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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: asmith92008

Do you really believe that raising the cost of doing business and undercutting the profits of private enterprises so they won't be able to employ as may people is the answer to our illegal immigration problem?

121 posted on 05/25/2004 12:00:33 AM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
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To: nopardons
You asked what a "Wall Street Salon" meant, not a European salon. The term has changed along with the century. However, I will confess to not being conversant with Gertrude Stein's social life. I must be an ignorant barbarian.

As to the charge that I'm not anti-business, nothing could be further from the truth. I just don't slavishly believe that everything that benefits a business benefits society. Though it may not be the job of business to look out for the little guy, society cannot exist if we view ourselves as totally atomistic individuals without any social responsibilities. Just as I, and presumably you, keep our music lower than the noise ordinance permits out of courtesy to our neighbors, so should businesses be willing to act in the same manner. I'm not calling for communist collectives but common sense.

I notice that you didn't actually respond to my examples. I realize that the history lesson was probably quite taxing. Still, you could have said whether you thought it was a good idea for American businesses to help upgrade Chinese military capabilities, steal private property with the connivance of the government or
depressing the wages of American workers by encouraging an influx of immigrants so great that it overruns our ability to assimilate them. Yes or no would have been easy enough.

BTW, how do you get the bold print for those particularly emphatic rants and how do you decide whether to use bold face versus all capitals?
122 posted on 05/25/2004 12:06:48 AM 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
No. I believe that cutting red tape would greatly help ease the burdens on business and help stimulate the economy. I also am all for tort reform to help stop frivolous lawsuits.

What I'm not for is patting businesses on the head for employing illegal aliens. Call me crazy but I think folks who cut corners like that are cut from the same mold as the Enron executives. Just because regulations are burdensome does not give anyone a license to violate them. This simply penalizes those poor naive souls who actually follow the rules. Or do you think that folks who violate the law should have an advantage over their honest competitors? If so, I don't quite see how that qualifies as conservatism.
123 posted on 05/25/2004 12:12:12 AM 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
Do you now,or have you ever worked,in any capacity on Wall Street?

I am now and have been for 38 years,conversant about that milieu.They do NOT call their gatherings " salons"!

I was giving you a very brief overview of the history of the word "salon" and from whence it came. The definition of that word has NOT changed in 100s of years.

Gee,where do YOU live? If I played music at the top/loudest level possible,inside my house,there isn't a neighbor who would hear it.But,of course I don't and would not play music,nor anything else,at such a decibel level.:-)

Businesses have absolutely NO governing rule nor law,or even a moral standard,which makes it have to do anything whatsoever,"for" the little people.Noblesse oblige ( yep,yet another European term ) is an obligation on PEOPLE;not business.

History lesson...what "history lesson"? You threw out a bunch of diverse statements,which you did not show proof of,And expect me to expound on them?

The Loral thing was a Clinton shell game,to pay off some of his backers,both here and in China.

I suggest that you go get quite a number of books ( you want a book list?) and read up on American history, vis-a-vis business practices,lowering salaries,firing Americans and replacing them with immigrants(which,BTW,at one point was CHINESE immigrants and I'm NOT talking about railroad's workers!),as well as the philanthropy of the Robber Barons through today.

You're lucky I used Stein( sheeeeeeeeeesh,I though EVERYONE knew about her "salons"),instead of several other names,whom I was certain you'd never heard of. :-)

124 posted on 05/25/2004 12:25:45 AM PDT by nopardons
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To: asmith92008
I just wanted to point out to you that when you side with the interests of labor over employers, that puts you squarely in the leftist camp.

These "economic" arguments against immigration are just bad. You sound like John Kerry ranting against Judas corporations.

125 posted on 05/25/2004 12:26:57 AM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
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To: asmith92008
The Enron mess has abssolutely NOTHING to do with the hiring of illegals.

Thed Wal-Mart mess,OTOH, did.

126 posted on 05/25/2004 12:39:52 AM PDT by nopardons
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To: nopardons
I did not mean to imply that Enron was the result of hiring illegals. It was the result of an attitude that rules and regulations that the executives found inconvenient could be ignored. There was an entire "Enron culture" of rule breaking in everything from adultery to accounting fraud. My point was that once we let businesses employ illegals with no consequences, and let illegals invade with no consequences, we further undermine the concept of the law.
127 posted on 05/25/2004 12:45:01 AM 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
First, you should get your metaphors right. Kerry decries "Benedict Arnold" corporations. Could you imagine the media outcry if he had the temerity to use Christian imagery like Judas?

Secondly, there is nothing "squarely in the leftist camp" about favoring workers over employers. Or do you think that there should be absolutely no regulation on businesses? Are we missing the boat on keeping kids in school and out of factories? Should we allow tainted meat to be sold?

Finally, having lived in California for nearly twenty years, I've seen the economic arguments against immigration first hand. As illegal immigration has spiked, our quality of life has decreased dramatically. Or do you think that importing people who are illiterate in their own nation's language to our nation is the super-secret key to prosperity?"
128 posted on 05/25/2004 12:52:33 AM 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
"We" don't "let" businesses get away with hiring illegals and crooked/corrupt business practices,such as cooking the books/using double accounting,is as old as recorded history.

And you inferred exactly what I stated,by including Enron with the hiring of illegals.Read your post.

Now go back to my other reply,and try to deal with that other one...the one I posted prior to the one about hiring illegals. :-)

129 posted on 05/25/2004 12:54:17 AM PDT by nopardons
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To: asmith92008

Come on...just tell us,do you now,or have you ever worked on Wall Street,in any capacity at all?

130 posted on 05/25/2004 1:04:49 AM PDT by nopardons
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To: nopardons
Okay. You're still carrying on an argument about who uses the term salon and who does not? When did you become the arbiter of language? Let it go.

Secondly, though a corporation is not a person, but a legal fiction, it is run by people. Those people do have a responsibility to the society that they live in. It kind of comes with the nifty police and Army protection. So when those real people make decisions for the fictional people (corporations) they should have some regard for whether their decision will help or harm their society.

As to the fact that Loral occurred under Clinton, I don't dispute it. It's one of the many reasons I voted for Bush over Gore. Yet you're still not answering the basic question of whether it was a good thing for an American corporation to profit by arming a nation we could conceivably be at war with if Taiwan gets heated up.

Also, I said that "I think folks who cut corners like [hiring illegal aliens] are cut from the same mold as the Enron executive." I stand by that statement. Both crooked accounting and hiring illegals allow the malefactor to gain an illegal advantage in the marketplace and price out honest competitors.

I never diminished the "Robber Barons." Though it is quite sad to see their charitable foundations taken over by leftists. However, they gave back to society. Never said they didn't. What I have been saying is that just because something benefits a business or, more precisely, its owners, does not mean that it benefits society as a whole.

Finally, you never did tell me how to boldface or when to do it.
131 posted on 05/25/2004 1:12:45 AM 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
Wow. If I don't answer to your liking, will you ask to see my papers?
132 posted on 05/25/2004 1:13:51 AM 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
Or do you think that there should be absolutely no regulation on businesses? Are we missing the boat on keeping kids in school and out of factories? Should we allow tainted meat to be sold?

No. I believe that cutting red tape would greatly help ease the burdens on business and help stimulate the economy.

What I don't support is protecting the jobs of a few at the expense of everyone else in the country.

Protectionism is and always has been leftist and contrary to the principle of free enterprise.

133 posted on 05/25/2004 1:19:53 AM PDT by Tailgunner Joe
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To: asmith92008
Words and terms have set meanings.To use them otherwise and then have the gall to claim that the meaning has changed,when it most assuredly has NOT,is disingenuous,At best,and makes any discussion impossible.You bet I'm still on that!Without accepting the precise definition of words and phrases,discussion become akin to a Tower of Babel!

I threw in the Robber Barons because they did NOT "give back",in a corporate way,to "the little people".Their business practices and those of their lesser known compatriots,were selfish.Their philanthropy,was their person doings.Except,of course, J.P. Morgans saving and trying to save the market,on several different Panics and Crashes,at the behest of the Fed.Gov.!

Nope,businesses "owe" the society they live in nothing.They owe their stockholders,they owe their boards,they owe those whom they do business with some things;just NOT the "society",nor nation they live in.And since so many HUGE corporations are global,just which nation do they "owe" anyway?

Come on....have you ever worked on Wall Street,in any capacity? And if so,just how many "Wall Street salons"( are you sure you didn't perhaps mean,instead, soiree? ) have you attended?

I suggest that you visit FR's HTML Sandbox,if you have any questions pertaining to BOLDING a word. :-)

134 posted on 05/25/2004 1:28:57 AM PDT by nopardons
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To: asmith92008

Hmmmmmmmmmm...Nazi referrence? You lose,according to net rules. LOL

135 posted on 05/25/2004 1:29:37 AM PDT by nopardons
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To: asmith92008
"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."

Of course we would. But overregulation, nanny-statism, confiscatory taxes, gun control, wasteful social programs, union thuggery, the Social Security Ponzi scheme, and legally-enshrined PC would probably not be among them.

Plus, we'd never have to hear another speech from Ted The Swimmer, Robert KKK Byrd, or Dianne Feinswine again.

My point is that by working together, and voting that way, we can eliminate a bunch of COMMON concerns. We could then work on the rest, and probably alleviate many of those. Okay, neither side is going to get ALL it wants, but it's a start.

Without the other troubles on our backs, it'd make the rest easier to deal with honestly, anyway.

If we pared down or eliminated a good chunk of social giveaways, wouldn't that also eliminate a motivator for illegals to come here in the first place? If we scrapped the minimum wage and corporate taxes, and instituted wide-ranging tort reform, wouldn't that make the U.S. more friendly an environment for businesses to operate in, thus slowing outsourcing?

Demanding closed borders is only facing ONE side of the issue.

136 posted on 05/25/2004 3:44:03 AM PDT by Long Cut ("Fightin's commenced, Ike, now get to fightin' or get outta the way!"...Wyatt Earp, in Tombstone)
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To: cgk; Tamsey
Thanks. Too bad it seems like it was a waste of time.

Too many people just seem to prefer whining to winning, either in war OR politics.

137 posted on 05/25/2004 3:47:30 AM PDT by Long Cut ("Fightin's commenced, Ike, now get to fightin' or get outta the way!"...Wyatt Earp, in Tombstone)
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To: Veracious Poet
"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."

Well, not when you have THAT attitude. If you'd really like to see it changed, it's not gonna happen if you sit on the sidelines.

138 posted on 05/25/2004 3:52:26 AM PDT by Long Cut ("Fightin's commenced, Ike, now get to fightin' or get outta the way!"...Wyatt Earp, in Tombstone)
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To: Torie
I didn't mean to leave the impression that neocons, or anyone else, needs "special handling". Sorry if that's how it came across.

I only meant that, given that we are ALL conservative to one degree or another, and that the only party with close ties to the whole of the Right is the Republicans, shouldn't we quit biting at each other for just a little while, at least until after the Left is defeated?

After the victory party and hangover, we'll have plenty of time to have a go at each other again. And at least then we could do it without the threat of terrorism, and with lower taxes besides.

139 posted on 05/25/2004 4:01:15 AM PDT by Long Cut ("Fightin's commenced, Ike, now get to fightin' or get outta the way!"...Wyatt Earp, in Tombstone)
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To: inflation
"The only reason we have illegal labor in this country is because people will not enfore the laws against it."

That is far from the only reason.

140 posted on 05/25/2004 4:06:33 AM PDT by Long Cut ("Fightin's commenced, Ike, now get to fightin' or get outta the way!"...Wyatt Earp, in Tombstone)
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