The Neo-Con Reader


In this anthology of essays written by today's leading neocons, Irwin Stelzer attempts to dispell many of the myths, built up by foreign and some domestic media, that have led many Americans to view neoconservatism as a radical and cohesive movement. Rather, Steltzer seeks to prove, neocons are an ecclectic group of intellectuals and politicians who agree on some major policy issues but who pride themselves on their individuality. "Neoconservatism is more of a persuasion than a movement." He also asserts that ...
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In this anthology of essays written by today's leading neocons, Irwin Stelzer attempts to dispell many of the myths, built up by foreign and some domestic media, that have led many Americans to view neoconservatism as a radical and cohesive movement. Rather, Steltzer seeks to prove, neocons are an ecclectic group of intellectuals and politicians who agree on some major policy issues but who pride themselves on their individuality. "Neoconservatism is more of a persuasion than a movement." He also asserts that the domestic and foreign policies advocated by Bush and his supposed neocon band of ideologues may be a sharp break from the post-Cold War foreign policy consensus, but actually have deep roots in American history and are more consistent with Brittish foreign policy than many believe.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Neoconservatives have formed the first successful American political movement of the 21st century, and this anthology takes a needed step toward identifying the ideas, most of them at least 20 years old, that can be loosely identified as their platform. Though Stelzer, a former American Enterprise Institute resident scholar, points to a diversity of neocon positions in his introduction, most would probably agree with the contributor who considers democracy "a framework to protect, and be protected by, a moral ethos," a belief shaping many of the views on foreign policy found here. Many of the names are familiar: Kristol, Kirkpatrick, Rice, Thatcher, Will, James Q. Wilson. George L. Kelling's famous "Broken Windows" essay (1982), which re-envisions police forces as a means of preserving social order before crime breaks out, is absorbed into the neocon canon in a prominent example of Stelzer's historical reach. The anthology's more significant achievement, however, may be in its presentation of lesser-known views on domestic policy, such as a relative lack of concern over federal deficits. Whether David Brooks and Tony Blair can genuinely be viewed as belonging here may be open to question. Some contributors defensively downplay the movement's influence, while others dwell repeatedly on fringe accusations of neoconservatism's alleged roots in a pro-Israeli cabal. The prevailing tone throughout, though, is one of cautious optimism. (Jan.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The significance of the "neo-conservative persuasion," as Irving Kristol has described the political thinking discussed here, should not be underestimated. Key figures in the Bush administration, particularly those in the areas of foreign and defense policy, are among its adherents. Thus, any citizen who seeks to gain a fuller understanding of the philosophical roots of neo-conservatism and how it is currently applied to a range of policy areas should read this book. Stelzer, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, has gathered a fine collection of essays that reflect the breadth and depth of neo-conservative thought. Among the contributors are academics James Q. Wilson, Robert Kagan, and both Kristol (the father of neo-conservatism) and his son, William Kristol, a former academic who now edits the Weekly Standard; journalists David Brooks, Charles Krauthammer, and George Will, and former and current political figures such as Jeane Kirkpatrick and Condoleeza Rice. The essays are informative and challenging and, taken as a whole, present a reasonably complete portrait of the neo-conservative approach. Recommended for all libraries.-Thomas J. Baldino, Wilkes Univ., Wilkes-Barre, PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802141934
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/15/2004
  • Pages: 328
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 8.92 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Table of Contents

Neoconservatives and their critics : an introduction 3
The neoconservative persuasion 31
The neocon cabal and other fantasies 39
Myths about neoconservatism 43
National interest and global responsibility 55
Postscript - June 04 75
The president's national security strategy 79
New threats for old 89
Doctrine of the international community 105
Beyond the axis of evil : additional threats from weapons of mass destruction 117
The slow undoing : the assault on, and underestimation of, nationality 127
A conservative welfare state 143
Broken windows : the police and neighborhood safety 149
Pornography, obscenity, and the case for censorship 167
The dread deficit 181
Neoconservative economic policy : virtues and vices 193
Philosophic roots, the role of Leo Strauss, and the war in Iraq 201
Conservatives and neoconservatives 213
Neoconservatism as a response to the counter-culture 233
The neoconservative cabal 241
Neoconservatives and the court of public opinion in America 261
The very British roots of neoconservatism and its lessons for British conservatives 269
The prospect for neoconservatism in Germany 289
Neoconservatism in Europe : a view from Portugal 299
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First Chapter

Neocon Reader

By Irwin Stelzer

Grove Atlantic, Inc.

Copyright © 2004 Irwin Stelzer
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8021-4193-5

Chapter One

The Neoconservative Persuasion What it was, and what it is Irving Kristol

[President Bush is] an engaging person, but I think for some reason he's been captured by the neoconservatives around him. Howard Dean, U.S. News & World Report, August 11, 2003

What exactly is neoconservatism? Journalists, and now even presidential candidates, speak with an enviable confidence on who or what is 'neoconservative' and seem to assume the meaning is fully revealed in the name. Those of us who are designated as 'neocons' are amused, flattered, or dismissive, depending on the context. It is reasonable to wonder: is there any 'there' there?

Even I, frequently referred to as the 'godfather' of all those neocons, have had my moments of wonderment. A few years ago I said (and, alas, wrote) that neoconservatism had had its own distinctive qualities in its early years, but by now had been absorbed into the mainstream of American conservatism. I was wrong, and the reason I was wrong is that, ever since its origin among disillusioned liberal intellectuals in the 1970s, what we call neoconservatism has been one of those intellectual undercurrents that surface only intermittently. It is not a 'movement', as the conspiratorial critics would have it. Neoconservatism is what the latehistorian 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.

Viewed thus, 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. That this new conservative politics is distinctly American is beyond doubt. There is nothing like neoconservatism in Europe, and most European conservatives are highly skeptical of its legitimacy. The fact that conservatism in the United States is so much healthier than in Europe, so much more politically effective, surely has something to do with the existence of neoconservatism. But Europeans, who think it absurd to look to the United States for lessons in political innovation, resolutely refuse to consider this possibility.

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 twentieth-century heroes tend to be TR [Theodore Roosevelt], FDR [Franklin Delano Roosevelt], and Ronald Reagan. Such Republican and conservative worthies as Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, and Barry Goldwater are politely overlooked. 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.

One of these policies, most visible and controversial, is cutting tax rates in order to stimulate steady economic growth. This policy was not invented by neocons, and it was not the particularities of tax cuts that interested them, 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.

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.

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 nineteenth-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. Though they find much to be critical about, they tend to seek intellectual guidance in the democratic wisdom of Tocqueville, rather than in the Tory nostalgia of, say, Russell Kirk.

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.

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. (The favorite neoconservative text on foreign affairs, thanks to Professors Leo Strauss of Chicago and Donald Kagan of Yale, is Thucydides on the Peloponnesian War.) 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.

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. 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 non-democratic 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.

Behind all this is a fact: the incredible military superiority of the United States vis-à-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 fifty 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 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.

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 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 that 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 Neocon Cabal and Other Fantasies David Brooks


Do you ever get the sense the whole world is becoming unhinged from reality? I started feeling that way awhile ago, when I was still working for The Weekly Standard and all these articles began appearing about how Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Doug Feith, Bill Kristol, and a bunch of 'neoconservatives' at the magazine had taken over U.S. foreign policy.

Theories about the tightly knit neocon cabal came in waves. One day you read that neocons were pushing plans to finish off Iraq and move into Syria. Websites appeared detailing neocon conspiracies; my favorite described a neocon outing organized by Vice President Dick Cheney to hunt for humans. The Asian press had the most lurid stories; the European press the most thorough. Every day, it seemed, Le Monde or some deep-thinking German paper would have an exposé on the neocon cabal, complete with charts connecting all the conspirators.

The full-mooners fixated on a think tank called the Project for the New American Century, which has a staff of five and issues memos on foreign policy. To hear these people describe it, PNAC is sort of a Yiddish Trilateral Commission, the nexus of the sprawling neocon tentacles.

We'd sit around the magazine guffawing at the ludicrous stories that kept sprouting, but belief in shadowy neocon influence has now hardened into common knowledge ...

In truth, the people labeled neocons (con is short for 'conservative' and neo is short for 'Jewish') travel in widely different circles and don't actually have much contact with one another. The ones outside government have almost no contact with President George W. Bush. There have been hundreds of references, for example, to Richard Perle's insidious power over administration policy, but I've been told by senior administration officials that he has had no significant meetings with Bush or Cheney since they assumed office. If he's shaping their decisions, he must be microwaving his ideas into their fillings.

It's true that both Bush and the people labeled neocons agree that Saddam Hussein represented a unique threat to world peace. But correlation does not mean causation. All evidence suggests that Bush formed his conclusions independently. Besides, if he wanted to follow the neocon line, Bush wouldn't know where to turn because while the neocons agree on Saddam, they disagree vituperatively on just about everything else. (If you ever read a sentence that starts with 'Neocons believe', there is a 99.44 per cent chance everything else in that sentence will be untrue.)

Still, there are apparently millions of people who cling to the notion that the world is controlled by well-organized and malevolent forces. And for a subset of these people, Jews are a handy explanation for everything.

There's something else going on, too. The proliferation of news media outlets and the segmentation of society have meant that it's much easier for people to hive themselves off into like-minded cliques. Some people live in towns where nobody likes President Bush. Others listen to radio networks where nobody likes former President Bill Clinton.

In these communities, half-truths get circulated and exaggerated. Dark accusations are believed because it is delicious to believe them. Vince Foster was murdered. The Saudis warned the Bush administration before 9/11.

You get to choose your own reality. You get to believe what makes you feel good.


Excerpted from Neocon Reader by Irwin Stelzer Copyright © 2004 by Irwin Stelzer. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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