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I Was Smeared

Last week HNN published Alan Wald's critique of an article written by Michael Lind for the New Statesman in which Mr. Lind argued that defense policy in the Bush administration is orchestrated by a group of people, many of whom are Jewish, who were allegedly shaped by Trotskyism. This week we publish an exchange between Mr. Lind and Mr. Wald. Below is Mr. Lind's statement. Click here for Mr. Wald's.

I thank Mr. Wald for helping to prove my case. Indeed, the details he provides suggest that the existence of the influence of ex-Trotskyists, Shermanite and Schachtmannite alike, on the neoconservative faction within American conservatism was even greater than I and others have realized. It is not every day that an incompetent critic unwittingly undermines his own case in attempting to refute yours.

I stand by the observation that there is a distinct Trotskyist political culture, which shows its residual influence even on individuals who renounced Trotskyism or who were never Trotskyists but inherited this political culture from their parents or older mentors. An unusual belligerence in foreign policy combined with a desire to export "revolution" (first socialist, and then, among ex-Trotskyists who move to the liberal center or the Right, the "global democratic revolution" in the phrase of Schachtmannites like Joshua Muravchik) distinguishes these ex-Trots and inheritors of ex-Trot political culture from other kinds of conservatives and liberals--for example, Anglo-Catholic Tories, Rooseveltian New Deal liberal internationalists, and Buchanan-style isolationists. Not only in the U.S. but in Britain and continental Europe, ex-Trots have tended to go from advocating promotion of socialist revolution to promoting liberal or democratic revolution. This is a minor but genuine feature of the trans-Atlantic political landscape that is so familiar, and commented upon so often by members of the foreign policy elite, not only in the U.S. but in Britain and France, that it surprises me to learn that anyone claims it is controversial.

Now for a word about generalization. It is impossible, and would be inaccurate, to write either history or political journalism without generalizations. This is particularly important when the subject consists of enduring political traditions. How you would discuss the theology of the religious right without mentioning Calvinism or Darbyism is a mystery to me. And the influence of various strains of black nationalism and environmentalism on contemporary Democratic liberalism is equally legitimate as a subject of political analysis.

Not only I but most students of the political culture of neoconservatism, including many neoconservatives themselves, have described the various influences that distinguish this branch of the Right from others: influences including not only the vestiges of Trotskyist foreign policy activism, but also Straussianism, Cold War liberalism, and a peculiar kind of Anglophilia based on the veneration of Winston Churchill, who is far more popular among American neocons than Franklin Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson. (Even neocons like Max Boot who claim to be "Wilsonians" never quote a line from Woodrow Wilson, and nothing could be less Wilsonianism than their militaristic rhetoric about "empire," which actually derives from their idealized vision of the British empire, not from anything in the resolutely anti-imperial American political tradition). Can one identify individual neoconservatives who were not influenced by Trotskyism, Straussianism, Cold War liberalism, the myth of Churchill, and the mystique of the British empire? Certainly. Does that mean that anyone who mentions any of these influences is therefore an unscholarly conspiracy theorist, of the kind Mr. Wald accuses me of being? Oh, please.

The Straussian movement split long ago into "East Coast Straussians" and "West Coast Straussians." In addition, there are a few neoconservatives who know little or nothing about Leo Strauss. A defender of the neoconservatives as intellectually dishonest as Mr. Wald could use these facts in denouncing any scholar or journalist who mentions the influence of Straussianism on the distinctive political culture of the neoconservative faction of the Republican Party. If he were as disingenuous as Mr. Wald, he could argue that since there are East and West Coast Straussians, Straussianism therefore does not exist, and anyone who talks about a distinctive Straussian intellectual culture, or Straussian influence on neoconservatism is a) unscholarly and b) a paranoid conspiracy theorist who probably believes that the Shriners control the Council on Foreign Relations.

I happen to know a little about conspiracy theorists. At the cost of my career as a rising intellectual on the American Right, I exposed Pat Robertson's conspiracy theories about international Jewish bankers, Freemasons and Satanists in the New Republic, the Washington Post and the New York Review of Books between 1992 and 1995. My criticism of Robertson's anti-semitic conspiracy theories was the major factor in my expulsion from the neoconservative movement, in which I had taken part as the Executive Editor of the National Interest, published by Irving Kristol. Irving and Bill Kristol, of course, knew that everything that I said about Robertson was true--but my exposes were inconvenient for their personal political ambitions, which required an alliance of convenience rather than conviction with the religious right activists who dominated the Republican Party. For a similar tactical reason, Commentary, the flagship neocon magazine, began publishing articles in the 1990s claiming that Darwin, the bete noire of Southern Baptist creationists since before the Scopes "Monkey Trial," was wrong and that "biblical" creation science has been vindicated, something that Norman Podhoretz, Neal Kozodoy and other neocon intellectuals know very well is nonsense.

But wait--I used the word "neoconservative." Mr. Wald says not only that neoconservative originated as a pejorative used by Michael Harrington (true, if irrelevant) but that there never really were any self-identified "neoconservatives" (false). This line that there never really were any neoconservatives has long been used by Irving Kristol in interviews. I used to laugh about it with other of Kristol's employees. The non-existence of neoconservatism, except in the minds of conspiracy-mongers, certainly would have come as news to me and my fellow neoconservatives when I worked for Kristol and attended conferences and dinner parties with Gertrude Himmelfarb, Bill Kristol, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Peter Berger, and other self-conscious neocons. Unaware that we were not supposed to exist, according to Mr. Wald, we neocons were well aware of the shared views on the Cold War, race, and other topics that distinguished us from the Buckley Tories and the Buchananite Old Right. If Mr. Wald knew more about the neoconservative intellectual network of the 1980s and 1990s, as opposed to the long-defunct Workers' Party of the 1930s, he would know that there was a bitter war in the conservative press between "neoconservatives" (many of them former Trotskyists, as he has confirmed) who reluctantly or enthusiastically accepted the term to describe themselves and the "Old Right" of Patrick Buchanan. Mr. Wald's quibbles about the term "neoconservative" are therefore either a deliberately dishonest debating trick (my guess) or evidence of a profound ignorance of what was (and remains) one of several self-conscious factions on the American Right.

One final point. For pointing out what every history of the subject takes for granted, that the Trotskyist movement was largely though not exclusively Jewish in membership, defenders of the neocons (not, interestingly, any present-day Trotskyists!) have hinted that I am an anti-semite (they don't know, or don't care, that I am partly Jewish in descent). This has come as no surprise to me--anyone who criticizes neoconservative influence on U.S. foreign policy is quickly vilified by the gutter journalists--and the gutter professors--of neoconservatism as an anti-semite, a traitor, an appeaser, an enemy in "the culture war," or a combination of two or more of the four. Since HNN, to its discredit, has seen fit to publish several such smears against me on its website [click here and here], I would like to make one point, not so much in my defense--I have nothing to be defensive about--but in defense of scholarly freedom from intimidation and self-censorship, where ethnic or regional sensitivities are concerned.

Analysis of the role of ethnic and regional groups in U.S. politics is standard in political science, and it is not evidence of hostility toward the ethnic groups or the regions being analyzed. Indeed, this seems to be accepted by neocons in most cases. Not a single one of the critics who professes to be disturbed by my mention in passing of the Jewish role in American Trotskyism has objected to my repeated observations in print that the Southern Religious Right reflects the political culture of the Scots-Irish, with its historic links to Protestant Northern Ireland. Why not? Aren't both points equally illegitimate, in their eyes? Why has no neoconservative angrily written a screed claiming that "Michael Lind's allusion to a supposed connection between Scots-Irish ethnicity and Southern Protestant fundamentalism proves not only that he is a conspiracy theorist but hates the Scots-Irish as well!" (For the record, I am partly Scots-Irish, as well as partly Jewish, in descent).

The list of Shermanites that Mr. Wald gives is disproportionately Jewish in membership, although he does not say so. If Mr. Wald had actually used the phrase the "disproportionately Jewish Shermanite movement," would this have made him, not only a conspiracy theorist (after all, did Shermanism ever really exist, except in the imaginations of conspiracy theorists like Wald?) but an anti-semite as well? What about the mere act of drawing up and publishing a list, the majority of whose members are Jewish? Seems kind of creepy, come to think of it. Is Mr. Wald's creepy list the product of a sinister, conspiratorial imagination? Has he tried to smear all Jewish-Americans, tarring them by association with a supposed "Shermanite" conspiracy? Perhaps someone should alert the Anti-Defamation League to Mr. Wald's disturbing comments...

I encourage interested readers to read my essays and books on the subject of the American Right--essays and books in which my chief focus is on the Southern Protestant Right, without whose electoral clout neocons (including former Schachtmannites and former Shermanites and their progeny) would have no influence at all on U.S. foreign or domestic policy. The readers of HNN should not trust dishonest misrepresentations of my statements and views on the part of apologists for neoconservatism.

Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot. Neoconservatism does not exist and never has. And there was no such thing as Trotskyism, either.