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Lies, Damned Lies, and Anti-Semitism

Will anyone, anywhere, be allowed to criticize the dominant trend in American conservatism, whose partisans are currently leading our foreign policy and guiding us into a war, without being denounced as a hater of Jews? Even when he doesn’t mention Jews, or single out Israel , or in any way employ a double standard? 

By J.P. Zmirak
zmirak@familink.com

Gregor Samsa awoke one wintry morning in February to discover that he had been transformed into an enormous anti-semite….

All right, I’m no Gregor Samsa, and Christopher Hitchens is no Kafka, but the old Brit has just attempted such an ugly metamorphosis, and I am the intended victim. In his interview with AFF’s Doublethink published last week, amidst many off-the-cuff opinions, Hitchens referred to an article of mine, “America the Abstraction,” which I invite all of you to read for yourselves. Here is what he said:  

“There’s a piece in a recent American Conservative—mostly a rag, I think, but some of it is quite energetically written—by J. P. Zmirak. He says that neoconservatism is basically leftist internationalism, Trotskyism. And that’s why neoconservatives like this idea of installing democratic regimes by force. It’s quite funny when he lists all the founders of neoconservatism, all those Jewish names. But at the end I thought, you know, it really would be better to just admit you’re a ruthless anti-Semite and have done with it. That’s really what the piece was about. He says neoconservatism is a Jewish heresy based on a sort of free-floating, Trotskyite internationalism. There’s probably something to that, but the way he put it was slightly shady, I think.”  

My first response to reading this was simply to blow the whole thing off. Who wants to spend his time rushing around explaining why he is NOT a pedophile, or a wife-beater, or a “ruthless anti-semite”? In a way, it’s flattering to be attacked by the same man who denounced Mother Teresa on TV the night of her funeral. Might help me make a name, if that were what life is about.  

Then I thought again: Why should I let this old Commie get away with it? I’d rather duke it out in the arena of public opinion.  

I’m not a big name like Hitchens, and I don’t expect you’ve heard of me before, or will again, but I’ve a right to keep my good name, however obscure. Since I think anti-semitism a disgraceful and sinful prejudice, I feel compelled to answer Hitchensaccusations head on.  

Hitchens claims that I see neoconservatism as “leftist internationalism, Trotskyism.” Guilty as charged—although the term I mostly used was “Cold War conservatism,” since my whole analysis centered on how the need to compete with internationalist Communism helped reshape American conservatism into an abstraction-based, ideological movement, which it had never been before. The role of the CIA in funding and sponsoring the anticommunist movements of the moderate Left and the Center—from which neoconservatism got its start—is well-documented, so I don’t think my argument is too surprising, or even original.  

Hitchens’ next statement is much more troubling, and misleading: “It’s quite funny when he lists all the founders of neoconservatism, all those Jewish names.” Now, I’m not the kind of person who spends his time guessing people’s ethnic background or religion and pinning badges on them; maybe Hitchens is. The thinkers I referred to in describing “Cold War conservatism” were four: Frank Meyer, James Burnham, Sidney Hook, and Irving Kristol. So far as I’m aware—and perhaps I’m wrong, I don’t share Hitchens’ unhealthy interest here—Frank Meyer was a practicing Christian, James Burnham a lapsed WASP, Irving Kristol a somewhat religious Jew, and Sidney Hook—who knows? I hadn’t thought about it when I wrote the piece, and I’m not going to start digging into his ethnic background now. I’ll leave that kind of work to anti-semites—of whom there are far too many. What’s more, I referred to each of these thinkers respectfully, and noted their important role as patriots who helped win the Cold War. Then I went on to a calm, reasoned critique of the shortcomings of a predominantly ideological brand of conservatism, which in some respects mirrors the Trotskyism once held by some neoconservatives. The figure I focused on was Burnham.  

Nowhere did I make reference to any thinker’s race or creed, since they seem to me irrelevant. Nor did I make comments inimical to Israel , whose survival as a Jewish state I consider important to the freedom of the West. So when Hitchens summarizes my piece as saying that “neoconservatism is a Jewish heresy based on a sort of free-floating, Trotskyite internationalism” this is simply a lie. I didn’t call it Jewish, and I didn’t call it a heresy—although I did connect it to Trotskyism, a point that has been made frequently before by historians of the neoconservative movement (see Gary Dorrien’s The Neoconservative Mind).  

Hitchens clearly realized what shaky ground he trod—concluding his attempted smear with the lame conclusion: “There’s probably something to that, but the way he put it was slightly shady, I think.” Senator McCarthy couldn’t have put it any better. I can’t describe a Red to you, but I know one when I see one.  

Now I could rehearse external evidence, independent of the article named, of my views about Israel , Jewish people, and Judaism. If you’re interested, here’s what I’ve written about Nazi war criminals, anti-Nazi heroes, anti-semitism among Catholics, radical Islam, and Catholic-Jewish ecumenical dialogue. But that’s not the point—and I’m not the point. I’m just an obscure columnist eking out a living in Queens . I don’t have a career for Hitchens to destroy.  

The wider issue here is one of open discussion: Will anyone, anywhere, be allowed to criticize the dominant trend in American conservatism, whose partisans are currently leading our foreign policy and guiding us into a war, without being denounced as a hater of Jews? Even when he doesn’t mention Jews, or single out Israel , or in any way employ a double standard? Does the fact that many (not all, or probably most) neocons are of Jewish descent mean that one simply may not criticize the movement? Does criticizing Kwanzaa make someone a racist? Are the ACLU being bigots when they sue to keep Creationism out of schools? These are big questions, which go to the heart of intellectual openness in America . They must be answered correctly, and resoundingly, in favor of freedom and fairness—or else the conservative movement in America will smother beneath the leaden cloak of political correctness.

J.P. Zmirak is author of Wilhelm Röpke: Swiss Localist, Global Economist--a life of the anti-Nazi activist and classical liberal economist who guided the post-war "economic miracle" in Germany.

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