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Neoconservatism is a particular brand of American conservatism, remarkably different from other brands of American political philosophy. During the George W. Bush administration and onward, more attention has been paid to this movement than in the past.
However, it is very poorly understood by the average citizen. It was probably best defined by the values of the Project for a New American Century, a neocon think tank headed by William Kristol, whose father, Irving Kristol, was a key founder of neoconservatism, and who characterized a neoconservative as a "liberal mugged by reality."
Its adherents are often referred to as "neocons."
Neoconservatism first manifested in the early 1970s. It started among disaffected – mostly Jewish – liberals and some former leftists (yeah, we know it doesn't make sense) from the Schactmanite branch of Trotskyism who were upset at mainstream liberalism's "unwillingness" to confront the Soviet Union and its soft stance on national security, and aversion to the counterculture. Also of importance to the early neoconservatives was decreasing levels of support for Israel.
Together, they forged a vision of an interventionist US that acted muscularly abroad to support human rights, democracy, and free markets (the last was seen as essential in protecting the first two). Yet early neoconservatives were also relatively comfortable with the level of state welfare. Both their interventionism and their commitment to free trade made them remarkably different from the rest of the conservative tradition; nonetheless, they became part of the broader New Right coalition during the 1970s and 1980s.
 Leo Strauss
The political philosopher Leo Strauss is cited as a founding influence of neoconservatism. Strauss, who had been reading Plato a little too much, mistook that philosopher's Republic for a fucking how-to manual, and actually started believing in such concepts as the "noble lie," by which elites are justified in duping the hoi polloi so long as it is for the common good.
Among Strauss's former students are such neoconservative personages as Paul Wolfowitz, Allan Bloom, Harry V. Jaffa, and Abram Shulsky.
 Marxist influence
Neoconservatism has, it is posited, been influenced by many of its founders being ex-communists. The idea of forcibly spreading democracy and free markets throughout the world is parallel to the Communist idea of a world revolution.
The political philosopher Francis Fukuyama stated that his book, The End of History, which was written from a neoconservative perspective, set forth an essentially Marxist vision of social evolution with liberal democracy replacing pure communism as the final state of society. He furthered this parallel by stating that the Bush administration's sort of neoconservatism was a form of Leninism, i.e., a sort in which an elite vanguard tries to push the revolution forward when the proles won't.
 Reagan administration
Neocon ideas were given some weight during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. In particular, Jeane Kirkpatrick was made ambassador to the UN, and often had the president's ear on foreign policy. However, they did not have a full lock on foreign policy yet. Moreover, as most neocons were still rather liberal regarding domestic policy, they were not given any role in that field. (Most neocons would go on to become more traditionally conservative in this field as well as time passed.)
 Clinton administration
During the presidency of Bill Clinton, the neocons worked to develop a full plan for foreign policy in the post-Cold War era. Foremost in this plan was the idea that the US, as the world's sole hyperpower, should work to remold the world in its image. This meant spreading free markets and elections. Think tanks were founded, and grand manifestos were written.
 Bush II administration
When George W. Bush became president, he brought many well-known neocons (Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, among others), with him into foreign policy roles. The original plan had been to provoke confrontation with China, in an effort to either push China into reforming, or else to lessen China's influence in the rest of the world, thus increasing the power of the US.
However, after 9/11, they switched priorities to the Muslim world. Neocons are credited with focusing attention on Iraq, and coming up with the plan to use a "democratic" Iraq to help democratize the whole region. This plan was idiotically idealistic (probably even utopian), and pursued by President Bush.
 A Jew and a neocon walk in to a bar...
The fact that the original neocon movement was largely composed of Jewish people has led to some interesting rhetorical and argumentative problems. Some people have been willing to engage in rank anti-Semitism in arguing about neocons and their ambitions. (This has come in the form of calling them a part of the "Zionist conspiracy" or even rude things about noses.) On the other hand, some defenders of neocons have claimed that all criticism of them is actually just a masked way of criticizing Jews. Both reactions have made it extemely difficult to talk about neoconservatives in an intellectually honest way.
Oddly enough, the vast majority of American Jews do not think of themselves as neocons, and are in fact very liberal. No Republican presidential candidate has ever gained more than 40% of the Jewish-American vote since the 1940s (the high water mark was 1972 and only because of the fact that Nixon strongly supported Israel), and there is precisely one Jewish Republican (Eric Cantor) in Congress (although
some most might characterize "Independent Democratic" Senator Joe Lieberman as a neocon). Nonetheless, this does not stop people like Bill Kristol from occasionally claiming that Jews are or should be conservatives. Some neocons predicted that 2008 would be the year the Jewish vote tipped towards the Republican Party, but according to CNN exit polls 78% voted for Barack Obama. In 2012, 69% did so again.
Additionally, many of the most publicly recognizable neoconservatives are not Jewish, such as Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and Dubya.
 See also
- Noble lies and perpetual war: Leo Strauss, the neo-cons, and Iraq
- The Power of Nightmares: Three part BBC documentary juxtaposing the rise of Straussian neo-cons and Islamic fundamentalism.
- Why Straussianism? by John Hickman. Theorizing the attraction of Straussianism.
- ↑ The term is sometimes thrown around indiscriminately to describe other American conservatives, but properly only applies to those described in this article. Not to say there's no overlap, but...
- ↑ Because we all know who started Vietnam.
- ↑ "After Neoconservatism"
- ↑ It is said that some neocons, such as Kirkpatrick, did not support the President's plan, or the way he conducted the war. However, none of them spoke up before the war. Several hardline neocons left the movement feeling that the current administration had corrupted it, most notably, Francis Fukuyama.