Penis Envy Is a Feature of Neoconservatism

Via Brad DeLong I’m treated to this post at Harper’s on neocon historian Bernard Lewis.

The author, Scott Horton, recounts how

Lewis does a side-by-side comparison of United States and Soviet foreign policy towards the Middle East. Evidently, Americans are weaklings who can’t stay through a conflict, who withdraw when barracks are bombed in Beirut (oh my God, an attack on Ronald Reagan) and now who are preparing to quit Iraq. On the other hand, Soviets have gumption and staying power, which explains why they are so damned successful.

If you did anything to annoy the Russians, punishment would be swift and dire. If you said or did anything against the Americans, not only would there be no punishment; there might even be some possibility of reward, as the usual anxious procession of diplomats and politicians, journalists and scholars and miscellaneous others came with their usual pleading inquiries: “What have we done to offend you? What can we do to put it right?�

So, Lewis puts it to us that the Soviets had exactly the right approach to the Middle East.


Which explains several things. The glorious victory of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan against the mujahedeen, for instance. Then the spectacular fashion in which the Russians smashed the Chechen Islamicists in the North Caucasus. And the effective Russian suppression of the Muslim upstart states in the Soviet Union’s southern periphery, followed by the spread of fraternal Russian treaty relationships across the Muslim world.

So there you have it, Lewis is extolling the Soviet solution to Islamic problems not because that solution was successful, but because it was ruthless.

I’m here to tell you, it’s always been that way with the neocons. Christopher Hitchens was a hot topic in comments here the other day; I’ll recycle something I’ve cribbed before from his old journalism to make the point:

…James Burnham [was] the real intellectual founder of the neo-conservative movement and the original proselytizer, in America, of the theory of ‘totalitarianism’. Burnham was the first important Marxist to defect all the way over to the right… He was the first to generalize the symmetry between Nazism and Communism, appropriating the anti-fascist term fifth column, for instance, and applying it adroitly to real or supposed Communist fellow-travellers in the United States…

…Burnham never shrank dishonestly from using the word [American] ‘empire’. He was always explicitly in favour of it…

Two further distinctive emphases were necessary to the all-enclosing world-view. It was proposed, first, that ‘totalitarian’ dictatorships were different from the tyrranies of, say, the banana-republic sort because they were marked by a terrifying acquiescence, if not complicity, among their subjects. There was no such thing as private life in the ‘totalitarian’ universe; every citizen was a member of a regiment, and every element in life a reinforcement of the conscription. It was argued, thus, that this very ruthlessness gave the ‘totalitarians’ a definite advantage in the global contest. While the decadent West pursued its democratic, self-critical, hedonistic path, fraught with emasculating influences such as homosexuality and investigative journalism, the tyrants were breeding a Spartan, manly phalanx, rejoicing in power and unanimity and force. How often were we told that the Red Army had a free hand in Afghanistan because ‘there is no public opinion in the Soviet Union’, while the United States had been undone in Indochina by snooping reporters, carping liberals, and gnawing, self-destructive introspection? Jean-Francois Revel, in How Democracies Perish, asserted that democracy gravely hampered the West, tying its hands and limiting its reach. Writers in the same key, from Michael Ledeen to Charles Krauthammer, moaned and whined about ‘the imperial Congress’, with its alleged habit of stymieing and miring the bold, heterosexual initiatives of a Henry Kissinger or an Oliver North. Our neo-con intellectuals, pace Burnham, time and again have flirted with the idea that there was an essential incompatibility between democracy and survival.

…[I]t may be worth noting that George Orwell had Burnham’s number from the start… [H]e shrewdly pointed out Burnham’s guilty secret — namely, that he was envious of the ‘totalitarian’ precept and had a strong, vicarious admiration for it. Orwell stressed Burnham’s adoration for the full panoply of strength and cruelty, saying that his real desire was not to combat dictatorship and oppression but to emulate them. The same tone is easy to discern in the neo-conservative voice….

The Big Lie has it that neoconservatives are idealists who want to democratize the world. This is simply not true and never was true; closer to the truth to say that want to permanently militarize the United States, and exterminate any obstacles to an American Empire. They envy the methods of totalitarianism, their instinct is to ruthlessness and depravity; they are wicked people who marvel at and covet the ease with which power is abused in non-democratic systems. A decent person has no choice but to hate them.


Comments: 41


Cocaine may play a role, too.
How do you explain extreme recklessness together with no fear of ever paying a price for their mistakes?
Who is going to protect them now? President Bush?


The simple truth is that its about the accumulation and maintenance of power. Political power at homed gained through creating an overwhelming external threat and exploiting that threat to eliminate any democratic, constitutional or political barriers to extending that power permanently. Power abroad by using the military as your primary instrument of foreign policy, to the extent that nations will ultimately bend to your will out of fear.

The plan worked for centuries. It fails today because they failed to recognize two realities. First, the world will not allow war crimes and crimes against humanity as a military policy. Russia can do it in Grozny, but not outside their borders. It cannot be sustained in the 21st century. Secondly, they squandered their “soft power” by attempting to use their “hard power” and demonstrating to the entire world the limitations of a 21st century war machine when it is asked to do something other than destroy armies and hold territory. All the jet fighters, SP guns, satellites, guided missiles and computers in the world will not be effective against a well funded insurgency with popular support. History is there, and they have not learned. The US in Vietnam, the Soviets in Afghanistan, over and over this fact has been demonstrated. And now, with no credible “hard power” threat remaining, the “soft power” the US used to wield has evaporated. And whatever moral authority provided by at least a nodding commitment to the rule of law is gone too. What they have left is fear, and like every other strong emotion, they have simply gone to that well too many times…


a different brad

Not to get all philosophical, in the common sense of the word, but I don’t hate any of them. I fear & loathe em. Small but, at least to me, significant difference.
Hate is consuming, passionate, and overpowering. Loathing is much more manageable, much more rational.
Besides, they’re petty, small people not worth directly caring about. Be Christian about it, hate the deed, not the doer.
Plz note, everyone, this is almost purely a semantic point. Not trying to deny the personal responsibility of these pigfuckers, just sayin I don’t wanna end up like them, consumed by hatred.


Loathing, yes. “Contempt” works pretty well too, as a slightly better alternative to hatred.

Incontinentia Buttocks

Hitch is largely right about Burnham’s thought and its effect (though the point is made at greater length by Gary Dorrien in The Neoconservative Mind, for my money still the best book on the origins of neoconservatism).

But he’s wrong when he writes that Burnham was “the original proselytizer, in America, of the theory of ‘totalitarianism’.” Long before Burnham started pimping the term, both the word and the linkage of dictatorships of the left and right that went along with it had entered American political culture (see Benjamin L. Alpers’s Dictators, Democracy, and American Public Culture for more on the idea of totalitarianism in America and Burnham’s relationship to its spread).


HTML, thanks for directing me to this post. As you told me, people from various ideological perspectives can agree the neocons are scum. I wrote my own dissection of those depraved jerks (well, one of many such tirades) not long ago here.

I almost took on the Bernard Lewis bit as well, but you did it better and I lacked time to do it justice.


MMMmm, thanks for that link, Mona. Good groceries there. I especially agree with the noble lie part. There’s this bout Kristol and Himmelfarb, and then, off the top of my head, there’s David Frum telling TNR that he personally believes in evolution, but thinks that something that “offends 90 percent” of the electorate should not be taught in schools.


diffbrad and atheist are correct. Hatred is an emotion that serves a purpose, one that is not required here. Hatred is not measured on a scale. It is a binary condition. It is created in extremis, when you need it for survival. It is the emotion that overwhelms any other emotion, any compassion, any civilization, in order to allow you to do things you would never otherwise do, ideally to protect yourself and your loved ones. When allowed to bloom in less extreme situations, it results in events like columbine and VT. Not constructive…



This is o/t, except that it demonstrates failure (in this case, of our money = god system).

Best health care in the world.


day-um, HTML, I don’t know what’s gotten into your feed lately, but you are on fire my good man.


Hah, thanks, but it’s nothing less than desperation. Broke this time of year; trying to get more traffic and ads and donations. And no, I’m not nagging and mucho gracias to everyone who’s donated!

But really our traffic hasn’t recovered since the server crash and switch and I just wanna do my part in trying to build it back to what it was.


Not to worry, HTML! I was checking back every hour til the site returned! Great post as always 🙂


Contempt works. As do disgust, alarm, mistrust, and precautionary rejection of any further ideas they come up with. After this many bad ideas and revolting motives, they should be required to prove anymore that something’s a good idea before we let them use the rest of humanity as guinea pigs.

Smiling Mortician

What a horrifying story, ITTDGY. Pity that the patient/nurse demographics fail to demonstrate sufficient Jewish/Muslim content — otherwise I’m sure the compassionate conservatives would be getting right on a solution to the problem.


Well, the chick’s name was Rodriguez, so there’s a good chance that she was Christian. Granted, the inferior brown kind, but still…

How do we know the 911 dispatcher WASN’T muslim?! Don’t count on the MSM to report on that! Any one of those nurses could have been of Arabic descent.

Smiling Mortician

Right you are, Some Guy. And shame on me for not engaging in more robust Citizen Journalamism.


Oh just eww.

It’s about time to take the car keys of civilization away from these people,they’re driving drunk and won’t stop til someone forces them to.


“The glorious victory of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan against the mujahedeen, for instance. ”

What? The? Fuck?


With this obsession and fetishizing over “totalitarianism” of the Soviets by the American Right…am I the only one reminded here of Count Von Bek’s Nazi cousin in Moorcock’s THE DREAMTHIEF’S DAUGHTER?

A civilized aristocrat, he became a Nazi in the hopes the Nazis would become more like them and their class. But over time it was obvious he was just in love with parades and polish and brutish power and all the Nazi eagles and book-burnings.


What? The? Fuck?

Those are Horton’s words, making a sarcastic comment about Lewis.


If I ever become an envious man, I’m pretty sure there will be a penis involved…

Hysterical Woman

Penis Envy is supposed to able to women, not men. According to Freud, little girls are disappointed to find out they don’t have penises, and get pissed off at their moms for making them “incomplete”. Gag.


In one of the best essays on Freud I ever read, Gloria Steinem reverses the gender of the dominant culture in an alterno-Freud universe and has Ms. Freud come to the conclusion that men suffer from clitoris envy because their grotesque, deformed anatomy forces them to urinate out of their horribly swollen clitorises.


Oh, I definately suffer from penis envy. I have enjoyed the one I have so much over the years I’d really like to have two or three more, and I am quite envious of all the dudes that do…



I didn’t intend this as an endrosement of Freudianism. All I meant is that within the neocon mindset there is envy of the other system’s larger powertool. They think in terms of maleness. I was using their idiom.

Herr Doktor Bimler

there is envy of the other system’s larger powertool
I really want a decent drill-press. A lathe, too. I spend a lot of mental energy coveting lathes.


as it were.

ah, fuck it.


Just like a man to pretend a woman’s condition is really all about him.


Man, that is an irony vortex.


While I agree that we should avoid hatred, for the reasons given (intoxication, becoming like the hated) let’s recall that contempt has problems, too. One is underestimation of the opponent. No crazy system, be it Bolshevism, Naziism, neo-con-ism (nothing truly conservative inside), looked threatening at first. Yet, they managed to fubar just about everything in their paths.

Let’s stick with anger. It motivates, it allows for (and builds from) reason, and, best of all, our opponents think they own it. They want anger? Lay it on ’em!

Herr Doktor Bimler

I know it’s not a powertool, but what I really envy is a Heidelberg platen letterpress machine.

Qetesh the Abyssinian

Oh, I definately suffer from penis envy. I have enjoyed the one I have so much over the years I’d really like to have two or three more, and I am quite envious of all the dudes that do…

Whut?!? Who’s got two or three penes? And what would you do with them all? Would your dates be startled during their morning shower to see half a dozen knobs of various sizes, shapes, and colours, displayed jauntily on the edge of the bath? Or would you wear ’em all at once, like the groinal equivalent of a really big bunch of flowers? “Look what I got for you, honey” -swoossshhhh. Wrap a bit of pink tissue paper and a coupla ribbons around ’em and they’d make a right down nice posy.

Would you have one for every occasion? I picture you standing in front of the mantel, meershaum in your mouth, musing “Will it be the ‘Scottish Reel’ tonight, or the ‘Teutonic Regiment’? Hmmm, no, I think I’ll go for the ‘Zambian Surprise’. Marjorie will appreciate that, I’m sure”.

Would they do tricks? “Hey, baby, check this out: alleeeeez-oop!” Squeals of delight. “You think that’s good, wait’ll you see the rope trick!”

Ahhh, it must be endless fun for boys. If I’m going to get any fun out of penes, I have to borrow them. [sob, choke]


No crazy system, be it Bolshevism, Naziism, neo-con-ism (nothing truly conservative inside), looked threatening at first.



A decent person has no choice but to hate them

I’m just going to keep pointing at your use of that word to describe people of unimpeachable morals until the irony starts to sink in.

(No, I’m not holding my breath).


to describe people of unimpeachable morals until the irony starts to sink in.

No Grampaw, by a ‘decent’ person, he just means someone who cares about the lives of others somewhat, and doesn’t like lies. He’s just saying that a morally normal person has no choice but to hate (loathe, be angry at, whatever) the Neoconservatives once that person starts to understand them. It isn’t about perfect, unimpeachable morality.


Grampaw’s attempts at gotchas become more pathetic.

This is an old feud, atheist. Grampaw’s an idiot and accomodationist — he believes in meeting rightwing depravity halfway or ignoring it altogether, while concentrating on marginalizing everyone Left of him (iow, 70 percent of the West’s population). Priorities you know. His role model is Kevin Drum.


Better on Lewis’ WSJ piece is Robert Dreyfuss.


Remember, the big lie about neocons wanting to democratize the world is an intrinsic part of the neocon strategy: String the suckers along. Leo Strauss said so.

On an marginally related note, I just walked over to the UN and took a few pictures, so I’m feelin’ all global and ‘brotherhood of man’ and shit.


“No crazy system, be it Bolshevism, Naziism, neo-con-ism (nothing truly conservative inside), looked threatening at first.”


Each started with a handful of radicals, with such outlandish public statements, that no one could possibly take it seriously. Lenin and Hitler were each contained, for a while, by the governments they later supplanted.


And “Shari’ah Envy” is a feature of Dominionism.


[…] — reason for an endless rightwing agitation for perpetual wars. More or less openly, wingnuts envy authoritarian regimes — specifically, the power the elite wields in such regimes. And so they continually […]


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