Late last night Jack asked me for a definition of neo-conservatism. Or maybe he asked me for the relationship between conservative and neo-conservative. The question, whatever it was, was clearly some sort of test. Was I using ‘neo-con’ in order to accurately describe the person we were discussing or was I just labelling him with a pejorative epithet?*
We agreed that the relationship neo-conservatism has with conservatism is much like the relationship neo-Nazism has with Nazism. That is to say, the only relationship is an imagined one that the neophytes have conjured into existence.
Today I went looking for a definition of American conservatism. I found what I was after in the American Conservative Union’s Statement of Principles, which outlines the beliefs that we describe as conservative.
Conservatism is belief in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and belief in inherent individual rights and strictly limited government. It is a belief that capitalism is the only economic system that is compatible with liberty, and government must not interfere with it. It is also belief that it is the responsibility of every individual citizen to safeguard his own rights and to join together with other citizens to protect those rights when they are threatened.
Now it’s time to examine what neo-conservatives stand for.
Paul Craig Robert calls the Bush-Cheney administration “America’s first neoconservative regime.” In his latest article, Americans Have Lost Their Country, Roberts points out that, amongst other things, our current government “has destroyed the Bill of Rights, the separation of powers, the Geneva Conventions, and the remains of America’s moral reputation…” Roberts believes that “neoconservatives believe that they have a monopoly on virtue and the right to impose hegemony on the rest of the world.”
Welcome to The New Amerika.
But maybe I am not being fair, and I should let the neo-cons speak for themselves. I found this article that was written by Irving Kristol, “the godfather” of neo-conservatism, in which he purports to define the “persuasion” that is neo-conservatism.
According to Kristol, neo-cons believe in capitalism and economic growth. But neo-cons are happy to put up with budget deficits “as the cost of pursuing economic growth” and they like a strong government as long as it’s not “overly intrusive”. Neo-cons worry about our culture, that it is declining and “sinking to new levels of vulgarity”. Neo-cons “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 then Kristol moves to foreign policy, which he boils down to patriotism and an extensive definition of what comprises our “national interest”. I am going to let Project for the New American Century speak for the neo-cons on this concept.
We aim to change this. We aim to make the case and rally support for American global leadership…
We need to increase defense spending significantly if we are to carry out our global responsibilities today and modernize our armed forces for the future;
We need to strengthen our ties to democratic allies and to challenge regimes hostile to our interests and values;
We need to promote the cause of political and economic freedom abroad;
We need to accept responsibility for America’s unique role in preserving and extending an international order friendly to our security, our prosperity, and our principles.
And why the label “neo-con”? According to Wikipedia:
The prefix neo- refers to two ways in which neoconservatism was new. First, many of the movement’s founders, originally liberals, Democrats or from socialist backgrounds, were new to conservatism. Also, neoconservatism was a comparatively recent strain of conservative socio-political thought. It derived from a variety of intellectual roots in the decades following World War II, including literary criticism and the social sciences.
And there you have it.
* in fact, I was doing both.