from Word Games by Kevin Williamson in National Review
Before the neocons were the neocons, they were in more fanciful minds “the Illuminati.” For Henry Ford, the neocon was “the international Jew.” (The Stalinists called them “rootless cosmopolitans,” a term recently revived by Donald Trump enthusiasts.) The idea is always the same: that somebody, somewhere, is operating secretly behind the scenes, that there is a covert, monolithic enemy pulling the strings of history in ways that are obscure to the uninitiated. The reality of George W. Bush’s “democracy project” program for the Middle East — to bomb the Arabs until they became Canadians — just wasn’t crazy enough for his critics. There needed to be something more.
But it is a complicated family tree. The neocons used to be the Illuminati, but then, so did the new favorite conservative bugbear: the Deep State.
“Deep State” is a term that has been around for a while, often being used to describe extralegal political action in authoritarian regimes, especially in Turkey. The “Deep State” became a favorite conspiracy villain of the American Left, who described it as a nexus between the military, militarized law-enforcement agencies, the intelligence community, Wall Street (of course), and a few powerful political and business figures. An invisible enemy is very handy for the Left: It could not possibly be socialism that has reduced Venezuela to its current condition — it must be Goldman Sachs colluding with the CIA. The “Deep State” is sometimes conflated with what the political theorist (and, later in life, outright kook) Sam Francis called the “permanent government,” the bureaucrats and apparatchiks and such who remain in power irrespective of the outcome of any given election. They were a lot less scary back when they were “the civil service.”
“Deep State” and “permanent government” of course refer to real things. The federal government really does have employees, and those employees do not change every time the composition of Congress changes, every time there is a presidential election, or every time there is a change in policy. And as we have seen everywhere from the LAPD to the IRS, government agents have interests of their own — political and economic — and will, from time to time, go to extraordinary and even criminal lengths to frustrate the intent of the people’s elected representatives, to flout policy, to undermine real or perceived opponents, etc. That’s what Mrs. Clinton’s e-mail shenanigans were really about: The chief bureaucrat in the State Department had (and, I suppose, has) political ambitions, and she was willing to go to great lengths to avoid ordinary oversight in order to pursue those ambitions.
Where the current critics on the right go wrong — where they veer from criticism into conspiracy theory — is in assuming that the aims and ambitions of the various power centers within the federal bureaucracy are identical or aligned, that they represent a monolithic interest group that is both capable of coordinating efforts across the vast federal apparatus and inclined to do so. That creates exactly what the kooks and quacks and demagogues of the world most need: a nice, vague enemy that can be blamed for practically anything.