January 6, 2004 

by Joe Sobran

     Did you know that the word "neoconservative" -- 
often shortened to "neocon" -- is an ethnic slur? Neither 
did I, but some, er, conservative pundits have set me 

     David Brooks of the NEW YORK TIMES says of "the 
people labeled neocons" that "con is short for 
'conservative' and neo is short for 'Jewish.'" So when 
other people call these people "neocons," you see, 
they're really calling them Jews, which for some reason 
is anti-Semitic. 

     This must come as a surprise to Irving Kristol, who 
long ago cheerfully, indeed proudly, accepted the term. 
Though Jewish himself, he never suggested that you had to 
be Jewish to be a neocon. His Irish friend Daniel Patrick 
Moynihan was also called a neocon in those days, as are a 
number of other notable non-Jews today. 

     Kristol is still known as "the godfather of 
neoconservatism" and in a famous bon mot defined a 
neoconservative as "a liberal who has been mugged by 
reality." The neocons were known for a qualified 
skepticism about the welfare state, though, unlike 
traditional conservatives, they accepted it in principle. 
Kristol wanted to ditch a lot of conservative baggage 
about limited government, the free market, and the U.S. 
Constitution. Nothing particularly Jewish about all that. 
(Kristol's son William, by the way, is also a leading 

     So what's the problem? Well, the neocons broadly 
agreed with conservatives about foreign policy. They were 
anti-Communist and wanted an activist, some would say 
aggressive, U.S. foreign policy. And a lot of them, many 
of whom happened to be Jewish, especially wanted the 
United States to fight Israel's enemies. In the last few 
years, "neocon" has become synonymous with these 
particular neocons, though it's perfectly possible to 
adopt the neocon philosophy in principle without being 
either Jewish or pro-Israel. 

     In the real world, people can't help noticing that a 
pro-Israel faction has come to dominate the neocon 
movement. To say this, however, is to court the charge of 
bigotry. I like to define a bigot as "one who practices 
sociology without a license." There are certain social 
realities which it behooves one to discuss in euphemisms 
and circumlocutions. To talk about them bluntly is 
bigotry; to talk about them in academic lingo may be 

     Raising alarms about neocon influence is sometimes 
also called "a new form of McCarthyism." But of course 
lots of things -- hundreds, would be a safe estimate -- 
have been branded "a new form of McCarthyism," including 
any observation that communists and their sympathizers 
actually did infiltrate the administration of Franklin 

     The real Joe McCarthy rose to prominence by 
affirming, none too academically, not only that there 
were Reds under the bed, but that a lot of them were *in* 
the bed with their pinko friends. This forced liberals to 
make sure that they kept a careful distance from Stalin's 
little helpers, who had infiltrated the liberal movement 
and often hid behind liberal "fronts." The Reds often 
found liberal causes handy for their own purposes. 

     Is there a lesson here for the neocons? I think so. 
Like the liberals of yore, they have carelessly allowed 
their movement to be infiltrated by Zionist partisans and 
agents who have brought suspicion on all of them. And 
just as the liberals of McCarthy's day had to purge 
Communists from their ranks in order to preserve their 
good name, it's up to patriotic American neocons -- 
surely the great majority -- to weed out the 
Israel-firsters among them. 

     At stake is the good name of the neoconservative 
philosophy. It would be a disaster to its principles for 
the general public to get the false impression that those 
principles are nothing but a "front" for agents of a 
foreign power who want to trick us into wars against our 
own interests. 

     Any genuine political philosophy can stand on its 
own feet. It must never be reduced to any particular 
interest if it is to have a broad appeal to ordinary 
people. The exposure of people calling themselves 
"neocons" (or taking shelter behind the label) as chums 
of the Israeli Likud threatens to discredit all the truly 
principled neoconservatives, who must now show that they 
represent a universal creed, not a narrow sect. 

     Otherwise, neoconservatives may find themselves once 
again mugged by reality. 


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