Discussed in This Essay:
Richard Gid Powers,
Not Without Honor: The History of American Anticommunism
(Free Press, 1995).
The Rise of Neoconservatism: Intellectuals and Foreign Affairs, 1945-1994
(Yale University Press, 1995).
On The Brink: The Dramatic, Behind-the-Scenes Saga of the Reagan Era
and the Men and Women Who Won the Cold War
(Simon and Schuster, 1996).
Robert M. Gates,
From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider's Story of Five Presidents and
How They Won the Cold War
(Simon and Schuster, 1996).
George F. Kennan,
At A Century's Ending: Reflections 1982-1995
end of the Cold War has not been kind to the American left. As the opening
of the Soviet archives has revealed, the Kremlin was, in fact, intent on
conquering the globe to carry out a Marxist-Leninist revolution. Even in
the United States, Yale University's new "Annals of Communism"
series has demolished the revisionist pretensions of a band of New Left
scholars who began contending in the 1980s that Moscow's hold over the
American Communist Party was never as ironfisted as its foes had claimed.
Despite the efforts of a few redoubts such as the Nation to maintain
the old faith, the torrent of archival revelations has resulted in a remarkable
new genre on the left that might be called confessional journalism. One
example came in the form of a March 19 New York Post column by Garry
Wills, subtitled "It's time for the Left to admit that Richard Nixon
was right" about Alger Hiss. Even more surprising, Nicholas von Hoffman,
writing in the April 16 Washington Post, maintained that "enough
new information has come to light about the Communists in the U.S. government
that we may now say that point by point Joe McCarthy got it all wrong and
yet was still closer to the truth than those who ridiculed him."
As might have been expected, the right greeted these mea culpas with
a fresh round of Cold War triumphalism. An editorial in Hilton Kramer's
New Criterion, for instance, concluded that Hoffman's essay "remains
historically important as a statement of liberal guilt on the anti-anti-communist
In fact, it was nothing of the kind. Before liberals begin paying homage
to McCarthy, they would do well to recall that forgotten in the debate
over the left has been another tradition: Cold War liberalism. Cold War
liberalism played a leading role in the battle against communism when it
was enunciated in the late 1940s by policymakers and intellectuals such
as George F. Kennan, Walter Lippmann, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Reinhold
Niebuhr, and Daniel Bell. It continued on with figures like Daniel Patrick
Moynihan and in the pages of the Reporter, New Leader, and
New Republic. Later, the neoconservatives usurped the traditions
of Cold War liberalism and replaced them with illiberalism. Now that the
neoconservatives are creating the new historical fiction that they singlehandedly
won the Cold War, it is all the more urgent to reexamine the saga of American
THE ORIGINS OF ANTICOMMUNISM
Richard Gid Powers's Not Without Honor represents perhaps the
most scholarly statement of the neoconservative case. Powers, a professor
of history and the author of a fine biography of Herbert Hoover, traces
the course of American anticommunism from the 1919 Red Scare to the rise
of American communism in the 1930s to the emergence of neoconservatism
in the 1970s. At times, his book resembles an encyclopedia entry when it
delves into the anfractuosities of anticommunist movements. Lurking beneath
the patina of scholarly reserve, however, is a book with a mission. That
mission is to restore honor to the anticommunist tradition that Powers
believes has been traduced by the left.
As Powers rightly observes, anticommunism had its origins in World War
I in the clash between Leninist world revolution and Wilsonian liberal
internationalism. Wilson had hesitated to join an alliance that included
the autocratic Czar Nicholas II. After the first Russian revolution of
March 1917 resulted in the creation of the democratic Petrograd government,
however, Wilson could claim that America's partners were all fit for a
"League of Honor." When the Bolsheviks seized power in October
and bolted from the entente, Wilson was enraged: Russia, he declared, had
become the "Judas of the nations."
For much of the American left, however, the Bolshevik revolution was
the glorious revolution. "Powerless at home," writes Powers,
"the American radical left was intoxicated with the sense of being
part of an international movement that had won the revolution's first victory
over the forces of capitalism, militarism, and imperialism." As Soviet
communism was born, so was Ameri can anticommunism. Enraged by what they
viewed as the disloyalty of the left, the young Justice Depart ment lawyer
J. Edgar Hoover and his boss, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, launched
the 1919 Red Scare.
Here Powers introduces his main theme: Anticommunism, sound at the core,
was unfairly besmirched by the zealousness of some of its pro ponents.
Through out, Powers's only concern is the damage that anticommunist excesses
may have inflicted upon the cause itself rather than the harm it may have
done to innocent individuals. Powers explains that the "most important
consequence of Hoover's anticommunist campaign was to create that malevolent
stereotype of anticommunism as an unconstitutional conspiracy against the
left. After 1920, the history of American anticommunism was being written
by its enemies, and myths about anticommunism were overshadowing the reality."
Powers's own subsequent depictions of anticommunists in the 1920s do not
bear out this assertion. Among the militant anticommunists who enjoyed
a high public profile were Abraham Cahan, founder and editor of the Forward;
Georgetown University educator Edmund Walsh; and George S. Schuyler, who
was editor of the country's leading black newspaper, the Pittsburgh
Courier. Myth did not overshadow reality on their watch. What is more,
Powers shows that the '20s spawned numerous conspiracy theories on the
right, ranging from the "Spider Web chart," distributed by the
American Defense Society, to Nesta Webster's Secret Societies and Subversive
Move ments, which in turn supplied the basis for Pat Robertson's The
New World Order.
Unfortunately, Powers fails to mention the role played by Menshevik
exiles in shaping American anticommunism. Key figures such as Boris I.
Nicolaevesky, the editor of the New Leader, and Joseph Shaplen and
Simeon Strumsky, both editors at the New York Times, worked to counter
the pro-Soviet lies disseminated by much of the New York intelligentsia
in the 1930s. One can only wonder why Powers fails to devote any attention
to the pro-labor New Leader, which was one of the most influential
anticommunist magazines in the United States in the 1930s and 1940s. Perhaps
it is because the New Leader and the social democratic Menshe viks
helped set the stage for the Cold War liberals.
Powers is on stronger ground in discussing the inroads communism made
among American intellectuals in the 1930s. No twist or turn of the Kremlin
was too audacious for the popular front movement to follow. For example,
after Sidney Hook and John Dewey exposed the fraudulence of the Moscow
show trials, Corliss Lamont and 87 other fellow travelers signed an Open
Letter to American Liberals declaring that the "demand for an investigation
of trials carried on under the legally constituted judicial system of the
Soviet Government can only be interpreted as political intervention in
the affairs of the Soviet Union with hostile intent."
Though the popular front was smashed on the rock of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop
pact, Soviet communism's prestige reached its high-water mark during World
War II. United States government wartime propaganda transformed Stalin's
Russia into a noble ally fighting for the same goals as America's democratic
allies. As usual, however, Powers goes overboard in complaining that the
"war ended with a Communist Party on the ascendant, and a fellow-traveling
left that had perfected the use of the brown smear against an embittered
anticommunist community. . . ." The Soviet Union may have been rehabilitated
during World War II, but the American Communist Party was not.
THE RISE OF LIBERAL ANTICOMMUNISM
The compelling story that Powers fails to tell because it would not
fit in with his depiction of neoconservatism is the emergence in the late
1940s of a vigorous liberal anticommunism. Alarmed by Soviet aggrandizement
in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, Harry S. Truman, who had himself
initially harbored warm feelings toward Stalin, reversed Roosevelt's accommodationist
policy toward Stalin. The administration was already in the process of
adopting a confrontational policy toward the Soviet Union when George F.
Kennan supplied the doctrinal buttressing in his 1946 "Long Telegram"
and his July 1947 article in Foreign Affairs, which he signed "X."
As Kennan observed in his memoirs, the widespread distribution of his essays
meant that in official Washington "my voice now carried."
As an obscure junior officer in the Moscow embassy during World War
II, Kennan had chafed at FDR's personal diplomacy with Stalin, which he
viewed as based on naive and dangerous assumptions about the Soviet dictator's
true intentions. Steeped in realist precepts about power, Kennan was convinced
that any postwar order would have to be based on a spheres-of-influence
deal rather than a utopian peace with the Kremlin. His "X" article
famously called for a "long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment
of Russian expansive tendencies"whence the term "containment"
to describe liberal policy toward the Soviet Union.
Two years later, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s The Vital Center reiterated
the liberal faith in democratic freedoms and offered a coherent and eloquent
restatement of the need to confront the communist menace. Schlesinger,
along with Reinhold Niebuhr, had already established the Americans for
Democratic Action (ADA) as a rival to Henry Wallace's pro-Soviet Progressive
Citizens of America. The Vital Center amounted to a programmatic
statement for the ADA. Schlesinger announced the arrival of a new New Deal
generation free of the ideological baggage that weighed down the left:
"History had spared us any emotional involvement in the Soviet mirage."
Echoing Kennan's more florid conclusion that the Ameri can people ought
to feel a "certain gratitude to a Provi dence" that presented
the communist challenge, Schlesin ger concluded that communism has "made
us reclaim democratic ideas which a decade ago we tended to regret and
even to abandon."
If the ADA types had played an important part in staring down the Wallacites
in 1947, they also sought to inoculate the American public against the
virus of McCarthyism. Daniel Bell, Richard Hofstadter, Peter Viereck, and
other leading intellectuals sought to examine the rise of what they called
the "paranoid style" in their landmark The Radical Right (1954).
Hofstadter and Bell argued that the rise of the radical right was largely
the product of "status anxiety" and concluded that an indiscriminate
anticommunism could snuff out the very liberties it professed to protect.
In Powers's hands, these insights get transmogrified into a putative "Adorno-Hofstadter-Bell
theory" that McCarthyism and anticommunism were both irrational forces.
But perhaps even Powers may look with a kindlier eye on the idea of a "paranoid
style" on the right in light of the recent revelations about militia
activity in Arizona and elsewhere.
By the late 1950s, a few liberals, such as the founding father of historical
revisionism, William Appleman Williams, began to blame the United States
for the Cold War. Had the United States, so the argument went, catered
to Soviet sensitivities and apprehensions, the Cold War might never have
begun. The Vietnam War gave credibility to the idea that the United States
played the provocative role.
Vietnam was, of course, the great failure of Cold War liberalism. A
moralistic self-confidence, which had its sources in the Kennedy administration's
insistence on bearing any price for freedom, ended up plunging the United
States into the jungles of Vietnam. Not until mainstream liberals such
as Eugene McCarthy joined the antiwar movement did liberalism begin to
divorce itself from the war. It was liberals, not conservatives, who finally
recognized that the war was a disaster, and liberals rather than radicals
who finally turned public opinion against it. But liberals had already
inflicted a body blow to liberalism by dismissing the realist precepts
of power as the fundamental ingredient in international relations. By confusing
a peripheral with a vital American interest, junior Wise Men such as Dean
Rusk and Robert McNamara ended up squandering the patrimony their elders
had bequeathed them.
The result was nothing less than the intellectual collapse of the anticommunist
consensus and its replacement by a more highly polarized left and right.
One of the prime culprits was, in fact, Norman Podhoretz's Commentary,
which was the first highbrow journal to begin running Cold War revisionist
articles by the historians Staughton Lynd and H. Stuart Hughes. Podhoretz
himself summarized the results of his September 1967 symposium "Liberal
Anti-Communism Revisited" by observing, "Virtually all seem to
agree that the American effort to contain Communism by military means cannot
be justified either politically or morally in the double context of a polycentric
Communist world and an unstable underdeveloped world seething with nationalist
aspirations." In 1972, when George McGovern captured the Demo cratic
presidential nomination, his adversaries charged that isolationism and
anti-anticommunism appeared to have displaced liberal internationalism
in the Democratic Party.
By that time, what might be called a counter-counterestablishment had
begun to coalesce. Alarmed by the turn of black radicals against Israel
during the 1967 war as well as the publishing threat posed by the appearance
of the leftist New York Review of Books, Commentary moved
back to anticommunism. "One man," Powers tell us, "summoned
the will, the strength, and the imagination to commence the giant task
of rebuilding the anticommunist coalition. This was Norman Podhoretz. .
this point the reader will do well to close Powers's elephantine book with
a sigh and turn to John Ehrman's The Rise of Neoconservatism. Ehrman,
a lecturer in history at George Washington University, writes in a lively
and engaging manner. His book seeks to chronicle the impact on American
foreign policy of Cold War liberals-turned-neoconservatives and offers
a particularly penetrating account of Daniel Patrick Moynihan's intellectual
odyssey. Though Ehrman does go astray at a few points, it is something
of a relief to discover history rather than hagiography.
Initially, Podhoretz and his allies in the crusade against the New Left
did not think of themselves as any shade of conservative. And they weren't.
They were liberal anticommunists who looked upon the New Deal welfare state
with approval. Their presidential candidate was Senator Henry M. Jackson.
Like Jackson, they viewed both the left and right with misgivings, attacking
Henry Kissinger's detentist brand of realpolitik as defeatist and indifferent
to human rights. Some of the old-line liberal writers who joined Podhoretz
were Irving Kristol, Ben Wattenberg, Penn Kemble, Midge Decter, Jeane Kirkpatrick,
Theodore Draper, Walter Goodman, Seymour Martin Lipset, Walter Laqueur,
Robert W. Tucker, Roger Starr, and Nathan Glazer.
Perhaps the most influential figure was Moynihan, who first gained notoriety
in 1965 with the release of an internal government report he had written
about the decline of two-parent black families and a decade later caught
the public spotlight as Gerald Ford's ambassador to the United Nations.
Moynihan was the first U.N. ambassador to use the General Assembly as a
pulpit from which to become a media star. The duty of American liberals,
Moynihan argued, was to resist the depredations of Third World communist
regimes: "It is on the Democratic Left that we are most likely to
find both informed and unintimidated advocates of a vigorous Ameri can
role in world affairs, and equally unashamed partisans of American performance."
After Jimmy Carter defeated Henry M. Jackson in the 1976 Democratic
primaries, the neoconservatives turned to Moynihan as their standard-bearer.
At first, Moynihan seemed to fulfill the hopes the neoconservatives reposed
in him. He decried the Carter administration's failure of nerve in confronting
the Soviet Union and its Third World client states. Unlike his fellow neoconservatives,
Moyni han, however, refused to abandon the center for the right. Quite
the contrary. Moynihan, who sensed that the Soviet empire was coming apart
at the seams, began to attack Reagan administration nuclear arms policy.
Others such as Theodore Draper had already distanced themselves from the
increasingly shrill edge of neoconservatism and returned to writing for
the New York Review of Books. Podhoretz simply kept moving to the
right: a resurrection of detente, he warned in 1980, "would signify
the final collapse of an American resolve to resist the forward surge of
Soviet imperialism" leading to nothing less than "the Findlandization
of America." As Ehrman astutely observes, the neoconservatives "had
hoped to find a new Truman to rally around, a Democrat to promote their
liberal ideas at home while fighting the Cold War abroad. Not finding one,
they embraced the Republican party and Ronald Reagan as the best alternative."
REAGAN AND THE NEOCONSERVATIVES
Jay Winik is the court historian of neoconservatives and the Reagan
era. This is not necessarily a crippling handicap. On the Brink
does contain much inside information on the role that neoconservatives
played in the early years of the Reagan administration. Winik shrewdly
notes that they formed a new counterestablishment and reveals the inner
workings of the various Cold War organizations of the neoconservatives.
Unfortunately, Winik, who worked at the Coalition for a Democratic Majority,
has taken Walter Isaacson's and Evan Thomas's The Wise Men as his
model. His book shares the flaws of The Wise Men but lacks its stylistic
sheen. On the Brink teeters precipitously as the narrative progresses.
It lacks a context and suffers from a dutiful tone as it attempts to tell
the story of the end of the Cold War through four figures: Richard Perle,
Elliot Abrams, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and Max Kampelman. In his zeal to imitate
The Wise Men, Winik devotes such minute attention to his characters
that the reader may, for example, come away knowing more about Perle's
culinary tastes than about the details of arms-control negotiations. Nor
does Winik grapple with the ideas that Kirkpatrick espoused, such as her
distinction between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes or her Moynihanian
performance at the U.N. Instead, Winik devotes excessive time to such minor
figures as Max Kampelman, transforming them into Periclean statesmen though
they cannot possibly bear the narrative weight that he places upon them.
Surprisingly, Winik makes scarcely any reference to Reagan and his senior
advisers; Caspar Weinberger and William Casey play mere walk-on parts.
To be sure, Winik concludes that "ultimately, the vision and the triumph
decisively belong to Reagan and his counterestablishment." But Reagan
might well ask, where's the rest of me? In Winik's rendering, the neoconservatives
were the main actors.
Gates will have none of this. Gates, who was director of the CIA from 1991
to 1993, has spent a lifetime in Washington, D.C., working either in the
CIA or on the National Security Council (NSC). At first glance, his book
might appear to be an exercise in self-exculpation masquerading as memoir.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Gates may have been trained to
keep secrets, but he has drawn on his three decades of government service
to write a cracking good read. He keeps his eye firmly trained on the main
characters and offers a potent antidote to the neoconservative version
of the Cold War.
Though Gates is concerned to defend the overall record of the CIA, he
admits that it completely failed to foresee the massive Soviet effort to
surpass the United States in strategic missile numbers and capabilities.
This Soviet effort became the basis for attacks on detente by the right.
The fear was that detente was permitting the Soviet Union to gain a first-strike
capabilitythat is, the means to wipe out enough of the American land-based
missile force so that retaliation would be suicide. Yet Gates contends
that the picture was more complicated: The American military buildup that
did take place beginning in the mid-1970s was achieved only because new
arms were sold to a hostile Congress as future bargaining chips: "It
would be one of history's little ironies that detenteflawed in so many
wayswould play a major role in saving America's strategic modernization
Another target of the right was the 1975 Helsinki Declara tion on human
rights signed by the Ford administration. Con servatives saw any agreements
with communists as a sellout"Jerry, don't go" editorialized
the Wall Street Journalbut, as Gates notes, it turned out to be
the Soviets who committed a historic blunder. By signing the Helsinki Declaration,
the Soviet Union and its East European satellites legitimized the efforts
of their own citizens and the West to push for human rights inside the
Iron Curtain. Gates has it right: "The Soviets desperately wanted
CSCE [the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe], they got it,
and it laid the foundations for the end of their empire. We resisted it
for years, went grudgingly, Ford paid a terrible price for goingperhaps
reelection itselfonly to discover years later that CSCE had yielded benefits
to us beyond out wildest imagination. Go figure."
in Gates's telling, Jimmy Carter emerges as one of the heroes of the Cold
War. Gates, who served on Carter's NSC under Zbigniew Brzezinski, devotes
much of his memoir to redressing the image of Carter as a weakling who
failed to stand up to the Soviets. Gates argues that Carter's efforts to
promote human rights, support dissidents, and stir up nationalities went
far beyond presidential rhetoric. Early in the administration, says Gates,
Brzezinski initiated, and Carter approved, an unprecedented White House
effort to attack the internal legitimacy of the Soviet government. Gates
writes: "Carter had, in fact, changed the long-standing rules of the
Cold War. Through his human rights policies, he became the first president
since Truman to challenge directly the legitimacy of the Soviet government
in the eyes of its own people. . . . The Soviet leaders knew the implications
for them of what Carter was doing, and hated him for it." What Gates
overlooks, of course, is that Carter's incessant vacillation between the
Vance and Brzezinski wings of his foreign policy team created an atmosphere
in which the Soviet Union could invade Afghanistan with impunity. Carter's
inability to reconcile the tensions among foreign policy advisors haunted
him during his failed re-election bid in 1980.
Whatever Carter's rhetoric on defense spending, he continued the strategic
modernization program for the air-launched cruise missile, the MX, and
completed the MIRVing of Minuteman missiles and the Trident ballistic missile
submarine. In addition, Carter made another crucial move that contributed
to the demise of the Soviet empire: the decision to place medium-range
missiles in Western Europe should the Soviet Union fail to remove or curtail
the new SS-20 missiles it was stationing in Eastern Europe. Gates concludes
that "the perception of new U.S. strategic power and strength that
emerged in the first half of the 1980s as new weapons were built and deployed
was, in fact, Ronald Reagan reaping the harvest sown by Nixon, Ford, and
Carter" (emphasis in original).
Gates is also at pains to show that Carter relied on covert action to
counter Soviet encroachments into the Third World. Perhaps Gates is exaggerating
the extent of Carter's role in signing presidential findings in order to
legitimize the Reagan administration's later forays into Central America,
but he does show that Carter ordered covert action in Afghanistan, Nicaragua,
Grenada, and El Salvador. According to Gates, the "CIA ended up as
the administration's primary weapon in trying to cope with Soviet and Cuban
aggression in the Third World and as an important asset in challenging
Soviet abuses at home."
Under the Reagan administration, the role of the CIA became even more
central as William Casey developed an entire independent foreign policy
at the Langley compound. Gates calls the CIA "Reagan's sword."
Casey swung it with abandon. As Gates notes, Casey modeled himself on the
swashbuckling World War I hero William J. Donovan. Donovan, who had created
the precursor of the CIA, the OSS, had also been an Irishman and a Wall
Street lawyer. "The preeminent place on Casey's office wall as DCI
[Director of Central Intelligence]," writes Gates, "was reserved
for an autographed black-and-white photograph of Donovan. You couldn't
go in or out without seeing it. He couldn't move without passing it."
The only question was whether methods appropriate to fighting the Nazis
were applicable to combating the evil empire.
As Casey's machinations in Central America helped lead to the Iran-contra
scandal, the consequences of those methods could be dire. So cavalier was
Casey about running the CIA that Gates reports that when Brzezinski, long
since out of office, complained that funding had been cut off for a favorite
project in Poland, Casey simply asked how much it would take to remedy
the problem. "About $18,000," Brzezinski replied. Later that
day a man showed up at Brzezinski's office without an appointment and handed
him a briefcase full of cash, which a nonplussed Brzezinski passed on to
a visiting Pole associated with the project. "This," Gates writes,
"was indicative of Casey's penchant for 'action this day.'"
the mid-1980s, however, the hard-liners had outlived their usefulness.
Reagan, who had started out political life as a New Deal liberal, came
full circle. As the superpower that had initiated the Cold War ended itfor
it was the Soviet Union, not the Soviet Union and the United States, that
had divided EuropeReagan astutely reached out to Gorbachev. Gates quotes
Henry Kissinger as observing about Gorbachev during a fall 1989 CIA briefing,
"If you were setting out to destroy the Soviet Union, would you do
it any differently?"
For most neoconservatives and conservatives, however, Gorba chev was
simply another nefarious communist carrying out a gigantic deception. The
new Soviet overtures meant that the Kremlin had become even more sophisticated
at lulling the West into a false sense of security. In a stunning error,
Podhoretz decried Reagan administration policies as "appeasement by
any other name," even though it was Gor ba chev who ended up appeasing
Reagan and Bush. As Ehrman observes, "[A]lthough Podhoretz was not
the only foreign policy commentator overtaken by events and quickly confused,
his long record of strident statements marked by a tone of absolute certainty
left him with little cover for his misinterpretations."
Among the magazines that engaged in the battles of the Cold War, the
New Leader, New Republic, and New York Review of Books
recognized that fundamental changes were taking place in the Soviet empire.
The only neoconservative magazine that emerged from the Cold War with a
new sense of mission was the National Interest, whose brilliant
editor, Owen Harries, advocated classical realist principles. And in retrospect,
the sometime neoconservative who comes off looking good is Moynihan, who
has observed in his sprightly 1993 book Pandaemonium that during
his early service in the Senate he came to realize that his former allies
"wished for a military posture approaching mobilization; they would
create or invent whatever crisis were required to bring this about."
George F. Kennan notes in his beautifully rendered At A Century's Ending,
there was a widespread belief among hard-liners during the Cold War that
the Soviet system had reduced entire peoples to a permanent state of abject
and cowering subordination. Kennan knew better. He observes, "Political
systems supporting great personal tyrannies, such as those of Hitler, Stalin,
and Mao, share in the mortality of the tyrant himself. They become the
victims ofin effect, the participants inhis illnesses, his aging, and
his death." With his sensitivity to European culture, Kennan was also
acutely aware that the division of Europe itself was a historical aberration
and could not last. Indeed, in a 1987 address in Berlin (included in his
new book), Kennan prophetically concluded, "I have not lost hope that
I may yet see the day when this city can again breathe a normal breath
and resume its place among the great cultural centers of Germany, of Europe,
and of the world." It has, and he has.
For Kennan's neoconservative critics, that day could never arrive; tyranny
wouldn't simply die. On the contrary, they harbored a certain contempt
for liberal democracy, exemplified in Jean-Francois Revel's How Demo
cracies Perish. Rather than being a source of political endur ance,
liberalism seems to them synonymous with weakness. This strain of illiberalism,
as John Patrick Diggins has observed in Up From Communism (1975),
was always present among intellectuals such as Will Herberg and James Burnham
who, whether from the left or right, always held "liberalism responsible
for all that had gone wrong in the modern world."
Now, in the post-Cold War era neoconservatives such as Irving Kristol
have taken up the sword against the liberal tradition they once upheld.
The real Cold War, Kristol has declared in the pages of the National
Interest, is just beginning on the domestic front against liberalism
itself. Contrary to popular belief, the ideological odyssey of the neoconservatives
suggests that, far from coopting conservatism, they have been coopted by
it. Commentary has been reduced to running articles on the "Deniable
Darwin," while the Weekly Standard, run by two members of the
neoconservative peerage, William Kristol and John Podhoretz, attempts to
mainstream conservatism. As the Gingrich forces remake the Republican Party,
neoconservatism itself will most likely end up as a footnote in future
histories of the Cold War, a relic of old battles as obscure as the struggles
over the true nature of the Trinity in the waning days of the Roman empire.
The Rise of Neoconservatism, Ehrman concludes that intellectuals
such as Foreign Affairs editor Fareed Zakaria "signaled the
ascendancy of a new generation of thinkers who could take over from Tucker,
Kirkpatrick, and the other neoconservative leaders of the 1970s and 1980s.
. . . [I]t appears there will be a renewal of neoconservative foreign policy
thinking in the mid-1990s." This is mistaken. Writers on foreign policy
such as Zakaria and Michael Lind, who could have created a revival of neoconservatism,
are in fact traditional realists, while the former neoconservatives are
searching for new crusades. There are exceptions such as Jeane Kirkpatrick,
who has moved towards realism and remains the most penetrating and shrewd
of the neoconservative writers. But consider William Kristol and Robert
Kagan's "Toward a Neo-Reaganite For eign Policy" in the July-August
1994 Foreign Affairs, which calls upon a President Dole to add $80
billion to the defense budget and to "educate the citizenry"
about the virtues of the military.
For President Clinton the failure of the Republican Party to go beyond
warmed-over Reaganism presents a second chance. In his first term, Clinton
spurned hard-nosed Democrats such as Samuel Huntington who signed a foreign
policy statement in the New York Times supporting his candidacy
against George Bush. The war in Bosnia, however, has now created the basis
for a new Demo cratic consensus on foreign policy as the Vietnam syndrome
has faded before the specter of ethnic genocide. In a second term, Clinton
could do worse than work to create a new vital center that steers a course
between the Charybdis of left-wing isolationism and the Scylla of right-wing
The debate continues in the November-December issue of The American Prospect.
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