In October 1992 Commentary printed an “observation” by David Glasner, “Hayek and the Conservatives,” which abounded in glaring disinformation. The pictures there given of the America First movement as a rallying point for anti-Semitic kooks and of the Old Right as a collection of bigoted psychopaths, pending the arrival of the neoconservatives and their Hayekian predecessors, illustrate one of the ugliest characteristics of the left—its periodical reconstruction of the past for the sake of present ideological agendas. Never mind the well-documented facts provided by Justus Doenecke, Wayne Cole, and other historians of the American isolationists: that America First consisted heavily of liberal Republicans; that it included leftists like Chester Bowles and Norman Thomas; and that its leadership was emphatic about discouraging anti-Semites from joining.

Moreover, Hayek was not the figure, as Glasner contends, who turned American conservatives around. The Austrian economist’s brief against socialism was thought to Bt into an already established conservative ease for limited constitutional government. Many isolationists believed they were making that case when they opposed FDR’s interventionist policies. For them those policies represented, rightly or wrongly, a continuation of Woodrow Wilson’s democratic imperialism. Not anti-Semitism, but opposition to an expansive, centralized regime lay behind this conservative protest to what has since been named the “welfare-warfare state.” Though it may be argued that conservative isolationists underestimated both Hitler’s aggressiveness and his capacity for meanness, they did foresee long-range political trends at home.

But, in point of fact, not all pre-50’s conservatives were isolationists. Southern conservatives, like Carter Glass and Harry Byrd, were Anglophile interventionists; and Robert Taft, though reluctant to get involved in European affairs, believed in the need for our government to carry a big stick in the Western hemisphere. Though it is generous of Glasner to exempt Taft from the various hate-crimes he ascribes to the rest of the pre-50’s right, it may be puzzling to some why he grants this particular dispensation. Perhaps Burt Blumert’s explanation is the only one that makes sense: somebody must have told Glasner that Taft strongly supported the state of Israel during the last five years of his life.

Most surprising to me is that Commentary would publish an essay with so many obvious distortions. It is one thing to berate everyone and his cousin for not confessing to their German genes, an alleged sin of Pat Buchanan, or for being insensitive to self-designated victims. Yet it is quite another to misrepresent entire movements in order to make one’s dotty obsessions appear respectable. Commentary may have crossed that line, if not for the first time then most dramatically, by publishing Glasner’s hastily done screed.

Even more importantly, it gave proof of how far ncoconservatives will go in smearing everyone on the right but themselves (if one is allowed to pretend for the moment that they belong on the right). In their portrayal of the America Firsters and of the opponents of free trade, Glasner and the neocons invent their own history. Neither isolationism nor protectionism was a peculiarly conservative position before the present division between paleos and neocons. That neocon demigod Abraham Lincoln was a more explicit protectionist than Pat Buchanan. And ditto for Bill Clinton, to whose presidential campaign neocons flocked in droves. When Clinton addressed economic issues in his last presidential debate, he spoke out sharply against the trade agreement with Mexico. Still it was not he, but Ross Perot, whom Morton Kondracke blew up into a “nativist, xenophobe protectionist.” That goes to show that not all protectionists, but only those not endorsed by the New Republic, are guilty of xenophobia. In any case, neocons should note that at least some old-fashioned conservatives fervently backed free trade. The Southern planter class seceded from the Union partly over the issue of tariffs imposed by protectionist Yankees on the hapless agrarian South. But Glasner does not find this history usable for his narrowly partisan argument.

In his partial defense it should be pointed out that Glasner’s fixation on anti-Semitism is all too typical of our opinion elites. The harping on this matter by Glasner and Commentary has its equivalents in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Time, Newsweek, the New Republic, and, recently, National Review. In all these publications we are told of a pathological hatred of Jews that extends from Christian antiquity, through the Nazi era, to the present. The once and future bearer of this anti-Semitic poison, one would gather from our press, is the right as unreformed by neocon leadership and sensitivities. Those in America who incarnate the ancient menace are, among others, Pat Buchanan and, according to Time (claiming to present the views of “other conservatives”), the Rockford Institute.

Though anti-Semitism has raged in other societies, it has never been more than a marginal problem in the United States. In comparison to the mob violence suffered by some ethnic Catholics in 19th-century America and the massive professional discrimination I have seen visited on their descendants in academic departments, American Jews have not fared badly, even in relation to other whites. Their worst complaints have been about past residential and professional discrimination and about the operation of ethnic quotas at some universities earlier in the century. Though none of this deserves to be defended, several points should be kept in mind. The form of discrimination to which American Jews refer was primarily social rather than religious; it typically affected the families of recent Jewish immigrants as well as of non-Jewish immigrants rather than the descendants of already established American Jews; and whatever limited exclusion some Jews in some situations may have suffered in the United States has not kept American Jewry from rising to the top socioeconomically and enjoying the goodwill of its Christian neighbors. Though many Jews feel deeply “alienated” from American Christian society, the fault is arguably theirs rather than that of a society that has frenetically tried to accommodate Jewish identity and uneasiness.

In any case I agree with Jacob Neusner when he argues that anti- Semitism has ceased to be a real issue in American life, give or take a few nuts in Idaho or some civil rights spokespersons who seem to be impersonating Jewish liberals when they’re not ranting against “hymies.” Jewish civil libertarians should feel particularly gratified to be here and not in Israel. Most American Jews, who are not of the Orthodox persuasion, would not have the freedom to practice their religion—that is, would not have their rituals legally recognized—in a Jewish country. In Israel only the Orthodox rabbinate has the legal authority to perform Jewish weddings and to define Jewish identity for resident citizens of the Jewish homeland.

In view of this situation, one might think that discussions about anti-Semitism as a significant American problem would be winding down. Complaints about intermarriage do seem understandable given the documentable preference shown by young American Jews for non-Jewish spouses. Harder to comprehend, however, are the pervasive references to anti-Semitism as an urgent national danger that one reads in the columns of Richard Cohen, A.M. Rosenthal, Charles Krauthammer, Norman Podhoretz, William Safire, and other syndicated journalists. By now the name for this ancient prejudice has come to stand for other traits; nonetheless, it has become apparent that by assailing a political opponent as an anti-Semite, it is possible to inflict irreparable harm on him. Certainly one cannot deny that history affords all too many grim examples of real anti-Semitism, culminating in the Nazis’ murder of close to six million Jews. More problematic is fathoming how such catastrophes derive from the assorted policy errors and social faux pas we are led to believe betray a Nazi gestalt. These ominous indiscretions now include disagreeing with statements by the American Zionist lobby, rattling Norman Podhoretz, quoting the ancient Jews to approve alternative lifestyles, and having been on the American right before Midtown Manhattan took it over.

There are three, partly overlapping groups that have suffered in particular from charges of anti-Semitism. In all three cases, these groups have had the same disadvantage: little access to the media and therefore a lack of opportunity to present their views in mass newspapers and magazines. But not all of them have had the same row to hoe. The first, critics of Israeli expansionist parties, have received an occasional hearing on news programs, and though efforts have been made by AIPAC, neocons, and some liberal journalists to liken these critics to Nazi sympathizers, they do continue to enjoy the presumptive benefit of their association, in most cases, with the political left. This is particularly true of Palestinian spokesmen, who often sound politically correct except on the question of Zionism. Edward Said remains a celebrated professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University and in good standing as a liberal, despite his activities as a Palestinian spokesman. We might also note that the liberal Democratic candidate for Senate, Lynn Yeakel, attracted considerable Jewish support in Pennsylvania, while being associated with the outspokenly pro-Palestinian Board of Directors of Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, Yeakel’s credentials as a prochoice feminist offset for Jewish voters her past associations with critics of Israel. In fact her social liberalism allowed Yeakel to compete successfully for Jewish votes against a liberal Republican incumbent who had consistently taken AIPAC positions. Included in this group, too, are Israelis who have criticized the hard-line positions taken by the former Likud government, a coalition that was turned out of power despite the impassioned backing of American Zionist organizations. It is therefore hard to make the anti-Semitic label stick to those in group one.

Other groups who have been susceptible to what Murray Rothbard calls the “smearbund” include disparagers of gaylib and traditionalists who have run afoul of well-connected neocons. The paleo presidential candidate Pat Buchanan was labeled an anti-Semite after falling into both groups. More accurately, he fell into all three, having faulted the West Bank policy of Israel’s Likud government while simultaneously attacking alternative lifestyles. To some degree, the combined liberal-neocon campaign against Buchanan has now appropriated this neocon definition of anti-Semitism.

For years Commentary whacked away at the gay lobby, publishing without constraint such debunkers of it as Samuel McCracken and Michael Frumenti. With some justification, the leftist Sid Blumenthal spoke of the neocons as being fixated on gays, in the same way they exploded each time they encountered critics of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. But in spite of this once settled attitude, some neocons and movement conservatives arc now speaking gently about gay rights. Both William Buckley and the New Republic, particularly since the arrival of its proudly homosexual editor-in-chief Andrew Sullivan, have presented sympathetic treatments of gays. For that matter, so have many other celebrities who have been tireless in their defense of Israeli foreign policies, such as Alan Dershowitz, A.M. Rosenthal, and former New York mayor Ed Koch. The equation of homophobia and anti-Semitism has long been operative in our press; William Raspberry and Richard Cohen stressed this alleged link in their fiery polemics against Buchanan. In deference to victimology, moreover, literature on the Holocaust has come to put the suffering of homosexuals under Hitler only slightly below that of European Jewry. One does not have to go to Dershowitz’s egregious autobiography Chutzpah in search of this revisionist view. A nationally respected Holocaust authority whom I heard speak in a synagogue in Bethesda, Maryland, Deborah E. Lipstadt, explained that Hitler’s persecution was aimed at gays, feminists, and blacks, but not at the “anti-Semitic Poles.” It is simply not true that American Jews do not want to share the Holocaust with other groups. They are quite willing to share it with anyone on the current list of designated victims.

Because of the situation described above, there may be a growing tendency on the respectable right to accept homophobia as symptomatic of right-wing anti-Semitism. On August 19, 1992, an attack on Buchanan appeared in the New York Times written by Michael Lind, executive editor of the neocon National Interest. Though his dyspeptic comments on “conservatism’s ugly face” looked familiar on the Times‘ editorial page, one trait distinguished them from the other op-ed pieces on the same topic. This piece was written by a self-described conservative.

Contrary to the polite fib told on the Old Right, the neocons did not “occupy” the conservative movement. They were invited in to carry out their glorious Anschluss, cheered on by some of the most influential conservatives of the 70’s. Neoconservatives were not intruders, but rather the thought police whom movement conservatives of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s have worked hard to obey. Like the subjects in Hobbes’ state of nature, these morally divided and emotionally insecure individuals needed a commonwealth in which to live together. As fate would have it, neoconservatives were happy to provide one, in exchange for the surrender of their subjects’ natural freedom.

The inhabitants of this commonwealth lack the “intellectual discrimination” that Claes Ryn and George Panichas see as vanishing on the right. But they also lack even that elemental moral sense that helps to distinguish adults from children. Thus movement conservatives go after old friends for not proffering the approved neocon opinions about the state of the world. And they refrain from asking questions that their mortal god, the neocon sovereign, considers to be dangerously divisive. For those who try to open what solemn assemblies of neocons have decided to close there is only one response: consignment to the fever swamps of anti-Semitic insensitivity into which “responsible conservative opinion” has put anyone on the right who doesn’t quite fit into the world as conceived by David Glasner, Michael Lind, and their royal masters.

The terms anti-Semitism and insensitivity mean no more in the present conservative movement than whatever offends the sovereign. Whenever a well-heeled and socially important neocon accuses anyone on the right of being anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist, no movement conservative in good standing ever asks for proof before joining in the chorus of condemnation. In Lew Rockwell’s satirical glossary of neocon language, we are reminded that, for neoconservatives, every turn of speech and historical association refers back to their own parochial view of reality, starting with a laughably narrow view of what is good or bad for Jews. By now that semantical and historical framework has become the new foundation for what is intended to be a respectable American conservatism. Rockwell’s spoof may already be the catechism for young conservatives.