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September 30, 2004

Defining "Neoconservative"

Juan Cole gives an excellent definition of "Neoconservative":

Warning: The text below will use the word "Neoconservative." In my lexicon, a Neoconservative is a person from a social group that typically voted Democrat before 1968 but now votes Republican. Neoconservatives include all the white southern Christian denominations, such as the Southern Baptists, that emigrated from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party as a result of the Nixon strategy, as well as the Reagan Democrats (largely working-class Catholics) and Jewish Americans who trod the same path. Neoconservatives tend to be far-right Zionists in the Jabotinsky tradition, whether they are Jews or Christian Zionists, and they are associated with a desire to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians from the West Bank or at least to so circumscribe their existence there as to render them nonentities. The latest Neoconservative to enlist in the cause is Zell Miller, and he typifies the anger, recklessness and disregard for open, democratic values that characterize the movement.

Neoconservatives have gained allies for themselves from some rightwing Realists, such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, to the extent that it may well be that the latter two have been converted to the Neoconservative ideology, which is distinctive because of its historical origins on the right of the old Democratic Party and in some cases in the far left (Christopher Hitchens is another example). Some have attempted to argue that the very term "Neoconservative" is a code word for derogatory attitudes toward Jews. This argument is mere special pleading and a playing of the race cared, however, insofar as only a tiny percentage of American Jews are Neoconservatives, and only a tiny percentage of Neoconservatives are Jews. The Neoconservative movement is an example of what social scientists call cross-cutting cleavages, which are multiple loyalties and identities typical of complex urban political societies.


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An even better piece was written by Irving Kristol for the Weekly Standard. It is a short piece, but he differentiates neoconservatives from social conservatives and those of Hayekian persuasion. Cole seems to cast a wider net than is necessary, though I will leave that to you to decide after comparing Kristol's piece.

The Neoconservative Persuasion
From the August 25, 2003 issue: What it was, and what it is.
by Irving Kristol 08/25/2003, Volume 008, Issue 47

Since Kristol is one of the founders of Neo Con Game'ism, let's take his take with a splash of salt.

One of my favorite stories from C-SPAN is about Kristol, Scalia, Bork and Wanniski(the leader of Supply Side Economics) sharing lunch together for a long time, back in the 1970s.

Wanniski, an Economist, convinced a journalist and two Judges, and that's how we got Supply Side Reagan.


What I meant was that Kristol's piece provides a contrast to Cole's, which doesn't seem to really attach neoconservatism the idea to neoconservatives the group. For example, I'm not sure that "all the white southern Christian denominations" really endorse using our military around the world to build democracies, which is a core pillar of neoconservative foreign policy. How about using force to end the genocide in Sudan, as Irving's son and heir to the throne of neoconservative ideology, William, wants us to do?

Would the same swath of people endorse the following? "Neocons do not feel that kind of alarm or anxiety about the growth of the state in the past century, seeing it as natural, indeed inevitable."

Of course we should take Kristol's take with a splash of salt, but only if I was trying to sell you on his ideology. I'm not. Cole gives a genealogy and explains how neoconservatism took but doesn't mention any ideas beyond Zionism. Kristol's piece is a statement of the ideological criteria is for being neoconservative, in all of its profane and seemingly contradictory glory.

I would like to think that there is more to my self identification as 'liberal' than being a well-educated middle class secular Catholic from New Jersey who votes Democrat most of the time. If somebody told me that was what constituted a liberal, I might lend them some of my Rawls.

If you don't trust Kristol to tell you what a neoconservative is, then read Lewis Lapham's piece in Harpers this month. It basically says the same thing, except it refers to all conservative ideas--neo, paleo, or otherwise-- as "irritating mental gestures."

BF's point is very good. I didn't fully understand fascism until I'd read Mussolini.

Is neo-conservatism an ideology or a set of interests, any ideas. So far it seems to be a bit of both.

The protection of Israel - spread of democracy in Middle East?

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