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How the Neocons Took Over

[Editors’ Note: The CounterPunch editors, of course, are the French Revolution’s most enthusiastic defenders in America. A medallion of Robespierre adorns Cockburn’s BBQ pit, while a print of Saint Just hangs above St. Clair’s smoldering Macintosh. Neither of them had much use for liberals. Just ask Danton.–AC/JSC]

Balint Vazsonyi was a concert pianist and a historian. A person who had tasted life both under the Nazis and the Communists, Balint was a thoroughly assimilated non-hyphenated American. A devotee of the US Constitution, he spent the last years of his life rallying Americans to the appreciation and defense of the basis of their liberty.
For many years a professor of music at the University of Indiana at Bloomington, Balint became a columnist in order to add his voice to the defense of America. The Potomac Foundation has thoughtfully provided us with 579 pages of Balint’s essays under the title, America On My Mind.

These essays are worthy of our attention. They illuminate America’s virtues that captivated a sophisticated European intellectual, and they will show liberals their excesses that enabled neoconservatives to capture the American rightwing.
Liberals have traditionally used denunciation as a tactic to push for reforms. Often the reforms were not all that important and the denunciation was extreme. Living in a liberal university environment, Balint became concerned with the never ending denigration of his adopted country. He saw in this denigration an excess that could poison the minds of the young and undermine the human achievement known as American liberty.

Being a brave man, Balint forcefully took up opposition to the “America is always wrong” crowd. He called for more persuasion and honest argument and less denunciation.

Liberals did not realize the resentments they were creating among Americans who loved their country regardless of whether it produced all the reforms liberals demanded. The September 11 attacks on America attributed to Muslim terrorists crystalized the seething resentment into a political base for neoconservatives.

Balint was too committed to the US Constitution to ever be neoconservative. But the events of September 11 made it possible for the first time to stand up for America without being shouted down. Finally, America could be defended.

It wasn’t long before I noticed that my dear and intelligent friend was consorting with neoconservatives, whom he saw as allies in the defense of America. As the Democratic Party’s complicity in the unwarranted US invasion of Iraq makes clear, September 11 put liberals on the defensive for the first time in my lifetime.

Balint was prepared to make the most of it. Had he lived past 2003, however, I am certain he would have perceived the Jacobin spirit of the neoconservatives, who stand outside the American tradition. As Claes Ryn has brilliantly demonstrated in his book, America The Virtuous, neoconservatives are the heirs of the French Revolution, not the American one. Balint would have rejected their claim that the end justifies the means, their reliance on coercion in place of persuasion, and their attacks on habeas corpus, the attorney-client privilege, and the First Amendment that are the foundations of American liberty. It is impossible to both love the US Constitution and to be a neoconservative. Balint would have seen in the neoconservatives’ animosity toward the US Constitution the greatest threat America has ever faced.

Balint’s untimely death deprived us of an important voice that would have stood in the way of the disastrous neoconservative path down which the Bush administration has plunged us.

PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS has held a number of academic appointments and has contributed to numerous scholarly publications. He served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. His graduate economics education was at the University of Virginia, the University of California at Berkeley, and Oxford University. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions. He can be reached at: paulcraigroberts@yahoo.com