Neoconservatism Made Kristol Clear


Memo to Irving Kristol: Get yourself to a secure, undisclosed location immediately if not sooner. You are in grave danger. No, you needn't worry about receiving threats from left-wing loonies like Al Gore or his disciple, the Unabomber. You don't even have to fear the paleoconservatives and libertarians. You should, however, keep your eyes open for members of the National Review/Wall Street Journal crowd. IMPORTANT: If you receive a package in the mail from David Frum, call the bomb squad immediately!

Why do I say Irving Kristol had better keep a close eye on his allies on the 'official' right? Simply this: He recently wrote a piece for The Weekly Standard in which he spelled out exactly what neoconservatism is. What's worse is that ol' Irv's description of neoconservatism proves that it is everything its critics have said it is'and worse.

Now that 'the 'godfather' of all those neocons,' as Kristol describes himself, has spoken on the subject (and written a book entitled Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea), the NR/WSJ crowd can no longer plausibly deny the existence of such a movement, as some have tried to do. In addition, they can no longer plausibly claim that neoconservatism is merely another form of traditional conservatism. Nor can they plausibly insist that neoconservatism has anything at all to do with the American founding and tradition of limited government and avoidance of entangling alliances. Kristol has blown all these arguments out of the water.

Kristol first points out that neoconservatism had 'its origin among disillusioned liberal intellectuals in the 1970s,' just in case anyone had any doubts about its ancestry. At this time the grassroots of the Republican Party, and indeed much of Middle America , was still largely wedded to the ideas of small government at home and a reasonably prudent foreign policy abroad. Barry Goldwater'who Kristol says is 'politely overlooked' in the neocon pantheon of '20th-century heroes,' while FDR is included'had, after all, been the Republican presidential nominee in 1964; and Ronald Reagan, who at least espoused relatively conservative ideas even if he didn't follow through on most of them once in office, was to be elected president in 1980. In other words, neocon ideas were not the ideas of the mainstream right at the time, and their prospects weren't even looking very bright.

So, says Kristol, 'one can say that the historical task and political purpose of neoconservatism would seem to be this: to convert the Republican party, and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills, into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy.' It's easy to see the liberal'and, indeed, Straussian, as Kristol claims Leo Strauss as one of the forerunners of neoconservatism'mind at work here. We, the enlightened ones, will 'convert' you, the unenlightened, from your backward, parochial ways to our progressive, global ways; and we will do so against your will, by deception if possible, by force if necessary.

The only genuinely conservative idea Kristol attributes to the neocons is an affinity for 'cutting tax rates.' Even there, however, Kristol hedges. It's not that 'the particularities of tax cuts . . . interested' the neocons, and it certainly isn't the case that they view tax cuts as a moral imperative. They are interested in tax cuts only insofar as those cuts 'stimulate steady economic growth,' presumably so the natives do not become restless when their bread and circuses peter out and start clamoring for the emperor's head. Kristol notes that the neocon 'emphasis on economic growth' has led to 'an attitude toward public finance that is far less risk averse than is the case among more traditional conservatives.' 'Neocons,' he adds, 'would prefer not to have large budget deficits, but it is in the nature of democracy [and here he may be onto something] . . . that one sometimes must shoulder budgetary deficits as the cost (temporary, one hopes) of pursuing economic growth.' In other words, to heck with the future! Open the floodgates of the treasury while at the same time reducing the revenues coming in, and don't worry about how your children and grandchildren are going to pay the bills. What matters now is economic growth to keep the sheeple fat, dumb, and happy so that we neocons can retain and expand our power at their expense.

In case what he has written thus far has still failed to convince the reader that neoconservatism is merely a variant on liberalism, Kristol then opens up both barrels with his description of the neocon view of the state. 'Neocons do not like the concentration of services in the welfare state and are happy to study [note that he doesn't say implement] alternative ways of delivering these services. But they are impatient with the Hayekian notion that we are on 'the road to serfdom.' 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.' Why, really, should they be alarmed? The state is their god, and they derive their power from expanding its reach. As far as Kristol is concerned, the '19th-century idea' of government as the enemy of human freedom 'was a historical eccentricity.' Here again one can see the Marxist mind of 'former' liberals at work: The total state is inevitable, so why fight it? Accept it, enjoy it, and get as much as you can out of it. Stop fretting about lost liberty. As a result, '[n]eocons feel at home in today's America to a degree that more traditional conservatives do not.'

Now for the big subject of the day: 'foreign policy, the area of American politics where neoconservatism has recently been the focus of media attention,' as Kristol puts it. That, of course, is because neocon foreign policy is exemplified by precisely the foreign policy that the Bush administration has implemented, contrary to Bush's paean to a 'humbler' foreign policy while campaigning. It seeks to dominate the world at any cost, sending troops to far-flung countries ( Afghanistan , Iraq , Liberia ) in pursuit of, well, hegemony, in the guise of bringing liberation and democracy to the oppressed of the world. It is completely contrary to the vision of the Founding Fathers and to the American tradition, which is why it had to be imposed on us against our will as well.

Kristol claims that 'there is no set of neoconservative beliefs concerning foreign policy, only a set of attitudes derived from historical experience.' He lists three 'theses' guiding neocon foreign policy and adds, parenthetically, 'as a Marxist would say.' (The apple certainly doesn't fall far from the tree. Does it, Irving ?) Those three theses'that patriotism is a good thing, that world government is a bad thing, and that statesmen should be able to distinguish friends from enemies'seem relatively harmless. To be fair, Kristol is right in saying that there are no core principles behind neocon foreign policy because these three 'theses' seem to have little or nothing to do with the paragraphs that follow.

Essentially, neocon foreign policy is that might makes right. Oh, Kristol doesn't come right out and say this, but his words add up to the same thing. For 'a great power,' he writes, 'the 'national interest' is not a geographical term.' That is, U.S. foreign policy should not be confined to safeguarding the territorial United States . Oh, no. We must be concerned with the entire world. '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.' Yes, according to Irving Kristol, neocon foreign policy applies equally to the Soviet Union and the United States, both of whom have (or had, in the case of the Soviets) 'ideological interests' which trump mere territorial concerns. Kristol further notes that since the U.S. 'will always feel obliged to defend . . . a democratic nation under attack from nondemocratic forces,' the neocons thus 'feel it necessary to defend Israel today.' Apparently only the holding of elections, not what those elected governments' policies are, matters to neocons, and even then they're more than willing to give some leeway to cooperative dictators. Once again, I must give Kristol credit for being accurate in his assessment that no central principles (other than the one left unmentioned, spelled p-o-w-e-r) guide the neocons in their quest for 'national greatness' (as Kristol's equally arrogant son, William, put it). It's clear, though, that this power-grubbing, world-dominating foreign policy is certainly not in the interest of the average American, which is why he has to be converted against his will by the neocons.

Kristol continues to celebrate the power of the U. S. , and he notes that '[w]ith power come responsibilities, whether sought or not, whether welcome or not. And it is a fact that if you have the kind of power we now have, either you will find opportunities to use it, or the world will discover them for you.' The neocons, of course, are not content to let the world find uses for the power they've worked so hard to achieve. As a matter of fact, they're more than happy to 'find opportunities to use it.' Whether those 'opportunities' are in the best interest of the country or the world is irrelevant; all that matters is that the neocons are the ones finding the opportunities and wielding the power.

Finally, in case any doubt remains as to whether the Bush administration qualifies as neoconservative'and there are still some out there who believe it remains fully within the American conservative tradition'Kristol puts all doubt to rest. Bush and his administration, he says, 'turn out to be quite at home in this new political environment, although it is clear they did not anticipate this role any more than their party as a whole did.' Face it, says Kristol: We've won, and you traditional conservatives in the Republican Party never saw it coming and still don't know what hit you. Unfortunately, he's right.

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Michael Tennant is a software developer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.