In today’s Washington Post, there’s an extensive chart tracing the history of neo-conservatism from Leo Strauss and Leon Trotsky to the Bush White House (the chart accompanies a review of Jacob Heilbrunn’s new book They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons).
The chart manages to pack in a great deal of information in a small space but necessarily simplifies and unnecessarily contains factual errors.
A few notes: I don’t think it’s true to say that Ayn Rand was an influence on National Review (she was excoriated in the magazine for her atheism).
Equally wrongheaded is describing Winston Churchill as an “early influence” on National Review. In its green days the magazine was filled with isolationists, Anglophobes and anti-communists who disliked Churchill for a host of reasons, including his wartime alliance with Stalin and Franklin Roosevelt (as well as his general squishiness in opposing democratic socialism). When Churchill died William Buckley penned a notably cold and dismissive obituary. The cult of Churchill was much stronger among the Straussians and also politicians like Donald Rumsfeld (who looked to the cigar-chomping prime minister as a model of manliness).
Nor was National Review really a neo-conservative journal for at least its first thirty years (from say 1955 to 1985). It is true to say that starting in the mid-1980s National Review style conservatism started to merge with the neo-conservatism (a trend that really solidified after Rich Lowry became editor in 1997).
The chart makes it seem as if Max Shachtman was an influence on Lionel Trilling and Philip Rahv. I’m not sure that’s true. I know a fair bit about Shachtman and I’ve never heard anything to indicate any sort of ties to Trilling and Rahv.
And certain people are fluid in their trajectory in ways that the chart doesn’t indicate. It’s true that Bayard Rustin was aligned with Dissent magazine and Irving Howe, but he also retained some sort of friendliness to Commentary and certain neo-conservatives (especially Midge Decter and Arch Puddington).
In general, the chart doesn’t allow for the way individuals were formed by multiple influences: Martin Diamond and Gertrude Himmelfarb were shaped by both Straussian political theory and the Shachtmanite milieu.
On a more minor note, Rachel Decter wasn’t born in 1960 and she’s the step-daughter, not the daughter, of Norman Podhoretz.
The chart tends to glide over the cultural dimensions of neo-conservatism (Saul Bellow gets a bullet point but there’s no mention of Hilton Kramer, Joseph Epstein, and The New Criterion). I think there should have been acknowledgement of Werner Dannhauser, who studied under Leo Strauss and also served on the editorial staff of Commentary. It was Dannhauser who sealed the alliance between the Staussians and the incipient neo-conservative movement in the 1960s.
Still and all, not a bad chart.
For anyone interested in learning more about the neo-conservatives, I have a fair number of articles on this subject. Here are links to pieces on Leo Strauss, on the legacy of Trotskyism, on Norman Podhoretz, on The New Criterion, and on Michael Ledeen.