Finally, an Intelligent Critique of Neo-Conservativism
March 18, 2011 2 Comments
In the Introduction to ‘Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea‘, C. Bradley Thompson and Yaron Brook declare:
”Let us be clear: We do not treat neoconservatism as a conspiracy or a cabal (readers of this book will find no flowcharts starting at some office at the University of Chicago, moving through apartments in New York City, and ending in some dark bunker in the White House), but rather as an imporatant intellectual and political movement that deserves to be taken seriously”.
This book keeps its promises. Thompson and Brook absolutely deserve to be commended for what they have done here. We have seen far too much in the way of trashy literature claiming to ‘expose’ the neoconservative movement. ‘Neocon’, unfortunately, has become an overused, misunderstood term tossed around as an insult by the clueless left, who have little idea what it actually means. Most often, it is just used as a label for American right-wingers in general. This is particularly true in sources like the Irish Times, Ireland’s left-leaning (and frightfully low-quality) newspaper of record. Mark Humphrys offers an excellent example, noted by Richard Waghorne, in three typical references to ‘neocons’ in one short period in The Irish Times in 2005, by Fintan O’Toole, Anthony Glavin and Eddie Holt – who showed no sign of ever actually understanding what neocons are. To them its just a synonym for evil in general, as well as nasty right-wingers like Pat Robertson (who could never in fact be called a neocon). Most disturbing, however, is the level of anti-Semitism that has sneaked into the discussion, with far-left magazines like Adbusters actually putting stars next to the names of Jews on a list of known neoconservatives. Few incidents exposed the moral decline and intellectual bankruptcy of today’s left-wing, if it ever held any moral high ground and intellectual quality in the first place. Such nonsense obfuscates the real issues, and scares sensible people away from honestly grappling with neoconservatism.
Thompson is a former neoconservative sympathizer who drifted towards the libertarian side of the philosophical spectrum, while Brook, whom I have seen a couple of times on his UK visits, is executive director of the Ayn Rand Institute and a prominent Objectivist spokesperson. Theirs is a look at neoconservatism from the party of freedom, the Jeffersonian tradition of American politics, and the devotees of limited government and liberty in the personal and economic sphere. Their book demonstrates the vast intellectual superiority of the classical liberal tradition, when viewed in light of the left’s wide-eyed attempts at attacking neocons, who are a lot closer to them than they would care to imagine. The reader will not get so much as a hint of trendy cultural relativism or anti-Semitism that pervades similar work.
The title is an interesting play on Irving Kristol’s famous essay ‘Socialism: An Obituary for an Idea’. Socialism, of course, was not dead then and it certainly isn’t now. The essay was acknowledgement of socialism’s terminal illness, even as it still wreaks havoc. The authors place neoconservatism in the same situation: completely bankrupt and often repudiated, but still troublesome. Yet that is not the book’s focus. The first chapters establish that neoconservatism is a genuine theory of domestic and foreign policy, which many have claimed is not so, before delving into what makes a neoconservative. Most of the work explores the philosophic roots of neoconservatism, focusing especially on Plato and Leo Strauss, but dealing also at Machiavelli and Heidegger, amongst others. The final chapters take a detailed look at the neoconservative agenda for today.
The main aim of the book is to demonstrate the neoconservatism is not as much in ‘the American grain’ (to use the words of Irving Kristol) as it likes to describe itself. It is an adoration of state power that is supposedly needed to perfect men. The authors make the convincing point that neoconservatives are in fact distrustful of human liberty, and this is the root of their support for their idea of a ‘conservative welfare state’ and benevolent hegemony abroad. I’m not an expert on literature or the Great Books of Western Civilisation, and I don’t have much more to say on this, other than it may make for heavy reading at times. Yet it is invaluable for concerned thinkers who will learn to see why the libertarian movement never signed on to the neoconservative agenda in either domestic or foreign policy.