June 10, 2007


The Neoconservative Persuasion: What it was, and what it is. (Irving Kristol, 08/25/2003, Weekly Standard)

[O]f course, there is foreign policy, the area of American politics where neoconservatism has recently been the focus of media attention. This is surprising since there is no set of neoconservative beliefs concerning foreign policy, only a set of attitudes derived from historical experience. (The favorite neoconservative text on foreign affairs, thanks to professors Leo Strauss of Chicago and Donald Kagan of Yale, is Thucydides on the Peloponnesian War.) These attitudes can be summarized in the following "theses" (as a Marxist would say): First, patriotism is a natural and healthy sentiment and should be encouraged by both private and public institutions. Precisely because we are a nation of immigrants, this is a powerful American sentiment. Second, world government is a terrible idea since it can lead to world tyranny. International institutions that point to an ultimate world government should be regarded with the deepest suspicion. Third, statesmen should, above all, have the ability to distinguish friends from enemies. This is not as easy as it sounds, as the history of the Cold War revealed. The number of intelligent men who could not count the Soviet Union as an enemy, even though this was its own self-definition, was absolutely astonishing.

Finally, for a great power, the "national interest" is not a geographical term, except for fairly prosaic matters like trade and environmental regulation. A smaller nation might appropriately feel that its national interest begins and ends at its borders, so that its foreign policy is almost always in a defensive mode. A larger nation has more extensive interests. And large nations, whose identity is ideological, like the Soviet Union of yesteryear and the United States of today, inevitably have ideological interests in addition to more material concerns. Barring extraordinary events, the United States will always feel obliged to defend, if possible, a democratic nation under attack from nondemocratic forces, external or internal. That is why it was in our national interest to come to the defense of France and Britain in World War II. That is why we feel it necessary to defend Israel today, when its survival is threatened. No complicated geopolitical calculations of national interest are necessary.

Tales of the Neocons (Richard Perle, Liel Lebovitz, June 28, 2004, The Jerusalem Report)
[P]erhaps the biggest problem with the neocons is not who they are or are not, but what they are: While the term "neocon" is widely used today, it is not at all clear that it refers to a coherent movement. Indeed, two of the most prominent founders of neoconservatism say the term is obsolete, as irrelevant after the collapse of the Soviet Union - the Evil Empire that the original neocons sought to combat - as the term "abolitionist" became after the end of slavery.

Neoconservatism was founded in the late 1960s by a group of mostly Jewish intellectuals, such as Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz and Nathan Glazer, all of whom were still positioned on the relatively liberal end of the political spectrum, yet were becoming increasingly wary of the shifting nature of the American Left. The New Left, was advocating policies they found repugnant to their sense of liberal egalitarianism: affirmative action, with its emphasis on identity politics, the multicultural ethos that was replacing their universalist approach, and the growing animosity toward Israel in the wake of the 1967 war. Foremost, however, the original neocons defined themselves as opposed to any policy of detente toward the Soviet Union, pursuing instead a hard-line approach based on a belief in the moral superiority of the Untied States over its Communist nemesis. The neocons were a breed different in both style and sensibilities from traditional conservatives. Where traditionalists often favored isolationism, the neocons often supported military engagement to further America's causes.

Also, on the domestic front, the neocons were reshuffling the old political categories by setting a new agenda of priorities that was not identical to the old ways of defining left and right in the United States: focusing on topics such as affirmative action and education was all the movement needed to attract a hodgepodge of convictions. [...]

Why were so many of the original neocons Jewish? There are, according to Glazer, a professor of sociology at Harvard University, two plausible explanations. First, he says, "Jews are disproportionately represented among the intellectual elites where these ideas developed." The second, more specific, argument has to do with the domestic agenda of the original neocons. A key cause, says Glazer, was opposition to affirmative action. "That involved an issue of Jewish interest, because if you think of the beginnings of affirmative action, the early 70s, to emphasize minority appointments in colleges meant that the opportunities for Jewish academics would be reduced."

It is not a criticism to say that the neoconservatives were/are social liberals who were at odds with the Democratic party over discrete issues that particiularly impacted fellow Jews: the treatment of Jews in the USSR; the existential threat to Israel; and affirmative action. On these three specific matters they found that their allies were almost all Republicans--with Scoop Jackson, and occasionally, at least rhetorically, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, being the most notable exceptions.

Events are in the Saddle and They Ride the Neocons (BrothersJudd, 2002)

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 10, 2007 8:01 AM

They work for us. We bought them with our early recognition and continuing support of Israel.

Posted by: Lou Gots at June 10, 2007 12:57 PM

Except at least some of them aren't social liberals. The Weekly Standard has led the way on issues such as Terri Schiavo and stem-cell research.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at June 11, 2007 1:09 AM

After their chosen candidate got waxed in the '00 primaries and they recognized that theey had no connection to the Evangelical core of the Party a couple of guys like Kristol and Krauthammer tried building bridges on discrete issues like cloning. Krauthammer, of course, has an obvious personal interest in opposing "mercy killing". They remain fundamentally liberal on moral/social issues -- Darwinism, abortion, homosexuality, etc. -- because generally not religious. It's why David Brooks is acceptable to the Times.

Posted by: oj at June 11, 2007 6:29 AM