Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 25, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

NEOCONSERVATISM EXPLAINED....Reader Josip Dasovic, noticing my confusion about what a neocon is, pointed me toward a discussion site where I found a review of The Rise of Neoconservatism, a 1995 book by John Ehrman. It's a decent potted summary, so for everyone who like me has always been a little fuzzy on the subsects of American politics, here's a few paragraphs from the review:

The twin pillars of the liberal position, expansion of democracy at home and resistance to communism abroad, were together known as the "vital center."....The vital center gave coherence to American foreign and domestic policies until it crumbled in the late 1960s....As American casualties in the war in Indochina escalated, Americans increasingly questioned the morality and wisdom of their nation's anti-Communist crusade. On the domestic front, the rise of the New Left and black and student militancy what Ehrman calls "radicalism run amok" challenged the values and institutions of liberal democracy.

The collapse of the vital center pushed neoconservatives and the Democratic Party leadership in opposite directions. Party leaders reacted to the Indochina debacle by abandoning the vital center's foreign policy pillar of aggressive anti-communism. To neoconservatives, in contrast, the U.S. defeat in Indochina signaled rising Soviet power and thus demanded a stronger U.S. anti-Communist commitment. In domestic policy the Democrats continued to back large-scale federal programs to combat poverty and other social ills. Again in contrast, neoconservatives, horrified at the militancy of American leftists and increasingly skeptical of federal social programs, drifted rightward on domestic issues through the 1970s.

The break came during the Carter administration. Jimmy Carter's fuzzy moralism and his coolness toward Israel (many neoconservatives were Jewish and strong supporters of Israel) convinced the bulk of neoconservatives that the Democratic Party was beyond salvation. In 1980 they voted Republican, contributing to Ronald Reagan's victory.

You can read the whole thing here, or even buy the book, but here's one more excerpt that shows remarkable prescience on the part of the reviewer:

Ehrman predicts "a renewal of neoconservative foreign policy thinking in the mid-1990s." But if that thinking is just selective interventionism based on the principles of realism, there's nothing inherently neoconservative about it. (Another, scary possibility is a new ideological crusade, with Islam replacing communism as America's worldwide enemy.)

The entire discussion thread is here if you want to read more about neoconservatism. As for me, I'm quite satisfied now and will delve into it no further.

Kevin Drum 4:21 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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