Skip to comments.The Neoconservative Persuasion
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.
IOW, a setup where most people are serfs and a few (including you, I assume) have almost all the money and power is what you want.
As for you not supporting the concept of a min wage, well that doesn't matter. It's against the law to do what is being done and you are defending those breaking the law.
Then why point out my spelling mistakes, knowing that I was having trouble with FR as I said in my other posts. I use spellcheck when it doesn't take 20-35 seconds per POST for it to work. ;->
If someone is breaking the law, they should be arrested and prosecuted. You'll get no dispute from me on that one. I do not and never have defended the breaking of the law. Where I disagree with it, I try to work to get it changed. I was discussing the basic economics of it.
Oh, and BTW, you were absolutely RIGHT over on that "Church vs. Porn" thread. See? Common ground.
Reasonable people can disagree. (hope my husband doesn't read this, for some strange reason he thinks I'am hard headed!)
Look, economic realities have a way of changing. People who made buggy-whips had to get jobs in the S&M field after the car was invented (JOKE! It's just a joke...). Just because someone realizes this doesn't mean that they're Robber Barons or want to enslave the working class. It DOES mean that from time to time, people have no choice but to adapt to changing circumstances.
Back when my dad and me were putting in hardwood floors in New York, we were constantly being undersold by crews composed of illegals. We managed to get along, and even make a few bucks, by simply doing MUCH better work. They wound up with the cheap, low-dollar work, and we got all the high-end, custom work. They manufacture to low standards; we made our work an art.
In 1991, I got my Commercial pilot's license, with images in my head of working for an airline for big bucks. Guess what? That same year, the airline industry cratered, and never really recovered. Next.
There are people who, expecting to work at the same factory their grandaddy did, for the same high wages, neglected to make alternate plans. They must shoulder that burden now.
I do think we can do better on illegal immigration, and I do think the law should be enforced. But there's far more to it than just that.
We need to shut down the social giveaways that attract illegals;
We need to enact reforms that stop penalizing employers for just doing business;
We might try some means to get the states and local governments to stop inhibiting the INS, and refusing to cooperate with them.
Those are just SOME of the things we can do. Tort reform is another good one. If the climate for business is good, they'll stay in America and employ Americans.
As for the social programs, back to my original point...vote the Dims out. That'll go a long way towards fixing things. Note also, the only party containing people like Tom Tancredo who are actually pushing the issues you are concerned with is NOT the Dims.
Great post, it should rally the troops, if they cared about winning!
Never heard of "neo-cons" until Matthews started talking "cabal", and the conspirazoids started their mouth-watering.
But I think I like "neo-cons"!
Seems to me they are the only ones willing to stand up to the Islamic Cults that have roamed the globe for decades, murdering innocents with impunity.
Seems to me that all other political ideologies have had their chance over the last 25 years, in the US and Israel, to deal with, put down, or destroy the power of these cults.
To no avail, as was obvious 9/11.
Seems to me, it's time to give the "neo-cons" the next 5 years, at least, without the constant undermining their goals.
My god, lets remember who is the enemy here.
Let's hope so. We've allowed ourselves to get dangerously sidetracked in these worthless feuds lately, and at the worst possible time.
A neocon is an ex-democrat. If a democrat had any sense they would'nt even be a democrat, and sadly mostly they don't have any sense even they are not democrats either.
I thought the "enemy" of conservatives was BIG government.
BIG government is the handmaiden of the NeoCons, that is my problem with them and their ilk.
If the NeoCons lose power, guess who is going to inherit the monster they created? That's right, the original tax & spend dolts, the Liberals.
BIG government statist often think they're patriotically conservative, but in reality they're destroying the country with their progressive nanny-state politics just as fast as the liberal democrats.
Good. I wouldn't want to be associated with anything "you" would consider conservative...Chamberlain. However, I can assure you, I am fully persuaded as to what you are...nothing more then a defeatist troll.
Sorry I couldn't wait around for you to respond...I know you don't like to do that until you know your betters have retired for the night.
Would that be the same "kamp" as your hero Michael Moore?
Me? Just a American Conservative. I save all that neo/paleo BS for those who need labels to try and justify either their existance or their prejudices.
I never said I was in a "kamp".
I said you were...lol!
Try working on your reading comprehension, it'll do wonders for your ability to formulate a logical argument.
I never much paid any attention to the folks using all the labels...considering most of them that seem fond of doing that are opposed to the War on Terror, it looks like impotent strutting to me.
Of course if you are too embarrassed to identify your majority group who are opposed to the war, I can understand.
LOL! He does not state you claimed you were in a kamp. LOL!
The one that out numbers Conservative American's who support the War on Terror?
Would that be the Michael Moore, Jim McDermott crowd?
Ah, Alexander Hamilton...the father of American taxation.
Hey Mr. Troll-hood, in case you haven't checked lately your kamp is in the minority and will quickly become known within conservative circles as the political mistake that cost the GOP the Whitehouse. Neo-conned again...
I never said I was in a kamp, I said you were (kamp = Neo-Cons).
Being influenced by Trotsyites Neo-Cons view borders as an evil - they want global one world govt just like the neo-liberals.
You said that we Conservative Americans who support the War on Terror are in the majority. Now everyone knows that doesn't include you and your defeatist view point. So what majority "kamp" are you in?
The Michael Moore and Jim McDermott "kamp"?
Will you get a courtesy copy of his movie for all your good anti-war work?
"So what group is it you're speaking for?"
I speak for myself, but IMHO most anti-BIG government conservatives feel that War in Iraq may have been a mistake.
I don't care what liberal idiots think of the war, I'm sure they have entirely different reasons for opposing it (they love BIG government just like the Neo-Cons).
He's just trying to Kerry his way out of what he said.
Also father of American system of banking and private investment.
How can you be speaking for yourself? You claim we Conservatives who support the War on Terror are in the minority.
If you're speaking for yourself then you are the minority...but you claim we are. So what majority group are you speaking for Kerry Poet?
He had some sound ideas...for his time.
What are you gonna say next, "It takes one to know one?"
Were done, you continue on with your childish rants if you wish, but I've already answered ALL of you questions.
What group is that other then the anti-war group so ably represented by your spirtual mates Michael Moore and Jim McDermott?
You do them proud.
If you haven't seen it, don't bother...
The guys certifiably nuts.
So stock exchanges are passe?
I never said I wasn't a Burr fan.
I don't think you can point it out.
The Moore/McDermott/Streisand "kamp".
He must be talking about his anti-war buddy Michael Moore's last film. He seems to like the current one just fine.
interesting that you don't reveal where you stand on traditional conservative issues -- pro-life, tax cuts, racial quotas, conservative judges, gay marriage, immigration. Confirms my suspicion that your only issue is war in the middle east.
I am sorry that someone did claim your were canadian however. I lost all respect for canada over the past several years...but even I wouldn't impose you on that pathetic bunch.
He'd take all three.
If it doesn't involve bloodshed in the middle east, you're not interested. But that doesn't make you a conservative, it just makes you some guy who is obsessed with the middle east.
So, I guess the obvious answer remains...you speak in sympathy and concert with that sweaty fat slob, the hero of your anti-war "kamp", Michael Moore.