The Politics of Progress (with link to Limmud talk)
Published in: Jewish Chronicle
In fact, they tend to be disillusioned former left-wingers and Democrats; while Irving Kristol, the grand-daddy of neo-conservatism who coined the famous quip that the neo-cons were 'liberals who had been mugged by reality', is a former Trotskyite.
What 'extreme right' really means is 'extremely moral'. For the neo-cons' previous claim to fame was over domestic policies such as welfare, crime and sex education, where they reasserted distinctions between right and wrong and encouraged 'tough love' policies which wedded compassion to personal responsibility and the moral traditions of western culture. For this, of course, they have earned the undying enmity of the post-modern, post moral, nihilistic Left.
But what is also apparent, from reading both Irwin Stelzer's new book of essays 'Neoconservatism' and Irving Kristol's own earlier book of the same name, is that it is surely no accident that so many neo-cons are Jews.
For neo-conservatism is a quintessentially Jewish project: a re-sanctification in everyday life of the core values of western civilisation, and the achievement of human potential through virtuous practice. The neo-cons' crucial insight is that public signals through law, custom and tradition are the key to getting people to behave well. And that is a Jewish insight.
Neo-conservatism has set itself against the secular humanism that has undermined not just society in general but parts of the Jewish world, too. In an ingenious adaptation, Irving Kristol has defined himself as neo-orthodox - non-observant, but in principle very sympathetic to the spirit of orthodoxy, because he understands the crucial importance of moral absolutes in creating civic virtue.
The neo-cons are to Judaism what people like the 19th century British campaigners against slavery, alcoholism and prostitution were to Christianity - social reformers whose desire to repair the world is rooted in the religious tradition whose values they are trying to defend.
So why are most Jews not neo-cons but still incline to the left, both here and in America where some 80 per cent still vote Democrat? Why haven't more of them become more conservative as they have become more affluent? Why are they to be found instead among the most passionate advocates of the anti-religious and socially destructive fallacies of the age?
In 1979, Irving Kristol suggested a reason why socialism - the modern, secular version of messianism - had become increasingly attractive to Jews. He associated it with prophetic Judaism, by which he meant the revolt against rabbinic or orthodox law - which was seen as stale and decadent - in favour of a belief in a historic Jewish mission to usher in a transformation of the world.
Socialism, the secular equivalent, was thus attractive to Jews who rejected the binding nature of religious law based on revelation. They bought heavily instead into the secular humanist project of liberal values. So they subscribed to the left in both religion and politics.
And the reason why they were so wedded to this doctrine, said Kristol, was because they thought it protected them. Secular humanism seemed to negate anti-Jewish prejudice and gave Jews civic equality. Thus American Jews might proudly identify themselves as Jews, though in religious terms they were Jewish only in externals. But as Kristol observed, given the huge rate of intermarriage and the onslaught on western moral codes, this might not be as good for them as they fondly believed.
In 1991, he wrote: 'But it is becoming ever more clear that what we are witnessing is not the advent of a brave new world in which religious orientation, like sexual orientation, will be largely a matter of taste. We are seeing, rather, the end of a major phase of American Jewish history, and of the history of western civilisation itself. American Jews, living in their suburban cocoons, are likely to be the last to know what is happening to them'.
How much worse is the situation today now that secular humanism - along with its offshoot, post-modernism - has shown that its vision of the kingdom of heaven on earth unfortunately does not include the existence of a Jewish national home.
And how much more so is it in Britain, where there is no neo-conservative activism at all; no Christian resistance to secular humanism or its post-modern nemesis; and where minhag anglia (the customs of English Jews) is to keep your head down and never so much as squeak in public when the Jewish people is attacked.
The neo-cons are not the 'extreme right'. They are the front line in the defence of Jewish and western values - not only against the forces that threaten them from without, but against the secular messianism from within, which represents in fact their greatest peril.