Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Neo-cons and Shachtmanites--Not

Norm Geras recommends a new blog by Dave Osler. Dave's Part looks like a very fine blog and Dave seems to be a fellow with good politics, left, but anti-democratic centralist.

Norm steers us to Dave's post on Neo-conservatives which offers a critique of Adam Curtis’s television documentary series, 'The Power of Nightmares'and makes some valid points. Including this

No serious account of of the doctrine can fail to address the inputs of Max Shachtman and Henry ‘Scoop’ Jackson. But astonishingly, Curtis rates neither as worthy even of a name check.

Unfortunately, Osler mangles the details when he writes
A number of prominent neocons were associated with Shachtman in their youth, including Jeane Kirkpatrick, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz.
This is completely wrong. I don't think Kirkpatrick, Perle, or Wolfowitz ever met Shachtman who died in 1972. Some of his followers. most prominently Tom Kahn supported Henry Jackson in the Democratic primaries that year and probably came into contact with Perle at about that time.

So the influence of Shachtman on neo-conservativsm is much more indriect and convoluted than Osler paints it.

Ralph Seliger has an accurate account of Shachtman, his followers, and neo-conservatism in the first issue of Engage's journal. Seliger knew many of the younger generation of Shachtmanites before they become neo-cons. And Ben Ross discusses the Shachtmanites and Straussians in Dissent.

Another reliable account is Bill King's "Neoconservatives and Trotskyism." King is a conservative, or at least his essay appears on a conservative webstie. But he has a solid knowledge of the left's intellectual history.
despite its current popularity, the "Trotskyist neocon" assertion contributes nothing to our understanding of the origins, or nature, of neoconservatism. In fact quite the opposite. While it is based on elements of truth, the assertion for the most part consists of exaggerations, misrepresentations, and even outright falsifications whose end result is a thoroughly distorted view of the history of neoconservatism.
King concludes with this ironic paragraph
What makes all this so ironic is that it is the paleoconservatives and anti-neocon liberals themselves who not so long ago marched together with Trotskyists -- the real ones that is -- in opposition to the toppling of Saddam's dictatorship in Iraq. Even more, they have featured articles attacking US foreign policy by prominent long-time Trotskyists on the very same web sites in which they have accused neoconservatives and the Defense department of… Trotskyism! Amidst the shrillness of their accusations one thing is certain: the "Trotskyist neocon" assertion is without a doubt one of the major oddities of recent American intellectual life

Strangely enough, Osler despite the slip above, ends his blog entry on a similar note

in the final analysis, whether America’s post 9/11 foreign policy can be labelled distinctively neoconservative or not is a point of crucial importance to perhaps two groups. The first is the hardened factionalists jockeying for position on the US right. The second is that section of liberal opinion that - to invert a Straussian idea - needs the neoconservative threat as a ‘necessary myth’ to rally its forces.

It looks Dave's Part will be blog worth following.

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