Sunday, July 25, 2010

Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea

I'm about half way through C. Bradley Thompson's new book, Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea. Yeah, it's an attack on neoconservatism, by one who was sympathetic to the ideology at one time. It's an excellent read, although I disagree with its conclusions, and it'll take me some thinking to put those disagreements in more detailed writing here. I can say that Thompson's focus so far is primarily on Irving Kristol and how he was informed by Straussian political philosophy. Hence, Thomspon reads an allegedly extreme authoritarianism into the movement that --- it is argued --- is at odds with the vision of the American founders. I'd simply note that neocons are way more eclectic than is postulated at the book, and again, I'm not done yet. I have peeked ahead to the conclusion, and Thompson takes his thesis to its logical conclusion to find neoconservatism anti-democratic. More on this later. Meanwhile, this is the kind of response I'd offer outside of the Irving Kristol exegesis, from Max Boot:


"Neocons Are Liberals Who Have Been Mugged by Reality"

No longer true. Original neoconservatives such as Irving Kristol, who memorably defined neocons as liberals who'd been "mugged by reality," were (and still are) in favor of welfare benefits, racial equality, and many other liberal tenets. But they were driven rightward by the excesses of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when crime was increasing in the United States, the Soviet Union was gaining ground in the Cold War, and the dominant wing of the Democratic Party was unwilling to get tough on either problem.

A few neocons, like philosopher Sidney Hook or Kristol himself, had once been Marxists or Trotskyites. Most, like former U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, simply had been hawkish Democrats who became disenchanted with their party as it drifted further left in the 1970s. Many neocons, such as Richard Perle, originally rallied around Henry "Scoop" Jackson, a Democratic senator who led the opposition to the Nixon-Ford policy of d├ętente with the Soviet Union. Following the 1980 election, U.S. President Ronald Reagan became the new standard bearer of the neoconservative cause.

A few neocons, like Perle, still identify themselves as Democrats, and a number of "neoliberals" in the Democratic Party (such as Sen. Joseph Lieberman and former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke) hold fairly neoconservative views on foreign policy. But most neocons have switched to the Republican Party. On many issues, they are virtually indistinguishable from other conservatives; their main differences are with libertarians, who demonize "big government" and preach an anything-goes morality.

Most younger members of the neoconservative movement, including some descendants of the first generation, such as William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, and Robert Kagan, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, have never gone through a leftist phase, which makes the "neo" prefix no longer technically accurate. Like "liberal," "conservative," and other ideological labels, "neocon" has morphed away from its original definition. It has now become an all-purpose term of abuse for anyone deemed to be hawkish, which is why many of those so described shun the label. Wolfowitz prefers to call himself a "Scoop Jackson Republican."
BONUS: At Dr. Sanity, "WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW...": not love or global orgasms, but more neoconservatism.


Old Rebel said...

Thomspon reads an allegedly extreme authoritarianism into the movement that --- it is argued --- is at odds with the vision of the American founders.


The Neocon legacy is the unconstitutional Patriot Act, NSA monitoring of domestic phone and internet traffic, detention without charge for any terror suspects, FBI taping of conversations between an attorney and a client accused of terrorism, the TSA empowered to search any car at any airport without probable cause...

And I could go on.

By their fruits you shall know them.

Reaganite Independent said...

Illuminating post- good stuff.

Chalk me up as a stubborn Neocon then... I've got some beefs with the Libertarians, too!

Beaman said...

Sounds an interesting book but one I'm likely to disagree with. I interviewed a leading British Neoconservative last year about what Neoconservatism is and its future.

Can be found here:

Rich Casebolt said...

Yep, by their fruit you shall know them ...

... history shows that the nations that have adopted rights-respecting governance never to threaten their neighbors with expansion of totalitarian rule over them, nor do they appear to be hotbeds of terrorism ...

... the incubators for such civilizational dysfunctions are those who do not respect the rights of their own people, let alone their neighbors.

When I hear paleocons and the anti-war Left spout off, I read one word into that:


They don't have the confidence in the idea that those self-evident truths in the founding document of this nation apply to ALL men, not just Americans.

They don't have the courage to stand up to the tyrants and say, "WE ARE RIGHT ... YOU ARE WRONG!" and act in accordance with those words.

They don't have the prudence to deal with a threat before the threat gets a chance to "frame the debate" on our own soil.

Read my lips, paleocons ... we have the key to sustainable peace: the direct, timely, resolute, and DECISIVE confrontation of those who would take those unalienable rights away from anyone they can, whenever it suits their whims ... and the replacement of the rule of those miscreants with rights-respecting governance.

There is no substitute ... but like the Leftists, paleocons stand in the path ... heads in the sand ... to sustainable peace, proven sustainable by history.

Dana said...

Our esteemed host wrote:

I have peeked ahead to the conclusion, and Thompson takes his thesis to its logical conclusion to find neoconservatism anti-democratic.

Yet everywhere the neo-cons tried to put their policies into practice, it was an attempt to set up democracies, on the theory that democracies are far less likely to be an external threat.

Old Rebel said...

Casebolt, Dana,

Again, pure fantasy. Unlike Farah and Coulter, you won't face reality.

The DC Empire props up many dictators, and has subverted legitimate elections all around the world. It's not "democracy" it cares about, but compliant puppets. Karzai is so corrupt it's laughable.

Meanwhile, the "democracy-loving" Neocons are destroying liberty here at home - the ONLY fight for liberty I care about.

BTW, Casebolt, it's not "cowardice" to face the facts and recognize an idiotic crusade like "nation-building" for what it really is.

AmPowerBlog said...

Rich smacks down the paleos! I love it!

Old Rebel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Old Rebel said...


You're on the side of the Obama administration, buster. How does that feel?

Dana said...

The Old Rebel wrote:

Meanwhile, the "democracy-loving" Neocons are destroying liberty here at home - the ONLY fight for liberty I care about.

Yet, oddly enough, we still have elections. After eight years of a sort-of neoconservative administration, we held yet another election, and the party opposed to that sort-of neoconservative administration won. The sort-of neoconservative President and Vice President left office, peacefully, with due courtesy to their successors, at the time specified by our Constitution.

And, amazingly enough, you seem to be perfectly free to post your opinions about the neoconservatives without any (reasonable) fear of being locked up for it.

There's just something strange about the notion that we have people who can post, in public fora, statements to the effect that we are losing our freedoms, when they are exercising, without fear, the very freedoms they claim are being taken away.

Old Rebel said...


Did you not see the list of assaults against the Bill of Rights in my first post?

And you're ok with that?

Our "elections," BTW, give us the choice of one out of two big-government candidates. Meaningless. As an example, notice how Obama is expanding Bush's policies.

Which you don't seem to mind.

To quote Sam Adams, "Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen!"

Rich Casebolt said...

Reb, the fact you haven't been "disappeared" for many years gives the lie to your paranoia over civil liberties.

Can you name me ANYONE who has suffered a sustained loss of liberty as a result of the PATRIOT Act, that was not -- objectively -- acting as a terrorist or other enemy of this nation? IF you can, they are few and VERY FAR between.

It is the advocates of "smart diplomacy" and the so-called
"realists" who prop up dictators ... neoconservatives, OTOH, don't follow that paradigm; we much prefer their overthrow and replacement with rights-respecting governance.

Tyrants, when confronted, will fold or be defeated, ending their ability to wage war. You want war without end? Keep ignoring them until they bring the war to you -- and those who defend us. Your unwillingness to ACT to defend the principles that keep us -- and others -- free and prosperous puts our defenders and first responders in the line of fire to defend and protect your paleocon arse, again and again and again.

Again and again and again, because you are unwilling to directly, expeditiously, resolutely, and DECISIVELY confront the thugs and fanatics.

You NEED to care about the liberty of others, Reb, BEFORE they are hijacked -- AGAIN -- to come to your soil and attack you here, on their terms ... not yours.

It's not mere compassion ... but enlightened self-interest ... to do so.

And there is nothing new about this ... for it is all over human history, no matter how much you might try to revise it.

Old Rebel said...


You're blinding yourself to reality. They wouldn't be counter-attacking us if we weren't messing where we shouldn't be messing -- in their countries.

Arrogance is no substitute for facts.

Rich Casebolt said...

Reb ... under Mr. Bush, America had begun to leave behind the 20th Century game of getting cozy with dictators ... then the advocates of "smart diplomacy" got into power in 2009 and started that garbage again, only this time from a position of weakness that our enemies are only too happy to exploit.

Dredging up the 20th Century does NOT justify the actions of the thugs and fanatics we oppose. We are no longer what we were when we unquestioningly supported the Shah of Iran or Batista ... and those who dredge up this past to justify today's tyranny and terrorism reek of hypocrisy, for they go well beyond what they decry as they oppress and murder innocent people.

They have no credibility, or justification for having their sovereignty respected ... for such as these inevitably look beyond their own homes and borders to spread their tyranny wider.

True "freedom fighters" don't target their own people, Reb ... they may say it is blowback for America's past sins, but in reality they oppose America because they know we will get in the way of their attempts to implement tyranny.

It's not arrogance -- but PRUDENCE -- that demands that we confront them decisively.