« Mary Ann Glendon | Main | Happy Halloween »

October 28, 2005



My opinion: If Neoconservatism is a distinguishable system of political ideas, it is only so in the realm of domestic politics. And if this is the case, then its moment in the sun has actually passed.

As a system of foreign policy, Neoconservatism cannot be much distunguished from the brand of foreign policy that America has been practicing for at least the past 58 years.

Andrew Cusack

Arrogant neo-con nonsense. Utter tosh. Complete phooey. Balderdash.

"In the face of popular misunderstanding and widespread incomprehension of the cultural and actual wars which we are now in, neoconservatism is, I believe, the only philosophy which can stand up against these threats – the moral and practical threats. For in both domestic and foreign policy, neoconservatism centres on natural right, moral clarity and the defense of - and exporting of - what is good in our culture."

The fact is that the previous culture war of modernists/radicals/Jacobins vs. traditionalists/conservatives/Catholics has become a three-way fight with the addition of the Islamists. Neocons are on the liberal side of the culture war but against the Islamic side. They are liberals who are (smartly) willing to make a realpolitik alliance with the trads against the greater Islamic threat.

We must not forget that, although the neocons are on our side in the West vs. Islam fight, they are almost always against us in the West of the Ages vs. West of Whim fight. Neoconservatism is just the latest inheritor to the Enlightenment, given added force by a willingness to see at least some things in more realistic terms. Yet it still clings to idealism and utopianism such as their belief in the universal application of democracy in a similar fashion to the Trotskyite idea of internationalist communism (as opposed to Stalin's nationalist communism).

If you ask me, neoconservatism is a load of nonsense and we should all say so!

Mrs. Peperium

Andrew, that is a more enlightened understanding of neoconservatism than mine. I have always suspected neocons not to care about abortion being morally wrong. They just say Roe v Wade is bad law. Will was the latest to do this last week. Roe v Wade is bad law and abortion is immoral as well as evil.

I like the fact that Mr. Murray is now attaching morality to neocnservatim. I don't exactly know what his morality is, so time will tell. He wrote a book on a one of Oscar Wilde's flames. I wonder if that was the guy who converted to Catholism and may have witnessed
Wilde's deathbed conversion to the Church. Yes that did happen as well as Wilde was baptized into the Church as an infant. Joseph Pearce has written on this.

Mrs. Peperium

Devon, glad to see you're still around. I have to think some about your comments. Isn't it true to say that until recently, the State Department was anti-Israel.


Neoconservatism can't be distinguished from American foreign policy for the past 50 years?? What??? American Cold War Policy was the closest thing we'll ever get to realism in action. It didn't matter what you did as long as you were on our side in the balance of power. States were black boxes and it didn't much matter what went on insdide them.

Neoconservative foreign policy, on the other hand, while still interested in power (or if you want to be neorealist, security), is interested in using that power not just to maintain hegemony or security. What neoconservatism is, is neo-Wilsonianism with some of the cold bloodedness of a realist.

I don't want to go into too much here, but neoconservative foreign policy is very much needed. Idealism is making a big comeback in the academy and policy traning grounds. Just because the left is against the Iraq war doesn't mean they aren't realist. They are, it is just that these aren't their guys and they didn't much bother with touchy-feely NGOs and TNAs. Current IR theory is very much interested in pulling ideology back into foreign policy and the ideology that it is pulling in is extremely leftist egalitarianism (i.e., anti-west). Frankly, realism just won't work in a practical position today and what we need to do with say "if you are going to talk about ideology in foreign policy, at least talk about foreign policy that makes sense, not some utopian, eschatological, pie-in-the-sky hippy-dippy marxisant twaddle."

Sure, I'd love to go back to the way things were pre-UN and even pre-Congress of Vienna, but that just won't happen. Our foreign policy elites are living in la-la-land (see Peggy Noonan's article yesterday) and someone needs to get them back on track.

There are plenty of IR theorists that reject the Enlightenment, we call them postmodernists. Frankly, I don't see much differente between their postpositivism and the anti-Enlightenment pre-positivism of many on the right who lambast neocons. The idea that it is possible to return to a pre-Westphalian world of monarchs, papal armies, and cold blooded, Machiavellian realpolitik is not conservativism, it is lunacy.

Oh, and the State Department is still pretty much anti-Israel. The State Department and CIA and many other bureacracies are still filled with over credentialed mousey elites who don't believe in an American-centered foreign policy. They believe in getting along with their friends at cocktail parties and even if it means letting them walk all over us, so be it. It is amazing how much of foreign policy being written about these days is blatantly anti-American. It drives me crazy.

Mrs. Peperium

Westphalian ham and brie on a baguette is one of my favorite sandwiches. Perfect nosh for a trainride through Germany which you'll being taking this summer. Christmas morning, I make pasta carbonara with Westphalian ham for breakfast. You should try it. Really.

Mrs. Peperium

How was that for lunacy?

Mrs. Peperium

Misspent, you're on to something her because leftist detractors of our Iraq (and Afghanistan policy) say "Hey, we created Saddam, so why now are we now destroying him? Saddam was part of the black box theory of foreign policy. He could do whatever he wanted (and both he and his sons did) as long as he was on our side. Those days are hopefully done. Read Barbara Bush's memoir and her account of the visit with Chercesque (sp?). Over dinner, she and George both came to the unmistakable conclusion they were in the presence of evil, yet there was absolutely nothing they could do. And George 41 was either the vice-president or the President of the U.S.

Our politics are changing. Let's see who can articulate them best and what means what.

Andrew Cusack

Do you mean Ceausescu? There was a Christmas treat if ever there was one. As my old Latin teacher said of le fin des Ceausescus: "If ever there was a summary execution that made you feel warm and fuzzy inside, that was it."


That's the most horrifying Christmas breakfast I've ever heard tell of. Lunacy indeed.

Mrs. Perperium

Yes Andrew. That is exactly who I meant. You're old Latin teacher sounds much like Mr. P's. Elizabeth or Domina, is now in her 80's now and lives in Charleston, S.C. but is still remains one of our best friends. One of the most remarkable evenings we ever happened to witness was a dinner party in our home with her speaking only in Latin and her brother answering in ancient Greek. Marvelous.

Mrs. Perperium

I certainly hope now that her cover has been blown, Valerie Plame will chose a more realistic (and more mature) hair color. I think old Joe sleeps with a chin strap.

Can you imagine being Scooter Libby and surviving the Viet Cong to only being taken out by a frousy blonde with a California boy-husband that wears a chin strap? What an insult.

Steve M.

Scooter Libby has not been taken out. He is taking fire, but my money is on his winning this struggle. I have not been following this case all that closely, so I have just learned by reading your comment, Mrs. P, that Scooter Libby severed in Vietnam. Of course, the media tend not to mention such things. For example, you probably never knew that John Kerry served in Vietnam.
Turning to the main topic at hand, I agree with Mr. Cusack: "Utter tosh. Complete phooey. Balderdash."

Card's wife

Steve M., guess where we went for lunch today? Pepe's of New Haven Apizza. Mrs. P was one happy woman. So was I.

Mrs. Peperium

Steve M., do you have one of those Chronicles capes that Misspent is talking about over on his blog? He puts one on when he runs out of his meds. Just exactly what is he trying to say with that comment. We should parce his words. Methinks its a typical neocon slam. Does the cape give you super duper Catholic powers? Or just paleocon powers? I have no idea what kind of a con I am. You know, if I weren't so well-grounded that could be somewhat disconcerting.

Scooter Libby is actually a war hero unlike JFKerry. Did you know that JFKerry served in Vietnam? He did. I was shocked to find that out today.

Do you think Tim Russert lied? I do.

The pizza was delicious. We even had the hazelnut chocolate one for desert. Oh my.


Mrs. P., Misspent,

Stripped of the messianistic sheen that has recently been applied to it, neoconservatism is primarily concerned with pro-actively maintaining and expanding American hegemony--just like the "realism" it is supposedly so different from.

Regarding American-Isreali relations. As far as I understand it, America has underwritten Israel since 194?.

And it is good to be back. I have been busy--graduating, finding work, moving, moving again.

Steve M.

Card's wife,
I learn so much on this blog! In order to properly appreciate the joy of "Pepe's of New Haven," I did a google. I had no idea pizza was invented in New Haven (or, at least, American pizza).
The idea of combining chololate and hazelnut originated in heaven. Mrs. P,
I learned of the aforesaid heavenly origin by donning my Chronicles cape. That is also how I learned about the sacred monkeys of the Vatican. Next time Mr. P is in town (I mean, The Center of All Things), he can borrow it. After all, as the founder's monument at Faber College put it: "Knowledge is Good."

Mrs. Peperium

Steve M., in order to properly appreciate Pepe's of New Haven, all you have to do is hop a train.

Pepe's is the best pizza or apizza on this planet. It's unlike any idea of pizza anyone has previously had.

Last night in his prayers,(and totally unprompted) Little Bertie thanked God "for the chocolate pizza".

Now about Scooter Libby;

Here is what doesn't add up - Over a year ago, Scooter Libby gave the reporters written releases (from his lawyer) to say everything that occurred between them to the special prosecuter Russert went right in and blabbed. Cooper and Miller strung it out as long as they could. Cooper sang the day he was headed for incarceration. Miller sang once she mentally lost it after 90 days in the pokey.

OK, so you're Scooter Libby's lawyer and you're Scooter Libby, a Yale or Columbia lawyer yourself, why would you then go and repeat the same lie four (twice to FBI and twice to the grand jury) times, knowing that these reporters would be saying the direct opposite? Is it that best case scenario was for Libby take the hit of indictment and try to beat charges at trial? Or was he hoping they wouldn't indict on perjury and obstruction of justice? They say that Libby's notes contradict him by stating he had talked with Cheney several times about Plame. That wasn't a crime and Cheney could cite executive priviledge with his conversations with his chief of staff, like Clinton did with what his bodyguard witnessed.

I just wonder if the Plame-Wilsons were indeed on the D.C. cocktail circuit, then there's a very good chance that at least Russert knew where she worked. Cooper is married to Mandy Grunwald. Wilson was working for the Kerry Campaign. Good reporters make their money by knowing who everyone is.

Could the reporters not be telling the truth? It's characterized as a he said-he said. This is hardball time. The reason for them to lie is simple, they look very gossipy and unprofessional, particularily Russert. His career would be in the toilet.

What happened to Robert Novak? He's the one who published Plame's name. Yet not mentioned once at all in the indictment? This was supposed to get him and Rove. Yet so far Miller has gone to jail and Libby indicted. Very strange...

Devon, until we went to war, foreign policy was really never much talked about inconnection big with neoconservatism other than Bibi was the guy for Israel. Neoconservatism was largely about culture. Then we go to war and its led by the neocons or so the New York Times says.

There's more to this but I've got a birthday cake to bake and balloons to order. Maybe Misspent, our resident Straussian Neocon (and Blimpish too) will jump in.


Devon, You are correct in saying that American neo-conservative foreign policy is driven by the desire to maintain American hegemony, but it comes at the questioni from a very different angle and as such is not so much concerned with American hegemony just for the fact that it is America. It is concerned with American hegemony because American hegemony means liberal democracy. They see ideology is being inherent in protecting America's interests and as such will not truck with American support of non-liberal powers. Realists don't care about that.

To have an American foreign policy that is not concerned with protecting the interests of America is irresponsible. No one, and this includes world society UN-niks, argues for a foreign policy that they do not perceive as in their interests. Even those American foreign policy wonks that are in love with the UN do so because they think (mistakenly, in my view) that this is the best policy for America's interests. Non-American policy wonks argue for the UN because they see it as harming the US and they take the view that the decline of a hegemon will lead to the emergence of a new hegemon, be that the EU, China, or a world society of NGOs and TNAs.

Every foreign policy is for someone and for something, as Robert Cox says. As much as we may believe in natural law and universal truths, this still holds. The common thread of protecting American interests is there in neoconservative foreign policy, but the embracing of idealism is a huge change and one that cannot be underemphasized when comparing Cold War foreing policy with that of the present.

Oh, and I would not categorize myself as a Straussian Neocon. At least not yet. I know far too little about Strauss to pretend to take on his mantle. I am simply, as I am agonizingly finding out, an idealist, albeit a conservative one.


I heard my name mentioned, so...

I am not, I guess, a neoconservative. In keeping with most of what's been discussed here, Peter Lawler (a brilliant writer who you should read if you haven't so far) says that neoconservatives are conservative liberals, but ultimately liberals nevertheless.

And there's the problem - they are moderns who want to stop the tides of modernity at a certain point (say, 1964); but this just isn't a tenable position - especially as they (quite understandably) aren't prepared to deny themselves the benefits of technology in terms of power and prosperity.

So, while I agree with Andrew on the facts of their position vis-a-vis ours (as conservatives proper), I think this is through a false reading rather than a wrong intent. Many of more neocon disposition are simply too optimistic about the consequences of modernity; it isn't that they don't want many of the same things as us, only that they are mistaken in understanding the ways of the world through the ages.

That means, for me, that we should always seek common cause with them if we can; not just for strength in numbers, but because some of them can move our way. I was much more Whig than Tory once, but then I grew up (no mugging necessary)... The same applies here.

But, I think we have to separate the inner and outer patterns of politics. In the US today (I assume) and in the UK today (I know), there is no governing plurality for conservatism proper, except in particular areas of policy.

For that reason, neoconservatism mightn't be true for it to still be useful. The moments Murray alludes to - the coincidences between the right and the useful - are those points around which we can rally popular support against the Left, to turn the tides of modernity. Neoconservatism, as a popular political style, might be more useful electorally than the much subtler ideas to which we might be sympathetic. And we have to have electoral success to reshape the political conversation, to focus on the more important matters.

On to foreign policy. Although I think Misspent and I would agree on pretty much all particular questions of foreign policy, I do think we come to a similar position from different directions. He is (and he can correct me, obviously) an idealist who is conscious of the sensible limits - idealism tempered by prudence. I probably come from a more realist, national interest, position - but conceive of this broadly enough to include moral goods of global importance ('human rights', to use the media shorthand). So, I'm happy for foreign policy to make the world a better place - but not at substantial net cost to my own country's interests. We could, after all, liberate Burma at relatively low cost - but we wouldn't, even though the SLORC dictatorship is horrific, plain and simple.

I guess for me, Murray's admirable sentence misses a vital point. The moments when the moral=useful are, for sensible people (like us), the easy ones. The problem comes when immoral=useful or moral=useless - which way do we jump then? For me, we should seek to avoid moral harm abroad, but we shouldn't look to do things for moral reasons where they damage our country's interests (broadly conceived).

(Re neocons and moralism - surely Neuhaus, Novak, or Weigel is a neocon who believes in abortion as morally wrong?)

Misspent's Straussian disclaimer counts for me too, obviously.

Mrs. Peperium

I don't Neuhaus, Novak, and Wiegal describe themselves as neocons but if they do, yes. Of course there are neocons who believe abortion is morally wrong. William Kristol, Fred Barnes, and Bill Bennett are the most obvious ones. David Frum does not address, or so I believe, the morality of abortion. This neocon thing has always been slippery.

Perhaps, to be a neocons you really have to be someone who left the Left and you still privately maintain a certain amount of liberalness or a P.J.O'Rourke used to say, "pratice as much private morality as you can tolerate." If that is so, there are times as Blimpish points out, we can make common cause and other times we simply can't.


Neuhaus, Weigel, and especially Novak are all traditionally counted as neocons, because they fit the pattern of liberals mugged by reality. Neuhaus most of all - anti-Vietnam protesting Lutheran minister once upon a time, remember.

Your wider point here is right though - there's no party line on abortion. From memory, David Frum is publicly pro-choice, and so too is Charles Krauthammer. The odd thing about neoconservatism is that it's actually nowhere near as coherent as sometimes thought - the domestic policy-driven neocons (Neuhaus and Novak stand out) contrast with those with stronger foreign policy interests.

Incidentally, I would caution against one point made by Murray in your post with which you seem to concur - that we are classical liberals. Certainly I'm not, and I don't think (in the final analysis) you are either. We might take a classically liberal line on this or that - friendly to free trade and plurality of opinion, for example - but that does not define our position. Liberality is a virtue, but it should be used prudently, not without limit and not wholly for its own sake.

Mrs. Peperium

You're right about the classical liberal not defining our position. I was more keen on the morality aspect of Murray's words. Classical liberalism has a bit too much of the Enlightenment about it for me.

Neuhaus does not consider himself a neocon. He's got a blurb about neocons on his blog at First Things and he doesn't include himself in it. I have to think some more...

Martin Chorich

I have to say that this excruciating examination of what is or isn't authentically conservative, neo-conservative, paleo-conservative, precambrian-conservative resembles the ideological hair-splitting (with dangerous consequences) pioneered by Marxists, Leninists, Stalinists, Bukharinists, Prudhonists, Maoists, etc.

Obsessing about thought purity and sniffing around for whiffs of fatal heresy is a good way to bring about the crack-up that we nervously laugh about.

Let's relax, raise a glass to Judge Alito, and in so doing, remember the things that bring us together must remain stronger than the suspicions that could work to drive us apart.

Mrs. Peperium

Very good, Martin. You are right of course. Glad to see you're still amongst us.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

It Goes Without Saying

  • All original material published here is the property of the writer who penned it. Stealing is not only frowned upon but will be dealt with by strong-armed men trained in the art of legal jujitsu. The views put forth here are not the views of any employer we know which is most unfortunate.
Blog powered by Typepad