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The Neocon Reader Paperback – November 19, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Neoconservatives have formed the first successful American political movement of the 21st century, and this anthology takes a needed step toward identifying the ideas, most of them at least 20 years old, that can be loosely identified as their platform. Though Stelzer, a former American Enterprise Institute resident scholar, points to a diversity of neocon positions in his introduction, most would probably agree with the contributor who considers democracy "a framework to protect, and be protected by, a moral ethos," a belief shaping many of the views on foreign policy found here. Many of the names are familiar: Kristol, Kirkpatrick, Rice, Thatcher, Will, James Q. Wilson. George L. Kelling's famous "Broken Windows" essay (1982), which re-envisions police forces as a means of preserving social order before crime breaks out, is absorbed into the neocon canon in a prominent example of Stelzer's historical reach. The anthology's more significant achievement, however, may be in its presentation of lesser-known views on domestic policy, such as a relative lack of concern over federal deficits. Whether David Brooks and Tony Blair can genuinely be viewed as belonging here may be open to question. Some contributors defensively downplay the movement's influence, while others dwell repeatedly on fringe accusations of neoconservatism's alleged roots in a pro-Israeli cabal. The prevailing tone throughout, though, is one of cautious optimism.
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Still, this book tells us who the neoconservatives are and gives us a fair sampling of what they say, and what others say about them.
Basically, neoconservatives are former liberals. Most started as Democratic hawks. Some of them were startled by the anti-war Democrats in the 1960s and 1970s, and felt that the anti-war movement went beyond constructive criticism and rejected traditional American attitudes, values, and goals. Others, including many "Scoop Jackson" Democrats, were liberals who wanted to avoid appeasing Soviet tyranny. And some were liberals who were shocked by the treatment of liberal values at the United Nations.
Obviously, none of these people had to leave the Democratic Party to maintain their liberal views. But most did. And I was curious to see what views they wound up with.
One article is about foot patrols by policemen. But this strikes me as an issue anyone might take either side of, liberal or conservative. Another article discusses pornography and censorship. Well, that certainly might get a different reaction from liberals than from conservatives. Still, both sides surely would draw a line somewhere as to what constitutes obscenity. The only question is where.
There is a fascinating article on the deficit. It is pointed out that the deficit only includes money that the government has borrowed and chosen to pay interest on. Social security, which swamps the deficit in size, doesn't count. Neither do America's assets. Even the interest rate is not factored into the size of the deficit in many comparisons. Good points. But what does that have to do with being a liberal or a conservative?
There are a couple of articles telling about the history of Britain in its fight against Napoleon, and against Vichy France, and against the Soviets, and even in Kosovo. That is more like it. And while much of this is simply historical, it is clear that George Bush senior and James Baker were anti-interventionist in the former Yugoslavia (clumsily so, if you ask me), while the neocons are interventionists.
Well, there is one more issue. Many neocons are Jews. And that leads to why I started reading this book in the first place. A friend of mine told me that the neocons got us into the war with Iraq. And said that "some folks are willing to hurt the United States if they can thereby help Israel."
Annoyed, I came up with a, um, jilllike reply:
"I'm willing to help Israel if I can thereby help the United States. Unlike some on the Right who are willing to hurt the United States if they can thereby hurt Israel. And some on the Left who are willing to hurt Israel if they can thereby hurt the United States."
Of course, all these statements go a little too far. We all know that relatively few Americans want to hurt the United States.
Still, we do see some folks imply that the neocons are simply Jews who are more loyal to Israel than to the United States, and who have taken over American foreign policy to boot. That is not accurate, just malicious. Joshua Muravchik's article in this book exposes this for the untruth that it is, and also shows how some in the media (especially the BBC) have tried to propagate this untruth.
Actually, I think the full untruth is that Israel is responsible for causing all Arab hatred of the West, that the war in Iraq is being fought for Israel's sake, and that the ungrateful Israelis don't even help us or thank us. And this seems rather like the claim that the reason some folks opposed the German National Socialists in 1938 was that a Czech conspiracy existed which opposed Germany and had conned many in the West into supporting it rather than doing what was right.
For those who want a little reality and truth about who the neocons are and what they say, I recommend this book.
As the joke shows, reading The Neocon Reader was a tremendous source of enjoyment, in the Freudian sense of being "beyond the pleasure principle". The most painful historical experience can yet be felt as highly enjoyable. There is of course the joy of transgression, the malignant pleasure of reading the productions of a school of thought whose representatives (at least some of them) have demonstrated snarling contempt and even hatred for my home country, going so far as taking French fries away from the French and rechristening them "liberty fries" at the US Congress cafeteria. Mind you, no offense was taken. But for people who prize the ability of statesmen to distinguish friends from enemies, this was a singular error of appreciation. Last time I checked, France and the United States were still close allies.
Not that I feel systematically hostile to the neocon creed: particularly on domestic issues, their defense of the welfare state (a necessary pillar of a well-functioning democracy), their attack on the debasement of public life through obscenity, and their theory of "the broken window" resonate with the principles that I hold dear. In other words, and to borrow David Brooks' expression, I don't belong to "Planet Chomsky". I even discovered more sympathy for the neocon agenda than I cared to admit. Moving from the Democratic Party to the Republican camp, they illustrated Winston Churchill's famous saying: "Show me a young conservative and I'll show you a man without a heart. Show me an old liberal and I'll show you a man without a brain." One thing they kept during the journey is their taste for high culture and their polemical talent. As an admirer of style, I could only bow down to their mastery of the written word.
But where I radically part with the neocons is in their attack on the United Nations and on the multilateral system of governance. Dixit Irving Kristol: "World government is a terrible idea since it can lead to world tyranny." In a Star Wars episode, perhaps. But get real: when did the UN Security Council, the International Criminal Court or the Kyoto Protocol cast a menace on our liberties and our democracies? Much as neocons came to realize, against their libertarian allies, that "there is in fact no road to serfdom through the welfare state" (Irving Kristol again), they must acknowledge that, based on the historical record and the teachings of political philosophy, there is no road to tyranny going through multilateralism. On the contrary, international cooperation is a public good that needs to be nurtured and sustained. As Kant argued, a political community of constitutional republics is the closest model that can bring us to world peace.
This resentment for multilateral cooperation, disturbing when it is applied by Americans to the United Nations, becomes ludicrous when British conservatives use it to reject the European Union. Asked "What are you conservatives going to hate, now that you can't hate Moscow?" George F. Will's instant response was: "We are going to hate Brussels". Bureaucrats from the European Commission would be the first surprised to be included in this new axis of evil. This begs a question: are there neocons outside the United States, and is neoconservatism an export product? The Neocon Reader was indeed first published in Great Britain, with the ambition to introduce the political movement to the European public. But here Irving Kristol's remark proves right: "There is nothing like neoconservatism in Europe." Or to be more precise, as Jeffrey Gedmin comments on the case of Germany, "There is a small network of pro-American writers and political intellectuals who are attracted to some neoconservative ideas. But the environment for neoconservatism as such is an inhospitable one." There are neocons in Europe, but there are no neoconservative Europeans.
I enjoyed it because I share the same philosophies as the neocons and I am a member of the military. That's right. I signed up to do the fighting. Nearly everyone that works for me joined the military after the war on terror began. That's right, after the neocon foreign policy was implemented in full action. So to say that neocons are cowards is a slap in the face to all those who serve with me. We are making great things happen because of the bold philosophy explored in this book. And we believe in what we are doing. After all it is a volunteer Army.
Someone who refers to it as a cowards philosophy doesn't know what a hero is. The progressiveness of introducing liberty to the far reaches of the world needs the intellectuals who come up with the ideas and the muscle that brings those ideas home. Everyone has a role. I'm glad this political leaning is gaining steam and allowing America to find its place in the post cold-war world. Read the book to understand why this philosophy will change the world.