Ask the Neo-Con

I’ve seen on these boards what seems to be misrepresentations of what neoconservativism is, and what neoconservatives believe. It seems like a lot of people are careless when using the term. Hence, this thread, where I try to clear up any questions or misconceptions about neoconservatives and the neoconservative movement that you might have.

The official disclaimers apply. I don’t represent the movement, I don’t have Irving Kristol’s home phone number, and any opinions expressed are strictly my own, unless I attribute them to somebody else. I can just promise I’ll do my best.

Well, first of all, if the opinions are your own, and you don’t speak for anyone else, why take on the label as though you do? Why not say, “Ask Captain Amazing”? I’m not being snarky, I’m being sincere. It seems implicit in the thread that you are speaking for a label, a set of people of like beliefs. But then, in your OP, you say you aren’t. Which is it?

What’s a neo-con? How do they differ from just regular old cons? Who is considered the starter of the movement? How many of you are there? Where do you live? :wink:

Whenever there’s a thread like “Ask the X” (Ask the Gay Guy, Ask the Mormon, Ask the Trout Fisherman, etc.), there’s the danger that some people could take what the OP says to be representative of all gay people, Mormons, trout fishermen, etc, and obviously, no one person can speak for an entire sexuality, religion, or whatever. My beliefs are neocon beliefs, and so I’m speaking for them in that sense. However, I’m not an official representative of the neocon movement, and there might be issues that other neocons might disagree with me about. That’s all I meant by that.

I have the same questions as Stoid: if you’re not speaking “for” Neoconservatism, is it just your perception of it, and if so, how valid is it? What’s the source of the information you’re about to give us?

That said, I’m curious:

Why neocons? What particular tenets of, um, paleo-cons do you disagree with, and why? Do conservatives go too far? Not far enough? In what particular areas of policy is conservatism so deficient that it was necessary to “create” a new political identity?

1- What happened to the conservative interest in balanced budgets? Do you feel comfortable with the record deficits being rung up by the Bush administration?

2- Would your position on gay marriage change if one of your children was gay?

3- Do you think that government should be based on Christianity and would you feel differently if you were not Christian?

4- Do you care what consenting adults do in the privacy of their homes?

5- Do you believe in evolution?

Excellent idea for an OP and I’m probably one of the transgressors re the use of the term. Since the word “neo-conservatism” is (apparently) many things to many people why don’t you begin by stating the core tenets of your neo-conservative philosophy.

Here is a Wikipedia article that attempts a broad brush overview of the neo-con perspective. Is it accurate?

I’ll try to answer your question, and hopefully, Shibboleth’s question with it. Neoconservativism tends to differ from traditional conservativism in a few areas. The first, really big one, is on foreign policy. The old conservative movement tended to be really isolationist, and really didn’t worry about things like human rights. So, you have people like Pat Buchanan, for example, who don’t just say we shouldn’t have gone to war with Iraq, but say we shouldn’t have even entered WWII. And you’ve got people who say that we should ally and trade freely with countries regardless of their human rights record…that we don’t need to pressure them to improve it. Neocons disagree with this. We say that there are certain basic rights that are universal and that governments have an obligation to protect, like freedom of speech, of religion, etc., and that it’s our responsibility to make sure that governments do that.

The other big difference is harder for me to spell out, but traditional conservativism tends to really poke its nose into people’s personal lives. It focuses a lot on things like abortion and making sure gays don’t have rights, and those sorts of social issues. Neoconservativism doesn’t really focus on that. We’re not libertarians, but you’re also not likely to find many neocons who care very much what you do in bed or who you do it to, so long as you’re not hurting anybody. We’re also not so big on the whole “states rights” issue or the “federal government is bad” thing, the way that a lot of conservatives stress.

Well I don’t know if you answered the other thread… but here goes:

  1. What changed in your neo-con mentality with the Iraq debacle ?

  2. When Bush loses the election will neo-cons stop being a major force in the Republican party ?

I’m not a big fan of deficit spending, and would like to see the budget balanced, although the Iraq war does make that difficult. However, I am disappointed that the President and Congress are running up such large deficits. It’s not fiscally sound and will hurt us in the long run.

No, I’d still be in favor of it.

I’m not Christian, and while I agree with some Christian moral teachings, I don’t think the government should be based on it.

As long as they close the curtains and I don’t have to subsidize it, not generally.


I think it’s reasonably accurate. I think it does gives Trotsyism more influence in the developments of neoconservativism than it deserves, though. Of the major neocons, only Kristol was ever really a Trotskyist, and by the time a lot of the other neocons mentioned in the article, like Kirkpatrick, Wolfowitz, and Pearle, became Schachmanites, Schachman had split from Trotsky altogether.

What politician(s) do you feel best represent your views? What political views would make you most likely to vote or not vote for a particular candidate?

In terms of candidates, I really liked John McCain. I like some of what Senator Lieberman has to say too.

In terms of what issues I find most important in a candidate, I’d like to see one committed to a strong defense and increased military spending, support for Israel, and a principled and tough foreign policy.

IANANC, but where did you get the idea that neocons do not accept the scientific fact of evolution? Are there many prominent neocons that even tak about evolution?

Okay, Captain, I’ll take a position and you try to refute it.

My thesis: Neoconservatism is heretical and despicable by the standards of modern American conservatism.

What is modern American conservatism? I just read a fascinating new book, The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge (New York: The Penguin Press, 2004). This book provides the most comprehensive and impartial account I have yet read of the American conservative movement, and its gradual rise to power over the past four decades. The authors are British, and have the advantage of looking at the whole thing with an outsider’s detachment. Their thesis is that the late conservative ascendancy results partly from America’s uniquely conservative political culture, and partly from a process of conservative organizing, and alliances and synergies between different conservative factions (economic libertarians, traditionalists, religious conservatives, big-business interests – and foreign-policy neoconservatives), which has been going on steadily since Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign.

Yet, the authors are at pains to point out, modern American “conservatism” means something rather different than what earlier generations understood the word to mean. From their introduction:

But while above is a pretty good description of most streams of modern American conservatism, it does not describe the non-mass-based, purely intellectual-elite movement we call “neoconservatism” – because, while neoconservatism is indeed progress-oriented and patriotic, it is also fundamentally statist and elitist.

In the June 2004 issue of Harper’s, Earl Shorris published an article: “Ignoble Liars: Leo Strauss, George Bush, and the Philosophy of Mass Deception.” His thesis is that the worldview of the neocons is heavily influenced by the philosophy of Leo Strauss (1899-1973), who taught at the University of Chicago in the '50s and ‘60s (and on whom The Master wrote a column last December – Strauss’s thesis is that all great philosophical texts contain “hidden meanings.” Philosophers and intellectuals cannot and should not write clearly enough say what they really mean – cannot because it is too dangerous (Strauss was a refugee from Hitler’s Germany, which experience influenced his thinking all his life), and should not because true wisdom is the proper province of an elite. Strauss was also an aristocratic elitist and a natural-law theorist. From Shorris’ article:

Where did people get the idea that neoconservatives are fundamentalist Christians? The founders of neoconservatism are Jewish, and most are secular people. Those who are religious seem to me to be religious from communitarian principles (religion is good for the kids, provides a social framework, fosters values that make good citizens, etc).

Why do you think people have this misconception? Where does it come from? Is it just laziness? People who think “neo” means “very”?

Interesting. Captain, your summary and your responses to posters definitely paints a different picture from the image I had of neoconservative politics and those who subscribe to their tenets.

a) Do you feel the liberal media misrepresents what neocon politics is about?

b) Do you feel the conservative media misrepresents what neocon politics is about?

c) Should we have invaded Afghanistan long before 9/11 just to oust the Taliban and their historical idol-wrecking, woman-oppressing, religious totalitarian ways? What’s your take on how we’re doing on the Afghanistan-rebuilding front? Are freedom and democracy right around the corner for the Afghanistanis or is the Taliban, and possibly even Al Qaeda, oozing back into power over there?

d) What’s your take on this George W. Bush fellow who is currently occupying the Oval Office? In what ways do you consider his administration’s stances and activities to be in keeping with neocon philosophies? In what ways an affront to them?

I think he’s confusing neo-cons with paleo-cons…so maybe there is something good that will come out of this thread. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but I thought neo-cons pretty much dissasociated themselves from the religious/moralistic stance of the older conservatives, and were more concerned with foreign involvement of the US. Also, my impression was that the fiscal policy of the neo-cons was a lot looser than that of the old style conservatives. Those would be my questions for the Captain…how close are my impressions of the movement?


Would you believe there’s a group of neoconservative socialists? Sort of.

In 1972, the American Socialist Party – historically anti-Soviet, and distinct from and fiercely opposed to the pro-Soviet Communist Party USA – split over the question of whether to support the Vietnam War.

The antiwar faction went on to form a reconstituted Socialist Party USA ( and the Democratic Socialists of America ( (The DSA is ideologically similar to the SPUSA and differs mainly in organizing tactics – the SPUSA is a genuine political party that runs candidates for office, the DSA is more of an educational organization).

The prowar faction became the Social Democrats, USA (

Fast-forward to the present, and it turns out that the SDUSA also supports the Iraq War. (The SPUSA and DSA, needless to say, are flat against it.) In fact, if you review their site, you will see that the Social Democrats share with the neocons a vision of exporting democracy to the whole world by force of American arms – the main difference being that the SD’s conception of “democracy” seems to include more emphasis on labor unions.

By the way, the SPUSA, DSA, and SDUSA all are members of the Socialist International (

Captain Amazing, are you an imperialist? Neoconservatives seem to believe in a strong-armed form of foreign policy. Should America use its military power to extend its influence into not just foreign affairs, but foreigner’s affairs?