October 4th, 2007

Reports of neoconservatism’s death greatly exaggerated?

When I decided to call myself neo-neocon, I was only vaguely aware of how much hatred the term engenders. But many trolls and hate mail letters later, I’m far better informed on that score.

I’ve done my bit to explain the current state of neoconservative thought and to try to correct misunderstandings about what neocons stand for (click on the topic “neocons” on the right sidebar for the links).

I’ve been impressed by a recent effort in that direction written by Joshua Muravchik of the American Enterprise Institute and appearing in that well-known neocon rag Commentary. It’s long and yet succinct, packing a great deal of thoughtful information into one piece, well worth reading for anyone who retains an open mind and a serious interest in the subject.

Muravchik’s thesis could be summarized—to paraphrase Winston Churchill’s famous dictum on democracy—as “neoconservatism is the worst way to deal with Islamofascism, except for all the other ways that have been proposed or tried from time to time.”

Muravchik takes the long view, starting with the birth of neoconservatism and its successes against Communism and the Soviets, and segueing into a cogent analysis of the Iraq War so far (its not as good as one would have hoped, not as bad as critics say, and—more importantly—showing signs of progress if we don’t give up prematurely).

Here are Muravchik’s four tenets of neoconservatism:

(1) Our struggle is moral, against an evil enemy who revels in the destruction of innocents. Knowing this can help us assess our adversaries correctly and make appropriate strategic choices. Saying it convincingly will strengthen our side and weaken theirs. (2) The conflict is global, and outcomes in one theater will affect those in others. (3) While we should always prefer nonviolent methods, the use of force will continue to be part of the struggle. (4) The spread of democracy offers an important, peaceful way to weaken our foe and reduce the need for force…..

[A] coherent approach, essentially similar to the one by means of which we won the cold war. By contrast, liberals and realists have no coherent approach to suggest…

The extremity of the hatred of neocons has a number of origins (see this and this). It’s become a phrase that’s almost devoid of its true meaning, and used as a substitute for pejorative terms such as “Fascist” or “bigot” or “warmonger.” Agree or disagree with neocon philosophy, but at least learn what it actually is. Muravchik’s article is an excellent way to go about doing just that.

[NOTE: The title of my post comes from Mark Twain's response to his obituary that appeared prematurely in the New York Journal.]

[ADDENDUM: The NY Times chimes in on the demonizing of "neocon," comparing it to the process by which "liberal" became a dirty word a while back.]

38 Responses to “Reports of neoconservatism’s death greatly exaggerated?”

  1. expat Says:

    I think the leftists (and I include the European anti-Americans in this group) do have an approach. It’s to feed their enemies to the crocodile first.

  2. gcotharn Says:

    Muravchik:

    (1) Our struggle is moral, against an evil enemy who revels in the destruction of innocents. Knowing this can help us assess our adversaries correctly and make appropriate strategic choices.

    [Bolding is mine.]

    If knowing this is part of what defines a neocon, then not knowing this must define many persons who are not neocons.

    Thus Murachik asserts my favorite points:
    a) Americans vastly disagree about what constitutes the threat
    b) in large part because Americans vastly disagree about the purpose of existence.

    For instance, Americans who espouse a wish “to change the world” typically either ignore the existence of the threat, or define the threat in a vastly different way from Americans who do not espouse the “change the world” cannard.

    Thus Americans cannot agree on a solution. Think of math problems:

    The Left:
    1 + 3 = 4
    The solution is 4!
    The solution is 4!
    The solution is 4!
    Neocons are evil!

    Neocons:
    2 + 3 = 5
    The solution is 5!
    The solution is 5!
    The solution is 5!
    The Left is stupid!

    Other Americans:
    2 = 4 = 6
    The solution is 6!
    The solution is 6!
    The solution is 6!
    We have the true solution!

    By all means: everyone keep shouting!

  3. gcotharn Says:

    2 + 4 = 6.

    long day.

  4. Juneaudraig Says:

    I followed your links back to your earlier writings on the hatred of neocons and the caballistic conspiracies so many attribute to them. It is ironic that, out of these groups(especially on the left) the are so quick to throw the tag “Nazi” on anyone professing a remotely neocon ideology.

    I thought that the progressives and other liberals were supposed to be open-minded thinkers. It has been my experience that they are among the most intolerant and closed-minded.

  5. sergey Says:

    The spectrum of opinions on international policy is wider than dichotomy neocons-liberals. Recently I read a blog NewEnglishReview, with such pundits as Hugh Fitzgerald and John Derbysire, who hardly fit in either category, and left some comments there. There is some scornful mockery of Gen. Petreus, more vicious than that from Democrats, but they are no advocats of religion of peace, for sure. Some of them write in FrontPageMagazine, more or less “neoconic” in sence of fierce opposition to the Left, but do not mince words to critisize “compassionate conservatism” of Bush or utopical naivete of Wolfkowitz and other proponents of promoting democracy in Arab world.

  6. stumbley Says:

    gocotharn:

    The “left’s” math should read:

    1 + 3 = 5

    “…because I feel that it’s true…”

  7. Thomas Says:

    On the NYTimes comparing neocon to liberal… The NYT also just wrote an article trying to compare what is going on with Rush to the backlash against moveon’s betrayus ad… Sort of a moral equivalence pattern I think (liberals love bad moral equivalence arguments)…

    I think my favorite anecdote to liberals supposedly being unfairly smeared was Hillary dogging the term saying it had a negative connotation for being for big government. Said she preferred the term progressive (as if that were any different). In her next sentence she argued for universal coverage… not for just the needy mind you, ‘universal’. No big government type there. Nope.

  8. Fraggle Rock Says:

    Neo-con is almost a popular euphemism for “Republican jew”, or “conservative jew” or “jew who isn’t an ardent socialist or communist”

  9. agip Says:

    Actually, 2+2 = 5, for sufficiently large values of 2..

  10. Donald Douglas Says:

    I thought of you first thing when I saw the Muravchik piece!

    I read it last night, and his conclusion was awesome: Neoconservatism’s the only game in town!

    Keep it up over here!

    Here’s my piece, by the way, on the media’s delegitimization of American soldiers as heroes:

    http://burkeanreflections.blogspot.com/2007/10/our-soldiers-modern-american-heroes.html

  11. Tatterdemalian Says:

    The media’s formula:

    2 + 2 = 5.
    Peace is war.
    Slavery is freedom.
    Strength is ignorance.

  12. Lee Says:

    “Peace is the absence of opposition to socialism.”

    http://www.thepeoplescube.com/

  13. camojack Says:

    When people call me a neocon, I tell them I’m a paleocon, if anything…

  14. Roland Dodds Says:

    I will be an ardent liberal till I die, but if the definition of a neocon is the one Muravchik stated, than I am also one of those. I have supported the “neocon” agenda for 2 years now, and I figure I might was well buy that suit if it fits.

  15. RattlerGator Says:

    Great post.

    And sergey, of course the spectrum is wider. Neoconservativism bridges the center-left and the center-right. Not the entirety of the center-left nor that of the center-right. As such, it sits out there. In both political cultures but not claimed by either. Yet another tribute to the genius of America.

  16. Trimegistus Says:

    It’s been my experience that people who use “neocon” as an insult are just too shrewd or cowardly to say “dirty Jew.” But that’s what they mean, and that’s what their listeners hear and understand.

    It also simplifies the process of creating political invective: just get a bunch of Dr. Goebbels’s old rants, do a search-and-replace, and you’re all set.

  17. nyomythus Says:

    Not Neocon but Classical Liberal is what I prefer; though I admit a close alliance between the two.

  18. Danny Lemieux Says:

    I believe that you have overlooked one very important reason for why the Left hates Neo-cons: Neo-cons are former liberals that joined the conservative movement (although, as Reagan and Jeanne Kirkpatrick described it, it is the Liberals that left the neo-cons). Ergo neo-cons are traitors to the Liberal/Left cause, all the more so because they lift a mirror to the Left’s own lies, distortions, and hypocrisies.

    Like Muslim Jihadis versus apostates, the Left does not countenance “heretics” who deny their cause. They never forgave Nixon for exposing Alger Hiss, they never forgave Lieberman for disagreeing with them on Iraq, and they never forgave Clarence Thomas, Linda Chavez, Antonio Gonzales and other conservative minorities for being “uppity” and showing anything but undying gratitude for everything they have been given in life by their overseers on the Left.

  19. Tatterdemalian Says:

    “Not Neocon but Classical Liberal is what I prefer; though I admit a close alliance between the two.”

    There isn’t a neocon alive that doesn’t think of himself or herself as more a classical liberal. Neocon is just a perjorative the postmodern left has branded us with. We use it in sarcasm, they use it in deadly seriousness. w

  20. Judith L Says:

    I moved from left to right in the late ’80′s–after the Reagan Dems and before the 9/11 Dems. And my initial move was because I was teaching research writing and I began to see the layered error in “Social Science” research. For want of a better label, I call myself a Neocon. My lib/progressive friends–those I still have– avoid all political topics of conversations with me.

  21. Eric Chen Says:

    Neoconservatism is just classic Wilsonian Liberalism by another name – the same liberalism championed by Wilson, FDR, Truman and JFK, and since given reverent lip service by US leaders. President Bush’ foreign policy since 9/11 falls in that tradition.

    However, morally relative liberals are nothing like classic liberals. They are not the worst enemy of liberalism, though. The most damaging enemy to liberalism is the realist school, which is a right-of-center conservative movement. Realists cause much more damage to our current-day liberal missions because many realists are respected as Cold War champions. They are obsolete in the current war, but still influential in the military, political and academic communities due to the standing they earned in ‘their’ war.

  22. Eric Chen Says:

    … and yes, I consider myself and proudly call myself a liberal.

  23. Ymarsakar Says:

    neocon is more important to the Left because it fits in their narrative of neo-fascist jackboots, like Blackwater, the Marines, etc.

  24. Ymarsakar Says:

    People might have noticed but usually Leftists talk about Trotsky in relation to neoconservatism. This is important since Trotsky was purged by Stalin, because Lenin’s death letters said that Trotsky was better fit to lead the Communist Revolution than Stalin. Stalin disagreed.

    People may mention the ideological differences between Trotsky and Stalin, but the real friction was because Stalin wanted it all for himself. When the Left wants something for themselves, and you get in their way, they are not going to treat you well, whether you be neo-con or neo-liberal.

    This from San Francisco sums things up.

    She is like the neocons who draw their inspiration from Irving Kristol, an associate, close colleague, and committed follower of Leon Trotsky, founder of the Red Army. Where Trotsky once preached global revolution and argued that communism could only succed if it was a global phenomenon, the neocons advocate spreading democracy at the barrel of a gun and pan-Islamic regional transformation that seeks to coercively deracinate Muslim culture – an overreaching and self-destructive ideology that can scarcely be believed to be “conservative.”

  25. In Defense Of Neoconservatism Says:

    [...] found the Muravchik essay on the neo-neocon blog, which should already be in the bookmarks of PW readers. Neo-neocon herself has an excellent [...]

  26. sergey Says:

    My only disagreement with neoconservatism is its naive belief that democracy can be introduced or transplanted everywhere and make root. This was the main thesis of Fukuyama. But democracy makes sense only as a form of representation of different factions of a civil society. In its essence it is all-encompassing compromise, so it requires as its precondition a culture of compromise and tolerance. Where these conditions are not met, it is either impossible, or is a prelude to brutal civil war or totalitarian regime (Old Russia, Weimar Germany). It can’t function properly where civil society is absent, or culture of violence prevail, as in Arab world. In such circumstances an autocratic rule is preferable.

  27. Tatterdemalian Says:

    Except for one huge difference, Ymarsakar… Neocons are nowhere near as doctrinate as Trotskyites. We actually want to build a better world, not force people into some model of “better.” To that end, we do research and experiments, and listen to honest criticism at least the first time we hear it. Most importantly, should our plans fall apart on being put into practice, we consider it a failure of our plans, rather than a failure of the world to recognize our genius, as Trotsky did, or the work of invisible superhuman saboteurs determined to humiliate us, as Stalin obsessed over. They were believers; we are engineers.

  28. Bugs Says:

    I tend to agree with sergey – Democracy can only function under certain conditions. When tribal, religious, and ethnic identities are more “real” to people than the more abstract national identity, only limited compromise will be possible.

    Think of the American Civil War – when the nation as a whole broke down because people considered their regional and local interests more important than unity. And at that point, we already had a functioning democracy thanks largely to our dominant English culture. How much harder is it for people with no such tradition, and for whom the nation is mainly something imposed on them by invaders or tyrants?

    I’m not saying we can’t plant democracy in other parts of the world. But I don’t think it should be a major part of our foreign policy. People in other countries should be responsible for their own politics. These people are supposed to be grown-ups, correct? Why can they not run their countries like grown-ups? We shouldn’t be the global nursery-nanny, running around chastising naughty nations when they misbehave. Maybe that makes me not a neocon.

  29. Xanthippas Says:

    Even if you use the term only in the sense that Muravchik does, neocons are still obstinate fools.

  30. Xanthippas Says:

    To that end, we do research and experiments, and listen to honest criticism at least the first time we hear it. Most importantly, should our plans fall apart on being put into practice, we consider it a failure of our plans, rather than a failure of the world to recognize our genius

    That is a truly Orwellian statement.

  31. Ymarsakar Says:

    We shouldn’t be the global nursery-nanny, running around chastising naughty nations when they misbehave. Maybe that makes me not a neocon.

    Even if we should do so, we can’t due to the amount of incompetent and corrupt bureacrats that need purging in the US government and policy level sphere.

  32. Ymarsakar Says:

    That is a truly Orwellian statement.

    Orwell did good work. If the Left studied him more, they might be more adept at masking their propaganda campaigns like Haditha.

  33. Lee Says:

    Tatterdemalian says neocons are “self-critical”. How does that translate to “orwellian”, Xanth? How does reflecting on one’s mistakes with an eye toward improvement become a “totaliatarian nightmare”?
    As opposed to the “liberal stubbornness” of lefties like you, Xanth?

  34. Lee Says:

    Maybe Xanth and the lefties adhere to the notion of “infallability”, like the Catholic Church.

  35. Tatterdemalian Says:

    “These people are supposed to be grown-ups, correct? Why can they not run their countries like grown-ups?”

    Because just because someone is supposed to be a grown-up doesn’t mean that they are. In fact, many cultures actively discourage Western civilization’s idea of “grown-up,” which makes such concepts as treaties and negotiations a waste of time.

  36. Tatterdemalian Says:

    “How does reflecting on one’s mistakes with an eye toward improvement become a “totaliatarian nightmare”?”

    It actually could become one, if the reflection is not performed on the whole as well as the parts. Nazi Germany continuously refined its methods for convincing people to persecute Jews, often going as far as devoting entire SS departments to researching ways to ruin the reputations of individual Jews who happened to be particularly respected or well-liked in their communities. The process of experimentation and peer review was followed to the letter, but not one of the people involved ever questioned whether their goal, namely the demonization and eventual annihilation of loyal citizens for the “crime” of being Jewish, was right or wrong.

    In the case of sowing democracy and/or spreading US culture, though, I think we’re solidly in the right. The simple fact is that other nations want what we have, and are willing to kill us for it, in the superstitious belief that cutting open the goose that laid the golden egg will reveal all the golden eggs it was hoarding. One option is to let ourselves be destroyed, and hope these other nations learn from the aftermath that we were not a nation of superhuman thieves, but just a nation of ordinary people that happened to hold a set of beliefs that propelled us to superpower status; this is the option our left would have us choose. Another option, favored by the right, is to fight back against anyone that takes a stab at us. We could do that, though our eventual win would probably be at the cost of rendering 90% of the planet uninhabitable, including most of our own territory.

    The neocon option is to teach these morons to lay their own damned golden eggs, if they want them so badly. Even if that means we have to make them walk like a goose, honk like a goose, and grow feathers like a goose to do it.

  37. Ymarsakar Says:

    Tatterdemalian says neocons are “self-critical”. How does that translate to “orwellian”, Xanth?

    Orwellian in the sense of an amateur’s understanding of 1984, when war is peace and the ministry of truth is the ministry of lies. It means that as you say one thing, the truth is entirely 180 degrees from what you said. So he sees it as “Orwellian” because he believes neo-cons are the opposite of self-critical and believes you all are lying. Or simply deceived.

    What I described is not the fundamental core of what Orwell wrote about in 1984 though. Orwell had two notable themes or schools in which he described in his book. One was doublethink and the other one was EngSoc.

    Doublethink is the ability to hold two or more contradictory beliefs in your head at the same time. Both are seen by you as true, at the same time. This has interesting implications, which I will develop later.

    The other was English Socialism or EngSoc, the new English vocabulary designed to delete words from the human language in order to prevent humans from even thinking about it. This is different from doublethink in that language controls whether you think of something at all, since it is why we came up with language in the first place. One must have words before we can manipulate or even have abstract thoughts. Doublethink allowed you to equate two different things as if they were true, such as terrorism and the United States, while at the same time recognizing where they are different and exploiting it.

    The reporters, or traitors whatever you prefer, know that the terrorists will punish and execute them if they bring the terrorists bad press and the reporters also know that the United States will do little to them, unless they attack a Democrat, if they give the US bad press. Yet at the same time, American freedom fighters are the same as terrorists and Bin Laden. That is doublethink. It is a very flexible method of self-deception that allows a person to function in a war both without and within. It is very similar to the removal of a person’s consciencei n order to make him a remorseless and merciless killer. When a person has successfully achieved doublethink, triplethink, etc, then they are able to be programmed with the right beliefs and set out to assassinate and destroy whatever targets they were designed to destroy. The Left were designed by the Soviets to weaken and destroy American culture, patriotism, beliefs, etc. for example.

    You may think of political correctness as a crude attempt at language control. Chomsky is a notable author concerning linguistics and also took part in the Cognitive School of Psychology. He knows quite well how language controls thought and how thought controls actions and behaviors. It is why so many people believe Chomsky is reasoned, wise, and knowledgeable. Disbelieve if you wish, but those folks do exist and they are everywhere.

    All in all, doublethink allows the Left to disengage from reality when they come up with propaganda. So you will hear many things from the Left concerning how the US should be better than the terrorists and are better than the terrorists, but also at the same time you will hear, often from the same people, that the United States cannot defeat terrorism. If we are better than terrorists, why would then we not be able to defeat someone inferior to us? To such people on the Left, the question never comes up, because the question is not possible given their programming. THey can’t even think of it nor can they even wonder what they should think of it.

    There are certain degrees of flexibility. For example, look at the Islamic Jihad. Their sort of doublethink concerning Allah is very logical and straight forward. Anything that goes against Allah in terms of say… freedom to choose which god to worship and god or anything else of that matter, must be put to the death, converted, or enslaved. Their foundations for their beliefs are pretty straight forward in this sense, very simple compared to a Leftist’s various political and philosophical beliefs. Oh, those are tangled up quite well, in fact.

    Anyone can join the Left, just look at Donald. You don’t have to be a believer in socialism to be a Leftist. You can know as much about history as Victor Davis Hanson and be able to quote military tactics like Petraeus, but in the end you are only as good as human fallibility allows you to be. If a person has an intense enough hatred and amount of bitterness, then this source of hatred will allow them to derive or obtain doublethink. This makes them intellectually honest, but intellectual honest is not the objective when it comes to destroying that which they hate and despise. After all, this tactic is explored in American Total War as well. Why would you give comfort to your enemy, when you are still at war with them? It is a tactic. Doublethink is a tactic and can be used for good or evil. People do it all the time when they accept paradoxes. Think about it, why is the West so weak in terms of its ability to defend itself yet so powerful economically? Is that not a paradox, one that contains two contradictory beliefs?

    So doublethink is a human ability, similar but not the same as self-deception. Computers cannot lie or do doublethink since computers know only ones and zeros. Both their hardware and their digital systems rely upon such, and if they get an “amibiguous answer”, then problems may occur. There are “don’t cares” in which either a 1 or a zero may apply, but wouldn’t change anything, but obviously in human affairs it would change things if America was weak or if it was strong.

    There are paradoxes all around. Sometimes we find out why, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes the Left cares, most of the time they don’t.

    An easy example would be to remember why in 1984 the Minsitry of Propaganda is called and believed to be the Ministry of Truth. How can propaganda be both lies and truth at the same time and place? There are ways and methods for the human mind to justify and self-rationalize conflicting and contradictory beliefs. It is why humans still deceive themselves, even after so long a climb towards self-awareness, civilization, and technological supremacy. For the Ministry of Truth, you may see the truth as containing the fact that “if you don’t believe it is the truth, you will be punished”. That is true, after all, so it is not a stretch to think of the Ministry of Truth as containing truth. The truth of your destruction, if nothing else. But it is also true it is the Ministry of Propaganda and Lies. People back in Saddam’s days had this duality. Same for the Soviets. You had to be able to switch your brain from one set of facts to another, else you would be destroyed.

    Remember when the Soviets were allied with the Nazis? How do you think they justified it to their citizens, via the NKVD, that the Soviets are now at war with their former allies against their former enemies, the Capitalistic pigs of the West? Doublethink.

    The Left has a very nice control of doublethink over their legions and minions. The Republicans not so much, they got too many standards and ethics that chain them down. Which is why they, the Republicans, are unable to circle the wagons and defend people accused of unethical actions in Congress, like the Democrats do with Jeffery, Murtha, etc..

  38. Latest Book Reviews Says:

    Latest Book Reviews…

    I couldn’t understand some parts of this article, but it sounds interesting…

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About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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