January 9, 2007


New Class (Peter Beinart, 01.09.07, New Republic)

Virtually no one still believes that the United States can quickly impose democracy in foreign lands. Almost everyone wants a pragmatic foreign policy, not a crusading one. Fewer and fewer Americans think our government can fix Arab culture. In other words, neoconservatism is back.

First-generation neoconservatism, that is. In a historical irony, many of the people who most thunderously denounce neoconservatism actually sound a lot like the original neocons themselves.

Liberal bloggers sometimes call themselves members of the "reality-based community." And that would have been a fitting motto for the first neocon journal, The Public Interest, founded in 1965 by Irving Kristol and Daniel Bell. If The Public Interest had a bĂȘte noire, it was faith-based politics. The great danger to good government, argued its founding editorial, is "a prior commitment to ideology. ... For it is the nature of ideology to preconceive reality."

The ideology that worried The Public Interest's editors most was excessive faith in government's capacity to solve entrenched social problems. Great Society liberals, they worried, were too confident in their ability to restructure the lives of the poor and too dismissive of the harm they might do in the process. Traditional conservatives, of course, said the same thing. But traditional conservatives were as immodest about the redemptive power of capitalism as liberals were about the redemptive power of government. What distinguished the early neocons was their skepticism about both.

Except for the fact that the WoT demonstrates just how easily we can impose democracy in foreign lands -- Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine -- and, coincidentally, unleash democratic pressures in the surrounding area: the Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Gulf states, and so on. A more legitimate critique of the neocons is that the governments that people choose aren't the ones that neoconservative ideology insisted they would.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 9, 2007 1:09 PM

Is this Peter Beinart's roundabout way of saying that Neocons are about to go in the direction of the "reality-based community" once Hillary runs the show?

Posted by: Brad S at January 9, 2007 3:36 PM

Calling Palestine a 'democracy' is stretching that word a little too far. Having an election does not make a democracy, and the Paleos are being ruled by the same types of thugs that have dominated them the last sixty years.

Posted by: Steve White at January 9, 2007 6:38 PM

Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine are democracies?

Posted by: DAN at January 9, 2007 6:49 PM


Posted by: oj at January 9, 2007 8:02 PM

Palestinians voted for the political party that had served their needs best. Hamas's failure to accept statehood has damaged them with the electorate, which is precisely how democracy should work.

Posted by: oj at January 9, 2007 8:07 PM

What's the difference between an elected and an unelected thugocracy?

Posted by: Gideon at January 9, 2007 8:08 PM


Posted by: oj at January 9, 2007 8:19 PM

Reminding us once again that all humor is Conservative?

Posted by: Barry Meislin at January 10, 2007 4:51 AM

Nice one, Barry!

Posted by: jdkelly at January 10, 2007 8:43 AM