(CATO Unbound) -- by C. Bradley Thompson --
In a recent editorial, the Wall Street Journal declared “We are all neocons now.” The claim is exaggerated but not by much. Neoconservatism has been, for better or worse, the most influential political philosophy of the last generation. But what exactly is it? My new book Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea attempts to answer that question.
Defining neoconservatism is no easy task given that its exponents deny that it’s a systematic political philosophy. Neocons such as Irving Kristol prefer to characterize neoconservatism as a “persuasion,” a “mode of thinking,” or a “mood.” At best, they say, it’s a syncretic intellectual movement influenced by thinkers as diverse as Plato, Trotsky, and Hayek. Daniel Bell captured the syncretic nature of neoconservatism when he described himself as a “socialist in economics, a liberal in politics, and a conservative in culture.” On one level, neoconservatism certainly is a syncretic “mode of thinking,” but I shall demonstrate here that neoconservatism is in fact a comprehensive political philosophy shaped most fundamentally by the ideas of Leo Strauss via Irving Kristol.
First, though, let us examine how the neocons present themselves, particularly in relation to the broader conservative intellectual movement and the Republican Party. Irving Kristol once boasted that neoconservatism is the first variant of twentieth-century conservatism that is “in the ‘American grain.’” The implication of this extraordinary claim is that Goldwater conservatism—with its proclaimed attachment to individual rights, limited government, and laissez-faire capitalism, and its rejection of the modern welfare-regulatory state—is somehow outside the American grain. The neoconservatives are and always have been, by contrast, defenders of the post–New Deal welfare state. Not surprisingly, the neocons support, in the words of Ben Wattenberg, a “muscular role for the state,” one that taxes, regulates, and redistributes—and, as we shall see, one that fights. This, apparently, is what it means to be in the American grain...MORE...LINK