My Name Is Neo


You may have been following the story of Thomas E. Woods, Jr. (Ph.D!), and the growing popularity of his Politically Incorrect Guide. If not, dig the outrage here and here. Arts & Letters Daily helpfully refers us to this critical pan from Max Boot:

I FIRST BECAME AWARE of Thomas E. Woods Jr.'s Politically Incorrect Guide to American History when the New York Times Book Review took note of its rise on the paperback bestseller list and described it as a "neocon retelling of this nation's back story." A neocon retelling? What would that be, exactly?

I have no interest in Max Boot, except to wonder whether that's really his name or a holdover from his punk rock days. For what it's worth, I was unpersuaded by Boot's arguments for why involvement in World War I was a vital national interest and amused by his defense of Bill Clinton's adventures in the Balkans. Nor for that matter, am I going to read the Woods book, whose complaints about the Civil War sound like an old whine in new bottles—for anti-militarist polemics I'll take Randolph Bourne every time, and for anti-militarist polemics with a frisson of Confederate apologetics, give me Gore Vidal. What's got me madder than a Civil War reenactor with chiggers in his wool underpants is the incredible description The New York Times used in touting the book. It's got Boot angry as well:

It tells you something about how debased political terminology has become when a leading light of the nutty League of the South is identified in the Paper of Record as a "neocon." The original neocons, like Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz, were former Democrats who accepted the welfare state, racial equality, and other liberal accomplishments while insisting on a more assertive foreign policy than the McGovernites wanted. In other words, pretty much the opposite of what Woods believes. Woods is a paleocon, not a neocon…

I don't read The New York Times much, and the relevant bestseller list just gives the title and author; no description. So who's the slimy little communist shit, twinkle-toed cocksucker who doesn't know the difference between Norman Podhoretz and J.E.B. Stuart in his rakish hat with ostrich plume?

I think it says more about how contemporary liberals view themselves than about our "debased political terminology" that anybody at The New York Times believes a neocon "revision" of American history would even be possible, or that it would differ in any substantive way from the way that history would be written by The New York Times itself.

The genius of neoconservatism is that it's exactly in step with the progressivist, middle-of-the-road, big state view of American history they teach in school: The Articles of Confederation resulted in a disaster that taught the founders the value of a strong central state; the Whiskey rebels were dangerous kooks, not unlike the Branch Davidians of our own time; "States' Rights" has always been a code word for slavery; President Woodrow Wilson was a man of vision but sadly was unable to achieve his goals for an international order; the America Firsters were even kookier and more marginal than the Whiskey rebels, and the best way to deal with one is to sock him in the jaw like in The Best Years of Our Lives; many well intentioned folks on the left underestimated the danger of the Soviet Union, but the anti-communist witch hunts of the fifties were a regrettable overreaction (the Left didn't become dangerous until the late sixties and early seventies, when it embraced separatist and militant views that undermined the politics of consensus that made this country great); real civil rights progress only came when the federal government asserted its power over the refractory states; September 11 shocked America out of its isolationism and freed President George W. Bush (an excellent man, but distressingly shortsighted in some matters) from his naive opposition to nation-building. And so on.

Leave aside how much of it you agree or disagree with. What would the neocons add to the official version of American history? That Winston Churchill should have been made King of the United States as well as Prime Minister of Great Britain? That we missed a great opportunity by not jumping into the Franco-Prussian War? That we should have intervened on Sylvania's side against Freedonia? The folks at The Times may have a narcissistic interest in highlighting small differences, but you can't misuse language forever. When liberals look at the neocons, they see themselves.

In a related story, Honest Abe tops a new poll of our favorite presidents.