Are neoconservatives “Trotskyites”? Part II: How neocons evolved from conservatives into revolutionaries

In response to my criticism of people who call neoconservatives “Trotskyites,” a correspondent wrote a thought provoking e-mail:

I think their belief in permanent revolution is very Trotskyite. No one said they are commies in their beliefs about the economy, for instance. But they are radical revolutionaries—the antithesis of a true conservative. These are the analogies I’ve been comfortable with. They hold. Neoconservatives are radical revolutionaries who have deep contempt for civil society and its institution. People who believe they can dismantle a society and replace it with an entirely new one are cousins of Trotskyites.

To which I wrote several replies in trying to figure out what I thought about this. It turns into a little essay by me on how the neoconservatives evolved from conservatives into democratic revolutionaries.

The way you put it is reasonable, and is consistent with the way I put it. Because you’re saying, “Neoconservatism is similar to Trotskyism in respect to characteristic X.” That is different from simply saying, “They’re Trotskyites.”

However, there’s still a problem, because if you do believe this, then why won’t you say they’re “like Communists”? I mean, the Communists during the Cold War were seeking revolution everywhere, Cuba, Vietnam, Africa, etc. They were called Communists, not Trotskyites. So I guess I still feel there is something not right about saying they’re “like Trotskyites,” for the reason I gave in my blog entry. If we believe they’re like Commies, we should say so. If we don’t, then we shouldn’t say they’re like Trotskyites.

Also, I don’t see where the neoconservatives say they believe in “permanent revolution.” But if they’re democratic revolutionaries, then we should call them that, not something else.

> These are the analogies I’ve been comfortable with. They hold.

This may be true of the way you’ve made this argument, but the overwhelming majority of references to “Trotskyite neocons” are not “analogies,” but a straightforward identification: “The neocons are Trotskyites.”

> Neoconservatives are radical revolutionaries who have deep contempt for civil society and its institution. People who believe they can dismantle a society and replace it with an entirely new one are cousins of Trotskyites.

This is an amazing statement. It was the neoconservatives, at least in their earlier days, who were seen as the defenders of our institutions. They were the critics of leftist attempts to reconstruct things. Norman Podhoretz said that the single thing he most feared was social disruption. They respected the family and basic common sense and limits. Now they’ve become virtually the opposite of what they started out as. It’s quite amazing.

Part of the explanation for this shift is that the former disrupters became the establishment, and when that happened, the neocons, who feared violent disruption more than they loved any particular social order, became far less alarmed at the left. My classic example of this is Podhoretz in the mid ’90s saying that homosexuals seeking to get married was not such a bad thing because it meant they were not trying to disrupt society’s institutions but join them. This statement by Norman P. encapsulates the neocons’s fundamental lack of conservative principle. They want a smoothly running social order. If it’s a smoothly running social order consisting of workfare and homosexual marriage and a degraded popular culture, they can live with that.

In any event, I hope the reader notices how little any of the above has to do with any Trotskyite permanent revolution. I think the neocons’ move from conservatives to revolutionaries can be explained like this. In the “old days,” the neocons stood for two main things: opposing the cultural revolution at home, and opposing the Soviet Union abroad. When the cultural revolution stopped being disruptive and became established, as I’ve said, the neocons largely dropped their dislike of it. And when, around the same time, the USSR went to that great Lenin’s Tomb in the sky, the neocons had nothing left to fight for or defend on the international stage. The symposia at Commentary in the early to mid ’90s show how lost and drifting they were; the saddest case was Jeanne Kirkpatrick; without the USSR around, she simply had nothing to say about contemporary issues.

However (as many observers have pointed out), the unipolar situation following the end of the USSR meant that America was no longer in the role of defending the free world from Communism, but could begin to operate unobstructed. But still, there was no “cause” to fight for. That’s why, in the late nineties, William Kristol and Robert Kagan called for “National Greatness Conservatism,” which had no content except the ambition to do something large and great. It was the 9/11 attack, and the need to “clean the swamp” of the Muslim world, that finally gave the neocons both the opportunity and the motivation to become full-blown democratic revolutionaries. Elements of that outlook had been there before, for example, in their support for open borders, and their indifference to the evil EU; but it was 9/11 that made them into true democratic revolutionaries.

That they became democratic revolutionaries is both the symptom and the proof of the fact that they were never true conservatives. They were conservative only insofar as there was something disruptive and threatening, whether domestically (the cultural revolution) or abroad (Soviet Communism), that they needed to oppose. Once those adversaries had either ceased to be disruptive or ceased to exist, the neocons, lacking any true vision of social order that they were seeking to cultivate, needed something big to fight against, and were basically at loose ends until Muhammad Atta appeared in the skies over Manhattan.

Carl Simpson writes:

Interesting discussion. I personally think that “Trotskyite” is a bad analogy. Trotsky was a Communist to the end. Neocons have been ferocious opponents of Marxist economic theories from the moment they left the Democratic Party. I think that Paul Gottfried’s “Neo-Jacobin” label is more accurate, which is why I’ve used myself. Neoconservatives like Pope Norman and his acolytes really do believe in the whole “creative destruction” meme—which places them squarely on the left as I see it.

That’s why they are so gung-ho about the creative destruction of anything steeped in tradition, whether its the old “blood and soil” Europe (Mark Steyn’s gloating, for example), the USA and Israel as actual nations instead of propositions (open borders), and Islamic culture itself (invade and democratize them, and invite them here into the heart of Babylon the Great at the same time.)

I think of neoconservatism as an amalgam of Jacobinism (which of course sought to start the world anew, and even changed the days of the week and years to reflect it) and Gramscian globalist utopianism. That’s why I’m fond of Paul Gottfried’s term. He has described the ideology with great accuracy and perception, IMO.

Oh, how I miss the days of active commentary at VFR! It’s almost enough to make me interested in learning about programming!

Carl Simpson also writes:

Your remark about the desire for a smoothly running order was most interesting, a point I’d not thought of before.

However, if we assume that a “smoothly running order” is the ultimate end of neoconservatism—even it the order at hand is a manifestly degenerate one—why is it that Pope Norman and his followers keep on insisting that open borders are such a great thing? Whether it’s Europe, Israel, or the USA, unlimited open immigration from incompatible cultures is hardly a recipe for establishing a “smoothly running order.”

LA replies:

I would say that they do not see immigrants as disrupting the social order—they see them as their parents and grandparents trying to make it on the Lower East Side or in Omaha,Nebraska. Immigrants are just people. They’re not trying to change society or destroy institutions. Of course, the greater their numbers and cultural differences from the host society, they will do those things, but as a collateral effect of their being here, not as part of a conscious, ideological purpose. The neocons can only perceive consciously disruptive acts done with political intent as dangerous. And this, once again, is because they are not really conservatives. A true conservative understands his social order in all its dimensions and so recognizes threats to it. But neocons only recognize ideological threats to the social order. Why? Because they themselves only believe in ideology, namely democratic capitalism; they do not have a feel or a vision for the society as a whole. Therefore only ideological threats are real to them, if they are also disruptive, because, along with democratic ideology, the neocons are devoted to the smooth, orderly, bourgeois functioning of things.

So, if something is disruptive but non-ideological (unassimilable immigrants, the degraded pop culture), the neocons won’t see that. And if something is ideological but non-disruptive (bourgeois bohemians and tenured radicals), the neocons won’t recognize that (or if they do recognize it, they’ll stop caring about it after a while). But if something is both ideological and disruptive (Soviet Communism, the cultural revolution, radical Muslims), those are the things to which the neocons will respond.

[I have a follow-up on this in a later blog entry.]
Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 04, 2006 02:05 AM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):