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Notes on Neoconservatism

Article # : 11660 

Issue Date : 9 / 1986  4,411 Words
Author : Paul Gottfried

       What follows is a revised version of a paper delivered last spring at the Philadelphia Society. Because the paper was intended to stimulate discussion, the major points are provocatively stated. Distinctions are drawn with bold strokes; conservatives and neoconservatives are placed in stark opposition on both practical and philosophic issues.
        Although I believe that polarities exist between the two groups, it is equally true that neoconservatives differ among themselves as well as with others. The same types of qualifications should in all fairness be made for the conservatives treated in my paper, though space does not permit me to do it here. Flesh-and-blood conservatives, like their neoconservatives counterparts, are far messier to classify than might be inferred from my presentation.
        Might and power, as Machiavelli reminded us, shape human affairs. Both are also relevant to the theme about to be discussed, the rise of neoconservatism as a force on the American Right. Those identified as neoconservatives enjoy demonstrable respect in conservative circles. The Scaife, Smith Richardson, and John M. Olin foundations, all committed to upholding traditional American values, fund their enterprises generously - indeed almost exclusively. Conservative thinktanks, most notably the Hoover Institution, the Heritage Foundation, and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), court neoconservatives celebrities. National Review solicits their contributions. American Spectator and Policy Review feature them with predictable regularity; and the neoconservative publications, Commentary and Public Interest, are often described as the preferred journals of conservative intellectuals. Peter Steinfels The Neoconservatives - whatever its defects and, more recently, Gillian Peele's Revival and Reaction detail the signs of favor that the American Right has bestowed on the neoconservatives. The hostility to southerners, traditional Christians, and most people to their Right that surfaces in their publications usually fails to catch the attention of their conservative admirers. Even traditionalists like to believe that neoconservatives have come a long way - or that in any case they are still growing.
        Such assertions need to be reexamined. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who contributes to neoconservative journals and whose name used to be on the masthead of Public Interest, was in anti-Soviet, pro-Israel liberal democrat in the 1960s, and he remains one today. Carl Gerschman, Sidney Hook, S.M. Lipset, and Daniel Bell, all of whom appear frequently in neoconservative periodicals, have been self-labeled social democrats most of their lives. The same is true for Jeanne Kirkpatrick, however savagely she may denounce communist tyranny. Norman Podhoretz, Nathan Glazer, and Walter Berns have usually characterized themselves as Truman Democrats. The neoconservatives relationship to the welfare state puts their political allegiances into context. They support the economic redistribution and social reforms of the New Deal Democratic Party, up to the point at which that party succumbed to what neoconservatives all contemptuously the "McGovernites." Although George McGovern and the late Hubert Humphrey had almost identical senatorial voting records in the early and mid-1970s, Commentary praises Humphrey, while excoriating McGovern. The difference here is largely symbolic: Humphrey, like Truman, is a neoconservative synecdoche of the old Left-center; McGovern represents a radicalized Democratic Party that is weak on Israel and soft on the Soviets, which the neoconservatives abandoned with fanfare in 1972 and again in 1980.
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