All Maine Matters

September 2006



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Vol. 1, No. 9      September 2006 FREE

by John Frary

In his new book, Our Endangered Values, Our Rev. President Jimmy Carter admits that he doesn't quite understand what neoconservatism is, though he somehow knows it is allied with religious fundamentalism and he doesn’t like it. He’s by no means unique in his ignorant hostility. For many the word has become a kind of epithet whose synonym is SOB.

I am not an adherent of neoconservatism myself but I have followed the development of its ideas from their origin in the nineteen seventies; I have read their books and subscribed to their journals. The first and crucial point is that founders of neoconservatism are former liberals or leftists. As Irving Kristol, the movement’s godfather once explained, a neo-conservative is "a liberal who has been mugged by reality." A large fraction of them were and are non-observant Jews. Its founders were Democrats and supporters of Kennedy’s New Frontier and Johnson’s Great Society. Some helped directly or indirectly design the policies of those administrations.

The realities that mugged them were the failure of the Great Society programs and the collapse of liberal support for the Kennedy-Johnson foreign policy, i.e., "Cold War liberalism."

This gets a little complicated. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who never accepted the label, was once spoken of a neo-conservative because of his analyses of government failures, which neoconservatives admired. Moynihan’s purpose was to learn from failure in order to identify the rules for workable government programs. Some intellectuals like George Gilder, once an intellectual leader of liberal Republicanism, moved from neoconservatism to undiluted conservatism.

Conservative political thought before neoconservatism was primarily philosophical. Apart from the economists, its intellectuals had little to say about policy formation. A faction of traditional conservatives regard the neoconservatives with distaste. They loathe their foreign policy and resent their promotion of "big government conservatism." I was told by one of their outstanding intellectual speakers that he had come to "hate" them more than the communists.

President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had never been identified with neoconservatism before 9/11. All their previous history identified them as members of the "realist" tradition of American foreign policy which was most clearly articulated with former secretary of state Henry Kissinger. In simplest terms this meant the US should be concerned only with its own interests and that these interests are best served by maintaining a stable status quo throughout the world. George H.W. Bush belonged to the realist school. The Gulf War was carried out under the nominal auspices of the UN. It objective was achieved when Iraq was expelled from Kuwait the and status quo restored. The policy of containment, not the liquidation, of Saddam Hussein’s hideous regime continued this policy.

Neocon ideas came to dominate the George W. administration’s foreign policy after 9/11. The Bush Doctrine that emerged was summed up by the president shortly after his re-election: "The defense of freedom requires the advance of freedom." The assertion and deployment of American power, unilateralism, and a willingness to preempt threats are not necessarily philosophically rejected by the realists, but they are integral to the ambitious neoconservative foreign policy project. It sees world-wide democracy, not maintenance of the status quo, as the long-term guarantee of stability.

The identification of neoconservatism with "Zionism", i.e., support for Israel, arises because of the prominence of Jews in the neoconservative foreign policy "establishment." This overlooks the fact that support for Israel as a working democracy is completely consistent with their broader beliefs. Accusations of anti-semitism are far too cheap and easy, but fretting about excessive "Jewish influence" is an integral part of that odious creed, and it has some influence on the enemies of neoconservatism.

The neoconservative influence on domestic policy is harder to define because the calculation of political advantage is mixed with Irving Kristol’s vision of a "conservative welfare state.". There is an obvious political advantage in stealing two popular liberal Democratic issues but the No Child Left Behind Act and the pharmaceutical entitlement program are bureaucratic monstrosities that clearly violate Moynihan’s principle that the only administratively simple policies succeed. On the other hand, some neoconservatives support these programs because they are compatible with their ideas of activist government.

John Frary was born in Farmington, where he now resides. He graduated from U of M, Orono. He did graduate work in Political Science and in Ancient, Medieval, Byzantine and modern history at U of M., Rutgers and Princeton, completing his Masters degree along with all courses and examinations for the PhD. He worked in administration and as a professor of history and political science at Middlesex County College in Edison, NJ for 32 years. He is associate editor of The International Military Encyclopedia, has been assistant editor of Continuity: A Journal of History as well as editor and publisher The LU/English Newsletter. After returning to Maine he was chosen to be the conservative columnist for The Kennebec Journal and The Morning Sentinel. He was dismissed from this position in December for refusing to drop his criticism of the Dirigo Health Plan. He is currently chairman of the Franklin County Republican Committee.



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