I wrote a post the other day about the documentary The Power of Nightmares and an article by Frank Rich. A comment left on the post by Anonymous questioned my understanding of neoconservatism. So it got me wondering, what is neoconservatism exactly?
Exactly..well, I don't think I have an answer to that, but I think I have a better understanding of it.
Here's what I have gleaned so far:
Neoconservatism grew out of left-leaning, mostly Jewish intellectuals during World War 2 as a reaction to the Holocaust. In order to prevent any repetition of the Holocaust, they believed the United States needed to develop a strong foreign policy and rely more on military might than on appeasement or diplomacy. In their view the Munich agreement was a HUGE catastrophe. As Anonymous stated "Neoconservatives are notable mainly for their idealistic foreign policy."
In the 1960's , neoconservatives became disillusioned with the politics of the left and began embracing a more conservative political viewpoint. I believe the neoconservatives were reacting against the appeasement policies of the left with regards to the Vietnam war. The neoconservatives became more conservative in their social policy in reaction to the free-love liberalism they felt was undermining the war in Vietnam. The United States needed to be morally superior at home in order to be strong abroad in spreading democracy.
Interestingly, many left-leaning, communist-minded leftists in the 1960s became disillusioned with liberal ideology and began exploring neoconservatism as well. I believe, and I may be wrong, the term neoconservative was coined during the 1960s to describe these leftists who became newly minted conservatives.
I have read, and Anonymous has written as well, that neoconservatives are mostly secular and rather liberal in their social policies. I have found nothing concrete to support this statement thus far. As I mentioned above, I believe they became more conservative in their social approach in reaction to the free-love, free-thinking hippies of the liberal movement.
In fact, in the late 1980s, the neoconservatives formed a loose coalition with the religious right. Both movements are similar in their belief in a black and white view of the world with the neocons asserting the moral superiority of the United States and the religious right asserting the moral superiority of their religion. In addition, both movements unquestionably support Israel as a the only voice of democracy in the Middle East. This coalition between these groups shores up my belief that neoconservatives are not liberal in their social policies. I have yet to meet a neocon who has said, "Yes, we must invade Iraq! And while we're at it--equal marriage rights for gays!."
In fact, in a letter to the editor I read in the Commentary (a neoconservative magazine founded by Irving Kristol) the writer declared that he was not a neocon in the form of Mr. Kristol and that he had a more liberal social viewpoint. Then the writer declared his support for Ronald Regan (the letter was written in 1984). I'm still having trouble connecting Ronald Regan to social liberalism.
Irving Kristol, by the way, is often considered a founder of neoconservatism.
I can't end without addressing the "Noble Lie," first discussed by Plato and later by Leo Strauss. According to many, Leo Strauss believed that an elite few were capable of governing the masses because intellectually they understood what was best for everyone. These elite could "lie" to the populace in order to promote the greater good, thus the noble lie. I cannot say for sure if this is what Mr. Strauss believed. Everything I have read suggests that he was more at home reading and discussing the classics than he was at formulating political theories.
But whatever he believed, I think some neoconservatives did believe in the elite theory and the noble lie. And these are the people who powered the Bush Administration these past eight years. Believing above all else in the "democracy for the world" doctrine, they fed the American people lies regarding WMDs, etc. in order to garner support for the invasion.
I don't want to lump all neoconservatives together with those who ran the White House during Mr. Bush's reign. I'm sure, just like in any movement, there are those with differing viewpoints. Unfortunately, this "morally superior" set of neoconservatives are the ones who grabbed the power and the ones about which everyone has written.
It's been fascinating researching all this and I've barely scratched the surface. I'm listing some links below of the articles I've read. And, of course, if anyone has comments, criticisms, or suggestions, I'd love to hear them.