Neocons – misunderstood, and endangered

There was a recent conference held at Princeton University to celebrate, or rather remember, the passing of the Journal of the NeoConservatives, “The Public Interest”.

Never has there been such a misunderstood movement in American political circles. Unfortunately, the progeny of the original founders of the “movement” allowed the name to be co opted by the Unilateralists in the current administration.

What is fascinating is that even avowed neo-cons like Frances Fukayama and Richard Perle don’t understand the meaning of their own label. They claim to have made a break from the movement but in fact, by disagreeing with Bush administration policies in Iraq they are following EXACTLY in the steps of the founders of neoconservatism.

For those who don’t know. Neoconservatism was a made up label developed in the sixties for an intellectual approach to government and politics first espoused by Leo Stern a professor at the University of Chicago.

Irving Kristol, father of William Kristol, the well know Republican “talking head” was also one of the founders.

Public Interest was founded in 1965 by Kristol and Daniel Bell. It was designed to espouse a new approach to DOMESTIC policy, not, as some would think today, foreign policy.

In fact, despite the raging Vietnam conflict, they made an editorial choice to specifically NOT talk about the war. Kristol and Bell actually voted for opposing parties in the 1968 election, Bell for McGovern and Kristol for Nixon.

In fact, in remarks sent to the conference, Kristol links–in a narrative he says is “perhaps teleological”–The Public Interest’s vision of the welfare state to a vision of America as a global power. When he and Daniel Bell founded the magazine, Kristol writes, “there was clearly a growing American opinion that believed a European type welfare state was the correct and inevitable model for the United States.” He continues: “Against this, there was a party on the right with a radical individualist ethos that opposed the very idea of a welfare state. . . . Could there not be another option–a welfare state that could be reconciled with a world role for the United States?” In Kristol’s view, there was such an option. The Public Interest’s “work in economic and social policy” would be closely tied to “our national destiny as a world power.”

As you can see, here were Republicans, acknowledging the modern welfare state, even embracing it, but with a bow toward what they viewed as responsible government and AMerica’s new role as the world policeman.

Most liberals would be shocked today to know that one of the most frequent contributors to the magazine was in fact Daniel Moynihan. Darling of the liberals and known, long before his work at the UN and in the Senate for his academic work at Harvard on the underclass and the need for the social welfare safety net.

Perhaps the greatest driving force behind the origin of what became known as neoconservatism was it’s empiricism and idealism. There was a certain patina of elitism, academic superiority, but nonetheless a drive to be “in the muck” of the political debate. It was only in the later years that the movement became co opted.

So, like the labels, liberal and conservative, which I so abhor, be careful before condemning those who proudly call themselves neocons.

A trip to the public library to read back issues of The Public Interest might be well worth your time.

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