This post will probably piss-off a lot of people. Oh well ... Somebody's gotta tell the truth!

It is my personal opinion, based on observation, that most people (as in "we the people") who refer to themselves as "neoconservative," don't really understand what this means. Because of this, I hope to shed some light on what it really means to be "neoconservative," and why true conservatives should distance themselves from these people as much as they can.

Please read the entire series here: What is Conservatism?

Today, neocons have raised a new flag to espouse their theories - National Greatness Conservatism. At the very base of this new "conservatism," is the desire to change the relationship between the conservative individual and the State. They believe we should all love Big Government!

Prior to the rise of the "neocons," conservatives didn't trust the State at all. Conservatives were on the front-lines battling against war, the draft, the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the Great Society, and everything else coming out of Washington. But once the neocons (who were former Democrats) took over the movement ...

They helped the Left put us in the predicament we're in today ... a federal government that's broke, each American burdened with an unreasonably large tax burden, endless wars, and lost liberties at home.

The truth about neocons (National Greatness Conservatives), is that they aren't conservative at all. They're left-wing, power-hungry radicals ... the "me-too" moderates, the Rockefeller Republicans, the Establishment ...

A Brief Review of Conservatism:

Prior to William F. Buckley and the subsequent rise of neoconservatism, the conservative movement was what we today refer to as classical liberalism (hence, the name of this blog). Similar to libertarianism's Non-Agression Axiom which states,

"[T]hat it shall be legal for anyone to do anything he wants, provided only that he not initiate (or threaten) violence against the person or legitimately owned property of another." - Walter Block

Conservatism believed,

The only purpose for which power can rightfully be exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant. - John Stuart Mill, On Liberty and Other Essays.

When Russell Kirk wrote The Conservative Mind, a new strain of conservatism was born - traditional conservatism - which placed more emphasis on "liberty connected with order" (in the Burkean sense). Traditional conservatism however, did not opposed to classical liberal conservatism, as Frank Meyer noted:

"The simulacrum of virtuous acts brought about by the coercion of superior power, is not virtue, the meaning of which resides in the free choice of good over evil." - Frank Meyer, In Defense of Freedom.

It was the "fusion" of these 2 strains of conservatism, the classical liberal Old Right (libertarianism) and traditional conservatives, who succeeded in putting Barry Goldwater on the 1964 Republican presidential ticket, and eventually electing Ronald Reagan as president.

National Greatness Conservatism:

We'll get into the history of neoconservatism some other time. For now, let's take a look at the basic tenets of neoconservatism, or "National Greatness Conservatism (emphasis added):

But, unpleasant though it is to admit, a barrier to the success of today's conservatism is . . . today's conservatism. Something is missing at conservatism's core. And the main tendencies that now compete to guide today's conservative movement can't fill this void.

The first of these tendencies is the antigovernment, "leave us alone" sentiment that was crucial to the Republican victory of 1994 ... By bringing together all the groups that shared this aversion, Republicans built a winning electoral coalition. But a governing movement is more than an electoral coalition. Wishing to be left alone isn't a governing doctrine. And an American political movement's highest goal can't be protecting citizens from their own government ... A conservatism that organizes citizens' resentments rather than informing their hopes will always fall short of fundamental victory.

What William Kristol and David Brooks stated above, is in sharp contrast to the founding of America and the conservative movement itself. In essence, their argument is that (just like the progressives) the State is prior to the individual.

In other words, a complete rejection of Natural Law.

A third major [problem] in today's conservatism looks to strengthen communities and to invigorate the institutions of civil society. This means devolving power and authority from the federal government to states, localities, and voluntary institutions ... Devolutionists like to quote Edmund Burke's praise of "little platoons," the communities within which citizens can find a home and deal with their problems. But ... revitalization of our local civic life depends, ultimately, on our national political health. America won't be good locally if it isn't great nationally.

Again, the emphasis is clearly against the classical liberal founding of our country, as well as, Kirk's traditionalism. Neocons love the State!

American nationalism--the nationalism of Alexander Hamilton and Henry Clay and Teddy Roosevelt ... Our nationalism is that of an exceptional nation founded on a universal principle, on what Lincoln called "an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times." Our pride in settling the frontier, welcoming immigrants and advancing the cause of freedom around the world is related to our dedication to our principles.

It embraces a neo-Reaganite foreign policy of national strength and moral assertiveness abroad. It would use federal power to preserve and enhance our national patrimony--the parks, buildings, and monuments that are the physical manifestations of our common heritage. And it insists that while government should be limited, it should also be energetic.

Remember, Teddy Roosevelt was one of the first Progressives, Henry Clay is the father of American mercantilism and protectionism, and Alexander Hamilton promoted a monarchy as America's new government. Hamilton told President George Washington, "we need a government of more energy" and held deep content for the "excessive concern for liberty in public men."


What neoconservatism (national greatness conservatism) has wrought, was to replace the conservative ideal of limited government, with the acceptance of the New Deal, Fair Deal, and Great Society at home, while advancing the power of the State abroad - which Kristol happily refers to as "imperialism," while John Derbyshire prefers to call it "colonialism."

National Greatness Conservatives (neocons) want you to accept Big Government interference in your life at home and in others lives abroad. They believe in the importance of government over the individual. They are progressives in conservative clothing.

The National Greatness Conservatives reject limited-government, the individual, and abhor the classical liberal tradition of America. They are cheerleaders of State power, and in my mind ... not conservative at all.

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  • Greg R. Lawson

    You are correct that first generation neoconservatives (Norman Podhoretz of Commentary and Irving "father of Willam" Kristol of the Public Interest) were old school progressive liberals who bought into the intent (though not the implementation) of the New Deal and Great Society.

    However, they were quite disturbed by the anti-Americanism of the Vietnam era, especially on university campuses. They also questioned, using sociological methodology, some of the treasured views of New Deal and Great Society progressives. They used the tools of the Left against the Left and were able to offer sophisticated critiques of policies like the "War on Poverty" and old school welfare. Some of these critiques eventually led to things like the conservative triumph of welfare reform in the 90s.

    The new generation of "neocons" as exemplified by Bill Kristol and many others were always Republican and always pushed a traditional, social conservative agenda while being more muscular abroad (hence Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan's late 90 Foreign Affairs article on "neo-Reaganite" foreign policy and the Project for a New American Century or PNAC).

    While I agree that "neocons" are not conservative in the Burkean sense, I believe they remain allies against the excesses of radical progressives and post-modernists in the realms of academia.

    They do espouse more faith in government, but I think they also point to a serious challenge that conservatives of a more libertarian stripe have.

    This is the challenge of how to keep government under control, but allow it to do some things that may well be necessary in a new and vastly complex world of interdependence, economic intertwining, and proliferation of technology that allows small groups to wreak the damage previously necessitating fully armed states or ravaging hordes.

    I do not think we can go back in time and resurrect some gold standard of the past. As I recently blogged,

    "We need people to respect their traditions from a position of intellectual (not merely emotional) strength while also recognizing the vast differences of the world beyond our borders.

    We need leadership that is conservative, but not trogdolyte. We need a leadership that is visionary, but not utopian. We need a leadership that can educate, but not scold. We need something that no current political figure brings to the table and we need it soon."

    Neoconservatives certainly overestimated our capacity to impose democracy through the barrel of a gun in Iraq. They also advocated policies that spent too much money and facilitated (though by no means caused) our continued spending binges.

    Yet those mistake, as dire as they are, do not mean they cannot help us in our battle against the hard left progressivism Obama and the current Congress brings to the table.

    I think criticism is warranted, but for the moment, perhaps, the criticism should remain a bit more muted as the larger threats and challenges confronted.

    • 1389AD

      No, the neocons are not our allies and never can be our allies. All they do is use the support they get from real conservatives while giving nothing back. They tarnish the name of conservatism and they lay the groundwork for the victory of the likes of Clinton and Obama.

      The biggest problem with the neocons is their sheer aggressive stupidity. There is no reasoning with them. They refuse to see that militant Islam - not the Slavic world - is the real threat to the US, and that there is no way to carve out a sphere of influence within the Muslim world or to spread any form of republican government or civil society there. Allowing Muslims to gain influence in the US is tantamount to raising up vipers within our nation's bosom. The price we will someday have to pay for their folly is incalculable.

  • Matt

    Great post, and great comment! I've always come to two very brief points regarding neocons.

    1. There is no Conservative way to do big government. The two are antithetical by nature.
    2. Neocons blur the distinction between the Republcans and Democrats.

    That being said, I have seen so many Conservatives drop out or stay inactive. The general consensus in this group seems to be that there is no difference between the "demicans" and "republicrats." I have to admit that I have been tempted to join that crowd, but I cannot in good conscious, do that.

    I do agree with Greg in that it is not the time to have significant dissension in the ranks. That can be handled at a later time, but it must be handled at some point.

  • theCL


    I guess it comes down to this ... I have yet to find anyone come up with anything better than our founders did. I have yet to find a political "intellect" that can truly match the intellect of Thomas Jefferson.

    And in terms of today's "intellects" ... Led by what has become today's "national greatness" conservatives, they've completely eliminated the thoughts of today's legions of liberty-minded intellects. Why?

    For example, if the folks at National Review or the Weekly Standard were honestly in favor of liberty, they'd be quoting Mises, Rothbard, and Higgs all the time! But they don't.

    In terms of intellectualism, Bill Kristol is a piker compared to these gentlemen.


    There is no Conservative way to do big government.

    You are absolutely correct!