Sunday, August 17, 2003

Neos and Other Conservatives

Irving Kristol has a column in The Weekly Standard on Neoconservatism. (Can we all agree now that it is not just a code word for Jewish conservative?)

View from the Right has a masterly analysisof it from the perspective of traditional conservatism. (The comments are worth reading as well.)

Two additional points---

1. Kristol writes that neoconservatives Republicans "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."

Kristol, understandably, wants neoconservatives to get credit for the political success of the Republican party and the broader conservative movement. But this is absurd. The key switchers-- looking at the 1972 or 1984 elections-- were Roman Catholic voters in the North (Reagan Democrats) and white Southerners. Few of either group were prompted to vote for Reagan or Nixon because Commentary urged them, too. Kristol is acting a little like the rooster who thinks its crowing causes the sun to rise.

2. He also writes that "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 19th-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"

Here Kristol performs a little sleight of hand. American conservatives often were in favor of strong government--- local government. A belief in federalism, states rights, or decentralization is a little different than libertarianism and has next to nothing to do with Herbert Spencer. Kristol doesn't want to address the more difficult question so he fudges by ignoring it.

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