Book Review Review: Timothy Noah and Jacob Heilbrunn

I have struggled to reconcile the Neocon’s supposed roots in post-World War II intellectualism.  It’s not that they are an uneducated bunch, but their arguments, based as they are almost entirely on ideology, would seem to run counter to the great traditions of intellectualism: Debate, reasoning, moderating of positions in the face of new evidence, etc.  When nothing–not even overwhelming evidence that your positions are wrong–can dissuade you from defending them for the sake of ideology, you have lost your right to claim to be an intellectual.

The strength of this attachment to ideal over reality is extremely childlike and I have frequently thought some of the leading Neocon’s of the day (Kristol, Wolfowitz, Perle, etc) act more like petulant, spoiled children, than responsible adults focused on the public good.  In the New York Times, Timothy Noah reviews a new book by Jacob Heilbrunn that highlights this strange quirk of Neocon behavior. Heilbrunn, a “reformed” Neocon, looks at the history of the movement, the rigid ideology that informs their foreign policy recommendations while almost entirely dismissing domestic policy issues (this he attributes to the fact that the majority of adherents are Jewish, as he is, and they are inordinately focused on the State of Israel to the exclusion of other geopolitical issues) and their resistance to accepting reality when it conflicts with their preconceived ideals.  From the NYT Book Review, “Heilbrunn nicely compares the Soviet
Union’s imminent collapse to “a Christmas present handed to a
grumpy child who was not in the mood to accept it.” After decades of proselytizing about the uselessness of diplomacy, they were unwilling to accept that diplomacy was, in fact, important in toppling Communism.  This is a cautionary tale for us today when the leading lights of the Neocon movement are on record discouraging the use of diplomacy as a valid strategic tactic to use in the Middle East.

I have not read the book yet, but plan to, if nothing else, to answer the burning question “how can so many smart people be so stupid?”  The case of the Neocons (broad brush, here–I’m sure there are degrees of “Neocon-ness”)  appears to demonstrate the limitations of education when faced with unreasonableness.  It is just too bad they have their academic credentials to fall back on–false bona fides that make up for questionable reasoning ability and disguise the actual elitist brutality of their cause.

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1 Response to “Book Review Review: Timothy Noah and Jacob Heilbrunn”

  1. January 14, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    Thanks for the tip. It's a good piece.

    The thing is, I don't think the neocons are that smart. They're certainly not wise, and they have an almost non-existent learning curve, with a few members such as Fukiyama (who's admitted fault) excepted. Noah even says, in more polite terms, that they don't give a damn about the truth, research or studying, preferring their own fantasies. Many of them wouldn't do that well in academe, but if there, they'd be the profs with crackpot theories (and they'd probably do less damage than they have). Their ridiculous theories were less the reason than the excuse to invade Iraq. In many cases, yes, they're basically stuck in an immature adolescent's mentality. <i>The Assassin's Gate</i>, among other books, chronicles how much these fools have a strong psychological need for American power and infallibility and a strong daddy figure. Tellingly, almost none of them have any military service and have a cartoonish idea of warfare and torture, among many other things. If they played weekend warrior paintball or war games with miniatures, we'd be fine. But these people simply do study history, nor want to deal with the world as it actually is. It really doesn't take that much study or life experience for one to at least <i>question</i> the major neocon tenets. They consistently ignore actual evidence, though, of the consequences of their actions and crackpot theories. They are intellectually dishonest, perhaps through delusion and arrogance, perhaps through conscious fraud (Ledeen, Perle and Feith have clearly knowingly lied at times), but if there were justice, they would be relentlessly mocked out of public life as "intellectuals."

    I'll try to get a post up on some of these issues later this week, actually, but thanks again for the tip.

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