Irving Kristol reveals the true meaning of neoconservatism
, the godfather of neoconservatism, has emerged from his recent retirement to issue an apologia for his godchild: “The Neoconservative Persuasion.”
Written in Kristol’s usual lucid and genially authoritative style, the article is a revealing exposition of neoconservative beliefs and purposes as they stand at this remarkable historical moment, when the president has adopted the neoconservative agenda of imposing democracy and equal individual rights on other
countries, even as the Supreme Court has overturned the principle of equal individual rights in this
country. I am reproducing Kristol’s entire article here along with my running commentary, which is bolded and bracketed throughout.
The Neoconservative Persuasion: What it was, and what it is.
The Weekly Standard, August 25, 2003:
by Irving Kristol
“[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?
[Kristol’s readiness to use and discuss the meaning of the word “neoconservative” is a refreshing change from the attitude of such neocons as David Frum, who when I referred to him as a neoconservative a few months ago replied that the only sense in which he was a neoconservative was the anti-Semitic one. It’s also a refreshing change from those enemies of the neoconservatives who have indeed used the word, especially its short form “neocon,” in a manner that makes it sound at times like a code for anti-Semitism, or at least as an expression of suspicion and contempt. Kristol is returning the word to its ordinary and legitimate use. Indeed, he’s so relaxed about it that he employs the less than respectful “neocon,” which I’ve never seen a neoconservative do before.]
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.
[An organized effort to convert an entire political party and belief system into something it doesn’t want to be, does sound like a “movement.” Also, he’s confessing that neoconservatism is not identical with conservatism but stands at variance with it. This is a welcome change from the misleading statements on this issue by Norman Podhoretz, who spread the canard that neoconservatism no longer exists (when what he really meant was that neoconservatism had taken over conservatism). But Kristol says here that he made the same sort of statements himself.]
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. [That is a very odd explanation of why Republicans know nothing 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. [Winning against liberalism by becoming liberals is not my idea of a successful strategy.] Nor has it passed official notice that it is the neoconservative public policies, not the traditional Republican ones, that result in popular Republican presidencies. [He’s thinking of Reagan and the younger Bush, but since there have been only three Republican presidents elected in the last 30 years; there’s not enough evidence to make this generalization.]
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.
[An important insight into what makes the neocons tick: they are fixated on the economy because they view democracy as having an inherent tendency toward breakdown that can only be held in check by continual growth. This analysis helps explain why they sometimes seem to treat the economy as a god, letting it supplant all other values. Thus in various symposia in Commentary in the ‘80s and ‘90s on the general question of how America was doing, the keynote would be that America was doing fabulously well—because the economy was doing fabulously well. Expressions of concern about America’s downward cultural and moral slide often sounded like obligatory pieties.]
[In any case, the neoconservatives are so set on aggressively spreading democracy, with its continual upheavals of the old order, that they see continual economic growth as the only way to prevent the class conflict that results from all that upheaval. In other words, the instability they worry about is in part a product of the democratism which they themselves aggressively promote. If America had been content to change less rapidly—say, through much less immigration—then there would be less concern about the need to avoid the kind of leftist egalitarian politics that Kristol worries about in the next paragraph. Of course, the neocons would argue that the continued mass immigration is necessary to keep pumping up the economy and thus avoiding class conflict. But even if that were true in the short run, which I doubt, in the long run the immigration is creating infinitely more class and social conflict than we otherwise would have had.]
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.
[This is an enormous understatement. In recent years the younger neocons—to paraphrase Hamlet’s remark about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern— have been making love to their employment as courtiers of today’s morally liberationist America. They decided that the cultural revolution has won—and have duly signed on to it and become its publicists. (See my article “The Neocons go left”.)]
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.
[Kristol seems to be imagining a pre-1995 version of neoconservatism. What he says here might once have been true or partly true, but the main thrust of neoconservative statements about culture over the last several years is as I said: to sign on to the radically secularized, democratized, and degraded culture in which we now live. Can anyone forget David Brooks’s praise of the bourgeois bohemians, who make money at day and go to S&M clubs at night, or Dinesh D’Souza’s sympathetic portrayal of a guy with metal rings in his face?].
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. [I don’t buy this at all. When have the neoconservatives done anything to arrest the movement toward globalism? Has Commentary ever had an article criticizing the United Nations, other than when the UN is attacking Israel or the U.S.? Have the neocons criticized the European Union and its move toward a totalitarian superstate, other than when the EU was opposing American foreign policy?] International institutions that point to an ultimate world government should be regarded with the deepest suspicion. [I’m glad he says it, but, once again, the neocons’ interest in opposing UN-style globalism only appears when the UN is standing in the way of America’s own efforts to direct international affairs; it is never an opposition to globalism as such.] 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. [How easily he tells us that we are an ideological nation, like the Soviet Union. Years ago, thoughtful conservatives would point out that Ben Wattenberg’s view of America as a “Universal Nation” was like a Communist’s view of the Soviet Union; the comparison was meant as a dismissal of Wattenberg. But now we’ve come so far that Irving Kristol himself calmly tells us that we are an ideological state, not the historical country we grew up in. Which further means that the “patriotism” he boasts of is patriotism toward that ideological project, not patriotism toward the concrete historical country and people.] 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.
[Notice once again the dichotomy Kristol has set up: either a country is ideological (i.e. believing in world-wide democracy), which is good, or else it is small-minded and parochial, which is bad. It’s as though our only choices were either the neocons’ global democratic empire or some angry, self-absorbed, little America, with no other alternatives in between. Thus Kristol suggests that only an ideological country would come to the aid of other, mortally threatened countries, because the only basis for friendship between nations is ideological similarity, not cultural or civilizational or religious similarity or simply cooperation against a common enemy. In any case, all this praise of America as a country with an ideological agenda doesn’t sound like the Irving Kristol of yore, who as I remember was critical of excessive national ambitions and even, in the mid-1980s, urged that America withdraw its forces from Europe. ]
[To see America as an ideological country would once have been a conservative’s worst nightmare. Thus Paul Weyrich in his famous letter on cultural separation a few years ago chillingly wrote: “[I]t is impossible to ignore the fact that the United States is becoming an ideological state. The ideology of Political Correctness, which openly calls for the destruction of our traditional culture, has so gripped the body politic, has so gripped our institutions, that it is even affecting the Church. It has completely taken over the academic community. It is now pervasive in the entertainment industry, and it threatens to control literally every aspect of our lives.” Of course, Weyrich was talking about the leftist ideology of PC, not the neoconservative ideology of democratism. Nevertheless, the very notion of being an “ideological state” or a country with an “ideological identity” is so obviously redolent of totalitarianism that it is remarkable that Irving Kristol would approvingly apply it to America.]
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. [This is true, and it is a piece of reality that the paleoconservatives fail to acknowledge.]
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.
[Kristol is basically admitting what critics of the neoconservatives have been saying all along—that the neocons’ real interest is in spreading an ideology, not in preserving and enhancing our historic political, social, and moral order; that neoconservatism went into something of a slump after the demise of the U.S.S.R. because the U.S. had lost its ideological rival and main reason for international crusading; and that the September 11th attack, by forcing America back into the international arena in a more active and expansive role than ever, is the fulfilment of the neocons’ deepest needs, particularly their need for power. This explains, for example, their stunning lack of serious concern about the revolutionary Supreme Court decisions in Grutter v. Bollinger and Lawrence v. Texas. Grutter means the demise of the principle of individual rights that the neocons always said was the essence of America, and Lawrence means the end of any notion of America as a country based on Judeo-Christian morality, something that the neoconservatives also supposedly cared about. In fact, many of the neocons just don’t care. They’re indifferent to the undoing of America’s constitutional and moral order, because what really moves them is the prospect of conducting ideological crusades abroad, even as America as a concrete society is being torn apart from within.]
[But as bad as all that is, it gets worse. Since the ideology the neocons claim to be advancing—democracy and equal rights for all individuals without regard to race or background—has just been effectively removed from the U.S. Constitution in favor of group rights, and since the neocons, instead of raising a mighty wave of protest against this imposition of racial socialism, have been shockingly silent or supine toward it, it would appear that neither America nor the neocons themselves can be said any longer to stand for that principle of individual rights. The neocons’ campaign to export America’s ideology to the world is thereby revealed as a fraud. Their motive in promoting a global American crusade is not to expand America’s democratic ideology, since that is now officially defunct, but simply to expand America’s power, along with their own power as the chief theorists and architects of this adventure. Indeed, now that they’ve given up even the pretense of the noble beliefs that they have loudly professed for the last several decades, what else is there?]
Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 16, 2003 02:02 AM | Send
It is difficult to understand how Kristol could be so careless as to include that blithe comparison to the Soviet Union: “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.”
This is like saying, yes, we’re Trotskyists after all; what’s the big deal?
The careless self-revelation could be seen as a mark of age, or of one’s “persuasion,” as Kristol calls it, having reached such a pinnacle of success that one no longer needs to hide its secrets. We are seeing a similar syndrome across the liberal culture as well, in the naked assertion by Supreme Court justices that they are writing the law as they see fit, in the statements by liberals that America is a “secular” society (something that was never put in such a declaratory form before), and in many other areas. Liberalism/leftism moves forward by deceit. Once it has achieved its end, it drops the pretence and shows its real face.
Larry’s gloss on Irving’s commentary is so incisive that there is little I can add, despite my arduously earned rep as “the scourge of the neocons.” What I would observe in addition to Larry’s remarks, however, is that Irving’s interpretation of neoconservative ideas make them seem more like the program of the French National Front than the editorials in the Weekly Standard. For years Kristol, Sr. has been going on about the neoconservative fusion of religion and nationalism and about the need to resist the globalist assault on national identity. None of this has any relation to the open-borders, human rights ideology that I find in Goldberg, Ponnuru, or the younger Kristol. Obviously Irving is on an entirely different wave length, which he mistakenly designates as “neoconservative.”
Auster writes: “Thus in various symposia in Commentary in the ‘80s and ‘90s on the general question of how America was doing, the keynote would be that America was doing fabulously well—because the economy was doing fabulously well. Expressions of concern about America’s downward cultural and moral slide often sounded like obligatory pieties.”
This raises the question of Mrs. Kristol’s role in the formation of the neoconservative persuasion. Gertrude Himmelfarb has been concerned throughout career with moral issues, especially as they played out — if that’s the correct phrase — in Victorian England. Her book, “The Demoralization of Society,” is representative, but only the tip of her massive intellectual iceberg. Should we see her as the conservative in the Kristol family shouting, “Stop”?
Doesn’t Kristol’s listing FDR as a 20th century hero of neoconservatism say it all?
Re Mr. North’s question about Gertrude Himmelfarb, I have not read The Demoralization of Society, but I did read her later book, One Nation, Two Cultures, and it was appallingly superficial and unserious. In her treatment the crisis of modern society seemed like some distant abstraction she had picked up from reading a couple of magazine articles.
Mr. Modahl wrote:
“Doesn’t Kristol’s listing FDR as a 20th century hero of neoconservatism say it all? “
I know what Mr. Modahl is getting at, but I think there’s a lot more to say about neoconservatism than that! If that’s all there was to neoconservatism, we wouldn’t all have spent years obsessing about it, thinking about it, trying to figure it out. For example, the neocons’ admiration for FDR would tell us nothing about the neocons’ recent surrender to the sexual revolution, or about their frenetic support for mass non-Western immigration, or about their indifference to the catastrophe of Grutter. Neoconservatism is a unique phenomenon that can’t be understood by simply calling it “New Deal liberalism.”
What FDR stands for is the departure from the founding ideal of limiting government so that individuals and their private voluntary associations might flourish, and for the elevation of intellectuals to a position of power over many areas of citizens’ lives. Hence the undying devotion of the chattering classes to a deeply flawed man and second rate leader. The founders’ ideal of limiting government, of subjecting rulers to the rule of law, represents one of the highest achievements of Western civilization - if this is not worth conserving, then conservatism is meaningless term.
I can’t disagree with anything Mr. Modahl says, except that I don’t think FDR could be called a second rate leader. Even if one opposes most of what he did, he was a gifted leader and politician who made an enormous impression on the people of his time.
Take his 1933 inaugural address. On one hand, his promise (or threat) to go outside the Constitution in order to meet the economic emergency is chilling and something I would have completely opposed. On the other hand, watching the speech, you suddenly understand why many Americans adored him, saw him as a larger-than-life figure coming to their rescue. (when you remember that he was a cripple, this larger-than-life quality is all the more remarkable.) Irving Kristol was about 12 when FDR became president. I’m not disagreeing with the fact that FDR expanded government and transformed the country in a liberal direction, and I’m not disagreeing with Mr. Meldahl’s argument about what the neocons’ embrace of FDR says about their true political philosophy. I’m just saying that describing FDR solely in dismissive terms fails to capture the reality of the man.
Roosevelt was a gifted politician, and was described by a sympathizer as “a first rate temperament, but a second rate intellect.” But instead of trying to communicate to the public a sense of self-sufficiency, he told them that their troubles were the work of evildoers, and that big government could assuage them. He listened to economic crackpots, and deepened and prolonged the depression. He completely misread and misunderstood Stalin, and stored up enormous problems for his successors. He ignored the tradition of the two term presidency, even though he knew was sick and in decline. He pioneered in the politics of setting class against class, and presided over the gutting of large portions of the US Constition, particularly the economic Constitution. His ERA was copied from Mussolini. I could go on. Surely calling this man a second rate president is if anything too kind.
I think there’s a confusion of terms here. Is Mr. Modahl’s objection to FDR that he was a second rate, i.e. a not very effective leader, or that he was a very effective leader whose effectiveness allowed him to take the country in a wrong direction? If one is completely opposed to what a leader did, to everything he stood for, it seems odd to make the most objectionable thing about him that he was “second-rate.”
Let’s say for the sake of argument that Julius Caesar drove the nail into the coffin of the Roman Republic. Now, the criticism that one would make of Caesar is not that he was an incompetent leader, but that he was a highly competent leader, who used his gifts of leadership to lead Rome in a wrong direction. If he had only been second rate, he wouldn’t have been able to do the damage he did.
An even better example would be Napoleon: an extremely gifted leader, but calamitous in the objects he pursued.
If we are talking about no more than the ability to sway people, then Mr. Auster is correct that FDR was a very skilled, not a “second-rate” leader, but as a president I consider him second rate because of his lack of sympathy or understanding of our essential constitutional form of government. I had in mind those frequent exercises in which supposed experts, e.g. political science professors or historians, are asked to rank the presidents. Probably no president did more to permanently damage the founding ideals than FDR, though President Lincoln for all his greatness, must also be credited with wrecking of the original federalist arrangement under pressure of the Civil War.
For anyone who read this article yesterday, I’ve made some changes and additions, including a revised first paragraph, a new paragraph on the view of America as an ideological state, and a new final paragraph.
This is a troubling piece. One, I may be a Jewish conservative but I have never described myself as a “neocon”—just as David Frum walks away from the title. I can easily oppose much of what Lawrence Auster has said about Irving Kristol’s remarks but on the other hand, if we are nit-picking—I would agree that he has made errors. Surely much of the Jewish right as as big of a part of “traditional Conservatives” as any Christian conservative and to describe neocons as led by “secular intellectuals” is a bit bizarre since surely almost all those thought of as neo-conservatives Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, Norman Podhortetz and his son—most of the writers at the Weekly Standard where this piece has appeared, have been far stronger than any other conservative magazinbe one can look at that addresses cultural and moral issues.
And Kristol needlessly threw a compliment to FDR, when a simply tip of the hat to TR and Reagan would suffice—giving critics ammo to harp on the fact that he referenced FDR. Perhaps nothing will stop this small group of conservatives, perhaps antisemitic, from harping all over details of his essay, seizing upon the use of the word “ideological” to misconstrue his intentions, spinning one thought to the nth degree and then dismissing his call of common ground as disingenuous when he obviously means quite clearly what he has said quite clearly.
All of this misses the irony in that it is liberal icon Howard Dean that seeks to pin the spector of “neocons” on Pres. Bush’s head with this website’s utter endorsement. Common cause with Howard Dean is not becoming of any group described as conservative.
But no one can miss the utter irony of Mr. Auster and friends’ desire for ideological purity. Can conservatives share common goals and come from different places? Can conservatives see things from slightly different perspectives and still share fundamental truths?
Of course!! Conservatives can be more or less libertarian and more of less isolationist.
And regarding a conservative that comes forward to say that he prefers strong government to weak government—this begs the issue of what intents and purposes the government is strong.
Who is a neo-con and who is not? I do not know and I do not believe Irving Kristol knows. His words stand as his own—and he is well into his 80’s and do not represent some mythic conspiratorial movement. After all, a clear percentage of what we can call “traditional conservatives” will somehow support Democrats.
As for me, call me a “traditonal Conservative” or a “Jewish conservative” but if anyone believes that as a “REAL” bonifide conservative, we are all on the same page on every matter and this must be policed or else we quickly lose our identity—this is nonsense.
After all, conservatives believe in real diversity while it is the liberals who have insisted on the kind of conformity this group gives the impression of promoting.
Mr. Friedman’s somewhat meandering comment seems to add up to saying, “Can’t we all get along?” With all due respect, I don’t think he has a grasp of the fundamental issues at stake here. Phrases like “nit-picking” and “ideological purity”—and, oh yes, a gratuitous suggestion of anti-Semitism that he throws into the mix—do nothing to advance understanding and discussion. (Didn’t it occur to Mr. Friedman that he at least ought to have seen _something_ anti-Semitic actually being said here before he used that word on me?)
He should read my article, “The Neocons go left,” and ask himself if there are really no important differences between some of the views of neocons that I quote in that article and what he calls “traditional conservatism.” http://www.counterrevolution.net/vfr/archives/000412.html
Or he might consider this quote from John Podhorez in the April 25 New York Post, which someone just sent me today:
“Our nation’s culture war died an unmourned death on 9/11, when it was clear that whatever differences the Americans had with each other in matters of lifestyle were nothing compared to the murderous hunger of our terrorist adversaries who would happily kill all of us, no matter what we did in the bedroom.”
GOP MOUTHS, GOP FEET http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/899994/posts
I had read that quote when the article first came out and was bothered by it, but in light of more recent events, particularly the neocons’ almost complete silence about the Grutter and Lawrence decisions, the sinister meaning of what Podhoretz said is now clear: No other issue matters, OR CAN MATTER, beside fighting terrorism. Of course, our country was facing a mortal danger after 9/11 and we needed to stand together as a people to fight it, as we still do. But Podhoretz is not merely talking of setting immediate priorities in a time of emergency, he’s expressing an EAGERNESS to silence all concerns about culture and morality. This clearly suggests that Podhoretz never cared about those things in the first place. All he cares about is fighting our external enemy, and building up America’s strength and power on the world stage, while wilfully ignoring the ongoing destruction of our culture and moral ethos, which he derides as a “culture war” in which both sides are equally at fault.
To object to such statements is not nitpicking. It is seeing a sensibility and an agenda that is indifferent or hostile to everything we cherish.
So I’d like to ask Mr. Friedman, who is creating the divisions within conservatism? Is it John Podhoretz, who wants to silence any defense of our threatened moral values, and is it Fareed Zakaria, who speaking of those awful repressive Fifties said, “I’ll take Gomorrah,” and is it Irving Kristol, who approvingly describes America as an ideological state analogous to the Soviet Union? Or is it I, for taking note of the astonishing things these people are saying (astonishing, that is, for so-called conservatives) and responding to them?
Mr. Friedman wrote,
“Perhaps nothing will stop this small group of conservatives, perhaps antisemitic, from harping all over details of his essay, seizing upon the use of the word ‘ideological’ to misconstrue his intentions, spinning one thought to the nth degree and then dismissing his call of common ground as disingenuous when he obviously means quite clearly what he has said quite clearly.”
While I’m not certain, I gather this passage expresses Mr. Friedman’s view of neo-conservatives as compromisers, denizens of a “big tent,” paragons of tolerance of divergent views, welcomers of dissenters based on the “common ground” they share with them.
Excuse me, but I think neo-cons run a tighter ship than that. MUCH tighter.
(Also, I didn’t understand the “perhaps antisemitic” reference.)
And this assertion is open to question, to say the least:
” … surely almost all those thought of as neo-conservatives — Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol, Norman Podhoretz and his son — most of the writers at the Weekly Standard where this piece has appeared, have been far stronger than any other conservative magazine one can look at that addresses cultural and moral issues.”
In fact, it’s false.
I’ve already pointed out the incorrectness of saying that John Podhoretz has been strong on cultural and moral issues. As for Krauthammer, I don’t think he has ever been on the conservative side in the culture wars. For example, when the Monica Lewinksy scandal broke, he wrote a column saying it wasn’t a big deal and people should forget about it. (By contrast, William Kristol and The Weekly Standard were very strong on the Lewinsky scandal.)
Krauthammer was a speechwriter for then Vice President Walter Mondale during the 1980 Presidential campaign. I remember seeing Krauthammer on a CSPAN program about 15 years ago. The subject was “Conservative Democrats.” Krauthammer, during his talk, stated that the Democratic party was too soft on foreign policy.
Yes, Kristol and the Weekly Standard took a strong line against Clinton during the Lewinsky affair. I saw Kristol predict at the start of the scandal that, “Clinton will be gone in two weeks.” Well, we know what happened. Clinton stayed in office because of the cultural change that most necoconservatives either accept or actively support.
Concerning Kristol’s reference to Thucydides’s “Peloponnesian War,” Thucydides described how the Athenians became carried away with a sense of imperial grandeur which ended up in the disaster of the Syracuse expedition, and the loss of the war. ( A nice aside for those who like parallels, spurious though they may be, was that they were egged on in this by Alcibiades, who got into hot water when he and his friends supposedly trashed the herms, i.e., showed themselves indifferent to issues of cultural piety). As for the reference to Alexis de Tocqueville, didn’t he greatly fear the overweening nanny state that would smother all individual initiative that constituted the genius of American democracy? So one is left to wonder just what, if anything Kristol meant, in citing these figures as authorities for the neocons’ views. This is as puzzling as his reference to FDR.
I agree that Kristol’s reference to Thucydides is puzzling.
That’s a very interesting point about Alcibiades offered by the previous poster (who has changed his name from another name used earlier in this same thread). However, the story of Alcibiades doesn’t quite offer the lesson that the poster thinks. It seems very doubtful to me that Alcidiades actually commited the act (smashing the sacred statues of Hermes located all over Athens) of which he was accused. Remember the circumstances. Alcibiades had just been appointed co-general of the largest military exploit in Athens’ history, the invasion of Syracuse. Then, just after the fleet left for Syracuse, the damage to the Hermae was discovered, and the city went wild, accusing Albidiades of doing this inconceivable thing, and sending another ship after the fleet to arrest Alcibiades, who fled and went into exile. The idea that a man who had just been elevated to the highest military position in the state and was about to lead a great invasion would commit such horrible vandalism is very hard to believe. I’ve always seen the story as a sign of the Athenians’ almost insane jealousy of any man who excelled, which also reflected their tragic inability to form a stable society.
However, if Alcibiades did do the deed, then there would certainly be a parallel between him and the neoconservatives, who help lead America into a war, while simultaneously betraying America’s traditional morality and culture.
But if Alcibiades was innocent, another possible parallel comes into view, which the neocons might employ to their advantage: that the accusers of Alcibiades were the anti-war party, who thought they could discredit the war by charging its leader with sacrilege. :-)
Nice observation about Alcibiades. I suppose I am coming to the view that the neoconservatism espoused by Kristol retains a certain secular utopianism that comes from the social democrat background, in that there is a willingness to try to use state power in pursuit of transcendent or ideological ends. This differs from traditional conservatism which does not view the state as a means to such ends, but rather merely as an unfortunate necessity given the fact that men are not angels. And so, this neoconservatism is, as Mr. Auster has noted above, primarily about power. Perhaps this is why some paleos insist the neos are still leftists.
I don’t want to subject poor Irving Kristol, a thinker whom I do respect, to _too_ much dialectical scrutiny, but we might also register a “huh?” at the following sentence:
“Because they tend to be more interested in history than economics or sociology, [the neoconservatives] know that the 19th-century idea, so neatly propounded by Herbert Spencer in his ‘The Man Versus the State,’ was a historical eccentricity. “
The first half of the statement is quite dubious in my mind, whatever we might say of the second. “More interested in history”? It has been received wisdom for quite some time that the neocons, at their best, provided conservatism with some new ammunition in the realm of social science (and in particular sociology). _The Public Interest_, Kristol’s own magazine is a testament to that.
And elsewhere Kristol himself reflects on the economic contributions of the neocons, specifically through the Supply Side school.
Spencer’s Man Against the State is a devastating attack on the idea of trying to accomplish anything through state action. He is also thought of as the great apologist for laissez faire. To dismiss the idea of limited government as no more than a historical anomaly, a “19th Century idea,” which is what Kristol is apparently doing, is appalling.
I think Mr. Auster’s critique of Kristol’s piece is excellent - and scary. An ideological nation is something that if not dangerous now, certainly has the seeds for being a very real danger if it continues on its trajectory - especially to individual freedom.
Second, a focus on economic growth alone strikes me as a recipe for disaster - signalling a rape mentality towards resources and people. As well the destabilization of society inherent in economic “growth” concerns me.
Perhaps our only hope is that America finds itself in another Vietnam (in Iraq) and Neocon ideology takes a hit in the gut?
Mr. Auster, you are perpetrating a hatchet job on some very good people and so unnecesarily. Yes, I am new to this minority group of conservatives and as far as I can tell, you harbor what appears to me to be genuinely conservative thoughts.
But in what appears to be a paranoid fantasy, you are grossly misrepresenting some solid conservatives and as you implore me to consider what is at stake in the alleged differences, I would quickly ask you to do the same.
After all the attacks against Kristol, Krauthhammer, Frum, Horowitz,, Podhortetz and Himmelfarb—reading (as I was asked) your posting on “The NeoCons Go Left” at least goes after a non-Jew (let’s be grateful for small things) but your spin on Dinesh D’Souza is as off-base as all your other spin. Throwing about links to “Marxism” and then Tikuun magazine and finally Michael Lind has obviously nothing to do with what D’Sousa has stood for so famously. This is not a critique—it is fraud. Tring to convince honest people that D’Souza can be easily linked to Michael Lerner and Marxists is just beyond the pale of reason.
And this is surely a common thread on this particular website. Here we have D’Souza, for example, who has famously battled liberal sacred cows such as racism, affirmative action and multiculturalism—written a superb bigraphy of Ronald Reagan, taken on the educational establishment with “Illibreal Education”— written pointed affirmations of transcendent moral values in “The Virtue Of Prosperity” and has worked very hard to attain standing as a solid conservative. I have met the man and I am honored. The same can be said about Charles Krathammer who also spent a mini-career slamming Clinton in his columns and on TV and Norman Podhoretz who famously has stood in the arena in favor and as an exponent of traditional morality and the same can be said surely of David Frum and the others.
You are surely wrong about Jewish conservatives and the culture wars—just crazy. John Podhortez’ point is well taken and was echoed by many conservatives Christians knee deep in the culture wars. Until the terror threat is lowered, there is a matter of priorities. Government exists PRECISELY for the eradication of such a threat. It is crazy to blame Jewish conservatives such as Norman and John Podhortez or Charles Krathhammer for being supposed stooges to the left on cultural issues. Jewish conservatives have been front and center in this battle— surely the gay rights movement knows Podhoretz, Frum, Prager and Horowitz—but do they know any of you guys?
These men are straight up conservative heroes and on the other side we have the supposedly pure and perfect critics from the paleo right. Who are your heroes and what have you done to bring the country further in the right direction?? Please tell me the name of even one conservative alive today who is true-blue and cannot be linked to those supposed enemies of transcendent morality—the Jewish neo-cons. Is it Pat Buchanan—a guy who has never put his foot in his mouth?? Bob Novak?—whose writing is littered with problems. The Pope??-
It seems as if all you do is continue this fixation on the supposed neo-cons while never defining who in heck IS a neo-con and how they are so threatening in fact, not fiction.
It is troubling that this mini-group of uninfluential conservatives has this focus but it is at least gratifying that so few people are listening. Instead of fantasizing conservative Jews as closet liberals at every turn, I wish to remind you that very real liberals continue to dominate much of academia and the media.
Why not dry powder for the real problem?
Mr. Friedman emotes a great deal and makes lots of accusations but hasn’t made a single argument, and has not actually responded to anything I’ve said in my article. All we can know from reading his comment is that he admires the people I’m criticizing and he’s not happy about my criticizing them. Also, he is completely and tiresomely off-base in his constant references to Jewishness and his suggestion that I am attacking Jewish conservatives. The article I referenced has nothing to do with Jews and Jewishness per se. My subject was the neocons, who just happen to be a very important intellectual contingent in modern American life and a subject that interests many people a great deal. I can’t help the fact that the leading neocons are, as the whole world knows, primarily Jewish. By Mr. Friedman’s reasoning, no public figure who happens to be Jewish could ever be criticized, because to do so is to be anti-Jewish. In any case, the article “The Neocons go left,” was almost completely about Dinesh D’Souza.
I’ve never made a condescending remark like this about a poster at this site, but Mr. Friedman gives the impression of never having engaged in an intellectual discussion before in his life. He should either get a grip on himself, or go away.
Michael Tennant has an analysis of the Kristol article which makes even more bluntly some points similar to those in my article, and adds some additional ones. He describes the article as a damaging confession that neoconservatism is exactly what its critics have said all along, a form of liberalism.
Speaking of Krauthammer’s questionable credentials as a conservative on cultural issues, let me remind you that Krauthammer wrote on April 5, 1996 in the Washington Post (“Disarm the citizenry, but not yet):
“Ultimately, a civilized society must disarm its citizenry if it is to have a modicum of hope of domestic tranquility of the kind enjoyed in sister democracies like Canada and Britain … .”
As for Israel, I tend to agree with Ilana Mercer http://www.worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=31594
“The blueprint for empire is way bigger than any petty Israeli plot. If anything, Israel will also become the object of subjugation. The U.S., not Israel, has a military presence in roughly 130 nations.”
If ISrael becomes a liability in the empire business, I think a lot of neocons will turn on it. The “Road Map” already gives them a method.
Finally, there are Jewish conservatives who are not neocons (even if they are pro-war). Don Feder is one prominent example.
“Ultimately, a civilized society must disarm its citizenry if it is to have a modicum of hope of domestic tranquility of the kind enjoyed in sister democracies like Canada and Britain … .”
Remarkable. Not only that he has such an opinion, but the way he phrases it, “must disarm its citizenry …”, is chilling.
As I said, on domestic issues, Krauthammer is basically a liberal. It’s quite mistaken to think of him as a conservative or neoconservative except on foreign policy issues and Israel. Yet he is routinely described as a neoconservative. Which is another index of how foreign policy and Israel so dominate the minds of many (neo)conservatives that they are blind or indifferent to other issues. Krauthammer could be calling for affirmative action and homosexual marriage, but as long as he was strong on Israel and the projection of American power abroad, people would think of him as a neoconservative. Think of all the conservative conferences over the years where he has been a speaker. I’ll bet not once at any of those conferences did anyone say to him, “You know, Mr. Krauthammer, you’re really a liberal.”
Why are conservatives so blind to the liberalism of many conservatives? At bottom, politics for them is praising and honoring and being proud of your team (the team being America or conservatism or the Republican Party). As long as they are in the mode of praising and honoring their team, they are fulfilled, the right is winning, the good battle is being fought against the left. Anything that divides the team or suggests that some members of the team are really allied with the left on key issues, will be most unwelcome. The same goes for their feelings about America as a whole. Since what makes one a conservative is patriotic enthusiasm for one’s team, and since their team is America, and since the left has taken over America, conservatives become the cheerleaders of a largely radicalized America.
Just think of Norman Podhoretz’s “My Love Affair with America,” in which he makes conspicuously expressed love for America his sole index of political virtue. (Naturally he gets the highest grades of anyone.) And this stems in part from a reaction to the left. The left hates America. Therefore the right must love America; and more loudly it loves America (even though America has been taken over by the left), the more truly conservative it is.
It’s as though contemporary conservatives had taken one facet of true conservatism, the sense of being part of a larger whole, and reduced that facet to flag waving enthusiasm, while dispensing with all the other aspects of conservatism, including even the very principles that define conservatism.
As I wrote in Erasing America, contemporary conservatives reduced the transcendent to one idea, the idea of individual rights and equality under God, and directed all their capacity for devotion and patriotism onto that one idea, in the form of America the Proposition Nation. But now that the Proposition has been officially overturned by the Grutter decision, all that conservatives have left of their conservatism is their patriotism, which they keep directing at America even though America now officially stands for the opposite of the Proposition.
For modern conservatives, all that remains of the transcendent is flag-waving enthusiasm.
Michael Jose writes that there are Jewish conservatives who are not neo-cons and that Don Feder is one example. Great! Yet, the definition is still amorphous. Perhaps among all conservatives, Don Feder is closer to my own beliefs than any other—at least on the limited number of topics he speaks about. So, it seems, I am not a neo-con.
Since Mr. Auster is silent on the subject, perhaps you can tell me, Michael—what are the defining terms of a neo-con?? Anyone else—please join in. I ask not in the spirit of wishing to be catered, rather, it seems to be a prime character trait of this group so it would seem all of you know and find value in explaining it to third parties.
Alternatively, here is a short list of some conservatives I greatly admire and agree with 99% of the time. Which are neo-cons??:
Rush Limbaugh, Jeff Jacoby, Michael Medved, Cal Thomas, Frank Gaffney, Michael Ledeen, Dennis Prager, George Will.
Since Tony Blair, C. Hitchens, J. Lieberman and many others are liberals who are pro-war with Iraq- pro-war does not seem to be defining. Almost all Jewish conservatives are traditionalists on almost all cultural topics so this does not seem to be defining. I need something besides some contorted rhetoric claiming a huge difference between the “ideological” vs transcendent ideal driven.
And also—who decides? Frum, it has been said on this folder IS a neo-con but he says he is not. Is suppose it is like a justice of the Supreme Court said about pornography—you know it when you see it.
Well, I’ll offer this: Neo-cons are decidedly pragmatic about limitations on the power of the state; and they evidence a certain allergy for those who argue against the state on principled grounds.
As another stab at definition, it might be added that neo-cons, by and large, are emphatically _urban_ in social outlook. While they may talk abstractly in sympathy with rural “red” America, they are about at distant from it as can be imagined.
“While they may talk abstractly in sympathy with rural ‘red’ America, they are about at distant from it as can be imagined.”
To give an idea of how truly urban they are, there was an article about Irving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb some years ago in, I believe, the New Yorker. They lived at the time in an apartment on Central Park South overlooking Central Park. They told the reporter that, though they had lived there for ten years, they had never gone for a walk in the park.
Looking at Mr. Friedman’s short list, the only one I would characterize as solidly neo-con is George Will. Others have embraced neo-con ideas on occasion - but I really would hesitate to label them true neo-cons. Even though Cal Thomas recently penned a moronic cheerleading article for President Bush’s utterly abominable leftist-inspired speech in Africa, I don’t think it would be fair to summarily dump him in the neo-con camp given his long track record opposing many aspects of the leftist agenda. David Horowitz is another that I really don’t consider to be a neo-con, despite his recent attack on religious conservatives over their resistance to the gay agenda. The others on the list I would consider to be mainstream conservatives.
I personally think that Matt’s characterization of neo-cons as right-liberals is pretty much on the mark. As a rule of thumb, I think that neo-cons can be described as generally liberal or even left-libertarian on social issues such as the gay agenda, racial preferences, abortion, multiculturalism, etc.; in favor of open borders and unlimited immigration from the third world, free trade and globalism. At the same time, they tend to be in favor of lowering taxes, keeping a strong military and at one time opposed the expansion of statist social programs like welfare, etc. - though their evident acquiesence to the White House-Republican plan to exapnd Medicare gives credence to the thesis that the neo-cons are constantly, inexorably moving leftward and are dragging mainstream conservatives down into the black hole of liberalism along with them.
Not Gaffney and Ledeen? I’m interested to hear why you think them something else than neocons.
I actually haven’t read enough of Gaffney and Ledeen’s writings to decide if they were actual neo-cons or not - hence my hesitation to use the label for those two. I do recall reading some things back in the early Clinton years that were critical of the Clinton regime - especially the nationalized healthcare plan. For whatever reason, I simply haven’t been exposed to their writing since in any significant way. I am more familiar with the rest of the list, though.
The more I think about Kristol’s piece, the stranger it seems. He lumps TR and FDR with Reagan as neocon idols, but the two former were enthusiasts of state power, while Reagan thought the state was not the solution: it was the problem. True, Reagan did not enjoy the strength in Congress to do much about it, but his attitude was very different from TR and FDR. It seems as though the neocons, many previously democratic socialists or worse, have retained their secular utopianism and with it a complete insouciance about the growth of interest group leftism. Where that ultimately leads can be seen in the present wreck of California. Government, with its highly abusable monopoly on legal coercion (abuse of that monopoly is the essence of interest group leftism) is best confined to prevention of violence and protection of commerce and production. When it expands endlessly in pursuit of various transcendent visions, whether the older ones of the left, or the updated ones of the neocons, it ceases to carry out its essential functions well, and itself becomes the means of carrying on the “war of all against all,” i.e., degenerates into corruption and interest group leftism.
Part of the problem is in the attempt to categorize actual people rather than their alliegences. All of the pundits listed have demonstrated complicity with neoconservatism or right-liberalism, but not all of them have a strong alliegence to neoconservatism (though George Will certainly does). Only those with a strong alliegence can be justly called “neoconservatives”, but the boundaries of the influence of neoconservatism don’t stop there.
Also neoconservatives do emphasize the rule of law more than left liberals; it is just that neoconservatives think that the law - authoritative public discrimination - should reflect liberal values and that traditional values should be kept in the closet (that is, they should not have any public discriminating authority). So for example you will see SOME resistence to ILLEGAL immigration in neoconservative circles, while at the same time the they find notion of LEGALLY restricting immigration to favor white anglo saxons horrifying.
I generally define neoconservartism by foreign policy.
The one defining issue that makes someone a neoconservative in my book is the belief that we need to impose democracy on the world.
As for Israel, neoconservatives are more defined by WHY they support Israel (democracy) than by their support.
More specifically, a neoconservative believes that:
(a) All differences are ideological. Race, nationality, etc. has nothing to do with international conflicts. All conflicts are based on people having different ideologies. (Therefore, for example, the differences between the Kurds, the Sunni Arabs, and the Shia’s in Iraq can be solved by their common interest in democracy; this will trump all ethnic divisions). Therefore, the way to reduce conflicts is to impose your ideology on the world.
The opposing view is that many conflicts are simply “my people against yours,” and are based on race and nationality (i.e. people choosing sides based on whoever is most closely related to them, not based on philosophy).
This is why neocons can’t understand the Arab world. Arabs seem more outraged over slights by the US or Israel than over rampant injustices by other Arabs. The reason is that Israelis and USAmericans are “more the other” and other Arabs are “less the other.” Of course, in more localized conflicts, Arabs prefer more similar Arabs (say people from the same tribe) to less similar ones. This goes for non-Arab Mulsim countries as well. Because they don’t understand this, neocons such as David Horowitz think that Arabs “hate us for no reason,” whenever they claim to be angry at US slights against them, because they are less angry at similar Arab slights.
(b) We should support Israel, not because of ethnic rights of the Jews to a homeland, or because of cultural ties between Jews and the general population of America, but because of Israel’s ideology. They are democratic, they have gay members in their parliament (a point brought up by (here’s a shocker) Andrew Sullivan), they have a free market economy (not really true, but a key neoconseravtive argument).
Paleoconservatives who support Israel (e.g. Paul Gottfried, myself) do so more based on ethnic identity with the land, or based on Jewish property claims on Israel.
This who support Israel on both sides will argue for Israel based on American national interests, but the neocons would likely put the political and economic philosophical similarity first, before such piddling concerns as strategic benefits of an alliance.
(c) It is America’s duty to either conquer every non-democratic country and make it democratic, or at least whenever we do conquer a country, we should make “democratizing” it a priority.
(d) Once in a war, she should never consider a truce or a peace treaty. We should attack until we have conquered them.
(e) As long as we screen them for the correct ideology, immigration does not hurt a country’s national identity. Many blacks whose families have lived here for generations are not really American because they do not share the proper ideology, whereas Mexicans who have just arrivedare wonderful Americans if they have the right beliefs.
On domestic policy, neocons can have a lot of ideologies, but generally neoconservatism favors:
(a) Federal Reserve printing out lots of money is good.
(b) Tax cuts are more important than spending cuts (although without spending cuts, there are no true tax cuts; money is still taken out of the economy through government borrowing or inflation (money-printing)).
(c) Deficits are good.
(d) In the next election, the GOP will increase its share of the black vote considerably. (This is trudged out every election). Alternately, screw the black vote, the new Hispanic immigrants will vote for the GOP, and they’re a more American minority anyway.
Of Friedman’s list, I would think of all as neoconservative except for Dennis Prager and Michael Medved, whose views I don’t know enough about to make a decision.
This is my first post on this message board. Being new here, I am leery of violating community rules or of resurrecing subjects which have already been discussed to death. Please correct me if I commit either transgression.
Mr. Auster, you rightly chided Mr. Friedman for his overheated emotion. All the same, I have often myself been accused of neoconservatism — wrongly, I think — and thus share some of Mr. Friedman’s frustration with this term and its seemingly elastic definition.
Clearly, we need to define this thing called neoconservatism more clearly than Mr. Kristol has done. But how best can we do it?
Mr. Auster, you wrote, “I can’t help the fact that the leading neocons are, as the whole world knows, primarily Jewish.”
Indeed, we cannot help it. But how do we explain it? Do we chalk it up to mere happenstance? Or do we grapple forthrightly with this phenomenon and try to discern its significance?
Perhaps Mr. Friedman’s indignation arises from a perfectly accurate perception on his part that we are discussing an iceberg without mentioning the 90 percent of its mass which lies beneath the water.
Mr. Poe, given your support of the second amendment and other stands you’ve taken over the years, I don’t think you qualify as a neo-con. Even though he’s new here, I suspect Mr. Friedman doesn’t either. Unfortunately, I think the term “neo-conservative” has been corrupted by certain folks on the Paleo-right (Sobran and Buchanan). I expect your iceberg analogy might fit better over there than here, as there is fairly wide support for the Israeli side on this site.
Welcome to Richard Poe, esteemed author of The Seven Myths of Gun Control. In reply to his point, anyone who follows VFR knows that I am ready, willing and able to engage in a critical discussion of the role and influence of Jews in American culture and politics, _if_ it were possible to do so without having Jew-haters immediately enter the discussion and take it over, which I’ve realized to my discouragement is not possible in an open, Web-based format such as this. However, the subject of Jews was not, as far as I was concerned, the subject of my analysis of Kristol. The subject was, and is, neoconservatism. Mr. Friedman is totally off-base in interpreting my criticism of neoconservatism as an attack on Jews.
Mr. Auster wrote, “…Mr. Friedman is totally off-base in interpreting my criticism of neoconservatism as an attack on Jews.”
Yes, I agree he was off-base. My question really goes beyond Mr. Friedman.
Suppose it is true that neoconservatism is at root an ethnocentric movement. In that case, what would we accomplish by trying to define it in non-ethnic terms?
Neoconservatism does not seem to be ethnically centered. True, some of its leading figures are Jewish, but plenty of others are not - Bill Bennett, for example. Neoconservatism seems to peopled with folks who drifted away from some of the more obviously unworkable positions of the left, but who retain the secular utopianism implicit in using the state to pursue transcendent, or as Kristol puts it, ideological ends. The neocons are public intellectuals who have never gotten over being star struck with the New Deal and the “brain trust” concept, which raised their status from mere chalky pedagogues, often figures of fun, to powerful policy consultants and influential pundits. Their position of course is wholly inconsistent with the respect for the individual that lies at the center of the Western tradition.
Mr. Poe wrote:
“Suppose it is true that neoconservatism is at root an ethnocentric movement. In that case, what would we accomplish by trying to define it in non-ethnic terms?”
A challenging point. My answer for the moment is that that question belongs in the context of a larger discussion of Jewishness, or of a larger discussion of neoconservatism that can consider all its dimensions. My problem with Mr. Poe’s agreement with Mr. Friedman’s underlying assumption (that neoconservatism is really a Jewish phenomenon and therefore, Mr. Friedman though not Mr. Poe believes, any criticism of neoconservatism is an attack on Jews) is that it would preclude any discussion of neoconservatism that did not deal with Jewishness and Jewish issues per se. At the same time, nothing is stopping anyone in this discussion from arguing, say, that Kristol’s views on such and such are a typical expression of a Jewish outlook or whatever. But it’s not fair to expect me to sign on to the idea that by discussing neoconservatism I am taking responsibility for discussing a Jewish phenomenon per se.
Mr. Poe writes,
“Suppose it is true that neoconservatism is at root an ethnocentric movement. In that case, what would we accomplish by trying to define it in non-ethnic terms?”
But has any politico-philosophical movement ever arisen that wasn’t partly ethnic in origin? Haven’t the *roots* of all political and philosphical movements down through history been intertwined with ethnicity? Don’t we still await the proof that all ethnicities can support all systems equally well? Isn’t that connection part of the reason for caution in regard to ethnicity-altering immigration, and isn’t it reason for caution in regard to embarking on crusades to convert the world to American-style democracy?
Haven’t Shawn and others pointed out that the American Revolution and creation of this country with all that those entailed were intertwined with Calvinism and Protestantism? Maybe a society that was predominantly Catholic or Muslim couldn’t have, or wouldn’t have, done it, or done it the same way? Maybe a society that was predominantly Negro, or Latino, or Chinese couldn’t have, or wouldn’t have, done it, or done it the same way? Maybe all these have their own ways of doing things which are just as good. But I’m me, not them, and I don’t want their way. I want mine.
That said, maybe we should try to define neoconservatism in non-ethnic terms for the same reasons we so defined the political philosophy of the American Founding (which was partly ethnic): to give others a crack at adopting it for themselves?
“Neocon,” as used in this discussion, seems to mean a conservative infected with Leftism. I am reminded of Mr. Auster’s description of Leftism as the political form of evil. To the extent we are imperfect beings with imperfect intellects, we may all fall prey to Leftism from time to time or in one way or another. A “neocon” may be one who not only mistakes Leftist errors for truths or for acceptable accommodations, which anyone can do, but who persists in upholding such errors despite the remonstrances of the wise.
The anti-Alcibiades party may have wrongly accused him of complicity in damaging the herms, but they were right in viewing him as a rtuhless and unscrupulous adventurer. Even before he was called back, he disclosed intelligence to the Athenians’ enemies. He then threw his lot in with the Spartans rather than face a trial. I don’t see a very close parallel with anyone prominent in our public life.
Since no one’s mentioned Michael Tennant’s illuminating article on Kristol, which I linked above, here is an excerpt. Aside from his claim that Strauss believed in progressivist globalism, which I’m not aware of, Tennant’s characterizaton of Kristol’s implied argument seems to be sound:
“So, says Kristol, ‘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.’ It’s easy to see the liberal—and, indeed, Straussian, as Kristol claims Leo Strauss as one of the forerunners of neoconservatism—mind at work here. We, the enlightened ones, will ‘convert’ you, the unenlightened, from your backward, parochial ways to our progressive, global ways; and we will do so against your will, by deception if possible, by force if necessary.”
As for Mr. Carpenter’s comment, far be it from me to defend the man whom Yeats called “that great rogue Alcibiades.”
This is unpleasant, but for a very different take on the Kristol article, here is the chief Lincoln hater at lewrockwell.com, Thomas DiLorenzo, turning his guns on Kristol. VFR’s and lewrockwell.com’s respective articles on the same subject provide a useful opportunity to compare the severe though civilized and rational critique of Kristol coming from a traditionalist conservative like myself, with the dripping-with-venom personal attack on Kristol and anyone associated with neoconservatism that comes from the pen of a leading paleo-libertarian like DiLorenzo. For example, since Kristol says neocons admire Theodore Roosevelt, DiLorenzo launches into an over-the-the top caricature of TR (going on for 600 words) as a literally insane person. A small but telling example of DiLorenzo’s sloppiness and rancorousness is his statement that neocons “affectionately call [Theodore Roosevelt] ‘TR.’” Well, my high school textbooks 35 years ago called him TR (as of course the country did at the time of his presidency), and I’ve often referred to him as TR myself ever since. But for DiLorenzo, since “TR” is a familiar or affectionate nickname, and since TR is an evil statist, and since the neocons are evil statists, “TR” must be portrayed as an exclusively _neocon_ nickname for him. Such are the mental workings of the truly obsessed.
Among the Rockwellites, DiLorenzo’s book on Lincoln is of course the bible of Lincoln hatred, continually cited by them as the last word on the subject.
One wonders how DiLorenzo fails to perceive how thoroughly his appalling bitterness discredits his own case. Surely this a case of “preaching to the choir,” with no attempt at persuasion of skeptical but not hostile outsiders.
Has DiLorenzo forgotten that he is writing about an 80-year-old man whose own essay contains hardly a hint of rancor?
I don’t think the mild expression “preaching to the choir” quite captures the quality of DiLorenzo’s article. It’s more like “ranting to his fellow inmates.”
Mr. Auster writes:
Krauthammer “COULD BE” calling for affirmative action and homosexual marriage…!!
Excuse me—Charles Krauthammer is AGAINST affirmative action and gay marriage. Does not the truth or the facts matter or is the accusation the only thing that is transcendent, Mr. Auster? .
Here’s what I wrote:
“Krauthammer could be calling for affirmative action and homosexual marriage, but as long as he was strong on Israel and the projection of American power abroad, people would think of him as a neoconservative.”
To anyone possessed of normal powers of reasoning and understanding, it would be apparent that I was describing a hypothetical situation: _IF_ Krauthammer had such positions, then people would still think of him as a neoconservative.
Despite several warnings by me, Mr. F. has persisted in demonstrating that he is below the minimal level of self-control and intelligence needed for participation at this site.
Mr. Auster writes:
“My problem with Mr. Poe’s agreement with Mr. Friedman’s underlying assumption (that neoconservatism is really a Jewish phenomenon and therefore, Mr. Friedman though not Mr. Poe believes, any criticism of neoconservatism is an attack on Jews) is that it would preclude any discussion of neoconservatism that did not deal with Jewishness and Jewish issues per se.”
A good point, Mr. Auster. I apologize if my remarks helped fuel Mr. Friedman’s uncivil ejaculations, which of course I deplore.
In fact, my question did not indicate agreement with Mr. Friedman, but rather curiosity to explore the question he had raised — a question that is by no means settled in my own mind. Unfortunately, Mr. Friedman’s intemperate outbursts probably confirm your suspicion that the question of neocon ethnocentrism, whatever its merits, may not lead this discussion in a constructive direction. I therefore withdraw it, with a most humble apology.
I am currently reading Richard Rosenfeld’s AMERICAN AURORA, which describes the battle between Tories and Jacobins in post-revolutionary Philadelphia over the Sedition Act of 1798.
In Rosenfeld’s book, the American Jacobins strikingly resemble today’s neocons in their messianic internationalism and their reckless embrace of modernity. One has the impression that they cherish the French Revolution more than their own. Their personal attacks on George Washington foreshadow the direst incivilities of the neocons.
These early American Jacobins numbered Thomas Jefferson among their sympathizers, so they plainly represent a strain of American thought with a long, if not exactly respectable, pedigree.
Whatever new energy the neocons brought to American Jacobinism, they plainly did not invent this ideology.
The 1790s were one of the most interesting decades in American political history. I’d like to read Rosenfeld’s book, as well as Ellis’s Founding Brothers. All the elements of leftist politics in America appeared then. The suspicion of authority, the wild charges of “fascism” (only then, the charge was monarchism, directed against Washington by Jefferson and his followers).
While I agree with Claes Ryn’s The New Jacobinism, which discusses the neoconservatives as a type of Jacobin, the analogy is obviously not a literal one, as the real Jacobins were leftist revolutionaries. Nevertheless there is an underlying shared assumption between the original, leftist Jacobins and today’s neoconservative Jacobins—that a single system, uncritically described by the neocons as “democracy”—can be exported to and made effective for the whole world. Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter each had articles last year (which I criticized at Front Page magazine) laying out an embarrassingly simpleminded formula of universal moral and political sameness: all people everywhere care about their children and don’t like to be treated brutally, and therefore all people want and are competent for democracy; and it is America’s mission to bring it to them. While this is not literally the leftist Jacobinism of the 1790s, it is a type of Jacobinism, and Ryn’s thesis is correct.
Another Jacobin element in the neocons is their uncritical—and therefore extremely dangerous—use of the word “democracy.” When you don’t qualify the word democracy with further concepts such as “constitutional,” “representative,” “checks and balances,” “mixed government,” and so on, you create the impression that you’re simply urging direct rule by the people. This assumes that the people are the sufficient source of wisdom and virtue and their will requires no checks or restraints. These are Rousseauist and Jacobin assumptions, not the assumptions that formed America.
I will take the plunge, and try out a definition of Neoconservatism here. I am not passionate about this idea or anything. It is just a couple thoughts that have temporarily congealed. So criticize away.
Neoconservativism is the mirror image — I know that you hate that term, Mr. Auster, but I could not resist — of Marxist Leftism. It is Capitalist Leftism. Marxism sees economic class as the fundamental evil of society, and seeks to eliminate it through equalization of results. Capitalism, on the other hand, fears unutilized resources. The only way to combat that is through equalization of opportunity.
Equalization of opportunity is not fundamentally a bad thing. But it allows the easy intellectual error of oversimplifying the human individual to be made. The utopian labor market is one where all labor is fully interchangeable and is rated only on the basis of economic skills. Discrimination based on any factor such as gender, culture, or sexual orientation, is economically destructive.
The Capitalist Leftists are clear on foreign policy. It is not democracy that is being built, but markets that are being opened. Democracy itself in Afghanistan would be nice, but is not nearly so important as the Afghanis sending their women to work. Iraq needed to be liberated simply to stop our sanctions on it. Israel is a no-brainer. Support a Western, goods producing society, or a non-producing, uneconomic, backwards group of savages?
Furthermore, for the Capitalist Leftist, all social institutions are economic in nature. The government exists to manage the economy. If the government discriminates against homosexuals in the way it taxes their economic unions (marriage), then the government is standing in the way of the economy. If one culture is favored above another, then inefficiencies are introduced. Religious bodies exist to manage the spiritual health of the workforce and will have to adapt just like business and governments adapt to changing economic times.
Certain problems begin to appear for this position, of course, when one realizes that raising children is the main capital investment of society. And the interchangeable worker becomes far less interchangeable when it comes to the importance of gender, culture, and sexual orientation in raising children. Perhaps this could be solved by the commoditizaton of children and caretakers, but that is decades off. The prefab option, however, of simply importing a high birth-rate population through immigration is an easy solution. That the uneducated people we import tend to leave their children similarly uneducated and therefore contribute little to GNP for generations is a fact that has yet to sink in. The other option of strong family and strong social institutions which support families and raising children is simply too ideologically messy to be considered as of yet.
I suppose that this would be incomplete without discussing the ethnic component of Neoconservatism. So what explains the substantial Jewish contribution to Neoconservatism?
First of all, where exactly are in the American political spectrum are you going to go to find a strong commitment to foreign interventionism abroad in favor of Israel? The Neoconservatives are not the only interventionists. But the other brand of interventionism, Leftist interventionism, is usually construed as interventionism to save the oppressed peoples of the world from their wealthy oppressors. (I do not mean interventionism here as primarily military.)
Israel would explain a part of the Jewish contribution, but not necessarily the entirety of it. The other explanatory factor, of course, is the nature of the Jewish community itself. Think of the cultural influence of the black community in the United States. Now imagine that they were 10 IQ points ahead of the white mean instead of 15 behind. Imagine that blacks had a per capita income double that of the rest of the country, and emphasized good educations and professional careers like doctor or lawyer for their children instead of gang banger, rap musician, or basketball player. Imagine also that they had one of the world’s oldest and most enduring monotheistic religions as the backbone of their culture instead of a mixture of that black Muslim junk, pop-ideology, and traditional Christianity. That is the enviable position of Jews in our society.
And as a wealthy and often persecuted minority (not to mention Left-leaning as a group), some Jews find Neoconservatism to be a good fit. They make up many of its strongest proponents because they bring to it the intellectual curiosity and dedication that they bring to every other activity associated with Jewish efforts.
Here is a test case for the “proposition nation” theory: According to recent newspaper articles on the history of Liberia, that country was founded with both a Declaration of Independence and a Constitution that were modeled after our own.
Thus, we should be able to examine Liberia and determine whether it is a shared cultural, legal, moral and religious heritage, including all accompanying institutions and their “institutional memories”, that truly determines the quality of life in a country, or whether that quality of life is determined by founding legal documents, universal suffrage, etc.
A good argument. But even when they are proved wrong, I don’t think it would make any difference to them, because it’s becoming increasingly clear how _unserious_ they have been all along. They would throw arguments around, not because they believed them, but because they were convenient. “Immigrants are rapidly assimilating,” “All people are capable of democracy,” “America has always been a country based on ideas, not on ethnicity and culture,” “The Civil Rights movement was about race-blindness,” “Americans are better and better off”—they repeated these and other slogans because they served their purpose in a given situation. In fact, the mid-’90s, they even began indulging in rhetoric about “returning to the smaller government of the Founders.” They were never engaged in or serious about these issues. All along they’ve had some agenda of their own, having something to do with “placing” themselves in a certain way in relation to American politics, looking out for themselves. Their arguments were just about protecting their position.
But most important is immigration. The role the neoconservatives have played in silencing any serious discussion (or even thought) about immigration among mainstream conservatives is something for which they will deserve the condemnation of history—if there is anyone left to write history.
“The role the neoconservatives have played in silencing any serious discussion (or even thought) about immigration among mainstream conservatives is something for which they will deserve the condemnation of history — if there is anyone left to write history.”
The other question, of course, is why there haven’t been more commentators of the calibre, clear sightedness, and integrity of Jim Kalb, Lawrence Auster, Prof. Paul Gottfried, Peter Brimelow, Rep. Tom Tancredo, and all the others who are speaking up on immigration (including, by the way, Joe Guzzardi, who has now bravely entered the running for the governorship of California)? There’s only so much arm-twisting the neo-cons can do before independent thinkers with integrity start to realize that, hey, having their arm twisted doesn’t hurt all that much and they’re still going to speak the truth on this issue. So, the real question remains, “Why are there so many people out there who are so afraid of Jonah Goldberg and Michael Barone?”
(Incidentally, whoever would’ve thought in, say, 1990 that within less than ten years William F. Buckley, Jr., would have to be counted among the ranks of the neo-cons? Truth can be stranger than fiction, as the saying goes. One of the strangest of recent truths to emerge is that Buckley is now become — yes — a neo-con.)
Lawrence Auster states: “Nevertheless there is an underlying shared assumption between the original, leftist Jacobins and today’s neoconservative Jacobins—that a single system, uncritically described by the neocons as “democracy”—can be exported to and made effective for the whole world.”
But why is that? I think you need to step back a bit. The real flaw in neoconservative thought is a style of reasoning. It places excess emphasis on abstract theories and tends to ignore the need for empirical evidence of a very complicated world. This is the problem with the ideologues on the Left and this love of abstract models seems a characteristic more of the Left than the Right. Supposedly scientific Marxism was wholly unempirical. The Marxists dreamt up an abstract political system and kept trying to force it upon real world humans whose natures were not compatible with the assumptions underlying Marxist ideology.
Ideologues have an unwarranted belief in their ability to abstract away the key elements of human nature and society and to come up with a system of tightly constructed all-encompassing principles to organize human society. They love abstract models. Their minds run too easily toward constructing abstract models that are not supported by empirical evidence in part because it simply isn’t possible to collect enough empirical evidence from which to distill a perfect model. Yet they are obsessed with their models and so they build and believe in them anyhow.
I’ve written my own critique of Kristol’s essay which contrasts the empirical mindset with the ideological mindset. http://www.parapundit.com/archives/001600.html#001600
Mr. Parker wrote, in the blog entry at his site,
“The sorts of political decisions that work in a homogeneous society can start failing to work if a society becomes racially or culturally or in some other way more varied.”
The side urging caution in regard to committing ethnolysis by excessive incompatible immigration (the side represented by www.Vdare.com and www.Counterrevolution.net/vfr as well as by other voices arrayed on the side of truth and morality) deserves an answer to this aspect of its critique of ethnolytic immigration. But it can wait for that answer until doomsday, if it wants: none will be forthcoming, because the liars making up the other side know they haven’t got any answer.
Did William F. Buckley, Jr., the neo-con, hear what I just said? I called him a liar — yes, him — the man I and so many others used to revere.
He’s become a pathetic non-entity now — or worse, a force for wrong. Who would’ve believed it possible?
Read “Culture of Critique” by Kevin Macdonald. The entire political scene of the last 50 years will be clearer. This is a very exhaustive study of politican movements in America and the reasons for them. Astounding!!! A real eye-opener to me.
Marvelous. Another convert to the secret “truth” which explains all the ills of our civilization to simple minds looking for a reason to hate Jews. Well, now I’m off.