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Writer and journalist. National Interest, Washington, DC, senior editor and contributor; New Republic, former senior editor.
They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons, Doubleday (New York, NY), 2008.
Jacob Heilbrunn is a journalist based in Washington, DC, who serves as both senior editor and contributor to the National Interest. Formerly a member of the editorial board for the Los Angeles Times, and a senior editor for the New Republic, he is currently a regular contributor to the New York Times and Washington Monthly in addition to his efforts for the National Interest. Also, Heilbrunn is the author of They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons, which was published by Doubleday in 2008.
They Knew They Were Right offers readers a thorough overview of neoconservatism, analyzing both the concept and the individuals who were ultimately responsible for enacting the most influential changes to U.S. foreign policy that the nation had witnessed over a period of twenty-five years. Heilbrunn traces the rise of the modern-day neoconservatives to the close of the Cold War during the 1980s. Yet he also looks farther back in U.S. history to the 1930s, uncovering a group he identifies as the neoconservatives' political forbearers, specifically, a group of Jewish students who were adamantly anticommunist at the City College of New York. Neoconservatism next rose to relative prominence during the 1960s, as a kind of backlash against the liberals of the day. However, the most recent group became influential during the 1980s and 1990s, who became most vocal in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. At this point in time, Heilbrunn links neoconservatives to the Iraq War, an event that has seemingly led to their collective descent as the United States as a whole began questioning the wisdom and the initial purpose of the invasion of Iraq. Despite the fall of neoconservatism, Booklist contributor Brendan Driscoll commented that "Heilbrunn reminds readers that exile is not obscurity, and the movement is not dead."
Kevin Drum, in a review for the Washington Monthly, remarked that "the accusation that neoconservatism is primarily a Jewish phenomenon is a common one because—well, because an awful lot of neocons are Jewish." Drum was also swift to point out that Heilbrunn is Jewish, and was also known to participate in neoconservatism earlier in his career. However, Drum also noted that Heilbrunn debunks this theory, admitting that many of the roots of neoconservatism include a number of prominent Jews, but that a complete survey of participants would include many individuals of other faiths, as well.
Among the various works available about neoconservatism, Heilbrunn's is unique by addressing the movement in general from a less political point of view, focusing instead on the shared background and experiences of those individuals who have been drawn to the group over the past several decades. He points out that many individuals who took a neoconservative stance had a history of hardship and struggles, both economic and cultural, with a large portion of the movement made up of Jews and immigrants of various ethnicities who arrived in the United States in flight from persecution or poverty only to find themselves struggling to fit in with an entirely new group of people. In the case of Jews, many fled from Europe during World War II, or managed to escape in the wake of the war, having survived Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany's genocide and the atrocities of the concentration camps. However, the same refuges faced many similar prejudices and cases of anti-Semitism in the United States that they experienced in their home countries prior to and during the war. Neoconservatives also tended to be intellectuals, initially meeting others of their own backgrounds and political points of view at universities or other places of learning.
Heilbrunn analyzes the arc of the rise of the neoconservatives, illustrating how they have remained in the background of society at times, yet never fading entirely and always ready to spring back to life when the political and cultural atmosphere proved encouraging. Due to this stance, Heilbrunn indicates that neoconservatives will not vanish in the face of backlash, such as negative reactions to the Iraq War or any of the negative associations with U.S. President George W. Bush's administration. A contributor to Publishers Weekly remarked that "with the exception of his grasp of neoconservatism's right-wing Christian contingent, Heilbrunn displays an innate understanding" regarding the ways in which neoconservatism developed and continues to thrive. In an interview with Evan R. Goldstein for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Heilbrunn explained the attitude and position of the neocons: "They are in it for the long haul; they have been at this for decades. None of these people are going away. They remain energized. This is not a movement that is on its heels. And though the professionalization of the neoconservative movement was in part its undoing as a vibrant intellectual force in American life, the very fact that it has been so institutionalized in Washington guarantees that it will remain an influential force well beyond [the] Iraq [War.]"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Prospect, March 1, 2008, "Zealots of Our Time," review of They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons, p. 38.
Booklist, January 1, 2008, Brendan Driscoll, review of They Knew They Were Right, p. 28.
Chronicle of Higher Education, January 18, 2008, Evan R. Goldstein, "Fight Makes Right," author interview.
Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2007, review of They Knew They Were Right.
New Republic, February 27, 2008, "The Pleasures of Reaction," review of They Knew They Were Right, p. 34.
New York Times Book Review, January 13, 2008, Timothy Noah, "Fathers and Sons," review of They Knew They Were Right.
Publishers Weekly, November 12, 2007, review of They Knew They Were Right, p. 49.
Washington Monthly, January 1, 2008, Kevin Drum, "The Right Attitude: Over Time, the Neocons' Ideology Has Morphed. But Their Temperament Has Remained Fixed," review of They Knew They Were Right, p. 64.
American Conservative Online,http://www.amconmag.com/ (January 28, 2008), Philip Weiss, "The Long Fuse to the Iraq War," review of They Knew They Were Right.
National Interest Online,http://www.nationalinterest.org/ (August 20, 2008), staff profile.
Random House Web site,http://www.randomhouse.com/ (August 20, 2008), author profile.
Roger's Rules Web site,http://pajamasmedia.com/ (June 19, 2008), Roger Kimball, "A Passing Thought about Jacob Heilbrunn, or How Autolycus Lost His Charm," review of They Knew They Were Right.
Washington Post Book World Online,http://www.washingtonpost.com/ (February 3, 2008), Ted Widmer, "What a Long Strange Trip It's Been," review of They Knew They Were Right.