SAIS Review 25.2 (2005) 191-194
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Nous Sommes Tous Neocons Maintenant
On Friday, Jan. 21, 2005, a group of demonstrators appeared at the entrance to the annex of the Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) looking for the school's former dean, Paul Wolfowitz. They had come to Washington to protest the second inauguration of U.S. President George W. Bush and were using the day between Bush's swearing-in and a weekend of workshops and "teach-ins" to hit Washington's "neoconservative landmarks," including SAIS and the American Enterprise Institute. After entering the SAIS building, they refused to accept the security guard's answer that the then-deputy secretary of defense (now World Bank president) no longer kept an office at SAIS. The protestors accused the guard of shielding the man they saw as the architect of the war in Iraq because he said they could, in all probability, find Wolfowitz at his new workplace, the Pentagon.
As they trundled off to the school's main building to continue their ill-fated quest, they were heard to shout a few choice words for SAIS's other reputed "neocons."
For the marchers, the adjective "neoconservative" equated to a unilateral, runaway militarism in support of an extreme right-wing ideology. It is occasionally and more generously called a "radical Wilsonian" philosophy that forces democracy onto weaker countries at the expense of self-determination and common sense, all the while promoting a rabid pro-Israel agenda. The fact that many of the philosophy's leading lights have had Jewish names does not go unnoted; the insidious description "cabal" often finds itself attached to any grouping of its principals.1 [End Page 191]
These slick and easy generalizations have passed into common usage in part because few scholars or journalists have risen to provide a proper explanation of this important political philosophy, one that has exerted unquestionable influence on contemporary U.S. foreign policy thinking as well as on domestic matters. Murray Friedman does so in his valuable new book, The Neoconservative Revolution: Jewish Intellectuals and the Shaping of Public Policy. Friedman has penned a useful, albeit very sympathetic, account of a potentially explosive topic. A professor of U.S. history at Temple University and former Reagan appointee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission (not to mention a professed neocon), he draws on a wide range of contemporary publications, memoirs and interviews to trace the development of neoconservative thought through the last six decades, taking a brave approach by venturing into its connections with U.S. Jewry. In doing so, Friedman tells the story of a political movement with a core made up of largely—but not exclusively—of Jewish intellectuals. He also sheds light on the question of how these thinkers struck upon an ideology that would come to encompass such public leaders as Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jeanne Kirkpatrick, as well as a diverse collection of public policy thinkers. Friedman contends that the birth and evolution of neoconservatism matches much of post-war public policy discourse and, contrary to accusations that it is a fringe movement that duped elected leaders into adopting its precepts, its ideals often track with wider popular opinion. He argues that neoconservatism deserves the "revolution" appellation for its success in translating intellectual endeavor and—exceptionally, for Washington—ideas into action, from urging supply-side economic policies and welfare reform to countering communism and promoting democracy. While critics can argue about the success or failure of such concepts, they cannot deny the repeated re-election of leaders espousing such views.
While some of the protestors outside SAIS that chilly Friday afternoon may have been aware that many of the most detested neocons—in particular, Wolfowitz and Richard Perle (a.k.a. "the Prince of Darkness")—began their public careers as Democrats, Friedman's chronological telling of the neoconservative tale reaches into the movement's early embrace...