Bronze-level articleNeoconservatism

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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." Well, their version of reality, anyway.

Its adherents are often referred to as "neocons."[1]

Contents

[edit] Origins

Neoconservatism first manifested in the early 1970s. It started among disaffected – mostly Jewishliberals 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"[2] 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 what they saw as decreasing levels of support for Israel.[3]

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.[4]

[edit] 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 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.

[edit] 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.[5] 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.

The much more low-brow neoconconservative pundit Dennis Prager also authored a book similar to Fukuyama's called Still the Best Hope, which set forth a vision of the world in which people worldwide would embrace "American values" afer the liberal media, universities and politicians could no longer dupe the public into voting left-wing, after which the world would largely embrace American ultraconservatism which would result in the fall of "leftism" and Islamic fundamentalism and leave neoconservatism as the most widely embraced ideology in the world for the foreseeable future. Sound familiar?

[edit] Reagan administration

Neocon ideas were given its first 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.)

[edit] 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.

In the fall of 1998, neocons supported the passage of the Iraq Liberation Act[6] which established the official policy of the United States "to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government." One of the first major actions from this new policy occurred in December 1998 when Clinton initiated the Operation Desert Fox bombing campaign against Iraqi targets.

[edit] 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 (it seems they ignored Deng Xiaopeng[wp]), or else to lessen China's influence in the rest of the world, thus increasing the power of the US even further.

However, after 9/11, they switched priorities to the Middle East. Neocons are credited with refocusing attention on Iraq by continuing the policy set forth in the aforementioned Iraq Liberation Act and planned to use a "democratic" Iraq to help democratize the whole region. This plan was idiotically idealistic (probably even utopian), and pursued by President Bush.[7]

[edit] 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 neoconservatism in an intellectually honest way.

It is not anti-Semitic to attempt to discuss how neoconservatism came about by looking at the context of America as Jewish intellectuals experienced it at the time, just as it is far from racist to try to understand how the Nation of Islam or the Black Panthers emerged by examining the black intellectual experience of life in America at the time. There are pockets of extremism in every movement, and neocons have arguably exacerbated tensions in the Palestinian statehood debate by yelling that anyone that doesn't accept their view is an anti-Semite.

As a matter of fact, the majority of American Jews do not think of themselves as neocons, and are in fact very liberal.[8] 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 publicly — though he hated Israel and the Jews privately), and starting in 2015, there will be precisely zero Jewish Republicans in Congress.[9] 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.[10]

Additionally, many of the most publicly recognizable neoconservatives are not Jewish, such as Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and Dubya.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Footnotes

  1. 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...
  2. Because we all know who escalated Vietnam.
  3. Neocon 101: Some Basic Questions Answered, Christian Science Monitor
  4. Why Neoconservatism Still Matters, Brookings Institution
  5. "After Neoconservatism", The New York Times
  6. Public Law 105-338
  7. It is said that some neocons, such as Kirkpatrick, did not support the President's plan, or the way he conducted it; 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.
  8. Why Jewish Americans vote Democratic, The Guardian
  9. The GOP just lost its only non-Christian in Congress, Washington Post
  10. And the neocons declared victory with the "historic low" of Jewish support for Democrats (no really, they're that desperate).
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