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Chuck Grimes: Ramblings on Neocons
    #2071545 - 11/05/03 12:04 AM (12 years, 11 months ago)

Some Thoughts on Neoconservatism (Link to original article)

by Chuck Grimes

(1) What is neoconservatism? This question came up on an Left e-email list
recently and I had just finished reading Shadia Drury's, `Leo Strauss
and the American Right', St. Martins Press, NY, 1997. Below is a brief
summary of Drury's observations, with emphasis on William Kristol who
founded The Weekly Standard, a neoconservative political
newsletter. While the points covered in Drury's book and those added
here are not exhaustive they give some account of neoconservative
thought and its influence on domestic politics on the US.

(2) There is a lot missing on the list, particularly in foreign policy and
the apparently intransigent and paradoxical support of Israel's brutal
occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza. Also there is no
mention of the recent wars on Afghanistan and Iraq, nor the bizarre
justifications for jeopardizing many of the civil and human rights in
the Patriot Act. These latter developments occurred after Shadia Drury
wrote her book and therefore were not covered.

(3) I make no claim that this hodge podge of neoconservative ideas makes
enough rational sense to constitute a definition. After all we are
dealing with a hall of mirrors. But it might be that the inability to
define it, is part of what constitutes its power. In a sense the
mystification of the irrational, as the rational, takes away the power
of a rational critique, while at the same proposing itself as
pre-eminently rational. So, maybe the best critique is an admittedly
prejudiced description.

(4) Neoconservatives basically separate a liberal political tradition
of Locke and the Enlightenment from its embedding in the historical
evolution of democratic institutions. The former is then battered and
destroyed by means of the latter.

(5) Liberalism in this context means a combination of secularism and
cultural relativism. In particular, liberalism means religious
tolerance, equality before law, and public tolerance for a
multi-cultural society. For neoconservatives while the state remains
democratic in its formal aspect as a legalistic republic, there is an
imposed interest in state enforcement of theoretically dominant
cultural values and religious traditions. This separation of a liberal
tradition from concepts of democracy opens neoconservative doctrine to
the Christian fundamentalists, giving the whole, the flavor of a
theocratic state. And of course it allows for a thorough going attack
on any form of counter-cultural expression---or political opposition
for that matter. There are only friends and enemies.

(6) In terms of a political coalition, the separation between the
development of democratic institutions and political liberalism makes
for the wedding of the old east coast business conservatives with
their new found allies, the old southern segregationists. What made
the Trent Lott affair so important and intense was that Lott's toast
to Strom Thurman threatened to dissemble Lott's obscurantist facade of
family values and so-called Christian traditionalism to reveal his
naked racist and bigot core. By association Lott implicated his
neoconservative allies in the same game. Can't have that.

(7) Neoconservatives also create a separation between nationalism and
patriotism. Patriotism means public displays of support, adulation,
and expressions of loyalty toward various reactionary political
figures like Bush Jr. or Reagan, but they oppose nationalism in the
abstract sense of love of country---which might include figures like
Lincoln or FDR---both of whom had an obvious nationalist spirit. This
separation leads to the idea for example that it is patriotic to cut
down old growth redwoods for the lumber industry and for jobs. Where
as the nationalism base of the environmental movement to preserve
national forests is somehow unpatriotic and a form of treason.

(8) Politically the separation of patriotism from nationalism allows for
dismantling whole swathes of national and historical traditions linked
with liberalism and multi-culturalism under a banner of a Populism

(9) The domestic world can be neatly divided between the patriots and the
traitors, friends and enemies, where patriots are of course the
neoconservatives, reactionary Christian bigots, and their capitalist
supporters while the traitors are predominately the liberal
intellectual elites who support government regulation, central
planning, and controlled development.

(10) Intimately related to these tactical separations is another political
ploy in which neoconservatives claim to represent a Populist base
against an established liberal intellectual elite.

(11) According to neoconservatives, since the 60s, it seems the US public
has been subject to a top-down revolution of liberalism that violates
all manner of the people's common sense, in particular various ideas
about equality and justice. Here the examples are of course the
various civil rights movements and their attending policies of
affirmative action for disadvantaged minorities, women, and
disabilities. It should be noted this idea is a complete reversal of
historical developments where the civil rights movements were in fact
grassroots organizations from the bottom and rose to become popular
demands for legislative and legal reforms.

(12) Nevertheless, in the neoconservative mind, they represent common
sense and therefore the broadest reach of the public polity. For
example it is common sense that not all people are equal. It is also
common sense that poor people are lazy, not very bright, and not
particularly deserving of social and economic support since they live
off society rather than contribute to it. Therefore it is common sense
that the socio-economic hierarchy reflects a natural order of
merit. This is a favorite theme for capital since it naturalizes
capital's own imposed hierarchy of exploitation. On the other hand, it
is also common sense that liberal claims to enforce equality and
indeed manufacture that equality where it is completely missing are
doomed to failure because such enforced policies are unnatural and
against common sense.

(13) By linking such claims to a Populist cause to restore common sense to
government and public policy, the neoconservatives pit their view of
democracy against their view of liberalism. Here democracy is
conceived as Populism and common sense, while liberalism is conceived
as the imposition of equality where there is none and tolerance for
moral lassitude where there shouldn't be any.

(14) Thus liberalism is essentially a form of amoral injustice imposed from
above by elite intellectuals. This nicely combines a Populist
anti-intellectualism with a popular will toward common sense, and
claimed popular support for hidebound moral codes, while at the same
time it justifies the hierarchical order of society as a natural
phenomenon. This inversion essentially co-opts the liberal concept of
equality of opportunity---in order to say that the meritorious have
already succeeded, and therefore further impositions of equality of
opportunity only degrades an already successful social hierarchy based
on merit. In effect, the artificial imposition of equality of
opportunity leads to inequality in that it denies those who have
succeeded on their merits, their full social and economic reward for
that merit.

(15) Another distinction which follows a similar inside out logic is the
separation between the scope of government in its regulation of
private lives and the reach of government regulation of capital
through public institutions. While government scope can never be too
broad to further promote moral rigor among the citizenry, government
must stop short its regulatory reach into the natural orders of
capital and economic competition. So while government should have an
entirely unlimited prurient interest regulating the sex life of its
citizens, it has no interest and should be completely limited in its
investigations and regulation of the egregious public frauds of Enron, Arthur
Anderson, Merrill Lynch, CityCorp, et al.

(16) To make it simple, everything in western political history that I
thought was a good idea and a great development, turns out was a bad
idea and a terrible development.

(17) Here is an interesting example, where I would have loved to have been
in on a conversation and been thrilled to listen to those
involved---turns out for neoconservative Irving Kristol it was a

(18) ``...He (Irving Kristol) tells of an incident at a dinner party where
he no sooner settled down with his plate of food in the middle of a
couch, when Hannah Arendt sat on his left, Mary McCarthy on his right,
and Diana Trilling (Lionel Trilling's wife) directly opposite. He
recalls sinking into a `terrified paralysis of body and mind.' For
nearly an hour, he could not swallow a bite nor could he follow the
conversation about Freud, the libido, and other scandalous
subjects. He could only pray that his wife Bea (Gertrude Himmelfarb)
would come to his rescue. But she was busy eating and laughing at the
other end of the room, totally oblivious to his plight.'' (S.Drury,
Leo Strauss and the American Right, 167p)

(19) What can I say. If it were me, I would have gulped enough wine to get
the courage to horn in and make an *** out of myself, in a great hazy
illusion that I was communicating with my own luminaries (sans
Trilling). Hopefully with a motherly indulgence for a kid my age they
would have tolerated me with bemused glances---perhaps toying with my
libido for its heightening effects on a conservation with an admiring


Chuck Grimes got interested in radical politics in the 1960's in
Berkeley as a graduate student. During the 1970s he worked to develop
disabled student support services at UCB. He is currently working in
wheelchair repair and talking politics to the customers who are mostly
from the poorest sections of Oakland, California.


"anchor blocks counteract the process of pontiprobation..while omalean globes regulize the pressure"...

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