a book I'm about a third of the way into, by Douglas Murray, entitled Neoconservatism: Why We Need It.

It's one thing to disagree with neocons on substantive issues, and especially on strategy. That's not hatred; that's argument and differences of opinion. It's quite another to consider them evil, and ascribe to them positions they do not advocate, although many do. This is an emotional thing; and there's an emotional basis for it--or maybe several emotional bases (that's why this is Part I; there's a Part II coming).

As I said, this antipathy is hardly a result of the Iraq War; it was present beforehand. What's it about?

It takes a different form than the rabid hatred of Bush, referred to in the blogopshere as BDS (Bush Derangement Syndrome). BDS has to do with a perception of Bush as stupid, theocratically inclined (for the US, that is), anti-science, nuclear-mispronouncing and of course, warmongering (remember, he planned 9/11, at least according to my spam mail).

No, except for the "warmongering" part, the neocons are hated for other reasons. They are considered smarter, though just as evil, if not more (actually, Bush is often portrayed as their clueless dupe).

Neocons are widely perceived as Jewish. Although it's certainly not the case that all of them are, it's true that Jews are overrepresented among them. And so it is impossible to ignore or discount the influence of that perennial favorite--anti-Semitism--on the phenomenon of neocon-hatred, although of course many people who hate neocons will try to do exactly that.

Note, for example, the predominance of the word "cabal" in so many diatribes against neocons. Here's information on the term, which means "a conspiratorial group of plotters or intriguers." And, of course, there's derivation of the word, which is not at all obscure or difficult to figure out:

The term cabal derives from Kabbalah (a word that has numerous spelling variations), the mystical interpretation of the Hebrew scripture, and originally meant either an occult doctrine or a secret. It was introduced into English in the publication of Cabala, a curious medley of letters and papers of the reigns of James and Charles I that appeared in 1654.

But the use of the word "cabal" alone does not an anti-Semite make. One of the many hallmarks of anti-Semitism, however (almost a fingerprint), is a situation in which Jews are not allowed the same sort of leeway others are; when they are held to higher or different standards than the rest. So neocons are not allowed to simply be a group of people who share a particular approach to foreign policy--for example, much as the realpolitikers are--and with whom many happen to disagree. An approach which, like all approaches, is flawed, and leads sometimes to difficulties. An approach advocated by people who are sincere and well-meaning, but perhaps misguided, according to detractors.

No, they are evil plotters, bent on controlling the world for their own nefarious purposes, much like those Elders of Zion we've heard so much about:

...[The Protocals of the Elders of Zion] is an antisemitic literary forgery that purports to describe a Jewish plot to achieve world domination...Scholars generally agree that the Okhrana, the secret police of the Russian Empire, fabricated the text in the late 1890s or early 1900s....he Protocols are widely considered to be the beginning of contemporary conspiracy theory literature, and take the form of an instruction manual to a new member of the "elders," describing how they will run the world through control of the media and finance, and replace the traditional social order with one based on mass manipulation....It is still frequently quoted and reprinted by antisemites, and is sometimes used as evidence of an alleged Jewish cabal, especially in the Middle East.

The idea that a small group of plotting Jews are trying to take over the world has a long and illustrious history, I'm afraid. The plotters here are seen as incredibly intelligent and almost magically powerful, not stupid--although evil.

Hitler, of course, was perhaps the best example of one who ascribes wholeheartedly to the "evil Jewish cabal" theory. Here are some words he penned as he was about to kill himself, when all was lost for his glorious Reich. To his dying day, it was still the Jews, the Jews, the evil plotting Jews. This is the form the accusation took, which is the pertinent point:

It is untrue that I or anyone else in Germany wanted war in 1939. It was wanted and provoked solely by international statesmen either of Jewish origin or working for Jewish interests...[F]rom the ruins of our towns and monuments the hatred of those ultimately responsible will always grow anew against the people whom we have to thank for all this: international Jewry and its henchmen.

Am I saying that neocon-haters are Nazis? No, no, a thousand times no. But the idea that neocons are "an evil Jewish conspiracy" rather than "a group of people sincerely trying to come up with a solution to the problem of third world misery as well as the threat angry Islamic totalitarians present to us" is an example of demonization of those with whom one disagrees. Hitler represented an extreme of this same impulse.

One can certainly disagree with the solutions neocons offer in terms of theory or practicality or effectiveness. But that's true of almost every approach to policy. It's hard, however, to see how anyone could disagree with the ultimate desirability of the "neocon agenda," if achieved--democracy and human rights for all, although one can easily disagree with the details of its execution (I certainly have). But demonizing the neocons themselves and their motivations, in the way of the neocon-haters, is quite another story, and indicates that something else is at play here.

[Part II tomorrow: other reasons behind neo-hatred, on both the Left and the Right.]

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