People often join mass movements as a way to replace their own hated identity with that of the group. They immerse themselves in the movement or cause, losing themselves in the identity of the group. Their sense of who they are gets blended with the cause so that they are one with it. It is why their life is quickly organized around the cause they are in at the moment. Not everyone does this, of course, but every mass movement has true believers, people who become one with it.
This is why the true believer reacts to all criticism of the movement as if it were a physical attack on their person. They treat all opposition to their cause as a violent threat, because from their perspective, it is an attack on their person. Once who they are is indistinguishable from the identity of the group, any criticism of the group becomes a threat to their very existence. It is why reasoning with a true believer makes them more belligerent and hostile.
Another consequence of this fusing of identities is that the true believer tends to project onto others the things he hates or fears about the group. Since the very nature of the true believer precludes self-examination, it also precludes a critical examination of the cause they have joined. For the same reason they look at criticism of the group as an attack on their person, they cannot criticize the group. Instead, they project these faults and fears onto some external entity.
A good example is this post from the neocon website the Bulwark. The neocons, of course, have been driven berserk by Trump and the rise of populism. They were sure their scaly tentacles were so tightly wrapped around the Republican Party that it was nothing more than their personal golem. Then Trump comes along and shatters that certainty by sweeping the primaries. Not only that, but he also pointed the finger at them as the reason for why things have gone wrong in America.
This is a good bit of evidence that whatever it was, neoconservatism had transformed into a weird political cult. The first generation had practical reasons for the transition from Trotskyists to Buckley conservatives. They saw that the American Left was getting cozy with the Soviet Union. It was not so much their flirtation with communism, but their friendliness with the ancient enemy in the East. The neocons dropped their own communism and became libertarian Cold War hawks.
The following generations, on the other hand, were not so clever. Bill Kristol, for example, has been wrong about everything for thirty years. He thought Dan Quayle would make a good second for Poppy Bush. He though Sarah Palin would make a good second for John McCain. Quayle and Palin were decent people trying to do the right thing, but their appeal to Kristol was that he believed he could outwit them, which meant they were not the sharpest tools in the toolshed.
Putting that aside, you really see the cult-like aspect in this post. It is pure projection of neoconservative defects onto their enemy. The post’s subhead says it all. “Claiming to love America while believing that it is broken and that many of your fellow citizens are your enemies.” These are people who spent the last six years claiming that Trump and his voters need to be exterminated on the grounds that they are evil. Bill Kristol wants to genocide the “lazy” white working class.
Later in the post we get this gem, “In his public addresses, President Biden has made a conscious effort to speak to all Americans. Donald Trump, by contrast, typically reverts to the language of us-versus-them…” This is the sort of thing you get from someone who is no longer engaged with reality. It is also the way a cult member projects the defects of his cult onto enemies. The hive-minded neocon is projecting the things he most despises about his cult onto the enemies of the cult.
The transformation of neoconservatism into this bizarre hyper-violent subculture raises an interesting set of questions. Was it always a blood-soaked political cult obsessed with bringing about the end times? On the other hand, is this what happens when a bespoke identity cult loses its primary purpose? After all, neoconservatism was built for the Cold War, so when that ended, their purpose ended. Like a hive who loses its queen, the remaining members of this cult buzz around in anger.
There is another angle here. The first generation of neoconservatives went through a period where they aggressively attacked their former host. It was as if they were trying to purge themselves of the old identity to make room for the new one. That could be what we are seeing here. The current neocons are shedding their old conservative skin in order to grow a neoliberal skin. This will allow them to attach themselves to what they think is the permanent new order in Washington.
Additional support for this the tone and language in their posts. Note that in the past they differentiated between “Trumpists” and conservatives. Increasingly they conflate the terms, using them as synonyms. Note also they are not trying to reconcile with their old allies in Conservative Inc. Instead, they have retreated into their own ghettos while they go through the transformation. The next chapter of neoconservatism will take place within the neoliberal order, they hope.
It is an interesting phenomenon to behold, if you can avoid being emotionally drawn in by their projection. Perhaps that is another reason that cults project their hatreds, fears, and insecurities onto others. It is a distraction. The endless feverish attacks on alleged enemies draw the eye away from what is happening in the cult. That old self-loathing, the desire for self-abnegation, at the root of the true believer, results in a group behavior that always seeks to distract from what is happening in the cult.
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