The Corner

Banning The Neo-Word

John – Not only do I agree with you, I expended thousands of words on the subject in a three part series starting here then here and finally here.

I have an additional theory about the use and abuse of neoconservatism. I remember how in the late 1990s and early 2000s “neoconservatism” was the good conservatism. The New York Times and the New Republic went out of their way to praise the Weekly Standard, not just on the merits, but out of a strange admiration of neoconservatism. This was driven partly by ignorance about what “traditional” conservatives believed, part of it had to do with Pat Buchanan’s limited success at dividing all of conservatism between “paleo” conservatives and “neo” conservatives, even though neither group amounted to more than a small fraction of the conservative movement. Another factor was that neocons were seen, favorably, as urban and Jewish and therefore not culturally alien and scary to urban and Jewish liberals. I remember talking to a conservative historian friend of mine who told me that in academic journals anything conservative and intelligent was, by definition, “neoconservative” because unprefixed conservativism was racist, sexist and thuggish and hence could not warrant attention from legitimate scholars. Another dynamic was that neoconservative was translated as “relevant conservative” because neocons ran the White House, the Standard etc. All of this was in the background.

And then, 9/11 and Iraq.

Suddenly, it turned out that the neocons weren’t the “conscience” of conservatism they were the warmongers. This struck the left and liberals as a horrible and embarrassing betrayal. So now, almost everything got reversed. Where neocons were good, now they were evil. And, all of a sudden, liberals found a Strange New Respect for the Old Right. Frank Foer started lavishing praise on Albert J. Nock. Pat Buchanan found traction in the lefty blogosophere and among Naderites. In arguments with liberals, I would hear them say, “whatever happened to the old conservatives who hated deficits and believed in realism [and isolationism?]” etc etc. Much of this was based on the same deceptions and ignorance, but with the moral values reversed.

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