The Neo-Conservative That Is One

Here's a young-looking photo of

David Brooks (2004): neo-conservative creepy spendthrift fascist

Hey, man, remember 10 years ago, back when David Brooks wrote a column in which he disavowed neo-conservative as a political label, insisted that there was no coherent group of neo-conservatives, insisted that the people labeled neocons had no real influence on the Bush administration and agreed about basically nothing other than foreign policy, and then went on to ridicule everyone who wrote about neocon influence on the Republican Party and to mock them in the most abusive terms, as full-mooner, probably anti-Semitic, conspiracy theorists?

In truth, the people labeled neocons (con is short for “conservative” and neo is short for “Jewish”) travel in widely different circles and don’t actually have much contact with one another. The ones outside government have almost no contact with President Bush. There have been hundreds of references, for example, to Richard Perle’s insidious power over administration policy, but I’ve been told by senior administration officials that he has had no significant meetings with Bush or Cheney since they assumed office. If he’s shaping their decisions, he must be microwaving his ideas into their fillings.

It’s true that both Bush and the people labeled neocons agree that Saddam Hussein represented a unique threat to world peace. But correlation does not mean causation. All evidence suggests that Bush formed his conclusions independently. Besides, if he wanted to follow the neocon line, Bush wouldn’t know where to turn because while the neocons agree on Saddam, they disagree vituperatively on just about everything else. (If you ever read a sentence that starts with Neocons believe, there is a 99.44 percent chance everything else in that sentence will be untrue.)

— David Brooks (2004), The Era of Distortion
New York Times (January 6, 2004).

Boy howdy, that was a time.

Here's an older looking photo of

David Brooks (2013): creepy spendthrift fascist neo-conservative

The conservatism that Kristol was referring to is neoconservatism. Neocons came in for a lot of criticism during the Iraq war, but neoconservatism was primarily a domestic policy movement. Conservatism was at its peak when the neocons were dominant and nearly every problem with the Republican Party today could be cured by a neocon revival. . . .

— David Brooks (2013), The Neocon Revival
New York Times (August 1, 2013)

So, in light of a New York Times correction ten years in the making, I will no longer be calling David Brooks a creepy spendthrift fascist. It’s back to neo-conservative, which is of course a much more succinct way of saying the same thing.

In case you were wondering, the domestic policy movement Brooks is so eager to revive, incidentally, is the use of an expansive welfare state for Right-wing social engineering. Or here’s the creepy spendthrift fascist neo-conservative Brooks (2013), in his own words The crucial issue for the health of the nation, in this view, is not the size of government; it is the character of the people. Neocons opposed government programs that undermined personal responsibility and community cohesion, but they supported those programs that reinforced them or which had no effect. Neocons put values at the center of their governing philosophy, but their social policy was neither morally laissez-faire like the libertarians nor explicitly religious like some social conservatives. Neocons mostly sought policies that would encourage self-discipline. In almost every area of public concern, we are seeking to induce persons to act virtuously, whether as schoolchildren, applicants for public assistance, would-be lawbreakers, or voters and public officials, James Q. Wilson wrote.

You may have noticed that back in 2004, those were exactly the kinds of sentences that David Brooks predicted to have a 99.44% chance of being entirely untrue; since at the time he insisted that the only thing the people labeled neocons agreed on at all was an aggressive National Greatness foreign policy. But now in 2013 he simply shoves the whole thing to one side within a single sentence, and insists that the main thing they really had in common was their aggressively paternal-statist commitments in domestic policy. I don’t know; I guess maybe something must have happened in the interim so that it is now more politic to talk up neoconservative ideas on domestic policy rather than neoconservative ideas on foreign policy?

Just spitballing here.

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3 replies to The Neo-Conservative That Is One Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Julia

    To what extent do you think the “neocon” label is particularly useful? I see no difference between “neocons”, democrats, “paleocons”, and so on. They all serve the same general purpose.

    • JOR

      They’re all the same in the same sense that Marxists, Leninists, Proudhonians, Trotskyists, Fascists, Tuckerites, and Rothbardians are all the same.

    • Rad Geek

      Useful for what? I think it’s useful for labeling explaining the things that David Brooks, or people like Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, Gertrude Himmelfarb, the staff of the Weekly Standard, Commentary, etc., believe. Whether these kind of factional differences among ruling-class intellectuals matter for much in the long-run, or whether the state tends to do more or less the same thing regardless of the ideological justifications given for it is an interesting question. But I’m not confident that the negative answer is the right one — it probably depends on what scale you’re looking at things. (It seems clear to me, for example, that while all governing parties support the maintenance and core structures of American imperialism, some of the specific features of the Bush administration’s foreign policy — to take one example — are best explained by the very strong influence of neo-conservative foreign policy thinkers on it. (In contrast to the neo-liberal folks who dominated the Clinton administration, the “Realpolitik” conservatives who dominated the Bush Sr. administration’s foreign policy apparat, etc.) Do you disagree?

      In any case, whether or not it’s predictive of the state’s real-world behavior I think that it is predictive of differences in political theory and philosophy, which may be worth arguing about on their own terms and in the interest of truth, whether or not they actually have any impact on state policy, real-world outcomes, etc.

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