Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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August 16, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

THE NEOCON PERSUASION....What is a neocon? Different people have different ideas, and it's not necessarily true that the neocons themselves can define it best. Still, Irving Kristol is widely regarded as the founder of the neocon movement, so surely his considered views on this are worth hearing.

In the Weekly Standard this week, Kristol takes a crack at defining the neocon "persuasion," something that he says since the mid-70s has been "one of those intellectual undercurrents that surface only intermittently." Here are the bullet points, first for domestic policy:

  • Economic growth is of paramount importance, and cutting taxes is the way to get it. Budget deficits aren't that big a deal.

  • It's a good idea to limit the size of the welfare state, but big government is inevitable in modern society. It's not worth getting too alarmed over.

  • Neocons are united with "religious traditionalists" over concern with the rising vulgarity of American culture. This includes issues of education, regulation of pornography, relations of church and state, etc.

And then there's foreign policy:

  • Patriotism is good, especially in a nation of immigrants.

  • World government is bad because it leads to tyranny. Anything that even points in the general direction of world government "should be regarded with the deepest suspicion."

  • We need to clearly understand who our friends are.

  • We have acquired sort of accidentally a uniquely powerful military, and we are obligated to use it whether we like it or not.

  • Our national interest should be broadly defined and aggressively pursued. "The United States will always feel obliged to defend, if possible, a democratic nation under attack from nondemocratic forces, external or internal."

To summarize: neocons want to cut taxes, team up with the religious right to maintain traditional cultural values, and aggressively defend democracy and American interests in the broadest possible sense.

There's no telling whether non-neocons would accept this as a fair description, or even whether other neocons would agree with it, but at least it's a start. What's more, Kristol is pretty optimistic about the future of neoconservatism:

By one of those accidents 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.

That part, at least, is hard to argue with.

UPDATE: I wanted to present Kristol's views here without comment, athough needless to say they deserve plenty of comment. Brad DeLong gets the ball rolling.

Kevin Drum 11:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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