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The Neoconservative Persuasion
Weekly Standard ^ | 2003 | Irving Kristol

Posted on 05/24/2004 4:42:38 PM PDT by churchillbuff

WHAT EXACTLY IS NEOCONSERVATISM? Journalists, and now even presidential candidates, speak with an enviable confidence on who or what is "neoconservative," and seem to assume the meaning is fully revealed in the name. Those of us who are designated as "neocons" are amused, flattered, or dismissive, depending on the context. It is reasonable to wonder: Is there any "there" there?

Even I, frequently referred to as the "godfather" of all those neocons, have had my moments of wonderment. A few years ago I said (and, alas, wrote) that neoconservatism had had its own distinctive qualities in its early years, but by now had been absorbed into the mainstream of American conservatism. I was wrong, and the reason I was wrong is that, ever since its origin among disillusioned liberal intellectuals in the 1970s, what we call neoconservatism has been one of those intellectual undercurrents that surface only intermittently. It is not a "movement," as the conspiratorial critics would have it. Neoconservatism is what the late historian of Jacksonian America, Marvin Meyers, called a "persuasion," one that manifests itself over time, but erratically, and one whose meaning we clearly glimpse only in retrospect.

Viewed in this way, one can say that the historical task and political purpose of neoconservatism would seem to be this: to convert the Republican party, and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills, into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy. That this new conservative politics is distinctly American is beyond doubt. There is nothing like neoconservatism in Europe, and most European conservatives are highly skeptical of its legitimacy. The fact that conservatism in the United States is so much healthier than in Europe, so much more politically effective, surely has something to do with the existence of neoconservatism. But Europeans, who think it absurd to look to the United States for lessons in political innovation, resolutely refuse to consider this possibility.

Neoconservatism is the first variant of American conservatism in the past century that is in the "American grain." It is hopeful, not lugubrious; forward-looking, not nostalgic; and its general tone is cheerful, not grim or dyspeptic. Its 20th-century heroes tend to be TR, FDR, and Ronald Reagan. Such Republican and conservative worthies as Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, and Barry Goldwater are politely overlooked. Of course, those worthies are in no way overlooked by a large, probably the largest, segment of the Republican party, with the result that most Republican politicians know nothing and could not care less about neoconservatism. Nevertheless, they cannot be blind to the fact that neoconservative policies, reaching out beyond the traditional political and financial base, have helped make the very idea of political conservatism more acceptable to a majority of American voters. Nor has it passed official notice that it is the neoconservative public policies, not the traditional Republican ones, that result in popular Republican presidencies One of these policies, most visible and controversial, is cutting tax rates in order to stimulate steady economic growth. This policy was not invented by neocons, and it was not the particularities of tax cuts that interested them, but rather the steady focus on economic growth. Neocons are familiar with intellectual history and aware that it is only in the last two centuries that democracy has become a respectable option among political thinkers. In earlier times, democracy meant an inherently turbulent political regime, with the "have-nots" and the "haves" engaged in a perpetual and utterly destructive class struggle. It was only the prospect of economic growth in which everyone prospered, if not equally or simultaneously, that gave modern democracies their legitimacy and durability. The cost of this emphasis on economic growth has been an attitude toward public finance that is far less risk averse than is the case among more traditional conservatives. Neocons would prefer not to have large budget deficits, but it is in the nature of democracy--because it seems to be in the nature of human nature--that political demagogy will frequently result in economic recklessness, so that one sometimes must shoulder budgetary deficits as the cost (temporary, one hopes) of pursuing economic growth. It is a basic assumption of neoconservatism that, as a consequence of the spread of affluence among all classes, a property-owning and tax-paying population will, in time, become less vulnerable to egalitarian illusions and demagogic appeals and more sensible about the fundamentals of economic reckoning.

This leads to the issue of the role of the state. Neocons do not like the concentration of services in the welfare state and are happy to study alternative ways of delivering these services. But they are impatient with the Hayekian notion that we are on "the road to serfdom." Neocons do not feel that kind of alarm or anxiety about the growth of the state in the past century, seeing it as natural, indeed inevitable. Because they tend to be more interested in history than economics or sociology, they know that the 19th-century idea, so neatly propounded by Herbert Spencer in his "The Man Versus the State," was a historical eccentricity. People have always preferred strong government to weak government, although they certainly have no liking for anything that smacks of overly intrusive government. Neocons feel at home in today's America to a degree that more traditional conservatives do not. Though they find much to be critical about, they tend to seek intellectual guidance in the democratic wisdom of Tocqueville, rather than in the Tory nostalgia of, say, Russell Kirk.

But it is only to a degree that neocons are comfortable in modern America. The steady decline in our democratic culture, sinking to new levels of vulgarity, does unite neocons with traditional conservatives--though not with those libertarian conservatives who are conservative in economics but unmindful of the culture. The upshot is a quite unexpected alliance between neocons, who include a fair proportion of secular intellectuals, and religious traditionalists. They are united on issues concerning the quality of education, the relations of church and state, the regulation of pornography, and the like, all of which they regard as proper candidates for the government's attention. And since the Republican party now has a substantial base among the religious, this gives neocons a certain influence and even power. Because religious conservatism is so feeble in Europe, the neoconservative potential there is correspondingly weak.

AND THEN, of course, there is foreign policy, the area of American politics where neoconservatism has recently been the focus of media attention. This is surprising since there is no set of neoconservative beliefs concerning foreign policy, only a set of attitudes derived from historical experience. (The favorite neoconservative text on foreign affairs, thanks to professors Leo Strauss of Chicago and Donald Kagan of Yale, is Thucydides on the Peloponnesian War.) These attitudes can be summarized in the following "theses" (as a Marxist would say): First, patriotism is a natural and healthy sentiment and should be encouraged by both private and public institutions. Precisely because we are a nation of immigrants, this is a powerful American sentiment. Second, world government is a terrible idea since it can lead to world tyranny. International institutions that point to an ultimate world government should be regarded with the deepest suspicion. Third, statesmen should, above all, have the ability to distinguish friends from enemies. This is not as easy as it sounds, as the history of the Cold War revealed. The number of intelligent men who could not count the Soviet Union as an enemy, even though this was its own self-definition, was absolutely astonishing.

Finally, for a great power, the "national interest" is not a geographical term, except for fairly prosaic matters like trade and environmental regulation. A smaller nation might appropriately feel that its national interest begins and ends at its borders, so that its foreign policy is almost always in a defensive mode. A larger nation has more extensive interests. And large nations, whose identity is ideological, like the Soviet Union of yesteryear and the United States of today, inevitably have ideological interests in addition to more material concerns. Barring extraordinary events, the United States will always feel obliged to defend, if possible, a democratic nation under attack from nondemocratic forces, external or internal. That is why it was in our national interest to come to the defense of France and Britain in World War II. That is why we feel it necessary to defend Israel today, when its survival is threatened. No complicated geopolitical calculations of national interest are necessary.

Behind all this is a fact: the incredible military superiority of the United States vis-à-vis the nations of the rest of the world, in any imaginable combination. This superiority was planned by no one, and even today there are many Americans who are in denial. To a large extent, it all happened as a result of our bad luck. During the 50 years after World War II, while Europe was at peace and the Soviet Union largely relied on surrogates to do its fighting, the United States was involved in a whole series of wars: the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Kosovo conflict, the Afghan War, and the Iraq War. The result was that our military spending expanded more or less in line with our economic growth, while Europe's democracies cut back their military spending in favor of social welfare programs. The Soviet Union spent profusely but wastefully, so that its military collapsed along with its economy.

Suddenly, after two decades during which "imperial decline" and "imperial overstretch" were the academic and journalistic watchwords, the United States emerged as uniquely powerful. The "magic" of compound interest over half a century had its effect on our military budget, as did the cumulative scientific and technological research of our armed forces. With power come responsibilities, whether sought or not, whether welcome or not. And it is a fact that if you have the kind of power we now have, either you will find opportunities to use it, or the world will discover them for you.

The older, traditional elements in the Republican party have difficulty coming to terms with this new reality in foreign affairs, just as they cannot reconcile economic conservatism with social and cultural conservatism. But by one of those accidents historians ponder, our current president and his administration turn out to be quite at home in this new political environment, although it is clear they did not anticipate this role any more than their party as a whole did. As a result, neoconservatism began enjoying a second life, at a time when its obituaries were still being published.

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Editorial
KEYWORDS: antiwarsquawking; generalmcclellanbuff; irvingkristol; joooooooos; kristol; neocatfighting; neocons; neoconservatism; neonamecalling
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To: Barlowmaker; Howlin

Well, ok, I guess he isn't but at least he told the truth. LOL

101 posted on 05/24/2004 9:23:43 PM PDT by Darlin' ("I will not forget this wound to my country." President George W Bush, 20 Sept 2001)
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To: Darlin'

Nobody is THAT brazen! ;-)

102 posted on 05/24/2004 9:24:54 PM PDT by Barlowmaker
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To: xJones
This gives the opportunity to real anti-semites to claim that Dubya has been taken over by the Jewish neocons and to invade Iraq was not in U.S. interests. And the rest of the world claims that Israel runs U.S. foreign policy because of the predominant iterest of neocons in the Bush administration. If you don't believe it, just read some foreign newspapers. some of the other "conservative" forums.
103 posted on 05/24/2004 9:25:35 PM PDT by Indie (We don't need no steenkin' experts!)
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To: Torie

Not when it takes 30-80 seconds for Freerepublic to respond to my posts. ;->

104 posted on 05/24/2004 9:26:51 PM PDT by inflation (Cuba = BAD, China = Good? Why, should both be treated the way Cuba is?)
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To: Barlowmaker

This is in East Texas. It isn't overpriced labor nor is it union labor. And your Ukranian labor would have to be paid overtime which the illegals do not get.

If the playing field was level it would be different. But you and I both know it isn't and that isn't right and isn't what the USA is susposed to be about.

105 posted on 05/24/2004 9:28:34 PM PDT by inflation (Cuba = BAD, China = Good? Why, should both be treated the way Cuba is?)
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To: Tailgunner Joe

"The business of America is business." - Calvin Coolidge.

"It's not personal. It's just business." - Don Vito Corleone

"Property is theft." - Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

"Members of Congress need to step outside the cluttered field for a moment and ask themselves: what is the proper function of a tax code in a democratic society? If the role of the tax code is to regulate human behavior, to encourage some forms of industry over others, to punish bad habits, and to redistribute wealth, then they should just keep tinkering. But if they believe -- as they should -- that the purpose of the tax code is to simply raise revenue, then it's clearly time to consider whether the ludicrously complex, expensive, and burdensome tax code is the best vehicle to accomplish such a straightforward task." - Stephen Moore, director of fiscal policy studies at the Cato Institute

106 posted on 05/24/2004 9:31:56 PM PDT by Veracious Poet (Cash cows are sacred in America...GOT MILKED???)
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To: inflation
I don't usually pic nits about spelling errors...GOD knows I make enough of my own,but that wasn't a spelling error;you didn't know the correct word.It's the same kind of thing,as when people here were writing "dwarfs", when the plural is DWARVES" and there is no such word as "anyways"!

Perhaps YOU should get some sleep and rethink accusing,blindly and out of hand,anyone you assume holds position,without KNOWING what position that person has. :-)

How do you know that the person lost his job due to ILLEGAL hires?

When people lost their jobs due to the immigration influxes,previously,no one was talking about whether or not they were legal or illegal;but,they still LOST THEIR JOBS,and THAT was my point! From the earliest days of industrialization,in this country,people were fired and others hired at LOWER SALARIES.Those who went on strike,NEVER were rehired;that was the companies' policy.People have ALWAYS been expendable and the bottom line taken as precedence.Go look into this,maybe the scales will fall from your eyes.

No job? Go get another! No jobs in your area? MOVE!Yes,it's as simple as that.Before all of the government saftey-nets,people did whatever it took to feed and house and clothe themselves and their families.

Your friend's job loss has NOTHING whatsoever to do with the topic of this thread. Why have you high-jacked it?

107 posted on 05/24/2004 9:35:00 PM PDT by nopardons
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To: inflation
Let me "help" you some more:

Thank you for correcting my spelling, but I would like to point out that leading off with a spelling correction isn't a way to make yourself look more intelle[i]gent. It makes you look like a person who would rather point out minor mistakes of the other[ ]side rather than debate the points they are [it is] making.

He lost his jobs because of ILLEGAL labor. He didn't lose his job because it was no longer needed. The only reason we have illegal labor in this country is because people will not enfore the laws against it.

Perhaps you should get some sleep and re[-]think your support of those that break our nation[']s laws.

108 posted on 05/24/2004 9:35:31 PM PDT by Torie
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To: Veracious Poet

So then you would have supported Steve Forbes' idea of a flat tax, right?

109 posted on 05/24/2004 9:47:44 PM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
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To: Long Cut

I came to the "party" late, but I happen to agree with nearly everything you wrote.

110 posted on 05/24/2004 9:55:40 PM PDT by cgk (Social Security: America's only legal Pyramid Scheme.)
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To: churchillbuff

To sum it up, neo-cons believe that defending democracy and individual freedom goes beyond our borders, which I have to agree with because when we get to the point where the majority of the world does not believe in individual freedom and democracy we will not have any allies to call on.

111 posted on 05/24/2004 10:01:23 PM PDT by John Lenin
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To: Tailgunner Joe


Anything would be better than that nightmare of a millennium that the IRS code presently is.

Too bad it will never be close to a reality in our lifetimes.

112 posted on 05/24/2004 10:10:55 PM PDT by Veracious Poet (Cash cows are sacred in America...GOT MILKED???)
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To: churchillbuff

We are in a war and war usually means there are deaths of soldiers - very sad but true. To hold each and every death as a strike against our President is ridiculous and shows what weak creatures we have become.

Also, in a war there are millions of ideas on how the war should be run - millions of armchair generals who bloviate about how their way would have been better. Yet, there is only one man and his group of military that are making these decisions and seeing all of the pros and cons of every action.

113 posted on 05/24/2004 10:20:28 PM PDT by ClancyJ (It's just not safe to vote Democratic.)
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To: Veracious Poet

Do you think Steve Forbes would be more comfortable in the salons of Wall Street or a barbecue on Main Street?

114 posted on 05/24/2004 10:23:35 PM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
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To: Tailgunner Joe

Hmmm...I don't know Steve Forbes personally, so I couldn't say.

But as for me, I've been in both and either one would be OK in my book.

115 posted on 05/24/2004 10:26:19 PM PDT by Veracious Poet (Cash cows are sacred in America...GOT MILKED???)
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To: Long Cut

Bravo to your post 18... every single word.

116 posted on 05/24/2004 10:45:19 PM PDT by Tamzee (Kerry's just a gigolo, and everywhere he goes, people know the part he's playing...)
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To: Long Cut
I believe that if liberals disappeared and we lived in a world full of conservatives and libertarian, we would still face a number of problems. There would still be an open borders movement. The Wall Street Journal makes a yearly libertarian call for open borders. In addition, various libertarian groups, such as Cato, find common cause with liberals on a promiscuous view of personal liberty or, to be more accurate, licentiousness.

But we live in the real world with liberals. Yet that does not mean conservatives should try to "out-liberal" them. Instead, we should defeat them on the battlefield of ideas. Be proud in our conservative views and people will be persuaded. A cringing adoption of liberalism only leads to a slower and more painful defeat.
117 posted on 05/24/2004 11:08:12 PM PDT by asmith92008 (If we buy into the nonsense that we always have to vote for RINOs, we'll just end up taking the horn)
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To: nopardons
by the by, a salon refers to a place where elites gather, such as a restaurant, club or

If they don't hold block parties or neighborhood fairs where you live, I'm sorry for you. It does, however, seem to explain the stridency of your post. Take my advice. Calm down, go get to know your neighbors. It'll take the edge off.

As to class warfare, well to me that's the conservative equivalent of shouting "racist" whenever you run out of arguments. Or do you honestly think that everything business does ends benefiting the regular folks?

CostCo gets politicians to eminent domain a church's land because those pesky holy rollers won't get with the program and sell. Is it class warfare to say that the business is wrong?

China demands Boeing share its jet technology in order to gain access to its cheap labor pool. Is it class warfare to expect the company's shareholders forsake that profit in order that a communist nation not get sensitive information? Or does free trade triumph over logic?

The national chamber of commerce supports amnesty for illegal immigrants, a policy that depresses American wages and could ultimately lead to the disintegration of an American identity (read Samuel Huntington's new book Who Are We? He called the Islamic threat to the West nearly a decade ago. Really scary if he;s' right again.). Does opposing amnesty count as class warfare?

Let's face it. The elites of both parties sometimes have vested interests that are not aligned with the best interests of the country. Pointing that out doesn't;t make me a "class warrior."
118 posted on 05/24/2004 11:24:51 PM PDT by asmith92008 (If we buy into the nonsense that we always have to vote for RINOs, we'll just end up taking the horn)
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To: Tailgunner Joe
Great argument. Since we also regulate their disposal of chemical waste, we also shouldn't cry foul when they dump a load in your backyard. And since a lot of regulatory enforcement depends on whistle blowers, we should turn a blind eye when they whack those rats.

Do you think that if the minimum wage did not exist, employers still wouldn't want to flood America with economic refugees in order to depress wages?

Alan Keyes put it very nicely when he warned that the Republicans are in danger of becoming the party of greed, just as the Democrats are the party of lust.
119 posted on 05/24/2004 11:31:29 PM PDT by asmith92008 (If we buy into the nonsense that we always have to vote for RINOs, we'll just end up taking the horn)
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To: asmith92008
Nope,that is NOT at all the meaning of the word "salon"!

If you were well versed in history,you would know that "salon" is used with regard to one's home,where a gathering of people mingle.It's actually an old term,several centuries old,and European in origin.

It was women,who were or wanted to be socially upwardly mobile,who opened their parlours (living rooms to you),usually on a weekly basis,to "intellectuals",prominent artists of all stripes,for stimulating conversation.

Gertrude Stein i s but one person well known for her great "salons" and a late comer to it.


They don't hold block parties nor neighborhood fairs where I live. They hold such in MANHATTAN,though,where I used to live,and in CHICAGO,where I also used to live;but in rural Conn.,we don't have "block parties." My little town,which was incorporated in 1711,does have parades though,on Memorial Day and Labor Day,as well as a lovely Christmas tree lighting,on the old sheep's meadow. :-)

I know my neighbors...but not as well as I knew my neighbors,when we lived in a MAJOR,there's far more land between us.You do have a rather strange idea of what things are like,in anyplace other than where YOU live.LOL

Anti-business? Why am I not surprised? And FYI...businesses are NOT in business to "benefit" the " regular folks". There's that silly MARXISM again.

Your posts incriminate you.I don't have to raise a finger.

120 posted on 05/24/2004 11:43:08 PM PDT by nopardons
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