Kristol Confesses: Neoconservatism Is Not Conservative
August 21, 2003, 05:00 AM
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It tells us a great deal about what is known as "neoconservatism" that more than 30 years after the term became fashionable, those who adhere to it still need to explain it. The latest explanation appears in the Aug. 25 Weekly Standard in an article entitled "The Neoconservative Persuasion: What it was and what it is" by neoconservative elder Irving Kristol.

Often called the "godfather of neoconservatism," Mr. Kristol virtually invented both the term and the movement it represents, and given the bad press neoconservatism has enjoyed in recent months, yet another attempt to explain it was probably a good idea.

Unfortunately, his explanation doesn`t help very much.

Unlike many neocons who claim they`re really plain old vanilla conservatives and that conservatives who disagree with them (like me, Pat Buchanan, Chronicles Magazine, etc.) are really "unpatriotic," Mr. Kristol makes it perfectly clear that neoconservatism and the old version are quite different. Indeed, he goes to some pains to describe what the differences are.

"Neoconservatism is the first variant of American conservatism in the past century that is in the `American grain,`" he writes (thereby ignoring most of the American conservatism that flourished in the 1950s and later). "Its 20th-century heroes tend to be TR, FDR, and Ronald Reagan. Such Republican and conservative worthies as Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, and Barry Goldwater are politely overlooked."

That too ought to tell you something. Since the vast majority of Americans who have called themselves conservatives for the last 70 years regard Goldwater as a hero and Roosevelt as a villain, what it should tell you is that whatever else Mr. Kristol says neoconservatism is, it`s not conservatism.

As for Ronald Reagan, he rose to prominence and national political victory not as a neoconservative but a Goldwater supporter and ally of Jesse Helms.

Mr. Kristol also informs us that the Republican Party, for all its dimness and distaste for neo-con brilliance, must know that "neoconservative policies" have "helped make the very idea of political conservatism more acceptable to a majority of American voters," and "it is the neoconservative public policies, not the traditional Republican ones, that result in popular Republican presidencies."

This should tell you something yet again—that Mr. Kristol needs to take a night school course in American Politics 101. Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan won massive popular majorities in the 1970s and `80s, and whatever else they were, they weren`t neocons.

The closest to a national political victory the neocons have ever come is the 2000 election of George W. Bush—who lost the popular vote, would have lost the election without the help of Ralph Nader and may have lost the electoral vote.

Yet if Mr. Kristol is a little weak on history, he gets a full-blown F on what he knows about political thought. Indeed, it`s impossible to tell what neoconservatives really believe about much of anything from his article. Neocons don`t like "the concentration of services in the welfare state" but, unlike Old Right thinker F.A. Hayek, don`t think "we are on `the road to serfdom`" and feel little "alarm about the growth of the state in the past century, seeing it as natural, indeed inevitable." They seek "intellectual guidance in the democratic wisdom of Tocqueville, rather than in the Tory nostalgia of, say, Russell Kirk" (a major conservative figure who was a good bit more than an apologist for "Tory nostalgia" and who praised de Tocqueville in his classic The Conservative Mind. Mr. Kristol should read it sometime.)

Then there`s foreign policy. The neocons are for "patriotism," against "world government," and believe statesmen should be able to tell "friends from enemies." Hooray. I bet they`re also for motherhood. But most of all, they believe "national interest" is more than geography. It`s also ideology, because "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."

It`s fascinating Mr. Kristol thinks the USSR and the United States are the same kinds of nations—"proposition countries" or "credal nations." They aren`t, because that`s not what the United States is, as every real conservative knows. The Soviet Union was, which is why it was a tyranny.

But Mr. Kristol insists they are, which is "why we feel it necessary to defend Israel"—which for many neoconservatives is the ultimate bottom line and helps explain why they are so insistent that America is an ideological state.

We owe a tip of the hat to Mr. Kristol for spilling the beans about neoconservatism.

After years of pretense that it`s the real conservatism in a new package, he has now acknowledged that all along it was something else entirely—which is exactly what its paleoconservative critics have always said.

[VDARE.COM note: Irving Kristol`s article has also attracted internet critiques from Laurence Auster, Thomas J. DiLorenzo, Justin Raimondo, and Paul Weyrich.]

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[Sam Francis [email him] is a nationally syndicated columnist. A selection of his columns, America Extinguished: Mass Immigration And The Disintegration Of American Culture, is now available from Americans For Immigration Control. Click here for Sam Francis` website.]