Asleep or not, we had never heard--or at least never paid enough attention to have noted--the term "neo-con," before the inauguration of George W. Bush in January, 2001. We understood that the President, who called himself a "compassionate conservative," was not really Conservative on many issues. But we took him at his word that he was a "strict-constructionist," that he recognized and understood the limitations on Federal Power, and would respect those limitations.
Our first notice of the "neo-con" phenomenon came when surfing the web, to inject Conservative thought into internet discussions of politics, culture and ideology, after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on selected targets. The first impression was of a misuse of language. On one thread, we made the naive comment that it really was not that helpful, in a discussion of the merits of ideas, to worry about how long the proponent of a particular viewpoint had had that viewpoint. We were taken to task by a self-identified "Neo-con," for failing to recognize that the "neo-con" label was that selected by a particular political movement--in other words a term of identification (or "art") not of actual description.
A couple of similar incidents followed. Self-identified "Neo-cons" told us, in effect, to keep our noses out of their self-defining threads. We got the message: "Neo-cons" were not about Conservatism. They were about appropriating the word, although not without the hope that it would draw support from some of those who had gotten on the Reagan bandwagon; those with little real understanding of the genuine Conservative values in the Reagan counter-revolution of 1980. It appeared that they were running a gambit; trying to highjack America's sudden preference for a Conservative identification, for a very different agenda; one with no semblance to the traditional political priorities of the American mainstream.
It was obvious that there was nothing "new" about the ideology being promoted. Yet, again, when we engaged the proponents on the basis that they were using deliberately misleading terminology, that their ideology was neither new nor Conservative; we were again advised that it was really none of our business; that they could define themselves as they pleased. (That is not, of course, completely true. A confidence man may describe himself as an "investment advisor." But others may also have something to say as to how he is perceived.) Those who chose to so define themselves as "Neo-cons" had other idiosyncrasies in how they elected to debate the issues.
While they defined themselves as favoring more, rather than less Government, with a more intrusive--"ideological"--presence in other people's affairs, and a particular emphasis on supporting the Israeli position vis-a-vis their Arab neighbors, they went into a paranoid attack mode (or a feigned paranoid attack mode), when foes of their advocated course, either denounced the "neo-con" influence within the Bush Administration, or named "neo-con" adherents within the Bush Administration--even though those critics, such as the much maligned traditional Conservative Pat Buchanan, used only the terminology that the "Neo-cons" had used to define themselves.
Incredibly, using the term "Neo-con" in a critical sense, without other specificity, as defining the "Neo-cons" as they had defined themselves, would evoke cries that it was being used as a code word for an appeal to "Anti-Semitism." Yet specifying some of the individual policy makers, objected to, without their self-embraced label, would evoke the same charge! (The only basis for such a charge, ever offered, was that an apparently disproportionate number of avowed "Neo-cons" who had Jewish ancestry.)
The "Neo-cons" also appeared very willing to push the Administration into an hysterical, rather than coolly rational, response to the Terrorist attack; seizing upon the moment of outrage, to promote an ideological interventionist policy, which was anything but new and anything but conservative. Instead of focusing on as rapid as possible round-up of those actually plotting havoc against America and Americans, and calling upon the traditional leaderships of all peoples in the impacted lands for help; they set about antagonizing a large portion of the earth, preaching the idea of an American right to change other people's cultures--a radical departure not only from the traditional Conservative American foreign policy, but from any common sense approach to getting along with anyone.
We have described their movement as "Communism with delusions of grandeur." Why? Because they have accepted the Communist mantra of a plastic humanity, where any of the diverse peoples of the earth may be remolded by engineering changes in their cultural environment. The very notion that all peoples have the same cultural needs is inherently Communistic, as is the specific notion, now being promoted by our subjects, that substantive "Democracy" is universally beneficial. At the same time, the "Neo-cons" advance imperial delusions--the idea that we should rightfully be the remolders, based apparently on an acceptance of the Nazi mantra that "might makes right"; grandiose delusions, which cannot possibly succeed because of that erroneous starting point, the assumption of environmentally determined human nature. Let us look at some of their claims, tactics, issues and suggestions, more closely.
Some "Neo-con" verbal forays border on the ridiculous. Consider the obvious absurdity already mentioned, that of accusing those who disagree with them of being "Anti-Semitic," because some of their adherents have Jewish ancestry. They make this charge, in particular, against those who disagree with the Bush Administration's Near Eastern policy, which backs Israel on almost every issue. Yet in the Israeli/Palestinian confrontation, it is the Palestinians who are probably the more Semitic! This is because most Israeli Jews are of a European background, and have had more exposure to other genes, over longer periods, than the Palestinians.
Yet that is far from the most egregious logical fallacy involved. "Neo-cons," in even making the charge, are showing a cynical contempt for American Jews. The implication of the charge is that American Jews, in general, are somehow reflected by the "Neo-cons"; that to insult a "Neo-con," is to insult American Jews. That intended implication is one of the most anti-Jewish assumptions anyone could make. Consider some obvious analogies:
The criticism of the "Neo-con" foreign policy, is that it involves a misuse of positions, a misuse of the prestige, integrity and resources of the American people, to promote a narrow ideological objective. If the criticism is true, it is a very serious charge--tantamount to the betrayal of trust and the usurpation of power. In this, it is comparable in the secular world to the actions of homosexual Priests in the Ecclesiastical world. Would any rational person, Catholic or non-Catholic, dare to suggest that by denouncing the actions of homosexual Priests, abusing altar boys, one is making an "Anti-Catholic" statement? It is the homosexual Priest, who makes the anti-Catholic statement; who betrays the sacred trust.
Or to go back two and a half generations, when many Midwestern Protestants got involved with the very active and influential Klu-Klux-Klan of that era? Was criticism of the political activities of the Klan in the 1920s and '30s, an attack upon mainstream American Protestantism? Of course not!
No one with genuine analytic power would expect to get away, for very long, with some of the pseudo-intellectual devices that the "Neo-cons" have used to make their points. Indeed, had the Democrats, at the last election, nominated someone more moderate than John Kerry, it is probable that the day dream would already be at an end. To explore our subject in depth, we will examine the "Neo-con" persuasion, and its uses, as defined by the "Neo-cons," themselves.
As Professor Irving Kristol readily acknowledges, he has been referred to as the "godfather" of the "Neo-cons." His son William Kristol and Fred Barnes (for whom we named a logical fallacy in the Debate Handbook Chapter on Immigration) are Co-Editors of the Weekly Standard, and generally associated with the concept. Thus, we seek no unfair advantage in allowing Irving Kristol to tell us what "Neoconservatism" is all about. We quote from the August 25, 2003 issue of the publication:
Neoconservatism is what the late historian of Jacksonian America, Marvin Meyers, called a "persuasion," one that manifests itself over time, but erratically, and one whose meaning we clearly glimpse only in retrospect.
Only mildly delusional--the man has a persuasion whose meaning one can "glimpse only in retrospect"--but he is very full of a sense of the grandeur of his impact. The sage goes on:
Viewed in this way, 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.
What is truly delusional about that, which smacks strongly of the deceptive Fabian Socialist approach to debate, as well as a mythological Marxist suggestion of involuntary historic function, is that it shows not the slightest understanding of what "conservatism in general," or American Conservatism in particular, involves. Kristol is an admitted former Trotskyist--that is a follower of Leon Trotsky, the original commander of the Bolshevik Red Army and, later, Stalin's unsuccessful rival (from the still further Left) to succeed Lenin as the Communist leader of Russia. He shows, both in this comment, and in what follows, that he has only superficially broken with this avowedly Marxist past. We will give you more of the flavor before further analysis of other assumptions in the quoted sentence.
Neoconservatism is the first variant of American conservatism in the past century that is in the "American grain." It is hopeful, not lugubrious; forward-looking, not nostalgic; and its general tone is cheerful, not grim or dyspeptic. 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.
"Neoconservatism," as represented by this man, is of course no variant of American conservatism. It is a variant of Marxism, concocted by disillusioned Marxists, who have still held on to some of the shibboleths of their mistaken youth. It is those shibboleths, not the actual American tradition, that they seek to conserve. As for his listed characteristics: Any high school student should be able to recognize that the seven attributes the writer mentions are personality and mood traits, not philosophic determinants. As for his division of political figures into "heroes" and the "politely overlooked?"
"TR," obviously stands for Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was more "Liberal"--"Progressive"--than Conservative. He was, however, clearly a patriotic American; and was influential, after leaving office, in persuading Henry Cabot Lodge to keep the debate on the League of Nations going in the Senate, long enough for the "irreconcilables" to demonstrate its flawed vision to the public at large. His youngest son Archibald was a very valuable force in the Conservative revival in the late 1950s and early 1960s, which made the Goldwater phenomenon possible. But what Kristol likes about "TR" can be judged best, by looking at the other six whom he names.
Labeling Teddy Roosevelt's 'Cousin Franklin,' a "hero," is far more revealing. "FDR" was a Conservative Democrat, up until his election as President in 1932. But what followed his inauguration on March 4, 1933, was far closer to what was going on at the same time in newly National Socialist Germany than anything ever before seen in America. Washington was suddenly inundated by Socialist theorists, pouring out of academia. One heard references to the Constitution, as a "relic" of the "horse and buggy days"; the dollar was devalued, and the sacred obligation of "Gold Clause" bonds repudiated. As in Hitler's new Germany, unemployment was challenged by putting young Americans into uniform in Federally directed civilian work crews. There was a sea change between the American tradition and something very, very different. But no part of it was conservative.
Ronald Reagan was a genuine American Conservative hero. Barry Goldwater's most articulate advocate in 1964, Reagan had managed to get elected on the values that Goldwater had boldly espoused in that earlier campaign. That Kristol includes Goldwater on the list of those "politely overlooked," tells you very clearly that it was not those things that Conservatives loved about Reagan, that appealed to Kristol. It was not the Reagan, who told Americans that Government was not the solution to personal problems, but that often "Government is the problem."
Kristol's reference to Coolidge, Hoover and Eisenhower, as "Republican and conservative worthies," surely clarifies a great deal about Kristol. We will grant that Cal Coolidge was basically Conservative, Conservative in that he did not seek an expansion of Government; did not seek an America more dependent upon a central authority or a future planned by self-anointed experts. But referring to Hoover and Eisenhower as "conservative," more than begs the question. It shows that Kristol is trying to define what is historically significant without a clue as to "who was truly who" in the time frame with which he deals.
An engineer, Herbert Hoover had made a personal fortune overseas. He returned to America during World War I, and was appointed Food Czar by Democratic President Wilson, as part of the war time effort. When asked about his politics, he had defined himself as a "Liberal." A decade later, Hoover received the Republican nomination for President, was elected, and within months was faced with the great crash on Wall Street. Hoover's response to the Depression was a milder version of what was later to be Roosevelt's--increased fiscal deficits and Federal intervention in the economy. In 1932, FDR ran to the right of Hoover, calling for reduced Government. He was elected on that platform. He then betrayed it. If the "neo-cons" prefer Roosevelt to Hoover, it says a great deal about where they are really coming from!
In 1952, Eisenhower was the candidate for the more "liberal" wing of the Republican Party. He was enlisted by those, destined to be known a decade later as "Rockefeller Republicans," to stop Ohio's Conservative Senator Robert A. Taft, who had been clearly headed for nomination in one of the more Conservative moments of post World War II America. The ensuing Primary and Convention battles were some of the bitterest in 20th Century Republican history. Even identifying Eisenhower, rather than Taft, as the Conservative hero of the era, is a pretty compelling demonstration of how actually out of touch Kristol and the "Neo-cons" are with any form of American Conservatism.
Kristol then offers his view of the significance of the quoted distinctions:
Of course, those worthies are in no way overlooked by a large, probably the largest, segment of the Republican party, with the result that most Republican politicians know nothing and could not care less about neoconservatism. Nevertheless, they cannot be blind to the fact that neoconservative policies, reaching out beyond the traditional political and financial base, have helped make the very idea of political conservatism more acceptable to a majority of American voters. Nor has it passed official notice that it is the neoconservative public policies, not the traditional Republican ones, that result in popular Republican presidencies.
That last statement is pure ex cathedra over-reach. What made the Reagan campaign succeed; what suddenly made the Republican Party potentially the majority party again, were the very issues that Barry Goldwater had raised; now raised at a better moment, with an engaging smile: The attack on too much Government, meddling in the domestic affairs of the people--the realization that dependence upon Government is antithetical to freedom, and the sense of individual responsibility upon which the American ethos is premised--coupled with a renewed determination to arrest the threat posed by aggressive Communism, seen as the greatest enemy of that ethos. Such was a very different approach than that advocated by the "Neo-cons."
But Kristol lets us know what he liked about Reagan. It was the tax cuts that spurred growth. He does not appear to comprehend that it was also by reducing Government--the interference of Government in business and in the peoples' lives, a factor which has always tended to stagnate an economy--that Reagan improved our level of prosperity. (Perhaps all that really draws Kristol to Reagan is opportunism. Reagan made Conservatism popular again, and Kristol may have misnamed his persuasion, "conservative," to tap into that popularity.) He also has something less than a Conservative reason for favoring any form of tax cut, to stimulate the economy. No, Kristol and the "Neo-cons" are not concerned with letting those, who produce, retain more of the fruits of their own labor for their own purposes. His motive is somewhat different:
it was not the particularities of tax cuts that interested them [the Neocons], but rather the steady focus on economic growth. Neocons are familiar with intellectual history and aware that it is only in the last two centuries that democracy has become a respectable option among political thinkers. In earlier times, democracy meant an inherently turbulent political regime, with the "have-nots" and the "haves" engaged in a perpetual and utterly destructive class struggle. It was only the prospect of economic growth in which everyone prospered, if not equally or simultaneously, that gave modern democracies their legitimacy and durability.
It is all about "democracy," not the individual. (The particularities of tax cuts are very important to the individual!) Kristol continues to make his collectivist priorities even clearer:
The cost of this emphasis on economic growth has been an attitude toward public finance that is far less risk averse than is the case among more traditional conservatives. Neocons would prefer not to have large budget deficits, but it is in the nature of democracy--because it seems to be in the nature of human nature--that political demagogy will frequently result in economic recklessness, so that one sometimes must shoulder budgetary deficits as the cost (temporary, one hopes) of pursuing economic growth. It is a basic assumption of neoconservatism that, as a consequence of the spread of affluence among all classes, a property-owning and tax-paying population will, in time, become less vulnerable to egalitarian illusions and demagogic appeals and more sensible about the fundamentals of economic reckoning.
Democracy has long meant different things to different people. The word has been used loosely, in recent decades, by many who consider it, incorrectly to be a synonym for a free society. It has also been used by Communists and Socialists as a synonym for those "egalitarian illusions," to which Kristol seems to be referring. (We say, "seems to be referring," because there are very evident egalitarian illusions in this persuasion that the former Marxist is defining. But we will come back to that.) Basically, it means simply rule by numbers. Yet that does not really define it in any particular situation. Nor whether you mean procedural or substantive "Democracy." In the first, you merely select who will carry out previously determined functions, or make "yea" or "nay" decisions, within the framework of those functions. In the second, you allow the majority to determine the actual extent of the functional role of Government.
In drafting the Constitution, the Founding Fathers were motivated to prevent "Democracy." In the Federalist Papers, Madison basically equates it with mob rule, and his fear explains some of the carefully designed devices, such as the Electoral College, intended to inhibit tendencies in that direction. Such, too, was the policy of allowing each State to define for itself, not only who would have suffrage in its own elections, but who would have suffrage in Federal elections, among its own citizens. In ancient Athens, where the term first came into use, citizenship was strictly limited to ethnic Athenians. A large non-Athenian population, drawn to the center of trade and culture, could enjoy many benefits, but not the right to vote; while the largest element of the population, at the time, were actually slaves.
In our times, "Democracy" has come to mean universal suffrage among all who were born or naturalized within a given State. The notion that universal suffrage is a wise goal for all peoples is premised upon an egalitarian delusion--one which the "Neo-cons" definitely exhibit. The idea that all classes of a society can be made so prosperous, by artificially (debt) stimulated economic growth, that they will become demagogue resistant--another of those "Neo-con" assumptions (along with Kristol's "hope" that the deficits employed will be only temporary)--shows a woeful confusion of cause and effect. It is not the prosperity of places where universal suffrage seems to work, that makes "democracy" succeed; although there is a tad more truth to that notion than in the kindred error that the imposition of "democracy" makes for prosperity.
It is true that people scratching to merely survive, do not have the time to reflect deeply on political choices. But what it all really comes down to, is that both political savvy and economic success depend upon a certain level of intelligence; and a very large percentage of the people on this earth do not have that level of intelligence. And no amount of Marxist--or ex-Marxist, ex-Trotskyist--social engineering, or economic manipulation, is going to change that reality. But Kristol continues:
This leads to the issue of the role of the state. Neocons do not like the concentration of services in the welfare state and are happy to study 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. Because they tend to be more interested in history than economics or sociology, they know that the 19th-century idea, so neatly propounded by Herbert Spencer in his "The Man Versus the State," was a historical eccentricity. People have always preferred strong government to weak government, although they certainly have no liking for anything that smacks of overly intrusive government. Neocons feel at home in today's America to a degree that more traditional conservatives do not.
Here, in the words of their "godfather," we have the "Neo-cons coming from a perspective 180 degrees at variance with the American tradition--with the American ethos--with everything that American Conservatism is trying to preserve. We have in other essays, at this web site, gone into the nature and quality of settlement, and the emergence of an American ethnicity, ethos and political culture. In motivation, it was the precise opposite to that of the European Utilitarian, whether of the Liberal or Marx/Lenin/Hitler variety. If Kristol has genuinely abandoned his devotion to Trotsky, he still has not come to even question the collectivist utilitarian ideology that runs through not only Marxism, but its National Socialist and Fabian Socialist cousins.
Briefly stated, it was what Kristol dismisses as an "historical eccentricity," that drove the Founding Fathers to repudiate the British Government; to repudiate the march towards the centralization of power. The perspective of the Revolution--ours, not Trotsky, Lenin or Hitler's--was based upon several generations of on the ground experience by very self-reliant settlers. It was not pure theory, as was Marxist Communism, or the Democracy cult that Kristol and others seem to embrace, as some sort of magic wand to improve the human condition. In building political societies from the ground up--often quite distant from even the pretense of anyone else being able to dictate to them or succor their needs--they had learned from that personal experience, how little an adequate man really is dependent upon Government.
It was in understanding the dynamic of a society premised upon individual responsibility--not Governmental direction--that those original Americans unleashed the unprecedented engine for actual economic growth, that has been the marvel of the world, ever since. That engine has been slowed at times--as by Kristol's hero FDR, whose interventions extending Government more deeply into the economy and the day to day decisions of the players in that economy, materially slowed our recovery from the Great Depression. But it has still outdistanced that of virtually every other society on the planet. And it was the clear demonstration of that individually, not Governmentally, directed dynamic, which finally forced the Socialist world to modify its dogma to the extent that even in Communist China, they are now allowing private initiative in at least some aspects of a market driven economy. But Kristol, with no showing that he even understands that dynamic, blithely dismisses both Hayek and Herbert Spencer. He continues:
But it is only to a degree that neocons are comfortable in modern America. The steady decline in our democratic culture, sinking to new levels of vulgarity, does unite neocons with traditional conservatives--though not with those libertarian conservatives who are conservative in economics but unmindful of the culture. The upshot is a quite unexpected alliance between neocons, who include a fair proportion of secular intellectuals, and religious traditionalists. They are united on issues concerning the quality of education, the relations of church and state, the regulation of pornography, and the like, all of which they regard as proper candidates for the government's attention. And since the Republican party now has a substantial base among the religious, this gives neocons a certain influence and even power. Because religious conservatism is so feeble in Europe, the neoconservative potential there is correspondingly weak.
In order to keep this essay to a readable length, we will not comment in depth upon some of the interesting assumptions in that paragraph. We will only remark, that from our experience in fighting for traditional American values over many decades, we have yet to meet a traditional conservative, who was a conservative in economics but "unmindful of the culture." There may be differences in emphasis, granted. But traditional Americans have always been concerned with both. The "Neo-con" guru continues with sudden emphasis:
AND THEN, of course, there is foreign policy, the area of American politics where neoconservatism has recently been the focus of media attention. This is surprising since there is no set of neoconservative beliefs concerning foreign policy, only a set of attitudes derived from historical experience. . . . These attitudes can be summarized in the following "theses" (as a Marxist would say): First, patriotism is a natural and healthy sentiment and should be encouraged by both private and public institutions. Precisely because we are a nation of immigrants, this is a powerful American sentiment. Second, world government is a terrible idea since it can lead to world tyranny. International institutions that point to an ultimate world government should be regarded with the deepest suspicion. Third, statesmen should, above all, have the ability to distinguish friends from enemies. This is not as easy as it sounds, as the history of the Cold War revealed. The number of intelligent men who could not count the Soviet Union as an enemy, even though this was its own self-definition, was absolutely astonishing.
We would strongly suggest, that the only significant number of "intelligent men who could not count the Soviet Union as an enemy," were those in academic and similar circles who, like Kristol in his youth, had actually accepted important aspects of the Communist value system. Traditional American Conservatives, to a man, considered the Soviet Union their enemy. Kristol can only make the statement that he does, because he was still associating with ideologically alien individuals, at least up until the collapse of European Communism. This is a very revealing demonstration of his perspective. As for our being "a nation of immigrants?" We have dealt with the logical error in that platitude in Chapter XV of the Debate Handbook, linked below.
Finally, for a great power, the "national interest" is not a geographical term, except for fairly prosaic matters like trade and environmental regulation. A smaller nation might appropriately feel that its national interest begins and ends at its borders, so that its foreign policy is almost always in a defensive mode. A larger nation has more extensive interests.
We must interrupt Kristol's paragraph, to point out how really foggy is his focus, here. Trade may be a "prosaic matter" to the "Neo-con" guru, but it is vital to nations large and small, and does not end at anyone's borders. But this sage continues:
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. Barring extraordinary events, the United States will always feel obliged to defend, if possible, a democratic nation under attack from nondemocratic forces, external or internal. That is why it was in our national interest to come to the defense of France and Britain in World War II. That is why we feel it necessary to defend Israel today, when its survival is threatened. No complicated geopolitical calculations of national interest are necessary.
Geopolitical calculations of national interest are always necessary, before you commit Americans to any battle. You cannot ask our youth to die for a foreign ideology, or a foreign interest or an academic shibboleth. One of the differences between a Republic and a Monarchy is the concept of the citizen army; and there are obvious serious moral restraints, even apart from the clear intention of our written Constitution, in how you deploy our youth.
Kristol's gratuitous comparison to the Soviet Union, which was committed to promoting a Communist World Order, shows an abysmal misunderstanding of the purpose of the Federal Union, known as the "United States of America." While the Founding Fathers, and those of their "persuasion" for generations afterward, spoke of America as an example for others--as a great "hope" for Mankind--imposing an ideology on others was never intended to be part of our foreign policy. And when, in the past, the idea was tried, the results proved very ugly indeed.
Again, Kristol is defining something here that is neither new nor Conservative. Under the tenure of the Kennedy/Johnson Secretary of State, Dean Rusk (1961 - 1969), the announced foreign policy of the United States was to promote "our revolution" in the Third World, before the Communists could promote theirs. As it turned out, Rusk's version of "our revolution," also identified under the mantra of "Democracy," was a sure prescription for havoc among the supposed beneficiaries and their neighbors. But no one pretended that Dean Rusk was a "conservative." We have dealt with this phenomenon in our essays on "An American Foreign Policy" and "Democracy In The Third World," linked below.
To further illustrate the absurdity of Kristol's notion that America exists to make the world safe for Democracy, we borrow one of Pat Buchanan's favorite examples: Adolph Hitler rose to power by using the Democracy, which the Weimar Republic provided for Germany. While he, almost immediately, staged a phoney crisis and suspended Constitutional Government, there is little doubt but that had he chosen to continue to allow free elections, he--as FDR, who had also claimed extraordinary power to deal with the Depression--would have gained political strength, reflecting his obviously growing popularity. Remember that Hitler, as FDR, was a very effective pubic speaker; that he, as FDR, had a very real economic crisis to exploit. Without abandoning any of his long range plans, Hitler could have continued to hold elections, and obtained a "democratic" mandate--even into the early days of the War. Now, of course, he didn't! He made no pretense of his disdain for the Weimar Republic. But had he been a bit more of a Fabian, rather than a nationalistic version of Marx, he could have pretended otherwise.
While it may not be generally remembered, Great Britain suspended the electoral process during the War. The elections that were supposed to take place in 1940 didn't. Under Kristol's logic, had Germany followed our hypothetical Fabian course, and held an election in 1939 or 1940, we could have been drawn into the defense of Hitler's Germany against Chamberlain and then Churchill's Britain! Oh, but one can anticipate the likely response: Great Britain had been democratic long enough, that we could trust them to restore "Democracy" after the War; whereas no one could trust Hitler. But Kristol has compromised that response in his example of Israel. For at the time Israel was established in 1948 (following the U.N. decreed partition of Palestine in 1947), Lebanon was already an established "Democracy." And Lebanon was a "Democracy" still, when it took part in the first Arab war against the new State, and for decades thereafter. What endless dilemmas the Democracy mantra invites!
And what endless silliness! We believe that most Americans, today, feel friendly to the Israelis. But is it because of how their Government is chosen, or because of factors that have virtually nothing whatever to do with how their Government is chosen? For example, there is a very large religious group that identify with Israeli interests for Biblically derived reasons. Would even one percent of such persons, change their sentiments, if, tomorrow, the Israelis located a descendant of King David and crowned him King? How about the still significant numbers who see Israel as a refuge for Jews afflicted by the murderous German Socialist rampage in the 1940s? Would even two percent of those people change their sentiments if Israel became a Monarchy? Or how many of those who are sympathetic to Israelis, as a settler people who have repeatedly battled armed adversity in building their present State, and in reclaiming desert, etc.? Would more than 5% turn against Israel, if she changed her method of choosing leaders? Would any of those who side with Israel simply because she has a predominantly European culture?
Professor Kristol needs to understand that incantation is no substitute for reason. There is no magic in majority rule. It can sometimes lead to intelligent government, as in the Swiss Cantons. But it can just as easily lead to mob rule, as in what is now Zimbabwe, or as in Aristide's Haiti. Who steeped in the American tradition--the heritage that Kristol does not seem to even understand--would not have preferred to see what is now Zimbabwe remain the prosperous and peaceful, food exporting oligarchy, which was once Rhodesia?
Irving Kristol continues:
Behind all this is a fact: the incredible military superiority of the United States vis-a-vis the nations of the rest of the world, in any imaginable combination. This superiority was planned by no one, and even today there are many Americans who are in denial. To a large extent, it all happened as a result of our bad luck. During the 50 years after World War II, while Europe was at peace and the Soviet Union largely relied on surrogates to do its fighting, the United States was (sic) involved in a whole series of wars: the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the Kosovo conflict, the Afghan War, and the Iraq War. The result was that our military spending expanded more or less in line with our economic growth, while Europe's democracies cut back their military spending in favor of social welfare programs. The Soviet Union spent profusely but wastefully, so that its military collapsed along with its economy.
All just a matter of "luck?" Mere chance? This guru does not understand that the Soviet economy collapsed for the same reason that his "hero" FDR failed to solve the Great Depression. A planned economy ("big government") can never compete with a free economy. The reason is not hard to grasp. The free economy--based upon individual responsibility--unleashes the dynamic potential of every intelligent individual; everyone, who understands that his success or failure depends upon his own effort. There is no way that a few thousand central planners can ever unleash a comparable effort to that of a whole people, self-motivated; each seeking what he can do best, that others will most value. Reagan managed to pull Government off the back of enterprise, at least enough, that the comparative strength of our economy, compared to the Soviet planned economy, became very clear; and the Communists could no longer even try to compete in developing expensive military potential.
Suddenly, after two decades during which "imperial decline" and "imperial overstretch" were the academic and journalistic watchwords, the United States emerged as uniquely powerful. The "magic" of compound interest over half a century had its effect on our military budget, as did the cumulative scientific and technological research of our armed forces. With 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 world may "discover" whatever "opportunities" it chooses. The responsibilities of our armed forces are very clear--and they have nothing to do with "neo-con" theories. They are to provide for the "Common Defense" of these States--the United States of America. And the notion of finding "opportunities to use" armed forces, is a very Freudian use of words. America's youth at arms are not the playthings of "Neo-cons," seeking projects; and someone needs to make that very clear!
The older, traditional elements in the Republican party have difficulty coming to terms with this new reality in foreign affairs, just as they cannot reconcile economic conservatism with social and cultural conservatism. But by one of those accidents historians ponder, our current president and his administration 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. As a result, neoconservatism began enjoying a second life, at a time when its obituaries were still being published.
The element of truth in the above is that the Administration has indeed invited "Neo-cons" into the Government. It is solely for this reason that we have written this article, rather than just mentally dismiss "Neo-cons" as one more group of pseudo-intellectual poseurs, deluding themselves in revealing word games.
But the idea that there is a dichotomy, between economic conservatism and social and cultural conservatism, is a figment of a certain type of academic mindset. It is a fantasy embraced not by real Conservatives, but by those who want to claim the label without bothering to even try to understand the American tradition that Conservatives defend. It is, in fact, precisely that same foundation in individual responsibility, which drives the free market as the greatest engine for growth, which also makes other social and cultural aspects of the American tradition work. The same limitations on Governmental meddling, which unleashed the full capitalistic potential of an earlier America, also limited central planning and attempts at social manipulation in virtually every other facet of American life.
Thus the "Police Power"--which deals with the right of Government to legislate for the health, safety and morals of the people--was left wholly to the States under the Constitutional compact; with strict limitations in almost every State, on how far they in turn could go, to restrict the free individual. Thus each State, in joining, specifically surrendered its right to make anything but gold or silver, legal tender for the discharge of debt, and renounced any right to impair the obligation of any contract. Thus we looked to an armed citizenry, not a large military establishment, as our first line of defense. Thus George Washington told us that the foundation of our system lay in "Private Morals." There is no way that America can work without a large body of personally accountable, morally responsible, individuals, who understand that Government is not the ultimate answer to the everyday struggles of a people. Our very existence was premised upon a repudiation of the sort of centralized tampering, the "Neo-cons" accept.
In an earlier writing, Memoirs of a Trotskyist, Kristol had observed about his membership in the Trotskyist "Young People's Socialist League:"
I have no regret about that episode in my life. Joining a radical movement when one is young is very much like falling in love when one is young. The girl may turn out to be rotten, but the experience of love is so valuable it can never be entirely undone by the ultimate disenchantment.
There were Communists who became fervent anti-Communists; coming to see that Communism was not only totally impractical, as well as terribly flawed in its execution in Russia and other lands; but that from its very conception, it was an attack on all that was good or noble in the human experience; indeed, all that was Holy in the very nature of man: That it was an assault not only on man as an individual, but on reality itself. Kristol's disillusionment with his Marxist youth does not appear to have been such. The implication of his comments suggests that the man considers his youthful identification with the murderous Trotsky--head of the Bolshevik "Red Army," and actually to the Left of Stalin--as idealistic, his first love.
Yet what sort of idealism, what sort of love idyll--to follow his own figure of speech--embraces a willingness to butcher an elite, in order to level human society; to place the interests of the collective--the mob--first, even though it means totally sacrificing what in the American ethos have always been seen as the God given rights of the individual to be an individual; the right to chart his own life and pursuit of happiness, rather than have that life and the fruits of his labor, appropriated for one of the most fanatic of the warped 20th Century views of the "greatest good for the greatest number."
Kristol may have seen the flaws in the Communist execution of Marxist and utilitarian theories; even the flaws in the forced leveling of society; but his apology for "big government," and his musing about seeing the historic effects of his "persuasion" only in retrospect, etc., shows that he has really not abandoned the Totalitarian Collectivist mindset: We refer to the belief that central planning in both the economy and in the instillation of new value systems and societal norms, which underpinned both the Communist and National Socialist assaults on traditional societies in the past Century, can be either a practical or idealistic approach to human problems. And in his not so modest references to "history in retrospect," one wonders if he has not simply moved from the images of Lenin and Trotsky in Red Square to those of Hitler at Nuremberg. It is historic fact, that Roosevelt's approach to the Great Depression was sufficiently parallel to Hitler's, that Nazi intelligence at the beginning of World War II, actually attributed FDR's preference for Great Britain over Nazi Germany to jealousy over Hitler's greater success in imposing his system on his people! (A very interesting perspective, reported in Shirer's Rise & Fall Of The Third Reich.)
Mussolini had been the fair haired boy of Italian Socialists. But in 1922, he launched the "Black Shirts," the Fascist movement, which while militantly anti-Communist and claiming to be an answer to the Left (the original Third Force between the forces of tradition and Marxism), nevertheless reflected important aspects of his former Collectivist utilitarian attitude. Mussolini also sought to restore Italy to the magnificence of the Caesars; and, in 1935, his vision of a new Roman Empire, led him to attack the last truly independent African nation, save for tiny Liberia and the Union of South Africa. Ethiopia's monarch could trace his lineage back to a time centuries before Christ; but his army were primitively armed, and the other Western nations, whom Mussolini had hoped to impress with the glory of the new Italy, witnessed in disgust, the images of Italian planes attacking Ethiopian tribesmen, trying to fight back with spears not unlike those which their ancestors had been using at the time of the Caesars.
In the years that followed, Mussolini repeatedly failed to deliver on his promises of imperial grandeur. As Germany's ally, he invaded Greece in World War II. The far less numerous Greeks counter-attacked, and invaded little Albania, which Mussolini had seized on the eve of the War. The Fascist government was only saved from utter humiliation by German intervention; the first of several incidents in World War II, where German forces were diverted to give Mussolini continued credibility. It is entirely possible that those diversions guaranteed an Allied victory--or at least hastened same. They certainly threw the German time table off. To paraphrase Irving Kristol, we can only really evaluate the importance of Mussolini's delusions of grandeur "in retrospect."
America's seizure of Iraq, in early 2003, went infinitely more smoothly than one of Mussolini's military escapades. We can be proud of how well our young men and our military hardware performed. But, unfortunately, a "Neo-con" element in Washington had an ideological agenda, which went well beyond merely removing a potential threat to the interests and safety of the United States and their citizens. And yet more unfortunate, it is becoming clearer, day by day, that even as Mussolini had allowed a fantasy in wishful thinking to cloud his judgment, leading in fairly short order to the total obliteration of his vision for a new Italy; those "Neo-cons," in the present Administration, had allowed their ideological agenda to cloud their judgments as to what should follow that speedy victory.
According to the limited data, we have seen, the average I.Q. of Iraqi residents is in the 80s, compared to a British and American White norm, set at 100, and Japanese and Korean norms, somewhat higher than the White. The Iraqis had inferior equipment in the actual war. They lack the technical skills to improvise at the same level as Americans. The rest of the world does not see suppressing an Iraqi "insurgency" as a noble venture. We are being seen as bullies, not heroes, by more and more of the world. While we certainly agree with the Administration that foreign opinion must never be allowed to deter America from defending her own interests; the theory that imposing "Democracy" on others somehow defends American interest, is totally unproven. Indeed, in Africa alone, in the fallout from the Dean Rusk foreign policy of the 1960s, we have compelling evidence that imposed "Democracy" is virtually a total disaster for all concerned.
A century hence, Mussolini's new Roman Empire and the "Neo-con" daydream of a Democratic Third World, will both appear to be equally delusional. But will we pay a still greater price than the Italians paid for their delusion?
To understand the significance of the issue here, we would urge each reader to pause for a moment, the next time he or she passes a playground with kindergarten aged children frolicking on a nice spring day. Consider the happy optimism of those children; the prayerful hopes of their families; the sweeping panorama of the human experience.
The future has never been certain for any people, anywhere. In the reasonable expectation of any mortal, a certain percentage of the cheerful innocents of his generation, will experience personal tragedy of one sort or another. And, almost certainly, a significant percentage of the young boys will someday be called upon to defend their families, homes, communities and nation--to put their lives on the line. That is in the ordinary course of human affairs, and cannot be unilaterally avoided. We want our sons to grow into honorable men, our daughters into supportive women. But how can anyone consign children, in advance, to being maimed or killed, in pursuit of an obviously fallible academic pipe dream? (We are deliberately avoiding a discussion of the prospect for maiming girls if the Clinton/Bush reversal of chivalry, by putting women in "harms' way," is allowed to continue.)
The "neo-con" vision is not even arguably realistic. As suggested above, it is premised upon the same errors in assessing the human condition, which fueled the destruction of hope in Russia and Nazi Germany. It is not premised upon that understanding of other peoples, which led to more successful Colonial adventures in an older, more chivalric Europe. While empire building, in the sense of acquiring colonies, has not been an American objective, save within a limited scope in the era of the Spanish American War, one should understand that the arrogant idea of trying to remake other peoples' cultures, is the way not to build an empire. It is the way to build lasting enmity. An obvious, English example, would be the many generations of damage to English/Irish relations, flowing from the effort to change Irish religious identification from Catholic to Protestant.
To develop a viable and useful--as opposed to draining--Empire, the approach should be little different than that adopted when you are simply trying to forge alliances with other peoples for a short term objective. You work with the existing value system and social structure; you recognize the ethnic idiosyncrasies and treat them with respect; you do not seek to impose a foreign culture, nor insult the things a people consider sacred. Any other approach is only calculated to increase hostility and provoke conflict. That a comparative handful of "Neo-con" advisors have apparently succeeded in persuading the President, that he can help the Near East by using the vast power of the United States to impose their (the "Neo-cons," not the United States') vision on the diverse tribes and nations of the region, may have very tragic consequences. The bitterness already generated by the President's ill advised rhetoric towards promoting "Democracy" (and lecturing others on the status of women), has already guaranteed a long standing bitterness.
The pretended pragmatism of the "Neo-con," is the opportunistic, utilitarian swagger of Benito Mussolini, who broke with his own Marxist past, not out of principle, but out of a sense of opportunity, under his own equally pseudo-utilitarian banner. Like Mussolini's apparent pragmatism, the "Neo-con" vision or "persuasion" can never accomplish anything worthwhile, because it denies too many essential elements of reality. You cannot pick and choose what is real. You can adopt popular fantasies, but the reality is still out there, and will get you in the end.
History comes in all shades of the benign to the malevolent; but seldom do the actual intentions of the players, at any moment in time, determine how benign or how malevolent the next page will be. It is in a confluence of factors that most results are obtained--or sometimes in the avoidance of unnecessary adversity. If we allow witless theorists to continue to commit American lives and resources to half-baked projects, premised upon intellectually under-done theories, we are going to lose not only the world's respect. By undermining the morale of our Armed Forces, we will end by surrendering our present dominant position--the very resource that has emboldened the witless theorists--and we will be at a risk level that we have not known on these shores since 1814. Of course, if we continue to allow those witless theorists prominent positions in our Federal Government, there may not be much left to defend. By their own admission, no part of the "Neo-con" agenda relates to defending the values of 1776 or 1787, nor the ethos of those who defined those values and inspired the best in American culture ever since.
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