September 23, 2009

FUNNY WHAT PERSPECTIVE DOES:

Neo-conservatism: Irving Kristol’s living legacy: The pioneer of one of the United States’s most potent intellectual-political currents has died. But it is far too early for an obituary of the neo-conservative movement. (Cas Mudde, 23 - 09 - 2009, Open Democracy)

The Public Interest, an enterprise in which Kristol was joined by the renowned sociologist Daniel Bell (who would never fully embrace neo-conservatism), was at the outset a politically broad-based publication featuring both conservative and liberal authors. It published accessible social-scientific analyses of the relevant policy-issues of the day, with a particular emphasis on welfare. The basic intellectual framework was a kind of conservative liberalism: the goals conservative, the means to achieve them quite liberal. This generation appeared to be seeking a blueprint for a "conservative welfare state" (as one of Kristol's prominent essays was titled); opponents on the right would label it "big-government conservatism".

The Public Interest in its early years encompassed a range of political positions, and tended to be quite cautious in its recommendations. It exhibited a high degree of trust in social science (in sharp contrast to traditional conservatism); at the same time authors were aware of the complexities of human relations and society, and avoided overly strong and simplistic conclusions. [...]

[T]he modern neo-conservative movement has in a sense strayed from its originating outlook and priorities - though this was also true of Irving Kristol himself, who became increasingly partisan in later decades (to the extent of aligning with the religious right). In any event, Kristol and his contemporaries' achievement is considerable; it could be said with only a touch of exaggeration that while their foreign-policy agenda has been to a degree tainted by their offspring, their domestic agenda has become established at the heart of American politics and society.

Indeed, while many commentators have identified the Ronald Reagan era as the highpoint of neo-conservative power (notwithstanding contemporary criticism of the "feelgood president" from the ideological right), there is a case for arguing that Bill Clinton's administrations in the 1990s were a closer fit with the formative neo-conservative agenda of conservative liberalism. More generally, virtually all administrations since Reagan's have based their domestic agenda on the key values of initial neo-conservatism: including a strong belief in the market coupled with a conservative welfare state, as forces that together are expected to regulate socio-economic change and socio-cultural manners.


The ends are conservative but the means liberal? Sure, if the end is a stable society and the means a welfare net. But if the end is the safety net and the means capitalist innovations thereupon, then the ends are liberal and the means conservative. regardless, you see why he ended up allied mostly with the Christian Right.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 23, 2009 4:56 PM
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