Skip to comments.The Neoconservative Persuasion: What it was, and what it is.
Posted on 08/14/2003 9:38:27 PM PDT by quidnunc
"[President Bush is] an engaging person, but I think for some reason he's been captured by the neoconservatives around him." Howard Dean, U.S. News & World Report, August 11, 2003
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.
(Excerpt) Read more at weeklystandard.com ...
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.
Of course, I expect the paleocons to have their usual conniptions over this article.
Hmmmmm.... Kristol makes it sound like some kind of transgendered "alternative lifestyle".
At least this neocon, RINO, bushbot agrees with you on all counts.(but alas, we are a silent majority)
How is anything in the neocon playbook conservative? More government, interfering in world situations that have nothing to do with the safety of this nation, spending on the level that would make FDR and LBJ balk?
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.
Forgot one. Wilson. Without him we may have never had a neoconservative movement. At least not one involving foreign policy. Or else it would have been quickly relegated to the trashpile where it belongs
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.
That has to be the most ridiculous thing I've read today. No set of beliefs? From 'liberating the masses' to 'spreading democracy' I'm beginning to wonder when they'll have time to defend this nation of states.
(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.)
Well at least he admits it
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.
Well unless it's under the 'right' leadership, eh Irving?
Of course, the United States must be prudent in how it exercises its power. But we cannot safely avoid the responsibilities of global leadership or the costs that are associated with its exercise. America has a vital role in maintaining peace and security in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.PNAC Statement of Principles
Get lost Irv, your time has passed. You did more damage than good.
I believe that neocons (despise the term), are simply more socially liberal in their approach and believe that government does indeed and should play a larger roll(as it does)
We do not necessarily think that the roll should be further expanded, but accept the responsibility that government has now and are willing to improve it as a means to retain and achieve power.
To sum it up, we are realistic and see little to be gained by returning to a path already traveled.
How are "more government" or "spending" part of the neo-conservative playbook?
interfering in world situations that have nothing to do with the safety of this nationSo you prefer to wait until the mushroom cloud appears?
What is the fetish with Leo Strauss???
I was plenty left-wing at one time, but never anything really non-standard such as a Trotskyite. I was more of a Mario Cuomo worshipper until I got disillusioned after the Dukakis debacle.
Inside the movement. Unlike you.
The media, the DNC, every left wing freak under the sun has adopted a new name for conservatives: "Neocon"
Evil, evil necons.
This was done because "conservative" is a positive in political discourse while "liberal" is not.
"Neocon" has lost its original meaning. Surely you, astute member of the political class which you are, have noticed that.
Over 95% of Republicans agree with those "neocons" the left claims have snookered the party. So about everyone who votes Republican is now a "neocon" Or those evil "neocons" are now the Republican party.
You want another word for liberal Republicans? OK by me. Pick another. "Neocon" is done.
(Of course, just 20 years ago the adherents to realpolitik were saying the Soviet Union would never fall, China would never adopt capitalism and free trade was no more than an economist's dream. Aren't we fortunate that not everyone believed it!)