3 Basic Differences Between Conservatism and Neoconservatism
Or: Why Charles Krauthammer wasn't on my list yesterday.
December 27, 2013 - 9:00 am
I suppose I should have anticipated reactions such as these to my list of the 10 best conservative columnists of 2013 yesterday:
Charles Krauthammer ?
This column alone should catapult him to #1 in terms of “valuable pieces on the chessboard.”
— Diane Vespa (@jnjsmom) December 27, 2013
I tried to preempt this criticism with my second ground rule:
- I’m likewise being strict with the “conservative” title – other various right-of-center ideologies (neoconservatism, libertarianism, Christian theocrats, and paleo-con conspiracists) warrant their own lists.
But apparently some object to the idea that there are distinct ideologies within the conservative movement. Here’s “New MarcH” in the comments:
David – Bravo for opening a discussion of intellectual trends in on the Right. Still, I have some issues as well as some thoughts for further discussion regarding your use of the term, “neoconservative”.
Ben Shapiro but no Krauthammer? You had to twist yourself into a pretzel not to mention Krauthammer.
Also, why the cheers for the NYT not including the “neoconservative” William Kristol but then whooping it up for the less well known Frank Gaffney? Gaffney began as a protégé of Scoop Jackson and Richard Perle. How he is less of a “neo-con” than Kristol (BTW, I have a high opinion of Jackson, Perle, Kristol and Gaffney)?
If you want a deeper topic, consider this: what is the current significance of the term “neoconservative (‘new conservative’)”? As you know, the term was coined in the 70s to describe former FDR/JFK Democratic party intellectuals who were dismayed by the leftward shift of the Democratic party and the failure of its defense, social and economic policies. These folks formed a big part of the brain trust of the Reagan campaign and White House. Neo-Conservatism is often caricatured (not entirely unfairly but ultimately incorrectly) as a movement of New York Jewish intellectuals, but its leaders and founders included Jack Kemp, William Bennett, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, George Gilder, Charles Murray, etc., and, of course, Ronald Reagan.
But what does it mean today? William Kristol may be a lot of things but he took in Reaganite conservatism with his tinker toys so he can’t be accurately described as a “new”-conservative.
During the Iraq war the Left brilliantly grabbed the word and morped it to suggest ‘”chicken-hawk” Jew or Jewish dupe who wants to trick the US into fighting a war for Israel and make money off oil, etc’. Some on the Right were not uncomfortable with grabbing this twisted use of the word and “demagogue-ing” it to try to create a post Reagan isolationist conservative movement. Pat Buchanan was an early adopter of this strategy and it was always funny to watch this Vietnam War avoider suggest others were “chicken hawks”.
So David, is the term you used “neoconservative” relevant to contemporary political analysis? I would say not. It is out of date and serves mostly as a slur word for the Left.
I very strongly disagree. And so did Irving Kristol, the founder of neoconservatism, who in August 2003 defined some of the basic assumptions and tendencies of what he characterized as a “persuasion” rather than an outright movement. There are a number of differences between conservatives operating in the William F. Buckley Jr./Ronald Reagan tradition and neoconservatives operating in the Irving Kristol/George W. Bush tradition. Here are three, and I’ll use Kristol’s own words to explain it.